I traveled to St. Barth during COVID-19. Here’s what it was like traveling on planes, ferries, taxis and commuter jets–and no, it wasn’t scary–unless the terrifying ferry ride to St. Barths that has nothing to do with COVID counts.
I honestly wasn’t planning on writing an article about my experience traveling to St. Barth during COVID-19. I’ve already written plenty of articles about how to get there by commuter plane and by ferry. And we all know, the commuter plane is the way to go, hands down (more on that later..). But given these uncertain times and all the media surrounding what travelling is like during COVID-19, I thought I’d shed some light on the reality of travelling to St. Barth during COVID-19. This is your non-biased take on what my first-person experience was like. And it’s not as scary as the media makes it out to be. But of course, like all things, my first-hand experience is coming from a person who was ready and in the mindset to travel in a safe manner.
If you’re not ready to travel and feel that the precautions that have been put in place are not enough to keep you safe (i.e. mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, hand sanitizing stations, new airplane and airport cleaning policies, new airplane filters, temperature checks, mandatory COVID tests, planes at half capacity or whatever it may be according airline etc.) then maybe it’s best you not travel…just yet! Wait till you feel more at ease. While the majority of people traveling felt perfectly safe and at ease, there were a handful of people who were quite clearly not ready–aka putting hazmat suits on your children–this was a real thing I saw! And that’s ok! But don’t put yourself in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe because not everyone else who is traveling will be in your same mindset. And that’s what you need to know going into this.
But if you feel comfortable like me, here’s what it was truly like traveling to St. Barth during COVID-19:
Step 1. Mandatory COVID PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival on island
You would think that it would be easy to turn a PCR test result around in less than 72 hours. Think again. While the rapid test gets you results within hours, the PCR test takes longer since it requires it being sent to a lab that might not be on-site etc. Finding a place that guaranteed PCR tests in 48 hours (because essentially you need to have it before you board your flight to SXM, but it still needs to be valid by the time you arrive in St. Barth, which is about a 4-7 hour journey from NY) was more difficult than we thought. Pat and I called multiple clinics in Connecticut, but no one guaranteed a PCR test result in 24-48 hours. Luckily, after days of research we found 2-4 places that offered test results in less than 48 hours. More on that here.
Things you need to know before going to St. Barth during COVID-19:
You’ll need to present a printed copy of your negative PCR test before boarding your flight, upon entry to St. Maarten, before boarding your ferry or commuter plane to St. Barth, and at customs upon arriving to St. Barth.
Step 2. SXM Global Health Form
Even if you’re only doing a layover in St. Maarten (SXM airport), once you get your negative test result, you need to fill out the mandatory SXM Global Health Form. The form must be filled out a minimum 12 hours prior to your flight since it takes the staff at least 12 hours to approve your entry into St. Maarten. You’ll need to upload your negative PCR test and provide all travel information to the portal.
Things you need to know before going to St. Barth during COVID-19:
You’ll need to present a printed copy of your St. Maarten pre-approval form to St. Maarten customs when you land. Being pre-approved does not guarantee you entry to the island, you’ll still need to pass the usual temperature checks, symptom checks etc.
Step 3. My Newark (EWR) Airport Experience
We enter and the airport is empty. There are a few people checking in, but everyone feels quite at ease. You check off that you aren’t exhibiting any COVID symptoms at check-in and you’re off to security check. A line that usually takes forever to move through now is short and easy. You pull down your mask quickly during passport check so safety protocols are still in place in terms of airport sercurity! You get passed security and there are a few places open to eat. Duty free seems to be closed, but you can grab a coffee, bagel, pastry, yogurt, or snack from a few of the stands that are open. Before boarding we are asked to present our printed negative PCR test and step onto a half empty flight.
Step 4. JetBlue’s Inaugural Flight from EWR to SXM
It just so happens that by chance we were on JetBlue’s inaugural flight from EWR to SXM. Upon boarding we were given a small plastic pouch with hand sanitizing napkins, a fresh mask, and a few other essentials. We walked by to see some people placing plastic seat covers on their chairs. Whatever makes you comfortable, but you should know that these airplane are cleaned from bottom to top at the end of every flight. There’s only one person or family per row, so Pat and I have the entire 22nd row to ourselves. That seems to be the new norm on flights now. And no one is ever in the row in front of us or behind us. I guess you can call it airplane social distancing! The seats were extremely comfortable.
Should you fly JetBlue or United to St. Barth?
JetBlue had just updated their aircraft and Patrick and I had plenty of leg room and space. I actually loved my flight. The staff went up and down the aisle with a cart giving out snacks and bottled waters and selling some beverages. On the way back we flew United, and they just walked by and handed out a plastic bag with snacks in it and a water bottle, but you couldn’t purchase anything in flight. The JetBlue entertainment system was great. You could choose whichever movies you’d like and they still gave out headsets. The United flight on the other hand had a scheduled movie time, almost as if you were watching cable TV. So you couldn’t control what movies you were going to watch and when and you couldn’t pause them or start them over. It was a bit frustrating. Lastly, carry-on was of course included in JetBlue’s economy price. United charged economy class $30 per person for carry-on and you couldn’t bring it on board with you. In order to bring carry-on onboard for free, you had to purchase the economy plus seat or something like that.
So far so good right? Nothing to crazy or jarring? Well, this is when being mentally prepared to travel comes in: the moment you land. It’s best if you’re ready and flexible for whatever comes your way because not every country, state, island, or destination abides by the same regulations, so you need to be aware of that and ok with it if you plan on traveling.
Best Beach in St. Barth: Anse de Grande Saline
Step 5. My SXM Airport Experience
To get from our airplane to the SXM airport we needed to hop into two buses. SXM’s airport was destroyed by Hurricane Irma a few years ago and just recently finally got their airport back into shape. As we set foot on the tarmac we are greeted by the usual warmth of the Caribbean people. SXM staff members were handing out luggage tags in the shape of sandals and welcoming us to the island. What a friendly welcome! We hop into the bus and realize we’re one of the last people to get in. I was basically arms length apart from people next to me, which for me was fine. We all had negative PCR test results, we all just underwent temperature checks, we’re all wearing masks, what’s a 2 minute bus ride at arms length from people? But some travelers did panic. They were uncomfortable getting on the bus insisting that social distancing measures weren’t in place. The SXM staff member kindly explained that they had limited number of buses and they were already filling it as little as they could.
We arrive at customs and by chance multiple airlines had landed at the same time. Customs had a very long line. We were all asked to sanitize our hands multiple times, underwent multiple temperature checks, and got in line for customs. There must’ve been about 250 people in the customs line. Some people were uncomfortable, but quite frankly I’ve been in Costco’s with more people. Plus, you got to understand, we all had negative PCR tests and were doing what we were told. You just had to be smart about it. We present our pre-approval form and negative PCR test to St. Maarten customs and make our way out of the airport.
Step 6. From SXM to Marigot Port
Because this was JetBlue’s inaugural flight, the St. Barth Commuter had not adjusted their flights to accommodate for the planes late arrival yet. That meant we were forced to take the ferry from Marigot to Gustavia. We called a taxi outside the airport. The taxi driver had us sanitize our hands before entering the taxi (my hands were so dry from hand sanitizer at this point!), but safety first and we were off. He talked to us about how happy he was to see people back on the island. He said when Irma hit he was out of a job for 5 months, but COVID was worst than Irma. He had been out of a job for 7 months now and had just started working again. The island feeds off of tourism and they need more people to feel comfortable coming back in order for them to survive. He dropped us off at the port and Pat and I grabbed a snack and a drink as we waited for the ferry to arrive.
Step 7. Checking in for the Voyager Ferry
We were asked to present our negative PCR test during check-in. The small waiting room was fairly crowded, but there were windows open everywhere. The staff would go around reminding people to cover their noses with their mask and temperature checks were given to everyone before boarding the ferry. We were asked to wear our masks on the ferry the whole time, which was very unrealistic given the weather conditions as you’ll read below…
Step 8. The Nauseating Ferry from St. Maarten to Gustavia
Never, ever take the ferry from St. Maarten to Gustavia. You can take it BACK if you really want, but never there. The currents are not in St. Barth’s favor and if you mix that with a rain storm…it’s utter hell. We took it once on our first time to St. Barth and were close to getting sick. But it was day time and we made it just in time. This time, it was nighttime and there was a rain storm up ahead. The trip started off fine, we sat outside the whole time to avoid sea sickness indoors. But the minute we left the St. Maarten harbor and got out onto the open waters the massive 10 foot waves, rain storm, and sickness began.
Everyone started to get sick on board, including myself. And no, it wasn’t a symptom of COVID, it was pure sea sickness. Patrick on the other hand was completely fine, he was made of steel!! Masks were removed and we were all trying to keep ourselves leveled in order to avoid getting sick a second, third, or fourth time. There was a staff member on the ferry who deserved a gold star. His job was to go around handing disposal barf bags and napkins to people and throwing them away. He was helping everyone on the ferry, he was the true super star. He didn’t get sick once and would occasionally take cigarette breaks in between handing out barf bags to everyone. He was hysterical. He said he sees this all the time on the ferry and this wasn’t even the worst.
How to Get to St. Barth – Commuter Plane or Ferry?
Step 9. Arrival at Gustavia Port
When we arrive, quite frankly, I’m too disgusted, disoriented, and distraught to put my mask back on. I just needed a shower and some water. We get in line at customs and they check our PCR test and passports and let us through–thank god, we’ve made it to St. Barth. Like usual, the guys greeting us and checking our passports at customs look like models straight out of a Ralph Lauren magazine. Leave it to St. Barth to make me feel like I’ve entered the land of the beautiful, this idyllic paradise that’s so surreal! Yet simultaneously make me feel completely inadequate given the conditions I was in after coming off a 4 hour flight and 1 hour long ferry where I got sick 3 times and my head was still spinning. I wasn’t exactly looking as glamorous as I thought I would upon arrival. I’d make up for that tomorrow.
9 Best Things to Do in Gustavia, St. Barth
Step 10. St. Barth Car Rental
If you rented a car, even though the car rental closed at 7PM, Budget rental car was at the port at 8PM with the cars and keys ready for all passengers who had rented a car. Now that’s service! I didn’t even have to get myself to the car rental at the airport. It was delivered at the port. I was too disoriented to handle it so I let Patrick take care of the details as I reacquainted my feet with the feeling of solid ground and drank water to help calm my nerves. I was literally shaking.
Step 11. A Quick Summary of My Trip Back to Newark EWR
The trip back was much easier, luckily we had booked the commuter plane so it was smooth sailing, or should I say flying, from there. On our return to Newark we were required to fill out and print out the St. Maarten Global Health Form once again. No PCR test was required this time around. It was only required if you were staying on St. Barth during COVID-19 for longer than 7 days. Upon arrival to Newark no one contact traced me, no one temperature checked me, no one spoke to me. Unlike St. Maarten where I was handed a flip flop shaped luggage tag upon arrival, I was handed a Global Health Alert flyer prior to customs. A bit less friendly than St. Maarten and a little more dramatic if you ask me! The only thing we did get stopped for? A luggage screening in case we were bringing agricultural livestock or seeds in from St. Maarten.
So there you have it. My long journey to get to paradise on the island of St. Barth during COVID-19. Of my entire experience, the experience that scared me the most to the point were my body was literally shaking was the ferry. COVID was the farthest thing from my mind to be quite honest. Airlines and airports kept us safe, the easy-going, friendly, yet safe demeanor of the people made me feel at ease and not uptight, and I made it to paradise in one piece.
Get my look!
Uniqlo Boyfriend High-Rise Ripped Jeans
Tumi International Carry-On
Madewell Adrian Sunglases
San Diego Hat Company
>> Next: We Took A St. Barth Jet Ski Tour–Here’s What Happened
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