After a long year, my husband and I, both vaccinated, visited the Fairmont Orchid near the end of the pandemic. Of course, the spread of the coronavirus has necessarily changed how things work. Still, all is not lost if you choose to visit paradise.
Out of all the states, Hawaii strikes me as most like a foreign country – and it often acts like one. For most of the pandemic and to a lesser degree now, each island has its own set of entry requirements. Study them well because you will be tested. Literally.
Best Room With a View: Oceanfront
Room With Best Value: Garden View
Most Memorable Dining: Brown’s Beach House
Biggest Pandemic Change: Limited Dining Options
As of this writing, each traveler must complete all the requirements on the Safe Travels Hawaii website. Before I get to the Fairmont Orchid itself, I want to give you an overview of what you must know about traveling to Hawaii near the end of the pandemic. Please note that these requirements may change at any time, and you should check official sources before proceeding. Note: Despite the recent CDC loosening of mask restrictions, as of late May 2021, Hawaii still requires a negative COVID–19 test for entry, whether you are vaccinated or not.
Tips For Traveling to Both the State and the Island of Hawaii
The state of Hawaii has a basic set of entry requirements while the Big Island of Hawaii has a few additional ones. Although we originally planned a trip that included some island hopping, that can get dicey with all the restrictions. We didn’t want to spend our vacation hunting for COVID-19 tests so that we could continue to the next island.
COVID-19 Testing and Timing
To board a plane from the mainland to Hawaii, no matter the island, you must first undergo a specific kind of test at a “trusted partner” site. Just any COVID-19 test won’t do. Since you must take the test no more than 72 hours from the departure of your last leg, time your test carefully. If you, like us, expect to arrive in Honolulu before catching another flight to the Big Island, the test must fall within 72 hours of that last departure.
For our officially-sanctioned test, we chose Walgreen’s ID-NOW rapid test because we would get results in less than 24 hours. Although your mileage may vary, we received our negative results via email in 90 minutes.
As of this writing, it doesn’t matter that you’ve been vaccinated except when you land on the Big Island. I’ll get to that later.
Safe Travels Hawaii
You must set up an account with Hawaii’s Safe Travels site where you will upload the .pdf file of your COVID test results. When you set your password, either save it on your phone for easy access later or choose a password that you won’t forget. You will need to access this app for everything from boarding a plane to renting a car to checking in at the Fairmont Orchid. If you can’t open your account page, you’re stuck.
If you chose the correct test and partner, the app will immediately read the report to display your results. One hurdle down.
Twenty-four hours before your last leg but before you leave the mainland, you must also fill out the pre-travel health questionnaire. You will then be sent via email a QR code that will be essential to both board a plane and then leave the airport upon arrival. Allow enough time at the gate because you will have to stand in line to make sure your credentials pass.
Landing on the Island of Hawaii (the Big Island)
As of this writing, the Big Island requires a second COVID-19 test upon arrival unless you can prove that you are fully vaccinated. If you are less than two weeks past your final shot, you will have to get a 15-minute rapid antigen test at the island’s expense. All positive tests require a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
If you are not fully vaccinated, I recommend self-isolating for the two weeks prior to your trip as an extra measure of caution. You don’t want to incur the costs, both financial and emotional, of a long quarantine.
Are we there yet?
The Fairmont Orchid, The Big Island of Hawaii
Whew. You’ve made it through all the COVID-19 checks, displayed your Safe Travel app several times, worn a mask for the duration of your flight(s), and arrived at the gorgeous Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast. The lush property amid the barren lava rock fields welcomes you to paradise.
Your temperature will be taken and your Safe Travel app checked to make sure that you’ve been properly screened and not in mandatory quarantine.
Those of us who come from states with mask mandates probably have an easier time than those who are not used to wearing them. In all public spaces except while lounging or eating, you are required to wear a mask that fully covers your mouth and nose. The basic rule: if you are moving or standing on land, you will need a mask. The one exception to this is playing tennis. There, you wear a mask until you enter your reserved court.
Dining and Drinking
The Orchid has decreased its dining options during the pandemic. All menus are accessed via QR code, so bring your smart phone with a QR reader app installed. Because of the weather, all dining can be, and is, open-air, with some coverings in the rare case of rain.
Fortunately, the upscale Brown’s Beach House remains open, but disappointingly, the Luana Lounge on the lanai now serves only sushi with its drinks. As good as the sushi tastes, I liked the greater variety of food options offered during our previous trips.
Because of the pandemic, the Orchid has suspended room service, and instead uses Brown’s Deli as “Taste of Orchid” for takeaway meals, offering limited fare from Brown’s Beach House, Hale Kai, and Brown’s Deli. As always, Brown’s Deli opens at 6:30 am for takeaway breakfast with choices such as yogurt and fruit parfaits, malasadas (similar to doughnuts), and macadamia nut sticky buns. Because only two families may enter at a time, the line can get long outside.
The new Pau Hana Champagne Bar on the edge of the beach opens only on weekends, perhaps to deal with overflow from the Luana Lounge. There, you may sip Veuve Cliquot champagne or a variety of champagne cocktails, all served with awesome gourmet popcorn.
Binchotan and Orchid Court remain temporarily closed. Brown’s Beach House serves a sit-down, full breakfast that you could previously get at the Orchid Court. For the luau schedule, click here.
Spa and Fitness Services
Although this time we did not avail ourselves of massages, I checked the current restrictions. The spa without walls at both the waterfall and the oceanside areas operates with gloved and masked staff. To limit guest interaction, the staff staggers appointments and, for safety, they disinfect thoroughly between clients. Despite those precautions, the spa huts remained mostly unused.
While we stayed at the Orchid, guests used the fitness room. Equipment remained six feet apart, and guests were required to wear masks.
The tennis courts likewise welcomed guests, although the distance between players allowed us to remove our masks once we started playing. Unlike in years past, the courts don’t have water coolers, and the clubhouse doesn’t provide towels. Especially if you plan to play in the morning, court reservations are highly recommended.
Pool and Beach Areas
The staff places beach and pool chairs six feet apart for social distancing, although families may move their chairs closer. I witnessed workers cleaning chairs throughout the day, although I don’t know if they can keep track of where people have previously sat. Despite the pandemic, the hotel still provides towels for beach and pool use, and it still rents some equipment such as paddle boards.
Housekeeping and Rooms
The housekeeping cleans rooms once per day and no longer offers freshening later in the evening. The in-room Keurig machine gets stocked with two caffeinated and two decaffeinated Kona-blend K-cups. When the staff noticed that we had been using the machine, they left one extra K-cup on subsequent days.
As always, our room had been well-cleaned before arrival, with the remote control in plastic and the bathroom spotless. The Orchid also included a traveler’s safety pack with disposable gloves, hand sanitizer wipes, and masks.
We booked an “ocean view” room that really should have been called a “golf course view.” Ocean view rooms are really ocean view only if you step onto your balcony or peer through the sliding doors at one end. If you want to fully see the ocean, pay for an oceanfront room. Garden view rooms generally overlook lush greenery and a service path.
The Orchid doesn’t offer as many complimentary activities as they did before, but I encourage you to look at those they do offer. Most fall on specific days and times and must be reserved through the concierge. We opted for a botanical, bee, and chef’s garden tour. Shaun led us on a wonderfully informative tour of the property’s flowering and fruiting plants and trees, with a stop at the chef’s garden and bee hives. They even have a “miracle berry” shrub.
I saw guests with rented paddle boards, but I don’t know whether the hotel continues to rent snorkle equipment. The few snorkelers in the lagoon could have brought their own gear. Check with the hotel in advance for those rentals as well as for kayaks.
As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, people can think about traveling again, and a trip to Hawaii promises paradise within the U.S. The Fairmont Orchid offers many activities, with the pool, beach, and ocean paths fully open to guests. Dining remains limited; however, as room occupancy increases, expect that to change.
We found it easier to choose one island and to stay there, given the pandemic and attendant restrictions. Because the Fairmont Orchid, as a resort, has everything you’ll need for a true vacation, you can even choose to stay on property the entire time. Fortunately, we reserved our rental Jeep well before the price increases, so we went out and about. Even without that freedom, we would have been perfectly happy to lounge the entire time at the Orchid.