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How to handle the great honeymoon debate

Some engaged duos are dismayed to discover not that the honeymoon is over, but that they can’t even agree on where it should start. Here’s how three couples handled the dilemma.
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Colorful brochures fly across the room, travel books hit the coffee table with a thud and Web site printouts that have been ripped to shreds flutter to the floor like confetti. Okay, so maybe it’s not that dramatic, but some engaged duos are dismayed to discover not that the honeymoon is over, but that they can’t even agree on where it should start. Here’s how three couples handled the dilemma.

Around the world in 180 days
If Stephanie and Zachary Metler had been plotting their honeymoon saga with pushpins on a map, the paper probably wouldn’t have been visible by the end of their six-month negotiation. The Chicago couple admit they got a late start planning their September 2008 trip, partly because they never anticipated having a problem.

“We thought it would just fall into place, because we’d be so excited to go somewhere together,” Stephanie says. “And we even had the same goals in mind: activities and relaxation.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. Stephanie had wanted to honeymoon in Italy ever since her mother had described her own post-wedding trip there. “It sounded like the most romantic place,” she recalls. “Italy was it.” Zachary, however, favored Hawaii, pointing out that it offered exactly what they wanted: a place to unwind but still with plenty to do.

So in March 2008, the couple began a “huge research project.” Stephanie considered Hawaii, but she’d been there before and felt strongly about going somewhere new to both of them — a sentiment often expressed by engaged couples. So from Hawaii and Italy, they moved on to the Caribbean, which they deemed dicey since September is in hurricane season. Plowing through Web sites, Stephanie found herself “throwing out all these random places, and I mean random: Greece, Tahiti, Acapulco …”

Instant non-gratificationAll those options and more were thoroughly discussed — well, sort of. Ninety-nine percent of this back and forth was via computer. “We were both working full-time,” explains Stephanie, a hotel catering and conference coordinator, “and we started by e-mail, then switched to IM-ing because you can ‘talk,’ but it was still kind of tense. We had a lot of arguments because we couldn’t read each other’s tone.” They tried to sit down and talk face-to-face, but Stephanie says that when she and Zachary, a bank loan officer, got home at night they were both so exhausted from IM-ing all day that they couldn’t bear to broach the issue again.

The couple finally hit on Napa and Sonoma. But after finding a hotel, they couldn’t agree on specifics: He wanted to include Southern California and drive up the coast. She didn’t see her honeymoon as a road trip.

Then Zachary suggested delaying the honeymoon altogether. “No way!” Stephanie recalls saying.

By August — just one month before their wedding — they still hadn’t nailed down the plan. And they were worn out.

Desperate to make a decision, the couple arranged a three-way conference call with a travel agent. He said that Los Cabos, Mexico was fine that time of year and priced out an all-inclusive resort. It was within their budget and sounded blissfully easy. So right after their wedding, they headed to Riu Palace in Cabo San Lucas, where they relaxed in a seaside suite, Jet-Skied, enjoyed massages at the spa and sipped cocktails at the swim-up bar. “After months and months, it all happened in one day,” Stephanie marvels.

By making lists of possibilities, Stephanie and Zachary tried to resolve their battle the right way, says Paulette Darensburg, a honeymoon specialist at Protravel International in Beverly Hills, but in their grasping for a solution they let emotions get in the way. She suggests you initially sit down together, determine a budget and a list of essentials — beach, hiking, a place new to both of you — as well as things you can live without before calling a travel agent. “That way, the professional knows what you want and can recommend spots you never even thought of,” she says.

Destination friction is familiar terrain for Rebecca Booker, who works for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., and her fiancé, William Mellema, a solar-energy engineer. “We’ve always had opposite ideas of vacation,” Rebecca says. “He’ll suggest a beach and I’ll suggest not-a-beach, then we have to negotiate our way around it.” William notes, “You can add it to the list of things we’re not always in agreement with — but it’s a healthy conflict.”

Rebecca, who has an appetite for adventure, vividly recalls the initial clash over their July 2009 honeymoon: “I said, ‘Let’s go on an African safari!’ He countered with, ‘How about an all-inclusive resort in Mexico?’ I laughed and said, ‘What are you, 19 and on spring break?’ He replied, ‘Do you not understand the concept of relaxing?’ ”

Rebecca is the first to admit that she gets bored sitting in the sand, while “Billy loves his beach chair.” Notes William: “I enjoy the outdoors as much as anyone, but for the honeymoon I was thinking more R&R than hiking boots.”

Rebecca would not give in. She viewed a safari as “an amazing adventure ... and a honeymoon should be spectacular.” William saw her point, but since he had some close friends planning a safari for 2012, he wanted to hold off so he and Rebecca could join them then. Thus, the hunt for a new plan began — and they were not alone in their quest.

Couples clash over where to honeymoon all the time, stresses Duff Pacifico, a certified travel counselor at Tzell Travel Group in New York City, with the most common disagreement being beach versus something more active. Pacifico says she listens quietly, then tries to come up with a locale that will make both parties happy.

“If the problem is Caribbean versus Europe, I’ve suggested Italy, where they can do the Amalfi Coast, then Rome and Florence, or the South of France and Paris,” she says. “I had one couple who argued with me on the phone over France versus Italy, so I recommended they go to Paris first, then take the Venice-Simplon Orient Express to Venice. They loved the idea.”

Rebecca and William used a similar approach. “We searched the globe via the Internet to see what was out there,” William says. She proposed Iceland since it’s “pretty close, but off the beaten track.” He countered with Thailand, lured by its combo of sun and ecotourism. Their solution: Brazil. William’s beach fix is being met with stays at Miramar Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro and Hotel Catharina Paraguacu in the colonial city of Salvador. Then, the couple will go on a jungle adventure in a floating cabin at Uakari Lodge in Mamiraua Reserve, the largest area of protected Amazonian rainforest. “It was a ‘That’s it!’ kind of moment,” she says. “We don’t even feel like we compromised because we landed on something we both wanted.”

Darensburg insists such give-and-take is key — and that it can reveal worlds of possibility. Pacifico also preaches compromise, warning against one party giving in to the other’s wishes. “I had a couple that did that and the bride kept calling it ‘his honeymoon’ while adding, ‘next year we’ll go on ‘my honeymoon,’ ” Pacifico recalls. “I never heard back from them — uh-oh!”

Split decisionMaureen Brennan and Matt Borowicz, a Chicago couple who married and honeymooned in June 2008, may have found compromise nirvana. But the discussions went round and round for several months, says Maureen, a marketing specialist, complicated by the fact that they both are well-traveled.

The duo had once lived in Australia and had already visited Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore, so they each had set ideas about where they wanted to go: “I’d say Africa and he’d say Greece,” recalls Maureen. And they’d end up in a deadlock. Fueling the face-off was Matt’s hesitation about the medications required for Africa. “I don’t want to be sick at my wedding!” Maureen recalls him saying. So she did some research and was happy to tell him that the shots they’d get beforehand, as well as the new malaria medicines they’d take while there, have few side effects. She, in turn, decided to relax her opposition to beach time.

Her strategy worked. Matt, a special-ed teacher, had a sudden realization and suggested that they do both, since they were fortunate to have the funds and more than two weeks off (the average honeymoon is eight days). A travel agent Maureen called said the Greece/South Africa combo was doable — and that conveniently, both are in the same time zone.

On their yours-and-mine honeymoon, Maureen and Matt flew to Greece for five days, visiting Santorini and Athens, followed by five days on safari at Ngala Lodge Private Game Reserve in Kruger National Park, topped off by five days at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel in Cape Town. “I absolutely adored every moment in Greece, from the black-sand volcanic beaches to the delicious food,” Maureen says, “and Matt loved every moment on safari, from seeing charging rhinos to having a candlelit dinner outside our cottage.”

Darensburg believes that this is one of the best possible outcomes: a couple falling in love with each other’s choice. “The world is full of many exotic and affordable places to honeymoon,” she says. “With love, consideration and a little compromise, you can have the most incredible trip that makes you both happy.”

Check out more honeymoon tips and advice.

— Gerit Quealy

This content originally appeared in “Modern Bride” magazine.