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What your honeymoon will cost

If you are one of the 2.3 million people in the United States who is getting married this year, we have bad news. Your honeymoon is going to be a lot more expensive than it would have been last year.
Tourists watch the sunset on the beach outside Manuel Antonio National Park on the central Pacific coast, 110 miles southwest of the San Jose, Costa Rica. Costa Rica has become a popular honeymoon location because of its diversity of activities.Kent Gilbert / AP file
/ Source: Forbes

If you are one of the 2.3 million people in the United States who is getting married this year, we have bad news. Your honeymoon is going to be a lot more expensive than it would have been last year.

With the rising value of the euro against the dollar, the increase in gasoline prices and creeping but real inflation, the cost for everything from airfare to French champagne is on the rise. Moreover, as the economy recovers the hotel industry is on track toward enjoying its best year since 2000. As business and luxury travelers return, many hotels are dropping the discounts and promotions that had been used to boost occupancy rates over the past few years.

Last year Americans spent more than $7 billion on honeymoons, with the cost of an average one-week vacation around $3,400 (although the price can be considerably higher), according to Condé Nast Bridal Infobank, the market research division of Condé Nast Bridal Group, publisher of Bride's and Modern Bride, the two largest bridal magazines. This year, the cost for one week of post-nuptial bliss will be even more expensive.

The news is not all bad, though. Even if the cost of a first-class European honeymoon is now prohibitive for all but the richest Americans, there are still plenty of lower-priced, though still luxurious alternatives. According to Howard Green, chief executive of Moonrings, an upscale Chicago-based travel agency specializing in honeymoons, many of his clients want to combine a beach vacation with other activities — such as sightseeing and soft adventure sports, like rock climbing or going off-roading in a 4x4. "One of our hottest destinations is Costa Rica, because you have the beaches, but you also have the jungle, rainforest tours, and monkeys hanging out your window."

Another trend that Green says he's seeing is couples country-hopping to exotic destinations, such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Those that can't afford to spend that kind of time and money usually choose an all-inclusive resort, but that market is no longer dominated by chains such as Club Med and Sandals. "There is a demand for an upscale, all-inclusive resort experience and more and more are opening up," says Green.

Each year Modern Bride magazine polls U.S. travel agents to determine the top honeymoon spots, and warm weather destinations always dominate the list. "Hawaii was number one in 2003, and has been for the past seven years," says Modern Bride editor-in-chief Antonia van der Meer. "Hawaii, Mexico, Jamaica, Tahiti and Bermuda are always on the list."

Like Green, Van der Meer says that more couples are looking to add soft adventure elements to their vacation, to do more than just sit on beach. She's also seeing a big rise in spa treatments as well as cruises. "Programs like couples massage or learning massage techniques are very popular on a honeymoon," she says. Cruises account for 20 percent of honeymoons, says van der Meer, and usually offer good value.

Still, a report from the Travel Industry Association of America, a Washington D.C.-based travel industry lobbyist, says that honeymooners outspend the average traveler by more than three times as much. (At $22,360, the average wedding still costs about five times as much as the honeymoon.) Besides its symbolic and restorative roles for happy but tired newlyweds, a honeymoon is often a once-in-a-lifetime trip, a chance to splash out before settling down to the responsibilities and realities of married life.

While many of the world's most popular honeymoon destinations can be pricey, there are also plenty of less expensive alternatives that can be just as much fun and, even more important, relaxing and romantic. Bearing in mind that many people may not want to sacrifice their down payment on a home or jeopardize repaying graduate school loans, we have come up with a list of potential honeymoon destinations where couples can choose between going all out or leaving a few bucks in their money market account.

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