Here is an honest account of my experience travelling in these strange times, including a review of the hotel where we stayed in Paphos (Cyprus). I hope it’s helpful for you. As I write this post, the situation is deteriorating, once more. I think holidays will be on hold for a good while. We have to hope that things will improve.
When we first decided to go on holiday, a few months ago, to celebrate my 60th birthday, we knew we were taking a risk. This was because the rules regarding which countries were safe to travel to, without the need to self-isolate, were constantly changing.
We decided to book a package deal with TUI. Our rationale was, they have a “flexibility” and” free amendment” policy in place,“at the moment”.
We didn’t fancy the prospect of losing our cash, so for the assurance TUI and a package deal brought, we thought it would be safer to book with them, in these unusual circumstances.
Original Plans and a Holiday Cancellation
Originally, we had booked a great holiday in Turkey, a country I had never visited. Then, with only a few days’ notice, Turkey was removed from the travel corridor, meaning our government didn’t think it safe to travel there. Following this, TUI cancelled flights and our holiday to Turkey. They said we could have a full refund or a £500.00 reduction off another holiday if we so wished. At this stage, we did ask ourselves, “should we just cancel?” However, with the sizeable discount they were offering, we had a little peep to see what was available.
Going back a few months, we had spotted a hotel called, “The Pioneer Beach”, in Cyprus (an island in the Eastern Mediterranean, southeast of Greece). We liked the look of the holiday. It was available to go in a week, or so. But, we then remembered that the reason for not booking this hotel, originally, was because Cyprus required a negative COVID 19 test result. This had to be submitted to their Cyprus flight pass website prior to departure.
The complication was, the test had to be done no earlier than seventy-two hours before travel. If it all went swimmingly meeting this requirement, the Cyprus authorities would then issue us with individual flight passes to allow us into the country. This information is checked before boarding the outbound flight in the UK and then, again, at passport control in Cyprus.
We had no idea how to acquire a private test. Then we discovered TUI had since hooked up with a company based in Ireland (Randox Healthcare) The latter offer private COVID testing.
With a discount code applied, the price we paid was £68.00 each with the promise we would receive the results within 24 hours, before departure.
I wouldn’t blame you at this stage to say, “no, thank you”. But the wording and process seemed straight forward, and there was the assurance we would receive our test results, the next day. So, we looked again at “The Pioneer Beach” hotel in Paphos and decided to go for it.
COVID Test Scenario
We were due to travel on Saturday, 10th October.
We ordered our test kit on Monday, 5th of October. We didn’t actually receive the COVID test kit until Thursday, 8th October. This meant we had to undertake the swab samples, ourselves, then take them to the appointed courier, who delivered them to Randox in Antrim, Northern Ireland.
We then had to wait for the test results which we were advised would be emailed to us but could take up to 24 hours.
As you can imagine, we were very anxious all would not go to plan. If Randox were to take 24 x hours to send us the results, this would leave us very little time to upload the information to the Greek authorities’ website and then make it to the airport before the check-in desks closed.
We rang TUI to ask for advice as they did state on their website that the kits would be delivered within 24 hours, which, of course, was incorrect and misleading. We didn’t get any substantial help. Apart from their Call Centre Agents saying they were experiencing a lot of problems and that Randox were under instruction to “fast track” all TUI customers’ test results.
We eventually received our negative results at 11.00 pm the night before travel!
There is a lot more I could add to this, but then it will just become a rant instead of detailing our experience. What I will say is that we weren’t the only people having problems. A couple we spoke to, on holiday, said they had paid over £300 to get their samples couriered, privately.
Face coverings were always mandatory, in the airport and on the flight, everywhere!!!!!
The cabin crew staff were continually checking that everyone was sticking to the rules – which was good.
We were surprised to find the flight busy (flight duration 4hr 30 mins). We had booked extra legroom – then, following take-off, the passenger next to us moved so we had three seats to ourselves – so we could stretch out. This was the same on the return journey. I can’t say the flight was pleasurable. It certainly wasn’t the usual laid-back experience we have had, in the past.
Arrival at the Hotel Pioneer Beach
The Pioneer Beach Hotel is part of the Constantinou Bros group of hotels, based in Cyprus. This hotel is an adult-only, beachfront location, situated in Kato, Paphos. It has 302 rooms and suites (which I loved, as it was more intimate) – plus, an indoor Spa, outdoor swimming pool and a wealth of amenities.
It’s around a 45-minute walk to the harbour where there are shops, bars, tavernas and restaurants. There’s a regular bus service which stops just outside the hotel and which takes you to the harbour and beyond, including the old town of Paphos and the archaeological sites there.
We were told the police would issue a 300 Euro “on the spot “fine if you were seen not to be wearing your face covering in a public place. This certainly focused the mind.
The Covid measures in the hotel were sensible and enforced, but as unobtrusive as it is possible to be. And, everyone followed the rules with good humour.
Personally, I felt safe here!!
On arrival, we had our temperature checked. Then, we were welcomed by the Customer Services Manager in a very smart reception area. A glass of champagne was thrust into our hands which we gratefully accepted (without any resistance), and which did make us go a little “giddy”, following the last 48 hours. We had a lovely chat with her regarding where to eat, and which areas we were expected to wear our face coverings. They had also kindly left the restaurant open for late arrivals (it was close to midnight) for which we were extremely grateful.
We had booked a standard room with a sea view, and what a spectacular view it was. However, the room was a tad on the small side, as was the balcony. I think there were other styles of rooms and suites available, but we didn’t look into it with just being there for one week.
Since returning, I have learnt that they have a premium package which may be different to the deal we were on.
My other half said the room reminded him of city hotels where the rooms can be on the small side (e,g. Novotels). However, the king-size bed was super comfortable, which was probably the main thing.
Restaurant and Food Standard
We booked All Inclusive (AI) – something we’ve never done before, in Europe.
Our rationale was, we’re in strange times with COVID, so let’s play safe and stay in this lovely AI hotel without any burning need to venture out.
It had everything we required to chill, nestle down, read books, and listen to music.
The reviews on this hotel were all saying that the food and drink were top-notch, so this inspired us to book this package.
There were two “ à la carte ” nights that were included in our week’s stay. And, the menu options and quality of food were fabulous. And, the drinks were of good quality, too. Sometimes, in AI hotels, the versions of alcohol dispensed can be a little substandard. But, this was all the real deal.
The open-air restaurant, where we went for all our food, overlooked the beach. This was a real treat for me, sitting having my breakfast in the sunshine, overlooking the warm Mediterranean Sea. It was simply wonderful. I really can’t think of a better way to start the day, and when I think of this hotel, this is the image I have!