Despite pandemic, resort travel resumes for some Georgia families

A beachscape in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands in June 2007. Courtesy of Syble Henderson

Credit: Syble Henderson

Credit: Syble Henderson

The coronavirus pandemic upended our lives earlier this year, causing us to change the way we work, interact with friends and family, and ultimately our travel plans. But for several metro Atlanta residents, travel hasn’t been ruled out completely.

While the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control still recommends staying home as the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, hotels and resorts have implemented numerous safety measures to keep lodgers safe. Back in May, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) unveiled its Safe Stay guidelines, according to USA TODAY. You can read the full guidelines here.

“It’s really an effort to make sure that no matter if you’re staying at an extended-stay economy hotel or you’re staying at the nicest luxury resort, that there will be at a minimum common standards across the entire industry,” Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO, told USA TODAY.

With safety measures in place, some Georgia residents made the decision to get out to a resort for some much needed relaxation and a change of scenery.

When Christine Burgoyne, a retired faculty member from the University of Georgia, made the decision to travel with her husband and three teenage children back in July, they had originally planned to travel to Roatan, Honduras. However, the week of their family trip, the Central American country closed to U.S. travelers. Delta had also stopped most international flights around this time, so the family was forced to abruptly change their plans, settling on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Burgoyne and her family stayed at the Buccaneer Resort in St. Croix from July 1-8. “The resort was uncrowded, and its extreme spaciousness made social distancing easy. Our room was away from the main buildings, in a narrow strand of rooms along the shore, so we never had to pass through a lobby or hallway close to other people," said Burgoyne. "The one resort restaurant that was open was outdoors, with spaced seating and staggered meal times by reservation. Hand sanitizing and masking were cheerfully but firmly enforced.”

Overall, Burgoyne was pleased with her resort stay and stated that she would travel again. However, there were a few challenges she encountered and precautions she took that might be helpful for others who are considering resort travel during this time. “The biggest issue was finding a country that would allow U.S. visitors. Next was whether there were flights to the destination,” said Burgoyne. “Finally, we wanted a familiar destination where we were confident we could practice social distancing.”

Her family had visited the resort before so they knew what to expect, but they still did plenty of online research prior. They were also tested for COVID-19 before their trip and purchased an abundance of masks and hand sanitizer. However, there were issues with receiving their test results in a decent amount of time, according to Burgoyne.

“But the biggest problem is the inability to reliably schedule tests and get test results within the specific, narrow time windows required by destinations. We all tested before this trip. My results never came through, and the others took over a week, so they were too old for most travel purposes. Testing is our biggest worry for future travel. We are afraid we could plan and pay for a trip and then be unable to provide test results that are less than 48/72 hours old.”

Trip to Florida

Michelle Jimenez, a first responder and Chamblee resident, made the decision to travel with her boyfriend and family to Orlando, Florida, back in May. “We were a little nervous because throughout the time parks were starting their Phase 1 into how they would start opening and following CDC guidelines.”

In September, Jimenez and her family stayed at Florida Universal’s Studios Loews Royal Pacific and visited Universal Studios as well as Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The Chamblee resident expressed some concern for traveling during the pandemic early on but ultimately the experience was beyond magical as her boyfriend of seven years surprised her with a proposal.

“My family and boyfriend, now fiancé, were planning on how the proposal would take place at my favorite place in the whole wide world which is Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom,” said Jimenez. “I was completely clueless at the time.”

Michelle Jimenez expressed some concern for traveling during the pandemic early on but ultimately the experience was beyond magical as her boyfriend of seven years surprised her with a proposal. Courtesy of Michelle Jimenez

Credit: Michelle Jimenez

Credit: Michelle Jimenez

Jimenez did experience some anxiety prior to her scheduled travel. “I did feel uneasy, and as if I were being reckless because no matter how magical and amazing my experience was, there were still people in the hospital fighting this horrible virus and also people that have, unfortunately, passed away.” Despite her concerns, Jimenez fully enjoyed her travel experience and felt safe given the precautions the resort had taken to protect guests.

“I felt comfortable when I saw both theme parks following the CDC guidelines and taking extra precautions,” said Jimenez. There were stickers to indicate where to social distance and also multiple places where guests could wash their hands as well as hand sanitizer stations. According to Jimenez, all employees at both theme parks went out their way to remind people to have their masks on and to social distance.

“Disney World and Florida’s Universal Studios were taking extra precautions, before I even entered the hotel they took my temperature and every day,” said Jimenez. “They would give you a different color band to alert cast members and employee that your temperature had been taken. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom also was disinfecting their rides every two hours.”

Jimenez and her family took extra precautions before their trip and were sure to pack disinfectant spray, gloves, masks and an abundance of hand sanitizer. She enjoyed her trip and would travel again but the biggest surprise was her boyfriend’s proposal.

“My fiancé and I are both first responders, he’s a police officer and I’m 911 dispatcher, and we felt as if we needed a break or a little getaway. My family and I went to Disney’s Magic Kingdom and we were taking pictures, of course, in front of the castle. Suddenly, I saw my boyfriend of 7 years, kneel down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was such a beautiful experience, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

TRAVEL SAFELY

If you’re planning to travel during the pandemic, here are a few resort travel strategies to keep you safe, according to Travel + Leisure:

  1. Pick your destination wisely.
  2. Before booking a stay, research the hotel’s plan to protect guests and staff.
  3. Find out what the hotel’s plans are for guests who fall ill during their stay.
  4. Wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
  5. Ask for a room that has not been occupied for a few days.
  6. Sanitize your room upon arrival.
  7. Open your windows for ventilation.
  8. Decline housekeeping services to reduce the number of people in your room.
  9. Order room service rather than dine out.
  10. Avoid shared hotel facilities like the gym and spa.

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