Post by Kara Freedman
People are not traveling like they did pre-pandemic. An obvious fact, yes, and those who are not traveling are not doing so with great reason. To be honest, I was one of them. I am a New York City resident who has not been on the subway since March 18, 2020, and up until a week ago, has not flown or stayed in a hotel since January 1, 2020. I love to travel – to visit places, see new things, take in all the culture of a world I did not know before, but like many, the pandemic put a halt to my wanderlust.
Then my brother called, and said “let’s go to Antigua.” Before I could even think about what he said, my response was no; I am not getting on a plane and I am not staying in a hotel.
Spoiler, I just returned from Antigua.
Fast forward through a lot of research on plane safety and air circulation, a number of panicked texts to travel industry experts that I trusted (mainly to Scott Eddy (@mrscotteddy) and Valerie Wilson (@trustedtravelgirl)) and some serious Instagram stalking, and I am booked to travel to Antigua on January 14 with my dad, brother and boyfriend.
Flying – Departing from JFK
When a country requires you to present a negative COVID-19 test prior to entry, you cannot check-in before getting to the airport. Print out your COVID-19 negative results and have a few copies on hand.
We flew American from JFK to V. C. Bird International Airport (the airport in Antigua). I wore an N-95 and face shield – and was fine. We sat in Business class, and thus when we boarded, everyone walked past us. To be honest, that made me a bit uncomfortable (so on the way back to JFK we did not board right away to avoid this problem). We wiped down the seats and sat back and enjoyed the flight.
Arriving in Antigua
V. C. Bird International Airport is amazing. Every airport employee deserves a serious round of applause. All employees were in full PPE and guided you from the moment you planned to the customs agents. At each check-point along the way, you were required to use hand sanitizer. The final check-point prior to exiting the airport was the customs desk – which was fully staffed by nine agents (PS, at JFK there were two agents).
The Royalton Antigua
The Royalton Antigua has world renowned accommodations. Located about 25 minutes from the airport, we arranged airport transfer prior to departing New York. When we got to the hotel, the staff took our temperatures and then drove us to the front lobby. A bellman collected our luggage to disinfect it, and it was brought to our rooms about an hour later.
We formally checked in at the Diamond Club, which is automatic when you are staying at the bungalow, but an additional upgrade charge if you’re staying in the main hotel. Pro tip – during COVID, it does not pay to pay for the upgrade (if you’re staying in the main hotel). Diamond Club during COVID really only gets you a free bottle of liquor, access to the Diamond Club concierge and a discount at the spa. The other benefits (special dinner privileges, reserved beach access, etc.) are not available or worth it during COVID.
Dream Accommodations – An Overwater Bungalow
I have dreamed about staying in an overwater bungalow my entire life. The Royalton Antigua has six overwater bungalows which you can only book by calling the hotel directly or through a travel agent. The room was stunning, designed to perfection. The three room bungalow features a small wet bar, complete with a wine fridge and minibar, a spacious living room with a partial glass floor, a king bed and oversized bathroom, complete with walk in-closet, double rainwater shower and jacuzzi bath tub. The back deck of the bungalow was truly the show stopper. Positioned over the clearest blue water, the back deck of the bungalow includes two lounge chairs and an umbrella, a large, private infinity jacuzzi with jets and a rope hammock that is suspended over the sparkling turquoise sea.
The Bungalow was ideal for social distancing! We never went to the beach, since we had a private ocean deck. That being said, we were only at the hotel for five days and four nights. If we were there for a week, maybe we would have gone to the beach.
There are lots of benefits to staying in the Bungalow, including personalized service from a butler, a spa discount, private in-room romantic dinner and much more. Pro-tip, reserve the add-ones as soon as you get to the hotel, as they need 48 hour-notice for the romantic dinner (which was DELICIOUS) and the mixology lesson (which we didn’t get to do, because we only gave 24 hour-notice and were too late).
Our private romantic dinner was fantastic. The chef was able to accommodate my gluten allergy and cooked our meals to perfection. Each day select restaurants were open, and due to high food costs and low occupancy, this rotated based on need. The food was good, not great, but good. Gluten-free options were limited, but my family had plenty to enjoy. C/X Culinary Experience | Chef’s Table was closed during our time at the resort, but the other seven dining outlets were open at various times throughout our stay. Hunter Steakhouse and Caribbean Restaurant & Grill were our favorites.
The team was unbelievable – so nice – so considerate and helpful! Jessica was our butler and she was superb. Each team member addresses you upon approach (a luxury standard) and is pleasant. There was also a security person stationed by the Bungalow entrance confirming you were residing in the specialty accommodations.
The Spa and Fitness Center
There is a fitness center on property with a master trainer who puts on workout classes at select times. The property grounds are also ideal for a run, if you’re interested in an outdoor workout.
The spa has a plethora of offerings, from facials and scrubs to massages. We opted for 50 minute massages on the beach, which were discounted due to our Diamond Club status. The Spa team required all guests to fill out a health form and wear their masks during massages, another great security measure during the time of COVID.
I can’t stress how amazing the service was, and part of this was due to all of the safety precautions the hotel had in place. Masks were required when indoors at restaurants, until you were seated, and while in the lobbies. Your temperature was taken prior to entering any restaurant. Hand sanitizing stations are all abound and required to be used at any indoor location. The hotel was at about 30% occupancy (we stayed in mid-January when the weather was perfect), so from a COVID perspective, we felt very comfortable.
Needless to say, I do not regret our trip, and if you are going to be safe and do the right thing, book the trip to the Royalton Antigua.