Between safety protocols and reduced flights, that adage about getting there is half the fun is less true right now than ever. And once you have arrived at your destination, you’re often faced with a lengthy mandatory quarantine period that’ll keep you in the four walls of your hotel room with no access to restaurants or amenities beyond room service. For example, Thailand’s recently-announced new initiative requires that international travelers undergo a two-week stay in one of several hundred government-accredited Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) hotels, with several rounds of COVID-19-testing, before they are permitted to travel around the Land of Smiles.
While these are understandable precautions to slow down the spread of the virus’ transmission, they aren’t exactly logistically feasible for people who can’t afford to burn two weeks’ vacation days before their vacation even gets started. But there is a new alternative: the resort bubble.
What Is a Resort Bubble?
A resort bubble is a status allotted to some properties whereby guests can use some resort facilities during the shortened mandatory quarantine, which is lifted pending a COVID-19 test's negative result after they arrive. So far, the resort bubble has been implemented in a few tropical pockets worldwide—namely Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean and the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Petit St. Vincent, an all-inclusive luxury secluded island resort in the Grenadines, recently received resort bubble status from the island nation’s Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment (MOHWE). Guests must upload the results of a negative test no more than three days before arrival. Then, upon arriving at the airport, guests are administered a PCR test then brought to the hotel. But rather than being isolated while waiting for results, they can make use of the property's beaches, walk or bike around the island, and dine in specially-designated areas in the restaurants, as long as they adhere to mask and social-distancing requirements. After receiving a negative result (which typically takes between 48 and 72 hours), guests have carte blanche to use all facilities, including the spa, scuba, charter excursions, boutique, and front office.
The property’s small size—just 22 one- and two-bedroom generously-spaced cottages—made it an easy candidate for resort bubble status. “Petit St. Vincent is a wholly private island, with nothing on its 115 acres other than the resort, making it an ideal place for isolation and relaxation,” according to general manager Matthew Semark. “Bubble status makes the process of arriving easier for guests and helps cut down on the required quarantining time without compromising anyone's safety, guests or staff.” Even if the resort were fully booked, he adds, each guest would still have more than two acres to spread out.
Other resorts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have been deemed resort bubbles, including the upcoming Soho House Canouan, Canouan Estate Resort & Villas, Bequia Beach Hotel, Mustique, and the Mandarin Oriental Canouan. Mandarin Oriental Canouan is set within the 1,200-acre Grenadines Estate and offers 26 suites and 13 villas; general manager Duarte Correia believes resort bubble status has become a definite factor in guests deciding to book a vacation. “Previously, with the strict quarantine requirements, guests were more hesitant to book,” he told TripSavvy. “Now that they have limited access during the quarantine period, they have been more likely to consider us.”
To stay at Mandarin Oriental Canouan, guests flying commercially take a rapid antigen test upon arrival and must remain in their accommodations until their first negative antigen result. On day three, they are given the more thorough PCR test. After the initial negative test result, they can enjoy certain resort facilities, including meals at Lagoon Café, limited access to tennis and golf, housekeeping while they are not in their rooms, and use of a dedicated beach area. Amenities that are off-limits include the spa, fitness center, pool, excursions, non-motorized water spirits, and other restaurants. Once their negative PCR test results are confirmed, they have full access to the resort through the end of their stay. Guests flying private to the island follow similar guidelines but receive both antigen and PCR tests immediately, expediting the process.
Bubbles Are Trending on Kauai
The Hawaiian island of Kauai has embraced the concept of resort bubbles, greatly easing the 10-day quarantine requirement that’s been in place since March 2020. Effective Jan. 5, 2021, Governor David Ige signed Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami’s Emergency Rule 24, which authorizes a pre- and post-travel testing program at Enhanced Movement Quarantine (EMQ) properties—the official name for resort bubbles. Out-of-state travelers wishing to take part in a shortened three-day quarantine by participating in the resort bubble program must create a Safe Travels account and complete the mandatory State of Hawaii Travel and Health Form, take an FDC-authorized pre-travel test (antigen or PCR) within 72-hours before arriving on Kauai, reserve a room at an approved bubble resort, complete the Kauai arrival form, contact their hotel to confirm available transportation options, and show proof of the negative test upon check-in. After three days in their resort bubble, guests receive another test. They are officially released from quarantine when a negative result is confirmed, leaving them free to explore the island at large.
“We continue to field many calls from across the mainland with interest in entering the resort bubble to allow simple and straightforward travel to Kauai,” said Gary Moore, managing director at Timbers Kauai at Hokuala, a 450-acre luxury resort on the island that’s perched atop the Pacific and has a 15-acre organic farm and Jack Nicklaus golf course. In addition to Timbers Kauai, other EMQ properties on Kauai include The Cliffs at Princeville, Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay, Ko’a Kea Hotel at Po’ipū, The Club at Kukui'ula, and Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club.
Is a Resort Bubble Right for You?
There are many logistics and a fair bit of discipline involved with preparing for and undergoing a vacation at a bubble resort. Still, with tourists likely causing COVID-19 spikes in places like Mexico, it's a more responsible means of traveling for those with the itch.
If you're planning a trip, you should keep your own personal COVID-19 bubble at home airtight, ideally spending time with no one other than those in your household—the last thing you want to do is book a trip and then catch the virus right before you are set to leave. Depending on your destination and your own health insurance, you may be responsible for out-of-pocket costs associated with testing procedures. And remember that you still need to get to your destination before you are safe and secure in that bubble—if the thought of walking through the airport and boarding a plane with hundreds of people gives you pause, you may want to pass.
Finally, the cost of staying at a resort bubble doesn’t come cheap. A one-bedroom cottage at Petit St. Vincent starts at $1,350 per night based on double occupancy. However, it includes meals, unlimited room service, afternoon tea, and non-motorized water sports. There's also an additional $735 per person transfer fee, which includes a roundtrip flight from Barbados to Union Island and then boat service to the island. Meanwhile, the best rate at the Mandarin Oriental Canouan is $1,600, not including meals. Rates at Timbers Kauai at Hokuala start at $1,500, and while you will be able to book a less expensive accommodation on Kauai, flights from the continental U.S. and inter-island can be pricey.
For those travelers seeking the sun, sand, and surf without the FOMO of watching it all through their hotel window upwards of two weeks, a resort bubble can provide much-needed respite.