All-Inclusive Travel Journey

All-Inclusive Travel Journey

Last Updated on November 22, 2021 by tripcentral

I just returned from Moon Palace Jamaica Nov 6-13 and thought I would share my experiences, for those curious to know what travel was like at this time.

The trip was booked back in the summer of 2021 when the specifics about travelling at this time were uncertain.  Planes were just returning to the air for travel to southern destinations and our Canadian summer was in full swing.  The Canadian Government has since removed the Level 3 Advisory against non-essential travel and replaced a country-by-country travel advisory for COVID and all other factors.  We link all Canadian Government travel advisories to the details and booking pages on our website.

Getting Antigen Tested at Home in Advance

Not every country requires advanced testing, but like everything during this pandemic, it’s all subject to change.  Testing requirements may be relaxed between the time you book and travel, or things could go sideways and a destination today with no testing requirements could impose them after you book.  At the time of writing, Mexico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic do not require any advance testing.  Visit our blog, updated weekly with advance testing requirements comparison by country for popular destinations (and the detail is on all booking pages).  Luckily, like the United States, Jamaica only requires a cheaper Antigen (Rapid) Test.

My wife and I were fortunate to have made it through the pandemic with not one COVID test.   I visited my local Shopper’s Drug Mart and was told to book my test and bring my Health Card.  It would be $40CAD per person. 

One piece of advice here – book your COVID test as soon as possible – for example, it needed to be valid 72 hours prior to arrival in Jamaica.  I booked it for the day prior to our trip, but the pharmacist explained that if I had received a positive test, I would be required to take a PCR test from public health and that this could come back negative.  Lesson – take your test as early as you can, and if you happen to test positive and it is a false positive, you still have another day to do so.

15 minutes later, negative, as expected.  I was given a paper copy of the test result.  If getting an electronic one is an option, get that as well – my scanner at home was not working well.  Have a paper copy, a photocopy, take pictures, and scan it if you can.  Save it to your phone and computer.  You can’t have enough proof if you happen to lose it, or your phone is not working.  Always have multiple copies and methods for you to show proof of negative tests and vaccination.

If you haven’t already done so, you will need to download and have a copy of your proof of double vaccination to fly from Canada.

Jamaica Travel Authorization

8 days before your departure, tripcentral.ca will email you any steps you need to complete to board your aircraft and gain entry into your destination country.  Often there is an online form to complete.  These instructions are intentionally sent out 8 days prior to departure so that our customers have the most recent instructions.  If we sent these out after booking, they could very well change by the time of departure.

A Jamaica travel authorization asks several standard questions of passport information, address, telephone number, emergency contact, and health screening questions.  It required an upload of our vaccination certificates.  Interestingly, it did not require a scan of the negative test, but it did require information about it (date/time) and ask that we have proof in writing for presentation.

We received authorization by email shortly after.

Travel Insurance

Now that the Level 3 travel advisory has been lifted, a copy of my medical insurance policy was sufficient.  I didn’t need special medical coverage for COVID19.  Always be sure to have your policy and the telephone number/website where you can call if you need it.  So many people leave Canada with the assumption they are covered by a group plan or credit card.  Do you know where to call and what to quote if you need it?  Always be prepared.

Checking In Online for my Flight

We flew Air Canada, and the check-in process allows new Health information uploads.  I uploaded copies of our vaccination certificates and our Jamaica Travel Authorization.  More screening questions.  Boarding passes were sent by email, and we were all set.

Park’N Fly

I dropped my car off at Park N Fly Valet and it was not as busy as normal, but not dead either.  I have a card with my information on it – but a few clicks at the automated kiosk and we were on our way.  Be sure to arrive plenty early as the entire process of checking in and security takes longer than it used to.

Airport Experience

The airport was buzzing.  It was not quite as busy as pre-COVID days, but pretty busy.  Everything takes longer, so people are in line and being serviced longer than before.  The line I was in took about 30 minutes to clear.  Once we got to the check-in counter, things went quite smoothly as we were prepared and had checked in online.

There were some people in front of us that had taken a lot longer.  This is the value of checking in online, and tripcentral.ca will send you an email 24 hours prior to departure to check in for your flight with the airline booking reference. 

Security

We applied for Nexus a few years ago.  I highly recommend it.  It’s $50 and a complex application, background check, and agreement to declare all goods on return or face some serious fines and consequences in exchange for fast track and being a “trusted traveller”.  The main lineup was quite a bit longer.  We had also received our renewal for Nexus quite passively over the summer and I almost missed it.  Well, in fact, we missed my wife’s whose birthday was earlier than mine.  But we renewed online and while the forms and login for US Homeland Security are not the most user-friendly, we received our new Nexus cards in the mail a few weeks later.  So, security for us was a breeze – for everyone else, it was a longer line than normal – mostly due to physical distancing.

The Maple Leaf Lounge AND Plaza Premium lounges were closed that morning.  The lounge area in Terminal 1 was quite nice – grabbed a coffee and waited.

Boarding / Flying

People were not six feet apart, but it was better than normal.  There was a bit more respect for the boarding priority numbers.  The only thing much different than normal was pulling down the mask for passport verification when our boarding passes were scanned to board.  It felt a bit strange – not quite like I was pulling down my pants – but somehow it seemed weird.  The gate agent was after me to fully pull my mask down which I found a bit funny.

I flew in mid-2020 and found the onboard experience much more cautious about surfaces and touching compared to my recent trip.  In 2020, meals were sealed and distributed in a box – this seemed more normal now.  You must wear a mask for the entire flight apart from during the meal and beverage service.  The flight director is clear to announce the start and stop of the meal and beverage service as masks must be worn once the service is completed.

We brought our own headsets which are also recommended for decent audio quality on the entertainment system.

Oddly, the flight attendants handed out a Jamaica Customs and Immigration form which I found a bit surprising since I had filled all this out and more online for my Jamaica Travel Authorization.  I dutifully filled it out, not wanting to have any hassles on arrival.

Arrival in Jamaica

No problem mon!  The only trouble here is that many flights arrive at southern destinations in a short span of time.  Flights of three and four-hour durations are departing from across North America and arriving around noon plus or minus an hour or so.  We got hit with friendly fire of hand sanitizer after clearing the jetway in the hallway leading to customs by an eyes-smiling masked airport employee and a strong welcome to Jamaica

Jamaica’s vaccination rate is lower than Canada’s due to shortages of vaccines.  Canadians know all about this while waiting for our supply of vaccines when it was not being shipped from the US.  We have to remember to not hold it against non-G7 countries and pooh-pooh them for their vaccination rates.  The vaccines are still scarce in most of the world while we’re on to booster shots.  As such, the protocols and everyone’s vigilance in Jamaica are stronger than at present in Canada.  It reminded me of how we were earlier in say March or April of 2021 compared to now.  Here are our top four destinations vaccination rates compared to Canada as of Nov 15, 2021.  Visit Our World In Data, clear the selected countries, and type in your destination country to see its vaccination rate.  Bear in mind, vaccination rates in tourism jobs are higher than the average for the general population.  Tourism being important to these economies, the vaccination rates amongst airport employees, hotel workers, transfer companies, and tour operators are higher, and in cities and tourism areas compared to the major urban centres (tourism corridor in Jamaica vs general population).

We did have to show the paper proof of negative test and the travel authorization on my phone. 

I have seen slower entry into Jamaica in the past – this was well staffed and quite efficient.

The arrivals part of the airport was fairly busy, and we were pointed in the direction of the ground operator for Palace Resorts.  We were transferred in a full coach with only a small number of passengers.  Masks were required for the entire journey to Ocho Rios – just over 90 minutes in duration.

Moon Palace Jamaica

I was fortunate to have stayed at the Moon Palace back in 2019 and had a good basis of comparison.  The hotel has been around for many decades, going through a few iterations of different branding.  Palace Resorts gutted the place when they took over and it still looks brand new. 

Located about as centrally as can be in Ocho Rios, the resort grounds overlook the bay and the cruise ship port.  The view from the beach is a mix of hills of green vegetation, houses built into the hillside in Ocho Rios, and the cruise port.  There were three ships in port during our stay. 

View of the beach and mountains from our balcony

Hotels in Jamaica are operating in a tourism corridor from east of Ocho Rios to Negril, and sightseeing is restricted to approved tour operators at approved tourist attractions.  Moon Palace is within walking distance from a tourist market that is normally catering to many cruise ship passengers and hotel guests.  We were free to walk into this area where the shops were open. 

Masks are required in the hotel public areas.  Like our restrictions at home, you have to wear your mask everywhere except while eating and drinking in restaurants and bars while seated.  Staff working inside and out are wearing masks at all times and this includes beachside wait staff, cooks, gardeners, cleaning staff, and even lifeguards.  Walking along the beach and in swimming pools, obviously, no masks are required.  For guests, the inconvenience is really masking up between the building and your deck chair, between your deck chair and the restroom and food.  

Aside from masks, the buffet is the next biggest change, I think, for the better.  It is no longer self-serve, and this buffet was outstanding and very well staffed.  I’d go as far as to say this is an improvement over normal.  The place is immaculate, the choices excellent, and now, all trays are full and just as appealing throughout the service.  Each station had one or two staff members serving and refilling.  We were not even permitted to take our own pre-poured glass of juice.  Table service for coffee, beverages, and cutlery was friendly and efficient.  You could see the required labour investment for food and beverage service in this environment.

Occupancy at the hotel was around 60%, according to the hotel sales manager.  That is certainly not where they would like it to be, but manageable given the restrictions and certainly an improvement over 2020.  Guests were a mix of Americans, Canadians, and locals attending a small conference.  While Virgin and British Airways are flying to Jamaica, I did not hear any British accents during my stay at Moon Palace. 

The mini bar was empty on arrival, but you could specifically order certain items for delivery and self-stocking of your own fridge.  Again, I think this is an improvement.  It can be frustrating when you like a certain brand of beer or soft drink and are limited to only a couple at a time.  If you wanted your fridge stocked only with water, this was now an option.  Wine ordered to the room was corked at the door and handed over – they did not enter the room.  The cleaning staff did all possible to avoid being in the room at the same time as guests.  I was on the balcony on my laptop for a room cleaning on one occasion, but the staff was careful to ask my permission.

Pandemic aside, the Moon Palace Jamaica is of excellent quality for an all-inclusive vacation.  The little extras are everywhere, and they add up to worry-free vacation enjoyment.  Twice daily visits to the onsite “Boulangerie” were made for quality Americano coffee, thin decadent chocolate wafers, and little pastry treats.  Guests enjoyed fresh crepes made on site.  Across the hall was an excellent sushi bar and beside it was a stone oven pizzeria and deli.  The jerk chicken stand on the beach was “to die for” – the smell of the charcoal grill revived childhood memories of what barbeque smelled like all the time.  These snack food options sound basic, but when you’re at an all-inclusive for a week, even the most spectacular buffets can bore you after a few days. 

The restaurant options for dinner were also excellent.  I have a bit of arrogance for my own cooking – few cook a steak as I do.  If you’re spending money to go out for dinner and the service is lacking, the food arrives cold or overcooked, you wonder why you bothered to go out.  For this reason, I no longer order lobster in restaurants back home – I feel inevitably disappointed.  Being at an all-inclusive resort, at a semi-outdoor a la carte restaurant, I really wondered how the steak would arrive.  A New York right off the menu with no premium charge, ordered medium – would it arrive well done?  Cold? Thin?  It was quite good.  Great flavour, perfectly cooked and hot on arrival.     

Momo is their Asian a la carte restaurant, and it was also excellent.  You can do the show cooking teppanyaki thing, always entertaining, especially when it’s new, but we opted for the menu.  Interesting options, great flavours, and perfect portion sizes.  We ate here twice during the week.  Gondola was the Italian a la carte restaurant where tasty pasta arrived at the table al dente and as hot as it should.  Guests who have stayed at Moon Palace outside Cancun may be disappointed with the number of a la carte options, but this is unfair – the resort size is not comparable.  I’m always satisfied with the cooking in Jamaica – they are not as heavy on cooking oil as you often find in Spanish countries.  The local food is very tasty, and it somehow affects how plainer food is prepared. 

Return to Canada PCR Test

Many resorts including Moon Palace are offering on-site testing for their guests.  I dropped over to the concierge in the lobby and booked my PCR test – I was offered a space 20 minutes from then, but that seemed a bit rushed given my wife was sunning at the beach, so I opted for an appointment an hour or so after.  I was also pleasantly surprised that the hotel did not gouge for this – the charge for the PCR test was $70USD per person – I’ve heard rates up to $200 USD and it’s $150 CAD at Shoppers.  You can shop around for a test – no one says it must be done at the hotel.  Most chain hotels are offering this service, and some publish prices or a range, but the service itself is entirely extra and subject to change between the time of booking and departure.

Passports in hand, we were escorted to a floor in the main building where staff reviewed our questionnaire and passports.  We were required to sign a release for the test which was ultimately run at the lab of a nearby hospital.  We also signed a release in Canada when we had our antigen tests.  There is always the chance of a false positive or a false negative on these tests, and clearly, the lab, its employees, and the hotel are unwilling to accept the financial damages of an incorrect test that results in quarantine, extra costs, and delayed return home.  Just like the excursion we took to the Blue Hole, where we jumped from a twenty-foot diving platform into a lovely pool of tropical water, we signed the release for our test.  I didn’t think they were open to negotiation.

This was my second COVID test of the pandemic, and really very little different from the Antigen test we took at home.  A few swirls in the nostrils, and we watched her carefully place the stickers on our sample for the lab, signed the accompanying form, and that was it.  We took this test around 4 pm and I had the negative result confirmation by email on my phone just after 11 am the next day, a full day in advance of our flight home.

ArriveCAN / Flight Home

I had downloaded the ArriveCAN app back home before we left.  You can get it on the Apple or Google Play store.  We send our customers a reminder to do this with the links.  It turned out that the Wi-Fi at the resort was excellent – I had a number of Zoom calls with no trouble, so downloading the app in a destination is entirely possible, but we still recommend having it done before you leave Canada.

The app was straightforward.  It’s a bit odd to be filling out a quarantine plan when you just tested negative by a PCR test, but essentially you are agreeing to have proof of a negative PCR test on hand for a period of 14 days for inspection.  Interestingly, the app does not expect an upload of this negative test.

Our transfer insisted on getting us to the airport 3 hours in advance, and while this is a good idea, it really didn’t take any longer than normal to check-in and clear security.  The check-in agent asked to see the negative test, our vaccination proof, passports, etc.  She stickered our passport to indicate to security that we were cleared.  Clearly, the inspection of vaccination and testing is falling to the airline and less to Government employees.  I’ve heard a few people mention that on arrival back in Canada, no one asked them for their test or proof of vaccination.  While this is true, the ArriveCAN app essentially has you make a declaration as you do on your customs forms, and one will be subject to fines.  The good thing about all of this, it caused no slowdown in arrival back Into Canada

We used the new fancy Nexus machines on arrival at customs.  Wow.  This robot moves up and down to take your photo and the nexus card tap and passport scan were better than ever.  No keying.

Overall

While I am clearly biased as I make my living in the travel industry, it was just so amazing to get away.  All those months cooped up at home, the grey of our recent rainy weather, and to re-experience somewhere different – was an overdue elixir.  A few months into the lockdown, I said on a CBC interview that even more than travel, “I wanted to have a good party – loud music, spill the beer on the floor, 3 am kind of thing”.  This all felt much more rejuvenating than the quick fix of a party.

Like many, I’ve become so accustomed to wearing a mask, I wonder if I’ll feel naked without one!  I doubt it.  But, just to hear the ocean, feel the warm breeze and the sun on my face, and the sand between my toes, to feel at ease again for me is a small price to pay for the return to something normal and so wonderful.

Our government should abandon the PCR test requirement and move to a rapid test.  While the PCR test is the gold standard and required to sequence the virus mutations, it could easily follow a cheaper and faster Antigen test that most other countries are requiring, if anything.  The cost of PCR testing can be the deal-breaker for some on travelling.  If your destination country requires it, and Canada requires it, it adds quite a bit of cost to say a family of four travelling.  Specialists in the field argue that an Antigen test taken just prior to travel is likely of more value than a PCR test taken almost 3 days earlier.  Safety is the #1 priority, because without it, as we have seen, there will be no travel whatsoever.  But the cost of PCR testing for fully vaccinated Canadians returning home is an expensive addition with little value.  Further, as more and more countries move away from PCR testing for entry, the test may become harder to find locally – a reason to stick with hotels with big Canadian guest contingents.  We encourage you to write your MP on the topic.   

Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright!