The complete guide to Honeymoons

After the pressure of your big day, do you take this chance to escape as your lawful honeymoon? Do you promise to love and cherish your time spent in paradise? I do, says Aoife O'Riordain

Why do we take honeymoons?

After the stress of organising your "big day", you'll need a holiday. A lot of newly-weds actually look forward to the honeymoon more than the wedding itself, when they can finally relax after months of stress. Consequently, it's important that your dream holiday turns out to be just that, so plenty of research and planning are necessary. For many, honeymoons also offer the excuse to pull out all the stops and organise that trip of a lifetime. Sandra Boler, editor of Brides magazine points out: "You will never meet a bride who can't remember her honeymoon, even if she and her husband are now divorced!"

Who should do the organising?

Despite all their protestations of independence, many blushing brides are still letting their future husbands decide where they'll be jetting off to. Jane Smith, the wedding planner for tour operators Abercrombie & Kent, says: "Most people are pretty organised when it comes to planning their honeymoons, but we do get people, predominately men, who ring up two weeks before the wedding in a complete panic about where to go."

Where are the current honeymoon hotspots?

The Caribbean is still one of the most popular long-haul choices, offering sunshine, accommodation to suit most people's budget, and relatively short flying times. However, the islands of the Indian Ocean and Thailand are giving it a run for its money. Tour operator Kuoni's top honeymoon destination for the year 2001, considered to be the trend for 2002, was the Maldives, followed by Thailand and Sri Lanka. However, Thomas Cook reports that its most popular destination for 2002 is likely to be St Lucia, followed by Mauritius and Jamaica. Suffice to say, when it comes to honeymoons, most people are thinking turquoise waters and white beaches.

Where do we start?

The first thing to establish (after your budget) is where you want to go, and then check out the climate. There's no point booking a trip to southern Vietnam in the middle of its monsoon season (from May to November). Generally speaking, the Caribbean, Africa and Australia are good choices during our winter months, while during the summer, Europe, the Indian Ocean and Bali are some of the best places to head for.

Then it's all about choosing the perfect spot. First, get as many brochures as you can – and read them. The leading tour operators include: Abercrombie & Kent (020-7730 9600; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk); Airtours (0800 028 8001; www.airtours.co.uk); Bales Worldwide (01306 732 722; www.balesworldwide.com); British Airways Holidays (0870 242 4245; www.baholidays.co.uk); Elegant Resorts (0870 333 3380; www.elegantresorts.co.uk); First Choice (0870 750 0001; www.firstchoice.co.uk); Hayes & Jarvis (0870 8989890; www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk); ITC Classics (0870 751 9330; www.itcclassics.co.uk); JMC (0870 758 0203; www.jmc.com); Kuoni (01306 747 001; www.kuoni.co.uk); Mediterranean Experience (0845 445 6000); Virgin Holidays (01293 617 181; www.virginholidays.co.uk); Thomson (0870 550 2046; www.thomson.co.uk); and Tropical Places (0800 093 9499; www.tropicalplaces.co.uk). All offer brochures to start you dreaming.

Alternatively, you could contact the tourist boards directly. Many will be able to send you lists of tour operators that specialise in your chosen destination. For example, the Australian Tourist Commission (0906 863 3235 – calls cost 60p per minute; www.australia.com); Caribbean Tourism Organisation (020-7222 4335; www.doitcaribbean.com); Seychelles Tourist Office (020-8741 6262; www.seychelles.uk.com); Mauritius Tourist Office (020-7584 3666; www.mauritius.net); and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (020-7499 7679; www.tourismthailand.org).

We've been dreaming of tropical islands and palm -fringed beaches...

For the archetypal honeymoon experience, there are plenty of destinations to choose from. The Maldives, a scattering of tiny islands in the Indian Ocean, are fast becoming a honeymooners' favourite. Ditto the Seychelles and Mauritius, all offering turquoise lagoons and white sands. If you want to be ahead of the crowds, check into Soneva Gili in the Maldives, a newly opened resort that is set almost entirely on stilts over the water. Seven nights cost from £2,015 per person including flights, transfers and accommodation on a room-only basis, with Abercrombie & Kent.

For departures during May and June, Kuoni World Class is offering seven nights at the newly opened, self-styled eco-resort, the Angsana Resort & Spa on Ihuru island in the Maldives from £1,469 per person, which includes return flights, transfers and full-board accommodation. Plus, if the beach gets boring, you can participate in some of their environmental initiatives such as monitoring the turtles that inhabit the island.

Lemuria resort on Praslin in the Seychelles is a must for nature lovers. Turtles lay eggs on the surrounding beaches, and suites are set in thatched buildings. Seven nights cost from £1,845 per person, which includes return flights, transfers and accommodation in a junior suite with Elegant Resorts Worldwide. Moving up to Thailand, Worldwide Journeys (0870 7093085; www.wwj.uk.com) offers seven nights staying at the Dusit Hotel in Pattaya, situated directly on a palm-fringed beach, for £645 per person. The price includes flights and accommodation on a room-only basis.

Cazenove & Lloyd (020-7384 2332) reports that Brazil is quickly gaining popularity as a honeymoon destination. Two nights in Rio de Janeiro followed by five nights in the chic coastal town of Bouzios costs from £2,000 per person including flights, accommodation and transfers.

Seven nights staying at Pink Sands Resort, a honeymooners' hideaway on Harbour Island in the Bahamas, costs £2,011 per person with Discover the Bahamas (01737 218803; www.discover-the-bahamas.co.uk). Caribtours (020-7751 0660; www.caribtours.co.uk) is offering a honeymooners' "Week of Enchantment" at Biras Creek in the British Virgin Islands from £2,045 per person including return flights, transfers and meals.

And for a taste of the exotic without the beach?

The breathtaking landscapes of Bali, lush rainforest and paddy fields means it, too, is a popular destination. Magic of the Orient (01293 537 700; www.magicoftheorient.com) offers special honeymoon itineraries comprising eight nights at the Oberoi Hotel near the beaches of Legian, plus four nights staying at the Pitta Maha Resort and spa in the highlands near Ubud. From £1,750 per person for departures in June, including flights, accommodation and transfers. Or visit the forts, palaces and havelis of Northern India with Cox & Kings' (020-7873 5018; www.coxandkings.co.uk) "Princely Rajasthan" tour. Thirteen nights cost from £2,520 per person, including flights, a driver and stays in heritage properties such as the Samode Palace, Khimsar Fort, and the Fateh Prakash Palace in Udaipur.

And nearer to home?

Don't overlook Europe, as it can be equally as romantic as some of the more exotic destinations. Understandably, Italy rates the highest for romance. Italian Expressions (020-7435 2525; www.expressionsholidays.co.uk) can arrange a honeymoon visiting Rome and Florence and then a seven-night stay on the dramatic Amalfi coast for £2,100 per person during high season. Long Travel (01694 722 193; www.long-travel.co.uk), which specialises in southern Italy, offers seven nights at Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina, Sicily, for £1,026 per person. Villa Deon is a cottage sleeping two with its own pool on the Greek islands of Skopelos in the northern Aegean. Seven nights cost from £585 per person, which includes flights, transfers and hydrofoil connections with CV Travel (0870 606 0113).

What if we want something a bit more active?

Lying on the beach is not everyone's idea of fun. However good it sounds in the throes of wedding preparations, you may find yourself getting a bit restless after the fifth day of rolling on to the beach for the afternoon. Whatever you decide on, there are lots of specialist companies to cater for your every whim. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (0870 7518080) issues a guide giving contact details for more than 160 specialist independent tour operators, who can tailor your dream honeymoon. According to Jane Smith of Abercrombie & Kent: "Many people do want something more active nowadays, but nothing that's too demanding. We did once have a couple who wanted to climb Kilimanjaro on their honeymoon, but that's rare."

So what can we do?

Latin America is becoming increasingly popular as a honeymoon destination for those who want to do a bit more than sit on the beach. A nine-night trip to Costa Rica with Sunvil Latin America (020-8758 4774) costs from £1,133 per person. The trip includes the opportunity to see some of the unique flora and fauna of the rainforest, snorkelling on reefs, white-water rafting, surfing and visiting an active volcano.

Or you could go tiger-spotting in India, at the world famous Rathambhor Tiger Reserve in northern India. Seven nights here cost from £2,155 per person, which includes deluxe accommodation in Oberoi hotels and two nights at the romantic Taj Mahal with Greaves Travel (020-7487 9111; www.greavesindia.com). Or drive from Phoenix through Zion National Park, Bryce National Park and the Grand Canyon, ending up in Las Vegas, from £1,994 per person including flights, car hire, some meals and 18 nights accommodation with North American Highways (01902 851 138; www.northamericanhighways.co.uk).

Trips Worldwide (0117-311 4400; www.tripsworldwide.co.uk) offers a fly-drive itinerary staying at restored haciendas on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, from £2,055 per person including flights, car hire and accommodation. Or, for a bit of culture, explore the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia with Steppes East (01285 651010; www.steppeseast.co.uk). An 18-day itinerary starts from £1,350 per person, which includes international flights, transfers, accommodation, entrance fees and a guide.

Chile's Torre del Paine National Park and the Atacama desert can be explored as part of a 12-night, tailor-made itinerary organised by Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk). Staying at the luxury Explora hotels, the price of £3,985 per person includes all flights, transfers, excursions and accommodation on a full-board basis.

ITC Classics offers luxury, tailor-made itineraries all over Australia. For £3,642 per person, a 12-night visit includes four nights exploring Sydney, five nights at the idyllic resort of Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, and three nights near Uluru (Ayers Rock). Austravel (0870 166 2070; www.austravel.com) offers a 17-night honeymoon package visiting Sydney, Hamilton Island and Port Douglas for £3,220 per couple. Camp in the outback, swim with dolphins, and tour the desert on a two-week trip in Western Australia. Beginning in Perth and visiting Broome and Kimberley, a two-week itinerary costs from £1,144 per person with Quest Travel (0870 442 3513).

We'd like to see some animals

Safaris are gaining in popularity with newly-weds. Many of these packages are expensive, so a honeymoon is a perfect excuse to blow some serious cash. Most tour operators can also combine a safari with a few days relaxing on one of Africa's stunning beaches, or at resorts further afield in the Indian Ocean.

Scott Dunn World (020-8682 5010; www.scottdunn.co.uk) offers a safari exploring the Okovango Delta coupled with a visit to Victoria Falls and the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana, followed by five nights at the luxurious Oberoi resort in Mauritius. Fourteen nights cost from £3,775 per person including return flights, transfers, accommodation, guides and all meals.

Far Side Africa (0131315 2464; www.farsideafrica.com" target="NEW">www.farsideafrica.com) can arrange a safari in Kenya and Tanzania beginning in Meru National Park, where you can stay at the romantic Elsa's Kopje, where the lion of the same name was raised, followed by game-viewing in Masai Mara. You finish up in Zanzibar and spend the final five nights at Fundu Lagoon on the neighbouring island of Pemba. The trip costs £3,264, but they can arrange cheaper options in Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania and Mozambique.

South African Affair (020-73815222) offers a 16-day tour visiting Cape Town, Winelands, The Garden route and game-viewing in Kruger national park from £1,883 per person. The price includes flights, accommodation and activities.

Any tips?

It may seem obvious, but make sure, in all your excitement of being Mr & Mrs, you book the honeymoon in the correct name. Particularly in these security-heightened times, there's no point being Green on your ticket and Brown on your passport, or you won't be going anywhere. Sandra Boler, editor of Brides, recommends some time to relax: "You are going to be quite tired after the wedding, so plan to relax for a couple of days if you are planning any activities on your honeymoon."

Also, banish any thoughts of free upgrades from your mind. According to airlines polled, you won't be turning left unless you fork out. On most airlines, though, you can arrange (for a fee of course) to have a bottle of chilled champagne waiting when you board the plane. Last, but not least, pick somewhere within your budget. However dreamy that private island hideaway may sound, there is no point blowing your budget on the room, and having to eat steamed rice every day.

What if money is no object?

About as far from the madding crowd as is humanly possible, Turtle Island in Fiji is a coral-fringed private island, where guests are housed in over-water "bures" – palm-thatched bungalows. Seven nights cost from £4,230 per person, which includes all-inclusive accommodation, return flights, seaplane transfers and one dive per day with Seasons in Style (0151-342 0505; www.seasonsinstyle.co.uk). Or how about six nights on the chic French island of St Martin in the Caribbean, followed by an 11-day tour of Peru? With Scott Dunn Latin America (020-8682 5030; www.scottdunn.com) that costs £4,265 per person, including flights, transfers, meals and activities

Or contact Ultimate Honeymoons on (01582 831 296), a company that specialises in Africa and the Indian Ocean.

This is sounding expensive...

Well, yes, romance doesn't come cheap. However, several travel companies now offer honeymoon lists. These are proving popular with couples who are happy to trade the usual toaster for a meal in a mountain-top restaurant in Bali. With Quest Travel (0870 442 3513) guests can buy couples anything from a snorkelling trip (£25) to a Sydney Bridge Climb (£40).

Luxury tour operator Exsus (020-7292 5050; www.exsus.com), which specialises in travel to the Caribbean in South America, offers a similar service. Couples choose the honeymoon and then guests can buy them champagne, a night in a hotel or an upgrade to first class.

Couples travelling with Trailfinders (020-7938 3836, a special honeymooners' number) can receive vouchers redeemable against the cost of their honeymoon.

Alternatively, if you are short of money or time, or both, you could opt for a short break immediately after the wedding, and save up for a longer trip later. Alternative Mallorca (0870 754 4545; www.alternativemallorca.com) can arrange stays all over the island. Four nights at the Hotel Mar I Vent costs from £309 per person, including flights, car hire and accommodation. Or head for Paris, the capital of romance, on Eurostar (0870 535 3535; www.eurostar.com) armed with Alastair Sawday's Special Places to Stay in Paris (01275 464891; www.sawdays.co.uk; £8.95) and spend a few days canoodling on the boulevards.

First Night Places To Stay Near The Airport

Birmingham

New Hall (0121 378 2442) Royal Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham B76 1QX.

This is oldest inhabited moated manor house in England, dating from the 12th century. The hotel is 20 minutes drive from Birmingham airport. Doubles from £153 per room per night.

Gatwick

Langshott Manor, Langshott, near Gatwick airport, Surrey RH6 9LN (01293 786 680). A romantic Tudor manor dating from 1580, five minutes from Gatwick. A four-poster bedroom starts at £420 per night. Some of the rooms even boast their own four-poster baths.

Heathrow

Danesfield House (01628 891 010, www.danesfieldhouse.co.uk), Marlow, Bucks. An imposing 19th-century country house, set in beautiful gardens in the Chiltern Hills, half an hour's drive from Heathrow. The hotel has its own spa. Doubles from £225 per room per night.

Manchester

Eleven Didsbury Park (0161-448 7711, www.elevendidsburypark.com), Didsbury Village, Manchester. A 150-year-old country manor, 10 minutes from Manchester airport, with a distinctly contemporary feel. Doubles from £99.50 per room per night.

Glasgow

One Devonshire Gardens (0141-339 2001), 1 Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow. This hotel consists of three adjoining townhouses in the centre of Glasgow; the mood inside is theatrical and luxurious. Doubles cost from £165 per room per night.

Weddings Abroad

Thomson Weddings in Paradise (0870 608 0169, www.thomson.co.uk) offers a range of Caribbean options, including Jamaica and Barbados. Cuba has been introduced this year. Closer to home, it also has Cyprus and Rhodes.

Avid golfers can tie the knot on the 18th hole of the Four Seasons Resort (00800 648 86488, www.fourseasons.com) on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. The golf course also has spectacular views over the turquoise waters of the Caribbean toward St Kitts.

The 2002 Honeymoon and Weddings brochure from British Airways Holidays (0870 442 3847, www.baholidays.co.uk) includes wedding locations in Mauritius, the Seychelles, Kenya, the Caribbean, Bali, Hawaii, Cuba and Mexico.

Weddings Made in Italy (020-7520 0470, www.weddingsmadeinitaly.co.uk) is a tailor-made wedding service that deals with all aspects of getting married in Italy. From a picnic for 10 to an evening reception in a Tuscan palazzo, they can organise the whole thing from start to finish to suit all budgets.

Otherwise you could both high-tail it to Las Vegas and follow in the footsteps of Hollywood stars such as Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Elvis and Priscilla Presley, and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Head for the Little Church of the West and glide down the same aisle as Ava Gardner and Mickey Rooney. Little Church Of The West (001 702 739 7971, www.vegas.com), 4617 South Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, USA.

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