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The Dominican Republic’s Comeback

The Dominican Republic’s Comeback

If you were to ask me for a trip that is packed with big value, the Dominican Republic would be top of my list.  This destination offers a big bang for the buck. Epic suites, brand new resorts, world renowned hotel chains, massive beaches, and the list goes on and on. You can experience the luxury lifestyle without breaking the bank. This is largely why the island has seen a steadily increase in travelers and tourists each year. Known for its sandy beaches, clear blue ocean and the convenient all-inclusive hotel option, it can be quite the vacationer’s paradise.  The safety of the Dominican Republic has come up quite a lot over the last year, and again, with the worldwide spread of Covid-19. Toward the end of last year, I was interviewed live on CBS world news and numerous other press outlets regarding safety in the Dominican Republic and I’m happy to set the record straight and deliver some peace of mind once again!

More than 15 million tourists were welcomed to the Dominican Republic last year, and that number was climbing. It’s one of the most visited Caribbean islands and the growing majority returned home safely and with happy memories.  Unfortunately, late in 2019, we were reminded that this is not always the case, and then once again due to shut downs to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Like anywhere, natural disasters, crime and violence could be an issue even in the very magical spots we dream of. Don’t let this scare you because the odds of a traveler being involved in any type of violence or contradicting a disease are rare.

The claims of tainted alcohol was ruled out after a thorough FBI investigation, as were other forms of foul play. After speculations of tainted alcohol consumed the media news and caused enormous damage to the tourist industry, the Dominican Republic was finally turning the corner. Dominican Republic officials, along with the U.S. Ambassador, met in New York City to introduce new safety measures. These measures include reinforcing the availability to call 911 in every guest room, a new emergency tourist center in Punta Cana, where multi-lingual specialists can communicate with tourists and their families, an additional 4,000 agents were hired for both the tourist security agency and the national police, and 3,000 more public security cameras have been installed. The Ministry of Tourism also announced that it partnered with Ecolab, a United States-based water, hygiene and energy technology lab to provide training and certification to all Department of Tourism Services and Companies inspectors. It was a rough patch for the destination but travel was finally picking up.

That was short lived, when Covid-19 shut down the world including the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. Fast forward to now and the country is one of the best options for a vacation during these unprecedented times. Not only are flight schedules back (including non-stop flights!), hotels are reopening, borders are open and the best policies and procedures are in place to ensure a safe and fun vacation. The enticing part is travelers are not forced to take or present a negative Covid-19 test. At the moment this is the only island destination eliminating this part of the process! What is also really selling travelers is the FREE travel insurance plan provided for all tourist. Yes! Free!

All international tourists arriving on commercial flights and visiting a hotel will be granted a temporary, free travel insurance plan. This insurance plan provides coverage for emergencies in the event of an infection or exposure to COVID-19 while in-country. The coverage includes medical attention by specialists, medical transfers, transfer of a relative, penalty for airfare changes, lodging for prolonged stays and more. The Dominican Republic is coughing up the cash and picking up the tab so don’t worry about any hidden fees! One death, is one too many. When you compare the numbers of cases in Punta Cana compared to much of the rest of the country, the numbers stand out, with only 23 deaths of the 2,167 in the country. This is the lowest number of deaths seen in a popular tourist part of the country. The Dominican Republic has successfully reopened with some amazing procedures in place such as the free insurance coverage. The rest of the world can learn from their example. What more? Social distancing, face mask mandates and curfews are mandatory for locals. Any hotels I recommend to my clients have elevated their standards of quality and cleanliness, backed by third-party certifications while following guidance from World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), and local ministries of health. I am impressed with the countless ways hotels are going above and beyond. For instance, daily temperature checks for all employees before entering the resort grounds, hand sanitizing stations located throughout the properties, disinfecting of luggage upon arriving, staff requirement to wear PPE masks at all times, restaurant and bar capacities have been reduced, buffets will no longer offer self-service, increased frequency of deep-cleaning and disinfecting of all common areas and guest rooms (in addition to back of house areas) and so many more procedures that will really make you confident during you stay!

Making sure my clients are comfortable in their choice of hotel and destination is my top priority, like it is always.  It has been a rough year the tourism industry but maybe even more so for the Dominican Republic being the Country was hit back to back. All of the chaos has shed some light on another matter, not all travel agencies and online booking engines will have your back. Is it surprising? Not really, money is still money to some, bad news or no news.  I received countless calls and emails from travelers that were not given the support or the opportunity to move or change their plans to suit their needs best.  I have heard of websites and company’s going out of business and leaving travelers high and dry. I have heard of insane hold times, the lack of call-backs, thousands of dollars lost and no customer service. Ridiculous, outrageous even! My advice, be careful who you book with. While that popular website is enticing being it is a quick click away from a vacation, you’re just a number and not a personal concern for someone. Plus it has never been more important to support local. Also, consider your options for travel insurance, pack a mask and hand sanitizer, and keep updated on the latest information published by both local and international authorities.

On an exciting note, The Dominican Republic has seen some brand new hotel openings and several others in the works! The architecture, grounds, suites and facilities will not disappoint. And the price, unbeatable! From small families to honeymooners, groups and even destination weddings, everyone can enjoy a vacation to the island, in particular Punta Cana, with so much promise for a safe, enjoyable trip. The Dominican Republic is leading the way and beckons to jetsetters, especially the budget-minded kind needing a little r&r. After this year, I think we all fit that requirement!

2021 Wedding Trends

2021 Wedding Trends

If you are planning a wedding then you are knee deep in recommendations, ideas, to-do lists, Pinterest albums and thank heavens for the “save” option on IG posts. So what is to come for future weddings? Wave goodbye to the minimalist bride and dig a little deeper for an out-of-the-box wedding. I am a sucker for the details at any event. A creative invitation, a unique seating chart, a personalized favor, an unexpected floral display, these small details make a big impact. Now is the time to serve up a fun, personal event with loads of wow-factors! 

Dust off the passport:

If you are contemplating a destination wedding then you are already up to date with the hottest trend! According to a recent Zola survey, three-quarters of couples are extending their wedding day into a wedding weekend. Extending what would normally be a 4 hour event, to a multi-day celebration aka vacation, puts a whole new spin on wedded bliss! Fun fact: It used to be 25-30% of guests invited to a destination wedding would decline. That number saw a significant drop recently with only 10% of invitees declining the chance for a vacation and celebration event mixed into one.

Go Big or Go Huge:

High centerpieces, oversized decor, jaw dropping ceremony arches and rentals will be all the rage, if not already! Big statement pieces leave a big impact but that doesn’t mean you have to empty your bank account to carry out this trend. Towering centerpieces and hanging florals are dreamy big trends but you can get creative with oversized balloons, loads of candles and clusters of large paper lanterns, for example . I am seeing a lot of pampas grass used in all types of decor. The tall, romantic blooms create an idyllic scene any girly girl would love.

Where else can you see this trend? In the experiences! Escort cards are being replaced with person to person interactions. Evenings are being topped off with professional dancers, live music, cultural experiences and fireworks. Couples are splurging on rentals such as mirrored aisles, customized dance floors, acrylic covered pools and velvet cushioned chairs. You can upgrade just about everything and anything! What I love about a destination wedding is the fact that you are celebrating for several days and more time means you’ve already gone big! Guests are more likely to spend 4-5 days with you rather than a 4 hour reception. Not to mention, no one is running home at the end of the night. Take the party to the lobby bar or a casual gathering at the beach. 

Shiny and New:

It is a fabulous time to get married overseas. There are more hotel openings than ever before. There is something about getting to a new hotel that puts butterflies in my stomach. Fresh paint, modern accommodations, cutting edge technology, up-to-date decor, the best in food and amenity trends, and so much more. Even the staff seems excited to show off their new “workplace”. This lends itself right into the wedding department and event spaces. The new Majestic Costa Mujeres in Mexico has a stunning ceremony location elevated over water with panoramic ocean views. The soon to open Finest Punta Cana will be opening after the much success of its sister property, Finest Playa Mujeres, with the “Sky Terrace” which will offer amazing sunset views. As an alternative, the grand ballroom is a timeless, blank canvas, in case you want an indoor reception for your big day. Dreams Vista Cancun has a long deck that stretches from the beach out over the Caribbean blue waters. At the end of the deck is the expensive Ocean Palapa which holds up to 150 guests for a ceremony. The views are dreamy! Couples are intrigued by new properties in order to give their guests an impressive experience, not only for the wedding day but for their hotel stay. You can find all new hotspots located throughout the Caribbean and Mexico. The over done marble catering halls look like something straight out of the Sopranos, and if you’ve seen one, you have seen them all. You can do better!

Sustainability:

Traveling is no longer only about the experiences but also about ways we can give back. I am seeing this trend continue into wedding celebrations. Furthering its commitment with the environment, islands are limiting the use of plastic. A great surprise for your guests while incorporating this trend is gifting them with insulated water bottles and reusable straws. As for decor, florists are ditching cut blooms for plants that can easily be replanted and you’ll get your daily serving of vegetables since menus are ditching the meat, or at least cutting back. Locally sourced food, charitable wedding favors and outdoor events are great ways to give back and be one with nature. Hotels are also doing their parts. The Fairmont Mayakoba, which happens to be one of my favorite hotel stays, minimizes its impact on the Mayakoba ecosystem with LED lights, software-controlled air conditioning, water-saving and efficient toilets, and showers and sinks that save nearly 800 gallons of water each day. Organic waste is donated to farms, plant waste is used to make compost, and whenever possible, local and organic foods are served to guests. After attending a wedding at The Fairmont Mayakoba, it has certainly become a popular recommendation I love to share with my clients.

Bold Bright & Beautiful:

We are seeing a lot more bold colors and twinkling lights. Hues from every color of the rainbow are making a splash on the scene and creative light displays are too. From hanging strings of light over the dance floor to customized neon signs behind the sweetheart table, couples are making a bright and sparkly statement! On the dance floor, your guests will love the surprise element of flameless fireworks or a cluster of hanging disco balls shimmering overhead. Elevate your beach dinner with stationary chandeliers or bring a pop of color to your centerpieces and bouquets. Couples are opting for larger-scale palettes and colors never seen before in wedding design. The brightest colors in the crayon box are having their moment and I’m loving it. The more daring, the better! 

Micro-Weddings 

Some couples are ditching the 200+ guest list for something more intimate. Picture being seated at one, long table filled with flowers and candles, overlooking the Caribbean Sea with your immediate family.Twenty to thirty guests, poolside for dinner and dancing under the stars, fifty of your closest friends and family on the beach sharing tapas and champagne with a live mariachi band, or just a handful of family in an oceanfront, serene chapel! Micro-weddings are saving couples money and cut down on planning but are definitely not less beautiful

Fashion Forward:

Comb the bridal runways and you’ll see blush tones, plunging necklines, modern lace, sleeves, slits, and fringe having a moment. Brides will also be keeping things fun and flirty with trousers, jumpsuits, short dresses and kaftans. Be a good friend and make sure your bride tribe is also turning heads. Similar to decor trends, bridesmaids’ dresses are also colorful! Mix matched styles are a great way to showcase each friend’s personality while keeping on trend. Personally, I am loving a cowl neckline on a sheath, slinky dress with spaghetti straps. Perfect for the beach and elegant enough for a wedding. Don’t forget to show a little leg! Mid length dresses are making a splash on the scene and are totally appropriate for a destination wedding. Less is more when on the beach, no? 

Stationary:

I am one of those people who loves to get mail, and not via email but one that requires a stamp and a trip to the mailbox. Sorry ladies, but I cringe at E-vites. These days we are seeing loads of color and customization and not only on the actual invite but the envelopes too. Colored envelopes are in! Custom illustrations are giving me all the feels. Make your stationary personal with an illustration of your hotel, destination or the theme. A matter of fact, venue illustrations are an easy way to add a one-of-a-kind touch to your wedding. Illustrations of any kind can be found on an envelope liner, on the actual invitations and in hidden places that will pop up the day of your wedding. I used a custom illustration of my fur-baby during our engagement party on cocktail napkins and then carried it through to our wedding day on our specialty drink menu located at the bars. I also had a custom illustration created of the interior architecture of our church for the ceremony programs. The artwork is now framed in our home and ended up being a great keepsake. Texture and new materials are also great ways to update and elevate your stationary. Think, gold foil, letterpress printing, embossed leather and acrylic! Flex your creative muscles and hit your guests with something fresh and exciting. It will set the tone for an unbelievable weekend they won’t want to miss. What’s wrong with giving them a bit of FOMO? 

Your wedding day will be the best day of your life so base your decisions on the things that represent the two of you and your love. You can never go wrong when your LOVE is the focal point! Some advice, have fun because in the blink of an eye it becomes a memory and the tedious tasks are quickly forgotten about. And, of course, hire the right people who will take the load off and make planning seamless and stress free. You deserve someone in your corner and hopefully that will be me!

Where in The World Can We Travel To During Covid19?

Where in The World Can We Travel To During Covid19?

The travel bug has never felt more real! We are yearning for the sun, beach, sightseeing, adventure and excitement away from our social media accounts and the news. Most of us are ready for a nasty breakup with year 2020. I am ready to block it from my memory and make a quick dash and turn the corner into the fall. So, where can we travel to now that COVID-19 has disrupted most of this year’s travel plans? Americans now have options when it comes to international travel. Finally! Get ready to dust off your passport as we check out what your next passport stamp will read.

Keep in mind, there are some alternative options but we all don’t have 14 days to quarantine. We need some convenient and realistic options. Since the countries listed below are currently accepting American travelers, I still like to encouraged my clients to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 prior to departure. The current situation with the pandemic is still developing so things can change momentarily.

Gina from G World Travel at Hermitage Bay, Antigua

Antigua

It doesn’t take much to entice a traveler to beautiful Antigua. Antigua opened its borders on June 1 in a phased plan. Visitors are required to take a COVID-19 test 48 hours prior to arrival and be able to present documentation of negative results. Visitors are also required to wear a mask in all public places and are subject to temperature checks when arriving to the island’s airport. I loved my stay in Antigua and would go back in a heartbeat.

The Grahams at The Hyatt Regency Aruba

Aruba

The “One Happy Island”, Aruba started welcoming travelers back on July 10 and in just one month has seen over 11,000 tourists! Head’s up! Residents of certain hot spot states are required to upload a negative COVID-19 test online taken within 72 hours before their flight and uploaded at least 12 hours before departing. Other U.S. travelers will have the option of uploaded their test results or taking a test upon arrival in Aruba. It will cost you $75 and require quarantining until the test results come back. Save yourself the time and headache and upload your results in time. Travelers are also required to purchase mandatory COVID-19 health insurance prior to travel.

The Lees at Sandals Barbados

Barbados

Why work from home when you can work from Barbados?  Barbados started to offer visas that allow foreign nationals to live and work in Barbados for up to one year. Those of us looking for a shorter stay can vacation as long as you show proof of a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to departure. Travelers can also choose to undergo a test at the airport and quarantine until the results are ready.

The Freidmans at The Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda

Bermuda

It doesn’t hurt that Bermuda has an increasingly low rate of COVID-19 transmissions. Entering the island will require you show a negative COVID-19 test from no more than 5 days before departure and be prepared to fill out a travel authorization process online for a $75 fee. Here is where it gets tricky. All travelers will also take a mandatory test at the airport. You will have to quarantine in your hotel room for an average of 6-8 hours or until the test results come back negative. Visitors will then be tested every fours days while on the island and be required to take temperature checks twice each day. Clearly Bermuda is not the most convenient destination to travel to during these unprecedented times but it is doable! Keep in mind, as the temp drops in the US, it also does in Bermuda. While US travelers are welcomed to the island, it might not be the warm, tropical vacation you would think the island to be. However, if you’re look for a picturesque beach, beautiful sunsets, a little pampering, great dining and more, than leave Bermuda on the table.

Hannah & Ryan at The Riu Palace Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Hey, fellow east coasters! This one is for perfect for us. Residents from New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut are welcomed to the popular destination in Central America as of September 1. Starting September 15, residents of Colorado, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania can also enter. U.S. citizen tourists from these states wishing to enter Costa Rica must complete a digital epidemiological health pass, obtain a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of their departure and purchase travel insurance that covers accommodation in case of quarantine and medical expenses due to COVID-19. 

Nessenthaler and friends at the Amara Hvar, Croatia

Croatia

Tourists in Croatia will not have to quarantine if they provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours. Yes, you read that right! A european country welcoming US citizens! Travelers are also asked to fill out an entry form. While the European Union has recommended that U.S. not be included in the countries allowed to resume non-essential travel, individual countries are able to make their own decisions. Croatia has its door wide open for us!

The Gilkes at the Nickelodeon Resort in Punta Cana, DR

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic will be one of the more convenient and affordable islands to travel to! The destination lifted border restrictions on July 1 and by September 15 travelers will no longer have to show a negative COVID-19 test result. Instead, authorities will randomly administer a quick breath test to between 3% to 10% of passengers upon arrival. Sounds painless! As part of immigration and customs forms provided by the airline, passengers will be also fill out and submit a health affidavit.

The Ryans at Sandals Grand St Lucian

St Lucia

The “Hawaii of the Caribbean” is open!  Be prepared to present a negative COVID-19 test within seven days of travel, complete a pre-arrival registration form in advance and undergo screening, including temperature checks, upon arrival at their international airport. Saint Lucia has implemented a COVID-19 certificate for hotels, requiring them to meet more than a dozen criteria for sanitization protocols, social distancing, and more.

Courtney & friends at the Hyatt Zilara in Montego Bay, Jamaica

Jamaica

Known for its reasonably priced all-inclusive resorts, white sand beaches and a laid back culture, Jamaica is requiring tourist to undergo a temperature check and some tourist to undergo a COVID-19 test on arrival. Travelers from areas considered “high risk,” including Arizona, Florida, New York, and Texas, have to upload a negative COVID-19 test prior to arriving. Taking extra precautions, the island is also requiring each hotel to designate at least one employee at a time as a “COVID-19 Safety Point Person” to conduct spot checks. So pack your bags and “come to Jamaica and feel alright”.

Mrs. Ramnarine honeymooning at Centara Ras Fushi in the Maldives

Maldives

US residents will no longer have to enter into a mandatory quarantine upon arrival to the capital, Male. Nor will they need to produce proof they have tested negative for COVID-19. Travelers do need to submit an online health declaration form within 24 hours before departure. With each hotel essentially on its own island, you are technically in quarantine. If only quarantining in the US was as glamorous as a stay in an over-water bungalow perched over the most beautiful blue ocean water at a 5 star luxury resort… Sigh!?!

Mrs. Quinn and her bridesmaids at Finest Playa Mujeres, Mexico

Mexico

Popular destinations in Mexico such as Cancun, Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos, are checking all the boxes for a stress-free, sunny vacay! It’s no wonder travelers are flocking to this fun filled destination. While the land border between the U.S. and Mexico remains closed, it was never restricted via air. A matter of fact, my clients the Foxs just returned and had a blast for their last minute mini-moon. Cancun was the first destination in the Americas and one of the first few in the world to receive the “Safe Travels” global safe and hygiene stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council. Skip the COVID-19 test for this destination as it is not a requirement. Anticipate resorts to take your temperature upon arriving!

Mr. & Mrs. Scrima honeymoon at Grace Bay Club, Turks & Caicos

Turks and Caicos

No longer will you need to quarantine for 14-days upon arriving the island known for its powdery sand beaches and turquoise waters. Be ready to present a negative COVID-19 tests upon arriving at the airport. This seems to be a trend and for some destinations it is not going anywhere! Children are excluded from this protocol. Additionally, travelers must have medical or travel insurance that covers health screening and certification that they have read and agreed to the privacy policy document. Sun-seekers must register on the TCI Assured Portal and complete the requirements. The TCI Assured Travel Authorization must be presented at the time of check-in or airlines will not be able to board passengers.

Mr. & Mrs. Oliveri at the Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah

United Arab Emirates

If you have The UAE on your bucket list then consider flashy Dubai! Dubai has relaxed some entry requirements. Tourists must arrive with a negative COVID-19 test taken 96 hours prior to departure. However, there is a chance you may randomly be selected to take another COVID-19 test upon arrival. If you take a test at the airport, you must remain in your hotel until you receive the test result. It will be worth it once you are checking out the deserts on the back of a camel, climbing the tallest building in the world, dining at world-class restaurants and taking in the cultural monuments.

Mr. & Mrs. Fox at Atelier Playa Mujeres, Mexico

Traveling during these uncertain times means being prepared and staying up-to-date on the latest travel advisories and news. Recently my clients, the Foxs, flew into Cancun airport. They offered some great tips on traveling through the pandemic and insight on their experience in a recent Q&A blog post. With a little planning and preparation, you can still enjoy a much needed vacation. Taking time off to recharge has proven benefits for your physical, emotional and mental health. After the last several months in quarantine, we could all use some time to recharge and get the adrenaline pumping. If you are traveling during the pandemic, pack a mask, hand sanitizer and together, lets go over your options including a hotel certified in bringing guests a clean and safe vacation.

Taking To The Skies Again (with the Foxs)

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

Your Top Questions Answered (Destination Wedding Edition)

Your Top Questions Answered (Destination Wedding Edition)

Countless brides ask, “when is the best time to travel to avoid the hottest times of the year?” 

Let’s face it, our hair plays a big role in how we feel.  Let’s add, no girl wants to be a sweaty bride and melting makeup just isn’t the vibe we are going for. While each destination is different, December through April is relatively a cooler, drier time throughout much of the Caribbean and Mexico.  Take into account, most ceremonies are held at sunset.  You can have it in the afternoon but you’ll be a happier, more comfortable bride in the evening. Not only will you celebrate with dreamy cotton candy skies sparkling over the horizon but you get the cool breeze off the sea and the sun’s rays are in the far distance.  For the European bride, July and August are super warm and crowded.  Aim for a Fall or Spring wedding to avoid the chilly winter cold and the smoldering summer heat. 

Where do you go when you are not a “sand in the toes” type of bride?

You are not limited to the beach! Many resorts are beach front properties but eliminate the beach portion and you have epic spaces like spacious ballrooms, lush gardens, ocean view terraces, open air gazebos, on-site restaurants and yes, if you want, the gorgeous beach! An option I love, a tented a reception! This can be done nearly anywhere, from the beach to the courtyards.  If you want something a bit more unique, check out local event spaces and churches too. Remember, hotels are designed and built with a focus on hosting large parties and events. They are able to accommodate weddings of all different sizes and styles.

How can I budget for a destination wedding?

If you haven’t already read through my previous blog posts, what is the hold up? You are missing out on the goods! You will find there is something for all budget sizes.  Take a moment to read a recent blog post on my favorite budget friendly resorts offering free and affordable wedding packages. You will also read how a destination wedding is not a financial burden yet rather a huge savings! Even a luxurious, over-the-top destination wedding is a fraction of the cost of one in your hometown. Your dollar goes a lot further with a destination wedding. At most beach resorts, packages are created with everything you will need bundled together opposed to hiring a typical 7-10 vendors for a wedding at home.  These wedding packages start FREE (yes, you read that right!) and an upgraded package can start as low as $3,000! You can also earn free nights which will definitely save you a pretty penny when you book your hotel room. 

What does the average destination wedding cost?

You really could get away with one of the free packages at an all-inclusive resort but it’s rare for a bride not to want to take advantage of the “add-on’s” and the invite list can quickly grow.  The devil is in the details! You can have a memorable, beautiful wedding for about $7-10,000. This will include your linens, a wedding planner, ceremony set-up, cocktail hour, 3 course plated dinner, liquor, a private reception, wedding cake, champagne toast, DJ, photographer, decor, florals and more! Try to pull that one off in a major US city.  You can also choose to have a more extravagant wedding starting around $25,000+ depending on guest count.

What is the cost for the wedding guest?

It depends on destination, dates, hotel, flights, etc.  Airfare can range between $350 to $500 and a 4 star, all-inclusive hotel can run guests about $170-$220 per night on average.  The soon-to-be Cuomo’s just booked airfare to Punta Cana for their wedding for $350 and I negotiated a nightly rate at a 4.5 star hotel for only $200 per night! A 3-night, 4 day vacation can run their guests around $950 with all their meals, beverages and activities included! For guests on a budget, they can always choose to share a room to bring the overall costs down. Give your guests far enough notice to save up. The longer they can save, the better, and we offer payment options to help!  An all-inclusive resort is cost effective for everyone. All meals and beverages will be included and guests won’t have any other costs to worry about.   An all-inclusive resort is not everyone’s style, so anticipate for the overall cost to be a little higher when all is said and done with a traditional hotel.  Remember, hotel guests will accumulate a bill during their stay to be paid at check-out when it is not an all-inclusive resort. There are some traditional hotel’s that offer travelers the option to select a meal and beverage plan ahead of time.   This is another alternative! Give guests the option. We all love options!

What if I want to fly down my own vendors or book one not on the vendors list?

 You are not limited to the hotel’s vendors, although, they have countless recommendations and well qualified connections.  If your local make-up artists or family DJ is available and willing to travel, that is an option worth exploring! You’ll be surprised how many vendors such as photographers are willing to travel.  Check the hotel to make sure they don’t have outside vendor fees. Although, the fee is typically minimal.  If you need recommendations, ask yours truly. Through the years I have come up with quite the little black book for reliable, talented wedding vendors!

Should I block hotel rooms?

Almost always! Save yourself the headache! Not only is it practically a must but it is worth it to you! By booking a room block you will earn great incentives.  Who doesn’t want something for free? Free rooms (great for the wedding guest who can’t afford to travel or the outside vendor you hired), upgrades, comped events such as a welcome party are just some of the great concessions you and your guests will earn.  Besides the great concessions, you’ll also want to make sure everyone can be accommodated.  A sold out hotel is not rare and the more affordable room accommodations are always the first to get snatched up.  I have had guests of a wedding stay at an alternative property because there was no availability left at the hotel the bride and groom booked.  This is truly unfortunate for all parties involved.  Guests will miss out on all the festivities and the action.  Not to mention, traveling to and from the resort on the day of the wedding is not ideal.  This requires guests to purchase a day pass to get on property.  If you don’t have a room block, you might be forcing Aunt Sally to book a two bedroom beachfront suite if it is the only available room option. And, if the weekend becomes popular, the reasonable nightly rate that you found when you first reserved your wedding could triple in price.  The list of concerns doesn’t end there.  Play it smart, play it safe.  The right thing to do is to be sure your guests have a room waiting for them at a good price! Keep it classy, keep it simple. 

Should I be skeptical of travel and planning a wedding during Covid-19?

Anyone that’s planning a wedding whether it’s near or far has mutual feelings.  New Jersey just limited their gatherings to 25.  An engaged couple in New York continue to battle state and county officials in court over orders that restrict weddings to 50 individuals or less.   Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, just to name a few more, also have limited the amount of people that can attend a gathering.   Staying home doesn’t make planning any easier.  In fact, it appears traveling might be in your best interest, and, as if you need a reminder, we all could use a vacation after this! The destination wedding market is now booming.  Some couples are opting for a smaller, more intimate wedding just to take the pressure off of planning a local wedding with all the evolving restrictions while others are going full speed ahead with faith that the spacious, open surroundings at a resort with the beach and outdoor accommodations are a safer bet and requires little to no compromising.   No need to limit the guests list with endless space and without the worry of the city and state limitations. As odd as it may seem, you can’t have gatherings of more than 25 in New Jersey but you can have four times that number on a plane. I know, it makes you wonder but this is the reality we live in right now.  Another helpful reminder, resorts are going all out to ensure the safety of their guests.  Countless hand sanitizer stations are spread out throughout the grounds, temperature checks per each and every employee prior to entering the property, no buffets, spaced out seating around the pools, restaurants, bars and beaches, less person to person contact and deep cleaning of all surfaces including in guest rooms.  This is just a peek into what measure they have taken to be certain they can welcome you and your guests to paradise safely!

Finally, one of the most common questions, “what is your cost?”

My answer: nada, zilch, niente, nothing! If you’re booking a room block, I will go the extra mile as a good faith gesture to get your wedding reserved for you.  Having the extra eyes and ears on your “best day ever” deserves it!  I am extremely proud to say, you won’t find another travel agent that will do what I do, make the calls overseas, get you the right pricing, negotiate the deal, send the emails, do the research, reach out to my contacts, give advice and recommendations, and get you all set up.  A personal assistant you didn’t know you could have! As you can see from my blogs and social media, I have behind the scenes knowledge and years of experience that I can’t wait to share with you!