Thursday, July 30, 2020

Wedding FAM trip to Mexico - COVID times

On a Recent Trip to Mexico....

From July 20 - 27, 2020 I was invited to attend a Karisma Wedding FAM trip in the Riviera Maya Mexico. Part of my job as a travel agent is to attend such events (and many more...) in order to bring the world of travel to my customers. It allows me to send folks to bright and beautiful destinations to celebrate love, life and the freedom to roam! Not always do I report about these travels in my blog (I often show pictures on my facebook page), but I felt this one could prove worthy to the GP due to travel during COVID-19 times.  After debating long and hard due to the fact that we are facing a USA wide level 4 travel ban and yes COVID-19 is a dangerous disease affecting millions out there, I made the decision to go. I knew I did not want to risk giving this disease to my friends and family or god forbid any of my customers. I knew the risks involved and I knew too what I needed to do in order to protect everyone. While nothing is guaranteed I felt the risks have been worth the effort. It is part of the job. Would my family agree with me? Probably not but that's besides the point. I'm back, alive and well and tested!

So on Day 1, I opted to stay at a local hotel near our state airport in South Portland Maine for an overnight at the Embassy Suites hotel. Beautiful hotel and generally they have nightly cocktail bar open with a free cocktail for guests and  hors d'oeuvres and a morning breakfast. All of which were shut down. Breakfast items were at a minimum. Due to Covid-19, guests were met with glass enclaves separating them from the check in desk and a bottle of hand sanitizer you can find anywhere. Guests are required to wear masks. *gasp* as if this was surprising right? In our room we were able to don-off the mask and let loose. Good night folks... early morning departure to come!

Day 2, I was brisked away to the Southwest Airlines gate at Portland International Airport. The Airport requires mask wearing (all do nowadays...) and I'd be guessing that there are temp checks happening everywhere (you just do not see them and this is as a Travel Advisor what I am told...). Again glass dividers at the check in desks and you are off to your gate. Social distancing markers exist for your safety. Do all American's follow them? Honestly? No. Being Americans are being simply un-American and a lot of them have absolutely NO IDEA what they are doing from the moment they read their ticket to the time they get to such social distancing markers. Markers at the gates have boarding and position numbers. Southwest was allowing only 5-10 people on at any given time and it was OPEN SEATING (which I must admit, I quite liked!).  Southwest is not offering liquors but a simple cup of water and a small treat on the way. If you were caught not wearing your mask you were asked to put it on and if you do not comply you are removed from the aircraft. (Way to go Southwest)

After my plane ride to Cancun, I felt like I had not only entered into a totally different country. While the airport was virtually bare due to in part not a lot of people traveling (they didn't know Mexico is open or was willing to run the risk). At this new found friend of mine, I wondered "Why isn't the USA following suit?" - Hey we could be learning from this country! I saw several airport workers in Cancun wearing FULL PPE hazmat suits! Those that were wearing masks were wearing them as instructed and as they were intended and properly! And some workers were wearing  not only masks but face shields too! Boy I thought Mexico is taking COVID-19 seriously and by god they do!! In Portland and Baltimore airports I was seeing folks simply wearing masks (and in some cases not wearing them appropriately) and you might have gone on to feel slightly uncomfortable if someone was standing a bit too close to you at times. This, in fact, made me often want to yell at people to get the h*ll away from me but I am way too kind. I just moved my own body when I could.  Temp checks were happening all over the place in Mexico and there were people standing by in the airports and at resorts to make sure everyone complied in getting their temps checked or social distancing followed. If you were found to have a higher than normal temp you were whisked off for additional assistance.  My luggage was properly wiped down not only at the airport but before I got in my transportation vehicle and then before my luggage entered the resort. Before getting into my transfer I was offered hand sanitizer again. I was starting to feel like I am in the twilight zone yet everything was so easy and simple and nothing I had to do but agree and go with the flow so before long I was at my resort only to see another set of health protocols taking place for each individual prior to entry. I did feel safe and actually taken care of each step of the way.

Wiping down of luggage again, more hand sanitizer, a temp check (not by means of an age-old traditional way have you...) but something far simpler. Kudos to the folks who did much of this work unassumingly. Hats off to you!! Some temp checks at resorts did temp checks differently not by scanner at all but by a no-touch scanning device. See the two types below - one as a scanner on your arm and the other by means of a camera. Then, I'd step on this mat (looked like a door mat) and it was filled with this sanitizing cleaning liquid for our shoes. Then another mat to dry them off before we stepped into the resort. Never once in all the many times while in Mexico that I used hand sanitizer did my hands feel sticky or dry or chapped. 

I was then greeted with a refreshing cocktail at each resort. These steps were always repeated 1, 2, 3, 4 at each resort I visited (a total of 7). I did not get sick of this and I just felt comfortable and safe.
I gladly took the cocktails and enjoyed my time on the many resorts. Now on to other health protocols I noticed....
Most of the resorts were only operating up to 30% capacity. Some just simply looked "empty" or you had to go looking for actual guests staying at the resorts. One resort I visited, The Margaritaville Island Reserve Resort had just opened in March 2020 during COVID shutdown so they were operating at minimum capacity 17% while I visited. I saw a few folks here and there on their balconies or patios.  So from this aspect at the resorts I felt there really is NO BETTER TIME to visit than now! Especially if you are looking for a quiet getaway.  However on the flip side.... I visited a resort where you can find more livelier attendance.

One resort I visited, Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya, was a larger resort but I noticed more people congregating in the oversized pool areas (one of the largest I have ever seen btw). They were spread out unless they knew one another. I also saw them in the restaurants. Again, social distancing took place at restaurants, the pool and entertainment locations. Masks were not required in these places except by staff. And staff often wore not only masks but face shields as well and some wore gloves. The swim up pool bars at all resorts were mostly closed but you could get cocktails if you got out of the pool or only went up one or two at a time. In no way did I notice crowding anywhere or the inability to get away from others lacking in social distancing protocols.
Some rooms you stay in may have a card on your door knob that looks like the above photo. Other resort rooms may actually have tape over the door. Basically this is to tell you that no one has been in the room since sanitization measures took place inside the room. This occurs at each check out and these resorts have to follow strict sanitization measures to meet COVID clean inspections and response. Whenever I find the right fit for you it is guaranteed that such resorts have these health inspections in place. That they take health measures seriously.

Certain areas of all resorts were limited or shut down. At the Generations multigenerational family resort I noticed that the kids club was closed.  You would find other areas of activity involving any intense touching of items that were not easily cleaned off limits or shut down at other resorts too. It just makes sense until which time things change or new health protocols are put in place to allow these areas to function safely.

With regards to restaurants.... now if you are not the kind to bring your phones with you everywhere you go or you are somehow technically inept I wish to have you know that paper menus are not offered everywhere you go. For the majority of the restaurants I visited there were throw away paper menus available. On one property there were no throw away paper menus available. So be sure to ask me before you choose a resort to find the right fit for you. Resorts not only used QR codes for restaurant menus but for daily activity schedules, room service menus, maps and other areas of interest. 

So what more can I say with regards to traveling to Mexico during COVID-19? I can definitely recommend working with a travel agent before you consider traveling anywhere, even if you select not to choose us - Yet, I hope you do choose us! 

We will look out for you every step of the way. The fact that we took this risk to go on a trip somewhere right now shows you we care about your welfare. We WANT to make a trip as seamless and easy as possible. We want you to feel worry-free. 

While I may not recommend travel just anywhere and everywhere right now I can say that if you DO wish to travel right now that Mexico IS an option. That does not mean you should not follow mask wearing protocols while on property (a lot of people traveling there did not -- they certainly felt safe didn't they! - which only tells me that you should! I mean... Do we really know where these people from the USA are from? No). I was thinking of this every step of my trip and with every person I passed. 

There were very few times when I did not wear a mask and they were: 1) When I was eating 2) when I was drinking (which was only in a restaurant) and 3) When I was in a pool or the ocean. 

I was touring properties as part of a group so I was not alone for the first 3 days of my trip. I did have a room to myself and ate alone a lot but that was ok with me. More to enjoy! The final 4 days of my trip I did a more personalized FAM trip organizing my own stay with onsite management and the wedding groups. I took COVID measures seriously throughout the trip and when I got home I submitted to the dreaded up-the-nose COVID-19 PCR test and am happily doing the 14 day mandatory quarantine now. The test, while not required when I returned back to Maine, I took in order to protect my friends and family members. I visited my doctor the day after my return and she requested that I get it done in the office "due to high risk travel". Hmmm... you know what? I felt more at danger in the USA traveling than I did going to Mexico! Go figure....USA right now IS a high risk area. More high risk than any other country. So please keep that in mind when you travel.

I have a daughter and a pug that I love with all the world so to me any uncomfort I may have felt taking a COVID test is well worth it. The test did not hurt, it was just mildly uncomfortable. I have not experienced any symptoms upon return. Am I happy I visited Mexico? Yes! I'd do it again in a heartbeat.