As a travel advisor during the time of Covid-19 I am continually being asked by clients "should I cancel my trip?" It's a great question but it doesn't have the same answer for everyone. If you think the fear of travelling during this pandemic is going to be on your mind the entire time and cause you to not enjoy yourself you should not travel currently. If you don't have high anxiety about travelling and are willing to adhere to social distancing and other current policies you may consider travelling. I can't advise if it's right for you. That is a decision you have to make on your own. I can however give you some insight on a trip I just returned from to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
St. Lucia opened their borders to tourist on July 9, 2020. We arrived the following day on July 10. Here is a brief recap of what we experienced.
All tourist to St. Lucia are required to take a Covid test within 7 days of arrival to the island. We went to a drive through testing site in Buffalo, NY near the Key Bank Center. They really put that test swab way in your nose and it didn't feel great. But it only took 5 seconds so no big deal. They said to allow 3 to 5 days but we had our results back in 1 1/2 days - both negative for Covid. We had to complete a pre-arrival registration form for visitors to St. Lucia online and print out a confirmation.
Upon arrival to the airport in Buffalo, everything was fairly normal. The long term parking lot is closed, but they are offering the enclosed parking for the same price as long term! Of course you have to wear your mask at the airport. The airport was very quiet as there are not many travelers currently which is great for social distancing. Most of the restaurants (including Tim Hortons) were closed so our morning coffee would have to wait. We flew on Delta Airlines and I really enjoyed their new boarding procedure. They boarded by row, starting from the back of the plane and they only called a few rows at a time. For the first time in my travel life, everyone stayed seated until their row was called and there was no mad rush to board the plane before your zone/row was called. I hope that people act like this still after the pandemic is over!!! Please!! It was awesome! Upon boarding, the flight attendant handed you a Lysol wipe that you could use to wipe down your seat. We brought an entire container of Lysol wipes and cleaned our chair, table, seat belts, etc. Delta is cleaning the planes before boarding so I'm sure it wasn't needed but no reason to take any chances! All middle seats are not being sold currently so you have plenty of space to social distance.
Once the plane was in the air there were a few changes. The drink snack service is different. They simply passed out pre-made zip-lock bags that had a bottle of water, some snack crackers and a cookie as well as a packet of hand sanitizer. I barely survived without my morning coffee and Diet Coke - but it's a pandemic so I wasn't upset. The airlines also require you to wear your mask during the flight (unless you are eating your snack). Wearing a mask for a long flight does suck a little but not a big deal. A couple of times I pretended to take a drink from my empty bottle of water so I could take the mask off for 15 seconds. Breathing is not an issue but it gets a little hot wearing a mask for so long. Amen to the health care workers that wear a mask all day, every day.
We arrived in St Lucia on time. Once again, the guests on the plane were amazing. No jumping out of their seats rushing to the front of the plane before the door opens. Everyone stayed seated until it was their time to exit the plane. I love seeing people be courteous. I really hope it continues. We had to wait in a socially distanced line to enter the airport health screening area. We waited about 30 minutes to enter in the covered (shaded area) walkway. Once we made it to the health screening area we were asked to use hand sanitizer and they took our temperature with one of those thermometers they aim at your head. They asked if we had our negative Covid test results and sent us to a line for those who did. If you did not have a negative test they sent you to a different area where you could pay for a test. No one was in that line though. They had us complete a short health questionnaire. Questions like have you been around anyone with Covid-19 recently, do you have any cold symptoms, etc. Once given the all clear they put a white bracelet on our wrists to identify us as "clean" and then we went to customs. No line there, so we breezed by, grabbed our bags, and made our way to the Sandals Lounge. Once past customs you could take the bracelet off. Sandals took our temperature and had us hand sanitize once again. The GM of Sandals La Toc (Mr. G) was there greeting everyone and serving drinks!
After a few minutes our shuttle was ready. They are only allowing 2 couples per shuttle bus for social distancing. Downside - they are not using the air conditioners on the shuttle as they want more airflow I guess as a precaution. But the weather was comfortable and the windows were open so the drive to the resort was fine. The driver wore a mask the entire time.
Upon arrival to the resort they once again came over with some hand sanitizer and another temperature check. Once your hands were clean they handed you the cold lemon grass towel. Since we had completed the online check in we checked in our room with our Sandals butler. The butler explained that all staff were required to wear a mask at all times but it was up to the guests if they wanted to. The advised us on social distancing, etc.
My wife and I are pretty good at social distancing. We are from NY state where this has been the policy for months. We rarely wore our masks at the resort. We grabbed them if we were going to be in a crowded area. We needed them while boarding the catamaran boat for a tour we did, and also on the shuttle to the golf course. Other than that we just made sure to social distance. Since everyone at the resort was required to have a negative Covid test and there are no active cases on the island we were not too worried. However, we choose to keep our distance and other guests did too. Well, mostly. There were a few times at the swim up pool bar that guests were a little closer together than I would think seemed comfortable to me. But I guess if you add swimming and drinking together it's hard for some people to keep their distance. But really it wasn't that bad. We avoided the crowds at the pool bar. It wasn't really hard to avoid crowds because the resort is certainly not at capacity. Even when at capacity Sandals Grande has plenty of space, but I would guess the resort was 50% full at best.
Some other things have changed as well. No entertainment in the theatre, piano bar was closed (although there was a piano player in the lobby area most nights). Instead most of the entertainment took place outside or in the open air lobby area. There was plenty of space and the entertainment team did a great job. No more beach party buffet, but they still did the fire show and traditional entertainment. It was actually one of the best fire shows I've seen. The late night DJ entertainment which is usually in the pub was also moved to the lobby. The pub was open for drinks, food, etc. but due to social distancing the DJ was just outside the pub entrance in the main open air lobby.
Dining was also different. Every restaurant required a reservation for dinner with the exception of the pub. I'm sure this is so guests are not hanging out close together waiting to get a table. All of the restaurants were open, but most were closed two days a week. We had no problem getting in to any restaurant at the time we requested. The only time a buffet was open was during breakfast. However, staff served you your food and it was very sanitary.
You can not leave the resort unless on a tour/excursion or the golf shuttle. I know many people like to leave Sandals Grande and walk to Pigeon Island. Currently you can not do this. I spoke with staff and they said as different phases open it will be allowed, but not yet. We did go the Cap Estate Golf Course owned by Sandals for a round. If you do, just make sure to wear your mask as they require it when you are signing in.
Unfortunately 7 nights went by quick and it was time to head home. Same routine with the shuttle back to the airport. Once at the airport they took our temperature and gave us hand sanitizer once again. The airport duty free, and restaurants were open. Once again everyone was friendly and boarded the plane as instructed. We had a long layover in Atlanta on our way home. New York state has a quarantine list for many states which require 14 days of quarantine at home when returning from said states. Georgia is on that list. HOWEVER, since we were in Georgia for less than 24 hours for a flight connection it does not apply. So no worry about having to quarantine when you get back home. Upon returning to Buffalo, all guests on the flight had to complete a NY health questionnaire. You can do it on a paper copy they have available or scan the QR code and do it on your phone. After completing the form we got a response that said you do NOT need to quarantine.
Now were back home after a great trip. We would not hesitate to travel again and have no regrets to taking the trip. Hopefully this gives you a picture of what to expect if you decide to travel in the short term. I understand many of you are not ready to travel which is 100% fine. When you are ready to travel, we are ready to send you to paradise. Our office is open once again (mask required). Feel free to call for an appointment.
A picture with Sandals Grande St. Lucian Managing Director Winston Anderson (center). I'm to the left of course and my wife Janelle is to the right.