There was a point at which a pandemic was declared, but is there a point at which it that declaration is voided? According to the news of rising COVID-19 cases, it doesn't seem that we have reached that point. Regardless of that, since states have lifted their shelter-in-place orders, many people are out & about with no concern.
Even if we have a pandemic for years, we are resilient and adaptable, and I'm sure we'll figure out a way to make life as normal as possible. I believe that is the case with travel. Pre-pandemic, I had been speaking with someone at The Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, FL about hosting a corporate group's incentive trip. Since that fell through due to the pandemic, I decided I would find a couple of days to visit the resort and see it for myself.
I made the trip for a few reasons:
The Henderson is a Virtuoso preferred hotel.
I wanted to experience what it is like to travel at this time.
First-hand knowledge of a travel experience is always best for advising clients.
I wanted to get away, and it gave me a chance for a quick trip with my mother & sister
The Henderson has a thorough list of COVID-19 protocols on their website, which made me feel safe
I drove from Atlanta to LaGrange to pick up my mother and sister, and we were all armed for the journey with our masks and hand sanitizer. We stopped as few times as possible to avoid going into buildings. Fortunately, since we were entering Central Time zone, when we were ready. to have lunch, we were there before anyone else. We stopped at Zoë's Kitchen in Montgomery, which had a shaded outdoor seating area. The employees were wearing masks, and we wore masks while we ordered. We had a lovely lunch and felt quite safe with the whole experience.
When we arrived at The Henderson, only 4.5 hours from LaGrange (5.5-6ish hours from Atlanta), we were greeted by a very friendly masked man, and all employees were wearing masks. There was signage throughout the hotel stating that masks are required in public corridors and elevators. They also had hand sanitizer stations throughout the hotel, and masks were readily available upon request. When we got to the room, there was a sticker stating "sanitized" that extended from the door to the door frame, showing that that no one had entered the room since it had been sanitized.
We spent some time by the pool, which I later found out had fewer chairs around it than normal. There are two pools, by the way, which are a family pool (with a lazy river) and an adult pool. We were by the adult pool and enjoyed it very much. A server made frequent rounds to ask if you wanted anything (drinks or food) from the poolside restaurant. We each had a beverage, which we enjoyed very much.
It was time to go out for dinner, and I was determined that we would only eat outside. Traffic was heavy, and we stopped at two restaurants, only to find out that they had long waits. We then stopped in a parking lot to explore our takeout options. We finally decided what we wanted and placed an order, which we were told would be ready in about 20 minutes. Since we were nearby, we stopped at a grocery store for a few things before picking up the order. When we arrived, I was told I needed to go to the bar to pick up the order. (I ordered takeout because I didn't want to be IN a restaurant!)
This was the most uncomfortable experience of the whole trip, and it's not just because I was hangry. Other than limited seating inside the restaurant, there was very little happening to protect people. Neither employees nor customers were wearing masks. The bar, which was not very large, was basically full. I had to stand there and have an uncomfortable conversation with a man for about another 20 minutes. I was not happy!
We returned to the hotel and enjoyed our dinner, which actually was delicious, on the hotel's beautiful porch (veranda?) while watching the sunset. This is the biggest lesson I learned: either eat meals early to avoid crowds, cook your own meals, order takeout, or dine at the hotel's restaurants (The Henderson has several).
The next day, I had a tour of the hotel. I had already seen most of the hotel but got to see the ballrooms, meeting rooms, and the spa. There was nothing very revelatory on the tour, except to learn that the spa is available by appointment only and that the spa's wet areas are closed. The Henderson will soon have a rooftop bar, which will be the first in Destin. It's a great view! Also. I was told that the hotel is hosting "micro weddings," which is a new term to me! If you need a micro wedding (30-40 guests), I know where to send you!
After our tour, we went to the beach. This was a great experience.The chairs had plenty of distance between pairs of chairs. With the ocean breeze and the sunshine, it felt completely safe and healthy. As a side note, the staff were wonderful. My mother wouldn't normally go to the beach because of severe arthritis, but they graciously provided a beach wheelchair so that we could all sit together under umbrellas. The Henderson absolutely deserves a superb review for ADA compliance!
We met some of our family at a waterfront restaurant (AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar). It's a completely open air restaurant, and we sat at a table that was covered by a roof but otherwise open to the outdoors. We specifically chose to have a late lunch in order to avoid crowds, and this plan worked very well, thanks to my uncle's forethought. Even if they had been busy, the tables were spaced out appropriately. The gulf breeze, social distancing, and delicious food with family made for an excellent experience. Also, regarding ADA compliance, AJ's has ramps that make everything wheelchair accessible, and the staff were very helpful and kind.
After lunch, my mother & sister enjoyed a Frappuccino from the resort's coffee shop. Since the pool was easier to access than the beach, we spent the rest of the afternoon there. I observed a staff member cleaning chairs after people left them, and I was told that there were fewer chairs than usual. Even with fewer chairs, there was no shortage of chairs to be had.
Since we had a late lunch, we decided that we would enjoy a light dinner from one of The Henderson's restaurants. We were able to sit at the same place as the previous night and watch the sunset, without the stress and hassle of trying to find food elsewhere. The food was delicious, and the dessert (flourless chocolate cake) was the most photogenic dish I've had since the last time I traveled immediately before the pandemic.
The next morning, we got ready at a leisurely pace. We actually had late check-out of 1pm, a Virtuoso perk, but we left around 10am in order to arrive home at a decent hour. I enjoyed the pool in the early morning sun while the ladies got ready. When we were ready to leave, the bell man was ready to help us, check-out was quick and easy, and the friendly valet staff saw us off. Before we left, I took a few more photos (from night and morning).
To wrap things up, we were in search of lunch on the way home and drove through the quaint and interesting little town of Defuniak Springs, FL, where we stopped at Bogey's Bar & Restaurant. We sat outside and had a lovely lunch as we overlooked Defuniak Lake and observed locals coming and going form Bogey's and other small businesses on the block.
I understand that each person has his or her level of comfort with travel right now. Some people are staying home, others are renting houses, and others are vacationing like it's 2019. I prefer to wear a mask and want to thank others who wear them. Whatever your level of comfort may be, I would happy to talk and find the right fit for your needs, if you are looking to travel now or in the future.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the form on my website!