Hello to all you happy people out there! We just returned from a few days in the states, visiting family, basking in the amazing food and drink of the upper 48 and relaxing for a few much needed moments throughout the trip. This trip was the first time I have flown into or out of St. Thomas since September of 2019! And I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of both the staff at the Cyril E. King Airport and the Department of Health in regards to the arrival screening. So, for those of you with upcoming trips, I wanted to share my experience with you. Oh, and there are a few fun updates from the Governor’s weekly press conference in regards to COVID-19 travel tucked into the meat of this as well.
I’m constantly strolling through social media land, searching for updates on travel, new businesses, weather updates, etc. And I had seen, prior to traveling, that the airport has been busy! We have two TSA scanners at the STT airport and one of them was down last week, creating a HUGE backup. The airport’s parking lot is currently under construction, and I have heard that parking has been a pain as well. Luckily, we avoided both of these issues, but just barely.
Based on photos that have been posted, I knew not to mess around with “arrive three hours prior to arrival” rule. The islands have been PACKED and, in turn, so has our little airport! Our flight wasn’t until 4:20PM so we had some time to play around with, but were also aware of how precarious the barge can be.
So, we got in line for the 10AM barge with plans to grab some lunch on St. Thomas if time allowed once we got close enough to the airport to relax about any hiccups that could occur along the way. Miraculously, we drove right on to the Captain Vic and were underway in no time. I think it’s important to note here…DO NOT EVER expect for that to happen! Two weeks ago, we got in line at the same time and waited almost two hours. Give yourself the extra time to get off St. John…Especially when the car barge is involved 🙂
I might also note that I ALWAYS opt for the people ferry and a taxi when I am headed to the airport (less margin for error). This time, we had my pup, Chewy, traveling with us and had friends arriving home later that afternoon who would be picking up the car upon their arrival. So we opted for the barge this time out of necessity. The Crown Bay Ferry is, under normal circumstances, my go to!
We arrived on St. Thomas by 11AM with plenty of time for a sushi lunch date at Enkai on the waterfront and were at the airport by 1PM for our 4:20PM flight. Knowing that parking had been an issue, and that the car would be moved within a few hours time, I called around to several of the hotels near the airport and found one that would allow us to use their parking lot for the interim. We, luckily did not nee to use this option. But, after several laps through the half capacity construction zone of a parking lot, we found the LAST spot.
We absolutely BREEZED through check in with only one person in front of us at the Delta counter and then headed in to customs where we waited maybe 15 minutes. There was no additional COVID-19 screening or questions upon check in as we had already done that online but needed to stop and grab tags for our bags.
By the time we had finished with our pleasant agent at the customs check point, the line had nearly doubled behind us (close to 2PM). We dropped our checked bags, again with almost no one in line, and then made it through TSA in about another 20 minutes. By the time we were in line for a cocktail at the bar, the entire process had taken less than an hour.
I want to caution you. We arrived at the check-in counter with more than three hours to go before our scheduled departure (1PM). By the time we made it through each section, the lines were building behind us. The three hour window prior to your departure can close VERY quickly when there are several flights departing at once and only two TSA machines at work.
The airport bar and restaurant was bustling with travelers around us while we waited in line for a drink. They have not opened up seating at the airport bar yet, but there is a small section with a line where you can wait to order a drink. The regular dining tables have a ten minute time limit on them in order to give many travelers the opportunity to sit and eat or drink before heading to their gate (ie, no camping out at those tables). The high tops in the bar area do not have a time limit and we were lucky enough to score one of those as some friendly folks from St. Thomas were headed to their gate while we were in line. We sat down, took our masks off and relaxed there until it was time to board.
Let me remind you of two things:
- With the exception of while you are eating or drinking: From the time you enter the airport, until the time you exit the airport at your final destination, MASKS ARE REQUIRED. We found the same rules in St. Thomas, on the plane, in Atlanta on our layover and in Savannah at our final destination. Buffs and bandanas are not approved face coverings for travel. You must wear a mask of some sort.
- This travel day for us was an absolute unicorn of a day! We remarked several times how surprisingly seamless it was with a lot of awe and wonder surrounding those statements. DO give yourself the three hour window. Our experience at the airport was a pleasant one. And the bar, restaurant and kiosks are open for food and beverage services. So, cut the stress out, get there early and skip the lines.
After a beautiful week filled with family and fun, we headed home. Teddy left a few days earlier than I did as he had a day sail scheduled and I left Chewy with my parents for the summer months…So, I was flying solo this time 🙂 Both Teddy and myself are vaccinated and we knew that a positive antibodies test would work to get us back into the territory. So, the week before we flew to the states, we scheduled an appointment with Island Health and Wellness and received our positive antibodies results via email a few days prior to travel. (Go here for updated testing for travel requirements)
The antibodies tests work for entry to the USVI for up to four months from the testing date and, expecting upcoming off-season travel, we opted for this. Additionally, I didn’t want to take time away from my family to have to go get a rapid test. This process too, was a breeze.
Five days prior to travel to the USVI, you can go to the travel portal, register and upload your results. I uploaded my test results on June 20 at 3:15PM for travel on June 24. I immediately received an email stating that they were processing my results.
The next day, June 21, at 6:54PM, I received a second email stating that I had been approved for travel with a green QR code. They say this process can take 48 hours and I have had a lot of readers write in about delays. If you are having trouble getting the results of your submission after 48 hours, call the Department of Tourism at 1-800-372-8784 and give them your tracking ID for assistance.
So, I had my test results and my QR code and I was ready to head home on the 24th! I will say that I have heard different things from different airlines, but I was not required to show my QR code at any gates or check in areas until I returned to St. Thomas. And, upon arrival, it was once again a well oiled machine! A St. Thomas representative boarded the plane on the runway and made the announcement that everyone should have their ID and their QR code ready. We disembarked the plane into the warm and heavy island air and, in a single file line, headed towards the terminal.
Just before entering the building, there were two employees from the Department of Health taking temperatures and then directing passengers to one of seven numbered tables that lined the exit to the tarmac. I proceeded to Table Six and handed over my ID, scanned my QR code and got the nod for entry. It was an absolute breeze…And then, I was HOME!
I will mention here that, once you are in the USVI, there is a mask mandate that doesn’t stop at the exit of the airport terminal. Public transit (taxis and ferries) requires a mask while riding along. If you plan to cab to the ferry, please be kind to the drivers, captains and staff at the ferry terminal in regards to this law. I’m here to tell you that I GET IT! After a week with an unmasked face in the states, I wasn’t ready to throw mine back on either.
But, it’s the law here for now and the staff at small businesses all over the USVI are just trying to stay open and keep themselves out of the ranks of the temporarily unemployed. So, mask up and ENJOY your time in the beautiful Virgin Islands!
In other travel related news, the USVI Vaccine Passport is set to launch on July 2! The vaccine passport is a way to upload a digital record of your vaccination for both travel and as proof of vaccination at businesses and at events. The initial launch is ONLY for those who have been vaccinated within the USVI.
So, if you are traveling here and have been vaccinate stateside, you will still need provide either a negative PCR or Rapid Test or a Positive Antibodies test prior to travel. However, this is a HUGE step in a positive direction for both the vaccinated traveler and resident. Based on the way Governor Bryan approached the CDC’s no mask guidance for vaccinated individuals, I would imagine that with this passport, soon come the masks may be coming off for vaccinated individuals in businesses and at public events. I will keep you updated here NEXT WEEK after the launch of the app and the official details surrounding it.
Have a great Tuesday!