A Travel Advisor’s Experience Traveling to Jamaica During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As we all know, the travel world has changed considerably over the course of the past five months. Our experience is no different. Having traveled to Mexico in mid-June, visiting 13 resorts in seven days following the reopening of many resorts, we saw that Jamaica was also opening up properties on June 15 during phase 1 rollout.

At TravelSmiths, we like to educate our clients prior to their travel so that there are no surprises (unless we plan them). We traveled to Jamaica to let our clients know our experience door-to-door. We had clients traveling to Hyatt Ziva and Zilara, the Jewel Grande and Sandals Royal Caribbean and Sandals Montego Bay. On the ground, we always use Reggae Tours, as we know they are safe, reliable and always provide service with a smile, even if it is under a mask.

Things You Should Know Prior to Travel

First, if you’re parking at the airport, make sure you have a reservation. Most parking places are not providing valet service. Because we live in New Jersey, not a high-risk state at this time, it was not required for us to have a negative COVID-19 test. Since we had just returned from Colorado and Florida (on the hotlist), respectively, both Sally and I went to get a test and both tested negative. We brought those results with us in case we were asked. If you do live in a high-risk state, Jamaica is requiring you to have a negative test result within 10 days of your entry.

Traveling coach on JetBlue out of JFK it was a full flight, and masks were required for the duration of the flight except while eating or drinking. No alcohol was served on the flight in Coach. Prior to leaving, you are required to fill out a questionnaire and have it printed or scanned for boarding the flight to Jamaica. Without this paperwork, you will not be able to board the plane. It is recommended that you complete the questionnaire five days prior to travel.

We highly recommend Club Mobay for our clients for many reasons. When traveling to a foreign country, it is always nice to have a concierge greet you at the bottom of the airplane ramp, holding a sign with your name on it. The Club Mobay rep will then tell you about the procedures and walk you through.

Almost immediately you have your temperature checked and are handed a piece of paper with your temperature on it, which you will hand to the medical personnel. Many people may have a bit of trepidation as military personnel are in the hallways and rooms as they are assisting the medical staff in allowing individuals into the country. Many of them were handing out hand sanitizer; be prepared to sanitize four to five times prior to getting out of the airport.

As we were walking through the airport, there was a rather long line for individuals to be questioned by medical staff. One of the many reasons why we recommend Club Mobay is that having the fast pass, you walk past the entire line to the front. This is a huge time savings advantage and totally worth the cost.

Please be advised that the medical personnel are all dressed in the yellow paper Tyvek suits, gloves, facemasks, and face shields. You will individually sit down with a person with an iPad and be interviewed on the questions that you answered prior to leaving. There was one question that can be confusing: “Are you a high-risk passenger?” We asked what that meant, and it is asking if you have been in contact with a person that has tested positive for SARS / COVID-19 in the course of the last 14 days.

Because we had traveled to Mexico within the last month, they asked us if we would go over to the doctor to see if it was okay if we came into the country. The doctor replied that Mexico was fine. We were then allowed to walk through to Customs, where we were asked questions again. Finally, we headed outside into the reception area where the club Mobay Lounge was located.

It was at that time, Greg Connell, the owner of reggae tours, came and met us and walked us to our transportation. T-Rob was our Driver and pointed out the protocols which Reggae Tours adheres to. Upon arrival your bags are sanitized prior to going into the car; you are given hand sanitizer, and the car is sanitized prior to you getting in. Reggae Tours vehicles are always immaculate.

On the way to our first resort, we requested a stop at “Scotchies” for some authentic Jamaican jerk chicken. If you have not had this experience, we highly recommend it. The flavor of the smoked wood is outstanding, and the scotch bonnet sauce is delicious. I got some to go and had it with breakfast the next day.

Staying at the Resorts

We arrived at the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara and were met by Karen Stephenson, who is the head of the wedding departments, and Melissa, the Director of Sales. They walked us through their protocols, which included scrubbing the shoes, hand sanitizer, temperature check, bags sanitized and, of course, being greeted with a glass of champagne. Karen walked us to our room on the Zilara (adults only) side. The staff is not allowed in the rooms while the guests are inside.

Their protocol is called Playa Safe. There is hand sanitizer in the rooms; everything is sanitized clean, and stickers are placed on the door so that no one enters prior to the guest arriving. Guests are also asked to wear their masks when they are in the common areas and walking the grounds. However, masks are not required in the pool or while dining.

Since the property had just opened following a three-month closure, they were at low occupancy, and we were some of the first guests to arrive. Not all restaurants are open, but restaurants and bars are being opened as more guests arrive.

We were given a tour of the property, and they obviously took the time while closed to make the property even more beautiful. There are so many wonderful locations on this property for wedding venues, and the weddings team is ready for you and your clients. If you have not been to the gyms at the Playa properties, it is an absolute must. We were fortunate enough to have breakfast with Karen and the new General Manager Panno.

We then moved next door to the Jewel Grand. Their safety protocols are very similar to the Hyatt, as it is all underneath the Playa umbrella. If you have not seen this property, it is certainly worth a visit and a stay. It is an upscale property with three buildings—one building is residence, and the other two buildings are hotel. They also have numerous two- and three-bedroom suites with a butler included. It’s a great spot for families.

We had a 3.5-hour tour of the property with the general manager, Vishal Vaswani, and concluded with lunch with the director of sales and weddings manager. There is not one leaf out of place; the property looks spectacular, and the food is outstanding, as well as the service. The spa is its own separate building and has lots of rooms for treatments, in addition to a great gym. Be sure to try Le Bouchon steakhouse for dinner. Service and food were over the top.

We left the following day to do a site inspection of Sandals Royal Caribbean. We were met by Director of Sales Carlene and were taken through the “Sandals Platinum Protocols”: temperature check, hand and shoe sanitizer, as well as bag sanitizer for the guests and more champagne. We were informed that the resort was at 70 percent capacity, which is the government’s allowed limit. There are many changes to the property, including updated rooms, over-the-water bungalows and new restaurants. We were met by the general manager, Gerald Christ, who made a special trip in to meet us on a Sunday.

That afternoon we transferred to Sandals Montego Bay—same protocol and reception. We checked into our beachfront honeymoon one-bedroom butler with balcony tranquility soaking tub, and we were told that the property was at 70 percent capacity. All hotels were letting the clients understand the protocols that the Jamaican government has set. We had appetizers at the sushi restaurant (Soy) and dinner at Butch’s steakhouse. All the food was wonderful.

Returning to the Airport

We had a private transfer from Sandals Montego Bay to the airport (a five-minute ride) from the general manager, Carl Beviere, who we also had the privilege of dining with for breakfast. Again we used Club Mobay for our departure and were whisked through security, had our temperatures taken and walked to the Club Mobay lounge where we waited for our flight. the Club Mobay lounge has a new teens area for video games. Also, they are not allowing people to walk up to the bar, but there is outstanding service at the tables. They will also bring you food if you request.

Please remember your “Visit Jamaica” paperwork when you are leaving, as it is required. Just a few takeaways: Jamaica protocols are more stringent than traveling to Mexico, but if you want to travel you must be prepared to take the proper steps. Be aware it can be rather daunting if you are not an experienced traveler; however, forewarned is forearmed. Once you get there, you are in paradise. Enjoy.

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