I confess to being responsible for the loud shriek of childish excitement that startled my husband, Steve, and dog, Bert, upon learning that I had been selected as one of only five UK agents to spend two nights in Marbella courtesy of an initiative from the tour operator Inspiring Travel Company in partnership with renowned industry group Travel Gossip.
The trip had been arranged to enable us to personally share the post-lockdown travel experience with our clients and have the opportunity for an uplifting and much needed few days in the company of some fantastic industry associates, site visiting and staying at some fine establishments, following a pretty challenging few months for us.
Thankfully, I managed to get to Marbella and back before the regulations changed once again for poor Spain and those travellers affected by the new guidance. I remain hopeful they will change again soon and in the meantime hope that the following journal of my whole experience will assist those wanting to know what to expect when flying to other destinations imminently and inspire others to consider Marbella for a future break. I do have some great prices and added value offers for the stunning Marbella Club Resort for those booking soon.
The night before travel
In the interests of research (and to help ease his understandable envy), I treated Steve to a night at the Renaissance Heathrow, which is next to the runway, for some serious plane spotting the day before departure. I do have to admit to also being a fan of the thrill of the runway myself.
The Renaissance, which services all terminals, didn’t close at all throughout the pandemic, catering for pilots and crew of the cargo flights and other essential travel. There were few guests in residence, service was immaculate, and everything felt very safe and clean.
London Heathrow Airport T5
We were surprised at how full the T5 short stay car park was. Masks were donned immediately which I accepted I'd be wearing for up to 7 hours from this time.
The terminal itself was also busier than expected, with terminals 3 and 4 closed and all flights were departing from T2 or T5.
It was still comfortable with decent room and the BA staff were exceptional in both demeanour and service. The bar and restaurant were open but most shops were closed and only one currency exchange was visibly open.
Departure from London
Heading through security to departures was as normal and social distancing was being encouraged with seats blocked out, good signage and visible evidence of liquid hand santisers and mask vending machines. The duty free was open, along with many of the shops and restaurants - you can still breakfast at Fortnums and shop at Gucci if you can still afford to. Masks were not required in bars or restaurants.
We were taken to the BA Club Lounge to see how it had adapted. Entry is contactless and we were escorted to a table which had a unique QR code via which breakfast was ordered. The lounges now operate with staff behind protective screens who prepare the table orders. Our food and drinks arrived within minutes, and staff assisted with the new technology. It was very nicely done but RIP eat as much as you can buffets, a covid consequence that I guess in some ways may turn out better for us in the long run.
In the departures lounge, passengers were respectful of space but at times the one metre rule became a little tricky. Queueing to board the plane worked well with a request to lower masks to show our faces with passports. We were boarded by seat row but on board it was just as it always is with some already sat, others putting up bags, waiting patiently and having to ask someone to move to reach your seat. Our flight was full and there's no doubt in that case you are sat within a metre of other folk.
After take-off, we were handed a plastic bag containing a bag of crisps, biscuits and water and no other cabin crew service was necessary during the flight other than rubbish collection. We were asked not to queue for the loos, but people were getting fed up with missing their opportunity and so there was some aisle queueing.
Overall the experience was incredibly calm and peaceful, and once I had the air-con pointing directly at my face, I was set for the flight, picnic and all. Everyone respected the mask rule throughout, removing them only to eat or drink as allowed.
Manchester departure by contrast
My colleagues who flew from Manchester advised that masks were worn throughout the airport other than in drinking and dining outlets. The main shops and duty free were open although the airport was quieter than usual with a relaxed atmosphere and mix of age groups. They flew on a less busy Jet2 flight that provided a full food and beverage service throughout and passengers were able to roam sensibly once airborne.
Arrival into Malaga
Landing and disembarking was a joy. BA asked us to remain seated when landed (as usual) and the crew called 4 rows at a time to stand up and disembark and guess what? It took no longer than if we’d leapt up, got our bags and stood like twits with crooked necks for 10 minutes.
To enter Spain, I had been required to complete a simple passenger location form and health declaration online within 48 hours of departure, which barely took five minutes. The resulting QR code was emailed to be able to show by phone. Those that had forgotten to do this were handed paper forms to complete prior to landing and it was good to see a contingency plan was in place.
Arrival into Malaga Airport (which is huge) was straight-forward and it didn't take long to get through security and passport control where again we had to lower masks. Prior to collecting luggage, we joined one of several short queues for health forms to be checked.
Security and customs officials were remarkably welcoming which was nice to feel. Social distancing was in operation with mask wearing being politely enforced. Face masks were requested by our transfer driver who offered us hand sanitiser gel before boarding.
Exploring Marbella Club Hotel
We were permitted to remove masks once inside the Marbella Club Hotel, noting that staff were always wearing theirs.
I had been in mine for just over 6 hours airport to hotel and my biggest take away from the entire trip is the need to choose your mask carefully. You’ll need several and don’t be swayed by style over substance.
The resort was at around 50% occupation with an expectation of 60% maximum for the summer period.
The gardens were beautiful, a team of professionals had worked throughout the pandemic to maintain them, and there was no need to bump into anyone or feel unsafe about being around others.
I stayed in a beautifully designed, luxurious, airy Deluxe Room with light colours and a large private terrace and seating area. I have a dislike of feeble air-con in 30 degrees of heat and was not disappointed.
Our host for the evening's outside dining at The Grill was sales manager, Andrea Surra, who presided over a relaxed atmosphere that felt very private. The menu came in the form of a QR code placed elegantly on the table which revealed its contents when scanned. My colleagues raved over the fillet steak whilst I had the tuna takami which was every bit as perfect as I had hoped it would be and much fun, food, drink and laughter was enjoyed by all.
Breakfast was at the same restaurant where our eggs and coffee were ordered in person and we had access to a rather sumptuous buffet service which was behind protective screens with personnel serving, and included a glass of champers, fresh fruit juices, smoked salmon and Spanish cured meats and cheeses.
A comprehensive site inspection was followed by lunch at the MC Beach which has the most idyllic beachfront setting, providing the sights and sound of the Med whilst eating.
The menu is extensive whilst specialising in fresh seafood plus judging by observation the chefs are happy to provide whatever is requested. My freshly made gazpacho and sushi really hit the spot with colleagues waxing lyrical about the garlic prawns, sardines and paella, particularly. We ordered in person with the menu again accessed via QR code.
Our afternoon was consumed by live broadcasting our experiences to industry colleagues with the help of Travel Gossip, followed by a quick visit to Puerto Banus.
Masks are compulsory outside resort other than in the numerous harbourside bars and restaurants where tables were socially distanced and hand sanitiser was provided. It wasn’t busy but I’ve seen fewer super cars doing the circuit in Monaco than I did here! Shockingly parked too!
Exploring Puente Romano
The evening saw us undertake a short walk up the promenade to the wonders of Puente Romano, the sister hotel to Marbella Club and also home to the NOBU hotel and restaurant and 14 additional dining experiences.
We were met by sales manager Eva Heienbrok who hosted a fascinating site inspection and sumptuous dinner at the Sea Grill where we were also treated to the spectacular sight of an electric storm over the distant Atlas Mountains.
It would have been churlish to refuse the kind offer of a couple of Moscow Mules at the trendy Nobu Plaza, a pleasant atmosphere with a chilled vibe, shisha on offer and table service.
Old Town Marbella
The wonderful Andrea hosted above and beyond, insisting on taking us to her favourite churros bakery in the Old Town where she resides. Although it was a brief encounter, I’m so glad that I got to visit this typically Andalucian town with plenty of life, history and character and needless to say the churros dipped in the obligatory chocolate were sensational.
The airport didn’t feel busy at all. Social distancing was being respected and there was a noted security presence ensuring that masks were worn.
The return flight exactly mirrored the outbound one and upon arrival we were asked to remain seated until disembarkation, which passengers respected. This is one thing that I hope continues!
Arrival into Heathrow
Within 48 hours of arrival back to the UK, I had to complete the online public health passenger locator form. This form took significantly longer to complete at 20 minutes, requesting address details more often than necessary along with account verification and receipt confirmation.
Clearly several passengers weren't aware of requirements and were scrambling with phones whilst in the queue for passport control, which is currently only manual so you get to grin behind your mask at the fully staffed Border Control personnel.
We cleared customs without much delay and the T5 arrivals lounge was empty. Drivers and welcoming relatives are encouraged to wait in the car park and passengers head to them.
We found ours without a hitch and I pushed my mask wearing endurance to a new personal best with a final 2-hour transfer home.
Mask-wearing conclusions and observations
You will be wearing one for a minimum of 3 - 4 hours for a short haul journey, other than when eating or drinking
The airport experience is more clammy than usual, so consider investing in a £12 USB charged hand fan from John Lewis. I don’t travel without mine. Other models are available.
Girls, wear primer under your make-up if you wear any at all. Darker coloured masks don’t show the off-rub.
It's harder to be heard and clearly hear others, often also communicating from behind protective screens. Patience is required.
In a mask, no-one can see you smile. Learn to smile with your eyes.
You will be asked to lower your mask when showing your passport. Take the opportunity to cheer up the airline crew and border control with a big smile
Massive thanks to Jason and Gary of ITC, Bruce from Travel Gossip, Andrea, Eva and all their lovely staff at Marbella Club Resort and Puente Romano along with my inspiring fellow agents for their fantastic company and making me smile lots.