By The Biz Team (Carl)
In early June, the lockdown was finally starting to get to my fiance and me. Flight prices were relatively cheap and available at that time, so we decided to book a trip to Aruba. Ideally, we would have skipped town as soon as possible and booked a flight in June. But Aruba wasn't open to non-residents until July, so we patiently settled for waiting another month. Initially, our flight was from NYC (JFK) to Aruba (AUA) on July 8, and included a three and a half hour layover in Panama. But about a week after booking, I found out Aruba wasn’t open to US residents until July 10. We changed our flight to July 11, only to be told that Aruba wasn’t open to Central America at all, making our layover in Panama impossible. Since I had booked through two different airlines (Copa Airlines departing and JetBlue returning), I had to go through the refund process for both airlines. I had purchased refund insurance, but that was pretty much unnecessary since airlines were being lenient with flight changes due to the pandemic.
My new flight was booked through American Airlines, flying direct from New York into Miami on July 8, and direct from Miami to Aruba three days later. This was what was most available and affordable at the time. Plus, having one too many experiences of racing to the gate to make a connecting flight (or having my luggage miss the connecting flight), made me shy away from layovers. I was meant to return from Aruba on July 15, but was notified by JetBlue that my return flight had to be moved up a day, as they were not flying out on July 15th. So now I had to cancel the Miami flight, and find another flight from JFK to AUA. The one I found included the dreaded layover (in Charlotte). I also went through the refund process with JetBlue, as I wanted to stay longer and book everything through the same airline. My final official flight was through American Airlines: JFK to CLT, CLT to AUA on July 10, and returning from AUA to MIA, and then MIA to JFK on July 15th. Mind you that all this time, I also had to alter AirBnb activity and car rental arrangements. I was starting to need a vacation from booking this vacation.
As for Aruba's guidelines, there are certain documents needed: an Embarkation/Disembarkation (ED) card, Aruba-specific health insurance, and a negative PCR test for coronavirus. For the ED card, there is an application to fill out online. The system was acting up, and considering my luck booking this trip thus far, I was getting a little nervous as we approached departure time. I’m happy to report that the system eventually cooperated. As for the PCR test, you have the option of getting it yourself before you fly, or you can get it in Aruba. If you chose to get it in Aruba, though, you would have to be quarantined at your place of stay until the results came back. If you chose to do it yourself, you could only take the test within three days of your flight to Aruba. Knowing this, I had initially found a testing center in Miami, since that was where I originally would have been three days before my flight. But since I was now leaving from New York, I had to find a testing center that would return our results by July 10. I found a center in Queens, and had to do the brutal swab way up the nostril. My fiancée wasn’t as lucky... she had to receive the swab into both nostrils. This was unpleasant for both of us, especially knowing that we wouldn’t know if our results would be back in time, until they were actually returned. We both got our (negative) results back in the same day. Things were starting to look up.
The US airports were relatively empty while departing, but fairly active on the way back. Aruba’s airport was deserted, landing and leaving. COVID has required masks while in the airports and planes. All establishments in Aruba either require you to receive hand sanitizer and/or to get your temperature checked upon entering. Only select staff wore masks, and I don’t believe that was mandatory; only voluntary and, most likely, precautionary.
On July 10, we landed and stayed in Aruba’s capital, Oranjestad. Arubans were very happy to see tourists return and support their businesses. So much so that I would sometimes receive random discounts, just for bringing joy and money back to the merchants’ lives. Several Arubans told me that us tourists make up about 90% of their country’s income. Many restaurants, shops, and other venues were closed, and the ones that opened did so sporadically. The weekends were fairly active, except Sundays, where most of the island is generally silent and laxed.
All in all, Aruba was a great place to be. A terrible experience getting there, but it immediately went to the top of my list of places I’ve traveled. Great people, fun language, unreal beaches, and delicious food. It’s one of the most diverse islands in the world. I played golf at Divi Aruba, jet skied and parasailed with Fun 4 Every 1, and ate at some solid restaurants including Gianni’s, Dushi, Pika’s Corner, El Gaucho, and Casa Tua. True to the tropics, it rained three different times in one day, for about five minutes each. Small price to pay for the beauty of Aruba, which at times, felt like I had the island to myself. Many questioned my decision to travel during a pandemic, but despite the hassle of organizing the trip, I have no regrets.
TOTAL TRIP COSTS:
Health Insurance: ~$180
PCR Test: free