Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Is Greece still a go this summer? It might depend on where you're coming from, odd as that may sound. What's certain is that if you're in the U.S. now, there are three things you must not do. The first is don't rely on unreliable sources: I have found gross distortions of basic facts in The Daily Beast, glaring omissions in Forbes and sloppy reporting practically everywhere else except for the U.S. Embassy in Athens.
Secondly do not, I repeat, do not make any bookings with websites like Expedia.com. Those U.S. big corporate sites are clueless when it comes to sizing up the new rules in Europe, and you'll have as much luck getting a refund, should you need one, from Expedia as you would getting Cher to fix her typos on Twitter (the latter I've actually tried—not gonna happen).
The third thing you must not do is get overly dejected, because it's easy to do. Just turning on the news these days feels like a forced march to Hades. The fact is there is a new playbook for travel everywhere and frankly glee is not its guiding mantra. Hygiene is the new hip, accept no substitutes. But as we're talking about Greece, here are some of the more salient items to keep in mind— ten new travel commandments, as it were, of which Hermes and Zeus have just their Olympian seal of approval:
1. You must observe social distancing at archaeological sites & museums...that goes for the Acropolis
There will be crowd control at popular archaeological sites, including the direction for people to keep about five feet between each other. The number of visitors allowed to enter each hour will be restricted and the entrance will not be the same as the exit. Expect to see plexigrass screens in places. Extended summer hours will be from 8AM-8PM.
Museums will hopefully all or mostly be open from June 15. Social distancing of 6.56 feet between visitors. Note there will only be AC where it's open-circuit; expect some museums to be on the stuffier side as a consequence (opening windows only goes so far on really hot summer days).
2. Your flight may be packed, your ferry probably not, pack and wear masks
The use of face masks in the airport is now mandatory. Unlike some airlines such as Delta, European airlines will not be blocking middle seats.
It has been announced that ferries should travel at only around 60% capacity. Wearing masks on board is obligatory, as is keeping that distance of five feet from other passengers. And only two persons per cabin, if you take a cabin (families up to four excepted). Expect to fill out a health survey and have your temperature checked before boarding the ferry.
3. New beach rules, so get used to 'em
Beach bars will do take-away only, and probably only packaged food (bummer).While waiting in line you must keep five feet apart from other customers. For math fans, here's the fun part: at organized beach clubs—the kind common to most beach hotels and resorts—a distance of 13 feet between sun umbrellas must be maintained at all times. Also, two sunbeds under different umbrellas can be no closer to each other than five feet. Or ten feet. It's not that clear, but the basic beach commandment is "hey you, get off of my cloud!" Or something like that.
And expect those distancing protocols to be enforced, because violations will lead to fines or even closures.
4. Expect big changes at hotels
In general the new check-in time is 3PM, check-out, 11AM. This is to allow time for more thorough disinfection and ventilation of hotel rooms in between check-ins. Hand sanitizers must be placed at reception desks—a good thing if you forgot your bottle of Purell on the plane. Cash payments will be discouraged.
Turndown service? Bye bye now. Also gone is automatic changing of sheets and towels: you'll have to specifically request this. Hotel owners have been instructed to disinfect plastic card keys after each check out so, you don't have to request this.
As for visitors in hotel rooms? Customers listed on the reservation only.
5. Say goodbye to those Big Fabulous Greek hotel breakfast buffets
These are now officially a thing of the past, so don't even ask. (I know. Sad.)
6. Deal with the fact that dining will be way less social
Inside dining in restaurants may resume from June 6, but expect distancing between tables if it does. Tables outside must be spaced between 28 inches and 67 inches apart, and no more than six people to a table, families with children excepted. Hand sanitizer should be readily available at cash registers, but it's probably not a bad idea to have your own on hand.
Waitstaff must wear masks. For diners, it's advised but not mandatory.
And smashing plates? Um, no.
7. You will not get a haircut on the spur of the moment
Don't just walk in; make an appointment. Use of masks is mandatory for all. If you need a recommendation for a good barber in Athens, ask us about Akis in Pagrati (before Mykonos) or Babis in Piraeus (after Mykonos)
8. Culture vultures, you may still feast
...but from a much smaller plate. Yes there will still be live performances but only the outdoor ones. They should start after July 15 and can only operate at 40% capacity. Stage crew and artists are to wear masks on stage—it's not clear how the latter is going to work out.
We can report that the famous Athens & Epidaurus Festival will take place, with performances exclusively at the Festival’s open-air venues: the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus. It will bear the subtitle ΥΠΟΣΥΝΟΛΟ – FRAGMENT.
9. Observe the new rental car and car transfer protocols
First the good news: as far as we can tell, you no longer need a cumbersome international driver's license to hit the road in Greece. But if you were planning on barreling around Corfu with your buddies, not so fast: only the driver plus one passenger will be allowed per vehicle (cars up to five seats). The cars should be disinfected in between rentals by the rental company.
Those planning a private car transfer, take note: if your transfer vehicle has five or fewer seats, your driver can only take you in the car. Only if the car seats six to seven passengers will two people (that is, in addition to the driver) be permitted.
10. Mask up, baby
The use of disposable or reusable fabric masks is mandatory on the Metro (subway) and all other forms of public transportation, including taxis, shuttle buses, and other tourist vehicles. Face masks must also be worn in shops.
Expect social distancing protocols to be in force at most shops. Tour buses can only operate at 50% capacity, and for those open-air ones, you have to wait for everyone who wants to disembark at a given stop to do before you embark yourself.
Oh and when you get to our hotel, thanks maybe to Delta, ask where the nearest hospitals and pharmacies are just in case. Believe it or not, the locals are going to know more about their island than Google.