How to navigate international travel under new restrictions.
Last week my husband and I spent a few days at Sandals Grande Antigua. It was my first visit to this property and island. (Spoiler alert: we loved it!) This was my second international trip since the pandemic began but the first trip after the new CDC travel restrictions were implemented on January 26. I’m sharing details below about how we navigated these new restrictions while thoroughly enjoying the beautiful little island of Antigua.
Travel to Antigua and Barbuda Antigua’s entry requirements are fairly straight forward — all passengers arriving by air must comply with the following:
Submit proof of the results of a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction) test for SARS-CoV-2 using a nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swab taken within seven (7) days of their flight
Wear a face mask in public spaces and adhere to standard physical distancing protocols
complete a Health Declaration Form (handed out during flight) and allow authorities to conduct a health screening and temperature checks upon arrival
Most of my family experienced COVID-19 in November, so getting negative test results was not a concern for us. We decided to test 5 days before our scheduled arrival in Antigua just in case we had flight delays which could potentially bump us outside of the 7-day requirement for testing. At a local drive-thru testing site, the swab test was completed by a clinician within minutes and we had our results back within 48 hours.
While the above entry requirements seem routine, many countries take compliance very seriously. In Antigua and Barbuda, persons who fail to comply with the outlined safety measures (predominantly in reference to masks) are subject to a fine of $5,000 XCD (East Caribbean Dollar) which is equal to approx. $1,850 USD or imprisonment for 6 months, or BOTH. This sounds a bit intimidating, however, island life is not spent indoors. For our visit, we had our masks with us at all times in case we wanted to duck into a shop, stop at the resort front desk, or wear while being seated at a restaurant. (almost all are open-air) Even though we had masks, we rarely needed them because we were almost always outside. We were either enjoying the beach and pools, eating at open-air restaurants, or lounging in our room.
Upon arrival at the V.C. Bird International Airport, we proceeded to the health and wellness area where we turned in our required negative COVID-19 documents and health screening questionnaire. Our temperature was also taken and we were given information on who to contact should we experience COVID-19 symptoms. Once we received clearance to enter Antigua, we proceeded to customs and immigration and then on to baggage claim as usual. Blank “Ministry of Health, Wellness and The Environment Health Screening Questionnaire” and customs forms were provided to us during our 3-hour flight from Miami to Antigua which gave us plenty of time to read through everything, ask questions and complete these forms. This made the process at the airport a breeze and reduced our stress levels greatly. Once the formalities were taken care of, we exited the airport where porters were waiting to assist us with our luggage and lead us to the Sandals Resort shuttle. Prior to boarding the shuttle, our bags were wiped down and sanitized.
Exploring the Resort
Sandals Grande Antigua is situated on one of the most beautiful and longest white-sand beaches in Antigua - Dickenson Bay. It is a very quick 15 minutes away from the V.C. Bird International Airport and only 10 minutes from Antigua’s capital, St. John. The resort is comprised of 27 acres of quaint Caribbean beachfront with lush, tropical gardens and Mediterranean-inspired elements nestled against a powdery white-sand beach. If you are more of a pool person, Sandals Grande Antigua offers six freshwater pools and six whirlpools, including two swim-up pool bars. The Mediterranean Oceanview Village pool is 15,000 sq. ft. and was where the party people hung out.
Accommodations: The resort offers 373 rooms and suites in 28 categories. Accommodations range from one-story buildings with patios to Caribbean Honeymoon Butler Rondovals with Private Pool Sanctuary to exotic Mediterranean Honeymoon Romeo & Juliet Oceanview Penthouse, One Bedroom Butler Suites, and Mediterranean One Bedroom Butler Villa Suites with Private Pool Sanctuary.
Dining: Like all Sandals Resorts, there are numerous dining options– from resort casual to resort evening you can match your mood or craving. With eleven gourmet options, there is something for everyone. During our stay, we tried 9 of the 11 restaurants enjoying freshly made sushi, Italian and French cuisine, seafood, tex-mex, pizza, and more. The opportunity to be able to have something different for every meal was not lost on us. Here are a few of the favorite dishes we enjoyed during our stay.
Entertainment: The resort offers the perfect mix of entertainment and quiet pursuits with options for everyone: martini nights, wine and cheese tastings, mixology classes, nightly shows with live entertainment such as karaoke at the Drunken Duck, a piano bar, and Carnival Pop Parities. Or, spend your time at a quiet pool with a swim-up bar like we did, far enough away from the main pool that we could not even hear the music and activities.
Fitness: If fitness is part of your daily routine or if you just need to do damage control before or after a day of indulging, Sandals has you covered with a state of the art work-out facility and certified fitness professional-led classes daily. Rather than jump on a machine, you can also get your workout by moving to the beat of your favorite songs in an instructor-led class appropriate for all ages and fitness levels.
Healthcare: Access to medical care is now top of mind when traveling. Sandals Grande Antigua offers an on-site nurse’s station that is open daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. In addition, a nurse is on call after hours and a doctor is on call 24/7 at an additional charge.
Our Suite: Our Mediterranean Honeymoon Oceanview Club Level Suite was located in the Cypress tower. This spacious suite offers a private balcony showcasing gorgeous views of Dickenson Bay, the Mediterranean Village Pool, and the resort's beautifully landscaped gardens. The suite features a four-poster, king-size bed, flat-screen TV, and an en-suite bathroom complete with his and hers vanities, a whirlpool tub, and a separate walk-in rain shower. It also includes Club Sandals concierge service assistance with reservations, preferred check-in, and anything else needed while on vacation.
Our first full day at the resort was what island vacations are all about— relaxing, soaking up the sun and ocean air, and adjusting to the slower pace that attracts so many to the Caribbean. After the daylong journey the day before, we slept in, enjoyed a leisurely beachside breakfast, walked along the ocean, lounged at the pool, took a nap, and enjoyed a delicious dinner with numerous blended tropical cocktails before, during, and after.
Other travel agent friends had warned me that the local merchants and beach sellers were a bit more aggressive with their selling techniques. They obviously depend on vacationers to buy their wares to feed their families. Our experience was that a firm but polite “no thank you” was respected. It really was not an issue for us. We bought some trinkets, t-shirts, and handmade bracelets that we did not need but felt good helping these islanders out.
The following day was spent on a memorable, private tour of the island arranged through Tours by Locals and conducted by our new friend, Emelda. Most Tours by Locals excursions are private, completely customizable, and lead by lifelong residents of the country. I just love the flexibility, efficient touring style, and the real experience of spending time with a local and learning about their country and way of life. After a quick introduction and discussion on what we would see during our time together, we were off.
We traveled through St. John, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, passing by several markets, schools, and the new cricket stadium. Once through St. John, we were treated to roasted corn at a roadside grill. The corn was cooked on a traditional coal pot and tasted a bit like popcorn but had a dense texture. It was delicious!
We then continued on to Nelson's Dockyard which is the only continuously working Georgian Shipyard in the world. Nelson's Dockyard retains its eighteenth-century charm with original, restored buildings and also serves as a world-class marina, hosting yachts from around the world. We also toured Shirley's Heights, which is a restored military outlook with spectacular 360-degree views of breathtaking land and oceanscapes from 490 feet above sea level. From the outlook, we could also see Eric Clapton’s seaside home which looked divine… almost like knocking on heaven’s door. 😉 On the way back down, we meandered through the island’s Rain Forest. This was a stunning drive surrounding us in the lush, green scenery of southern Antigua.
Our tour included stops at Barnabas Church, the old sugar mill, and the opportunity to be treated with the sweetest pineapple in the world: "The Antigua Black Pineapple". Our final stop took us to one of the 365 beautiful white sand beaches for some quick pictures before we returned to the resort. Along the way, Emelda shared stories of the island with us and even taught us a bit about the local dialect.
We brought a small amount of cash for park entry fees, food, and souvenirs as suggested by the tour group (we brought $100 USD but only spent $45 on these extras). Tours by Locals always provides a memorable experience – Emelda’s tour of Antigua was five stars! Although not required, we gave her a nice tip when we departed because she was fabulous!
Once back at the resort, we enjoyed a quick lunch before getting our complimentary COVID-19 tests in preparation for returning to the U.S. in a couple of days. More information on that below.
That day also happened to be Super Bowl Sunday and the resort was primed for the event.
We opted for a quiet dinner on the other side of the resort while many of the guests were enjoying the festivities. The big game was displayed on a ginormous screen above the main pool. The traditional fare was offered buffet style with staff on hand to dish the game day grub for guests, butler style. The pool deck offered ample space for distancing between parties and everyone seemed to be enjoying the game and physically distanced comradery.
Our last day at the resort was a repeat of day one with a little more beach time and some snorkeling thrown in for good measure. Antigua offers spectacular snorkeling (and diving) opportunities. The island is surrounded almost completely by coral reefs with shipwrecks dotted about the area, many of which you can reach from the shore.
After five relaxing sun-filled days of island life, we didn’t want to leave and are already talking about whether to return to this resort or try another Sandals Resort. Sandals Resorts never disappoint and Sandals Grande Antigua was no exception. The stunning beaches, lush grounds, and picturesque blue Caribbean water, the first-class service, the delectable dining and lively bars, plush suites, and the seemingly endless opportunities to enjoy the island through land and water sports made for the perfect couple’s vacation. On the last morning, I walked the property and captured a video of this tropical oasis that can be viewed here:
Preparing to return to the U.S.
Per a recent CDC order, air passengers arriving in the US from a foreign country must test for COVID-19 no more than 3 days before their flight departs and present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight. Air passengers are also required to confirm that the information they present is true in the form of attestation. The airlines are responsible for managing this new process and must deny boarding to any passenger who does not provide the required negative test results or documentation of recovery which includes both a previous positive COVID-19 RT-PCR AND a letter of recovery from a physician.
In addition, the President announced his administration’s comprehensive policy for fighting COVID-19 shortly after. The biggest news was a requirement for wearing masks during travel and a recommendation for quarantine for everyone returning to the U.S. from outside the country.
All Sandals Resorts including Sandals Grande Antigua are providing complimentary testing onsite. Upon our arrival at Sandals Grande Antigua, we received a letter informing us of the process, times, and other important details. An appointment was not necessary but could be arranged if you wanted one. We felt better having a set appointment, so we called the extension provided and were able to pick a time that worked for us. Since my husband, Greg, was still within his 90-day window of a COVID-19 diagnosis, he did not require testing but he complied in support of my testing requirement. To be safe, we also brought a copy of his COVID-19 test results with us along with a Letter of Recovery from our doctor. I recovered from COVID-19 earlier in November and am now outside the allowable 90-day window so I needed to complete the test to have proof of negative COVID-19 RT-PCR to return to the U.S.
A specific room designated for testing was sanitized between each appointment by the resort staff. The entire process took about 15 minutes and was a completely seamless experience. I tested at 3:30 pm on Sunday and received my results by Monday at 10:00 AM.
When we returned to V.C. Bird International Airport for our departure back to the U.S., the process was as easy as it was to enter Antigua. Just inside the entrance, we were guided to a counter where an American Airlines agent reviewed our paperwork and provided us with the required Passenger Disclosure and Attestation to the United States of America form to complete. It took approximately 30 minutes from the time we entered the airport to the arrival at our gate (completing forms, airline check-in/boarding passes, customs and immigration, and security). We had arrived at the airport 3 hours prior to our departure time as recommended for all international travel so we had plenty of time for this new process.
Are you ready to travel?
Travel is more complicated than ever and will likely remain that way well into the future. In addition to pairing my clients with their dream vacation destination and handling standard travel details, I now also assist with navigating new COVID rules, regulations, and safety protocols. Many people (understandably) are holding off on travel while others are taking advantage of great deals and low crowds. Some would love to go, but COVID-19 has affected their income level and their extra fun money is simply gone. For me, even with all of the extra hoops to jump through, the trip to Antigua was well worth it! Whatever your circumstances might be, when you are ready to travel again, I’m ready to offer my expertise to help you navigate this new world of travel!
Holly Poast, CTA is an agent/independent contractor with Magical Moments Vacations specializing in Disney Destinations (land and sea), the Caribbean, select European destinations, and Alaska. Ready to plan your next adventure? Contact Holly for inspiration and complimentary concierge-style vacation planning services! Ready to get started? Schedule time to chat here: https://calendly.com/hollypoast/30min