Here we are, nearly a whole year into this pandemic. Wine and snacks are no longer cutting it, and you need to get out of Dodge, amirite? Well my friend, I understand completely. Planning and looking forward to travel is what gets me through the daily grind, and never in a million years did I think we would still be eyebrow deep in COVID-19 all these months later. By the time the end of 2020 rolled around I’d had no less than 6 cancelled trips and the daily grind was just a bit too grind-y. I couldn’t take it anymore. I lost my cool and yelled at Chef Dr. that he needed to find me a safe vacation location, or I was going to lose my mind. Now, Dear Reader, you will remember that Chef Dr is both brilliant scientist and my Evangeline. If there’s anyone I trust to get me safely out of Dodge in the midst of a worldwide pandemic AND get me safely home without infecting anyone, it’s him.
This would be a good time to insert the aside that we take COVID-19 very seriously. We stay home, and when we can’t we mask up and stand six feet apart. But we also believe that mental health matters, and that travel can be done safely if you choose wisely and act responsibly. For these reasons, we chose Maui. Hawaii’s Safe Travels program and abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities made us feel safe. Plus, Hawaii is Mama’s Happy Place. And you know what they say, Happy Wife, Happy Life.
The first thing we did was book our flights. Due to an excessive amount of cancelled travel plans, we had $29956773723 in Southwest flight credit. Normally I would recommend a direct flight from the west coast, which Southwest does not have into Maui, but No Dollars is a pretty attractive cost. So, we had a layover in Honolulu. This will become an important detail later, Dear Reader, so store it in that great brain of yours.
Next, we made our accounts on the Hawaii Safe Travels site, which you can find here: https://travel.hawaii.gov/#/ . Each adult needs their own account, so Chef Dr. and I both made one and we each put one child on our account with us. You could put all your children on Mom’s account but geez, why does Mom always have to do everything??? You could also put all the children on Dad’s account.
At this point, we created our trips. Remember when I told you the layover was important? Here’s the first place that comes in. A trip is needed for each leg of your flight, and EACH trip requires information regarding departure time and location, arrival time and location, reason for travel, and final destination with lodging information. You’ll need your flight information along with your resort name, address, and reservation confirmation number. You will also need your Driver’s License number or Passport number. If you have a layover, you’ll want to choose “Connecting Flight (Transit)” as the travel reason for the first leg, and “Pleasure/Vacation” for the second.
The next step is to obtain a negative COVID test from a Trusted Testing and Travel Partner. These can be found here https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel-partners/ . It is REALLLLLLY important to get your test from an authorized provider only and to make sure the test you are getting is a NAAT test approved for travel to Hawaii. If you do not get the proper test, or if you get a test from a provider that is not on the list, you will land in Hawaii and be offered a choice of quarantine for 10 days (like can’t leave your hotel room except to go to the hospital level quarantine) or getting on a plane and going home. Pretty unhappy choices, yeah? I cannot stress this enough. NAAT test. Trusted Travel Partner. Oh, and no more than 72 hours before your flight.
Now, here’s the other part about the layover. If you have a layover somewhere other than Hawaii, you want to schedule your test no more than 72 hours before departure of the leg that leaves for Hawaii, NOT the initial departure. Don’t mess this up. See above about unhappy choices. Worse than driving to Disneyland on a day your Annual Passport is blocked because you didn’t look at the calendar.
Once you get your test results, you’ll upload them to the “Documents” portion of the site. Your results need to be uploaded before you take off. If they aren’t? You guessed it…Unhappy Choices womp womp.
The last step: 24 hours before your flight, complete the Health Questionnaire. After you do this, you’ll be emailed a QR code.
The Big Day! When we flew to Maui, it was less than two months into the Safe Travels program, and the airports were relatively empty. We were able to stay far away from people, which was important to me. Airplanes HEPA filter the air in the cabin, turning it over entirely once every few minutes. So, according to Chef Dr., flying is relatively safe. The airport however, is another story. Wearing a mask and staying as far away from people as possible are going to help keep you safe. At this point, the Biden administration has issued an executive order mandating masks in airports and on airplanes. That was not the case when we travelled to Maui, but mask compliance was pretty good on Southwest. The airline also had other protocols in place, such as changes to their boarding process to limit crowding. As of this writing Dear Reader, cases are on the downswing nationally and vaccines are being distributed at a pretty good clip. Nevertheless, those pesky extra-transmissible variants are going around at an even better clip, and airports are busier than they were in December. So at this point, I recommend a tight-fitting, multi-layer mask with a disposable filter. I really like these: https://ppe.honeywell.com/products/honeywell-3d-knit-face-cover-multi-pack . For our next flight in March, I might even layer a paper mask over top. My priority level for vaccinations is approximately tier 943. Apparently slightly chubby middle aged obnoxious moms are not an essential population. Who Knew?
Upon touchdown on Hawaiian soil, we were greeted by scary looking army dudes. But this is the land of ‘Ohana, so they were very nice to us as they took our temperatures and guided over to the line to have our QR codes checked and our lodging arrangements confirmed. Because we had a layover in Hawaii, we had to do this twice, once in Honolulu and once before we could leave the airport in Maui. Upon being screened at your final destination, your Safe Travels account will show you as “cleared”. We needed to show this clearance multiple times over our trip, including when we picked up our rental car and when we checked into our resort. This is not the same thing as your QR code. Only the Safe Travels screeners can scan your QR code, so make sure you have a screen shot of your Safe Travels account showing you’ve been cleared at the airport, or have enough data to access that account on the fly. It’s a lot of details to manage, but trust me…its worth it!
One thing that Chef Dr. feels is an important part of risk mitigation during this pandemic is avoiding unmasked indoor activities. That means restaurants, which means having a kitchen was really important to us. There are lots of lovely outdoor dining venues in Maui, but in December a lot of them hadn’t reopened yet. Luckily our favorite Maui resort, the Westin Nanea Ocean Resort Villas comes equipped with a kitchen or kitchenette in every unit.
We spent the next week lounging by the pool, social distancing at the beach, drinking local rum and POG juice, soaking up the sun, and shaking off the stress of the last year.
On property, masks were required everywhere unless we were seated to eat/drink, or actually in the pool. Management was quite vigilant in enforcing this, even just walking across the pool deck. I saw several people ejected from the pool area because they didn’t want to comply. I know that masks can be controversial, but Chef Dr is adamant that they work. So, the masking rules actually pleased me and made me feel safer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ll wear three masks on my face and one as a hat if it means I can travel. I didn’t see people wearing masks on the beach or on walking trails, but I did see people making an effort not to crowd others or breathe on them.
We didn’t do much in the way of activities on this trip (but we will when we return in March, so stay tuned for those reviews). But we did do one, and it was a magnificent one. The only thing my little Her Mouthesty REALLY wanted to do on this trip was ride a horse. She’s the princess, so ride horses we did. We booked the morning ride with Mendes Ranch. https://www.mendesranch.com/
We met our guides at the stable (masked up), where we received introductions, safety training, drinks, sunscreen, and bug spray. Our lead guide was “Uncle Larry”. He was hilarious and incredibly kind to Her Mouthesty, who can be a little timid trying new things. Uncle Larry saddled up Big Red for my girl, and made sure she was safe at all times. Once we were out in the corral, we were allowed to take our masks off.
I can’t say enough good things about this activity or about Mendes Ranch. When we return in March we will see them again because Her Mouthesty STILL can’t stop talking about Uncle Larry and Big Red. And, it was outdoors with lots of space between people, so we felt very safe. Uncle Larry even told us where to get the best Filipino food on the island on our way out the door. Bring a couple twenties to tip these guys, they will definitely earn it.
Boo… Time to Go Home
On the way home you won’t need QR codes or test results, but you probably will come face to face with some post-vacation-blues. For us the blues were especially blue-y because we were returning to a statewide stay at home order and preparing to hunker down until the post holiday virus surge was over. But, we had our memories to keep us warm and a late-spring return trip to look forward to. Because as I always say, the best cure for post-vacation blues is ALWAYS planning a new trip 😉
If you need help planning a vacation for your family, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help you get out of Dodge. You can also follow along on my travel adventures and soak in my special brand of snark in my fun travel community on Facebook: Always Get the Cabana. You can find that here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1211510299250844/