Much like the cruise industry, Bermuda has long been known as a vacation destination for the "newly wed and nearly dead." And, like the cruise industry, the region is in the midst of an evolution, attracting a younger, more active traveler than ever before.
Part of the change has to do with the fact that the British island chain has lightened up its oft-fussy mindset and relaxed some of its infamous restrictions having to do with the number and size of ships in port (and, frankly, with cruise lines that didn't reflect its highfalutin persona -- Carnival had trouble receiving approval to call there in the past). Plus, the tight rules required that ships spend three days in its ports of Hamilton, St. George's and, of late, King's Wharf, which limited itineraries to seven-night trips from East Coast ports with at least a day and a half at sea just to reach Bermuda.
But all that's changed: Cruise ships have grown to such an extent that only the smaller, older models -- which these days are rapidly departing fleets -- can fit at Hamilton or St. George's. King's Wharf was created for bigger vessels, and while it's still reasonably easy to travel to Hamilton via ferry, passengers are no longer dropped off in the middle of town. One example is NCL's Norwegian Crown, which has served as the line's summer ship in Bermuda for years; it's transitioning out of the fleet in 2007.
As well, cruise lines no longer must stick with the three-day requirement, allowing ships like Norwegian Spirit and Princess Cruises' Crown Princess to visit Bermuda as a day-long port of call on the way to the tropics.
An influx of new passengers, as well as repeat visitors and families, has spurred a concurrent revolution in ship-sponsored excursion offerings -- the best of which highlight the archipelago's fabulous pink sand beaches, unmatched surplus of golf courses, stunning natural history and distinctive culture. Whether you have the luxury of three days or just one, check out our favorite outings for your next Bermuda cruise.
Bermuda Aquarium and Crystal Caves
From delicate sea horses to neon pink flamingoes, the Bermuda Aquarium is a good introduction to the amazing native marine life and birds you'll be seeing during your visit. Tiny Bermuda enjoys one of the world's highest concentrations of limestone caves -- between 110 and 200. The most famous is Crystal Cave, discovered a century ago when two boys went chasing a cricket ball. Descend 120 ft. below sea level where thousands of stalactites and stalagmites surround a 55-ft. deep lake. The sister cavern, Fantasy Cave, reopened five years ago with new lighting and pathways.
Who Should Go: Families, geology buffs and spelunkers. Good walking shoes are a must for the subterranean descent and return.
Why It's Extraordinary: Beneath subtropical Bermuda lies an underground network of caves dating back to the Ice Age. Exquisite amber-colored stalactites hang like icicles and stalagmites inch slowly upwards around the stunning crystal clear lake.
Bermuda Botanical Gardens and the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art
John Lennon was so taken by a freesia here that he decided to name his final album "Double Fantasy." Opened in 1898, the garden features palm, hibiscus and rose gardens, and greenhouses filled with orchids and bromeliads. Also on the grounds is Camden, a plantation house built in the 1700's and occupied a century later by Hamilton's mayor, James Tucker. Just behind the elegant house is Tucker's arrowroot starch factory, converted in 2004 into the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art with over 1,000 works (Point Finger Road, free admission, daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.).
Who Should Go: Gardeners, art and antique lovers, history buffs.
Why It's Extraordinary: The unusual Garden for the Sightless features fragrant flowers, aromatic herbs and signs in Braille. On Tuesday and Friday afternoons, Camden's curator leads guided tours of the house decorated with antique Bermuda cedar furniture, stunning Waterford crystal chandeliers, and gilt mirrors. The Masterworks' collection includes paintings of Bermuda by Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keefe, and Andrew Wyeth.
Hint: If this excursion isn't offered by your ship, plan an independent visit by bus, taxi or moped.
Hamilton and King's Wharf
Port Royal Golf Course
This golf-obsessed island boasts the most courses per square mile, but most are private. One notable exception is the Port Royal Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones and owned and operated by the Bermudan government (along with St. George's and Ocean View). Located in Southampton Parish along the ocean, Port Royal has been played by luminaries from Babe Ruth to Jack Nicklaus, a regular.
Who Should Go: Avid golfers with extra golf balls, Bermuda shorts and soft spikes.
Why It's Extraordinary: With its challenging layout, breathtaking views and the Atlantic Ocean as the ultimate water hazard, Port Royal is considered one of the world's great public courses. The 16th hole, chiseled into the side of a cliff with dizzying ocean views, is among the most photographed golf holes.
Bermuda Triangle Shipwreck Snorkel or Scuba Diving Adventure
For three centuries, Bermuda's treacherous reefs have doomed schooners, steamers, luxury liners and frigates. Because of the relative shallowness of the reefs, many of these shipwrecks can be enjoyed by snorkelers and novice divers. Among the more popular wrecks is the Contellation, a four-masted schooner that sank in 1943 and provided inspiration for Peter Benchley's novel, "The Deep." Other favorites: the French frigate L'Herminie that sunk in 1838 with 25 cannons still visible, and the iron-hull English bark North Carolina that hit the reef on New Year's Day, 1879.
Who Should Go: Certified divers, anyone who enjoys swimming and snorkeling.
Why It's Extraordinary: The ghostly shipwrecks are not only fascinating, but they also attract spectacular marine life. Parrotfish, huge hogfish, octopus and speckled eels are just some of the colorful creatures that inhabit the wrecks.
South Shore and Afternoon Tea
Southampton Parish is an endless photo opportunity with its dramatic scenery and pink sand beaches. The area's landmark is Gibb's Hill Lighthouse, which has been warning ships off the dangerous reefs since 1846. Today, the 117-ft.-tall building is one of the world's last standing cast-iron lighthouses with a beam that's visible 40 miles away. Bob Hope once joked, "Bermuda is so British, the whole island is shaped like a stiff upper lip." Afternoon tea, one of the time-honored traditions, is served at the cozy ground-level Tea Room run by the granddaughter of the last lighthouse keeper (as well as breakfast and lunch). Tours include a visit to the parish of Somerset, whose 17th-century drawbridge is believed to be the world's smallest (68 St. Anne's Road, open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
Who Should Go: Active types and families with high-energy kids who can manage the steep, 185-step, eight-flight climb. Kids will enjoy the windswept balcony and 360-degree views. Between February and May, bring your binoculars; migrating whales are frequently in the neighborhood. Not recommended for folks with fear of heights.
Why It's Extraordinary: The payoff for climbing eight stories to the top of the lighthouse is one of Bermuda's best views, including both north and south shores.
Hint: If your cruise line does not offer this tour, the area can be reached independently by ferry, bus, taxi or moped.
Eco Glass-Bottom Kayak Safari
Paddling is a great way to enjoy Bermuda's outdoor playground, and now there's a new toy: glass-bottom kayaks. Along with a buddy, you glide through warm, turquoise waters, passing secluded beaches, sheltered coves and bays, and dramatic rock formations. All the while, the mesmerizing undersea world unfolds below you. Suitable for all levels, from first-timers to expert paddlers, the excursion ends with a refreshing swim.
Who Should Go: Families with children 8 and up, active seniors.
Why It's Extraordinary: Discover Bermuda's extraordinary marine life without getting wet. A simple glance down at your kayak's glass panel reveals a rainbow parrotfish munching on brain coral or a green sea turtle gliding through the water.
Biking the Bermuda Railway Trail
Before cars were allowed on Bermuda in the late 1940's, a train dubbed "Rattle and Shake" served the island. Though the train was dismantled after cars were allowed, the rail line has been converted into a scenic 21-mile trail from St. George's in the east to Somerset in the west. In addition to the spectacular seascapes and lush vegetation along the way, cyclists can tour Bermuda's largest wildlife sanctuary, Spittal Pond Nature Reserve (South Road, open daily from sunrise to sunset), and the woodlands at Gilbert Nature Reserve (Somerset Road, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
Who Should Go: Birders and anyone who enjoys walking, biking or horseback riding.
Why It's Extraordinary: The historic railway trail is an unusual way to explore the islands. With flamingos and herons at Spittal Pond and warblers at Gilbert Nature Reserve, this outing is really for the birds.
Tip: This attraction isn't widely available on shore tour menus, but it's easy to enjoy independently on bikes, horses or foot. Pick up a copy of the Bermuda Railway Trail Guide at the visitors bureau in St. George's or Hamilton.
Editor's Note: Those overnighting in Bermuda can enjoy a variety of cultural events -- from Gombey dancing and the Bermuda Festival (January and February) to the Bermuda Philharmonic Society's early June outdoor concerts in St. George's and the Royal Dockyard. For more information and tickets, call the Visitors Service Bureau at 441-292-8572. To experience a lively bar scene -- and try the famous rum swizzle or the local favorite, a dark 'n' stormy -- head to the Swizzle Inn in Hamilton (3 Blue Hole Hill).
--by Susan Jaques. Jaques is a Los Angeles-based writer whose favorite travel adventures are with her husband and teenage son and daughter. In addition to Cruise Critic, Jaques' articlse have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine.
Golf course image is copyright Port Royal Golf Course.