Four months of a pandemic will make anyone stir crazy, seeking a change of scenery away from their daily grind where they can safely isolate. After a month of research, I found the perfect, safe place. Read below on our experience traveling to St Lucia on the first flight back to the island since COVID began, American Airlines flight 2295.
Me and my husband’s 5 year anniversary was quickly approaching, and we were set to be in Hawaii to celebrate it in late June. When we found out Hawaii was under a 14-day quarantine, we knew we had to cancel the trip. Being the avid traveler and photographer I am, I was determined to see IF there was a place we could go to still celebrate, yet be safe. After a month of intense research, I finally landed on St. Lucia – a remote island neither of us had been to before in the South Caribbean.
I saw countries slowly opening up, but when I saw St. Lucia was reopening for tourism July 9 to American Airlines out of Miami, I quickly started looking into it further. What eased my mind was their government’s VERY strict entry requirements and COVID safety protocols being enforced to ensure their island stay virus-free – along with it’s awaiting international visitors.
Also, St Lucia has ZERO COVID deaths to date. That speaks volumes.
Before I dive into the amazingness that our resort, Sugar Beach, has to offer during these questionable times, I first want to touch on TWO IMPORTANT THINGS: How amazing St. Lucia is handling the COVID crisis upon landing and reintroducing tourism back in phases, and our experience with American Airlines getting us to St Lucia.
- Flying on American Airlines: The most important thing to note is that American required proof of a negative COVID PCR test before entering the aircraft, both at check-in and at boarding for our flight on July 9. If the destination country is requiring PCR test results be proven upon tourist entry, then the flights are supposed to check this at boarding. Bravo American. That right there helped ease my stress of getting on a plane unknowing of what lurked aboard. They did require masks, provided bags with sanitizer, water and cookies. The flights with them were not super crowded, and I was beyond appreciative to feel that plane launch off the ground, as I hadn’t flown in 4 months. For me, that felt like forever. But that split instant of happiness knowing I was going somewhere beautiful and SAFE was everything to me. Our flight back home had 11 people on board!
- St Lucia upon arrival: This was the most comforting part of the trip. We were on the FIRST flight to land in St Lucia on July 9 since COVID crashed tourism in March 2020. As soon as our plane landed, we could see the airport staff and news crew clapping – so happy to welcome us to their island. I honestly teared up a little seeing this. The realization that these people needed tourism to resume in order to live hit me like a brick wall. It felt so good to see them smiling (under all their masks) and cheering.
Upon exiting the plane, we were filed into orderly lines in which we sanitized, showed our passports and provided our negative PCR test results. There were 3 lines I could make out: one for people who had taken a test prior to boarding the plane, one for nationals returning home, and one for people who needed to get tested again. Once you breezed through your respective line, there were temperature checks, nurse stations, questions and an entry form to fill out with detailed information of your stay. When we finished that area, we were shown through customs, grabbed our sanitized luggage and were out of the airport within 40 mins of landing. Each group traveling together was then escorted to their government approved hotel to isolate for their stay by a registered COVID private driver/taxi. It was flawless. No shared taxis were present.
To see St Lucia’s tourism phased reopening, go here: St Lucia Tourism Authority
Disclaimer: As with all international travel, I recommend visiting your destination’s website to get the most up to date requirements and current restrictions in place, as things can change since writing this article.
TESTING PRIOR TO TRAVELING
As international travel opens back up to more countries, educating yourself on their entry requirements is essential.
For St Lucia, as of July 9, I highly recommend:
- Getting a PCR Covid test administered BEFORE you travel, not when you land in St Lucia.
- St Lucia requires a PCR test taken within 7 days of travel to their country.
- There are 2 types of COVID tests: the PCR, and the Rapid. Both are swabs. Make sure not to get them confused — ask your testing center to clarify if you are traveling it must be a PCR. Make sure you get a PCR test, not just a “rapid” test. Most ‘rapid’ tests are NOT PCR qualified.
- Antibody testing (blood test) is not usable for travel.
- If you land in St Lucia and test positive or show symptoms, or have to wait for results from an onsite test there, they will quarantine you in a government provided hotel.
For St Lucia’s current entry requirements, click HERE.
SELECTING OUR RESORT – SUGAR BEACH
Phase I for St Lucia’s reopening July 9 only included a select list of government approved resorts on the island. We selected Sugar Beach, A Viceroy property as our isolation home-away-from-home, as I had heard excellent things about the property. And man what a fantastic decision that was! Others open included Sandals Grand, Ladera and more.
During Phase 1, tourists can stay at any of the approved resorts, but may not venture off property for protocol reasons. We were able to freely explore our resort and do activities on site, including all water sports, snorkeling (recommend bringing your own masks), outdoor gym classes, hiking, and more.
Was that annoying? Nope.
Did we get bored? Hell no.
Did we appreciate the protocols in place such as this to protect the locals and us? HELL YES.
ARRIVAL TO SUGAR BEACH
The one thing I love about Sugar Beach was the property mainly consists of villas and private houses and cottages. When I was researching hotels, this screamed ‘safest isolation’ to me. As we pulled into the property gates, the security guard asked our names, again temperature tested us, and provided our driver with our room number. We were then driven straight to our villa, bypassing reception and check-in completely. I thought that was an amazing start social distancing!
The reservations team and manager, Aline and Korina, were beyond helpful while making this reservation. If you email them, let them know you read this article!
Once at our villa, we were then greeted by Gus, our personal point of contact for our stay. He checked our temperatures again, sanitized our hands and all luggage, and gave us a tour of our jaw-dropping room. He explained the COVID protocols Sugar Beach resort was taking for it’s first guests arriving, which were constant sanitation, masks on and social distancing in public areas. Their stance: More relaxation and less interaction. IT WAS FLAWLESS.
We were the first couple to check into Sugar Beach on July 9! It was amazing. We literally walked the resort and didn’t see a single person for about 2 hours. I have video of my husband and I on the beach happy dancing. At that point we looked at each other and both agreed that getting on that plane to leave the U.S. was an excellent decision.
Upon booking at Sugar Beach, they were having a substancial discount for our dates and the Phase 1 reopening. I selected a Superior Luxury Cottage because I wanted us to have a detached room experience with the most social distancing possible. Plus it just seemed more romantic for our anniversary. A few days before arriving, the hotel offered us an upgrade to an Ocean View Grand Luxury Villa, which we took. I knew I would be writing this article, so I opted for the better view for the photos. (Duh, haha).
We were given room 309. WOW. NO WORDS. My jaw dropped to the floor when we first got to our room, aka ‘house’! Our nearest neighbors were…..well….we didn’t have neighbors! Talk about a perfect idea of social distancing getaway.
A little TMI, but I actually cried when we walked up to the villa, and I looked off over the patio to the best view of the Piton, turquoise sea and beach down below. COVID, like with most people, has hit me hard mentally. It’s left many people questioning their livelihood, jobs, security and so much more. For the split second as I looked off this patio, I felt at peace. My mind felt a foreign, yet welcomed sense of ‘it’s going to be ok’. If you personally know me, you know traveling is my world. For both my job and for leisure. If you love and prioritize (or want to prioritize) traveling in your life, you know the feeling I am describing.
RESORT GROUNDS AND STAFF
I honestly didn’t know what to expect when arriving to St Lucia as a whole, or Sugar Beach in particular, as far as ‘feeling COVID safe’. But the second we arrived, we were no longer questioning our decision to travel there.
Sugar Beach deserves a 5 star rating for their COVID protocols and safety measures. After spending 5 days there strictly living on the resort, I can whole-heartedly say that I felt safer there than I have in the past 4 months since the pandemic started. If you are questioning travel, but are still trying to find the ideal place, I highly recommend booking at Sugar Beach.
The staff has been rigorously trained in all safely protocols with the reopening, and they all are taking it very seriously. The relaxing part is that it doesn’t feel forced or as a ‘vacation bummer’ at all. It’s very discreet, and they are handling each guest with the best service possible, with as little interaction as possible. We felt this was a plus for positive isolation and some much needed R and R.
Every staff member is in a mask 100% of the time. We never saw one person without a mask (servers, reception, butlers, shuttle drivers, cooks, etc).
WHAT’S EXPECTED OF THE GUESTS DURING THIS REOPENING PHASE
During Phase 1, tourists can stay at any of the approved resorts such as Sugar Beach, but may not venture off property for protocol reasons. We did not find this limiting at all. It was more freedom that we currently have in Dallas, Texas.
We were able to freely explore Sugar Beach’s grounds and do activities onsite, including:
- all water sports (kayaking, sailing, stand up paddleboards)
- snorkeling (bringing your own masks is highly recommended)
- outdoor gym classes with personal trainers offered
- hiking onsite
- the spa was open
- 2 pristine beaches (see below for a better description)
- gardens to explore on property
- tennis courts
We did take a half-day boat snorkeling trip offered by the resort that was private and a blast. It was great to do some diving offsite, and also see St Lucia from afar off the water. Our Captain, Vikas, was amazing! You could tell he was equally as excited to take us out and show us him home country. We spent 3 hours seeing the island, the Pitons, snorkeling some great reefs and shipwrecks, and visually taking in other parts of the island.
All guests are required to wear masks anytime around a staff member, or other guests within 6 ft. While sitting on the beach, swimming and eating, masks are not required. Everyone gladly wore one, or the resort offered disposable ones for anyone who needed one.
Guests were also expected to sanitize their hands and have routine temperature checks each morning. We didn’t find this intrusive at all, as we respected and appreciated them doing this for our safety and theirs as well.
HIGHLIGHTS DURING OUR STAY
- Butler phone: Yup, that’s right. Each room/villa comes with a cell phone that they provide to you, which you use to contact them for ANYTHING during your stay. Freaking fantastic! (Please note this is a service that they always do for guests, not just during COVID protocols.) I read about it on Tripadvisor via many reviews and after experiencing how freaking fantastic the bulter phone is, I can attest to the hype! What’s even better is that this phone service makes staying during COVID easier! If you don’t want to go to the restaurant for dinner, you just call and they deliver your food to your patio so you can eat in social distancing peace. If you request them to just leave the food, they will do that also, providing zero contact for those who want that.
- Shuttles: Since the resort is strewn along a cliffside, they offer shuttles for all guests anywhere on property. And as you’ve probably guessed by this point in the article….yes, they are private! Another amazing COVID protocol for social distancing. Just pick up that cell phone they give you and call for a ride down to the beach, or back up to your room (the incline can be hard for some with limited mobility).
- Luggage Sanitation: Each time the staff touched our luggage, they thoroughly sanitized it afterward.
Sugar Beach is known for it’s multiple highly-rated restaurants on property. During Phase 1 reopening, only the main eatery on the beach, Bayside Restaurant, was open for guests to utilize. We did not find this limiting, as they changed the menu daily and for each meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bayside is also an open air restaurant, so guests could eat amongst each other with nicely spaced tables and a wonderful ocean breeze to enjoy during their meals.
We got to meet the Executive Chef, Andrew, during our stay. He was so personable, and made it a point to ask us what we enjoyed eating. I had noticed that normally Sugar Beach has a sushi restaurant on property open, and made mention of that to him. Of course with COVID protocols, it wasn’t open, but Chef Andrew said that he could make us a sushi dinner with a preorder! He asked us what ingredients of sushi we liked and prepared the most amazing sushi rolls and shrimp tempura dinner for us two days later! That was AWESOME.
In addition, the extensive room service menu was tasty as well. The options were plentiful, and you could custom order as well. The amount of gluten-free foods on the menu was impressive too!
BEACH AND REEF AT SUGAR BEACH
Considering Sugar Beach lies in an UNESCO World Heritage site, you know it’s going to be gorgeous and offer some history and charm. One of my absolute favorite things about the resort was the beaches on property.
Sugar Beach offers two beaches, one larger one and one more private one with a pier in their Residences section. Both are equally as gorgeous, but we spent more time at the main beach.
White sands, crystal clear water (and when I say clear, I mean VERY clear) and the most calm bay for relaxing. Zero waves and only a 18 inch tide! If your idea of relaxation is floating in the water and not moving, then this beach is the place for you. I’ve been blessed to have experienced many beaches all over the world, and this beach ranks in the top 3!
They had the beach chairs and umbrellas spaced nicely for social distancing. Beach waiters were there to assist you for beverages and snacks, towels and anything you needed.
Sugar Beach resort is nestled between the two infamous Pitons – or mountains – St Lucia is known for. Talk about the best real estate on the island! On the main beach, the north rim of the Piton houses a Marine Conservatory protected area near the Dive Shop. Here you can swim with a multitude of animals! My husband and I have snorkeled in some amazing waters – and this little gem compares to diving in Moorea! That’s huge. We saw a ton of different types of fish, many eels (including morays), large crabs, starfish, colorful coral and more. I couldn’t believe that little roped off area housed so much awesomeness just steps from our room.
The purpose for this article is to express my comforts in the trip described above. While I realize traveling isn’t high on everyone’s list right now – to those that long to get out for a break…it is possible to feel comfortable and safe. My example just being in St Lucia.
If you have any questions or comments, including photo usage or copyright, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.