AAA Members recount their recent vacation experiences
By Sandy Schaack Masinter
The desire for getting away from it all remains strong even with today’s coronavirus-era challenges. As more destinations open up to Americans, interest in stepping out and exploring again has steadily grown, but with pragmatic planning and taking extra precautions. “Most new trip requests I’ve gotten have been for Alaska, the Caribbean and Mexico,” says Heather DeCourcy, AAA Travel Agent in Cary, North Carolina. “Right now, everybody’s staying pretty close to home.”
Although keeping up with changing local and state travel restrictions can be daunting, Americans have been taking more road trips and rediscovering the national parks. In fact, the U.S. Travel Association reports that 2020’s record-setting attendance at many national parks has surpassed even pre-pandemic levels.
But is traveling now the right decision for you? We spoke with some AAA Members about their recent experiences. Here’s what they had to say.
Rest and Relaxation in Cancun
For avid travelers Kathy and Steve Hobbs of Granite Falls, North Carolina, when they found out they could go to Cancun, Mexico last fall to replace a canceled British Isles cruise, they jumped on it. Their seven nights at the all-inclusive Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya resort, Kathy shares, may have started out as a “consolation trip,” but the getaway exceeded their highest expectations.
The couple’s days were filled with leisurely walks on the beach, hours spent poolside and fine dining at the resort’s restaurants. An unexpected pleasure was their participation in the release of just-hatched baby turtles into the sea. “It was the most fun thing, and totally unplanned,” Kathy says.
Coronavirus safety measures were ubiquitous throughout the resort, she explains. “They were constantly cleaning. The staff wore gloves, masks and shields. Lots of effort was made to ensure social distancing was taking place. Everyone was saying ‘I feel safer here than I do at home.’”
“You didn’t even touch a menu. Instead, you did a QR scan with your phone. We weren’t aware of that when we got there, so we actually had to have a crash course on how to do it,” she adds.
Flights out of Charlotte to Cancun were also a breeze. “The airports were less crowded than usual and people were very respectful of one another, even on the flights.”
“My husband and I wear masks everywhere we go in public, wash our hands, use hand sanitizer and social distance,” she explains. “I’m sure some people think we’re nuts for traveling as much as we do, but we’re not letting our passports gather any dust.”
Disney World with Family
Could a weeklong Walt Disney World Resort vacation be arranged with only three weeks’ notice? Melinda Crocker, of Union, South Carolina, was doubtful. She and her husband Randy, who have 40-plus Disney visits under their belt, usually schedule their trips there at least six months in advance. “We’d stayed home all summer long, but then my daughter got this break in her teaching schedule,” Melinda says. “She said she’d spoken to some people who said they felt safer at Disney World than they did at their local grocery store… So, I thought, ‘Why not?’”
The Crockers were thrilled to get their September dates and reservations quickly arranged, including lodging at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. AAA Travel Agent Sara Testerman at their local Greenville office handled it all. “She certainly came through for us,” Melinda says. “She really hooked us up!”
So, they hit the road in their minivan. When the extended family of six, including two grandchildren, arrived in Orlando, they were delighted with the hotel (especially the sand-bottomed pool and 230-foot-long water slide) and giddy by how crowd-free the Walt Disney World Resort parks were. “It felt like it did 25 years ago!” Melinda exclaims. “With the crowd level so small, it made everything much better. You could enjoy yourself more. People were friendlier.”
They relied on the My Disney Experience app to assess wait times for attractions and were able to get on every ride. With skillful timing and luck, they even managed to snag coveted boarding passes for the popular attraction Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.”
“It was so nice to get out. Everyone had their masks on and hand sanitizer stations were everywhere.” Melinda states. “At some point, you’ve got to start living again. Just take precautions and be smart with it. Make memories with your family because the kids are only young once.”
National Park Splendor
Last January, Lara Jones and Tom Bryfogle of Charlotte, North Carolina, began their planning to two national parks – Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming, which neither had seen since they were kids. Lara’s parents would be camping there in the fall and the couple wanted to make a vacation out of it. Then the pandemic hit and they wondered if they should still go.
“I think the comfort of moving forward with our plans was that you so desperately want to get away from home for a while,” explains Tom. “We were just very lucky that the places we’d planned on going to were more remote and not in a hotspot. So it worked out well for us.”
They took extra precautions for their air travel. Tom picked up N95 masks to wear on board the flight. He also bought safety glasses for Lara and he wore his glasses instead of contacts. They carried disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, too. At Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, they encountered no lines. “It was unreal. Usually you’d stand behind 200 people waiting to get through security,” he says.
Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park and home to Old Faithful, impressed them with its staggering array of geologic features and profuse wildlife. “The diverse beauty of the park was amazing. You go from wide-open prairies and herds of bison, to volcanic activity. It’s an incredible place,” says Tom.
Both parks lended well to social distancing. “They are very large, so you’re not right on top of people. In Yellowstone, you take your car to different locations and walk to areas around the bubbling mud pots, steam vents, geothermal pools and geysers,” says Lara.
“We had a checklist of different wildlife we hoped to see once we got there and we checked off almost everything,” shares Lara, “We saw bison, antelope, elk, moose and coyote.”
Tom adds, “It’s funny, but the one thing we didn’t see was a bear, but we got close a couple of times.”
At Grand Teton National Park, about an hour south of Yellowstone, the couple hiked the five-mile loop trail to Bradley Lake. They marveled at stunning vistas of the glacially formed lake as it peeked out through a forest of pines and aspens, and they posed for photos next to massive fallen boulders with the dramatic Teton range as a backdrop.
They explored the charming town of Jackson and visited Lara’s parents at a nearby campsite. The outdoor setting was a perfect fit for safely socializing, they said. “We’d meet up outside their camper and talk, or have a little picnic. It was so nice to be able to spend time with family that way. It was a wonderful trip.”
BOOK IT: Your AAA Travel Agent is can help you explore safely when you’re ready! Call 800-374-2865 or visit AAA.com/GoTravel for more information.