When the Bermuda tourism folks invited me to come out for a long weekend, I was thinking it was too far to travel for three days. Then I looked at the flight times and was dumbfounded at how close it really is. I flew Air Canada from Toronto (WestJet also flies this route) and the 1,120-mile flight took just 2 hours and 20 minutes. The others in my group came from Boston (773 miles), New York (774 miles), and Philadelphia (784 miles), and flight times for them were only 1 hour and 40 minutes. On my trip home to Los Angeles I flew via Atlanta (1,150 miles) and that took five minutes longer than my Toronto flight. Other cities that serve Bermuda (airport code BDA) are Baltimore (813 miles), Miami (1,040 miles), Charlotte (952 miles), and London Gatwick (3,440 miles). FYI: Here are the current airlines that service Bermuda:
Here are some of my random Bermuda facts and notes that I took about the island.
-Bermuda is clean, safe, and accessible.
-Average home price is $1.3 million.
-The driver/tour guide who was assigned to us was Derek Lambert (cell: 441-505-1627). He’s an incredible guy and I highly recommend him as a taxi driver, tour guide, or both.
-There are 600 cabs in Bermuda and a couple thousand cab drivers.
-Only one car per household is allowed.
-Just like in England, in Bermuda they drive on the left side.
-Taxis aren’t crazy expensive. The drive from the airport to my hotel (20 minutes) cost $30. From my hotel to downtown Hamilton (10 minutes) cost $12.
-Gas costs $8.50 a gallon.
-You could drive the whole island in one hour, but a mellow tour would take five hours.
-The only fast-food chain in Bermuda is a single KFC. It arrived in the ’60s and is now grandfathered in.
-There are as many churches as bars and liquor stores.
-You can play golf and tennis year-round.
-Tree frogs chirp, most trees stay green, and stars shine all year round.
-All the houses are made of limestone and the walls are three inches thick. They all capture rainwater for households to use. One local told me they don’t take long showers, and if they run out of water they have to buy it for $85 for a thousand gallons.
-The tap water is drinkable, but it doesn’t taste good in my opinion.
-Lobster season is during months that have an r in their name.
-The legal tender in Bermuda is the Bermuda dollar, which trades at the same rate as the U.S. dollar and carries the same symbol ($). Bermuda and U.S. currencies are accepted everywhere, but change is almost always given in Bermudian currency.
-The electrical current in Bermuda is 110 volts, 60Hz AC, which is the same voltage as the U.S.
-Standard Time in Bermuda is Greenwich Mean Time minus four hours. In other words, one hour ahead of New York (be careful if you have your BlackBerry set to automatically update to local time–it kept changing mine every other day, almost making me late for an appointment).
-Daylight Saving Time is from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.
–Condé Nast Traveler readers have voted Bermuda “Best Island in the Caribbean/Atlantic” 16 times since 1994.
The Bermuda Triangle Is a Myth
You would be surprised at how many people told me to “watch out for the Bermuda Triangle” when they learned about my trip. But getting to and from Bermuda from the northeast (where most visitors come from), you don’t even enter the Bermuda Triangle zone, and chances are you have already been through it if you have flown to South Florida or the Bahamas. The actual area of the triangle has been debated, but everyone seems to agree that one of the angles goes from Bermuda to Puerto Rico, while the other line either starts at South Carolina or south Florida (see these maps for visuals). Either way, when was the last time you heard of a plane or ship mysteriously disappearing from those areas?
The Bermudians are very friendly people. On top of that, many wear Bermuda shorts with high socks and they all have cute accents. It’s described as an English accent with a Bermudian lilt and you will notice it when you ask one of the locals to say the word home–it sounds like hooooome.
There are approximately 65,500 Bermudians on the island and they are a diverse group. According to GoToBermuda.com (which is a great website run by the tourism board), Bermudians are descendants of slaves from the West Indies and West Africa, English settlers, Irish adventurers, exiled North American Indian prisoners, and Portuguese immigrants.
I’ve always heard about Bermuda’s pink-sand beaches and was excited to see them. The sand isn’t as pink as most people picture it, but I definitely could see the pink tint. I learned that what makes it pink is a combination of crushed coral, calcium carbonate, and the shells of tiny single-celled animals called Foraminifera.
We stayed on Elbow Beach, where the sand was like powdered sugar. It didn’t squeak when you walk on it like on White Haven Beach, Australia, or the west coast of Florida.
I was also taken aback by how blue and warm the ocean was. I was thinking that because it’s out in the middle of the Atlantic it would be cold and dark, but that wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, the waves were a bit rough on Elbow Beach for novice swimmers, but there are other parts of the island where the water is as smooth as a lake. The most popular with cruisers is Horseshoe Bay. The real spot to go to is Warwick Long Bay, which looked like a slice of heaven.
Bermuda is 21 square miles (54 square km) with 75 miles (120 km) of coastline. The country is actually made up of 181 islands, islets, and rocks. Most of them are uninhabited, but eight of the larger ones are linked by bridges that form the subtropical paradise. Because of Bermuda’s unique location in the Atlantic it rarely sees extremes of either hot or cold. According to the tourism website: Between May and October, average temperatures range 75°F to 85°F, and December through March the temperatures average between 60°F and 70°F. This past week (late September) the weather was hot during the day (83°F) and the humidity made it feel like 92°F (according to Weather.com). At night it was around 76°F, which was mighty pleasant.
FYI: The water temp was 83 degrees; according to this chart it dips down to 65 degrees in the winter months.
Because of Bermuda’s position in the Atlantic they are aware of the Atlantic hurricane season from June to November. However, the member hotels of the Bermuda Hotel Association found a way to put visitors’ minds at ease when they created a Hurricane Guarantee.
Here’s how it works:
“In the event that a hurricane is predicted by the Bermuda Weather Service to approach within 200 miles of Bermuda and within three days, the guest will be permitted to cancel their reservation without penalty. If Bermuda is directly affected by a hurricane, as determined by the Bermuda Weather Service, during the guest’s stay the hotel will not charge for rooms, food, and beverage or other essential services for any period of time that the hotel’s basic services are not available. If a hotel is unable to continue its operations due to hurricane damage, the hotel will invite the guest to return for a complimentary stay within one year from the reopening of the hotel.”
Participating properties: Cambridge Beaches, Edgehill Manor, Elbow Beach Bermuda, Fairmont Hamilton Princess, Fairmont Southampton, Fourways Inn, Grape Bay Beach Hotel, Newstead, Rosedon, Royal Palms Hotel & Restaurant, Surf Side Beach Club, Tucker’s Point, and Wharf Executive Suites.
Bermuda does not have many (if any) cheap places to stay, especially in high season (Memorial Day to Labor Day). However, the prices drop significantly in the low and shoulder seasons. What Bermuda does have is a wide variety of accommodations to choose from that range drastically in price. They include resorts, large hotels, small hotels, apartments, vacation ownership, cottages & guesthouses, holiday rentals, and accommodations for groups/events/weddings.
I stayed at the Elbow Beach Hotel, the island’s oldest and most famous hotel. It’s run by the Mandarin Oriental, but to be honest it isn’t up to their standards, which might be why the Asia-based company doesn’t have its name branded all over the place (or anywhere). Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s a lovely hotel (here are my notes from my stay). I also visited an incredible cottage where Bill and Hillary recently stayed (here are those notes) and I checked out a guest house.
Since I’m not a big fan of seafood (except lobster and king crab), I thought I wouldn’t enjoy the Bermudian food, but boy was I wrong. I ate at six different restaurants and they all served a wide variety of tasty food.
Beau Rivage Restaurant
The first night I ate at Beau Rivage Restaurant, which was a four-minute drive from my hotel. It had a fantastic view of Hamilton and the food was top-notch. Our hosts raved about the lobster and that it had just come into season, so I had the surf and turf. It was amazing, but it’s not cheap: a half lobster cost $50, a whole $85. The restaurant doesn’t have a website.
Cambridge Beaches dinner at Breezes Restaurant
The second night we ate at Breezes Restaurant at Cambridge Beaches, which is about a 25-minute drive from the hotel. We dined alfresco on the waterfront just above stunning Long Bay Beach. This year they just introduced a seafood market concept for dinner where guests can choose from a wide array of options while gazing at the spectacular Bermuda sunset. I started with the tropical mixed salad ($13) and had the grilled jerk chicken ($33); it was just OK. For dessert, they make homemade ice creams and sorbet that were delicious. Dress code for dinner: relaxed casual attire. Breezes is open seasonally from May through October.
The last night we dined at Ascot’s Restaurant at the Royal Palm Hotel, which was a 10-minute ride from Elbow Beach ($14 taxi). It was a fine restaurant with an Italian maître d’. I started with the chilled banana soup with a splash of dark Bermudian rum ($9.50) and a spiny lobster tail. There were a bunch of locals dining inside and out and they were dressed up. We weren’t.
Hog & Penny
For lunch one day we ate at the Hog & Penny pub in downtown Hamilton. It was kind of dreary but the food was good. I ordered the Hot Beef Dip, which came on a French roll heaped with shaved prime rib and caramelized onions and was served with dipping jus ($16.95).
There’s Stuff to See and Do
Some island destinations don’t offer a lot of attractions, but Bermuda has more than its fair share. For starters, downtown Hamilton has all kinds of shops, including a Marks and Spencer. As far as attractions are concerned, the main area is the Royal Naval Dockyard, popular with the mega cruise ships since they dock down there. There’s a Craft Market, Glass Blowing Factory, Snorkel Park, Dolphin Quest, Clock Tower Mall, and Maritime Museum. Be sure to visit St. Georges Parish, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site–it has St. Peter’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church site in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere. I saw the Gibbs’ Hill Lighthouse but didn’t get to walk up ($2.50) to enjoy the view 242 feet above.
Tip: Instead of taking a taxi back to the hotel from the Dockyards, take the ferry to Hamilton. It requires a token ($4) and the ride takes just under 20 minutes.
By far the coolest thing I saw in Bermuda besides the beautiful beaches was Crystal Cave. There are actually two caves on the property: one is Crystal and the other is Fantasy. It costs $20 for one cave (takes 30-40 minutes) or $27 for two (takes 1 hour and 15 minutes). Every group gets a tour guide, and ours (Owin) was one of the best guides I’ve ever had. He was funny, interesting, and had passion. We only explored the Crystal cave, but that was good enough for me since I’m not much of a cave person and after the Chilean miners’ incident I don’t feel the need to push my luck. Besides, with all the earthquakes happening these days, I’m not taking any chances.
Crystal is the most famous and visited cave in Bermuda. It’s believed to have been discovered by two 14-year-old boys in 1905 when they went looking for their lost ball. Instead of going down via 140 feet of strong rope tied to a tree-like they did, you can walk down 83 steps to view the magnificent crystal stalactites and stalagmites. You can only touch two broken-off crystals because they take hundreds of years to grow. In fact, they grow only a cubic inch every century. Crystal cave is 1.6 million years old and that’s considered young. Down below you can explore the crystals along a wooden floating pontoon walkway that sits on top of a clear 55-foot-deep lake. I was shocked to hear that no movies had ever been filmed in there–it was that special. It would be a perfect setting for Indiana Jones part 50 or the Goonies all grown up. But seriously, it’s worth the visit, just like Bermuda.
Here are a slide show and video of my long weekend in Bermuda. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did on my trip.
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