JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A five-day vacation turned into 50, but St. Johns County couple Addison and Tara Fitzgerald finally made it out of paradise and returned to a much different looking home.
When the couple began a five-day vacation to Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamas, on March 12, there was no lockdown or abundance of face masks in public or one-way traffic in grocery store aisles.
Things have changed quite a bit since then.
“After 50 days, you’re like, ‘it’s time to get back,’” Addison said. “After being over there for 50 days, real tranquil, island style, kind of castaway living, and then coming back in and then going to get groceries at the store … it’s been different.”
The Fitzgeralds were supposed to return from their vacation March 17, but the COVID-19 pandemic began complicating return plans shortly before they were to leave. Later, it became virtually impossible as travel restrictions and lockdown curfews went into effect. That left them stuck, albeit in a gorgeous island paradise, with no return date in sight.
That finally came last Friday.
Unable to use their tickets on Silver Airways due to constant cancellations and restrictions on commercial flights in and out of the Bahamas, the Fitzgeralds wound up partnering with several others who were stranded on the island and hired a private charter to return home. When they were researching previous charter flights to return home by themselves, Addison said the costs were outrageous. Flying back with numerous people made the cost to get home manageable.
They were given three dates for the plane to land in at North Eleuthera International Airport — May 1, 13 and 18 — and opted for the first available departure off the small island. They flew into Fort Lauderdale and drove back to town last Friday, right as Florida was preparing to begin Phase 1 of its gradual reopening.
It was much different than how the couple remembered it in early March.
Outside of a shopping trip, Addison and Tara have self-quarantined from family and friends — save for a surprise neighborhood celebration for Addison’s 53rd birthday — since they’ve been back. They plan on seeing their children for the first time on Tuesday and remain practicing social distancing procedures.
“I have mixed feelings about it, the Bahamas were so wonderful. Amazing people there. They were so kind. Everyone treated us so great over there. We went to Costco and Walmart [when they got home] and I felt like I was in a foreign country,” Tara said.
“Arrows on aisles in grocery stores. … It’s definitely a culture shock coming back. It is nice being back. My parents are comforted by us being home. Even though we were safe over there, knowing we’re home is different. We’re still quarantined from them [their children], but tomorrow morning, the first thing to do is be with them and never want to let them go.”