Our COVID Travel Experience
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Well, we finally did it...we travelled during the COVID pandemic. We have been hunkered down since March...waiting, worrying, watching my travel business slowly bleed out. I finally had enough of the fear! It was time to do something!
I know there are very few destinations allowing Americans in currently, but Mexico is open, welcoming US travelers, and only requires a health assessment to enter. So I went to work! I researched the sanitation procedures of the airlines...the protocols being used by the transfer company...the COVID policies of the resorts. I checked our MedJet Horizon policy to make sure we could be evacuated if we developed symptoms and confirmed a Travelex policy would cover trip cancellation and medical treatment for COVID if necessary. We evaluated our risk factors...we are not in a vulnerable category, we have good medical coverage, and we can easily quarantine upon our return until we can get a negative test result. So I bought the airline tickets, made the resort reservations, confirmed the private transfers, and bought the Travelex policy.
Boy, am I ever glad I did!!!
We arrived at the airport earlier than usual to give us extra time to get through TSA as I knew
there were new protocols and fewer TSA employees working. I made note that everyone was wearing a mask and the Delta agents were wiping down the kiosks and counters after each traveler. We headed to security and there was no one in the TSA pre-check line. I breezed through without issue...although Charles was stopped and had his bag checked for the allowed 8oz bottle of hand sanitizer he had packed. Once through and into the terminal, we noticed the small crowd size in general, but there was quite a line at Chick-Fil-A as it was the only restaurant open. We stopped at the newsstand to buy a couple of bottles of water and headed to our gate. We were flying on Delta through Atlanta then into Cancun. Although they had been a little more expensive, I felt more comfortable booking with them as they were still blocking center seats. They had also been by far the easiest airline to work with when I had passengers stranded when the pandemic first hit, and had made exceptions to refund client’s tickets far more than any other carrier. I appreciate that kind of partnership and wanted to be loyal to the airline that had been there for me and my clients. While the flight was full, with the reduced capacity the gate area didn’t seem overcrowded. Everyone was wearing their masks (correctly for the most part) and were respectful to fellow passengers and offered extra space during the boarding process. We were handed a sanitizing wipe as we entered the plane and carefully wiped down our row when we sat down. We arrived in Atlanta and found it to be much the same as we had noticed in Birmingham. There were a few people that removed their masks in the gate area for the Cancun flight, and we made sure to stay away from them, but they replaced them as more passengers started arriving. The flight to Cancun went off without issue (there was no food service but we did receive a snack bag with crackers, cookies and a bottle of water) and we were soon arriving into beautiful Mexico. We breezed through customs, again with everyone being very respectful to give plenty of space, and walked out to find the 4 World Expeditions representative waiting for us. He was very pleasant, welcoming us, taking our luggage and quickly guiding us to the waiting, well air conditioned, luxury SUV where he introduced us to our driver. We were offered hand sanitizer, refreshing cool disposable towels to wipe our faces, cold drinks, and chargers for our electronics as we made the 45 minute trip to Playa del Carmen.
We arrived at Grand Velas Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort, stopping at the entrance gate where a guard came to verify our reservation and take everyone’s temperature and conduct a health assessment before opening the gate. When we arrived at the Grand Class lobby, the bellmen quickly took our bags to be sanitized before being delivered to our room. We noted that everyone on the resort staff wore not only a medical grade mask, but a face shield as
well. We were ushered into the lobby area where we were asked to step onto a shoe sanitizing mat, offered hand sanitizer, had our temperature taken and asked health screening questions again. We were offered champagne as we were seated in comfortable club chairs while we were checked into our suite and introduced to our concierge, Diana, who then showed us to our accommodations. While it is required for all resort staff to wear PPE, we were told that it is optional for guests and I will confess that after having a mask on from 6am to 3pm, I was more than happy to remove it! And after all the health screenings we went through, knowing the screenings for the staff, and hearing that there had not been a single case of COVID among the staff or guests thus far, I felt very comfortable without a mask. We constantly saw staff members cleaning throughout the property as well so felt that risk of spread was being minimized as much as possible.
As we arrived at our suite, Diana assured us that the room had been completely sanitized and a seal placed across the door to ensure that no one had entered it prior to our arrival. The Grand Class Suites are incredibly spacious, minimalistically decorated with Mexican artwork, and appointed with high end finishes that give it a feeling of true luxury. The suite has a large balcony with incredible oceanfront views and private plunge pool. The bathroom has a large jacuzzi tub, fabulous steam shower with rainhead and wand showerheads, double vanity, private water closet, and a large walk-in closet. Plush robes, bedroom slippers, and L’Occitane products are provided to completely pamper guests. The king bed was very comfortable with crisp, luxurious sheets and fluffy pillows. There is also a well stocked mini-bar with wine, beer, soft drinks, snacks, and of course a bottle of Mezcal accompanied by sliced oranges and salt.
Although Mexico is under “YELLOW” restrictions, which allows for 60% occupancy of hotels and resorts, Grand Velas has opted to keep even lower occupancy levels to ensure that their guests have plenty of room around the resort, and boy did we ever have room! We felt like we had the resort completely to ourselves for the first two days. There were often times we were the only diners in the restaurants and lounging at the pool. Again, upon entering the restaurants, you were asked to step on a sanitizing mat, offered hand sanitizer, and have a temperature check. Guests were seated apart from each other and room service was offered 24 hours a day if you preferred not to dine in the restaurants. While we had coffee and pastries delivered each morning, we ate in the restaurants simply because we didn’t want to miss out on the amazing service experience! To simply say the staff is attentive would be an injustice. They call you by name, anticipate your every need, remember your preferences, and take every opportunity to go above and beyond, not only in the restaurants, but also at the bar, by the pool, at the beach cabanas...basically everyone you come in contact with. Our concierge, Diana, was amazing and any question or request we had was handled directly, reservations made, spa services lined up, yoga and kayaking tours booked, and even a surprise rose petal bubble bath drawn. The staff made it very hard to leave this wonderful resort!
The restaurants were amazing not only for the high level of service, but for the incredible
menus! We were delighted not only by the deliciousness of the dishes, but the creativity and beautiful plating! It was like dining in a top Michelin starred restaurant at every meal! Currently the restaurants open each day are limited to two, but they are rotating menus being served so you have an opportunity to experience as many of their dining options as possible. We were especially happy to be able to dine at the 4-diamond Piaf restaurant serving elevated French cuisine and the 5-diamond Cocina de Autor’s incredible 10-course tasting menu. Both were amazing experiences.
Unfortunately, after a few days of complete relaxation and pampering, it was time for us to return home and get back to the real world. Our checkout was handled quickly, we were warmly bid farewell, and our driver, again with 4 World Expeditions, was waiting for us as we left the lobby. After our bags were placed in the car, we were offered hand sanitizer, cool drinks and snacks, and charger cables during our ride. Our driver was very pleasant, asking about our trip, and assuring us of our arrival to the airport in plenty of time to check in and get through security. Getting through any foreign airport is always a little confusing, but we found our way to the check-in, completed the necessary health questionnaire on our cell phones to get our Q-codes to get through security, and made it to the gate with plenty of time to spare.
The Cancun airport was not overly crowded and there was plenty of space in the gate area. Boarding on the flight was not quite as socially distanced as is ideal, but at least everyone was wearing masks. We were surprised at how busy the Atlanta airport was when we landed, particularly that late in the evening, but again everyone wore their masks. We made it home and were happy to be greeted by our sweet pup that our son had brought home from the kennel earlier in the day.
I don’t know if it’s just because we were so appreciative to be able to travel again, but this was truly one of the best trips we have been on. We are now home, missing beautiful Mexico, and quarantining until we go for our COVID tests next week. After the success of this experience, I am really looking forward to going on another trip as soon as possible. I know I have many clients who are also ready to get back out there to see the world, and I encourage you to carefully assess your risk comfort level, then give me a call to discuss your options. I believe that we can safely travel again, and am ready whenever you are!
(Update: After a week of quarantining, we tested negative for COVID, so I think we can definitely call our trip a success!)