As the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak came into sharper focus last month, tens of thousands of leisure travelers had their trips cut short, rejiggered, or canned entirely. Among the dizzying number of vacation casualties were couples who’d spent months—and sometimes years—planning destination weddings and dream honeymoons. Some of the betrothed reluctantly called off their overseas wedding plans because they deemed the risk to family and friends too great; others had ceremonies preemptively axed by venues that were fearful of government restrictions and haphazardly instituted travel bans.
When we started asking around, we were overwhelmed by dozens of stories from crestfallen couples who’d had their meticulously planned weddings and fantasy honeymoons upended by coronavirus. Many are still chasing refunds from venues, vendors, and airlines; others are scrambling to rebook. A handful of couples are just trying to make the most of their new socially distanced reality. Here are a few of their stories.
Saying “I do,” just the two of them
If everything had gone according to plan, Austin-based couple Katie Russell, a 43-year-old writer and teacher, and Brand Newland, a 39-year-old healthcare entrepreneur, would have tied the knot on March 23 at Hotel San Cristóbal in Todos Santos, Mexico, surrounded by 60 of their dearest friends and family. But the destination wedding, nine months in the making, unraveled in a matter of days.
Although there were no reported cases of COVID-19 in Baja in February, Russell and Newland decided that canceling the wedding was “the socially responsible thing to do.”
Though devastated by the turn of events, the couple refused to let grief get the best of them. On March 17, they asked a retired Austin judge to officiate a private service in his home. Afterward, Russell and Newland walked to a nearby park, where they exchanged vows and had their first dance: “Just Brand, me, and an iPhone on a tripod,” says Russell.
“Never could I have imagined that I would spend a year of my life planning and saving up money for a wedding for my friends and family in Mexico, only to have it canceled because of a global pandemic,” Russell posted later to social media. She then went on to explain how various hardships—from losing everything they owned in Hurricane Katrina to surviving a cancer diagnosis—prepared her for this challenging moment. “One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from these unfortunate events is that when things are out of my control, I still have a choice in how I respond.”
Third time’s the charm?
Miami-based couple Avraham and Diana Thomas were fortunate enough to have a last-minute destination wedding in Israel, Avi’s home country. But they didn’t get so lucky when it came to their two-week honeymoon in Japan, slated to begin shortly after their March 8 wedding.
During the week leading up to their nuptials, the couple, both in their mid-20s and working in the music industry, realized their honeymoon was in jeopardy. Though Japan hadn’t announced a quarantine, the couple canceled the trip anyway; the proximity to China was too close for comfort. “The Japanese hotels were incredible,” says Avi. “They didn’t charge any fees; [they just] wished us luck in our life together and said they hoped to see us a later time.”
Unwilling to give up on the honeymoon entirely, the Thomases booked a five-day escape to Dubai instead. On March 9, however, airlines began nixing flights en masse, theirs included, which the couple took as a sign and canceled their reservations at the Emirates hotel. On March 12, they grabbed the last regularly scheduled direct flight from Tel Aviv to Miami and have been quarantining at home ever since.
With airlines slashing prices and offering generous cancellation policies through 2021, the Thomases have started sketching out a new honeymoon itinerary for fall. “We are going to Israel, Paris, Amsterdam, Japan, Bali, and Australia—all for less than what we would have paid just to go to Japan for two weeks,” says Avi, who remains upbeat. “Although it may not seem like the most ideal way to spend your first days being married, this makes an incredible story for our kids.”
Making the best of a lousy situation
Carlye Reichert, a 28-year-old medical resident, and her husband Nick, a 26-year-old P.E. teacher and football coach, married last June in their hometown of Columbia, Missouri. Due to their busy schedules, however, they couldn’t lock in their two-week honeymoon to Sri Lanka and the Maldives until spring of 2020. It was worth the wait, the couple decided, because they used credit card points to finagle a free five-night stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, an economy flight from the U.S. to Sri Lanka for $11, and a first-class flight from the Maldives home for $500. (The duo, who runs the travel blog Plenty of Money and Relaxation, frequently post about their travel strategies.)
There was only one problem: The Reicherts were scheduled to depart on March 20. The entire trip had to be canceled.
After recouping their points and requesting refunds on airlines and hotels, they focused on making the most of their two-week staycation: doing puzzles, hiking at Missouri’s Elephant Rocks State Park, and baking bread. When the time is right, they’ll plan a honeymoon do-over, says Carlye; “it’ll just be a two-year wedding anniversary trip instead.”
With the looming threat of a quarantine, Orlando-based educator Stephanie Machado, 28, and her husband, 34-year-old IT manager Jesus “Denny” La Rosa, also canceled their March honeymoon—a road trip that included stops in Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake, Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Asheville, North Carolina. Plan B was to book a VRBO rental and honeymoon in North Carolina—until it, too, declared a state of emergency. “That was when we decided to cancel everything,” says Machado. “Our honeymoon was going to be at home.”
Hunkered down in Florida, the couple began documenting their daily adventures on social media. What started out jokey (making the bed, unloading the dishwasher) took a more creative turn after they planned a “fishing excursion” on a lake in their neighborhood. The “five-star” experience generated a little buzz online, so the couple also staged a clean-out-the-closet fashion show, filmed an instructional how-to on making Cuban coffee, and took a “virtual trip” to Disney World, streaming POV ride videos while noshing on Mickey Mouse ice cream bars.
The most memorable highlight of their “home honeymoon,” however, was the “resort day.” Machado and La Rosa sipped cocktails around a kiddie pool they set up in their backyard. “This experience has brought us much-needed comic relief,” says Machado. “And gives us something to look forward to when all of the days look the same.”
An unexpected adventure
After marrying last August, Austin-based newlyweds Lauren Roche, 30, and Brian McDonald, 31, planned a honeymoon to Antarctica for March. The MBA student and product development manager were hankering for an adventure—which they got in spades. It just wasn’t the adventure they expected.
Roche and McDonald boarded Oceanwide Expeditions’ Plancius vessel in Ushuaia, a port town at the southern tip of Argentina, on March 10. They were aware of the mounting public health crisis in China and Italy, and briefly worried if it might cause trouble upon return to the United States, but were quickly distracted by the enchanting beauty of the southernmost continent.
“Antarctica was beyond words,” says Roche of the mesmerizing landscapes and magical encounters with seals and penguins. Eventually, though, the gravitas of the situation back home dominated the conversation. Borders were shutting at an unprecedented clip while the Plancius—carrying more than 100 passengers from 28 countries—was sailing at the bottom of the world.
At first, says Roche, passengers were told they would need to stay on the boat for an extra day to fulfill Argentina’s evolving quarantine requirements. The couple rebooked their flights accordingly. Then while the Plancius was en route to Ushuaia, Argentina grounded its domestic flights. Were they to disembark in Ushuaia now, there’d be no way to fly to Buenos Aires. So Oceanwide decided to sail straight to the capital, adding an extra four days onto the journey.
“It’s what I imagine an adult camp would be like,” says Roche of the extra time onboard. “We got additional educational lectures from our expedition team; we had workout classes and a pirate-themed barbecue lunch and dance party; we even played a murder mystery game involving passengers and crew.” In hindsight, she attributes the optimism, at least in part, to limited Wi-Fi. When you’re at sea, it’s hard to binge on a nonstop stream of bleak news.
When Plancius was about a day out from Buenos Aires, Argentina announced the sudden closure of its borders. Everyone, including its own citizens, was locked out. The ship then rerouted to Montevideo, Uruguay, which came with its own set of obstacles, including additional canceled flights. (Worst-case scenario, the passengers were told, is that Plancius would have to sail back to its home port in the Netherlands, which would take 3.5 weeks.) Fortunately, Roche and McDonald were able to disembark in Montevideo and fly back to Austin via Santiago, Miami, and Dallas. “Airports were dead in a way that I had never seen,” Roche says. “[There were] only a few flights—and most were cruise passengers.”
The couple arrived safely back in Texas six days after their intended return. They are quarantining at home and reflecting on their incredible journey. Despite the border closures, Roche and McDonald are extremely grateful for the way Oceanwide’s team handled the stressful situation—and they can’t wait to travel again. Says Roche, “I would love another excuse to get back to Antarctica as soon as possible.”
Source: Read Full Article