Here's What It Was Like Traveling on JetBlue's 'Destination Good' Mystery Trip
How would you like to go on an all-expenses-paid volunteer trip to a mystery destination with a group of strangers? When JetBlue announced such a trip in October, 40,000 people applied during the ten-day application window. The application was short and only asked a few multiple choice questions and one 150-word short response question. But this was enough for JetBlue to select 50 winners — each of whom could bring one guest — once the application window closed on Oct. 26. The winners were notified starting in early November and the trip departed JFK on Nov 27. Here's my experience on JetBlue's #CheckInForGood Trip to Destination Good.
Notification and Departure
The 50 initial winners were notified by email in early November and given 48 hours to confirm their attendance and provide passport information for themselves and a guest. Granted, this was a very short window to get time off and find a friend that could attend, but it allowed JetBlue to contact alternates if needed. In the end, 50 winners were confirmed, with a few unable to attend last minute due to personal emergencies.
Attendees had to arrange their own transportation to and from New York JFK — which cost up to $600 round-trip for some attendees I spoke with due to how close they needed to book airline tickets before departure. I used Iberia miles from the amazing promotion earlier in the year but this trip showed me just how few travelers have points and miles — and know how to use them.
We were told to meet at JFK Terminal 5 by 6am on Tuesday Nov. 27. There was a Destination Good welcome desk that provided envelopes with cards revealing the destination (the Dominican Republic) as well as a special check-in area.
JetBlue representatives said the airline chose the Dominican Republic for multiple reasons, including local need and the significant support system they'd have from the JetBlue employees based in the Dominican Republic. Indeed, we met many local JetBlue employees at the airports and volunteer events that were all excited to have the #CheckInForGood group visit their country.
Once through security, we were instructed to proceed to the gate area to collect swag bags, a meal voucher for the airport and detailed trip information.
The mood was festive at the gate with a Dominican band, cupcakes and excited participants and JetBlue employees.
As an AvGeek, I was also thrilled to look out the window and see that JetBlue's new JetBlue For Good livery would be transporting us to the Dominican Republic.
Shortly before boarding, JetBlue corporate representatives gave speeches and did a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially start the trip.
Our flight from New York JFK to Punta Cana (PUJ) was a special flight just for Destination Good participants. So, the flight had a festive and relaxed feel. JetBlue corporate representatives gave speeches and led us in trivia games about JetBlue, the Dominican Republic and JetBlue's platform for social impact and corporate responsibility, JetBlue for Good.
Arrival in Punta Cana
We were greeted after landing in Punta Cana (PUJ) by waving ground staff and a water canon salute. JetBlue staff escorted us through immigration and customs before leading us to two tour buses.
We boarded the tour buses and were driven about thirty minutes to Paradisus Palma Real Resort. As the bus pulled up to the resort, everyone was abuzz with excitement. We were greeted with welcome drinks, dancers, wet towels and snacks as we waited to check in. Check-in went quickly and we all received three JetBlue For Good shirts to wear during volunteer activities. Then, we had about 90 minutes of free time to settle in and explore the resort before the welcome dinner at 7pm.
The welcome dinner was the first chance for all of the Destination Good participants, including local volunteer partners and local JetBlue employees, to be together in a social setting. We gathered for dinner and drinks at tables set up on the beach.
At the dinner we were assigned to either a Blue group or Orange group, since the volunteering schedule was split into two teams that would volunteer on different schedules. I was assigned to the Orange group, which would volunteer in the afternoon the first day and in the morning on the second and third days.
The speeches at dinner were kept to a minimum. But we were given an overview of the work we'd do on the trip and we got to meet the JetBlue staff and volunteer project representatives that we'd be working with during the upcoming days. JetBlue has three service pillars: youth and education, community, and environment. We spent time working on each of these projects during our trip.
Youth and Education Volunteer Project
JetBlue partnered with The Dream Project for two afternoons of volunteering at a school for special needs children. This was the first volunteer project for my Orange group, and we departed at 11am on our first day at the school in La Romana.
This school was one of just ten schools for children with special needs in the Dominican Republic. When JetBlue decided to bring its #CheckInForGood trip to the Dominican Republic, they asked the school what they needed most. The school responded that they needed a new roof, as their current one was leaking so much that six rooms in one building were unusable. So, JetBlue for Good installed a new roof and we went to repaint these six rooms. We started our visit playing games with the children, but then we split into six groups of about 10 volunteers each and each group took one room.
My group was able to completely repaint our room within about two hours.
My group was so efficient that we didn't leave much work for the Blue team the next day. Blue team volunteers told me they instead played games with the children, Spanish-speaking volunteers read books to the children and artistic volunteers did face painting.
Community Volunteer Project
JetBlue for Good partnered with Paradisus by Meliá for two mornings of volunteering at Escuela Básica Dos Jardas, just outside Punta Cana. This was the second volunteer project for my Orange group, and we departed at 8:30am on the second morning for the school.
This school was active most of the day and night, with children attending during the day and adults attending at night. In addition to classes, the local community also used an outdoor courtyard with a basketball court, picnic tables and garden as a community play area. JetBlue for Good resurfaced the basketball court before we arrived and provided basketballs and other play equipment. Our task was to beautify the space.
The Blue group painted murals on the courtyard walls and painted benches on the first day. When my Orange group arrived on the second day we painted two additional murals, made finishing touches on the Blue group's murals and added 3D elements to the murals.
These elements were made from used plastic bottles. I was skeptical about adding these elements, as I doubted they would be durable enough to last in an active environment, but they did visually enhance the murals.
Environmental Volunteer Project
JetBlue for Good partnered with FUNDEMAR on the last morning to construct about 60 mooring buoys before we departed for Santo Domingo (SDQ). These buoys kept boats at popular dive sites from anchoring, which protects new coral gardens and existing coral reefs. As the FUNDEMAR representatives explained to us, coral reefs were critical for many reasons including attracting tourism dollars, reduction of flooding and creating cancer-fighting drugs.
The buoys that we constructed were durable, locally sourced and inexpensive. In pairs of two, we constructed about 60 buoys. The process was relatively simple, but a group of our size was able to quickly create many more buoys than FUNDEMAR could normally create with their limited staff.
The All-Inclusive Resort Experience
Many of the #CheckInForGood participants hadn't stayed at a resort of the Paradisus Palma Real's caliber before, or hadn't stayed at an all-inclusive resort before. This was my first stay at an all-inclusive resort, so it took me some time to acclimate to the all-inclusive style. But, an all-inclusive resort was the perfect place for the large Destination Good group to get to know each other in our off time.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all available at a large buffet restaurant, but we could also sign up for restaurant reservations for dinner. After my first day of volunteering, two volunteers and I enjoyed as much sushi as we could eat at the sushi restaurant and after my second day of volunteering, I had dinner at a Mediterranean-Middle Eastern fusion restaurant with five other volunteers. Arranging dinner groups required some planning, but meal times ended up being the best times for conversations and getting to know the other Destination Good attendees.
Being an all-inclusive resort, there was ample activities and entertainment. In the afternoon after my second day of volunteering, many of the Orange group volunteers spent the afternoon relaxing at the pool. The relaxing pool day turned into a foam party with a DJ; the foam party and swim-up bar created a fun environment to unwind and chat with the other Destination Good attendees.
The resort grounds were spacious, although this meant many of the attendees had rooms in villas that were quite a walk away from the pool and restaurants. Perhaps it was due to being off-season, but the resort grounds, restaurants and bars never felt too crowded.
During the trip I heard many Destination Good attendees use phrases like "I still can't believe I'm here," "this trip is life changing," and "this trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience." Although these were cliche statements that might seem over-the-top, this trip really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience because of the way that more than 100 strangers came together to volunteer in a mystery destination.
It was surprising how quickly you could connect with strangers when placed into a travel environment where you shared a common bond — in this case, a strong desire to give back and do good. JetBlue did an excellent job selecting Destination Good attendees given a simple 150-word statement and organizing the trip in a way that fostered inclusiveness, friendship and teamwork.
This being said, many of the volunteers (including myself) expected we'd be spending more hours volunteering during our trip. While we appreciated the free time, which gave us time to connect with our fellow volunteers and enjoy the resort, we applied to volunteer and give back. The equal mixture of volunteering and fun made sense from JetBlue's marketing perspective, especially considering that for at least two out of the three volunteer projects the major contribution by JetBlue was to finance something the school or community couldn't otherwise afford. Even though I didn't volunteer as much as I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of volunteer work I did do as well as the amazing people I met.
Want to read more? Follow hashtags #CheckInForGood and #JetBlueForGood and come back to The Points Guy to read more about the types of people that were selected for the Destination Good trip as well as how JetBlue selected these people.