A LETTERKENNY travel agent took to the sky and sea for the first time in almost 18 months as non-essential international travel is finally back up and running.
Emma McHugh and Caroline Kerr from Atlantic Travel in Letterkenny were among eight travel agents who were invited to a Norwegian Cruise Line in Greece to test how travel had changed due to Covid-19.
The ladies set sail on the inaugural cruise departing from Athens on July 21 and are happy to report that travel can be done safely, but with a lot of organising required.
In order to allow for any potential delays, the girls travelled to Athens the day before the cruise departed and flew from Dublin with Aer Lingus.
Terminal Two in the airport on the morning of the July 20 was very quiet, as they had checked in online they were able to avail of the bag drop facility provided by Aer Lingus.
Aer Lingus now require you to check in your 10kg carry on bag, if you wish to bring it onboard with you will need to prepay €5.99 but make sure you do this before you arrive at the airport otherwise you will be faced with a fee of €35 to bring it onboard.
As is the norm with early morning flights not all retail areas in the airport were open, but you were able to get the basics.
Emma explained, “Everyone in the airport were wearing masks and it felt no different than if you were in a shop here at home.
“We were asked for our EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) at the gate prior to boarding along with our passport and boarding card.
“If you are not fully vaccinated then this is the point where you will need your DCC to show your Covid test results or proof of recovery,” said Emma.
The flight was half full and all passengers were fully compliant with health and safety measures required.
There is a very limited in-flight service offered so the girls advise that if you are travelling on a long flight or with children bring something to eat with you.
Upon arrival in Athens, the girls were required to show three things; passports, EU DCC and a Greek Locator Form.
Every country including Ireland requires one of these to be completed prior to entry.
Emma continued, “Our advice is to print a copy of it as well as having the digital version.
“Ireland will not accept a manually filled form any longer and it must be completed online, you will receive an email to confirm you have done it and you show this email when requested – it does not have a QR code.”
All passengers embarking on the cruise in Athens had to be fully vaccinated.
There were 900 guests onboard for this sailing but pre-Covid, the ship could hold 2,300.
On top of this, everyone was antigen tested prior to embarking the ship, so after checking in for the cruise, guests were directed to the testing booths.
Results took approximately 15 minutes and then passengers were free to board the ship.
For the moment, masks are required onboard indoors on ships.
Similar to Ireland, if you are sitting down at a table then you are free to take the mask off, once outdoors there were no masks worn.
Emma said her cruising experience was in no way compromised by having to wear a mask.
She explained, “We did not feel the cruise was impacted by any mask wearing, the service levels and hygiene were faultless.
“The buffet restaurant was open, upon entering all guests were required to wash their hands and sanitise.
“Instead of serving yourself, the crew were on hand to plate up your food choices and offered table service for drinks orders.”
Despite the restrictions, tourists were still able to get off the boat at various locations in Greece.
Emma explained, “We decided to explore once we were docked at port, the great thing was we were free to explore the towns by ourselves and relished rambling through postcard perfect Greek towns. “Rhodes Old Town was certainly a highlight and truly felt like you were walking through a film set, taverns at every corner shaded by abundant bougainvillaea.”
The evening before they left, the girls were required to take another antigen test, and results were emailed to their phone in an hour.
For all passengers returning to Ireland whether from a land holiday or cruise holiday there is a requirement to fill out a Passenger Locator Form from July 12 and this can only be done online.
The girls felt that it was safe to travel and they still had a great time despite the restrictions.
Emma said, “We definitely feel that travel is something that you can experience safely today.
“Our advise would be to be very organised before you depart and know all the requirements in place in the country you are travelling too.
“Keep a back up paper copy of all forms/codes and don’t forget to bring plenty of masks and most importantly – Enjoy Yourself. Travel is back,” said Emma.