By Yvonne Kerr
10 travel tips for parents in the time of Corona.
My first glimpse of The Maldives is from a seaplane at 7am as we glide over what resemble giant, crystal clear green emeralds, seemingly pulsating amid a vast, deep blue Indian Ocean, but which are actually a sprinkling of tiny, coral islands that shape this spectacular archipelago, each rimmed with the whitest of sand. Even amid the deafening din of seaplane propellers, both my kids are asleep, exhausted after travelling through the night from Dubai. A sign outside Velana airport, Malé declares Maldives as the “world’s leading destination 2020”.
The boast is justified because as a pandemic destination, The Maldives is almost perfectly designed (with the exception of the capital Malé, where one third of a population of approximately 400,000 Maldivians live; it’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world). Only 200 of almost 2,000 coral islands are inhabited, with a select number of these islands on 26 atolls taken over by secluded, luxury resorts where individual villas are naturally socially distanced.
What safety precautions did you have to take?
We were all Covid-19 tested prior to departure, as per regulations, and my husband and I tested again 72 hours before our return. My husband and I have been vaccinated. There is a list of countries on the Emirates website that require a second Covid-19 PCR test upon arrival at DXB and passengers are advised to quarantine in their homes until results are delivered, usually within 24 hours. UAE nationals are exempt from holding negative Covid-19 test certificates on their return but must test upon arrival at DXB.
We stayed at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island where staff wore masks and food and beverage staff also wore gloves. Restaurant menus were accessed on our own phones via QR codes. Our temperatures were taken before every meal. Hand sanitising stations stood at every entrance and in every bathroom. Perspex panels divided golf buggy drivers, used by guests and staff to traverse the island, from passengers. The Conrad is part of the Hilton Group that introduced a global ‘CleanStay’ programme in 2020. The resort has a 24-hour health clinic where a qualified doctor and nurse administer PCR tests with results delivered directly to guests via WhatsApp within 24 hours.
Was our resort suitable for young children?
The Maldives is at the top of many a romantic couple’s bucket list as the ultimate honeymoon destination but the same cannot usually be said for families. Maldives resorts are working hard to address this with many properties offering free accommodation for children aged less than 12-16 years or free meals for children aged 6 and under, plus designated kids’ clubs and free transfers for children aged 2 years and under. The Conrad Maldives’ Majaa Explorers Hub opens daily at 10am, offering hourly activities until 6pm such as kids yoga, water dodgeball, coconut painting and a pirate cruise. Children aged three years and above can be signed in by parents and left under adult supervision.
All 12 restaurants at the resort offer the same kids’ menu (pizza, burger, chicken, hot dog). My boys, aged four years and 20 months, enjoyed the adult activities too, which included a glass bottom boat trip (operated by Ocean Water Sports) over the coral reef and a trip to the world’s first undersea restaurant Ithaa where they observed sharks. We found all staff to be extremely helpful with families and our youngest was often whisked off for a little stroll so mum and dad could finish their meal. Our Deluxe Beach Villa was spacious and furnished with a sofa bed for our oldest and a large cot. We had our own private pool with beach access. Resorts typically do not allow kids aged less than 16 years to stay in an over-water villa but the Conrad Maldives do if parents sign a disclaimer.
Did we feel judged by other parents for travelling?
Before we left, not at all. The majority of parents we spoke to were thoroughly excited for us to travel to such an idyllic place. This all changed upon our return however. We felt a tangible Covid-paranoia towards us from families who had not travelled overseas. One neighbour shouted “Hello Covid,” from across the street. It is entirely understandable. The Maldives however is seen as a “safe” destination for travel and as we encountered other guests only at mealtimes and many restaurants were outdoors or open-air, the environment felt totally safe.
- Book a direct flight. Reduce stress, time and the unpredictable nature of transit through other countries in a pandemic where everything can change at the last minute. If Covid-19 cases increase overnight, you may have to quarantine or you could even get locked down in transit.
- Fly with kids at night. Sounds awful? Consider this: my four-year-old slept the entire way; my 20-month-old slept for three hours out of four. That’s a win in my book, even with a heavy, sleeping toddler on my lap. It also means kids aren’t mingling with passengers or running up the aisles.
- Pack kid gloves. For peace of mind, it’s a safe idea for young kids to wear gloves in the airport due to their tendency to touch everything – and bring your own sanitizer just in case.
- Be best friends with your airline. Double-check with your airline what is required in relation to Covid-19 precautions before you travel, as these continue to evolve. You will probably need a recent negative PCR test and perhaps your children too, but it depends on your destination.
- Stay alert when you are overseas: Holiday time is a time to relax, but nowadays travellers need to stay in touch with the news as things change. Check with your airline, resort or hotel at least three days in advance to confirm what documents and/or tests are required to return to Dubai.
- Print out your forms. It’s a good idea to print and store all forms in a separate folder to hand to whoever requires them at the airport; this saves the effort of having to find your phone and source the documents each time, especially if WiFi access is troublesome or your battery is low.
- Book into a lounge to pass airport time safely. We checked into the Marhaba Lounge at DXB (free for MasterCard holders) to access complimentary food and drink. Staff wore masks and gloves, snacks were packaged and all seating and tables distanced and sanitised regularly.
- Use the sanitary kit on the plane. Most airlines and resorts these days provide passengers and guests with a hygiene kit containing hand sanitiser, gloves and wipes. Use it to sanitise your TV remote, arm rests, seats and especially children’s fingers!
- Choose your plane seats wisely. If you have the choice, window seats away from the toilet will lessen your contact with other passengers. You might also want to keep your air vent on – there is evidence to suggest that air from the vent can create a ‘cone of protection’ that can stop airborne viruses from lingering in the air around you.
- Smart Gates. UAE residents can now move more quickly through DXB immigration control with their Emirates ID by using 68 upgraded Smart Gates in all three terminals. Families with children under 18 years can move quickly through a manned counter next to each Smart Gate.
Yvonne Kerr travelled to The Maldives with her husband and two young children, aged four years and 20 months. Read more from Yvonne at www.yvonnekerr.com