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Needless to say, these last seven months have been very strange. Especially when working in travel! As a travel agent, spring 2020 was filled with cancelling countless client travel plans and summer 2020 was pretty quiet on the international travel front. But, as life is trekking on, things in travel are picking up and travel to the Caribbean has been happening safely, and for quite some time. Last week I was invited to visit Sandals Grande Antigua and this was my first plane and international trip since the start of the pandemic. I had an amazing (and safe) time traveling to the Caribbean during COVID and I am excited to share my story with you!
What it’s Like To Travel to the Caribbean from the US during COVID
As with everything related to COVID-19, check local travel restrictions and make sure you are medically sound to travel. Anytime we leave our home, we put ourselves at risk of contracting this virus, travel being no exception. The decision to travel is a personal one, but please also weigh the risks.
Can you Travel to the Caribbean from the US during COVID?
There have been several islands safely welcoming visitors since early June! As a full service travel agent, I am in constant contact with local tourism boards and get daily Caribbean travel updates.
And friends, Caribbean travel is going well!
Many islands started with small openings – a few resorts, limited to a certain geographical area, no excursions, curfews, things like that. But now the Caribbean islands have expanded their offerings as re-opening tourism has not resulted in coronavirus outbreaks.
You may be wondering what Caribbean islands are open to US tourists?
As of this writing in October 2020 – Jamaica, Mexico, St. Lucia, Antigua, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Barbados, and Grenada have been successfully welcoming back visitors from the United States. Costa Rica, Belize, Turks & Caicos, and the Bahamas are on the verge of re-welcoming US visitors.
Of course, things are always subject to change, but so far, so good!
Do I need a COVID test to visit the Caribbean?
Entry requirements vary by island. MOST require that you arrive with proof of a negative COVID test, taken within a certain timeframe. Timing, and acceptable test type vary by destination so it’s always best to book your vacation with a travel professional who can guide you through this process.
I am in constant contact with the tourism boards so I always have access to the most updated entry requirements. These are also ever changing, so be sure to get the most up to date information.
What if you get a positive COVID test before travel?
Obviously if you test positive for COVID-19, even if you are asymptomatic, you will have to postpone your trip.
For my clients, I only book with suppliers that offer flexible changes to your vacation – even at the last minute, for any reason. This means you won’t be penalized for having to move your trip to a later date, and you won’t lose the value of what you paid.
This is definitely not the time to book with a discount site or bargain supplier! Plus, you will be on the hook for the time and effort to modify your trip.
If you do have to move your trip, you will have to pay any difference in fares and will probably not be refunded if the cost of the new trip is less.
Tips for Booking a Flight to the Caribbean During the Pandemic
As of this writing in Fall 2020, airline carriers have cut back on their “normal” service. For example, direct flights from New York to Antigua only go twice a week, on one airline (Jet Blue). So, expect there might not be many flight options to choose from – and being flexible with travel dates might be the way to go to get direct flights or better fares.
Throughout the pandemic, the airlines have been great about offering travelers the ability to change their flight, even at the last minute. They have been generous about offering travel credits for future flights, so you can be confident you won’t lose the value of what you paid.
In recent weeks, all of the major airlines have announced plans to continue this policy of no change fees and this is something I would like to see stay around!
JANUARY 2021 UPDATE: Many carriers are NO LONGER offering flexible changes on Basic Economy fares.
Knowing you can bail out and not lose your money definitely instills confidence when deciding to book a trip during this health crisis. I know for me, it gave me total peace of mind if conditions worsened and I could not travel, or if God forbid I got a positive COVID test!
A Honeymoon to Antigua during COVID
I’m going to back up a little here – this post is to be about MY trip to Sandals Grande Antigua, BUT I wanted to give a mention about a trip I planned for clients for August 2020 to this same resort.
This honeymoon couple and I began working together back in January of 2020. Their wedding was scheduled for May of 2020 and they wanted a two week honeymoon to Italy and Greece for July of the same year.
I put together the most amazing honeymoon for them – direct flights in comfort plus from JFK to Greece, a night in Athens, a flight to Santorini, and a week in a cliffside villa with private plunge pool! And if that wasn’t fabulous enough, they then were going to fly from Santorini to Naples, Italy for a week on the amazing Amalfi Coast.
Yeah, that was the plan.
And of course, they were so glad they booked this entire trip with their trusted travel agent, ME! I was able to get their Greece hotels refunded, and they had only made a small ($600) deposit on their flight and Italy package.
Having stayed up on all the latest Caribbean travel updates, I helped the couple narrow down their options to change the location of their honeymoon. We were then able to apply that $600 deposit to their August Sandals Grande Antigua vacation.
Again, such a plus to book with me and my preferred suppliers, given worldwide flexibility to change your Europe Honeymoon into an all-inclusive Antigua stay!
Anyway, we booked this lucky couple at Sandals Antigua in their top suite – a one bedroom villa with a private plunge pool. Forget Airbnb, this is the way to travel safely! With 24-hour butler service you could have all your meals brought in to you (and alcohol) and you have your own private pool and hot tub!
Social distancing in paradise!
Needless to say, this couple had an amazing time!
In our post-trip call, they mentioned they felt extremely safe traveling to Sandals Antigua. They arrived on island with their negative test results and had some health screening questions to answer upon arrival at the airport.
They wore masks on the plane, in the airport in Antigua, and during the 20-minute ride to the resort. Once on property, you can remove your mask, although it is recommended to wear them indoors when you cannot social distance.
And if you are in Antigua, why would you want to be indoors?
I loved my trip to Sandals Grenada last year, and Sandals Resorts have been open safely since the beginning of June. Their platinum protocol of cleanliness is top notch. Check out this video for more:
Travel to the Caribbean Now – My Trip to Antigua from the US during COVID
After my clients’ successful trip to Antigua, I had been hoping to visit the Caribbean this fall. Many agent friends were taking advantage of invitations to visit and reduced rates for travel professionals. Honestly, the resorts want us to come to show folks how wonderful a Caribbean vacation can be!
So, when I received an invitation to visit a Sandals resort this fall (and with a guest to boot) I booked it immediately!
PS. I’m also going to Mexico in November on another travel agent trip to tour the Karisma resorts!
Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life – I actually had my choice of visiting Jamaica or Antigua and I chose Antigua because the flight prices were so good!
Booking my Flight to Antigua during the Pandemic
As I mentioned above, there wasn’t much selection in terms of flight options from New York-JFK, but the price on a round trip, direct flight was definitely below normal. I opted for the Blue Fare (basic economy on Jet Blue) for several reasons.
When I travel solo, I will skimp and just book the lowest fare. I am small and although I hate the middle seat, I can sit in one if need be. In normal life, I travel so much so it’s nice to save a little money.
Because of the pandemic, Jet Blue is limiting plane capacity to 70% so I figured I won’t have to sit in a middle anyway. Airlines are also boarding the planes by rows, back to front, so people don’t have to walk passed others as they board. First of all, this is so smart, but also, then paying extra for a better boarding group doesn’t matter!
NOVEMBER 2020 UPDATE: Now it seems that the basic fares are ONLY flexible if you PURCHASE BY 12/31/2020 – so you want to check with your carrier for current updates.
DECEMBER 2020 UPDATE: In December 2020 I traveled safely to Costa Rica for a week long travel agent trip (go to tour Planet Hollywood Beach Resort which has recently reopened), and then over to Jamaica to tour Breathless Montego Bay and Sandals Royal Caribbean. To expedite your arrival in Jamaica, be sure to add Club Mobay to your Jamaica vacation!
JANUARY 2021 UPDATE: My family and I just returned from six nights at the Royalton Antigua. Although the resort was not the best, it was fine to travel to Antigua with children.
Pre-Travel COVID test for Travel To Antigua
In the fall of 2020, a negative PCR test taken within seven days of your flight is required for entrance to Antigua. Our trip is departing on a Thursday morning, so we (my cousin is coming with me on this adventure) went to a local urgent care to take our test the Friday before. We wanted to give ourselves the entire week to get the results as the urgent care was quoting us 5-7 days to get the results.
We went to a local ProHealth and did not need an appointment. I was so nervous about the test, and yes it was SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE, but not the worst thing I have ever done.
They do have to swab into your nose pretty far up, and it is annoying that they need to do it in BOTH nostrils. It burned a bit and was totally unpleasant, but it didn’t hurt or anything.
Two days later, on Sunday morning, the urgent care called me to tell me my test was negative, and the next day I went back to the facility to pick up a print out of my results.
Definitely a relief to have that done, and to have the results in hand. I finally felt like I could pack for Antigua!
Packing for Caribbean Travel During the Pandemic
If you follow me, you know I am a big fan of lists when it comes to vacation packing. Honestly, my packing list for this trip isn’t much different than for a “normal” all-inclusive vacation.
PS. When you book your Sandals Vacation with me, I send you my exclusive packing list in addition to getting my expert (and FREE) planning services!
But because of the pandemic I brought along some extra masks, (both my reusable ones I got at the re-opening of Disney Springs and disposable), extra hand sanitizer, a mask lanyard, and some travel Lysol wipes. For the plane I brought more food than I normally would (a Quest bar for breakfast and some leftover salad I had made) because I wasn’t sure what would be available for purchase at the airport or on the plane.
Flying to the Caribbean during the Pandemic
I wrote a whole article about flying during the pandemic, complete with booking tips, and what to bring on your flight.
From my experience flying from New York to Antigua, air travel is similar to how it always was, except you are wearing masks through your flights and service on the flight is limited to a pre-made snack/water bag.
From talking to other guests at Sandals Grande Antigua, and my own experience, limited routes are being serviced, so you might have to make more connections or be flexible with your travel dates. In fact, on the day we left Antigua, there were only two flights to the US – one to NY and one to Miami.
What Happens When you Land in Antigua?
Some islands have a pre-travel authorization you need to obtain, but Antigua does not.
On the plane, immigration forms were handed out.
PRO-TIP: Always bring a pen on an international flight.
Landing in Antigua, and clearing immigration was similar to “normal” travel, but with an added health screening check.
Pack your negative COVID test results in your carry-on.
Put it with your passport, and like you do with your immigration documents, make a copy to leave at home and/or scan onto your mobile device.
Just in case!
When we landed in Antigua, we got on line and were handed a health form to fill out. Ladies in nurses uniforms were on hand to assist.
We then went down the stairs, had our temperature scanned and proceeded to a health screening checkpoint.
There someone looked at our passports and negative test results. I think she might have asked me for my name and date of birth but it was very quick.
We then proceeded to “normal” immigration check you would expect anytime traveling to the Caribbean. Passport check (and another stamp – anyone else LOVE getting passport stamps?), pick up your checked luggage and one last stop at customs before you are officially welcome in Antigua!
All-Inclusive Caribbean Resort stays during COVID
I stayed in seven domestic hotels during the pandemic (this summer). Beautiful properties like the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, The Westin Jekyll Island and Disney’s Pop Century Resort. We felt totally safe at our hotels and I knew a stay at Sandals would be no exception.
Upon arrival at the airport the Sandals rep sanitized our luggage. Upon arrival on property they took our temperature. Throughout the resort they had enhanced cleaning and social distancing protocols in place.
On resort property, staff wore masks at all times, but guests were not required to.
While at Sandals Grande Antigua, I realized how nice it was to essentially be in an all-inclusive resort bubble. Since all our meals, activities, accommodations, and recreation was on the Sandals property, we knew EVERY aspect of our experience was being held to that high level of cleanliness.
Definitely a big perk for all-inclusive stays at this time.
In fact, at a resort like Sandals Grande Antigua, you could even book into a one-bedroom villa with butler, private pool, and your own hot tub, and never have to leave your little hut!
Talk about social distancing in paradise!
How to book your Caribbean Vacation during COVID
If you are interested in traveling to the Caribbean (or Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Jamaica, etc.) this Fall or Winter, I URGE you to book with a trusted travel agent. Yes, I’d love for that agent to be me, but either way, don’t book the trip yourself, or online with a discount vendor.
You want to make sure you have low deposits, flexible change options, and are staying at a resort that has been safely welcoming visitors. You also need someone to guide you through the ever changing entry protocols, and you definitely want someone in your corner if things go south.
I can put together a great package deal for you – with airfare, hotel and all transportation. With one price, and a low deposit, you can hold off on final payment until travel gets closer and again, with the flexibility to change to another time, or another destination depending on current travel conditions.
I can’t wait to get started planning your next Caribbean adventure. I can help you choose the perfect island and resort for your trip. And the best part – no fees! My services definitely save you time, but can also save you money in the long run.
Can I Travel to Mexico during COVID?
November 2020 UPDATE: Last week, I had the awesome opportunity to travel to Cancun, Mexico and tour seven Karisma resorts in Riviera Maya, including staying at the El Dorado Royale resort!
Right now, resorts in the Cancun/Riviera Maya area as well as Cabo/Puerto Vallarta area are open and welcoming US visitors. Confusing because the LAND border to Mexico is closed to Americans, but the tourist areas have been allowing visitors since the summer.
When flying to Mexico, you do NOT need a COVID test prior to travel.
When you are about to arrive in Mexico, you will be given a traveler health form. At the airport, your temperature is taken via radar and then you pass thru the normal immigration process.
Upon departure, you need to fill out ANOTHER traveler health form before passing through security. You can scan the QR code on your phone, and do it electronically (there is free wi-fi in the Cancun Airport) or you can fill out paper form (you can find these right before you pass through security upstairs).
I loved visiting Mexico, the beautiful resorts, amazing food and incredible people – definitely a destination to consider if you are traveling to the Caribbean now.
Needing a COVID test to fly home from Abroad
UPDATE JANUARY 2021:
This week, the CDC issued a new mandate (goes into effect 1/26/2021) that ALL travelers need a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure for any US bound international flight.
Over the last few days some updates have unfolded and as of now this is what we know (You can also find out more here):
⭐️ Passengers without proof of a negative test will be denied boarding
⭐️ The only exception is if you have tested POSITIVE in the last 90 days AND have a note from a doctor clearing you to travel
⭐️ At this time, vaccinated passengers STILL NEED a negative test
⭐️ Many resort brands are now offering on-site testing for no, or a small fee
⭐️ If you test positive, many resort brands are offering to put you up until cleared to travel for no charge, or a small fee
⭐️ I have “heard” of insurance policies that will cover your quarantine costs – getting more info on specifics
⭐️ This mandate DOES NOT apply to domestic travel including flights back to the mainland from HAWAII, US VIRGIN ISLANDS OR PUERTO RICO (Although those destinations require you to have pre-travel testing)
Have you traveled to the Caribbean during this pandemic? Which island do you want to visit next?