Crowded airports. Long lines. Jam-packed seating. Nuisances in the best of times; nightmares during a pandemic. With much of global travel grinding to a halt over the course of 2020, a safer, and swankier, solution has arisen: private plane vacation packages. While far from a new idea, they’ve never been more popular and prudent, and there’s a growing contingent of hotels, resorts and tour operators who are looking to whisk you away.
So it was that with a fresh negative COVID-19 test stashed in my pocket and a mask on my face, I hopped aboard a Makers Air private flight at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport bound for Andros Island in the Bahamas. There were four passengers on the plane, including myself, and two bottles of sparkling wine. I liked my odds. The destination was Caerula Mar Club, a luxury resort on South Andros offering private beachfront villas and suites with direct pool or beach access.
If the hotel sounds familiar, then you’ve been keeping up to speed with your reality television during lockdown. The resort and its owners, Bryan and Sarah Baeumler, are the subject and stars — or vice-versa, depending on your perspective — of HGTV’s Renovation Island, a show which follows the couple’s hands-on transformation of the property from shuttered and out of date to a classy, modern and now finally reopened boutique hotel.
Caerula Mar is currently offering the Caerula in Style package, which includes round-trip private flights from FXE airport and five nights in a private villa for up to eight guests, as well as all meals and alcohol, and a number of other inclusions, starting at $40,000 for travel through the end of August 2021. From private plane to private villa, the idea is that you can vacation with your family (or whomever you’ve ensnared in your pandemic pod) and be as safe and isolated as possible while still capitalizing on a supremely luxe travel experience.
“People still want to travel, but they have a much higher expectation of safety and security than in the past,” says Sarah Baeumler. “Instead of leaving things to chance with commercial air carriers, flying private gives travelers control. It’s also perfect for groups who have been quarantined together to get away safely. It’s much easier to get where you’re going, it’s more comfortable and isolated.”
Her resort has partnered with Makers Air for flights from Florida as well as Apollo Jets for flights from across the U.S. All you have to do is show up with the appropriate negative PCR test and matching health certificate visa from the Bahamas, and the rest will be taken care of for you.
“The private flights allow our guests to get here hassle-free, so they can spend more of their vacation relaxing and enjoying the island,” Baeumler says. “We’re definitely seeing an uptick in requests and bookings for villa accommodations, particularly extended villa stays, so it seemed natural to pair the villas with our private flight offering.”
With only a few dozen rooms including the villas, Caerula Mar feels like your own private paradise even when your personal pod crosses paths with one or two others. You’ll basically have the run of the joint and its pristine, white sandy beachfront, and all the while, you can fill your days with snorkeling or diving excursions, sailing trips, secluded beach picnics, hikes to one of the island’s blue holes or even cooking classes with the chef, Sebastian Perez, who makes it his mission to interact with every group and cook something special based upon their preferences. (Cheat code: Lobster mac n’ cheese.)
Whether it was a mid-flight sip of Champagne while looking down on strings of small islands or the first taste of a toes-in-the-sand piña colada while observing the impossibly blue Bahamian waters, early on in this endeavor something clicked. A major stress relief valve was opened deep in the interiors of my psyche, and a wave of contented relaxation crashed down upon me. It’s what Baeumler refers to as experiencing the essence of their barefoot luxury approach, and what I call simply savoring the moment. Unhinged Twitter timelines, vaccine waiting lists and political conspiracy theories seemed millions of miles away.
Such a mental escape, momentary as it may be, feels more important and more necessary than ever, and all the better if you can experience it while taking proper precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe. “A private plane vacation was always thought of as a nicer option, but I think now it’s been rebranded as a safer one,” Baeumler says.
More Options for Private Plane Vacation Packages
When it comes to private plane vacations, you’re always encouraged to dream big. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of options as you prepare to plan for your 2021 adventures.
- South Africa or Galapagos with andBeyond: Luxury tour operator andBeyond is offering two private jet itineraries in early 2021, each departing from Sarasota, Florida, and requiring pre-trip COVID-19 tests. In February, there’s an 11-night South African safari coming in at $51,000 per person, including four nights apiece in the Phinda Private Game Reserve and Ngala Private Game Reserve. Then in March there’s a nine-night Galapagos itinerary priced at $49,800 per person which will check several bucket list items off your list at once, as you fly private and then cruise around the islands on a yacht.
- Manifest: Manifest is a lifestyle and travel club providing custom private plane getaways. Local chapters for departures include Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Phoenix, with more in the works. Different experiences are offered weekly, with sample offerings including the national park-filled Moab Adventure or Sip & Savor the American Riviera. Manifest has also partnered with adventure operator MT Sobek to offer numerous active excursions, ranging from backcountry camping in Yellowstone to kayaking, river rafting or climbing trips.
- Ross Wine Tours: Ross Wine Tours is partnering with Clay Lacy Aviation for six different private jet wine trips in 2021, with destinations including Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and Virginia. These 8- to 10-person trips are customized based on your desired timeframe and trip length, and include accommodations, wine tasting and restaurant bookings, and additional transportation, with the optional inclusion of a personal sommelier to join you on your tasty travels.
- Hyatt Regency Aruba: The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa & Casino is partnering with Advent Jets for its Island Getaway Offer. The package includes five nights in the resort’s Governor’s Suite along with round-trip private jet flights, plus various onsite inclusions such as private pool cabanas and multi-course in-suite dinners. Prices start at $27,000.
- Remote Lands & Aman: Aman resorts is teaming up with luxe operator Remote Lands for an 8-night journey in February 2021. Dubbed “The US and Caribbean: Adventures in the Extraordinary,” the experience includes private airfare on a Bombardier Global Express jet and stops in at Aman’s resorts in the Dominican Republic, Turks & Caicos, Utah and Wyoming. The trip costs $59,888 per person based on double occupancy and is limited to 14 guests.