Photo by Divi & Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusives

To go, or not to go; that is the question

My Facebook memories gave me pause today. Nine years ago, my (then) 4-year-old son and I were at the pool with friends. Six years ago, we were in a crowded restaurant and last year we were chillin’ at home because we desperately needed a day off from our hectic lives. Ahhh…precious pre-COVID memories. Years from now, I’m sure I’ll look back on my social media recollections from this year and have very different memories – lonesome, stressful, Lysol scented memories.

I don’t have to tell you that 2020 has been a real humdinger so far. The daily news has become a dystopian nightmare, we’ve collectively learned that it IS, in fact, possible to be anxious and bored at the same time and, I don’t know about you, but if I hear the word ‘cancelled’ one more time, I just might lose my mind. I’m kidding, of course. I lost my mind months ago.

Many countries have seen a sudden uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and Aruba is no exception. The lockdown bought Aruba time to ‘flatten the curve’ but more importantly, it gave the island a chance to develop a plan to safely reopen, stock up on PPE essentials, make contingency plans and put in place an expanded health code that businesses must adhere to called the: Aruba Health and Happiness Code.

Unfortunately, the lockdown also had a dark side for the island. Jobs were lost, some businesses closed their doors forever and too many people are struggling just to make it through the day. It’s estimated that 87% of Aruba’s GDP is generated from tourism, as such, the island was economically impacted more than any other nation. Plus, (generally speaking) Arubans are the most social and affectionate group of people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing; so isolation was flat-out-hell for them. Even a socially awkward, introverted, ex-pat like myself had a hard time ‘sheltering in place’ after a few weeks.

On June 11th, 2020, in order to ensure everyone’s ability to socially distance, Aruba began welcoming tourists in slowly increasing increments. As of the writing of this article, the island is proudly hosting a small percent of the tourists that typically visit during this time. Aruba has spectacularly adapted to the ‘new normal’ and anxious to have visitors grace her sunny shores. Are you ready to be one of them?

It seems like our lovely, loyal tourists have fallen into the following three categories: 

     1) Aruba’s open and my bags are already packed!

     2) Oh, hell no! 

     3) I wanna go…but I don’t know??

I’m predominantly writing for the last group – those on the fence about travel during the time of COVID.

I know you have a lot of questions regarding safety, so I found some people who’ve been to the island since the reopening and graciously agreed to share their stories.

If you’re looking to find out the protocol for traveling to Aruba at this time, you can find that information and situational updates here.

When I caught up with Wendy Avedisian, via video call, she was back home in Boston, looking Caribbean sun-kissed and refreshed after returning from her trip. She was lounging in her backyard, by a flower encrusted, sparkling, blue pool  – a space she’s charmingly dubbed ‘Little Aruba’. Wendy and her husband, Steve, have been avid Aruba enthusiasts since their honeymoon 30 years ago. They’ve been coming to Aruba faithfully, every Autumn, for the past several years but this year they decided to surprise themselves with an additional trip to the island in late March. Well…we all know how that worked out for them – it didn’t. So instead of sipping Aruba Aribas poolside, Wendy and Steve spent the Spring disinfecting their groceries and stocking up on canned goods, like the rest of us, holding on to the hope that they could get back to the island as soon as possible.

Wendy and Steve on their honeymoon 30 years ago

Once Aruba’s borders opened, Wendy and Steve dusted off their luggage and started preparing for a desperately needed getaway. Their trip was a little more complicated this time. They found an Urgent Care Clinic where they could get Covid-19 tests within 72 hours of their departure time and half-packed their bags while awaiting the results. Once their results were in hand, they finished packing and set off for a unique travel experience.

They arrived on the island without a hitch and were greeted like long lost friends at the Divi where they found every safety measure in place for their protection. The waiting hand sanitizing stations, temperature checks, and masked employees instantly made them feel safe and, since Aruba is reopening slowly, social distancing wasn’t an issue at all. As a matter of fact, Wendy told me that she felt like: she was on a private island, with huge swatches of pristine beach to roam, unfettered by the usual crush of tourists vying for precious slices of shade.

There wasn’t one time, during their vacation, that Wendy and Steve worried about the virus. They found appropriate safety measures in place at every establishment they visited. Wendy explained that they continued the safety practices that became routine in the States, used common sense and had a truly rejuvenating vacation. The only disappointment they had was the closure of a favorite restaurant, for deep cleaning, on the last leg of their trip but even that gives them something extra to look forward to when they return early next year. Here they are enjoying one of Aruba’s famous golden sunsets.

Wendy and Steve renewing their vows

Judy and her husband, Mark, spend two weeks a year at their Divi Links timeshare. They’re here, on the island, as I’m writing these words. They were a lucky few of Aruba’s repeat visitors whose plans weren’t affected by lockdown measures and they had no reservations about coming to the island.

Judy took my call, after a beautiful day spent poolside, and showed me her fabulous ‘I love Aruba’ tattoo and #ArubaBlue manicure before telling me that she decided not to cancel her vacation because she knew that she’d be every bit as safe on the island as she was at home if not more so. She planned to use her COVID-colored street smarts and newfound social distancing skills to avoid any dicey situations but found them all but unnecessary once she arrived. Like Wendy, Judy’s impressed with all of the safety measures that are in place everywhere they go and actually feels safer on Aruba than she did back home in Virginia because of how diligently establishments and individuals are enforcing social distancing measures.

Judy and Mark Munden

The only downside Judy found was the fact that her ‘vacation buddies’ weren’t able to make it this year, leaving her and Mark feeling a little lonely. She described exceptional service at all of the establishments she visited. Judy also describes the island, at this time, as uncommonly beautiful and quiet. It makes her extremely happy to be able to give back to a place she considers her second home.

Judy’s got some practical advice for anyone contemplating an Aruban get-a-way: “You don’t have to be afraid. There are more safety protocols in Aruba than there are in the States. Aruba’s doing an awesome job. Be smart, use your common sense and have a great time!”

Steven and Melannie Cohen, flew to Aruba the day the borders were reopened to Americans. Their family comes to Aruba as often as possible and they were dismayed, earlier this year when they had to change their travel plans several times.  They arrived on the second plane that graced Queen Beatrix’s tarmac from the U.S. and couldn’t have been more pleased to come and help Aruba find it’s footing during these unprecedented days. Steve is a self-described ‘creature of habit’ who fell in love at first sight with Aruba and has no desire to spend his precious vacation days anywhere else. Melannie, an artist, finds inspiration for her work while basking in the island’s diverse natural splendor. The Cohens are so enamored with Aruba that they plan on buying a home here as soon as they possibly can.

Steven and Melannie Cohen

Steve and Melannie rent a house – as opposed to staying in a hotel – so they feel very connected to the community outside the regular tourist spots. They keep close contact with friends on the island so they knew, better than most, how deeply the lockdown impacted the locals and couldn’t wait to get back and help contribute to the economy. Steve never doubted that Aruba would be diligent in protecting her beloved tourists but he was surprised by how much safer he felt on the island than he did back in the States.

This trip, there was more than just a vacation at stake for the Cohens – they’ve had a brand-new family member patiently waiting in foster care to be taken to his forever home. Last time he was here (right before the you-know-what hit the fan), Melannie made arrangements to adopt a Cunucu dog and waited (rather impatiently) to formally adopt his family’s furry, new addition, Murray. Murray made it a little easier for the Cohen’s to leave Aruba but they’re already planning their next Aruba excursion and praying Murray stays under 20 lbs so he can be their constant, canine traveling companion.

Murray Cohen adopted from Aruba

This wretched Global Pandemic has left its mark on every nation in the world and changed our daily lives more than we would have thought possible – just a short time ago. It’s understandable to be reluctant to travel right now and you have to do what feels right to you. As much as Aruba needs the support of her loyal visitors right now, your comfort and peace of mind, as always, are the most important factors for making your decision. But, of all the things to consider, safety measures shouldn’t be one of them. The island is committed to offering a level of protection that you can’t find in many other places and the locals are anxiously waiting to give you a gracious and grateful ‘Bon Bini’.

If you have the opportunity to come to the island, you’ll have an amazing experience, your own palapa (even if you sleep past 6 am), and great deals from your favorite eateries and activities. You won’t even miss the elbow-to-elbow crowds of Aruba’s hot nightlife because you’ll be too busy being dazzled by the quiet beauty of the evening’s stars. In my humble (and slightly biased) opinion, travel to Aruba is kinda essential…after all, you probably haven’t been getting enough vitamin sea!

Crystal clear waters of Aruba

Main featured image by Divi & Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusives