A PERFECT DAY IN EVERY WAY AT COCO CAY (ON A ROYAL CARIBBEAN TEST CRUISE)

Beach Beds on Coco Cay

Some days the planets align, and something extraordinary happens. August 7, 2021 was such a day. It was that day that I was notified through email that I was invited to take part in one of Royal Caribbean’s simulated (“test”) cruises. At first I was skeptical that this was an official offer and not spam, so I read further to see that this was legitimate, and I REALLY was invited to a two night “test cruise”, leaving Port Canaveral and going to Coco Cay aboard the Mariner of the Seas. I also was invited to bring along a guest. Both my guest and I were to have been fully vaccinated and provide a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) within three days of our sail date. My guest and I scrambled, got our ducks in a row, and headed toward the port on August 11, just four days after our invitation was issued, feeling grateful to have been chosen to participate in this historic cruise during the pandemic. We were required to download the Royal Caribbean app, as we needed to use it to complete part of the testing protocols.

We arrived at the port and were impressed that the staff had several different lines outside the terminal according to our different boarding times. My guest and I were in the 12:00 PM boarding time, and it was a joy to be amongst other cruisers in this historical cruise after such a long hiatus during the pandemic. We felt excited and grateful that we were selected and decided that whatever Royal Caribbean had in store for us, we were up for the challenge.

As our timed entry arrived, after we waited outside in a line that required neither masks nor social distancing, we were asked first to show proof of our negative Covid test outside the terminal. After that, another associate asked to see our vaccination card and our Covid test results again. Finally, we were greeted with a warm welcome and out stretched arms to walk under a blue and white balloon arch into the terminal. Every single associate we encountered welcomed us warmly and thanked us for sailing. There was a feeling of joy among the crowd that we had made it this far in the pandemic in this country and could relax a while for a couple of days.

Inside the terminal at Cape Canaveral

We first had to go through standard bag checks and security, and we were previously notified that there would be no luggage assistance at the pier. After security, we went to the second level of the terminal for our “wellness check”, where an associate asked if our paperwork was authentic, reviewed our paperwork, and gave us a wrist band indicated that we would be among the group considered “vaccinated” test subjects. We never had or temperatures taken either on embarkation day or debarkation day, which I found curious, however. We were grateful to be in this group, as the entire ship would be at our disposal. We were not given any Covid test prior to boarding (or later at debarkation).

Health checks inside the Royal Caribbean terminal at Port Canaveral at embarkation day

There were a lot of employees at the terminal, but we were amazed that there were so few people boarding. We later learned that five hundred and something guests were invited to sail that day, compared to the 4000 maximum capacity of the ship.

No waiting at embarkation day inside the terminal

We were welcomed warmly again as we boarded the ship by several associates along the way and were told that our staterooms would be immediately ready for our arrival. My guest and I made our way to our stateroom 8586, a balcony room on the eighth floor. All other guests we spoke with also had balcony rooms as well and all were so excited.

Upon arrival to our stateroom, we saw a line of cabin stewards in the hallway, welcoming us to the ship warmly and thanking us for sailing. When we walked to our door, our cabin steward, Rogie, greeted us warmly by name and thanked us for sailing. He told us he would be following CDC protocols for cleaning and requested that we put a magnet on the exterior of our stateroom door when we we wanted service, and he would service the room when we were out.

We were required to wear masks in the interior parts of the ship but not in the main theater on level three, the solarium, sports deck, or pool deck. We found out that those guests that were considered “unvaccinated” according to this simulation could sit on level four of the same theater only and were required to wear masks. That did not make a lot of sense to us, as the theater was one big room with two levels.

We were amazed at how few people were actually on the ship with us. It wasn’t until we saw the common areas that the small number of guests really hit us and how fortunate we were. The small number of guests made moving about the ship efficient and quick.

The Royal Promenade on Mariner of the Seas August 12, 2021

There were hand sanitizer stations available everywhere we went, and Royal Caribbean associates were forthright in asking us to sanitize our hands whenever we went into a new room or area of the ship. We appreciated this direct approach to keeping us safe.

We were told ahead of time that we needed to download the Royal Caribbean app on our phone, as the “muster” and safety drill information would be viewed by us on the app in the privacy of our stateroom. After watching the mandatory videos and attesting that we did so, we were instructed to actually visit our muster stations outside on deck four, where we would receive a sticker for our sea pass card indicating that we had complied with the mandatory muster station. The Royal Caribbean associates at the muster station went over some basic information with us, including the sound of the emergency notification, and asked if we had any questions, all within a few minutes. We appreciated doing this mandatory muster drill so quickly and independently, as it normally takes so long to complete this requirement on the first day of the cruise. We also were grateful that hoards of people were not assembled for the drill.

Elevators had hand sanitizer stations and signs that each elevator could accommodate a family or a total of five guests, and guests appeared to comply with this request. I couldn’t help but wonder how this request could possibly be handled when the waits for elevators are often lengthy when the ship sails at full capacity.

Our welcome lunch in the Windjammer was amazing. I wondered how new Covid protocols would affect the customer experience, but I had no reason to be concerned. Upon arrival, Royal Carribbean associates welcomed us warmly, thanked us for sailing, and asked us to kindly wash our hands at the sink before entering the Windjammer. Once inside, an associate at the beginning of the buffet line said, “Please allow my colleagues to serve you,” and handed us our plate and a rolled napkin with silverware with a gloved hand. The choices in food items were as plentiful as ever, and there was many servers behind the buffet serving every item we wanted. Tables were arranged with a placard on every other table indicating that guest were not to sit at that table, presumably because of social distancing. My guest and I found a table quickly but wondered how the ship at full capacity would be able to offer enough seating to guests. The food choices were plentiful. Some food was delicious, and some food was just okay, however. We found many (most?) of the food choices to be high in carbs overall.

The Windjammer on Mariner of the Seas August 11, 2021 “test cruise”

A server brought us our beverages to our table, greeted us warmly, and thanked us for sailing. There was a great deal of enthusiasm among all associates we encountered on the ship during the time we were there.

We were not charged for use of the flow rider, Sky Pad, or fountain sodas on this simulated “test” voyage, which we appreciated.

The main theater was not at full capacity and we were surprised that we were told we did not have to wear masks after using the sanitizer station upon entry. After the show, one section of the theater was dismissed at a time in order to provide greater social distancing, but there was not any social distancing at the elevators after the show.

In the main dining room on deck three, we were again greeted warmly with gratitude by all associates who thanked us for sailing. We were asked to use the hand sanitizer station before entry and were directed to a table for two. Most of the tables were tables for two, which we appreciated during the pandemic. Once at our table, we could take off our masks, but all dining room staff had masks on. We had “My Time” dining instead of standard dining times, and we did not have to make reservations for dining. I noted that our server served even the sugar packets, which are normally on each table, on a tray with tongs. I noted also that the specialty restaurants were open for business at a reduced price (fifty-percent off the normal fee.) Food in the main dining room was plentiful in choices but some of the food was just okay. Some of the food we tried was delicious, including the roast duck.

I saw many associates, including the lifeguard at the pool, cleaning the high touch surfaces during many points during our cruise. I was surprised to see, however, that the hot tubs did not have a sign regarding the maximum capacity for use. Chairs were spread out on the deck to accommodate social distancing.

Chairs in the solarium were not moved to accommodate social distancing from what we could see.

The Solarium on the Mariner of the Seas “test cruise” August 12, 2021
Chaise lounges and daybeds on the Mariner of the Seas “test cruise” August 12, 2021

Our test cruise included a complimentary admission to the water park on Coco Cay, which is normally a fee. In addition, all day beach bed rentals, cabana rentals, zip line, jet ski rentals, etc. were subject to a fifty percent reduction in rental feels, which we appreciated. My guest and I were toying with the idea of renting a beach bed, which came with water mats, a cooler, and two lounge chairs and an umbrella as well, but we opted to sit in the complimentary chaise lounges with umbrellas, which were separated within the island to allow for social distancing instead.

“Chill Island” at Coco Cay during the Mariner of the Seas test cruise August 12, 2021

The beach buffet at Coco Cay operated like the buffet in the Windjammer on the ship with associates serving the food. I did not feel the experience was compromised in any way with the new Covid protocols. I also noted several outdoor sinks and hand sanitizer stations throughout the island to facilitate hand washing and noted associates cleaning tables immediately after guests’ use.

Hand sanitizers everywhere on the ship and on Coco Cay

Because there were no long lines, my guest experienced the water slides in record time, so we had lots of time to explore the island. We took advantage of the swim up bar in the cove and were grateful that the chairs on the swim up bar were spaced apart, although only my guest and I were on the swim up bar platform at the time.

no lines at the water park on August 12, 2021 during the “test cruise”
The tallest slide in the Caribbean at the water park on Coco Cay during the Mariner of the Seas Test cruise August 12, 2021

Coco Cay is my favorite island among all private islands in the Caribbean. There is something for everyone, even underwater music speakers and chaise lounges inside the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean. There were swings in another bar, adding a touch of whimsy to the upscale and relaxing vibe of the island. Everything was in excellent condition, so very well maintained and ready for guests to arrive.

The wave pool at the Coco Cay Water Park during Mariner of the Seas test cruise August 12, 2021

Debarkation happened directly from one’s stateroom without guests congregating in common areas. We were asked what time we would like to debark the ship the night before, and our debarkation happened on schedule after our breakfast at the Windjammer.

All in all, we were impressed by Royal Caribbean’s changes to the operational protocol to keep guests safe, and it did not impact our enjoyment of our cruise at all. We were left wondering, however, how Royal Caribbean would accomplish these protocols with a full ship going forward.

We left the ship feeling grateful that we were part of a historic sailing that paved with way in part for the restart of the cruise industry post-vaccine during the pandemic.

Time to celebrate taking part in this piece of history during the pandemic

“…I’m sailing away
Set an open course for the (Caribbean) Sea
‘Cause I’ve got to be free
Free to face the life that’s ahead of me…

…So climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow
On every shore and I’ll try,
Oh Lord I’ll try
To carry on
…” (during the pandemic)

“Come Sail Away” by Styxx

STEPPING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE WITH A BUCKET LIST ITEM (FIRE WALKING)

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It has been said that “life begins when you step out of your comfort zone.” (American author Neale Donald Walsch). I have lately been thinking of this now that things have settled down from the pandemic and we move about within our lives again, getting back to work, shopping, eating out, walking the dog in a crowd, and repeating, etc.

I have been thinking for years about fire walking. From a science perspective, I know that one is unlikely to get burned, as the time of contact with the heat usually prevents this. In addition, embers are not good conductors of heat. With the right form, people survive this experience unburned, yet those who run through the embers change the position of their feet from a flat placed with a flat position and uniform surface area to a foot that is buried a little further in the embers and unevenly into the heat as a result. Sometime these people get burned. Running through the embers instead of walking slowly, taking one’s time, brings up all kinds of parallels to life and living for me as well. Most of the time the feel feel warm to the touch for a while, but do not burn. There is always a bucket of water nearby in case things go awry.

There is a certain sense of victory I imagine that one feels after walking through burning embers. However, I can only imagine that a sense of balance happens as well. How powerful the notion that another reason one doesn’t get burned from walking through hot embers is that when two bodies of different temperatures meet, the hotter body cools down, and the cooler body warms up.

I know that fire walking has been practiced for thousands of years as a spiritual ritual or is connected with some rite of healing, initiation, or faith practice in some cases. For me, the notion of fire walking means that I would step out of my comfort zone for a moment. I means that I would for a moment face the innate fear that we all have of sustaining a burn. We learn as children NOT to touch something hot or to avoid something that might hurt us. Well fire walking might not hurt us, but it instills fear on some basic primitive level somehow. I don’t need the ritual, healing, or initiation aspect of this activity, nor do I want it. I want only to shake it up by doing something out of my comfort zone.

I am toying with putting fire walking on my “bucket” list. It’s not about thrill seeking at all. Why not face my (universal) fear? Why not emerge with a greater perspective life? In my opinion, only something good can come out of it.

While I may not be able to walk on water (THAT is something ENTIRELY differentl), I CAN walk on fire. There is something about balancing the need to read quietly with a cup of herbal tea in a tiny cabin in the woods with a great view of nature that I have with pushing myself out of my comfort zone to walk on fire.  Maybe it is about Yin and Yang, after all, and finding the balance within life.

“I could walk through fire, I could feel it burning
And I could walk through fire, right back to you
And as the flames get higher, you know I’ll get stronger
Baby, I would walk through fire…”

– “Walk Through Fire” by Brian Howe/Terry Thomas sung by Bad Company



“…Filled with awesome expectation
This girl’s a fascination
And nothing in her way will keep her from her destination
‘Cause she’s fire walking, she’s fire walking…”

“She’s Fire Walking” by Tim McMorris

THEY SAY YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN…THE WINDOW TO MY SOUL

Recently, I had the good fortune of going back to the state where I grew up in New England, having been recently “fully vaccinated.” It was the first time that I had been on a plane in well over a year, and it felt great to “freely move about the cabin” again. I needed to feel and smell that New England spring air on my face, visit with beloved family and friends, and eat the wonderful foods that I grew up with. Mostly, though, I longed to visit two friends who had become seriously ill during the pandemic. One has cancer, and one is going back on the lung re-transplant list shortly. I was only able to travel the journey with them through telephone calls and emails this year due to the pandemic but longed to hug them and make a new memory with them as well.

I grew up in the land where lilacs bloom in spring and where I wove crowns of forsythia in my hair while playing outside for hours as a young child.

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It is the land where you can travel among fields of daffodils in the spring that take your breath away and remind me of my mother watching and waiting through the window with me for the very first daffodil to pop up through the spring ground to unfold its leaves and flowers with all its glory and infinite possibilities. It is the land where tulips grow in time for Easter, too, and crocuses pop up through patches of snow. It is the land where pansies laugh at the spring snow while stretching their faces toward the warmth of the sun. It is the land where the rocky shore meets the cool ocean water. It is the land where the colonists came for religious freedom.

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It has been said that you can’t go home again, that time changes things so much that all is far too different since you’ve left to still be home. However, my home state is the place where my parents are buried, where I met my husband, and where I shared my first kiss. It is the place where I was married and where my daughter was born. It is the place that smells like all the bread we broke with our beloved relatives on the holidays, as there is a bakery on many a corner. It is the place of party pizza and spinach pies. It is the place of wieners and saugys. It is the place where I learned to walk and went to school. It is where I picked mulberries with my cousin and climbed trees on the way home from school. It is where I skinned my knees (a lot). It is where I learned to ride a bike and get back up when I fell. It is the place where most of my relatives live still. It is the place where I learned to be me. It is the place of old friendships and good times. It is the place where leaves crunched beneath my feet on a cool October afternoon, and where I jumped into the pile of leaves that my father raked in the yard. It is the place where the cycle of life is so clearly evident; the summer brings the autumn, and the autumn brings the winter’s dormancy. It is where the coldest winter day gives rise to the promise of new life again in the spring season. Time marches on, yet somehow it stands still.

As my plane was landing at the airport, it struck me so very clearly. They say you can’t go home again, but I disagree. The places may be different, and the businesses have different names, but I can ALWAYS go home again, for “home” lives in my soul. I can ALWAYS go home again, if only in my heart. “HOME” is where the heart is, after all.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends…

FOCUS ON THE BRIDGE

Today, I wanted to share something that I read which inspired me, especially during this difficult time for our country and world during the pandemic.

“Rather than focusing on the obstacle in your path, focus on the bridge over the obstacle.”
-Mary Lou Retton, Olympic Gymnastic Gold medalist, who also won two silver medals and two bronze medals in 1984

Life is good; find that bridge somehow somewhere today. Carpe Diem, friends.

THOUGHTS ABOUT LUGGAGE WITH SOME LUGGAGE REVIEWS

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It has been said that Yogi Berra, the late New York Yankees professional baseball player, once said, “Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.” I can honestly say I have had more luggage issues than I can even begin to tell you during my lifetime. There was that time in Brussels when the wheels on my luggage splayed to the sides while I was schlepping my luggage across the train station to the track on the complete other side of the building and had to drag it with all my might. By the stagger of my gait, one might have assumed I had a cadaver inside, as the luggage appeared to be THAT heavy. There was that time in Paris when I was much younger when my French boutique hotel had a two-person, antiquated, elevator and a stairway to the second floor. Rather than waiting for the elevator to take the waiting crowd two by two to the second floor, I schlepped my luggage up the stairs by myself only to have the handle rip off in the journey. There was also that time in Ireland when the skies opened up with rain immediately after the plane landed, and my things got soaked inside my luggage. And finally there was the time on my way to Bora Bora that I TEMPORARILY threw my unopened can of pineapple flavored seltzer into the side pocket of my luggage rather than discard it before I got to the airport. It was much later that I realized with a chuckle that I never took that can out of my bag when I smelled the faint yet pleasant scent of an exploded can of pineapple seltzer when picking up my luggage from the luggage carousel. That pineapple scent set the scene for my tropical isle trip, and I think of that beautiful blue water each and every time I drink that particular seltzer.

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I have gone through more luggage than I can describe through the years, too, including that brand featured on television years ago where the gorilla jumps upon it and hurls it about the room without any damage. I’ll just say that they must have a few gorillas working for the airlines in some cities, because I SWEAR that the very same gorilla in those old television commercials has jumped on my luggage time and time again. I have checked in brand new luggage at the airport only to see that it has been stained, gouged, dented, or otherwise defaced in some way when I arrive at the luggage carousel to retrieve it after my trip. The ONLY thing that has NOT happened to my luggage, in fact, is that it has never been the recipient of spray paint to become some artist’s palette on any of my trips. EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING else has happened to my luggage in one way or another through the years.

I have purchased light-weight luggage in order to pack more stuff inside for international trips, but the luggage wheels couldn’t hold up to my hefty packing. It is always a question in my mind time and time again whether it is better to spend a lot of money on luggage that presumably will last a long time or whether it is better to spend as little money on luggage as possible, treating it as more of a consumable, disposable item.

If you are thinking of taking your first trip during the post-vaccine phase of the pandemic this year, you might want to invest in some chic new luggage for your big, long-awaited trip. Rather than dish out some well-earned dollars without any thought, you might wish to consult some luggage reviews below:

https://www.travelandleisure.com/style/travel-bags/best-luggage-brands

https://www.businessinsider.com/best-luggage#rimowa-4

https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/luggage/buying-guide/index.htm

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/travel-products/g26898407/best-luggage-brands/

With a little tongue in cheek I am reminded of my version of a variation of an old poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about love…

“It is better to have loved and lost (my luggage) than to have never loved (my luggage) at all!” It’s my way of reminding myself, albeit tongue in cheek, of how lucky I am to have had so many wonderful experiences while traveling the world with so many more experiences still in front of me in the future, now that the world (as well as myself) has become fully vaccinated.

What is your favorite brand of luggage and do you prefer to spend a little or a lot of money on it?

The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.

Mark Russell

What IS The Current Story With Traveling In the US After Having The Covid Vaccine?

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According to Our World in Data, as of March 24, 2021, approximately twenty-six percent of the United States population has had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, and approximately fourteen point three percent of the United States population is “fully vaccinated”.  Now that more people here have gotten the vaccine recently, those that have been staying inside or socially distancing themselves from others have begun to get “wanderlust” it seems.  According to Google, on-line searches for “vaccine travel” and “2021 travel”, along with searches for “cruises”, “hotels”, and “flights”, have gone up significantly within the last three months according to an article by Matthew Speak from TravelPulse entitled “What Travelers Are Thinking Right Now, According to Google” (March 4, 2021).  It seems, that there is “pent up demand” for travel, at least in the United States.

What IS the real story about travel now that the vaccine is getting underway in greater number for Americans?  Make no mistake, the CDC really doesn’t want Americans to travel domestically or internationally at pre-pandemic numbers just yet and requests that Americans travel “only if they must”.  In fact, the CDC requirement from January 26, 2021 that all air passengers aged two and older must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test that’s no more than 72 hours old (or documentation of Covid recovery) to enter the United States still holds true, even for fully vaccinated travelers, according to my telephone call today tot he CDC help line.  Vaccination hasn’t been proven to guard against TRANSMISSION of the virus, they maintain, so even vaccinated travelers must follow these rules for entry (or re-entry) into the United States.  Travelers also must wear masks and socially distance in public as well.  While asymptomatic people who have received the vaccine no longer need to quarantine after travel abroad in general (unless local state restrictions still require this), it is suggested that they refrain from travel until after 14 days after receiving their last vaccine dose. The CDC further says that once you are fully vaccinated, you CAN gather INDOORS with other fully vaccinated people without a mask, however.  Of course, symptomatic people who have gotten the vaccine need to quarantine, however.

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One last thing to keep in mind while traveling in the United States during the pandemic right now is that all travelers over two years old (except those who have disabilities that preclude mask wearing) utilizing public transportation in the United States must use face masks over the mouth and nose on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares, and inside airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports since on February 2, 2021.


Life is good; carpe diem, friends….

COUNTRIES THAT ARE OPEN TO COVID VACCINATED TRAVELERS

Travelers who are fully vaccinated with covid vaccines have more options lately. The following article (from March 23, 2001) discusses which countries are open for travel to fully vaccinated travelers in case you have wanderlust and have spent the past year planning THAT big vacation during lockdown.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
-Confucius

https://www.afar.com/magazine/travelers-with-covid-vaccines-can-visit-these-countries

Life is short; carpe diem, friends…….

WHEN WILL CRUISING RESUME?

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Wondering when cruising will resume? This re-posted article below outlines the latest restart dates/updates of several cruise lines as of May 18, 2021. Looking forward to the cruise industry starting up again. Best wishes for smooth sailing to all!

“Great people are not affected by each puff of wind that blows ill. Like great ships, they sail serenely on, in a calm sea or a great tempest.”
-George Washington

Hoping this last year will be only a “puff of wind that blows ill” for all in the travel industry.

https://www.travelpulse.com/gallery/cruise/the-latest-restart-dates-for-every-major-cruise-line.html?image=16

Life is good; carpe diem, friends….start making your plans for that bucket list travel now.

“A LITTLE SLICE OF NORMAL”

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One of my best friends and I have a little saying that helps us to deal with life’s ups and downs from time to time. The saying is that one needs a “little slice of normal” when the chips are down, much like one “needs” a slice of cake from time to time. When one of is is having difficulty with something, such as someone we love in the hospital, an accident, or some other sad and unforeseen event, we go to lunch and have “a little slice of normal.” That “little slice of normal” means something different to each of us, but for my dear friend a “little slice of normal” is a manicure, pedicure or a trip to the beach, no matter what season. For me a “little slice of normal” might be some ice cream and a movie, a cup of herbal tea, or a hike in the woods. That “little slice of normal” represents something that give us peace and is something we often do normally. That “little slice of normal” gives us a sense of perspective that life will go on somehow, as the routine of the “little slice of normal” somehow gives us comfort that some things stay the same. A “little slice of normal” is something that speaks to our soul somehow. It is not an indulgence, but it is rather something ordinary that we frequently do. For some people it might be a run on the beach, and for others it might be a few laps of swimming. For others it might be breaking bread with your family, and for others it might be curling up with a good book in a comfy chair.

Today I am thinking about this same best friend from my youth, who just finished her chemotherapy for breast cancer recently and then had her last radiation treatment yesterday. I can’t celebrate with her in person because of the quarantine associated with flying to where she is, but I just spoke with her on the phone this afternoon. As I suspected, she is out having lunch with her daughter, along with a “little slice of normal” today.

Life somehow goes on……despite the little AND big bumps along the way.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends………….

COUNTRIES THAT ARE OPEN TO COVID VACCINATED TRAVELERS

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Several countries have said they will allow international travelers who have had the Covid vaccine to visit without quarantine or a negative PCR Covid test. Don’t forget that all air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States (even on return trips for Americans). See the Conde Nast article below for more information about “open” countries:

https://www.cntraveller.com/article/countries-open-vaccine-travel

Life is good; carpe diem, friends….