So what’s it like to travel to the Caribbean nowadays in the Covid-19 era, with more requirements to fulfill than just a passport, a carry-on and a tube of sunscreen (remember those days?)
I asked that question of Stephen and Angela Byrd, veteran travelers with a deep love for one particular island and resort. I wanted the perspective of seasoned travelers.
The Byrds recently returned from their seventh trip to the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort on Eagle Beach in Aruba.
“We booked this trip in September 2019. When Covid came and the borders closed to U.S. travelers, we kept checking with Bucuti for information,” said Stephen.
“We studied the website's description of Bucuti's protocols for cleaning, sanitizing and hygiene. Very impressive,” he said. “We just knew that Covid was not going to keep us away from Aruba, not going to keep us from Bucuti.”
The Byrd’s first trip to Aruba was in 2007. A visit to the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) had long been on their wish list.
“We booked that first trip through my nephew who was a travel agent at the time. We've since booked direct. We loved the resort and the island from that very first visit, and we knew we’d be back,” he said.
Aruba reopened its borders to U.S. travelers on July 10. The Byrds nailed down their flights for mid-August and began asking where they could take the required Covid-19 test and get the result back 72 hours prior to their departure.
“We asked our doctor, we asked at the hospital, at the lab, at CVS, but no one could guarantee anything less than a test result within seven to 10 days, so we flew to Aruba on faith and trust, knowing we would be tested upon arrival,” Stephen said.
They had filled out and uploaded the required embarkation card soon after booking their flights and received an email confirmation of approval for travel prior to departure.
Their route took them from Baltimore/Washington Airport to Miami on a sparsely-filled American flight, then on to Aruba in first class.
“Everyone wore masks. The plane was half full. We got grapes and a packet of cheese to eat,” Angela reported.
Arriving at Queen Beatrix Airport in Aruba, they were greeted at the escalator by a member of the airport's concierge services who whisked them through customs and on to the testing area.
“We got the nasal swab. My wife said it was okay, I thought it was uncomfortable,” Stephen said.
The Byrds had purchased the mandatory Aruba Travel Insurance three days prior to leaving. They had their own medical insurance as well to cover the $75 price of each swab.
Their 15-minute transfer by First Class Aruba to the 104-room Bucuti was in a black Mercedes limousine with a happy anniversary sign painted on the rear window.
Their masked driver delivered them to the resort entrance, where the masked staff, many of whom knew the Byrds from previous visits, were waiting to greet them with music and Champagne.
“There's no front desk anymore. We had pre-registered, so our concierge escorted us to our penthouse suite where we quarantined until we got our test results,” Stephen said.
The results came by text at 9:17 p.m., a little more than six hours after the swabs. Results were negative, and the Byrds ordered room service and then went to bed after their long day of travel.
Exploring the familiar resort in the following days, the couple was surprised to find so few guests.
“On our previous visits, there were many couples there. Bucuti is an adults-only resort, very romantic, and lots of weddings take place there. It was heartbreaking to see so few people,” Angela said.
Everyone they spoke with said they had made the right decision to come. “The guests, a mix of repeaters and first-timers, were happy and joyous to be there,” Stephen said.
Most of the time the Byrds dined outdoors, although the restaurants offered indoor seating as well with all tables spaced 6 feet or more apart.
“Our menu was on an iPad that had a sticker on it, which meant it had been sanitized. We gave our order to our masked waiter who delivered our food on a tray and placed it next to us on a small rack. All the dishes were covered,” Angela said.
The couple was treated to dinner in a private cabana on the beach as part of their anniversary celebration.
Ewald Biemans, founder and CEO of Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, had used the down time during the border closure to renovate the Sand Bar, retile the main pool and redo the lobby.
“All of these changes just gilded the lily,” Angela said. “The whole place was even more beautiful than before.”
In honor of their 50th anniversary, the bartenders at the Sand Bar named a cocktail after the couple. The Byrd Marley is now a fixture on the cocktail menu.
The couple, who met when they were both 19, call Bucuti “their perfect place. We know there are other places to go, but this is the place and the island we love,” Stephen said.
Departure day came too soon. At checkout, they just turned in their key. Billing had been handled by credit card in advance.
Biemans was there to say goodbye, wish them safe travels and handle a final detail for them. The couple booked next year’s visit for the same week.
“Our hearts are with Bucuti,” Stephen said.