I spent 3 days quarantining with a resort tracking bracelet in Hawaii: Here’s what to know for Kauai
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I’m writing this from the lanai as the sun comes up on my last morning in Kauai, the lush Garden Isle of Hawaii.
I just successfully tested out of my mandatory 72-hour quarantine, a requirement of the brand new “resort bubble” concept the island launched earlier this month. I had the tough assignment of seeing what it’s really like to undergo lockdown as a guest of Timbers Kauai, which also covered my flights to and from the island.
In reality, the anticipation of what the quarantine entailed was much more stressful than the actual process, and I can definitely say the effort it takes is well worth getting to spend some time in Hawaii.
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Until just a few weeks ago, Kauai required a full 14-day quarantine, since it decided not to participate in the state’s “test-out program.” But now, Kauai is allowing guests to book trips to one of six resorts on the island, and stay in a “resort bubble” for three days before taking another COVID-19 test and then being released from quarantine.
We’ve covered the full run-down of what you need to know prior to visiting Hawaii, but here’s what my experience was like on Kauai.
Get a test within 72 hours of arrival
All arrivals into Kauai need to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test. I got tested at a new COVID-19 testing center at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
I paid $125 for a quick-turnaround test at the center just outside Terminal 6, near the famous midcentury “Theme Tower.”
For travel to Kauai, you can take any diagnostic COVID-19 test (either antigen or PCR) approved by the FDA, as opposed to relying solely on the state’s Trusted Testing and Travel Partners list. Still, I was worried about using the less-reliable antigen test, so I opted for a PCR test.
You should make reservations for one of the testing sites at least 24 hours beforehand just in case, though the center didn’t appear to be very busy. There was no line, and they let me go even before my scheduled time.
Make sure to sign up for the Hawaii test when you go online to make your reservation via Clarity Scheduler.
The test results came back that evening via email after less than four hours. I’d given myself a night in Los Angeles — 20 hours, specifically — in case anything went wrong during the testing process.
I made the mistake of not asking my hotel to print out my test results. It’s suggested that you carry a printed copy of your negative COVID-19 test results to show various officials, but that didn’t end up being the case for me.
When I got to the terminal about two hours before my flight, a woman at the Delta Air Lines counter asked if I had a negative test, but she did not ask to see my paperwork — and no one checked my paperwork at the gate or on the flight. In fact, the only announcements about testing and paperwork came about 1.5 hours before landing.
My resort in Kauai accepted a digital copy upon check-in.
What to do before arrival
No matter which Hawaiian island is your final destination, you’ll need to register with Hawaii’s Safe Travels system. Don’t do what I did and wait until you’re about to land to complete the form.
I was panicked because when I went to register, it said I would need to have a printed copy of my negative COVID-19 PCR test results and it was too late at that point to print anything. Fortunately, no one demanded a printed copy of my test results.
If you’re traveling to Kauai, you will also need to complete the County of Kaua‘i arrival form.
You should probably do all this before you board your flight, as it will speed up your exit from the airport since you’ll be asked to show your registration confirmation page. And flight attendants told me it was the most strict enforcement they’d seen: Airport workers will ask you for your QR code the moment you step off the plane in Hawaii.
Arriving in Lihue
As soon as you step off the plane in Lihue, Kauai (LIH), you’ll be directed to a series of stations with various airport workers and National Guard troops.
First stop: A not-so-friendly man who checked my QR code and then directed me to the first of three National Guard members who asked me questions and checked my paperwork.
Next, I had to fill out an arrival form.
At my last station, I was careful to explain that I was participating in the resort bubble program, and they acknowledged that I only had to quarantine for three days instead of the mandatory 10 days indicated on the arrival form. The whole process took about 10 minutes, and then I was sent on my way.
The resort bubble
You must use a ride-hailing service, take a taxi or use the resort shuttle to go directly to your “resort bubble” property.
I had a shuttle pick me up just outside the checkpoint to head to Timbers Kauai. I was wearing a mask — as was the driver — and there was a protective plexiglass screen between us in the shuttle.
Be sure to download the Aqua quarantine app for your phone, which the resorts are using to make sure guests don’t break quarantine. It’s essentially an electronic monitoring system.
The approved properties are The Cliffs at Princeville, Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay, Koa Kea Hotel & Resort at Poipu, The Club at Kaukuiula, Timbers Kauai Ocean Club & Residences at Hokuala and the Kauai Marriott Resort.
You can book your stay directly with those properties like normal, but be sure to factor in not only the cost of the pre- and post-arrival tests, but also the monitoring bracelets.
Timbers provides guests with an amazing list of on-property activities including cooking classes, kayaking, golf, cycling, swimming and much more, so you’ll never get bored even under confinement. Plus, the 450-acre property gives travelers plenty of room to roam during quarantine.
Getting your quarantine bracelet
I stayed at the super luxurious Timbers Kauai, and check-in was a breeze. The friendly front-desk workers had me email my proof of a negative COVID-19 test and then checked to see that I had the Aqua app installed so I could “start quarantine.”
And, well, that was it! At that point, I went to my room to begin my quarantine.
For the time being, the monitoring bracelets at Timbers are free. But at the Kauai Hilton Garden Inn, you’ll be charged $80 as a one-time fee for the bracelet. A call to the Kauai Marriott revealed a $100 fee for the monitoring bracelet at that property. A family would need to budget hundreds of dollars for the cost of this pandemic accessory.
Keeping up with state of Hawaii
Whether you’re quarantining for three days or 10, you’ll need to check in on the app daily to report the condition of your health.
Every day, I received an email from the state of Hawaii below reminding me to check in and to comply with all the quarantine regulations. Travelers who fail to comply could be fined up to $5,000 or face jail time.
Getting to know your monitoring bracelet
One thing to be aware of, especially at a sprawling resort such as the Timbers Kauai, is that the monitoring bracelet isn’t perfect.
There’s a geo-fence around the resort bubble, but at a property as large as Timbers, the bracelet may struggle. I got a lot of false alarm alerts on my phone. Staff members at the property kept an eye out, and I checked in with the front desk a few times to make sure I was still in the green.
One of my favorite things about the quarantine bracelet at Timbers is that they give you a little kit to add some sparkle to your wrist. As my colleague, Summer Hull, observed on social media, a bedazzled quarantine monitor is “peak 2021.”
The other thing I want to mention is that I stayed at two resorts during my time in Hawaii. At Timbers, the property is so huge, you don’t even realize you’re confined. It’s a great place to hunker down.
And at the Kauai Marriott Resort, you also have lots of room to roam. Plus, the property has blocked off sections of the resort specifically for people in quarantine, and call it an “Enhanced Movement Quarantine.”
Testing out of quarantine
Just over 72 hours after my arrival at Timbers, a lovely woman named Tonya from a nearby clinic came to the resort to do my in-room COVID-19 test.
This is where things get even more expensive.
An individual visit runs between $200 and $500, and I heard horror stories about it costing as much as $800 for some people earlier when the resort bubbles first launched.
For example, at the Kauai Marriott Resort, on-property resort tests between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. cost $200, seven days a week. The woman at the front desk at the Marriott said on-demand testing runs around $395.
In any case, I tested negative in about 15 minutes and went straight to the front desk to be cut free (literally).
Then, I had the freedom to move all over the island of Kauai. That night I checked into the Marriott, and the next day I took advantage of a waterfall hike and even visited the famous “Spouting Horn” blow hole down the coast.
If you’re considering a trip to Hawaii this year, know that it can be done, and is well worth all the extra effort.
When I planned the trip, it seemed daunting, but now that I’ve completed a resort bubble quarantine, it doesn’t seem all that tough. Just take it step by step.
Yes, it’s more expensive than traveling to Hawaii during normal times because of all the additional testing and monitoring bracelets, but airfare and hotel rates are decent right now because of depressed demand. Your reward for the additional steps is a little piece of paradise (and a much shorter quarantine) with a fraction of the crowds.
As Timbers Kauai managing director Gary Moore pointed out, seeing Kauai without crowds or traffic is priceless. “How much would you pay for an experience like that?” he asked me.
For more on Hawaii, be sure to our complete guide to visiting Hawaii right now, as well as a firsthand report about what it’s really like to vacation in Hawaii right now.
Featured image courtesy of Timbers Kauai via Facebook.
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