Carolina Bride

Over-the-Top Honeymoons

Sure North Carolina has great beaches, and you can bet on a good time in the Bahamas. But these three honeymoon destinations not only bring the wow-factor – they offer out-of-this-world experiences plus accommodations and services that seriously redefine luxury.

BelizeOur love affair with Belize unfolds at Cayo Espanto, a four-acre private island with only seven villas – one of them over water – in Ambergris Caye. Guests fly into Belize City, take a small plane to San Pedro and a short motorboat transfer to the island. Or, opt to arrive by helicopter.Our 1,500-plus-square-foot villa, Casa Manana, was designed with romance in mind: indoor and outdoor showers, high-ceilings, a king-size bed with luxurious linens, and willowy netting positioned over the bed at nightfall courtesy of our houseman, Obed. At Cayo Espanto, there’s no agenda – just time to focus on each other, whether in your private pool or on matching lounge chairs at the end of your private pier. At the latter, Obed stopped by with a small cooler of beer, water and soft drinks so we didn’t even have to walk the few feet to the villa’s mini-fridge. Villas are partially open-air, but not to worry: Your houseman will call out his pending arrival in respect of your privacy. Each day, the chef dropped by the villa to ask our preferences for that night’s menu. Candlelit dinners for two were set up on different parts of the island. We never knew where the next would be until Obed escorted us there.Belize offers Mayan ruins, rainforest treks, bonefishing, diving and snorkeling at the famed Blue Hole or right off the beach at South Water Caye or along the world’s second largest reef. Plus, for a getaway on your getaway, a motorboat can drop you off – with picnic basket, champagne and walkie-talkie – on your own deserted beach.

DubaiLike all guests at Dubai’s sail-shaped, seven-star luxury hotel, the Burj Al Arab, we were greeted by a lineup of smiling employees with incense, dates and Arabian coffee before being whisked to our two-story, 1,830-square-foot suite. Our butler showed us around.Everything is here: laptop and printer, iPod dock, 42-inch plasma TV that even acts as an electronic peep-hole for the front door and full-size Hermes toiletries. There are 13 offerings on the pillow menu, and just in case we forgot anything, there’s a 24-hour guest services desk on each floor.At the hotel’s award-winning Al Mahara Restaurant, fish, sharks and eels swim in a towering tank alongside the white-linen tables. It rises up as a focal point in the eye-popping lobby above us, sporting the tallest atrium in the world – 590 feet – with lots of real gold. Its centerpiece is a geometric, rising fountain complete with a water and fire show. When you’re ready to venture out, try dinner at Traiteur at the Park Hyatt Dubai, or Fire & Ice at Raffles Dubai. Afterward, party with the international jet-set at the champagne bar in the tip of Raffles’ glass pyramid.This desert city is all about the biggest, highest, newest and most expensive – like Las Vegas on steroids. Delightfully over the top, Dubai boasts the world’s tallest building, the Burj Tower, and indoor snow skiing at Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates. Also memorable is a desert safari – super romantic for adventure-seekers enticed by a 4-by-4 thrill ride over seemingly endless sand dunes – concluding with dinner at a created Bedouin village with belly dancers, henna tattoos, camel rides and shisha pipes.

ZambiaBragging rights were one motivation for big game hunters on an African safari. These days, the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo and rhinoceros – are, of course, shot only with cameras.For honeymoon bragging rights, there’s a luxury tent safari in southern Africa’s Zambia: exotic, romantic, adventurous, unique, unforgettable and certainly not overrun with other honeymooners.Sanctuary Retreats is a collection of luxury travel portfolios from lodges and camps to villas and cruises. Having sampled two of their luxury tent camps and one “treehouse” camp on our Abercrombie & Kent safari, we now understand why A&K clients choose Africa as their top pick.“The game viewing is fantastic,” assures David Spooner of Sanctuary Retreats. “To see an elephant in a natural environment and to hear a lion roar, it’s a little scary, but people love it.” And he’s absolutely right. Arriving at Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, we stepped into the open dining area only to spot a half dozen hippos lounging on the facing shore. All through the night, we heard them and other animals calling out.On our “sundowner” – a private river cruise – we spotted our first elephant, water buck and crocodile close-up. This camp offers unusual “treehouse” accommodations – luxury cottages with soaking tubs and romantic four-poster beds draped in netting. The huts are connected by raised, wooden walkways that occasionally have to be replaced when determined elephants walk through camp.At all the camps, we were escorted to our room after dark and given an emergency whistle in case of a too-close animal encounter. Strolling the walkway on our way to breakfast, we were entertained by the vervet monkeys in the trees. At Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, we met up with park rangers carrying rifles who escorted us into brush where four white rhinos were grazing. This, Zambia’s smallest national park, may be your best chance to see rhinos since the park’s five white rhinos are guarded for their protection. Another highlight here is Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We next arrived in Sanctuary Zambezi Kulefu Camp after dark. It was especially exciting to hear (but not see) the low moans of the many hippos in the Lower Zambezi as we enjoyed a three-course dinner with fine wine. Campmates headed out on a night safari returned to excitedly report seeing a leopard stalk her prey. Deep in the night, we heard our first lion roar and what we mistook as a human scream. Turns out, it was a baboon.The camp’s assistant manager says: “I meet a lot of people who’ve been all over the world, and they come to Africa, and then they come back. It’s a bond. Every camp has something unique about it.”What’s the secret to the magic? “It’s the place. It’s the animals. It’s still unspoiled,” he replies.