From staying home and social distancing to adapting to a new normal, whatever that is, 2020 dared us in many ways to find normalcy. There were trips cancelled, sites left unseen and dream vacations put on hold and yet looking back we are amazed at what was accomplished. This year is defined as “where there is a will, there is a way”!
2020 was projected to be one of our best years and our 7th year anniversary in business. The year started with a new partnership with the WBHM Radio and the Birmingham-Southern College Environmental Center. We were also recognized by the Birmingham Business Journal’s Book of List’s ranking Sofia’s Travel, LLC the #5 Agency in Birmingham in addition to receiving the Executive of Influence 2020 award and Marquis Who’s Who in America.
By March, the travel industry came to a screeching halt! We spent most of Spring, Summer, Fall & Winter canceling and rescheduling long awaited trips for our clients and in-spite of the constant challenges we managed to get them ALL through this season! We were reminded, throughout this process, the safety and well-being of our clients and the need to stay on top of the future unknowns is paramount in maintaining effective lines of communication in updating our clients of the daily changes most destinations experienced.
We did have our share of travel disappointment as well as our long awaited, bucket list trip, Safari to Kenya in the spring and the attendance of the Passion Play in Germany in the Fall, after looking at the tickets on the counter for two years, had to be cancelled. We knew we quickly had to adapt and rethink what our options would be as there was simply no way we were not going to travel. So, we started the Spring walking, biking and playing Golf all around the pandemic and in our minds we traveled around the globe countless times without leaving home.
As the US and other countries started to sporadically reopen, I felt it was important for me to experience what the “new normal” would be for travel. What better way than to take advantage of an all-inclusive resort option. The beach would be easy to social distance and properties were limiting their capacities to well under 30% to start. They had to earn the “Safer Travel” designation to open and we were pleasantly surprised this option checked all of the squares, food, fun, sun and golf for my husband!
Our first trip would take us to Cancun Riviera Maya, Mexico. We stayed at the UNICO 20°87° which is one of The Leading Hotels of the World. Set on the stunning white beaches of Riviera Maya, UNICO 20°87° immerses guests in the culture of the region, from the locally crafted cocktails and cuisine to the art in the rooms. Three unique pools and holistic spa and wellness center drive home a sense of relaxed luxury, while exciting pop-up events insert a touch of spontaneity into the experience. The design of UNICO 20°87° is directly inspired by the rich character of Riviera Maya, and incorporates many natural and handmade materials sourced within the area. The rooms and suites mix modern luxury with familiar rustic decor fashioned by the region’s history. All of the hotel accommodations feature a Local Host to provide an added level of personalized service.
Our second trip of the year would find us in Cap Cana, Dominican Republic where we stayed at the Sanctuary, a 5-Star, exclusive adults-only, all-inclusive resort. The Sanctuary Resort is located in an area called Cap Cana, a private gated community retreat, inside Punta Cana. Cap Cana is made up of 30,000 acres of beautiful beaches, and oceanfront valley roads. It is the ideal destination for any type of traveler, with a variety of things to do, such as, water sports and outdoor activities, and high-quality restaurants. This destination is also home to Punta Espada Golf Club, which is considered one of the best golf courses in the Caribbean. Cap Cana also hosts one of the most spectacular marinas in the world, famous and accredited by international journals for its fishing. All of these amenities combined with Cap Cana’s turquoise waters and white sand beaches make it one of the most beautiful and desirable vacation spots in the world.
I did get my very first video on the wire as we were in Punta Cana when Hurricane Isaias passed over and I filmed the weather. After posting it, a news agency picked it up and put it out on all news outlets across the U.S. We were getting calls from friends sharing they had seen the video, which was credited to me. There was my 15 seconds of fame buried in a Hurricane Story…only in 2020!
Clearly staying at home would just not do as we managed to take a third trip for the Summer to Playa Mujeres, Mexico. We stayed at the gorgeous ATELIER resort which is an All-Inclusive 5- Star property for Adults offering a fantastic concept inspired by the Art and Design of Contemporary Mexico. Its innovative atmosphere blends with the natural landscape of Playa Mujeres, set between the crystalline waters of the Caribbean and the natural beauty of the jungle terrain. The suites feature marble and wood accents, luxurious amenities, as well as avant-garde style furniture, complemented with jaw-dropping views of the golf course and the Caribbean Sea. The community is home to one of the best golf courses in Cancun, the Greg Norman-designed Playa Mujeres Golf Club, and the marina is just steps from the lobby. From the nearly private stretch of beach, hotel guests have a straight view across the water to Isla Mujeres, and many of the hotels offer excursions to the island, whether to relax, snorkel, fish or swim with whale sharks.
As the holidays approached we decided to do a driving trip and what better way than to spend it in the south…We spent part of our holiday in Historic Charleston, SC. We were fortunate to have stayed in the heart of Charleston at the Belmond Charleston Place. We took full advantage of the weather, cuisine, history and architecture in what could only be described as a very romantic, holiday setting. No one does it like the South!
No trip to the Charleston area would be complete without a visit to Kiawah Island so we decided to stay there a few days and roam the beaches in old southern luxury without pretention. We stayed at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort and from the minute you walk through the doors you are transported back centuries in time to a grand seaside mansion. It was elegant but welcoming. This property earned the Forbes 5 Star award for service and unequaled accommodations. There is meticulous attention to detail, distinguished service and unparalleled luxury paired with a truly sumptuous setting. It is what you would want home to feel like when you are traveling!
Kiawah Island is also home to the famous Ocean Course and the 2021 PGA Championship. Of course, we had to stop by and take in it’s history and have lunch at the Ryder Club Bar on the veranda overlooking number 18 with the Atlantic in the background…wow! While I may not be a golf historian the Ocean Course does have an interesting story.
It is located on the eastern-most end of the island, The Ocean Course boasts the most seaside holes in the Northern Hemisphere with ten hugging the Atlantic and the other eight running parallel to those. Although it was originally planned to sit behind the dunes, designer Pete Dye’s wife, Alice, suggested raising the entire course to give players unobstructed views of Kiawah’s stunning coastline from every hole. One catch! This improved view made the course substantially more demanding as it also exposed play to the Atlantic’s brisk and unpredictable breezes. In fact, it’s unlikely any other golf course in the world—outside the United Kingdom and Ireland—is affected as much by wind. From one round to the next, a player can experience up to an 8-club difference on holes depending upon the wind’s direction and strength. Interesting fact: Because there are no prevailing winds on The Ocean Course, Dye designed two courses in one—one for an easterly and the other for a westerly wind.
As you can tell this year’s travel theme turned in to short luxury getaways. I should, as any experienced travel advisor would, provide a brief overview of our encounters on airplanes and the various airports we went through last year. It was interesting to see the changes throughout the spring to summer through fall and winter at Atlanta Airport. Initially, in April, the airport was completely empty which can be a little eerie when you know the amount of people that travel through there each day. As the year progressed it started to come back to life as it was evident people were on the move again and countries were open for tourism. For an operation of that size, Atlanta Airport is doing an excellent job of putting safety procedures and distancing practices in to place.
We predominately fly Delta and can only speak first-hand about that experience and share what other’s have said that do fly other airlines. While no process is 100% Delta is trying to do a good job for their customers as all airlines are trying to do. They fill the main and comfort cabins at 60% and 1st Class at 50% which is nice. I think most airlines have very-good safety protocols in place but the biggest concern I have heard was the others are filling all seats and not leaving any open which was a little uncomfortable. Nothing earth shattering here other than if you follow protocols everything should be fine. The Delta Sky Lounge is still a great place to relax as they have managed to change their menus to grab and go choices which is very functional in these times. We just had to approach things with a different perspective and not compare things to the past. In these times I have found that you just move forward and get excited about today and tomorrow.
I do have to mention the Cancun, Mexico and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic airports. First, both are doing an amazing job screening passengers and following safety protocols. There are no questions in these country’s masks, shields and gloves are required as all airport employees and resort staff are wearing them. There is a great deal of pride in each country and they want you to visit and see what they have to offer. This is not a slogan but a way of life for them and they take seriously the safety of their visitor’s as they know this is one of their most important economic lifelines. They have gone above and beyond in their airports, in their transfers from the airport to your resort and during your vacation stay. I have never felt safer during my travels as I did during my stays in Cancun and Punta Cana.
There have been many heartaches in 2020 and just as many blessings! There was never a time more important than this past year to connect, on a deeper level, with our clients, Sofia’s Travel’s team of advisors and supplier partners. We want to recognize and share our appreciation for your continued loyalty and support throughout 2020. We love having you as part of the Sofia's Travel, LLC family and look forward to working with you in 2021 and beyond, when you are ready!