How You Sell Honeymoons: We Go Under Cover

By Kristin O'Meara

Reed Travel Features

NEW YORK -- When planning a honeymoon, most couples will rifle through your brochure rack, pick your brains and change their minds 100 times before picking the ideal destination.Bride and Groom

Experts say that from start to finish, choosing a honeymoon destination can take anywhere from seven months to a year for the average couple. Travel agents tell me that the usual honeymooner has a dream in mind and, maybe, some recommendations from friends or family, even a destination or two.

What does the average, red-blooded American travel agent do, I wondered, when faced with the daunting responsibility of planning a dream trip for a pair of freshly engaged innocents such as these? With that question in mind, I ditched my wedding band (sorry, honey), hopped in my car and started a highly unscientific study of some storefront agencies in suburban towns in northern New Jersey. I did my best to fit the profile -- I professed no deep knowledge of the Caribbean, said I'd heard of different places that friends had visited and was familiar with the concept of inclusive resorts. My "wedding date" was set for Sept. 12. The rest was up to the agents.

Here's what they did:

10 a.m., Hawthorne, N.J.

First stop, Sandals, er, I mean Shanthi Travel. I had little doubt that I'd be steered to an inclusive vacation after seeing the very sleek, Sandalized window display, complete with beach chair, champagne bottle and Sandals collateral. After meeting Satya Srikonda, CTC, I was led to a chair, asked a few questions, (including my name, address and telephone number) and handed a Travel Impressions Caribbean brochure, which -- surprise! -- had a multiple-page Sandals section.

Sandals St. Lucia was Satya's pick, hands down: St. Lucia is a beautiful, exotic island, and Sandals St. Lucia was the best hotel on the island, he said. To see what else I could see, I professed disinterest in the inclusive idea, saying that my fiance and I might like something a bit quieter. Satya quickly rebounded, heading straight for Curacao (a small, quiet island) and the Sonesta (a beautiful hotel that's right on the beach). Bermuda was Satya's non-Caribbean suggestion, and on that island he recommended three hotels, the Sonesta, Southampton Princess and the Elbow Beach.

All of the properties he recommended had more than 100 rooms, and I wondered if he could recommend anything even smaller. After urgently rustling through a filing cabinet, Satya came back to his desk empty handed. He explained that "it's hard to [find] small hotels in the Caribbean because they are expensive to maintain."

After I revealed my identity, Satya told me that he'd been searching for, but could not find, his Intimate Hotels of the Caribbean brochure, which is produced by Gogo Worldwide Vacations. It was time to push onward to my next agency.

10:45 a.m., Glen Rock, N.J.

The ladies at Glen Rock Travel Service were very, very busy. Agents were ticketing, agents were on the phone checking rates and availability, more and more customers were walking into the office, but Roslyn Adelman was ready to spend as much time as I needed to help me pick just the right honeymoon.

After sitting me down and asking a bunch of questions, Roz told me I needed to do my homework. Clearly, I was unprepared! Following this, she dug up an impressive stack of brochures: a Sandals rate guide, a Gogo Honeymoon Planner, GWV's Caribbean & Mexico Sunsation guide and, later, a Tauck Hawaii planner.

Roz told me I needed to read up on the islands first and find out what sports we were interested in, whether we wanted more or less to do, if we wanted nightlife, et cetera. She suggested Bermuda (beautiful, but a little cool in September), Aruba (out of the hurricane belt, with lots of nightlife) and Puerto Rico (both lively and secluded options, with easy access from the U.S.).

"How much time did we want to spend traveling?" she asked. Roz whipped out a map of the Caribbean and explained that some islands required connections, while others were just a nonstop flight from New York. Commendably, Roz also suggested other non-Caribbean island destinations. "If you have the time, Hawaii's worth it," she said, adding that I could find a package in the same price range as a Caribbean vacation. A Bermuda cruise was another "elegant" option, she suggested.

She, too, recommended inclusives but urged me to familiarize myself with the information she had given me. "Then you can come back and look at videos," she said, adding that seeing places on film would help me make my decision.

I didn't have the heart to waste any more of her time, so I came clean and mentioned that she'd done a very good job. Roz, it turns out, is quite the pro. In addition to her agency job, she teaches courses for certification at a local community college.

11:05 a.m., Ridgewood, N.J.

Things were in full swing at Welcome Aboard Travel Center when Maureen Parnell looked up from her work and invited me to have a seat next to her desk. I told Maureen that I'd heard of inclusive resorts and had some knowledge of different islands but wanted her advice.

After asking my wedding date, Maureen quickly replied, "Uh-oh. Hurricane season." Immediately, she suggested Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao (out of the hurricane belt, lovely, off-the-beaten-track places). After offering brief descriptions of these islands, Maureen pulled out a Cayman Islands brochure. "Grand Cayman is so pretty," she said, describing its seven-mile beach, its relatively strong economy "no poverty" and its similarity to Bermuda.

Also elegant, she said, was Caneel Bay on St. John (no air conditioning, but you don't need it). Two islands that weren't on her list -- despite their popularity as honeymoon destinations -- were St. Martin/St. Maarten and Jamaica. "Too much poverty," she said.

When she asked, "Would you be interested in a cruise?" I knew it was time for me to cut to the chase. And after I revealed my identity, Maureen confided that her agency, which is located in an upscale community, doesn't sell a lot of inclusive resorts. "We do a lot of FIT trips and lots of honeymoons in Europe," she said, explaining this oddity by adding, "It's probably the agency's location."

After visiting just three agencies, I came away with a large pile of brochures, descriptions of islands and hotels and details on getting to the Caribbean as well as some suggestions I hadn't bargained for. Best of all, I was able to glean lots of anecdotal information and educated opinions, in short, all of the things that make the trip to a travel agency worthwhile.

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