Covid is that new word that no one wants to speak of yet everyone does ….all….the….time!!! We can’t escape it because of its ‘World Tour’ status.
In the travel industry, when there are breakouts such as Zika and Sars, it always poses some challenges, but usually only in some areas around the globe. But this Covid thing…..well it targeted the world, and to say it’s been challenging is an absolute understatement.
That’s said, now that the world is starting to open back up to travel, we have brushed off our passports and are excited to share with you our findings with regards to Covid, social distancing and molecular testing, as we navigate this new world of ours.
Over the course of the last couple of months, we have been back and forth from the US on more than one occasion, experiencing both Disney and Universal parks, as well as a magical sailing on board the Disney Dream.
While traveling in itself felt no different than going into your local grocery store as far as social distancing and mask wearing, the challenging part is the dreaded Covid testing, in order to freely move between countries. We’ve all fallen into the pattern of social distancing, understanding what that means, so nothing new there. It’s the testing - especially that of the return home test required within 72 hours of getting back into Canada.
With information as far as protocols constantly changing, we advise you to always check with the correct government officials before you travel, as for what type of test and time frame for requirements. Do not rely on ‘my friend said’ or ‘I read online’, unless they are a very reliable source. There is so much mis-information out there, and we would hate to have your travel plans ruined as a result.
Going into the US was not a big issue as they were accepting the Rapid Antigen tests, which came at a significantly lower cost. Most places would have the results back within a few hours - thereby giving you plenty of time to receive your results before departure. At the airport, we had to make sure we had our results readily available, to ensure we were safe to travel, both leaving and coming home. On the return home, we had to fill out the ArriveCan information (for those returning into Canada) which was pretty straight forward.
For the Disney cruise, we had to do a rapid antigen test in the facilities provided right outside of their terminal - regardless of the fact we had just had a test within 72 hours of our sailing. They wanted to make absolutely sure we were negative - and it was done at their expense. It was like a well oiled machine, with little room for error. The whole gauntlet they had us move through was well thought out, very organized and safe. Once we had the results from our test showing we were negative, we were directed into the terminal and through security to wait for boarding onto the ship.
Once inside the terminal, social distancing remained in effect, having us effortlessly move onto the ship for our magical voyage.
For the return home, we ran into a few snags along the way - having now used several different companies with a range of pricing from free to $395 USD - just so we have a good understanding of how to navigate this new norm. We are so grateful that it was us who had these unmagical issues, so that we can help you avoid them. We share some of these experiences with you here, so that you can get an understanding of how to manage this new aspect of travel. Please note, we have kept the names of all of the companies out of this article, simply because the point is not to bash anyone, just merely to help guide you along the way. For all we know, the companies that had poor performances a few weeks ago, could have made some changes and are now operating great. We all make mistakes - it’s human …. It’s what you do with them once they have been made that makes the difference - so it’s not our place to bash them.
The first company we chose was based on a referral from a trusted source. The testing itself went without a hitch. We paid for the results to be received within 24 hours - which gave us plenty of time for our return.
Before the 24 hours was up, we received an ‘inconclusive’ result - huh??? What does that even mean. So out comes our friend Google, to help us determine what to do next - since everything was still closed - including the testing centre where we had the test in the first place. We need to have a negative in order to return, so this was insufficient. Our flight is now a little over 30 hours away, and we were left scrambling trying to find a reputable source that would provide the required negative within the time frame we needed. This was not a cheap venture - and also left us in a panic wondering what we were going to do in order to get home.
Just as we arrived at the new testing facility (we opted to get a second opinion, since we no longer trusted the first one - and we couldn’t get ahold of them since it was so early), we received a follow-up email from the first company with the negative result needed. So, not knowing a second email was coming (yes - looked at the first email again to ensure we didn’t miss something), we were left scrambling trying to find our way - when we didn’t have to. We were out the additional money, with no way of getting it back since we were within 24 hours of making the new appointment. Lesson learned. This was the early morning of October 1st - Disney’s big 50th celebration, so we decided not to let it ruin our day - with a negative test result in hand, off we went to enjoy the festivities. We can deal with this later.
Upon our return home, we attempted to contact both companies as a follow-up to see what could be done. To date, neither company has responded to our emails, so customer service is definitely lacking.
Next up to try was a ‘free - we come to your hotel’ type of thing. Free is good …..or so we thought. You truly get what you pay for (or what you don’t). We were given a 2 hour window that they would show up. We chose a Thursday evening, with a flight early Sunday morning - this giving us enough time (hopefully) for the turnaround, and yet stay within the 72 hour required window.
After 3 hours of sitting in our room, we figured since it was after 9pm, they weren’t coming. We called, emailed and waited some more - with no contact, no show, no nothing. The 72 hour clock is ticking.
We had a scheduled tour of the Kennedy Space Center the next day, so we had to be at a pick-up location by a certain time - which was before the test centre opened for the day. So while trying to enjoy our tour (which was amazing by the way), we had this nagging monkey on our backs that we needed to take care of. So there we are, on the bleachers staring at the launch pad, calling the free company trying to get this sorted. We said we needed this done, and even if it’s a paid guaranteed turnaround - we felt it was their expense now since they didn’t honour the booked time the evening before - but we had to have it done that night because of the fast approaching flight time for one of us. Thinking we had it all settled, we continued on with our tour - only to receive a text confirmation from them that they had rescheduled the appointment the following evening - less than 12 hours prior to flight time. Unacceptable. They were unwilling to cooperate with us - even though the error was on their part.
With a little more homework - and time not on our side, we opted to drive out to the airport early on the Saturday morning to get the test done there - at a higher cost - but to have our PCR test results in our hands within 45 minutes.
While this added expense was frustrating, it gave us peace of mind having that settled, so that we could go and enjoy our last day together at the parks.
A week later, when the last agent was preparing to fly home and had to go through it again, the airport was our first choice - no stress, no issues. The company that does the testing at the airport is the same company that services the first aid areas within the Disney parks - so we figured if they are good enough for Disney, they are good enough for us.
When checking in at the airport for the flight home, a conversation struck up with the passengers in line ahead of us. They were still waiting on the results from the ‘free’ company we had used the week before. While at the gate, we still didn’t see them. We were already seated on the plane when they barely made it onto the flight - telling us that Westjet was working on re-booking their flights when the results finally arrived.
Yes, there are ‘free’ ones out there. Some come to you, some you go to them - such as local pharmacies. Yes, there are many that have had no issues using these services. We are happy for them - truly we are - because we wouldn’t want anyone to go through the stress of what we encountered on more than one occasion. However, these free ones will NOT guarantee the required turnaround time, and as the flight time fast approaches you are in a panic and running out of options ….fast!! The unsettling unknown feeling of whether the results will arrive in time is not fun.
Since returning home, we have looked into many different options, spoken with other travellers, and did some research. Honestly, paying the extra money to get the immediate results was worth more than gold, because it gave us peace of mind which enabled us to truly enjoy our last days of traveling. Without it, we had panic, fear, frustration and anger - which isn’t good for anyone.
No matter how you look at it, traveling isn’t cheap. So to spend all that money only to have the last few days ruined by unnecessary stress is not worth using a ‘free’ service, in our opinion.
While it is an added expense that we really don’t want to think about - we say, just add it into your travel plans as long as it’s required for return to Canada, and don’t think about it. It’s a necessary evil, so to speak.
What is the cost of being able to spend some quality time with those you care about - making new memories to cherish forever? After being locked down for so long, not being able to get out of our box - this added expense spells freedom to roam, time with your family and friends, away from the stresses of everyday life in this new world we are navigating.
So for us, as long as this rule is in effect, we see value in paying extra for a guaranteed service.
We know how overwhelming these new rules can be, which is why we personally set out to test them for you. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are happy to help put your mind at ease.
Magical wishes from all of us at Dream Hunter Vacations.