Safely navigating a trip to the Caribbean
By Marguerite Cleveland
Venturing out on an international trip can be a bit intimidating amid the continuing pandemic, with testing requirements and each destination with its own rules. Once I received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and waited the requisite two weeks, I was ready to travel. I chose Jamaica for this trip due to their Controlled Entry Program Protocols. For tourists, the Government of Jamaica has established resilient corridors. You choose an approved accommodation within the corridor and then you can visit COVID-19 approved protocol-compliant attractions within the “Corridor.” There is an extensive set of measures to ensure health safety that approved accommodations and attractions have all received training on. These are a strictly ensured set of protocols and standards. The most important thing to know as a visitor is you must remain in the Resilient Corridor during your stay at your designated accommodation. You may leave your resort to visit any tourist attraction that is certified by the Jamaica Tourist Board to be a COVID-19 Resilient licensed tourist attraction.
Prior to your travels, get familiar with the travel requirements at the official Visit Jamaica website. When I traveled in May, seven days prior to travel you are required to fill out an online travel authorization form, which is instantly approved, and you must print and bring it with you to Jamaica. You must have travel insurance which covers medical expenses. Some resorts include this coverage. You must also have a COVID-19 test done no earlier than 72 hours prior to your flight. There is a calculator on their website to determine when you can take it. It is important to check back frequently as requirements do change. Currently a negative COVID-19 test is required to return to the United States. When making your travel arrangements, plan how you will get this test. Many resorts offer COVID-19 tests onsite.
Insider Tips: Book Club Mobay. This service has a representative who will greet you at the gate when you arrive in Jamaica and whisk you through expedited lines through security. Well worth the expense, especially if multiple planes arrive. You can also book it for departure, in which you’ll have access to a lounge with food and beverages while waiting for your plane to depart.
I found the best way to maximize your time in Jamaica is to take a red-eye flight from Seattle arriving at an East Coast hub city such as Atlanta or Miami, and then get on the first flight to Jamaica. With all-inclusive resorts, you pay the same rate whether you arrive in the morning or late in the evening. It is better to arrive early so you can enjoy all the meals and activities you paid for. For my trip we splurged on First Class and felt it was well worth it—especially as on both legs of our trip the plane was fully booked. Masks are still required in airports and on the airplane.
Upon arrival in Jamaica, we were met by the Club Mobay representative. Your temperature will be taken at the first screening point. The Club Mobay representative escorts you through the whole process, even helping with your luggage. Once through security, she escorted us to the Sandals Lounge. You also have the option to go to the Club Mobay arrival lounge to wait for transportation to the resort you are staying at.
Sandals South Coast
I chose Sandals South Coast for our visit because it is located near a nature preserve and is the only hotel on the beach in this area. It is about a 90-minute drive from Montego Bay but well worth the long drive. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it felt safer to be at a more isolated resort. When selecting a place to stay, make sure your resort offers plenty of amenities—since you will be spending most of your time on the resort. I was familiar with the Sandals Brand, having stayed at other properties before. When they say all-inclusive, it really is! There are nine restaurants, multiple bars, and lots of great activities and a world-class spa. There’s even scuba diving! The only thing you spend money on is shopping, spa treatments and any of the resort excursions.
To make the most of a Sandals’ vacation, spend time on the website and review everything that is included. There are 21 different types of rooms at Sandals South Coast within three categories: Luxury, Club and Butler. All categories have access to all the resort has to offer, but some do have more perks. We opted for the new “South Seas Swim-up Rondoval Butler Suite with Private Pool Sanctuary” and then fulfilled a bucket list item for me by staying in an “Over the Water Butler Honeymoon Bungalow” for one night. These stay fully booked, and we lucked out with one night being available. Our Rondoval suite was so luxurious. These round cottages sit amidst secluded lush gardens surrounded by a river pool. The deck also had a private plunge pool with a waterfall that was so relaxing. It was so nice when staying on a large resort to have this quiet space to retreat to.
This trip truly was a wonderful escape from all that 2020 threw at us. The tranquil ocean breezes, blue green Caribbean waters and white sandy beaches had my husband and I relaxed in no time. One of the things I love about the Sandals brand is the staff. They are warm and welcoming, providing incredible service. The butler experience was worth the extra expense. From the reserved lounge chairs by the pool or beach with coolers of beverages to being picked up each night and escorted to dinner, I loved being spoiled.
I felt very safe with the health and safety protocols at Sandals. The company provides COVID-19 tests a few days prior to your departure as well as the mandatory travel insurance. Everything was spotlessly clean, the staff all wore masks, and the use of hand sanitizer was required when entering public spaces.
The Over the Water Bungalow
Wow! What an incredible experience. This luxury retreat sits at the far end of the resort with a private deck overlooking the sea. The sunset views were stunning. Once we checked into this room we didn’t leave until the next morning! The enhanced room service for these exclusive suites even had filet mignon on it. The deck was fully equipped with loungers, an outdoor shower and bathtub, as well as a box full of snorkel gear and lifejackets. Each bungalow also has a beach cabana.
We booked a candlelight dinner, which we had served on the deck while watching the sunset. So romantic and a great way to end our Jamaica getaway to Sandals South Coast.
Insider Tips: There are official Facebook groups for each Sandals resort, and it is a wealth of information from guests who have stayed at the resorts, with Sandals providing moderators to ensure the information is correct. It had been almost 10 years since my last visit to the Caribbean, and I had forgotten how truly relaxing a beach vacation is. It was the perfect antidote to 2020. We booked a visit to Sandals in Barbados for next year. If you reserve at the resort, you receive a 10 to 12 percent discount on your next visit. Sandals also offers military and first responders a 10 percent discount, which can be combined with other discounts.
Sandals South Coast - Sandals.com/south-coast
Travel Requirements for Jamaica - VisitJamaica.com/travelauthorization
Club Mobay - VIPAttractions.com/mobay-info