What is it like to travel to the Caribbean these days in the Covid-19 era with more requirements than just a passport, carry-on luggage and a tube of sunscreen (remember those days?)
I asked this question to Stephen and Angela Byrd, veteran travelers with a deep love for a particular island and resort. I wanted the perspective of experienced travelers.
The Byrds recently returned from their seventh trip to the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort on Eagle Beach, Aruba.
“We booked this trip in September 2019. When Covid came and the borders were closed to US travelers, we checked with Bucuti for information,” Stephen said.
“We examined the description of the Bucuti protocols for cleaning, disinfection and hygiene on the website. Very impressive, ”he said. “We just knew Covid wasn’t going to keep us away from Aruba and wouldn’t keep us away from Bucuti.”
The Byrd’s first trip to Aruba was in 2007. A visit to the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) has long been on her wish list.
“We booked this first trip through my nephew, who was a travel agent at the time. We have booked directly since then. We loved the resort and the island from that first visit and we knew we would be back, ”he said.
Aruba reopened its borders to US travelers on July 10th. The Byrds pinned their flights for mid-August and asked 72 hours before they left where they could take the required Covid-19 test and get the result back.
“We asked our doctor, we asked in the hospital, in the laboratory, at CVS, but no one could guarantee less than one test result in seven to ten days, so we flew to Aruba out of faith and trust, knowing that we’d be tested it on arrival, ”said Stephen.
Shortly after booking their flights, they had filled out and uploaded the required embarkation card and received an email confirming their travel authorization prior to departure.
Her route took her on a sparsely filled American flight from Baltimore / Washington Airport to Miami and then in first class to Aruba.
“Everyone wore masks. The plane was half full. We have grapes and a packet of cheese to eat, ”said Angela.
When they arrived at Queen Beatrix Airport in Aruba, they were greeted at the escalator by a member of the airport concierge who showed them through customs and on to the testing area.
“We have the nasal swab. My wife said it was okay, I found it uncomfortable, ”Stephen said.
The Byrds had taken out mandatory Aruba travel insurance three days prior to their departure. They also had their own health insurance to cover the price of $ 75 for each swab.
The 15-minute transfer from First Class Aruba to Bucuti with 104 rooms took place in a black Mercedes limousine with an anniversary sign on the rear window.
Their masked driver took them to the resort entrance, where masked staff, many of whom the Byrds knew from previous visits, waited to greet them with music and champagne.
“There is no more reception. We had pre-registered so our concierge escorted us to our penthouse suite where we quarantined until we got our test results, ”Stephen said.
The results came by text at 9:17 p.m., just over six hours after the swabs. The results were negative, and the Byrds ordered room service and went to bed after their long day of travel.
When the couple explored the well-known resort in the days that followed, they were surprised to find so few guests.
“There were a lot of couples there on our previous visits. Bucuti is an adults only resort, very romantic and a lot of weddings take place there. It was heartbreaking to see so few people, ”said Angela.
Everyone they spoke to said they made the right decision. “The guests, a mix of repeaters and first-time visitors, were happy and happy to be there,” said Stephen.
Most of the time, the Byrds dined al fresco, although the restaurants offered indoor seating as well, with all tables 6 feet or more apart.
“Our menu was on an iPad with a sticker on, which meant it had been cleaned up. We gave our order to our masked waiter, who delivered our food on a tray and placed it on a small rack next to us. All dishes were covered, ”said Angela.
The couple were invited to dinner in a private cabana on the beach as part of their anniversary celebration.
Ewald Biemans, founder and CEO of Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, used the downtime during the border closure to renovate the sandbar, re-tile the main pool and redesign the lobby.
“All these changes just gilded the lily,” said Angela. “The whole place was even more beautiful than before.”
On their 50th birthday, the bartenders at the Sand Bar named a cocktail after the couple. The Byrd Marley is now an integral part of the cocktail menu.
The couple, who met when they were 19, call Bucuti “their perfect place. We know there are other places, but this is the place and island we love, ”Stephen said.
The day of departure came too early. At the checkout they simply handed in their key. Billing was done in advance by credit card.
Biemans was there to say goodbye, wish them a safe journey, and take care of one last detail for them. The couple booked the visit for the same week the following year.
“Our hearts are with Bucuti,” said Stephen.