No destination satisfies your need for a no-fuss, relaxing vacation like the think-pink British Colony of Bermuda -- which probably accounts for the amazingly high repeat rate of nearly 50 percent when it comes to returning visitors. We say it's just another tribute to the simple pleasures the islands offer: blue skies meeting blue waters; pink sand beaches along winding roads sprinkled generously with gracious cottages washed in lemon yellows, baby blues and pistachio greens; and sophisticated museums, shops and restaurants.
However, until recently only a handful of travelers could experience Bermuda by cruise. The islands have been standoffish in the past about welcoming mega-ships, preventing "overcrowding" by allowing a limited number of small to mid-size (and mostly older) ships to dock. Also, save for the occasional trans-Atlantic pit stop, ships that did call were required to stay for three full days. Because of these regulations, most mainstream lines had a limited presence if any; for example, party-hearty Carnival returned to Bermuda in 2002 after a hiatus of three full years -- and then sailed Bermuda-free again in 2005.
Thankfully, things are changing. Last year, Royal Caribbean's 138,000-ton, 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas came to town -- the largest ship ever to call in Bermuda, and a real departure from the British isles' haughty "no big boys" stance. Carnival Legend will sail two special Bermuda cruises in 2006 and 2007, and Costa Magica sailed its first-ever series of seven-night Bermuda voyages this year.
The traditional three-day rule is bending, too, with some ships treating Bermuda as a "normal" port of call, coming to town for just a few hours. This year, NCL's Norwegian Spirit will incorporate one-day stays in King's Wharf with calls at Eastern Caribbean ports St. Thomas and Tortola. Princess' brand-new Crown Princess will make 10 one-day calls in King's Wharf (San Juan, St. Thomas and Grand Turk are also on the itinerary).
With ever-larger ships calling in Bermuda, yet another evolution has been set in motion: King's Wharf, a former berthing point for the British navy, is the primary port for mega-liners and has grown in popularity to rival that of longtime stops Hamilton and St. George's, which simply can't accommodate today's stretched vessels. This is a trend we expect to continue as new-builds increase in size -- and smaller, older ships eventually leave expanding fleets.
One thing's for sure: Whether the ship you choose stops in one or all three ports -- or stays for one or more days -- it's a walk in the park (or on the beach) to see Bermuda. Its eight largest islands, connected by causeways and bridges, measure just 22 miles in length and barely two miles across as the widest point -- so you can travel from one end to the other in about an hour and from north to south in less than 15 minutes.
Contrary to popular belief, Bermuda is not in the Caribbean! Consisting of 120-plus islands (some of which aren't even big enough to build a small house on), Bermuda lies in the Atlantic -- with the nearest land being Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, some 570 miles away. New York is 774 miles from Bermuda and London is 3,497 miles away.
A visitor's Bermuda is basically limited to the eight largest isles -- Ireland North, Ireland South, Boaz, Somerset, Bermuda (or Main), Watford, St. David's and St. George's -- connected by causeways and bridges. There are nine parishes or counties (Devonshire, Hamilton, Paget, Pembroke, Sandys, Smith's, Southampton, St. George's and Warwick), each a bit over two square miles.
And almost certainly because Bermudians know a good thing when they see it, they've put a long list of laws on the books to keep paradise exactly that. They don't allow billboards, neon signs or -- heaven forbid -- golden arches regally reigning over fast-cooked burgers and fries (albeit really good ones). Residents get one car apiece to drive at no more than 20 miles per hour, and there are no places to rent a car because that's illegal too; hence, non-citizens will use taxis, ferries, scooters and bikes for getting from point A to B. Civilized right down to the last grain of pink sand, they'll let you show some skin by encouraging the wearing of the national dress, Bermuda shorts (which, by the way, are rarely "on sale") -- but never wear a pair that rises more than two inches above the knee, thank you very much. On the other hand, don't even think about taking your bikini-clad body more than 25 feet from the water.
Approximately 550,000 visitors come to Bermuda each year; an estimated 75 percent arrive from the United States (the most from New York, with Massachusetts second), 10 percent from Britain, 10 percent from Canada, and the remaining 10 percent from as far away as Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and Sweden.
The current number of residents is 64,500, all living within 20.75 square miles. That makes it the third most densely populated place on earth, with 3,372 persons per square mile (Monaco is first with 15,921, followed by Singapore with 6,891). 78 percent of its residents were born in Bermuda, but technically they're not Bermudians unless at last one parent was born in Bermuda, too. In fact, the Bermuda Olympic Association only allows true Bermudians to go to the Olympics, Pan Am Games or Central American and Caribbean Games. It's the fifth smallest country in the world, after Vatican City, Monaco, Nauru and Tuvalu (those last two are in the South Pacific). Only Bermudians can own any property and vote. Non-nationals are limited to buying the top five percent of land at market price.
Who Goes There
The greatest majority of cruises begin on the Eastern Seaboard. The evolution of the region is evident in the list of cruise lines offering regular Bermuda cruises: luxury line Crystal is joined by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, NCL, Carnival and Princess, just to name a few mainstreamers.
There are three types of Bermuda itineraries to consider:
The traditional Bermuda-only itinerary is still a popular option; voyages range from six to eight nights and include two to four overnight stays in Hamilton, St. Georges or King's Wharf -- or a combination of the three. Common departure ports are Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Ft. Lauderdale, New York, Norfolk and Philadelphia, with almost all itineraries going roundtrip.
The new style of Bermuda cruise, generally a week or longer, blends one day in King's Wharf, Hamilton or St. George's with a handful of Eastern Caribbean ports of call. Crown Princess' Hamilton-San Juan-St. Thomas-Grand Turk route is a prime example.
Some ships call on Bermuda for a day or two during a trans-Atlantic sailing or repositioning cruise. These are the longest itineraries, and offer a chance to combine Bermuda with the Caribbean or even Europe -- during a 15-night Ft. Lauderdale-to-Southampton, Celebrity's Millennium spends a day in King's Wharf before setting sail for stops in Portugal and Spain.
What to Bring
Bermuda shorts (pants that end at the knee, available in a multitude of colors from tame browns to vivid pastels) and the rest of your country club casual wear; leave the short-shorts home. Pack comfortable shoes. Guys: Don't forget to pack a jacket and tie. Golf junkies, bring your clubs for hitting the links -- but for significant others who don't share that passion, bring plenty of sunscreen for glamour tans. And if you don't want to pay extra for a bicycle helmet, bring one from home.
When To Book
The season runs from April to late October. There's no rainy season per se, but Bermuda is located in the Atlantic hurricane belt so beware the peak storm season (between August and October).
Bermuda has more golf cruises per square mile than anywhere else in the world -- and the fact that many ships that visit Bermuda will spend as many as three days there gives golfers a chance to sample a variety of courses. Cruise lines are recognizing the region's prowess in the golfing world with special onboard programs for Bermuda-bound duffers. On Bermuda itineraries, Celebrity offers a golf escort option in addition to duffer-friendly shore excursions (the pro will accompany passengers, and play with them); NCL offers trips to different golf courses (they can only be booked onboard).
Bermuda has always been a vacation destination for families, but now it's better than ever with the introduction of new kid-friendly activities. The new Bermuda Aquarium, Natural History Museum & Zoo in Hamilton features a large collection of tropical marine fish -- including a 140,000-gallon tank filled with Nemo look-alikes. Other pluses for families? Beaches are clean and safe, and English is spoken everywhere so it won't feel too foreign for little tykes. And it doesn't hurt that shorter itineraries from convenient drive-to homeports -- five nights from Philadelphia, for example -- are available.
"Freestyle" Island Dining
With eateries ranging from elegant and expensive to casual and cheap, dining out in Bermuda is as much an activity as beach-bumming or duty-free shopping. To that end, NCL has created an exclusive dining ashore program -- an extension of its Freestyle Cruising program that emphasizes flexible meals -- just for its Bermuda itineraries. Cruisers are issued a Freestyle Dining Ashore lunch voucher with a $25 value for use at any participating onshore restaurant in Bermuda (a $5 is automatically added to the shipboard account; for an additional $5 charge, guests can upgrade to a $50 dinner voucher). More than 20 local restaurants honor the vouchers, which include gratuities.
St. George's was Bermuda's first colonized island, and, as such, its architecture and history make it a World Heritage Site. Small charmers in the form of alleys make this place ideal for self-guided walking tours. Since you'll be docking at Ordnance Island, you'll find yourself up close and personal with the first historical stop -- a replica of the 1610 Deliverance. The Bermuda Cedar wood ship was built by the 150 shipwrecked survivors of the Sea Venture so they could continue their sail to Jamestown. Touring it will give you a true sense of just how difficult it was for the passengers and crew to journey in such cramped quarters. When you're done, cross over the bridge and you'll be in King's Square. As you look around at the buildings, you'll see how little changed over the last few hundred years.
Hamilton attracts the most visitors. From shopping to sightseeing, the island's capital is jam-packed with plenty of day or nighttime options. Ships typically dock right on Front Street, which means you'll be merely steps from the action. We suggest seeing the town on foot, but you can always hop on any one of the surreys lined up outside the terminal or get a seat on the Bermuda Train departing from Albouy's Point down the block. And there's no heading out before being personally greeted by Bermuda's unofficial Ambassador of Goodwill -- Johnny Barnes. See his shout-outs at the Crow Lane roundabout at the harbor's edge.
Whatever you do in Hamilton, make sure you head back to Front Street around 6 p.m. on Wednesday nights (and many cruise ships are in town for overnights). That's when the party begins sans traffic. So bring your dancing shoes and a big appetite for the tasty tidbits offered from the food stands lined up shoulder to shoulder.
For King's Wharf landings at Bermuda's West End, you'll find yourself inside the Royal Naval Dockyard, once dubbed "Gibraltar of the West" and Bermuda's most visited tourist site. King's Wharf is the port of choice for bigger ships -- but the parish's isolation allows for private spots and kicking back at the beach. King's Wharf is rich in naval history, and the Bermuda Maritime Museum houses recovered treasures from the island's shipwrecks. Visitors can trek up nearly 200 steps to the top of a historic lighthouse, followed by a charming repast in their tea room. Shop duty-free inside the Clocktower Mall or pick up a scrumptious rum cake at the Bermuda Rum Cake Company, hop a ferry to anywhere, or stroll through the Arts Centre to view the works of Bermuda's premier artists.