Meghan & Joseph have been together for about 10 years. They have seen the ups and downs of life but have always made the best out of any situation. The pandemic halted Joseph’s original plan to propose to Meghan in Lake Como. He saw the opportunity as a gift to include a small group of family and friends at home overlooking the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The high school sweethearts have always been water enthusiasts, never missing out on the chance for sun and fun. They choose to host their wedding in Savannah, one of their favorite quiet town retreats but decided to make a trip to Sint Maarten for a Caribbean engagement session. Committed to having a safe and fun getaway while creating an experience they would always look back on and smile.
The two wanted to keep things natural to who they were as individuals and a couple. “We’re thinking, sun and fun, bubbles and a nice dinner.” I couldn’t argue with that, and the images showcase how simple can oftentimes be the best choice. We walked Simpson Bay for portraits then grabbed the bubbles. Afterward, they got dressed up for sunset cocktails and dinner and we were able to capture that look as well. If you’re planning a trip to Sint Maarten or Barths in the near future you will want to read on.
As a destination wedding photographer, I travel a lot for my work. I always learn about the best and worst ways to travel to any destination I visit. I’ve learned something worth sharing for those planning celebrations, events, or even trips to the area. First things first, you must produce a negative PCR antigen test 72-48 hours before your connecting flight to the islands. You must also do the same to return home. The domestic requirements frequently change, so stay up to date. While in Sint Maarten, the US changed the rules, so we had to scramble to meet the new requirements. Coordinate with your county health department to see where these specific tests are. Once Sint Maarten officials approve you to visit, print out your test results and have them in hand at the gate. If you forget the paperwork or decide digital is better, you won’t be able to board. If you don’t get the right test, you won’t be pre-approved for your flight.
You will also be required to obtain travel insurance through a third party if you test positive. Side note, the couple had trouble getting the right test and coordinating with health officials in their state. They had to take the test three times the week of their departure, running into the final hours before departure for approval, spending over $500 in testing. It proved a bit stressful, exhausting and costly for them.
I didn’t have Florida issues; I only took the test once, and it was free. So results and organizational performance may vary from state to state.
I had planned to spend a few days in Sint Maarten then take the ferry over to St. Barths for a day trip to visit a friend who is the General Manager for Le Sereno as well as another friend who happened to be there at the same time. Upon booking tickets for the ferry, officials informed me that I needed to provide an additional PCR test before sailing over for the day. The domestic test wasn’t acceptable, so I would have to schedule another in Sint Maarten. Yes, that’s 3 PCR test in 7 days: one to get down, one for St. Barths, and one to fly home. As I am writing this, St. Barths is now closed, they are only letting people off the island, and they have not issued guidance on the length of time they will remain closed.
If you’ve ever experienced Sint Maarten, you grow to love the local culture’s slow pace. No worries is a motto. The locals are so loving, kind, and warm. When I wasn’t shooting, I spent time on a scooter exploring the island. The beaches are empty, and most bars and restaurants are the same. It’s great because you feel safe, it’s sad because they desperately need tourism. Soaking in the slow pace of life quickly turns when trying to find places to get tests scheduled, administered, and cleared for travel. They aren’t well equipped for a high volume of travelers. They lack a sense of urgency, so be willing to wait. If you book an appointment, they might not be able to see you for a few days, and you’ll wait an hour once you get there. If you can’t wait days because of your flight arrangements, you can expect to wait in line 2-3 hours. Appointments will send you the results via email. Walk-Ins will have to travel back to get their results another hour or so of travel. Additional pieces to consider are the cost of the tests — in the states, they cost roughly $150 each. Sint Maarten cost $65. Although you can find free testing centers domestically, they might not be convenient, depending on your location. Time spent waiting in labs, crowd exposure, and the test itself. PCR antigen testing is the initial test, most accurate but a reasonably uncomfortable experience.
Was it worth it? We would recommend a minimum of 8-14 days. Anything less, you would wind up in test centers more than enjoying the trip. If you’re traveling for a session/getaway, it was well worth it. I thought about how it would impact the guest experience for weddings, couples, and loved ones. If guests were traveling for 3-4 days, it would take a lot of planned coordination just for testing. Although 2-3 days you might be able to use one test for all flights, which would be great.
On the one hand, it makes you feel safe knowing everyone on the plane is negative. The island has only 124 total cases out of 84,000 residences. The flip side is finding the test centers, making sure it’s the right test, taking the test, and timing everything just right for travel. I wouldn’t have traded the experience for all the deep nose swabs in the world. It was such a fun experience, and it felt great to be away from home — everyone is taking the right steps to bring back travel, which I support wholeheartedly. Just something to know in advance for couples, photographers, planners, and travelers alike making the trip!
Cons: Testing, in general, is an additional layer that could prove to be problematic. If it’s your first time traveling, you’ll have to spend time researching where to get the right test. Feeling well and going to a testing center feels uncomfortable. Others are in the space because they don’t feel well, which is unnerving on many levels. If it is a short trip, you’ll be solely focused on testing most of the time and have little time to enjoy yourself.
Pro Tips: 1) Have a taxi take you to and from the airport with your luggage, then rent scooters for the week. They are so fun and the best way to get around the island! 2) Be sure to wear a coverup that’s not too revealing if you are planning to go from vacation mode straight to a testing center. The medical staff reprimanded one “patient” for this and asked her to find something else to wear.
Many islands, including Sint Maarten, are still trying to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma. They rely heavily on travel, and the common theme among speaking with the locals is things aren’t good. You can visit this link to donate or book a trip. They would love to see you!