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In pre-Covid times, Susan and David Nethero traveled about once a month, both for pleasure and for work. They’d usually fly: India, Africa, the Caribbean. But in these times, the Atlanta-based couple has switched to locations reachable by car, as a safer alternative and so that they can spend time outside the stress of the city with their grown children and young grandkids. Until now, Mrs. Nethero told us over the phone, “The number of times we’ve taken road trips in the last ten years is maybe four or five—not many.” That M.O. has changed this summer. She and her extended family recently returned from two getaways that they tried to make as safe as possible. We were curious how they did it and what their experience was like.
First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. Thank you to Susan Nethero for talking to us about her family trips and sharing information we know will be useful to other travelers.
Why did you want to travel now?
Eight of us were supposed to go skiing in March in Salt Lake, and that had to be canceled. Then we were supposed to go to the Turks and Caicos in May, and that had to be canceled too. So everyone was chomping at the bit to go somewhere. That’s why we went to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee in June. They had just opened back up again, so there were a few restrictions on services, but it was a great experience, and they accommodated us in every way. [Editor’s note: In fact, the Netheros enjoyed it so much that Susan and David are headed to its sister property, Blackberry Mountain, at the end of August.]
What did you enjoy most at Blackberry Farm?
I thought this was extraordinary: They arranged for private counselors for our grandkids because their usual camp was suspended—and they did that for free. The kids made tie-dye shirts and milkshakes and did really fun things. And at night, Blackberry Farm arranged for babysitters so the kids didn’t have to sit through a long dinner and drive their parents crazy. The babysitter took them out in a golf cart, introduced them to the cooks and everyone in the kitchen, and they made cookies.
And we did two experiences. First, we did a farm experience where we fed the goats and lambs and picked eggs out of the chicken hut. Blackberry Farm raises high-end dogs too, and they had a whole litter, so we got see these amazing puppies. We also did a nature experience, and that was even more fun: We put on tennis shoes and went in a stream with a naturalist. We saw baby trout and had little nets to catch crawdads and fish. Then we walked up the stream and they showed us wildlife all around the stream. Those kinds of nature experiences are always really illuminating.
They kept surprising us. For instance, when they brought our car back to us, it was washed and all vacuumed out.
When we came back from that trip, we thought: What are we going to do for Fourth of July?
Were you looking for another place you could drive to?
Yes. We reached out to an Atlanta-based travel specialist whom Wendy had recommended to us, Lindsey Epperly, to see if there were some attractive driving trips we could take on the Southeast Coast.
Within minutes we received about five different ideas from Lindsey’s team. They recommended a place in the Florida Panhandle, but we had been seeing pictures of all these kids on the beach and we thought that looked scary. We wanted privacy. Another option was Sea Island in Georgia, but we’d been there before. Another idea was The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, in South Carolina, but they didn’t have our dates available, housekeeping won’t come into the room to clean during your stay, and they were giving people time slots at the pool.
Then we remembered we had stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, one time, so we asked Lindsey about it. And even though it was Fourth of July and it was last minute, they were able to get us an oceanfront suite.
Were you worried about going to Florida?
If you looked at where the coronavirus issues were in Florida, it was more in the south, west coast, and Panhandle, so we were isolating ourselves a bit.
Who traveled with you to Florida?
Eight total: David and me; David’s brother and his wife; our adult children; and two grandchildren (ages 5 and 1).
What was the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island like?
You would have thought the whole place would be filled, given it was Fourth of July weekend, but it was not full.
At the hotel everybody wore masks. We felt completely safe, even though we were using the elevators. They had a spa and we walked in one morning and they were able to accommodate us, and we had one of the best facials we’ve ever had. Their adult hot tub and sauna were not open, but we understood that. They were just trying to be safe.
They had activities for the kids that were really cute, and overall we felt like the social distancing was pretty good, except it was hard at the pool. At the pool there were tons of kids and dogs—a lot of dogs; we were surprised. We used the beach quite a bit, and if we said we needed five lounge chairs, they’d have it all set up waiting for us, and they put a good amount of distance between groups. Even when we went in the water, we had space. They did room service and the rooms were immaculate. We did bike rides and there was no extra charge for the bikes.
They have a five-star restaurant, and it had a limited schedule, but they were able to get us in for a five-course tasting meal that felt like ten courses because they kept bringing us more stuff.
We had chocolate on our pillow every night, and another time the GM came over and talked to us about what it’s been like for them. The people at the Ritz can’t do enough for you. There wasn’t anything we asked where they weren’t like, “Sure, we can work that out.”
Did the dining and social-distancing measures feel safe?
For breakfast, they had a buffet set out, but they had people serving it to you, so that was a nice way to do it. They opened up an area so that more people could sit outside. On the Fourth of July, they attempted an outdoor BBQ, but when they got some weather reports and thought they might not be able to manage the flow of traffic, they canceled that. Instead, they set up a BBQ you could order from the table.
Every night they had s’mores down at the beach. It was not very crowded. There were a lot of children there too. I will say—and we experienced this at Blackberry too—that guests moved up the time of their eating because they ran out of things to do.
Guests wore masks at the Ritz. At Blackberry Farm they didn’t, but that was back in June, and we were outside and distanced so much there. At Blackberry, they had a family pool and spa pool. And whenever you walked into a building you put on a mask. The rooms at Blackberry are cottages—not attached to anything. So we took two side-by-side cottages that were joined in the middle for our daughters, and my husband and I took a separate cottage.
What are you thinking about next?
We did ask Lindsey if she could look into the new Aman resort in Nevada. My husband and I are not worried about flying—although we certainly wouldn’t go to a hot spot like Los Angeles—but the Aman is another three-hour drive from either Phoenix or Las Vegas.
We would be glad to travel to the Caribbean islands, but they have restrictions and testing, and God forbid you end up there and you get tested and it turns out you have it. Do we want to get quarantined and stuck there? But it’s problematic in the U.S. too. Like, we even thought, let’s drive to New York—but it’s a long way, and they’re clamping down on visitors.
[Editor’s note: A 14-day quarantine is mandatory for travelers entering New York State from these states. When considering travel, keep in mind that rules and restrictions vary greatly from state to state. Some, like New York, have mandatory quarantines for many visitors, mask requirements, and activity limitations. Some, like South Dakota, have none. Still others, like California, began to reopen and then had to roll back those plans when new cases surged. Check our guide to stay on top of what’s going on throughout the country: Every State’s Coronavirus and Travel Information.]
We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.