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Travelling to Florida during Covid restrictions

Wendy Donne, a Senior Travel Consultant from North American Travel Service, reflects on her recent trip to Florida...

Finally, after two years of constant rule changes, lockdowns, cancellations and re-bookings, my family and I were off to Florida, USA.  We were on tenterhooks in the run up to Christmas, hoping borders would remain open, and praying we would stay Covid free, ready for our holiday on the 27th of December for some much-needed R&R, US style!

On Boxing Day, we had our supervised Antigen tests booked for early afternoon (tests can be done anytime on the day before travelling), which we did via a video call with a nurse from DocHQ, using tests kits which we had already received by courier.  It was a very simple process, and we had our certificates emailed to us before the end of the call.  We had already done several Lateral Flow tests over the previous week to ensure that we were all negative ahead of the call, but it was a relief when the nurse formally confirmed that we were all negative and good to go.

We flew with British Airways and in order to check-in online we had to upload our negative certificates, vaccination info and complete an attestation form using their VeriFLY App.  This took about half an hour to complete the process for all three of us, but it was very straightforward, and it also meant there was nothing further to do from a Covid perspective when we got to Orlando. 

Once completed, we were issued with our fit to fly confirmation which meant that we could then check-in online.  For anyone who doesn’t have access to smartphones or tablets, you can still take all of the paperwork to the airport and check-in in person.

After an excited, sleepless night our taxi dropped us at Gatwick’s North Terminal. There was a dedicated drop-off area for luggage for those who had already completed the VeriFLY App process, we provided proof of this to a BA representative and confirmed whether we were travelling using a Visa or an ESTA.  It was such a quick and easy process, and dare I say it, easier and more efficient than it was before Covid!

Security was also a breeze, and within minutes we were in Duty Free.  Everyone wore masks whilst in the airport and I had that buzz that I always get when I'm going on holiday!  Boarding was normal and the flight was practically full.  As expected, masks had to be worn throughout the flight apart from when eating or drinking and from what I could see, all of the passengers complied. 

Nine and a half hours later we touched down in Orlando.  Previously I’ve found Orlando to not be the easiest of airports to fly into, so we were prepared for a couple of hours of queuing at Border Control.  How surprised we were to be at the luggage belt within 30 minutes of getting off the plane!  We did however have to wait longer than usual for our luggage so we didn’t quite have it all our own way.

We collected our luggage and headed to the Alamo desk to process our rental car and then out to the parking lot to choose our car.  Once we were outside, we were greeted by the warmth of the Florida sunshine where we could also remove our masks, although it hadn't really bothered us that much wearing one for our journey.  Now it was time to enjoy ourselves for the week.

Honestly, I can't tell you how good it felt to be back in the US; I really had missed it.  The first few days we spent in the Universal parks.  They were busy, which is usual for the time of year, but there were not as many people as normal.  Queue times weren't too bad and the use of masks was enforced throughout the parks while indoors, in a queue, and even on some of the rides (this actually came in handy on one of the rides but that’s a different story!).  We didn't have to wear them while walking around, but to be honest most people did. 



Out and about in Orlando’s shopping malls and restaurants, masks were required to enter but can be removed once seated or at any outdoor venue.  We found that a couple of restaurants had reduced capacity due to Covid related staff shortages, so we sometimes had to wait 30/45 minutes for a table, but we were happy to wait – we were on holiday after all!

We spent the second half of the week, from New Year’s Eve, on the Gulf Coast in St Pete’s where the same rules applied around the use of masks.  However, we went to Busch Gardens one day and they weren't quite so hot on wearing masks around the park.  It seemed to be left up to individuals but all of the staff wore them.

We also went to the Outback Bowl at the Raymond James Stadium, home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to watch College football.  In order to gain entry, we had to show proof of our vaccinations and also had to wear masks to get to our seats but as it’s an outdoor stadium we could take them off to watch the game and our only concern then was avoiding getting sunburnt!

Two days before our flight home we had to do our Antigen tests in order to fly.  We had purchased these in the UK and taken them with us.  We had been doing our own tests almost daily anyway, so we knew in advance that we would be OK.  Once the test is taken, a photo of the results must be taken along with your passport details and sent to the company by email.  They then replied with a confirmation email message, along with a certificate.  Thankfully now, the test before returning home is no longer a requirement. 

As before, we uploaded these certificates to the VeriFLY App in order to check-in for the flight home.  We also had to complete the Passenger Locator Form (PLF).  The PLF also requires you to enter the details of the ‘Day 2’ tests we had pre-ordered before leaving home. Again with travel restrictions being reduced, the latest news confirms that from 11 February Day 2 tests will no longer be required for vaccinated people arriving in the UK.

Sadly, with everything completed, we were ready to fly home.  The process at Orlando Airport’s departure zone was also very easy and before we knew it we were back at Gatwick Airport.  We had brought our Day 2 tests with us so that we could do them in the car.  That meant we were starting the process as soon as we could in order to minimise the time spent having to isolate until we got the results.  Once the tests were done, we dropped them off at a Randox drop box at a hotel nearby and received the results within 24 hours – all negative and very straight forward.

So, as daunting as these additional procedures might seem at the outset, everything was really very straightforward.  Was it worth it…?  Absolutely – we had an amazing time.  I’m already planning our next trip to the US, just don’t tell my husband!

 

Posted on: 26/01/2022

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