Tropical vacation

The honeymoon – a chance to relax, have adventures and enjoy your loved one before getting back to daily life as a married couple.

“You want it to be memorable and exactly the experience you want,” said Samantha Fry, owner of Off the Grid Travel Company in Coudersport. “The most popular places are definitely Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) and Jamaica, especially Sandals Resort in Montego Bay. A lot of people love Alaska for their honeymoons, too.”

Karen Emery, travel agent with AAA in Wellsboro, agreed that Jamaica or any of the Caribbean Islands, along with Cancun, Mexico, are honeymoon hotspots. She said she also books a lot of cruises, even through Disney, for couples’ special getaways.

“Destination weddings are popular in a lot of the same places,” she added. “People usually think white sand, blue waters, but we can do it wherever they want. We can do the wedding and honeymoon together in one package.”

From private beaches, sunset boat tours and candlelit dinners, to fishing, ziplining and wildlife watching, honeymoons can be as laid back or as adventurous as the couple themselves. Fry said knowing what you want to get out of the trip is the first step, even more important than the actual destination.

“I had a couple come in who said they wanted to go to Hawaii. I asked them what kind of things they’re looking to get out of the trip; they wanted something all-inclusive with a large resort feel. Hawaii doesn’t offer a lot of that, so we found out that’s not really where they wanted to go,” she said.

According to Emery, that personal touch is one advantage to booking any kind of travel with an agent.

“We’re going to form a relationship with you and do the best job we can to get you the best rates and the best experience possible,” she said, adding that agents are often able to price match with online booking services.

“We know this stuff like the back of our hands, we have a lot of knowledge and thought that goes behind every trip we plan,” said Fry.

It was during her own honeymoon to St. Thomas in 2014 that set Fry on the path to planning others’ travel.

“We did all sorts of excursions, we snorkeled with sea turtles, we kayaked through the mangrove forests. That was kind of the trip where I thought ‘This is something I’d like to do,’” she said. “So, I went to school for travel and tourism and just recently got an executive certificate in travel and hospitality management. I have 22 industry certifications, including in honeymoons and destination weddings.”

In the past, some couples may have thought a honeymoon was out of their budget, especially after planning expensive weddings. Both Fry and Emery said honeymoon registries are becoming more popular.

“Nobody needs an extra toaster. Instead, people can put down money for your dream vacation,” explained Emery. “We send out registration cards to your guests, and they can call or stop in to add to your fund. It’s something different and you get to say, ‘So-and-so helped me pay to swim with dolphins.’ That’s more personal.”

Fry offers a similar service on her website – www.sfry.dreamvacations.com – where guests can donate toward honeymoon or destination wedding expenses in lieu of wedding gifts.

“Rates are outstanding right now,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people booking for one or two years out because the rates are so good, and of course, they’ll start to increase. I always tell people the sooner they book, the more likely they can afford their dream vacation.”

She said, however, it’s still smart to get whatever kind of travel protection is offered for the trip you’re booking, such as vouchers so you can re-book should something prevent your original trip.

Emery said such flexibility is key, not only to protect the financial investment of your trip, but to enjoy yourself while traveling.

“Things change fast, especially these days. If you’re too rigid, one thing goes wrong and everything is ruined. Be flexible, enjoy the moments,” she said.

Even though weddings, honeymoons and other travel are coming back after a year of COVID-19 quarantining and shutdowns, Fry said it’s still important to know what restrictions are in place where you’re going and to follow the guidelines to protect yourself and others.

“For example, most places in Florida are not wearing masks, but in Key West, they still have a mask mandate,” she said. “Resorts in the islands are at 30% capacity, so it’s easier to social distance. And lot of them are doing COVID testing right there and some offer complementary healthcare packages. When visiting Aruba, you’re required to purchase a health plan through the government in case you get sick on the island. Cruises obviously aren’t happening right now, but some have said when they start back up, everyone must be vaccinated.”

She said when traveling outside the country, the U.S. government is still requiring travelers to be tested before re-entering. Other countries are doing the same, but not all.

Emery said with all the protocols and heightened sanitation efforts by the hospitality industry, “Vendors are really stepping up to show people they’re being safe. You shouldn’t be afraid to travel, but it depends on everyone’s individual comfort level.”