By Debi Lander | Photography courtesy of Debi Lander, The Venetian, New Orleans CVB and Gatlinburg.com
If your wedding was postponed and then downsized, you have all the more reason to splurge on a honeymoon, especially to an iconic destination known for romance.
Couples are honeymooning in picturesque places stateside that are as fascinating and romantic today as they were to their parents and even grandparents. Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Gatlinburg, and Little St. Simons Island have certainly withstood the test of time for romance, but they also offer many new thrills and attractions. Although each location appeals to a particular type of couple, they all promise lifelong memories.
Niagara Falls, N.Y.
The sheer magnitude of Niagara Falls never fails to impress. Whether it needed it or not, the 1953 movie, “Honeymoon,” pushed its romantic lure over the edge. John Percy, president and CEO of Destination Niagara USA, says, “Niagara Falls has a long history as the Honeymoon Capital of the World. Today, couples still want that same timeless experience.”
No trip to this wonder straddling the New York/Canadian border is complete without hopping on the Maid of the Mist. The boat ventures right up to the furiously cascading water. Landlubbers also can get up close and personal (at the American Falls) with The Cave of the Winds tour. Evening hand-in-hand promenade strolls supply spectacular illuminated pictures of the 700,000 gallons of water per second rushing over the Falls. Want more thrills? Soar above the wonder on a 15-minute helicopter flight.
Beyond the main attraction, newlyweds honing their kitchen skills can take a hands-on class at Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. Wine enthusiasts? Take a scenic drive along the Niagara Wine Trail through traditional vineyards and enjoy ice wines, ciders, and mead.
Lodging choices matter. The Giacomo, a boutique hotel in an Art Deco building, provides honeymooners room choices with a fireplace and whirlpool bath. The nearby Village of Lewiston offers the quieter Niagara Crossing Hotel & Spa, with its full spa and views of the Niagara Gorge.
Before leaving, visit the Niagara Falls USA Official Visitor Center and claim your complimentary “We Honeymooned in Niagara Falls USA” certificate — signed by the mayor.
Las Vegas, Nev.
Las Vegas may be the Wedding Capital of the World, but Fletch Brunelle, marketing vice president for the Convention and Visitors Authority, says, “Vegas offers endless possibilities to fit every honeymooning couple’s interests and price point, including relaxing pools and day spas, exhilarating outdoor adventures, top accommodations, romantic world-class restaurants, and unparalleled entertainment. If you can dream it, you can do it in Las Vegas.”
Start with a romantic gondola ride piloted by a Venetian Hotel singing gondolier. The ultimate swoon-worthy candlelight dinner at Mizumi offers a great dress-up excuse. Reserve the floating pagoda table, accessible by a private path through lush Japanese gardens, where chef Min Kim will prepare Japanese specialties.
Stroll arm in arm along the famous strip mixed with high-end shops and high rollers. It’s not quite Paris, but still fun to ascend the Eiffel Tower and gaze upon the Luxor Hotel’s pyramids. Sneak a kiss behind the dancing Bellagio Fountains before watching headliner acts and extravagant productions like Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show.
Vegas also affords some unexpected adventures — maybe a flightseeing tour over the Grand Canyon or car trips to nearby Hoover Dam and Valley of Fire State Park. The downtown Mob Museum explores the struggle between organized crime and “the law” while the Neon Museum flashes signs from old casinos.
Whatever the budget, Vegas can deliver (at least what the slots don’t take away).
New Orleans, La.
The Big Easy embraces and embodies its motto, “Let the good times roll!” as do honeymooners to the city that celebrates music, culinary, and cultural traditions. Newlyweds may wish to skip the craziness of Mardi Gras…or not!
Head to iconic Jackson Square, then cuddle up on a mule-drawn carriage ride that includes private tours of the French Quarter’s lacy-iron architecture. Powdered sugar-drenched beignets and chicory coffee await at Café du Monde. Afterward, stroll the riverbank, browse the French Market, or take a tasting tour to learn about cocktails at the Sazerac House. At sunset, cruise the Mississippi River on the Steamboat Natchez.
NOLA encourages quirky fun. Voodoo, ghosts, cemetery and swamp tours rank among the most exciting diversions. Ride a 19th-century streetcar or speed over wetlands in an airboat. History buffs will love the National World War II Museum.
Also known as the Crescent City, New Orleans honors the birthplace of jazz. Try a jazz brunch in the Court of Two Sisters. Look for Cajun and Creole specialties at famous restaurants like Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s, Arnaud’s, or Cochon. Don’t miss the dueling pianos at Pat O’Brian’s, while you sip a Hurricane — the house libation.
Lodging recommendations include Hotel Monteleone with its full spa and famous carousel bar or the luxurious Bourbon Orleans for its ideal location.
Little St. Simons Island, Ga.
The Lodge on Little St. Simons delivers nature lovers a laid-back eco-vacation. It’s the only overnight choice on the 11,000-acre Georgia isle, hidden amongst maritime forests, coastal marshlands, and seven miles of sandy beach. A maximum of 32 guests experience something akin to a posh summer camp with adult drinks and gourmet meals.
Board a ferry, cross the Marshes of Glynn, and step into a fairyland of giant live oaks draped with Spanish moss. The rustic-looking Hunting Lodge dates to 1917 and works as the resort’s heart and soul with a gathering and game room, two dining rooms, a little museum, and an office. Sixteen guest rooms in cottages or lodges dot the compound. Honeymooners prefer the one-bedroom Tom House.
Secluded, all-inclusive escapes allow for late breakfast. Family-style lunches are encouraged though you can request a table for two. Daily activities feature the naturalist’s tour of the untamed wilderness, with over 300 species of birds and likely some gators, too. Sunbathing, beachcombing, kayaking, fishing, and bicycling on 20 miles of trails offer afternoon options. Guided boat excursions await all.
Before dinner, join the casual social hour with wine, beer, and hors-d’oeuvres. Attendees mingle, recounting the day’s adventures. After dinner, entertainment runs from wildlife talks to poolside movies. Little wonder Little St Simons earns return visits.
The allure of the Great Smokey Mountains and warm country hospitality attract vacationers to Gatlinburg. Honeymooners wishing alone time can’t beat the privacy and seclusion of a romantic cabin in the mountains. Time slows down; sipping a glass of wine (or moonshine) by the fireplace, the patio, or even in the hot tub satisfies. Quintessential mountain views complete the aura.
Any time of year, Gatlinburg offers things to do and ways to play. Visit a theme park, go hiking, fishing, or simply stare at the stars. Ober Gatlinburg provides whitewater rafting or indoor skiing on artificial snow and a chairlift that takes you to the top of Mount Harrison.
The iconic, 407-foot Gatlinburg Space Needle provides one of the most romantic things to do in the Smokies. The 360-degree observation deck affords seductive views of glowing city lights.
Newlyweds Sarah Beth and Ty Boone of Star, Miss., recently honeymooned in a Gatlinburg cabin. “We remained busy from sun up till sundown, going to dinner shows, skiing at the Ober, tubing in the National Park, and spending a day at Dollywood,” says Sarah Beth. “I really enjoyed the Titanic Museum and learning about the ship. We both loved riding the Wild Eagle rollercoaster. I can’t wait for an anniversary to return.”
And that’s how honeymoons should feel.