How a 3-night spring break abroad turned into a 15-day quarantined mess
For spring break this year I wanted to take a real break from day-to-day life with my 7-year-old twins. We decided on a destination known for its stunning beaches, laid-back pace, delicious food and a noticeable lack of massive hotels or even a large number of cars: Harbour Island in the Bahamas. This was just a short flight from our home in South Florida, making it doable for a brief three-night trip.
However, what was supposed to be a relatively short vacation turned into a quarantined 15-day fiasco when one of my children's COVID-19 tests, which are now required to re-enter the U.S., came back positive.
This triggered an anxiety-laden unexpected five-day quarantine in a hotel room with twin 7-year-olds that included lots of time spent awaiting guidance from authorities and searching to find new accommodations to finish out our quarantine as we awaited clearance to travel.
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For context, my family takes COVID-19 very seriously. I got vaccinated at the earliest available opportunity, though of course my children have not been vaccinated as that's not yet an option for children under 16. (Though this week, it's expected that the FDA will approve the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15.)
Leading up to the trip, my children took both PCR and rapid COVID-19 tests to ensure they were as safe as possible to travel. The Bahamas does have a testing entry requirement for those 10 and up, but those tests weren't required for my 7-year-olds. All of our pre-travel tests were negative.
A $40 insurance policy available on the Bahamas travel site is required in order to receive the Bahamas Health Visa. That mandatory CG Atlantic Travel insurance covers up to $500/night to a maximum of $7,000. And while it's always a good idea to have some trip protections and coverage, this coverage turned out to be extremely valuable to us as it almost covered the costs of the emergency housing that we scrambled to find. In fact, this week I received the reimbursement check from the insurance company, which paid out $7,810 for our unexpected quarantine.
Our three days of vacation were just as we hoped, outstanding. We saw the pink sand beaches, snorkeled with turtles and sealife with Valentines Dive Center and rented a groovy pink golf cart from Conch and Coconut, a turnkey concierge on the island.
We also had incredible dining experiences that included the legendary Queen Conch, which sits on a dock above the salt flats, where I recommend the spicy conch ceviche; The Landing, the must-dine spot established by the island's legendary tastemaker India Hicks; as well as Blue Bar and Restaurant, part of the Pink Sands where the food, views and vibes bring you to another time and place.
As we prepared to return to Florida, we took our Covid tests that are required for re-entry to the U.S. Harbour Island only has one official testing center, Briland Premier Medical. We arranged to have the tests conducted at our hotel on the second day of our stay, where we were not only shocked by the price of the rapid test -- $410 for a family of three -- but doubly shocked when my 7-year-old daughter's test came back positive (she was fine, asymptomatic as they say.) We were asked to immediately isolate and quarantine her in our hotel room while they returned to do a $390 PCR test just on her that would deliver results overnight.
We were isolating in our room when the PCR test came back positive. While we, of course, know COVID-19 is a realistic threat, we were admittedly still surprised by the positive test after all the pre-travel negative tests, taking precautions, my vaccine status and the lack of symptoms from anyone in the family.
Once the positive test result came, the vacation was obviously over.
For the next few days, the three of us were confined to a size-able hotel room where I had couch status, the twins broke my rules about television time and we played more games of Rummikub, Uno and backgammon than I imagined possible. For exercise we did HIIT workouts from DownDog 2x /day, Cosmic Kids Yoga 1x / day and one drawing with Art for Kids daily. The hotel, which we booked via American Express Travel, informed me that they would be unable to accommodate us beyond our planned 3-night stay, in fact, the hotel which I refuse to name, disabled our lock for re-entry, let the trash stack up outside our door and double charged my American Express Platinum card for a pre-paid room.
In addition to having to change return flights, I was now scrambling to find new housing and contact the Bahamas Travel Compliance Unit. It was Easter, which meant we were traveling over what is a four day weekend in The Bahamas, and there was almost no hotel availability elsewhere on the island. My nerves were shot by the time we found our alternative housing, I wasn't sleeping, developed a stress pain in my back, was growing short with my super trouper children and I developed a tremor in my hand. No amount of Whispering Angel was going to calm my nerves.
First order of business was finding a place to stay. I managed to make contact with Vicky at Bahama Real Estate who graciously landed us a beautiful harbor view home on her day off. She pulled a rabbit out of her hat and we will be repeat customers.
We managed to make the most of our quarantine enjoying sunsets, the incredible book selection in the house, use of a sprinkler and many many soccer games and American Ninja Warrior sessions in the front yard. The kids picked up school via Zoom and I conducted business via my iPhone.
As for the Bahamas Compliance Unit, I logged a total of 300+ minutes trying to contact a live person; four days later, I finally spoke with a pleasant man who referred me to a Health Ministry doctor. The doctor replied to tell me that he'd reply after the holiday weekend. Fortunately the local Health Clinic sent me a WhatsApp message which was helpful and informative on our timeline to re-test and return.
For everyone's safety, we couldn't obtain clearance to fly home and enter the U.S. until 13 days after our initial diagnosis. Not knowing exactly when that would occur, we were obviously in a holding pattern on booking flights or knowing when we'd no longer need lodging. The anxiety of my son possibly having a positive result and my daughter not being fully recovered hung over our heads. I resorted to ordering Rx at home rapid tests to see if my son had contracted it from my daughter to avoid spending another $410 to find out if he had a positive result. (Luckily he was clear and we didn't have to reset the quarantine clock.)
In addition, the flight situation in and out of North Eleuthera is hardly O'Hare. Even after we all finally tested negative, the earliest our existing airline could find us a seat was an additional five days later than the 13-day quarantine. However, I found a hidden gem in Aztec Airways, which flies out of a private terminal in North Eleuthera and into the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport -- it ended up being far more efficient, pleasant and way less expensive than traditional commercial carriers.
So while we ended up with many incredible memories of Harbour Island's beauty, we did come back a bit bruised from the ordeal -- the kids pounced on their favorite toys when we walked in the door and I slept a deep sleep on our first night home.
Needless to say, this was not the three-day vacation we had in mind when we booked our flights to the Bahamas.
While I still believe that travel can be done in a safe and enjoyable manner, we won't be embarking on additional international trips until my children are able to be vaccinated. And for others considering such a trip, really weigh the realities of what can happen if someone does test positive and carefully consider if international travel with unvaccinated children and the current testing rules presents the best risk-and-reward scenario for your family.
And, if you do travel, consider purchasing travel insurance that covers a COVID-19-related quarantine. That $40 policy really saved the day for us.
I was very grateful that everyone stayed visibly healthy and the required insurance kicked in to cover housing, but when the time comes for our next vacation, we will make a few different strategic choices than we did on this journey.