Ask the Pro Series – Issue 1: Planning the Perfect Honeymoon with Brownell Travel

I’m so excited to share with you the first issue in my new Ask the Pro editorial series, where experts in their field share inside tips and how to’s with HDP so I can share them with you! I’ve been very selective about my partners in this series because I want you to hear from the very best in the business! Most of these partners are based in Nashville and Birmingham, the cities where I’ve lived and worked the most. However, their reach extends much further.

First up…Brownell Travel. I’m thrilled for you to get acquainted with this company (if you aren’t already),  the leading upscale travel firm in the Southeast since 1887. Brownell is a member of Virtuoso, the world’s oldest and most prestigious leisure travel association. Less than 1% of America’s agencies are accepted for membership in Virtuoso. These select agencies must be able to offer clients extensive knowledge and wide-ranging experience on travel throughout the world. Virtuoso travel consultants create experiences, not just trips or vacations.

Brownell Travel is based in Birmingham, AL, but has experienced advisors all over the world. So, no matter where you call home, they have knowledgeable pros to help plan your perfect honeymoon, destination wedding, vacation or trip to just celebrate life!

“Travel, it leaves you speechless
and then turns you into a storyteller.”
— lbn Batutta


Haisley Smith, CTA Vice President of Marketing and Development,  Brownell Travel (image supplied)

Haisley Smith, CTA is the Vice President of Marketing and Development for Brownell Travel. Haisley joined Brownell in 2005 as the Director of Marketing and now serves as the Vice President of Marketing & Development. She set her sights on a career in the travel industry after studying anthropology abroad at the University of Innsbruck in 1998. Through her position at Brownell, Haisley is able to combine two passions – seeing the world and promoting the amazing travel experiences Brownell can offer.

Haisley promotes Brownell by highlighting travel advisors’ expertise, access to authentic experiences, legendary personalized itineraries, and travel perks that come from Brownell’s strong reputation and relationships with other Virtuoso travel providers. In short – “Travel Beyond Your Expectations.”

Haisley and I have known each other since 2000, where we worked together at a magazine publishing company. We’ve stayed in touch ever since, working together on various projects for Brownell over the years. I’ve even photographed her two beautiful daughters and watched them grow up through my lens. Brownell has also planned amazing trips for me, including Paris and Mexico. Next up on my list is Italy! Haisley has never met a stranger, is passionate about her job and is truly an exceptional person. Here’s what she had to say in response to our honeymoon planning questions.

Q&A with Brownell Travel:

What makes Brownell Travel the best option for all my honeymoon planning

Connections and Experience. We’ve been in business for more than 130 years and we’ve worked with hundreds of resorts since they opened their doors and that opens (otherwise closed) doors for our clients. 

What is the best advice you could give newlyweds on finding their perfect honeymoon destination?

Your honeymoon should be as thoughtfully planned and as personal as your wedding. You wouldn’t duplicate your friend’s wedding, why would you duplicate their honeymoon? The perfect destination and honeymoon is uniquely yours. Use an expert to help you uncover what that is.

What are ten things you need to know before planning your honeymoon? 

1. If you didn’t want a cookie-cutter wedding, a cookie-cutter honeymoon from the Internet is going to disappoint you. 

2. Prices for the same room at the same resort can fluctuate by several hundred dollars per night depending on the time of year.

3. The day after the wedding is not always the best time to depart for your honeymoon. Delayed honeymoons can be even better because you have the luxury of anticipating the trip instead of worrying about wedding details.

4. All-inclusive resorts are not always a great value, but many fantastic resorts have all-inclusive packages they don’t promote to the public.

5. Domestic honeymoons are often overlooked but can be magical with the added bonus that they are easy to return to for anniversaries.

6. Don’t be fooled by pretty pictures on the Internet. If sugar-white beaches and turquoise water are important to you, work with an expert who knows what the destinations actually look like, season by season. 

7. Talk through your expectations of what you want to experience on your honeymoon with your fiancé. You may picture yourselves on a beach under an umbrella all day, but he may be expecting rock climbing and kayaking!

8. Be wary of travel advice from well-meaning friends and family. Their ideal is probably not yours, even if they are great spokespeople for their favorite destinations and resorts.

9. Agree on a budget and be transparent with your travel advisor. A professional travel advisor will not try to “upsell” you and will be very candid about what kind of experience you can expect with your budget. 

10. Even though you may be excited to use your new name, don’t book your airline ticket in your married name!

What are the top places to honeymoon in Europe? 

The hot destinations for honeymoons in Europe now are Greece, Portugal and Spain. Italy and France are always popular and always a good idea.

Canaves Oia Greece.jpg
Canaves Oia, Greece, (image supplied)
Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Italy.jpg
Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Italy, (image supplied)
Six Senses Duoro Valley, Portugal.jpg
Six Senses Duoro Valley, Portugal, (image supplied)
Belmond La Residencia, Spain.jpg
Belmond La Residencia, Spain, (image supplied)
Park Hyatt Paris.jpg
Park Hyatt, Paris, (image supplied)

What are the top places to honeymoon in the US?

Napa/Sonoma Valley, San Francisco, South Florida, Oregon, and New England are great honeymoon destinations.

Faena Miami.jpg
Faena, Miami (image supplied)
Acqualina, Miami FL.jpg
Acqualina, Miami (image supplied)

How would you suggest making the most out of your honeymoon when you only have a few days of vacation?

Choose a destination with a short flight or short drive. No need to waste valuable relaxing time in an airport, on a plane or on the road. Don’t overschedule or over-plan and DEFINITELY don’t over pack. Maximize your time by having a plan and not scrambling for restaurant or activity reservations on site.

What are the top three places to honeymoon in the Caribbean?

It changes every year. My personal favorites are St Lucia, Turks & Caicos and the BVI.

The Shore Club, Turks & Caicos.jpg
The Shore Club, Turks & Caicos (image supplied)
Hermitage Bay Antigua.jpg
Hermitage Bay, Antigua (image supplied)
Curtain Bluff, Antigua.jpg
Curtain Bluff, Antigua (image supplied)
Amanyara, Turks & Caicos.jpg
Amanyara, Turks & Caicos (image supplied)

Do all-inclusive resorts actually save you money in the end? 

I’m personally not a fan of all-inclusive resorts for honeymoons because the experience can be very cookie-cutter and you become one honeymoon couple among hundreds. The “brand-name” all-inclusives give many of the special, independent all-inclusives a bad name with poor service, poor food, and watered-down drinks. There are some gems out there, but in the end, you can’t put a price on disappointment.

“Wedding season” is May-August which is hurricane month for most of the Caribbean…what are other easily accessible tropical destinations?

There are lots of destinations in the south Pacific, South America and even in the Caribbean that very rarely (if ever) are affected by hurricanes. They are each very different with very different price points. 

The Brando.jpg
The Brando, French Polynesia (image supplied)
Laucala Island.jpg
Laucala Island, Fiji South Pacific (image supplied)
Gili Lankafushi.jpg
Gili Lankafushi, Maldives (image supplied)  

“We are wanting an adventurous honeymoon in the US”…what are the top places we should consider? 

The American West – we love Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona

The Ranch At Rock Creek, Montana.jpg
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana (image supplied)
Amangiri, Utah.jpg
Amangiri, Utah (image supplied)
The Resort at Paws Up.jpg
The Resort at Paws Up, Montana (image supplied)

“I want to surprise my bride with our honeymoon”…How can Brownell help me make sure I include everything she would want? 

Brownell has a really powerful tool – think of it as Netflix for travel that helps couples rank and rate their travel styles and wish-lists.

Is there a secret trick to getting upgrades?

Yes, a well-connected travel advisor has access to exclusive preferred partner programs with hotels and resorts that give their clients special amenities, perks and put them top of the list for upgrades – some at the time of booking!

Website: Brownell Travel | Phone: 205.802.6222EndCap

Photo by Heather Durham Photography in La Jolla, CA

Whether you are a bride and groom planning a Destination Wedding or honeymoon, or Parents of the Bride and Groom needing a vacation after all the busy wedding planning, if this first issue of Ask the Pro doesn’t get you grabbing your passport and online shopping for new luggage, I’m not sure what will! Thank you to Brownell Travel and Haisley Smith for sharing your expertise with us!



Paris! C’est Merveilleux!

Paris! The architecture, the fashion, the flowers and the food are all intoxicating. This is a journal of my first visit to this enchanting city.

After shooting for my client in the southern region of France (see that post here), my friend Emily and I headed to Paris for three days, because we just couldn’t be that close and not see it!

I wanted to shoot more than just the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Arch de Triumph and the other big  tourist attractions. I wanted to find the tucked away streets and cafés that would be more unique, but 3 days is just not enough time in Paris to see and do it all. And, the Eiffel Tower is just so magnificent that I found myself wanting to go back various times of the day to capture it in different light. I apologize in advance for the number of Eiffel Tower images in this post. But hopefully you get it! ha ha!

As the taxi took us from the airport to our hotel, the anticipation was building. I kept reminding myself to see Paris with my eyes and not always be looking through my camera lens. I wanted to fully experience it as much as I wanted to shoot it, but sometimes that’s very difficult for me when I travel, unless I leave my camera in the hotel. And, I just couldn’t do that! Can you blame me?

hdp-paris2016-3_-webAfter 7 very busy days of work shooting, the first thing we did upon arrival was sit down for a latte in the hotel lobby. I have to give a shout out to Brownell Travel for booking us a fabulous hotel, just steps from the Champs-Élysées. The customer service was outstanding and we had a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance from our hotel windows.hdp-paris2016-4_-web

After taking a few minutes to relax,  it was time to walk the very old streets of Paris. Just look at these cobblestones! There’s so much history that has worn and weathered these stones. HDP-Paris2016-17_-WEB.jpgHDP-Paris2016-14.jpghdp-paris2016-28_-webhdp-paris2016-21_-webhdp-paris2016-156

The Arch de Triumph was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 and took 30 years to build. Unfortunately he never got to see it finished because he died 15 years prior to its completion. Read this: The Quick 10 Arch de Triumph by Mental_Floss.

Interesting fact…The Tour de France has finished at the Arch de Triumph every year since 1975, so I waited for my shot at the very busy roundabout. Thanks to this cyclist for showing up at just the right time!

HDP-Paris2016-348_-WEB.jpgHDP-Paris2016-371_-WEB.jpgDon’t mind us. We are just fine climbing up on a traffic light…in the middle of the Champs-Élysées…at the roundabout, in busy traffic to get our shot. I mean, we won’t ever see these people again, right? (No shame.)


hdp-paris2016-2_-webhdp-paris2016-41_-webhdp-paris2016-52_-webhdp-paris2016-48_-webSeeing Paris by boat, with a champagne cruise on the River Seine, gave us a different perspective of the city, especially of the unique bridges. Thanks again to Brownell Travel for booking the cruise for us when we requested it at the last minute.

hdp-paris2016-67_-webhdp-paris2016-69_-webhdp-paris2016-70_-webhdp-paris2016-71_-webhdp-paris2016-106_-webhdp-paris2016-78_-webhdp-paris2016-90_-webhdp-paris2016-110_-webhdp-paris2016-76_-webhdp-paris2016-59_-webhdp-paris2016-113_-webOur boat cruise on the Seine ended at sunset and night fell on the city, making it even more magical.


I’ll never forget our first night in Paris. As we walked up the stairs of the park in front of the Eiffel Tower, we heard Frank Sinatra playing. And, when we arrived on the top terrace, there were couples ballroom dancing to Sinatra with a view of the Eiffel Tower. It was the most romantic scene. Right then I knew why it’s called “The City of Love” and we quickly grabbed our cameras to start shooting.



The highlight of the trip for me, and I think for Emily too, was our private bike tour with Flora, which was planned for us by Brownell Travel. I really can’t describe what a wonderful way this is to see the city of Paris. It was a beautiful day riding our bikes, while Flora gave us a history lesson on Paris. She was extremely knowledgeable and a delightful tour guide. We began riding through the districts in the morning, stopped for lunch at a little corner cafe, saw highlights of famous art at The Louvre, went into Notre Dame Cathedral and ended at the La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre. It was the perfect “Cliffs Notes” for Paris. We carried our cameras over our shoulders while riding, but quickly discovered that we didn’t want to shoot (and wreck) as much as we just wanted to fully enjoy this experience. Oh we stopped occasionally to grab a shot, but not nearly as much as I expected we would. We were vacationing photographers at this point, which is [a little] different than working photographers.


The two oldest homes in Paris. hdp-paris2016-173_-web

hdp-paris2016-158_-webHDP-Paris2016-20_-WEB.jpgWe stopped at this cute little corner cafe for lunch.hdp-paris2016-225_-webThese shoe skates were parked at a table near by us at lunch…a cafe guest’s unique form of transportation.hdp-paris2016-229_-webThen there were these. I couldn’t resist grabbing this shot while I waited in line behind these French women.HDP-Paris2016-398_-WEB.jpg

After lunch we were off to the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral.

hdp-paris2016-201_-webhdp-paris2016-207_-webHDP-Paris2016-96_-WEB.jpgLook at this detailed iron work on the old wooden front doors of the cathedral. HDP-Paris2016-214.jpgI enjoyed hearing Flora tell us about Saint Denis, the Christian martyr and saint. He’s the statue (below) holding his head in his hand. Saint Denis is said to have picked his head up after being decapitated and walked six miles, while preaching a sermon of repentance the entire way. Truth or folklore?HDP-Paris2016-215_-WEB.jpghdp-paris2016-84_-webHDP-Paris2016-102_-WEB.jpghdp-paris2016-234Next, we went to see highlights at the Louvre, the world’s largest museum and historical monument.hdp-paris2016-83_-webhdp-paris2016-231hdp-paris2016-86_-webThe Mona Lisa is a half-length portrait of a woman by the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, which has been acclaimed as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world” and is viewed by 8 million people every year. (Source: Wikipedia)


Goppion created an especially transparent yet virtually impermeable antiglare glass face composed of multiple, alternating layers of glass and PVB sheets. For security, the display case is made of thick steel and further protected by rear armour-plating made out of high-resistance steel. The painting’s support system allows the Museum staff to remove it quickly in the event of emergency. A compression system seals the perimeter at multiple points, achieving a higher-than-requested level of security and airtightness. To address the unique climate-control issues the project presented, we worked with the Polytechnic University of Milan, to design and build a complex, combined passive/active, system to both stabilize relative humidity and filter the air within the case. The system includes two completely independent and redundant units; if one fails the other takes over automatically and immediately. (Source: Goppion website)

Read this: 14 Things You Don’t Know about the Mona Lisa by Mental_Floss

People watching around her highly secure exhibit is quite entertaining.

hdp-paris2016-243_-webhdp-paris2016-244_-webWinged Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothracehdp-paris2016-240_-webThe Venus de Milo marble sculpturehdp-paris2016-237_-webLiberty Leading the People painting by eugene Delacroixhdp-paris2016-250_-webA hand painted mural on the ceiling of The Louvre.hdp-paris2016-235_-web

(iPhone photo)a610688a-319e-45f6-85f1-17a28a03920f(iPhone photo)7d003338-6e7f-48d2-a83f-f3fd7627d864

The last destination on our bike tour was the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, which stands for the Sacred Heart of Paris. As we made or way up a hill on a narrow street through buildings, the pristine white cathedral came into sight. I think Emily and I both said “Wow!” out loud. It’s perched high on the hill, with the most incredible 360 degree view of all of Paris from the top.


hdp-paris2016-277_-webAs we made our way out of the cathedral and around the corner towards Montmartre, there was a gentleman sitting by the steps playing the accordion. At the time, it felt like a soundtrack to our lovely day and it made me smile.

hdp-paris2016-281_-webMy favorite area in Paris is the artist’s district, Montmartre. Scattered all over the courtyard surrounded by cafes, were illustrators and painters, working at their easels creating portraits.hdp-paris2016-291_-webhdp-paris2016-283_-webhdp-paris2016-282_-webhdp-paris2016-285_-webhdp-paris2016-294_-webhdp-paris2016-297_-webEmily and I walked around admiring the artwork, then grabbed a café table to relax and enjoy dinner overlooking the courtyard. The weather was perfect and I could have stayed there for hours just taking it all in, but I wanted to photograph the Moulin Rouge lit up at night. So off we headed to our hotel to grab my tripod and make it there right before dusk.hdp-paris2016-298_-web(iPhone Photo)d23252cd-913b-4e82-9ec9-205ead96004c

HDP-Paris2016-319_-WEB.jpgOur last day in Paris was a little dreary, but as we looked back on our trip we were so thankful for dry weather, so we could walk and ride bikes everywhere we went. It truly is my favorite way to tour.


A boot camp class was going on near one of the museums. After all of our bread and dessert I was tempted to join them!


As our trip came to a close, we found ourselves making our way to the Champ de Mars park, at the base of the Eiffel Tower, to enjoy sunset. Maybe there will be another trip to Paris in my future, but just in case there isn’t, I wanted to grab more shots of this magnificent structure. But first, we had sweet crepes and champagne, lying on our jackets in the grass below the tower, and toasted to an amazing trip!

(Instagram photo)


hdp-paris2016-410_-webhdp-paris2016-414_-webhdp-paris2016-427-2_-webhdp-paris2016-426_-webhdp-paris2016-419_-webhdp-paris2016-430_-webhdp-paris2016-433_-webhdp-paris2016-434_-webHDP-Paris2016-435_-WEB.jpgHDP-Paris2016-421_-WEB.jpgThe famous Love Locks BridgeHDP-Paris2016-423_-WEB.jpgHDP-Paris2016-422_-WEB.jpghdp-paris2016-428_-webParis, Tu est belle! Next up I head to London (and Scotland if time permits) to shoot for 9 days after Thanksgiving. You can follow along my shooting adventures on Instagram and Facebook.