submitted by - Bruce Pohlig - client of Bursch Travel Alexandria
Fun in the Sun
Looking for a new place to vacation? Had enough trips to Orlando, Key West, Myrtle Beach, Miami, Cancun, and the Caribbean? Think British sunshine; think Bermuda.
Where is Bermuda?
From our Midwest fly to Atlanta and turn left in a three-hour flight, arriving on St. David's Island at the same latitude as Charleston, South Carolina. Bermuda is 106 islands (four main islands) in the Atlantic Time Zone. The return flight offers excellent views of South Carolina's Low Country.
No Foreign Exchange
It's British, but they use dollars, ours and Bermudian dollars (formerly called Hog Money) treated equally. You'll enjoy learning how Hog Money was created. Dine at the Hog Penny Tavern in the capital City of Hamilton to see the real thing.
When to Go
Weather-wise, I recommend May through October, although June through August are said to be jam packed with visitors. Our April 11-17 week was beautiful but the water was a cool 69 degrees and the air about the same in the shade, following their unusually wet and cool winter. Fifty degree winter temps are considered very cold.
What's to Do?
â€¢ Although the tourist map lists 22 beaches and bays, there are many more, particularly on the south shore where beaches are lined up for your pursuing pleasure by road, dune trail, or the shoreline itselfâ€"separated only by fascinating rocks and outcroppings you can walk to the tops of. Their famous pink sand is prominent pink streaks in the sand. But don't think coarse Hawaiian black sand here. This is finer, more sugary sand than you find even in the Caribbean. The bottom doesn't drop off quickly at all as Bermuda has no mountains or even any St. Thomas-like high hills. But Top 10 ranked beaches abound, protected on the south shore by a breaking reef line about a quarter mile off-shore. Whether you're a beach sitter or walker, beach time is terrific.
â€¢ We met golfers from Toronto who booked T-times at numerous courses via the web 60 days in advance. We golfed the premier course, the Port Royal, with it's signature over-the-water hole next to one of the 12 forts with old-style cannon for touring in Bermuda. The PGA Shootout will be at Port Royal later this year.
â€¢ Walk segments of the Rail Trail which travels almost from one end of Bermuda to the other and is similar to U.S. local rails to trails cycling and pedestrian paths, with one large exception. The views from this trail are stunning. They may be distant views of other islands, panoramic views of harbors and boats below the trail, or close-up, shaded views of off-trail homes behind fences and walls just off the trail. Bermuda's islands are a fish-hook shaped, 22-mile long array that vary in width from 1.5 miles to 100 yards. For me, a daily walk on the trail quickly became a must. I just couldn't get enough of the views.
â€¢ There are three main areas for shopping: the capital Hamilton, Town of St. George (the original capital), and the Royal Naval Dockyard where a sprawling colonial fort has ingeniously been converted into shopping beside the cruise ship terminal. You may take foot or Segway tours of the fort and swim with their dolphins. Glass and pottery artisans create their wares in front of you and will converse about their products.
Hamilton's busy shopping district is largely up-scale and trendy, featuring famous brands from around the globe, and is definitely the go-to place in Bermuda. St. George is a quiet contrast, more like touring a miniature Williamsburg, complete with the original State House, the oldest Anglican Church in continuous use in the New World, and colonial stocks and pillory. While there my son-in-law and I were pressed into service by a costumed Town Crier to operate the dunking stool on which the Crier finally managed to seat a costumed wench proclaimed to have been found guilty of nagging her husband. A substantial crowd gathered at the waterfront to witness the punishment, although men in the crowd appeared to enjoy the repeated dunkings more than the women. Afterwards, many in the crowd took a town walking tour with a costumed guide or enjoyed lunch at a waterfront indoor/outdoor tavern. (The Crier adjourned to the tavern.)
â€¢ For the history buff there is fascinating information and much to see and learn: from the Spaniard Bermudaz to how shipwrecked English on Bermuda later saved the starving Jamestown colony (as part of the Virginia Company) to Bermuda's 1834 emancipation of the slaves (with various World Heritage sites) to Bermuda's role with Confederate blockade runners, to Bermuda's WWII mail censoring operation; all is available to the curious.
â€¢ Lighthouse touring can be especially fun. The tallest (185 steps) was prefabricated from cast iron in England and erected in 1846 on a south shore hill. You may walk it (for $2.50) or take in the "Queen's Viewâ€ from a plaque commemorating the 1953 visit of Queen Elizabeth II while en route on her first visit to Virginia.
â€¢ Sail, fish, dive, snorkel. They are all available in the pristine waters of Bermuda. Shipwreck diving is especially popular as the wrecks are not in deep water. Wrecks from 1609 to 1985 are marked on tourist maps.
â€¢ Tour two limestone caves discovered just 100 years ago by boys whose cricket ball fell through a small opening just several miles from today's airport. Take the Fantasy Cave tour and skip the Crystal Cave tour as it is smaller and much the same.
â€¢ For the political and governmental process aficionado, when walking past the Cenotaph on Hamilton's Front Street, stroll up the driveway to view the statue and story of Sally Bassett, then enter the Senate Building and request permission to view the upstairs Senate Chamber. There are no public tours, but you will be invited in if the Senate is not in session. Enormous portraits of English royalty adorn the walls. Then, continue up the hill to the Sessions House and seek out the Sergeant-at-Arms, Mr. Fox, who, if he is free of Parliamentary duties, will proudly spend up to an hour with you on a private tour as he explains how their parliamentary system works and some pressing current issues. During our tour we met the Speaker of the House.
â€¢ Evening dinning was the highlight of every day, no matter how exciting or laid-back we'd been that day. It seems strange to say so, but we never left hotel property for some of the finest dinners in all of Bermuda. Here is how it happened at the hotel Bursch Travel booked us into.
There are numerous fine places to stay in Bermuda, but the finest is likely the Fairmont Southampton. Certainly its property is the finest, spanning the largest island from its south shore beach to its north shore Jews Bay marina, from which it operates a free ferry for six daily roundtrips to the Fairmont Princess Hotel's dock in Hamilton--just a 3 minute walk from the main shopping district. The Fairmont Southampton is 593 excellent rooms with balconies, pools, spa, shops, lovely executive golf course, and top-notch restaurants. First, there is Windows for a sumptuous breakfast. By late in your week the waiters (all male) will know your name. Lunch may be taken in the beach Cabana Grill, the poolside restaurant or inside the hotel. The dinners will make lasting impressions, particularly at the Waterlot, the Ocean Club (for a sunset ocean view), Bacci, or the Newport Room.
The Waterlot, by the hotel's marina, has specialized in steaks for over 300 years, having served Mark Twain among their famous guests. Ordering the Waterlot's Sticky Pudding is a mustâ€"truly a desert to die for. The Ocean Club specializes in contemporary Asian cuisine. Their decor and the menus themselves are a delight. Bacci is terrific Italian fare; no Olive Garden here. Do request the pizza bread. Everything on the menu is great and, to this diner, better Key Lime Pie than in the Florida Keys. The Newport Room's teak and brass earned it the highest dollar investment of any restaurant in the country. You may also charge to your room when dinning at the Fairmont Princess fine restaurant in Hamilton. Prepare to be amazed. We had never seen such wait staff attention to detail in all these restaurantsâ€"such as white napkins quickly replaced with black ones if your trousers or skirt is dark (not a chance of a lint transfer!). Wait staff we met were from Nepal, Russia, Spain, Canada, and Hungry, as well as locals. All bar tending jobs are reserved for locals.
All Fairmont restaurants are smart casual for dress except the Newport Room which is jackets for gentlemen, ties preferred. Expect to see most women quite well dressed for dinner.
It is illegal for tourists to rent cars due to concerns with narrow, windy and hilly roads while driving on the left side. Unless you are experienced with scooters or mopeds, Bermuda is no place to learn and you are quickly warned against renting them for your own safety. Bicycling on roadways is for very experienced bikers and few were observed. So how do you get around? Taxisâ€"lots of them. Also, wonderfully clean, frequent and prompt bus service with helpful uniformed drivers. And, my personal favorite, water ferries which are fun, scenic, and a great way to meet other visitors. Water ferries traverse their routes in from 10-45 minutes. Views of the islands from the water are as interesting as views of the water from the islands.
Friendlyâ€¦politeâ€¦helpful. You would be hard-pressed to find a more friendly populace anywhere in our experience. There are some 65,000 Bermudians. It was common that we might simply appear puzzled and a local citizen would inquire if we needed assistance! Uniformed school children passed on the street will look you in the eye and offer a cheery "good afternoonâ€ with a smile. Businessmen really do wear Bermuda shorts and knee-high socks with their dress shirt, tie, and jacket.
Most Americans you meet will be from our east coast, particularly the northeast as they have a less than a two-hour flight. Some will come for only 3-4 days. These may include couples with cottages on Cape Cod Bay escaping for early or late season warmer temps. You may encounter large corporate American groups from as far away as California. Eastern Canadians love Bermuda. From outside North America you will meet families, including pre-school and school-age children, from the United Kingdom, particularly during their two-week spring break. At the Fairmont hotels it's easy to meet international bankers and insurance men which whom to converse about their industries and Bermudian operations. International flight crews on furlough reside at the Southampton. In the leisurely atmosphere of Bermuda, if you are a bit out-going, you may conversationally travel to the homes of many people you meet, learning about their lives and interests. Slow down. Politeness reigns in Bermuda.
Expensive. Cokes, ice tea and lemonade are $4 and beer $89. (Always ask when ordering lemonade if it is actually lemonade or Sprite with a lemon!) A dinner for four at one of the aforementioned restaurants could easily run $300 to $370 with a modest bottle of wine. While we did not splurge full-out on dinners, we weren't at all stingy either. The Fairmont offers a meal plan for $89 per day plus 17% gratuity with certain menu restrictions and no alcoholic beverages; we opted not to use it.
The most economical purchase in Bermuda is public transportationâ€"bus or water ferry. In fact, an all-day pass on both is $12. That can drop to $9 if you buy a 3-day pass, but be aware; those are 3 consecutive days from the first use day.
How to Get There
Shelley Anderson in Bursch's Alexandria office booked us Delta First-Class and were we glad she did! Each trip develops its own personality and first-class was definitely the personality of our entire week. Simply ask Bursch for the American Express package which includes airport transfers. We departed wanting more of Bermuda. Isn't that the way it should be?