Teachers Suzanna and Michael Panter didn't care where they went on their belated honeymoon, as long as the trip included sand. "We are total beach people," Suzanna Panter says. Based on an uncle's recommendation, the newlyweds booked a cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, one of Norwegian Cruise Line's ships.
Since the economy started its slide, honeymoon cruises have gained popularity. "The prices are so good now," says Mark Turkelson, co-owner of Travel Leaders in Henrico. "We try to match our honeymoon clients with the type of cruise that will suit them."
Honeymooners can find cruises to meet a variety of budgets. "Often, younger honeymooners don't have the budget that older travelers do," Turkelson observes. So younger folks frequently choose to cruise on lines that offer value packages (such as Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean), while older honeymooners opt for mid-tier lines like Celebrity or Princess cruises. "You also have the luxury cruise lines with white-glove service, such as Regent Seven Seas, Crystal and Silversea," Turkelson notes.
A few days before their departure date, the Panters got a call from the cruise line, asking if they wanted to upgrade their cabin to an owner's suite for $700 more. The couple's decision to splurge turned out to be the best choice they could have made. "We had a huge balcony on the side and on the bow of the ship," Panter explains. "We had a butler and champagne when we walked in the door."
Their seven-day cruise sailed to the western Caribbean and included the ports of the Bahamas, Cozumel, Belize and Honduras. "We really wanted to sail the Caribbean," Panter says. "Plus, my husband is a history teacher and was interested in the Mayan ruins. We thought we could mix a little education with fun on our honeymoon."
The Caribbean is the most popular destination for honeymooners. "It's close to the East Coast of the U.S., and it's tropical with beaches and plenty of activities," says Cherie Biddle, retail sales specialist with AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Travel agents agree that it's important for honeymooners to match their interests with a cruise itinerary. Cruise lines offer myriad destinations, including Alaska, Hawaii and Europe. Biddle finds that many couples overlook exotic destinations such as South America or the Galapagos Islands.
"Cruises go all over the world, so it depends on when they are going on their honeymoon and their interest," Biddle says. "If they are getting married in the summer months and love nature and beautiful scenery, they may want to consider an Alaskan cruise. If they are interested in historical sites, they may want to think about a European cruise."
Many couples choose a honeymoon cruise over a land package because cruising offers them the chance to see different ports of call. "A ship gets you to each destination," says Debie Parker, travel consultant for Crossroads Travel. "There is not as much pre-planning as you have if you were doing an island-hopping experience on your own or a European itinerary.
"It can be overwhelming for a couple when a lot of planning has to be done," Parker continues. "You have the flexibility to do what you want to do in those ports of call. The ship also offers entertainment and a variety of dining options. Many ships have casinos as well."
One of the most important things to consider when planning a honeymoon cruise is the day of departure. Couples marrying on a Saturday should book a Sunday departure at the earliest. "You don't want a cruise that departs the same day," Biddle says. "You may even want to consider not leaving the day after you get married but instead the next week, so that you have plenty of time to spend with friends and family at the wedding. Most flights are going to leave at 6 a.m., and that may not be the easiest flight to catch after the busy day you had."
As far as the length of the cruise, seven-day cruises can be a better value than three-, four- or five-day cruises when it comes to per-day rate. "Some people can only afford a four- or five-night cruise," Parker says. "Also, sometimes [it becomes] a process of elimination because of sail dates."
Another consideration: The couple's expectations of the cruise. Some couples enjoy a party atmosphere, while others want a quiet escape. Larger ships, for instance, offer everything from ice-skating to large-scale promenades, while smaller ships provide an intimate ambiance. Each cruise line offers a different atmosphere, and some offer a range of ship sizes. "If they want partying and games, they may want to consider a Carnival cruise," Turkelson says. "If they don't want to be around children, then they may want to look at a Holland America cruise."
Keep in mind that cruising isn't the right honeymoon for everyone. "If you had the perks that we did, it was awesome, totally worth it," Panter says. "If you're into cruising, it's a great way to spend your honeymoon." But she admits it may have been nice, too, to escape to a beach resort.