Fully vaccinated, I was ready to travel and thinking low-key and off the beaten path. But, when my sister invited me to celebrate a milestone birthday on an Aruba vacation, all of that flew out the window. I was going to dip my toes back into international travel on the Happy Island.
Pre-trip preparations for an Aruba vacation
Judy Collins came to mind when I started to get ready for the trip.
My bags are packed and I’m ready to go…. My mind shifted to the memory of my last anticipated international travel, packed and ready to leave for Sicily in March of 2020.
The night before, as I said good night and goodbye to a group of friends after dinner, the last hug was followed by an ominous whisper: Don’t go.
We all know what happened the next day when the State Department issued a Level 4 advisory and warned Americans not to travel abroad. My passport went into lockdown.
Now, fourteen months later, it was time to switch gears, dusting off my favorite travel document for an Aruba vacation.
The Visit Aruba website takes you thru the pre-trip paperwork and requirements in a straightforward fashion: A COVID test 72 hours before your flight, a required questionnaire, and a printed copy of the Embarkation-Disembarkation (E.D.) card, which allows you to board the plane. Next, there was the purchase of a $30 insurance policy providing coverage for a certain number of days if you contracted Covid while on the island. No quarantining was necessary upon arrival in Aruba.
Flying to Aruba
I was traveling on a Sunday, and Boston’s Logan Airport was very crowded. Passengers filled every seat on my JetBlue flight. Luckily, I had enough points to fly the airline’s Mint class and had a very comfortable little pod for the flight. Passengers were required to wear masks, except when eating or drinking. In my little world upfront, I felt very safe.
Arrival in Aruba went smoothly. Officials checked the paperwork, and if you had the necessary documentation, it was perhaps five minutes longer than an average customs clearance. I got a cab outside to the hotel, and the masked driver was happy to chat about the island opening up. He felt tourism numbers for the last two weeks had returned to about 50 percent of pre-pandemic ones.
During the drive, we passed enormous passenger ships that have been in the harbor since the shutdown of cruising. Sitting there idle, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see the number of travelers disembarking from the floating hotels. While my flight was crowded, I could feel the emptiness on the island almost immediately.
The best island stay
The eco-friendly superstar Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort would receive my highest recommendation for a destination property. With 45 suites and 59 guestrooms, this 4-Diamond resort is certified carbon-neutral. In addition to being the most eco-certified resort in the Caribbean, the property has won numerous awards, including the coveted U.N. 2020 Climate Action Award. Couples will love that the property often appears on lists for Best Hotel for Romance in the World.
Arrival at the hotel is seamless, with paperless, touch-free check-in. Guest information, including any special requirements and food allergies, has been gathered beforehand. After a concierge welcomes guests with a cool towel and refreshing fruit drink, a staff member escorts them to their cleaned-then-sealed room.
New, in-room air filtration systems remove germs and keep humidity in check. All the staff is masked, but guests are not required to wear masks on the property.
Dining at Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort
Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort offers three excellent restaurants. Elements features a fabulous buffet lunch where you can taste a great assortment of local foods. The buffet has been made safe for the guests by having dishes behind a glass partition. Masked and gloved staff serve a Taste of Aruba as you make choices while moving along the counters. Dining is open-air, again with plenty of spacing. Staff can arrange service at your lounge chair under an umbrella on the beach.
The additional restaurants leave plenty of options if you don’t want to leave the resort. Guests can also choose to have a private, romantic dinner on the beach. Several restaurants with outdoor dining are within walking distance, should you venture out.
Aruba is all about the beach. Bucuti and Tara is located on what many believe is the best, the white sand Eagle Beach. Those who like to walk and shell will love the long stretch of outdoor space. Chaise lounges and umbrellas are numbered and assigned, so there’s no 6 a.m. rush to get a seat. Why doesn’t every resort do this! Plenty of spacing makes social distancing a breeze. It was reassuring to see staff spray chairs with antibacterial each evening.
In the gym, several of the treadmills provide and store power for the resort when used. Other options include kayaking and yoga on the beach, in addition to miles of white sand to get those FITBIT steps.
The resort has partnered with Feet and Fins Nature Tours for hiking and snorkeling excursions. The highlight of my trip was a guided, private sunrise hike to the Natural Pool in Arikok National Park. Full safety protocols were in place with our guide, Rob, who also happened to be the co-owner. His knowledge of the environment is extensive, and the hike was outstanding. Well worth the early morning wake-up call.
Returning to the United States from international travel
Bucuti and Tara, like many of the island hotels, arranges COVID-testing at the resort, and 72 hours before boarding, I had an appointment for the test. I received the results, complete with a QR code, by email within 24 hours.
Upon arrival at the airport, the first thing officials want to see is your test result. Check-in and clearing U.S. Customs went smoothly, but we ran into crowds in the gate area. When our delayed flight began boarding, passengers rushed and crowded the gate. Many had been drinking and were loud and not social-distancing.
Once again, the flight was full. Mint service was not a part of this flight, and rowdy passengers exhibited pre-COVID behavior, which made me uncomfortable. After such a relaxing few days, my travel psyche had not returned to normal.
Although I quietly celebrated another stamp in my passport, the experience made me realize the importance of making careful decisions about how you want to return to travel. If I weren’t vaccinated, I would think twice before getting on a plane to go anywhere.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Covid protocols are seamless for this destination. The Visit Aruba website makes it easy to do the paperwork required for travel during this stage of COVID-19 recovery.
- Travel is returning with a focus on responsible travel. Because of the environmental policies in place at the resort, flying to Aruba from New York City and staying at the Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort produces 68 percent fewer carbon emissions than driving the same distance in the U.S. and staying in a hotel. Luxury and eco-friendly travel can go hand in hand.
- Because Aruba is south of the hurricane belt and just north of the equator, the temperature is a near-perfect 82° year-round.
- Direct flights operate from many U.S. cities to Aruba’s Reina Beatrix International Airport.
- If you are hesitant about crowds, this might not be the travel destination for you. Flights were full. Mask wearing was mandatory on the flight, except when eating or drinking. That said, many passengers managed to eat or drink during most of the flight.
- The hotel staff always wore masks, as did all other travel personnel I encountered.
- In general, peak hours at the Aruba Airport for U.S. departures are on Friday – Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Allow additional time for check-in and customs on these days.
- There is quite a distance from check-in through customs and on to the gate. If you have difficulty walking, consider requesting a wheelchair.
Covid restrictions and health and safety measures change frequently. Check with the Visit Aruba tourism site for current protocols and updated information. The CDC will provide current information concerning requirements to re-enter the United States after international travel.
The author paid for her trip.
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