How Reliable is TripAdvisor for Honeymoon Planning?

Any savvy person knows that travel websites based mostly on user-generated content need to be taken with a grain… okay, maybe a huge pile of salt.  With these types of websites, anyone can pretty much post anything, good or bad, online for the rest of the world to read.  This means that competitors can unabashedly badmouth each other’s businesses, and friends of business owners can post unsubstantiated raving reviews.  In short, it’s no secret that these websites can be unreliable.

That being said, there’s a lot of potential value to websites such as TripAdvisor, assuming that there are also plenty of honest people out there who are willing to publish their unbiased opinions about hotels, restaurants, and things to do.  But weeding out the legitimate reviews from the phony ones can sometimes be hard to do, so it the unreliability even worth it?

In my own experience with TripAdvisor, here are a couple of rules I’ve established for myself over the years:

  • You need to actually read the reviews, don’t just rely on the number of stars/dots/mustaches*/whatever.
  • Don’t trust the reviews with awful grammatical or spelling errors.
  • If a review seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If a review is uncharacteristically angry, the reviewer is probably crazy.
  • If the reviews for a particular hotel/restaurant/thing to do are all over the place, it’s probably best to skip it.
  • The smaller the city or town, the more accurate the reviews will be.

Let me use San Francisco as an example of a big city with less-than-accurate reviews.  Below are two screenshots from my phone of the nine highest ranked restaurants in town as of 9:26 AM this morning:

TripAdvisor

My circle of friends and I go out to eat a lot, and many of us have been living in SF for nearly a decade, and no one I’ve asked has ever even heard of half of this list.  I’m certainly not saying that since none of us have heard of these places they cannot be great restaurants, but I am saying is that the list is not an accurate depiction of what many San Franciscans would name as the best restaurants in town (especially for tourists).**

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Real Honeymoon: Mexico

Katie and Bobby’s honeymoon was nearly a year after their wedding, but it was worth the wait!  Read all about their relaxing Mexican honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We honeymooned at the Omni Hotel, Cancun, Mexico from April 25-30, 2013.

Cancun

How long was your trip?

The best and most relaxing 6 days of our lives!

Omni Hotel Cancun

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination?

We waited to take our honeymoon until it was a good time to take vacation from work. So, almost 1 year after getting married, we decided the right time had come! We knew we wanted to be on the Caribbean and we were looking for an all-inclusive, so we booked our honeymoon through SniqueAway.com (now known as Jetsetter).

Omni Hotel Cancun

The best part about our honeymoon was…

There were so many great parts about our honeymoon it’s hard to choose just one. But, if I had to pick one, I think the best part was waking up and having breakfast on the beach looking out at the turquoise water. We decided not to have a set agenda prior to arriving at the resort, and adventured together each day. We booked two excursions once we arrived in Cancun through AquaWorld (booked at the Hotel). We chose the half day “Jungle Tour” and a day trip to Isla Mujeras. Isla Mujeras was our favorite! We hopped on an early morning (9 am is early on vacation) party boat and cruised out to the island. Once we arrived, we tanned in the sun on the white sandy beach, snorkeled, ate lunch, and shopped in town. We definitely would recommend the day trip to Isla Mujeras.

Cancun

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

Booking the restaurant reservations at the Omni ahead of time is key. There are a couple of nicer restaurants at the resort that required reservations. We had to wait a couple of days for these restaurants to have availability. We made friends with a couple of waiters at the other restaurants on the property which turned out to be beneficial as they brought us “non-menu” dishes. Overall great service everywhere at this resort!

Cancun

How much planning did you do in advance?

We had been thinking of destinations for a while, but really only spent about a month (or less) planning our trip. We decided in February to take the trip in April.

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Packing Checklist: What You Need In Your Carry-on Bag

Frequent fliers will often tell you that the first rule of traveling is to never check your luggage; however, that’s not always feasible when going on longer trips like honeymoons.  So when I need to check my bag, I always refer to the following checklist when packing my carry-on.  While some of the items on the list are certainly more crucial than others, you’ll always be glad to have them with you in case (god forbid!) an airline loses your checked luggage.

Carry-on bag packing checklist:

  • Airline boarding passes
  • Passport and visa(s)
  • Wallet: driver’s license, credit card(s), ATM card, some cash, insurance cards.  (I take out all unnecessary cards before I travel to lighten my wallet and ensure that I don’t lose them on a trip when I’m certain I won’t be using them anyway.)
  • Hotel confirmation docs (and directions, if necessary.)
  • Medicine (in the original bottle) – prescriptions, allergy medication, sleeping pills (if taking a red-eye.)
  • Contact lenses & glasses (I’m totally blind without them.)
  • Sunglasses
  • Toothbrush + 3 oz toothpaste in a plastic baggie
  • Hair brush
  • Digital camera
  • Make-up “essentials” (i.e. just a small bag with the basics.)
  • In-flight entertainment: headphones, iPhone, book(s), magazine(s), Kindle, iPad, laptop, etc.
  • Light sweater or wrap
  • Socks (if I plan to wear sandals on the flight.)
  • Change of clothes (when flying from foggy SF to a tropical destination where I’ll want to change out of long pants as soon as I land.)
  • Electronics chargers (iPhone, camera, Kindle, laptop, etc.)
  • Electrical adapters (when flying to a foreign country.)
  • Jewelry (I always try to leave the expensive stuff at home, but when I need to bring it with me I never leave it in a checked bag.)
  • Apartment & car keys.  (You don’t want to lose those either!)

Am I missing any important items?  Let me know if there’s anything else you always take with you in your carry-on.

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Real Honeymoon: Kauai

I’ve written several times before that my consultant friends really lived it up during their honeymoons (e.g. Seoul/Maldives Honeymoon & Hong Kong/Maldives/Tokyo Honeymoon), and Lauren and Chris are certainly no exception.  Because both of them travel so much for work, the biggest priority for their honeymoon was to slow down and just take it easy.  Read all about their incredibly relaxing Hawaiian honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We honeymooned in mid-to-late June [2013] in Princeville, Hawaii which is locaed on the island of Kauai. We stayed at the St. Regis there for the entire trip.

St. Regis Kauai

How long was your trip?

Two glorious weeks.

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We debated back and forth on this, because ultimately we vacation for “free” whenever we go anywhere so cost is less of an issue for our vacation planning. We are both consultants, so we have accumulated a lot of points over the years towards flights/hotels. We got married on the West Coast in Napa, California, so we debated going to Phuket or Bora Bora, but ultimately determined that neither of us felt like spending any MORE time in an airplane than we had to. We love Maui, so we figured why not try a different island!

Kauai

The best part about our honeymoon was…

Doing absolutely nothing for two weeks. We both have so much stress in our careers that we enjoyed the opportunity to do a whole lot of nothing. We really enjoyed the nightly champagne sabering in the St. Regis lobby, all of the amazing sunsets we saw at Hanalei Bay and a couple of the island restaurants (Bar Acuda and Mediterranean Gourmet). We spent 3 hours every day sitting at the pool bar hanging out with the bartenders and ordering lunch in “courses” only to be washed down with delicious Mai Tai’s and K’apaa Margaritas. We also went snorkeling and kayaking almost every day, which is so easy because its on your own schedule and does not have to be planned.

Champagne

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

I’d do more research on the room type at the hotel and pre-request. There are a couple of great websites that tell you the pros/cons of each floor/section of hotels. We had an amazing suite overlooking the bay, but I think ultimately would have been happier with a smaller room that had a balcony. We really love to sit outside at night.

How much planning did you do in advance?

None. We don’t often “plan” our vacations other than booking airfare and hotel. We really love to have no formal schedule when we aren’t at work.

Kauai

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The Pros and Cons of Multi-mooning

Earlier this week I wrote about the new honeymoon vocabulary and I thought to myself, since Jetsetter got to to make up some of their own honeymoon labels, why can’t I?  So ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the <<drum roll>> MULTI-MOON!

That’s right, the multi-moon.  I just made up the term, so I better offer a definition.  A multi-moon is a honeymoon that involves destinations in more than one country.  It seems to be a pretty popular option as there there have been many multi-moon combinations on this blog already, including honeymoons in Greece & Turkey, France & Italy, and my own honeymoon in Bali & Vietnam.

Destination #1: Ubud, Bali

Destination #1: Ubud, Bali

Destination #3: Hoi An, Vietnam

Destination #3: Hoi An, Vietnam

While I myself am a big fan of multi-moons*, I completely understand that they are not for everyone.  That’s why I created the following list of multi-moon pros and cons:

Pros:

  • What’s marriage all about?  Compromise!  Let’s say your ideal vacation is doing nothing on the beach while your spouse prefers active sightseeing.  There are some destinations out there that will allow you to do both (I foresee a blog post on this topic in your near future…), but you can also just choose to visit two or more destinations instead.
  • Even if you and your spouse do have the same vacation style, you may have a difficult time finding a destination that satisfies all of your requests.  For example, I really wanted to visit Bali but we hadn’t heard spectacular things about the food there, which was a big deal for us.  Vietnam on the other hand is known for its cuisine, so Bali PLUS Vietnam was our solution.
  • Going to more than one destination during your honeymoon gives you something to look forward to even when you’re midway through your trip.  Each time we arrived at a new resort, we got even more excited to see what was coming next.
  • If you need to do a layover on the way to your final destination, you can consider turning the layover city into a destination in and of itself.  Check out this previous post about how to make the most of a layover.

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The New Vocabulary of Honeymoons

Alright, I’ve already blogged a few times about mini-moons and I know about (and am simultaneously terrified of) baby-moons, but I was completely unaware of an entire subset of other honeymoon labels in existence until I recently came across this Jetsetter article.  Maxi-moons, group moons, destination moons – excuse me?  How was I so out of the loop?

Tahiti

To get us both up to speed in terms of new wave honeymoons, here’s a helpful breakdown:

The Maxi-moon

The lengths of the Real Honeymoons on this blog range from seven to 21 days, but a maxi-moon is the type of trip when the couple takes several months off to travel the globe.  This usually entails quitting jobs (or being lucky enough to take a sabbatical), finding subletters or giving up apartments, and a lot of confidence that you and your new spouse travel well together.  Although I haven’t received any submissions from this kind of honeymooner yet, I would absolutely love to hear from one.  If you’re interested in booking this type of trip, check out this helpful blog post about buying round the world (RTW) tickets and then let me know how your trip went when you get back!

The Advance Moon

Remember Amy and Dave who went on an African safari honeymoon?  They are the first (and only) people I know who did an advance moon – that’s right, a honeymoon before the wedding – and it worked out wonderfully*.  While traditionalists will find the practice pretty strange, it completely makes sense to couples who have to schedule their wedding around school start/end-dates, job responsibilities, and other family obligations.  Just make sure that you have all of your wedding plans mostly finalized before you leave so you don’t have to stress out too much when you get back from your trip.

(*Not only did they have an amazing trip, but Amy and Dave took some absolutely incredible photos while they honeymooned in Africa.  Then they used those photos to great a personalized guestbook for their wedding.  Everyone loved it!)

The Group Moon

What’s more romantic than a honeymoon with your new spouse… and a dozen of your closest friends?  Jokes aside, I can see the appeal of this sort of trip… to a certain extent.  According to Jetsetter, a group moon is when you rent a private villa for a few weeks, stay there alone with your spouse for half of the trip, and then invite friends to join you for the rest of the time.  The idea is that you get a nice combination of private time as well as a social outlet that’s much more reliable than randomly chatting up other guests at a resort.  What the article doesn’t explain is whether you invite friends to actually be your guests or you expect your friends to chip in on the costs, and I think it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that your friends will want to buy into your honeymoon.

The Destination Moon

Wait, what?  What makes a destination moon different a regular honeymoon?  It’s apparently what you call a honeymoon that takes place near a destination wedding.  I didn’t know that sort of thing required a special name, but I guess it’s a thing.

Real Honeymoon: Belize

I don’t know about you, but this week’s Real Honeymoon makes me want to book a trip to Belize as soon as possible.  Matt and Agnes split their vacation time between the jungle and the beach, and the result was an exciting but very relaxing honeymoon that was perfect for these super busy lawyers.  Read all about their incredible Belizean honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

The night after our wedding, we caught a redeye flight to Belize and got there the following morning.  We were there from June 17 through June 24.  This is technically the beginning of the “off-season” and rainy season, but it ended up being the perfect time to go, because the weather is still really great, prices are lower, and it’s a lot less packed but still vibrant.  We spent the first 3 nights at the Lodge at Chaa Creek, an amazing resort in the jungles of the Cayo district just a few miles from the Guatemalan border.  Then we headed back to the Caribbean Sea where we spent the next 4 nights relaxing on the beach at Victoria House on Ambergris Caye.

Belize

How long was your trip?

Our trip was a total of 8 days and 7 nights (not long enough!).

Ambergis Caye

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We picked this location because we wanted to combine some great outdoor excursions with a healthy dose of beach relaxation.  Victoria House came highly recommended by a friend of ours, and the Lodge at Chaa Creek partners with Victoria House to create an amazing Jungle/Beach package.  At Chaa Creek we did some horseback riding, explored Mayan ruins, and really enjoyed being in the jungle.  It rained a bit while we were there, but what is the rainforest without rain? Right?  At Victoria House we spent the majority of our time just relaxing and sipping cocktails on the beach.  But we also went on two amazing snorkeling excursions… the coral reef there is incredible.  Coincidentally, we arrived in San Pedro (the main city on Ambergris Caye) during their week-long celebration to kick off their lobster season.  We ate lobster for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and had an absolute blast.

Belize horseback riding

The best part about our honeymoon was…

The tropical drinks (not sure how I’m going to live without Victoria House’s infamous frozen coconut mojito on a daily basis) and the lobster, of course.

Belize drinks

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

If we knew then what we know now, we would have made the trip longer and brought less clothing and stuff.  You basically live in your bathing suit, and so we didn’t use half of the things we had packed.

Victoria House

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Where Should You Go on a July Honeymoon?

Last week Condé Nast Traveler’s resident travel expert Wendy Perrin wrote a blog post answering the question, “What are the best travel destinations for July?”  While her article wasn’t necessarily honeymoon-specific, she mentioned many popular honeymoon destinations that would be wonderful in July, and a bunch of others that should be avoided.  Check out her recommendations below:

The Good:

Tahiti (As if you need another reason to choose Tahiti for a honeymoon, in July you can also celebrate Polynesian culture at the Heiva Festival.)

– Seychelles (A great tropical-yet-cool-and-dry destination that isn’t too crowded in July.  August, however, is another story.)

– Barbados (Big off-season deals are easy to come by in July, and you can check out the Crop Over Festival.)

– Anywhere up north: Canada, Scandinavia, The U.K. (Warmer weather and extended daylight hours – what’s not to like?)

Tahiti

Tahiti in July? Yes, please!

The Bad:

Belize (Humidity + mosquitos?  No thanks!)

– The west coast of Mexico (It can be so hot that the sand will burn your feet.  Yikes.)

– Eastern Turkey (Also suuuper hot.)

– The French Riviera (Lots and lots of tourists.)

– Croatia (Too many cruise-goers in Dubrovnik, but other seaside towns should be alright.)

– Rome/Venice, Italy (Really overly crowded with tourists; the prices skyrocket.)

– Southern Spain (Yep, just too hot.)

Belize

Belize is totally gorgeous, but probably not the best destination in July

_____________________

My two cents?  I think that Greece is also an excellent destination for July even though it will be high season.  The Aegean Sea doesn’t get super warm, so if you go too early in the year you might find the water to be on the chilly side.  But if you go in August, the islands get extremely crowded with Italian tourists.

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Real Honeymoon: Mediterranean Cruise

Remember when I wrote my confession that I like cruises?  Well Sara and Morgan went on a pretty amazing one for their honeymoon in Europe.  Read all about their voyage around the Mediterranean below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

Morgan and I went on a 10 day Mediterranean cruise at the end of September and into early October.

Mediterranean cruise

How long was your trip?

2 weeks…the 10 day cruise and a day in Rome on either side…plus travel.

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

Morgan had never been to Europe and we wanted to experience as many places as possible with as little travel as possible.  The cruise was perfect combination…we had so many great stops (Rome/Florence and Pisa/Monte Carlo/Barcelona/Mallorca/Sardinia/Naples/Sicily) without having to worry about how to get there or where to put our stuff!

Trevi fountain

The best part about our honeymoon was…

Touring the best parts of Europe during the day and gorging ourselves on multi-course dinners at night. I loved that we were able to be active and adventurous during the day and relax and enjoy ourselves at night.  Not having to worry about getting from place to place (both us and our stuff) was a great bonus!

Med Cruise

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

Don’t pack so much!  I mean, did we really need 2 pieces of luggage each?? While it wasn’t a big deal while we were on the ship, schlepping all that baggage around Rome and the airports in 80+ degree heat was a mistake!

How much planning did you do in advance?

Almost all of it.  On top of booking the flights, the cruise, and the hotel nights in Rome, we also pre-booked most of our tours.  The only downside to that was that several of our tours got cancelled due to lack of attendees (it didn’t help that our cruise was 90%+ retirees and our chosen excursions were always pretty active) and we had to book tours we didn’t like quite as much.  The only thing we really left unplanned was the sightseeing we did in Rome before and after the cruise.

Pisa

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Ireland Recap: Dublin, Slane, Galway, Cliffs of Moher

This was my second trip to Ireland, the first being nearly seven years ago when my friend Becky moved to Dublin on a whim after we graduated from college.  I never would have guessed that the next time I’d go back would be for her wedding!  A lot of our friends from home visited another country first before heading to Ireland, so it was a lot of fun swapping travel stories once we were all together in Dublin: one friend got yelled at in Barcelona for taking photos in a bakery without asking permission, another friend visited her brother in Prague and ended up sharing one bath towel with him and her husband for four days, and someone else actually got sunburned on the (usually cold and rainy) Aran Islands.

Guinness

Slainte!

We decided to spend three nights in Dublin at Blooms Hotel in Temple Bar.  Despite the central location and good price, I wouldn’t necessarily want to stay there again (and it’s certainly not honeymoon material).  Although the rooms were clean, they were really basic, the bathrooms were comically small, and the internet in most of our friends’ rooms was spotty if not nonexistent.  However, the rooms did have flatscreen TVs that allowed for plenty of late-night music video watching (which will always score points in my book).

When I wasn’t watching classic Shakira vs. Beyoncé music video countdowns (which was totally amazing, by the way), we did a lot of fun stuff in Dublin.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Trinity College – Even if you don’t want to pay to see the Book of Kells, the classic college campus itself is definitely worth a look.
Trinity College

A sunny day at Trinity College

  • St. Stephens Green – If you’re fortunate enough to visit Dublin in good weather, relax in this gorgeous park that’s close to Trinity College and the good shopping on Grafton Street.
  • Guinness Storehouse – It’s practically impossible to be a tourist in Dublin and not go here.  It’s a modern multi-level museum devoted to all things Guinness, and the general admission ticket includes a free pint at the top floor Gravity Bar.
Guinness Storehouse

Good times with good friends at the Guinness Storehouse

Pub night at Hogans

Pub night at Hogans

  • Queen of Tarts – Cute place for lunch, two locations in Dublin.  Very touristy, but undeniably yummy.
  • Yamamori Noodles – If you need a break from pub food, we really liked this Japanese restaurant.
  • Zaytoon – The only place to go for late night food.  Don’t get a kebab from anywhere else; you’ll regret it immediately.

On the morning of the wedding, we rented a car from the airport and made the hour journey to Slane in Meath County.  A couple of things to keep in mind when renting a car in Ireland:

  1. They drive on the “opposite side of the road” in Ireland (i.e. the left hand side), and the steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car.  Repeat the mantra, “Little lefts, big rights.”
  2. The rental company told me that buying insurance through them was mandatory in Ireland, which nearly doubled the price of the estimated quote we received online before making the reservation.
  3. Renting an automatic car is WAY more expensive than renting a manual one.  If possible, learn to drive stick!
Slane

Main Street in Slane

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