What it’s like to dine out and travel these days
At first, it might have felt a little strange going out to somewhere other than the grocery store. But each time it got a little bit easier. It felt great to be out after so long, but you couldn’t help but notice that things weren’t quite what you remembered. While rules vary by state and even county, there are very few places right now where you can sit in a full-to-capacity restaurant or bar. As for those plans you had to send the kids to summer camp, that may or may not be still happening depending on where you live. But it is, undeniably, summertime. That means a lot of things that couldn’t be comfortably done outside when safer at home orders went into effect can be now. To take advantage of that, many restaurants with limited indoor seating capacity are adding outside seating. It’s part of a new al fresco normal.
Restaurants & Bars
Al fresco dining has launched in several big cities and become extremely popular. In New York City, some places even started allowing customers to sit at tables outside before it was legal because they were so desperate for income. Most places made efforts to follow social distancing guidelines and require customers to wear masks when interacting with staff. Indoors, restaurants have used plastic dividers to separate guests from staff and spaced out tables to keep diners apart from each other. In most jurisdictions, bars that don’t serve food have still been ordered to remain closed, leading to the return of underground speakeasies.
Travel has gone al fresco too. Most destinations are reopening regionally as they try to balance restarting economies with avoiding the risk of having visitors from all over the world bring different strains of coronavirus in. That’s led to a big trend toward domestic travel, with national parks being overwhelmed by crowds then shifting to permit systems to limit the number of daily visitors. Driving vacations within a few hours of home have become popular with those looking for a change of pace but not ready to get on an airplane just yet. This has revived the great American road trip, and there are even plenty of options for renting an RV and seeing the country that way. Glamping options such as Under Canvas and American Safari Camp upgrade the camping experience with semi-permanent tent setups that can include bathrooms and pull-chain showers. They’re an easy way to naturally distance and get some fresh air.
There are a few international destinations welcoming American travelers. The Caribbean is in our region, and islands that were still recovering from the 2017 hurricane season had to shut down tourism because of COVID-19. Most avoided being too hard-hit—though the Dominican Republic has recorded more than 500 deaths—but are cautious about exposing their people to too much risk. St. Lucia and Antigua reopened to visitors in early June but with the caveat that arriving passengers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test with results coming within 48 hours of boarding a flight to the islands. Jamaica reopened in mid-June with a tourism corridor keeping visitors within a zone along the island’s resort-laden north shore. The US Virgin Islands are open, with restaurants at 50% capacity and gatherings limited to 10 people.
Other islands plan to welcome tourists this month, including the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, and Aruba. Some places are playing it more cautious. The Cayman Islands have already announced they won’t reopen before Sept. 1. Outside of the Caribbean, there are a few countries accepting Americans. Cambodia put the US on a short list of places it will allow visitors from. The Maldives will reopen to international visitors on July 15. Tanzania is welcoming international flights, though it has not released any COVID-19 statistics, so it’s a risky proposition. It’s hardly the same as being able to fly almost anywhere at the drop of a hat, but at least you can get some al fresco beach time in this summer.
Getting There & Staying
Once you get to your destination, it can be pretty easy to avoid crowds, but if you’re going coast-to-coast or internationally, that means getting on a plane. From going through security to boarding to in-flight drink service, things have changed. Many airlines officially require masks on board at all time. After it seemed they weren’t really enforcing the rules, they reversed course and became stricter. Middle seats are blocked off on some airlines to force some social distancing. With demand way down, there also just aren’t that many flights, so make sure to arrive at the airport in plenty of time. If you miss your flight, there might not be another till the next day or worse. Destinations you used to be able to fly nonstop to now require a layover.
Once you land, you may be subjected to additional screening, and be required to wear a mask in whatever mode of transportation you’re taking to a hotel or resort. Once there, you might see hand sanitizer stations setups and signs reminding to you wear a mask—though here too the rule may or may not be enforced. Expect limited dining hours, even for room service, and limited menus. If you want a spot at the pool, your best bet is to arrive early because seating might be limited. Your room might also be missing the minibar, and breakfast buffets might be suspended. Al fresco dining will be encouraged here as well, and indoor tables spaced out.
Instead, cleanliness is the new luxury, with hotel chains appointing hygiene officers, deploying electrostatic treatments, and placing seals on doors to confirm no one has been in your room since it was last cleaned.