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We traveled to Aruba during the COVID-19 pandemic and this is what happened

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2020 was going to be our year to finally travel more with our daughter. We took a couple of trips with her as a baby and toddler but at almost four years old, she’s finally old enough to enjoy it. We were really excited and had a few things planned, including a trip to Mexico in the spring and a bigger trip to Europe in the summer.

Our little family on a beach in Aruba. August 2020

In March all of those plans were suddenly put on hold. We thought maybe we’ll just have to cancel our trip to Mexico but this whole thing (coronavirus) would be gone by the summer. We quickly came to realize that this “thing” was here to stay. We are currently living in a world pandemic and travel is nothing like it used to be. In fact, life is nothing like it used to be.

Just like the rest of the country (and the world) we’ve been stuck at home for the last few months and by the time summer rolled around we were ready for a change of scenery. We started doing research to see where would be the best place to take a family vacation.

We originally thought we would probably go somewhere in the States in order to avoid flying but living in Texas that meant driving for a very long time to get anywhere our of state. Florida was our number one choice since we all wanted to go to the beach but I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend 15 hours in a car with a toddler. Plus we had friends that had just visited Florida and they were telling us that the beaches were crowded with not much opportunity for social distancing. In addition to that, Florida had become one of the epicenters for COVID-19 infections and suddently it didn’t seem like a great idea.

We soon found out that Aruba officially opened their borders to U.S. travelers on July 10th and they had some really great rules and restrictions in place that made us feel like it would be a good idea to travel there.

We talked to some friends and decided to book a trip together and go to Aruba in early August.

At this time Aruba had these travel restrictions (please note that the rules are changing daily, if you are traveling always check that country’s official website for up to date rules):

  • All travelers are required to provide a negative PCR COVID-19 test (taken within 72 hours of departure). Travelers from some (low risk) states are allowed to enter Aruba without a negative test but must get tested upon arrival and quarantine for up to 24 hours in their hotel room until their results are ready. At the time of travel Texas was listed as a high risk state so we absolutely had to test before getting on the plane. Even if we had the option to not test at home and just test in Aruba I’m not sure I would have taken it. I didn’t want to take the risk of one of us testing positive there. It wasn’t very clear what would happen in that case.
    • Children under 14 years old are not required to take a COVID-19 test. I was a little surprised by this, especially since we know that children can become infected and spread the infection to others even when asymptomatic. However, it was nice not having to worry about having my daughter tested since I’ve heard that the test itself isn’t very pleasant. More on that later.
    • You may find the current Travel Health Requirements on Aruba’s official website.
  • All travelers are required to fill out an online health assessments and purchase health insurance coverage while in Aruba.
  • Aruba has a mask mandate and requires everyone to wear a mask on public transportation and pretty much any indoor public space like restaurants, shops, hotels, etc.

Aruba also had a very low number of positive cases during this time which made traveling there seem safer than many places in the U.S.

The only thing that made me a little nervous was the actual flight there. It’s obviously not very easy to socially distance on a plane and we wouldn’t be able to control where we sit and how many people would be on our flight. Unless we won the lottery and could fly with a private jet. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.

We booked our flight with Spirit Airlines because they had a killer deal that we just couldn’t pass up. It was an early flight which I normally hate doing but I thought if we go early enough maybe my daughter would sleep through most of it. Our layover was in Florida so we had two 3-hour flights to get through.

I wanted us to be as safe as possible but I also knew that wearing a full body suit wasn’t realistic. ???? I ordered some N95 and KN95 masks for us and those ended up working really well for my husband and me. However, they were too big for my daughter and she just ended up wearing her kid’s reusable cloth mask the whole time. I also ordered some goggles via Amazon but none of us end up wearing them. It’s so hard to breathe when you have both goggles and the mask on and the goggles get fogged up. There is no way we would have lasted 6 hours in those. If I were to do this again and I really wanted another layer of protection I would definitely order some face shields.

The most challenging part of our trip was getting tested. Things were changing around us daily and it was hard to plan in advance. We would find a lab that could provide us with the test we need and then a couple of days later they would either run out of tests or their turn-around time would increase. We really didn’t know what was going to happen until a couple of days before. Our friend Daniel did most of the work when it comes to researching and calling all the labs in the area and I’ll forever be grateful for that. I’m sure he spend hours on the phone up until the day we finally got tested.

We had originally scheduled our test at Walgreens. We heard that they were returning the results the same or next day and everything was going smoothly. Plus it was free! However, our friends that were going to Turks a couple of days before us went to Walgreens, got tested, received their negative results and after submitting the results online they were rejected. Apparently Walgreens doesn’t specify what kind of test they are using and the requirement for Aruba (and Turks) at the time was to have a PCR test.

We finally settled on doing our test with ACRPointLabs for a fee of $200 per person with a guaranteed results in less than 36 hours. After a few hiccups we were able to get our results in time to be uploaded and approved for travel to Aruba.

Overall, I felt pretty safe during our flight. Both of our flights were less than half full and everyone was required to wear a mask. My daughter is almost four and fortunately she’s very good about keeping her mask on so we didn’t have to worry about her taking it off. We all had something to eat before the flight so that we could skip eating on the plane. Our flights were both under three hours long so this wasn’t hard to do. If we got thirsty, we got a sip of water and put our masks back on. We brought extra hand sanitizers and sanitizing wipes for everyone.

Just as I anticipated, my daughter slept through most of our flight and it went by quickly without any issues.

Upon arrival in Aruba we waited about an hour and a half, maybe even two hours to clear customs. There were additional measures due to covid, everyone had to answer additional questions, show proof of negative test and have their temperature taken. Hand sanitizing stations where plentiful all over the airport.

If you are going to Aruba, I would suggest trying to get a seat on the plane that is as close to the front as possible. Exit the plane and go stand in line, don’t stop to use the restroom or do anything else or you will wait another hour or two in addition to an already long wait time. You will thank me for this tip later, especially if you have small children who do not do well standing in line for hours (who does, right?).

Once we cleared customs and were finally on the “other side” we could breathe!! We were free! ???? We rented a car and off to the hotel we went.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn and upon arrival we saw signs for social distancing and mask wearing posted everywhere. The staff was doing temperature checks on the guests upon arrival and every time we left and came back to the hotel. Masks were required while inside the hotel and there were limits on how many people could sit together, only four people were allowed in the elevator at one time, etc. We were also told that our room would get serviced only once every five days, so that meant only one time during our seven night stay. We could still request fresh towels, toilet paper and anything else we needed in our rooms.

We were pretty tired from our flight and decided to stay at the hotel for dinner that evening. We actually just picked up some food at the bar and enjoyed the sunset at the beach. It was nice and quiet and we could already tell a difference from a “normal”. There weren’t many people there. While it was unusual, it was nice at the same time.

We basically decided that we wouldn’t be eating much at the hotel and would be going out and exploring the island for most of our meals. There was also a Starbucks right across the street so we normally just got coffee and breakfast there and went out to eat for lunch and/or dinner.

The best part of the trip was the fact that it wasn’t crowded at all. We never had to wait to be seated at a restaurant, we were able to get the best spots on the beach every day and it just felt kind of like a private experience everywhere we went. Of course, this was also the sad reality for the locals because they live from tourism and they were obviously being affected very negatively by this pandemic. Some places were closed down completely. There were no group events, dancing, concerts, performances and all those fun activities we would normally enjoy on a tropical beach vacation.

Closed down Hard Rock Cafe in Aruba during COVID-19 Pandemic

Other than group activities with other people, we enjoyed this vacation just like any other. We explored the island (as much as possible with two small children), we enjoyed the food and soaked up all the sunshine during our stay.

Everything was going well until the day before our return flight home. My husband started his day feeling very sick to his stomach and he spent most of the day in the bathroom (TMI). We didn’t think much of it and figured he probably just ate something that upset his stomach. However, our (pregnant) friend started to get the same symptoms that evening. Then they both started to have chills and what seemed like a fever. We didn’t have a thermometer with us and we were honestly afraid to ask the hotel staff for one as we didn’t want to get labeled as the “sick” people.

My friend and I went out to buy a thermometer while my husband and my friend’s wife stayed at the hotel dealing with their symptoms that evening. It turned out they both had a low grade fever. I was getting really nervous about our flight back and what that meant for us. We all went to bed hoping for the best the next day.

Thankfully, everyone was healthy in the morning and most of their symptoms had disappeared. Both my husband and friend were fever free and only had slightly upset stomach. I was so relieved. It was probably a stomach bug or something they had eaten at a restaurant the night before. Phew! 

We got on our flight back home and everything went as expected. I was very surprised there were no temperature checks at the airport in Florida or DFW. Texas doesn’t have any kind of mandatory quarantine, however we kept Alba home from school for two weeks just to be on the safe side. I would hate to put anyone at risk because we decided to travel (even though I felt much safer in Aruba that I do in Texas when out and about). 

Would I go on this trip again during a pandemic? Absolutely! It was totally worth it and saved our sanity after being stuck at home for months. Please do your own research and decide if traveling is right for your family during this time. We have no regrets and hope to go on another adventure again soon.