Last minute thoughts before you start travelling again
Let me tell you what I know today, but, please understand, all of it could change tomorrow. For 15 months, we have waited for the day to arrive when normal no longer seems abnormal. Yet, now that it is finally here, I find myself screaming “Katie, bar the door!”
All the new rules and regulations, combined with the pent up demand for travel, have resulted in such a buying frenzy that I feel compelled to share a few random thoughts with you today. As a travel agent at Monroe Travel Service, I certainly am not complaining that so many of you are ready to head out into the wild blue yonder, but may I share a few last minute thoughts?
- Please pack a healthy dose of patience. Whether you are at a restaurant, hotel, or an airport, expect things to just take longer, at least for awhile. Data of peak travel times in major airports over the Memorial Day weekend revealed airport processing time has increased to about three hours–and, folks, we are at only 30% of our pre-covid travel levels. It is important to plan ahead for such delays. International travel is especially tedious. Most airports must hand check covid health credentials and, with reduced staffing numbers, increased traffic and labor intensive criteria checking, long lines are inevitable. Hopefully, after this week’s G-7 summitt meeting, world leaders will decide upon a new standarized digital solution–maybe a vaccination passport–to make summer travel and crossing borders smoother and safer for everyone.
- Don’t even think about going it alone. Whether you call Monroe Travel Service or another reliable travel source, make sure of covid travel restrictions in each country you are visiting. Confusion on the internet reigns supreme. To be honest, this just might be the summer to choose an escorted group tour or a river cruise in Europe. Having someone around to take care of the details and knows the ropes could prove invaluable.
- Remember mask wearing on federal property and all public transportation, including planes, airports, trains and buses, is required in the USA until September 13, 2021. This is an executive order, much like the one requiring anyone entering the USA to have a covid test within 72 hours of their return flight home. Lest they face a heavy fines, airlines will not accept a passenger without a negative antigen test. No exceptions. It is also important to check government mask wearing policy at your destination. Not every country is as lax as ours.
- The border between the United States and Canada remains closed until June 21st. In addition to this restriction, Canada also banned all cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers from calling on their ports through Feb. 28, 2022. This rule is why cruises to Alaska for ships with more than 250 passengers have been cancelled so long, but, recently, everything changed when Congress passed and President Biden signed the Conditional Sailing Order. This Order enabled the larger cruise ships to bypass a stop in Canada as long a they adhered to the CDC ruling requiring all staff and cruise passengers to be fully vaccinated. At our travel agency, our phones started ringing again as excited travelers wanting to head north to Alaska this summer began booking cabins between July -October. Then, there was a kink in the plan. Governor Ron Desantis of Florida challenged the legality of asking and requiring vaccinations. If he wins this legal challenge, it will inevitably overturn the Conditional Sailing Order, which will cause the cancellation of big-ship cruising in Alaska, since Alaska’s recently passes Tourism Restoration Act requires all big ships cruising in Alaskan waters to have a Conditional Sailing Certificate from the CDC. What a big mess ! Big ship cruising in Alaska for this summer may be doomed. Both sides in the issue have been ordered to mediation. We are waiting, but time is wasting away for summer in Alaska.
- Covid did not cause people to forget about travel; it was just postponed to 2022. When cruise lines and tour companies offered incentives for travelers to roll their trips into future dates, most of my travelers, as well as those of travel agencies around the world, took them. Prime dates and availability for their dream trip were grabbed up. This is why so many U.S. tours for this year are already sold out, as well as advance bookings for 2022 are not available. Travelers are a hardy bunch. They are determined to go and travel denied only means travel deferred. Let’s lock in your travel plans soon to avoid disappointment.
- I do have some good news: when 60 % of Hawaii’s population is fully vaccinated, Governor Ige says all travelers from the mainland, Alaska and U.S. territories can skip the testing and quarantine requirement as long as proof of vaccination is submitted in the state’s Safe Travels program. Currently, 52% of Hawaiians have been vaccinated, and, as soon as that number reaches 70%, the word on the street is even the unvaccinated will be welcomed to enjoy the spirit of Aloha!
- Here is even better news: big ship cruising has started again, but not from U.S. ports yet! The Celebrity Millennium sailed from St. Maarten to the islands of Barbados, Aruba, and Curacao last week on a 7 day run. On June 26, she will be returning to Ft. Lauderdale for 7 days sailings. Royal Caribbean ships out from Nassau on June 12 followed by Crystal Cruises the next week. For the fully vaccinated, summer cruising is happening now, but wait there is more good news: Disney Cruise Line just received approval from the CDC to start their test cruises. The CDC has allowed some cruise lines, such as Celebrity, to move ahead without test cruises by mandating vaccinations for its crew and its guests, but it is interesting to note that Disney reportedly has opted not to mandate vaccines. Because Disney, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line carry a significant percentage of younger guests and the CDC has yet to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for guests under 11-years-old, the vaccine mandate rule may not be required. Royal Caribbean is the first to announce they will not be enforcing the mandate, so this means the unvaccinated can cruise again, too. Whereas face masks are not required for voyages with fully vaccinated passengers and crew, it is my understanding that the CDC will require them for these sailings, but this may change too. Like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, Carnival Cruise line also just received their approval to restart in July from U.S. ports. Lucky for us, Galveston is one of the 3 ports they can use! The Carnival Vista will sail out on July 3, and the Carnival Breeze on July 15. For this month, only vaccinated travelers are being accepted and a determination for future sailings is pending. Want to get on board?
- Car rentals are a real problem. Not only are they expensive, they are scarce. Last week, I could not find a single car rental available in Maui, Bozeman, or Jackson Hole for my clients’ travel dates. The pandemic forced car companies to sell off some of their fleet, and the travel market is definitely suffering. I honestly think it is going to get worse before it gets better simply because the business travelers have not returned enmasse just yet. It’s not like before, never assume anything when it comes to travel today.
- Expect National Parks to be slammed this summer. Whether it is air, hotel or car rental, make plans now and also check to see if tickets are being required as entry numbers are sometimes being limited. Another option might be to consider an escorted bus tour. For example: we still have a 10 day escorted bus trip from Rapid City to Salt Lake City on July 22 into Yellowstone that is $3219 per person if you are interested.
- No one went anywhere last year, so plan on Christmas and spring break dates in 2022 to fill up early. Don’t miss out on holiday fun or visiting the family this year.
For 15 months, we have all been in the same storm, just not in the same boat. For the traveler, the time has come to set our course. No longer must we be transported by the memory of a great adventure, the world is opening to us again. Travel is a privilege, a deliberately selfish choice we choose to make. We each have our own reasons for the journey, so, please remember, whenever you are ready be a little self-indulgent and go again, call me. I totally understand.
Dianne Newcomer is a travel agent at Monroe Travel Service. For your next vacation, please call one of our experienced agents at 318 323 3465 or email [email protected] The world is waiting, let us know when you are ready. We would love to send you away.