This past year has definitely been interesting for the idea of traveling. I have always been a “germaphobe,” and I had health issues over the past several years which have encouraged that more. Sanitizing my hands, washing them 20+ times a day, and carrying wipes is part of my normal life. But my passion for traveling hasn’t faded with the pandemic. I have the same concerns as everyone, I don’t want to bring Covid or any other virus home to my family, and I need to be careful about my own health. Having to quarantine and all the logistics surrounding that idea is a concern as well. But my heart loves to see new places and explore and fall in love with new destinations. So, I will move forward and travel as safely as I can. However, travel needs to be a personal decision so only you can decide what is right for you to do.
Lynne and I were fortunate to be invited to visit Sandals Grande Antigua on Dickenson Bay for a travel agent “familiarization” trip. Destinations or suppliers may invite travel agents to visit their locations in the hopes of encouraging future guests to visit. We were so excited at the thought of visiting this gorgeous resort on such a beautiful, tropical island. But we needed to ensure we knew what we needed to do to get there and to get home safely. Covid has certainly added a whole new component to travel planning!
To travel to Antigua, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, Antigua’s sister island, has stated:
All arriving passengers by air must have a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR (real time
polymerase chain reaction) test for SARS-CoV-2 using a nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swab taken within seven (7) days of their flight. (This includes transiting passengers). Children below the age of 12 years, entering Antigua, DO NOT REQUIRE a COVID -19 RT-PCR test. Passengers arriving by sea are subject to quarantine according to guidelines issued by Port Health. All travelers are also subject to assessment by Port Health Authorities for signs and symptoms through a series of checks and the completion of a health declaration form on arrival.
All arriving passengers will be monitored for COVID-19 for periods of up to 14 days
in accordance with the directions of the Quarantine Authority and the Quarantine
(COVID-19) Guidelines. Visitors may be required to undergo further testing for
COVID-19 on arrival or at the hotel or place of lodging as determined by the Health
So a Covid-19 test is first on the agenda. I live in MA, and Lynne lives in RI. Since we were traveling on a Sunday, I wanted to take a test on the Monday before to ensure my test results would be in time for travel. To find a testing facility, I recommend using your state’s government resources for a Covid-19 testing location near you. I looked for something near my home, but be careful as all locations do not offer free testing. I called one urgent care center near me, but they don’t offer tests for the reason of traveling. They recommended another urgent care whose website stated that tests were free with insurance. I made an appointment, and when I was in the parking lot, they called me to check me in. At that time, they advised that insurance does not cover Covid testing for travel so the cost would be out of pocket, $220 out of pocket! I hadn’t taken any tests locally before, so I was concerned about getting another appointment somewhere else in time to get the results back before I flew so I paid it. I really wanted to get to Antigua! After taking the test, I learned of state-run testing sites that are in fact free, live and learn. I scheduled my next test for the day after I return at one of these sites. So please learn from my mistakes.
Our flights were very fortunately uneventful. We flew from Boston to Miami then on to Antigua. Our flight was early Sunday morning, and Boston Logan Airport was not very busy. Our flight was full though. Airlines are allowed to fill every seat if possible so that is something to keep in mind if you're flying. I had a middle seat with Lynne on one side and a stranger on the other. Everyone is required to wear a mask for the duration of the flight unless you are actively eating or drinking. I always wipe my seat, tray, and air vent off on every flight. There are sanitizers around the airport as well, and each guest on the plane received a baggie with a small bottle of water, a bag of pretzels, and a sanitizing wipe.
We had a very quick turnaround in Miami. By the time we got to the gate, it was already half way through boarding. That flight was maybe a quarter full so there was no issue with passengers being right next to each other. Once on the plane, flight attendants passed out the health questionnaire required by Antigua and Barbuda along with a Customs Declaration form. Be sure to read every question because it is easy to misread a question or write in the wrong space. I think one of the more challenging items to enter is the date. In the US, we will write February 7, 2021 as 2/7/21. In Antigua, the day comes first so it would be 7/2/21. So it would be very easy to get the date confused. The flight attendants are happy to help you with filling out the form if you ask.
Flying into Antigua was amazing. We could see the blue water of the Caribbean and the varied topography of the island from white beaches to many hills. At the airport, everyone was ushered into a line to begin the immigration process. We waited about 15 to 20 minutes, but the flight wasn't full so I'm sure the process could take much longer if the plane was full. The first stop was to present the health questionnaire along with a copy of our negative Covid-19 test. This was an easy process. Then the next stop was Immigration where they review your customs form and passport, confirm why you're visiting and for how long. They keep a portion of the top copy of the customs form and give you back the bottom of the form for your departure. We didn't have any issues. Lastly, we picked up our luggage, a person confirmed our bags (on the customs form you have to state how many bags you have, checked and carry-on.) Then the last person takes the second copy of the customs form. We made it into Antigua!!
One thing I haven't mentioned is at every step of the arrival process you are asked to sanitize your hands. If you come upon someone working at the airport, they are next to a hand sanitizer and will ask you to use it.
Outside of the airport, there are many kiosks for whichever resort you are visiting. We quickly found the Sandals desk and checked in for our ride. Sandals does provide complimentary airport transportation. We took a taxi from the airport to Sandals Grande Antigua, which was about a 20 minute ride. On Antigua, people drive on the left so I was happy that I wasn't driving. I'm sure I would have screwed up one of the turns especially when there is an island in the middle of the road. The roads are narrow, and he drove fairly quickly so it was an interesting ride, and Lynne and I both felt motion sick from it. It is warm in Antigua, about 80 degrees when we arrived - yes it felt amazing! But even though it was warm, they can't use the A/C in the taxi. We could only open the windows. There was clear plastic hanging between the driver and the passenger area. This made it difficult to hear, coupled with a mask, as the driver was talking to us along the ride.
Upon arrival at the resort, we were greeted by several people. A gentleman quickly assisted us with our luggage which was brought to our room. Another man took our temperature while a lady noted our names and temperatures, and another man offered us a cool towel to wipe our hands and faces. We were to be staying in a Club Sandals room, concierge level, in the Mediterranean Village section of the resort, and we were guided into the Club Sandals lounge area for check-in. There, we were given a tablet to check-in, and then we were escorted to our room.
Sandals is practicing the Platinum Protocol of Cleanliness to help keep guests and staff safe during this time. This procedure encompasses added health and wellbeing requirements across all points of contact at every resort, including common areas, all restaurants and kitchens, bars, guest rooms, activities, fitness centers, spas, and includes all behind-the-scenes operations. Once the room is thoroughly cleaned between guests, a label is placed across the door to allow the next guest to know the room has been sanitized and is ready for them.
Around the resort, masks are expected to be worn while you're indoors. You don't need to wear a mask in the pool. To enter a restaurant, you are also asked to sanitize your hands, and you can remove your mask at the table. Outside of the resort, masks are mandatory in all public areas, and people can be fined if they are not wearing a mask. In the airport, there was security stationed around to ensure everyone was wearing a mask.
To return to the US, the CDC is requiring all air passengers entering the United States (including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents) to present a negative Covid-19 test, taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days. Airlines must confirm the negative test result or proof of recovery for all passengers two years of age and over prior to boarding. Airlines must deny boarding of passengers who do not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery.
Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts are offering their guests free Covid-19 antigen (rapid) tests which will be scheduled at the resort within the 72 hours through March 31, 2021. Since we were leaving on a Thursday, our test was scheduled for Tuesday. The nurse I spoke to couldn't have been nicer, and she was great to answer my many questions. The resort is only offering complimentary rapid tests. If a guest were to choose to have a PCR test instead, then it would be at the cost of the guest, and the guest would need to go to the hospital for a doctor to perform the test. If the result of the rapid test was positive, the resort would contact the guest within a short time, otherwise the guest may pick up their Covid test report the following day.
Covid testing rooms
If the rapid test were to come out as positive, the guest would be quarantined in a room, and a doctor would come to do a PCR test to confirm the result. The resort would cover the cost of the test in this instance. If the guest had Covid, then they would have to remain in quarantine. Guests of Sandals Resorts automatically receive travel insurance coverage with their reservation for medical expenses during their resort stay and several additional benefits while away for travel through August 31, 2021. Be sure to review the insurance policy to understand what items will or will not be covered as additional insurance may be needed to cover all of the elements of your travel.
Upon returning back to the airport, the first stop is to present the negative Covid test and to sign a health questionnaire. Then you print your boarding passes from the kiosk and get the tags for checked luggage from the attendant at the desk. You bring your checked bags to be scanned and proceed to emigration. At the emigration counter, you present your passport along with bottom half of your original customs form. The last step is proceeding through security. Again, at each of the steps everyone is encouraged to sanitize their hands, and masks must be worn at all times.
When we landed back in Miami, we proceeded to "Passport Control." Fortunately, it was not busy and the procedure took only a few minutes. You only have to show your passport, and they take a picture of you. We had to pick up our suitcases to drop them of again in another area and go through security one last time. It felt good to be back in the US and on my way home. I love going away, but coming back home to my family is something I always look forward to.
To return to MA, a visitor or resident must fill out a travel form online prior to arrival and quarantine for 10 days or present a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior to arrival. Since I got home late Thursday night and my appointment was Friday afternoon, I will quarantine at home for a few days until my test results come in. Test results come in anywhere from one day to three days after the test has been submitted. Each location seems to be a little different. Please be sure to be familiar with your state's Covid-19 protocols and travel requirements as each state may be a little different.
Before my trip, I was nervous to travel out of the country for the first time during Covid. All of the what-ifs popped into my head. But overall, there was never a moment that I felt compromised or concerned. I felt "safe" throughout my trip. I know that is a relative word as everyone's definition of safe can be different so again, you need to decide how you feel safe and what your comfort level is during this crazy time. I think Sandals Resorts and the airlines have done the best jobs that they can to try to cover all the bases to protect their guests. One of my last thoughts before leaving Antigua was, 'it is ok; I can successfully travel out of the country.' It was such a peaceful relief, and now I can really look forward to my adventure.
April Botta is a Co-Owner of Coasters & Castles Travel