Taking To The Skies Again (with the Foxs)

Katie, who is a dear friend and loyal travel client of mine for years reached out to me during the height of the pandemic looking to somehow salvage her honeymoon plans.  With all the excitement leading up to her big day, she and her now husband needed a way to celebrate under the sun as safely and as convenient as possible.  They contacted yours truly and together we planned a dreamy mini-moon.  So, you are asking, is safe and convenient even possible now?  I picked the brain of the beautiful bride to answer some questions in regards to their travel experience. 

First thing is first:  Location! We landed on Playa Mujeres, Mexico as the destination.   Mexico is one of the only destinations not requiring travelers to show a negative Covid-19 test from 72 hours prior to arriving at the airports. This was a huge bonus since Katie and Breardon were leaving on a weekend and getting married just two days before, and with testing facilities only providing results 5-6 days later, this could have potentially created a big problem.  Mexico is open and welcoming travelers with the right precautions to insure a safe environment for all. Add in non-stop flights, warm weather, the right price, the beautiful beaches and a brand new adult-only, all inclusive hotel and SOLD! What more could one ask for especially after quarantining for 6 months? So, here comes the questions on everyone’s mind and I couldn’t be more grateful to Katie for allowing me to dig in and bring those answers to you.  While in quarantine, I have been on zoom conferences with countless hotel chains, tour companies, transfer services and airlines to understand what protocols are being taken now to be sure my clients are safe BUT there truly is nothing like a real life experience so I truly was excited to chat with Katie. Thanks, Katie!

How was the check-in process at JFK airport in NYC? The check-in process was very easy, since there aren’t many people flying right now! There is no curbside check in, therefore everyone was checking in at kiosks (bring disinfecting wipes to wipe down the screens prior to using!) and then checked our bags – very painless. There are stickers all over the airport floor reminding people to keep their distance. We gave ourselves extra time and got to the airport early in case it was a slower check-in process and security wait because of Covid, but that wasn’t the case for us at all! The only time we had to take off our masks was while going through security for them to confirm we were the people on our passports.

Did you notice any new protocols implemented that made you feel more or less safe since the pandemic? Yes! More Safe! There is hand sanitizer everywhere. All of the seating areas are marked to keep 6 feet distance.

Did you feel social distancing was in play? Absolutely! The airport definitely had reminders to keep social distance, now if only everyone respected social distancing…

How was the boarding process? So, the boarding process was actually the easiest boarding process I’ve ever had. Instead of boarding in zones, they boarded people with disabilities first and then everyone else boarded based on their seat location starting with the back of the plane moving forward. The goal of this type of boarding is to limit how often people walked past each other. I also did not feel rushed at all with people cramming right up behind me while boarding as I typically feel with normal boarding. Slower, less pressured boarding allowed me to make sure our entire row was disinfected with disinfecting wipes.

What can you share about your in flight experience? We wore masks the entire flight. Jetblue does not allow masks that have air vents – just an FYI! Also, Jetblue is not doing any purchasing in flight – therefore no alcohol, blankets, earphones, etc. can be purchased. All snacks were distributed in pre-packaged bags that were “minimally touched.” The flight attendants came by once everyone was boarded to collect disinfecting wipes people had used to wipe down the seats. 

How was your experience once disembarking your flight in Cancun? The airline instructed everyone form the front of the plane to disembark first, however as per usual people on the back of the plane rush up to the front to get off first. Breandan and I just waited in our seats because it wasn’t worth it trying to squeeze by people and get too close for our comfort.

Did you need to provide a negative Covid test result or fill out any forms upon arriving into Cancun? No! We checked the Jetblue website daily to ensure the requirements didn’t change just to make sure we didn’t run into hiccups during our honeymoon. 

We all know customs can easily look like 5th ave during rush hour, how long were you waiting and how was your interaction with the customs agent? Mexico’s customs line actually moved pretty quickly. Again, they had stickers to remind people of social distancing. On the plane we had to fill out an additional form to hand in at customs that asked questions regarding our possible Covid exposure before the trip. Mexico has thermal cameras set up when you go through customs. If someone’s thermal screening is elevated, they have people ready to do a rapid Covid test. Additionally, they checked our temperatures as we went through customs.

It seems hard to social distance in the dreadful baggage claim areas.  How was your experience? We just stood off to the side briefly until we saw our bags and then squeezed through, masks on, to get to them.

You are finally making your way out of the airport! How was the handoff and overall experience with our transfer company to and from the airport in Cancun? Handoff was so easy! Thankfully, Gina had our transportation all set up and ready to go. We showed our itinerary to one of the people outside of baggage claim and they told us who to look for when we got out of the airport. We were the only people in our transfer – so we didn’t have to worry about sharing a car with anyone. The company handling the transfer disinfected our suitcases with wipes, sprayed our shoes with bleach, gave us sanitizer to use in front of them, and we wore masks the entire drive. We were really impressed with the precautions they took – NYC taxis and Uber should take note!

You step out of the car and take your first steps in paradise! How were you greeted upon arriving at the hotel and how was the check-in process? We were greeted again with hand sanitizer and disinfecting our shoes before we could enter the hotel. They also checked our temperatures. Our hotel, The Atelier, has check in available across 4 locations, therefore we didn’t cross paths with anyone else checking in. We sat away from the woman helping us with the check in process and wore masks the entire time. The hotel used bracelets which had keys attached – I was really relieved to not be using a key that many people have used before me.

Did you have any awkward exchanges with staff where you felt you needed to disinfect yourself head to toe?  Honestly, I am a complete germaphobe. I DID NOT feel awkward and want to bathe in bleach AT ALL during our stay. It was really comforting that the hotel had sanitizing stations all over the hotel. The hotel employees were constantly coming up to us offering hand sanitizer. All of the employees wore masks 100% of the time.

I always feel like it is the little things that make for the biggest impact? Did anything extra stand out? I really liked how much of our stay was contactless. Any reservations we wanted to make – instead of visiting or calling concierge, we were able to do it all through the hotel app. Whenever we wanted to have our room cleaned, we just messaged them through the app to ensure we didn’t cross paths with the maid. All of the menus were QR codes, so we weren’t touching menus other guests had been touching. The maids left hand sanitizer and masks in the room everyday to ensure the guests were never without it. It was really impressive how the hotel went above and beyond to make their guests feel safe and secure, while still ensuring we enjoyed our vacation.

Did you leave the hotel grounds? Breandan and I did a little trip to Isla Mujeres – we took a cab to the ferry and spent the day golf carting around the island.  I was so impressed with how clean the ferry was, they had a capacity limit due to Covid-19 restrictions, and then when we got to the port we walked through sanitizing booths and had our temperature taken. It was so worth it!

With all the new procedures and protocols implemented, did your hotel stay actually feel like a vacation? Yes, it did! Whether we’re in NY or Mexico, I just think this is our “new normal.”

From hand sanitizer to masks and social distancing, how did this all interfere with your vacation? It didn’t really! The hotel was only allowed to have 33% occupancy. When we were by the pool or beach we never had a hard time getting seats where we could distance ourselves.  Restaurants only allowed a certain number of people in them at one time due to Covid-19 restrictions.  Just like in NY, we wore masks while walking around the hotel. When we were seated in a restaurant or by the pool, we took our masks off – again, it didn’t feel weird because it is just our “new normal.”

Do you feel it is too soon to travel or that the right protocols are in place to have a successful, safe trip? I definitely felt safe in Mexico and would go back in a heartbeat. NYC can definitely take notes between the readily available hand sanitizer, thermal cameras, and the constant temperature taking! 

Any advice for those of us that are in dire need of a vacation but are concerned for our safety? I’d just really make sure you are prepared. Again, I am a germaphobe and was very nervous to travel (but, also desperate to go on a honeymoon after all of the Covid-19 wedding dilemmas we had faced), so my carry on was filled with items to make me feel safe – extra masks, disinfecting antibacterial hand wipes, hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, etc. We packed our own snacks so that we didn’t have to eat anything else had touched. I also recommend printed boarding passes because I did not want anyone touching my phone. We absolutely LOVED our trip – the hotel was wonderful!  The staff was so helpful, the food was amazing (and I don’t always love food on vacation because I’m so picky), and we felt really safe.  

“Thank you again for your help, Gina – you make planning vacations so much easier!” – Katie Fox