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The charms of a cruise to Bermuda are not lost on those who prefer big-ship voyages, but alas, neither the mouth of Hamilton Harbour nor the dock facilities in town can accommodate those larger vessels. Which means, increasingly, that cruise ships once based at Hamilton, Bermuda's capital city (or even at the picturesque St. George's) now must go to King's Wharf (also known as the Royal Navy Dockyard). But by no means does that mean one must bypass Hamilton; it's an easy ferry ride from the Dockyards.
In any event, you really shouldn't miss a visit to Hamilton. It's also the place that attracts the most visitors because it has plenty of sightseeing attractions -- including Bermuda's newest, the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. Most attractions are easy to see on foot. As you stroll through this beautiful port town, you'll love the charming pastel-colored two-story buildings along Front Street (take a break inside the Par-La-Ville Gardens on Queen Street).
Amid the eye-candy viewing atop spots such as the Anglican Cathedral and Point Pleasant -- and the must-see "bird cage" near Queen Street where Bermuda-shorts-wearing constables direct the traffic -- is all the history that made this colorful and somewhat bustling town what it is today. Founded in 1790, Hamilton became the capitol of Bermuda in 1815 because of its central location on the island, which the Colonists believed offered more room to expand. The port city was named after Henry Hamilton, a British Lieutenant Governor and the island's governor (1788 - 1794), whose ancestry traced all the way back to Mary Queen of Scots. Maybe that explains why the passionate loyalty to England is way more than just fish and chips and cricket games.
Among Hamilton's other highlights? Golfing is a big deal, for sure, and beaches are conveniently close by. You'll be tempted to buy gorgeous porcelain and cashmere till the cows come home, and the nightlife's not bad either -- but remember, we're comparing it to the rest of Bermuda, not Vegas or Miami. That being said, at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays (when most of the cruise ships that call at Bermuda are docked at one or another of the island's ports), Hamilton's Front Street becomes party central; the street's closed off to traffic and suddenly the sidewalks are lined with food concession stands, live music and plenty of dancing. Boogie 'til 3 a.m. any night at After Hours, The Deep or Splash.
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Other Bermuda Cruise Ports:
Hamilton • King's Wharf • St. George's
Dark 'n' Stormy, a concoction of Bermuda's own Gosling Black Seal Rum and ginger beer.
English is understood and spoken everywhere.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Legal tender is the Bermuda dollar, which is divided into 100 cents. One Bermuda dollar is currently equal to one U.S. dollar. U.S. currency is normally accepted in shops, restaurants and hotels -- but currency from Britain, Canada and other foreign countries is not. Exchanging money is easy, whether it's at an ATM or a bank. There are plenty of ATMs throughout Hamilton, including locations inside Trimingham's and the Visitors Service Bureau. For more currency exchange information, visit www.oanda.com.
Note: Bank of Bermuda's ATMs can only take four-digit PINs.
Bermuda offers its best deals on U.K. imports, such as nice cashmere sweaters and Harris tweeds. You're shopping duty-free, so that means prices run at least 20 percent less than in the U.S. You might get closer to a 40 percent range at some places, but trust us -- prices aren't as good as they once were. Other souvenirs? You can pick up some ginger beer (it's an acquired taste) and Gosling's rum to make a Dark 'n' Stormy back home, but with the new rules on carrying liquids, you're going to have to figure out a way to keep it in your checked luggage if you are flying from your disembarkation port. Oh, yeah, don't forget the Bermuda shorts.
Where You're Docked
If you are on cruise ship that is less than 700 feet long, you'll dock in downtown Hamilton, at Passenger Terminal 1, 5 or 6. If, however, you're on a larger ship, you'll be docking at King's Wharf, (also known as The Royal Navy Dockyard) since Hamilton Harbour cannot accommodate post-Panamax vessels. In that instance, you can take a ferry to downtown Hamilton from the King's Wharf Terminal. Check for times and current pricing at www.seaexpress.com.
Ships are merely steps from Front Street shopping, the Ferry Landing, restaurants by the dozen and enough sightseeing stops to fill an entire day. Everything you want is really close at hand.
If you're a first-time visitor, get a good map before setting out, and don't be shy about asking for directions. The Department of Tourism publishes a free pocket map (Bermuda Handy Reference Map) which is typically distributed to hotels and is available at all Visitor Information Centres. It provides an excellent overview, highlighting major attractions, golf courses and public beaches -- along with a detailed street plan of Hamilton.
A good first stop on your first day is at the Visitor's Information Centre on Front Street (open Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.) for bus tokens, tickets and transportation passes. If you're on a larger ship arriving at the Dockyard, a Visitor's Information Centre is located at the Clocktower Parade. Also available here is the Heritage Pass ($25 per person) that gets you access to six cultural attractions within a seven-day period: the Bermuda National Gallery, Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo, Bermuda Maritime Museum, Bermuda National Trust, Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and all forts; or, if you have only one day to spend, $10 can get you into the Tucker House Museum, Bermuda National Trust and the Verdmont Museum.
Bermudians drive on the left -- and car rentals are verboten -- which means visitors must rely on mopeds, bikes, taxis, ferries and the cotton-candy pink bus system.
Sure, those scooters are cute and you will be tempted to rent one, but we suggest thinking twice if you're a newbie. The roads are narrow and winding, and you'll find yourself spending a good deal of time getting out of the way of speeding locals who don't care whether they pass on the left or right -- to say nothing of that cumbersome left-side driving detail.
You don't need a driver's license, but you do need a helmet and insurance (the rental company includes both in the rental fee). You also must be over the age of 16. Ask about multi-day prices (about $60 for two days, $81 for three) -- otherwise plan on $38 for a one-day rental (built-for-twos will run $55 - $65). Rentals are available at Wheel Cycles on Front Street (www.wheelscycles.com). (Editor's Note: There is a $30 charge for a "repair waiver," which is payable at the time of rental and is not refundable.)
Conventional bikes (livery cycles or "peddle bikes" to the locals) are rentable for about $20 a day at just a few shops throughout the island -- but since Bermuda is known for its steep hills, it might prove to be a bit of a challenge. One fun option is to ride all or part of the flat 18-mile Bermuda Railway Trail, which runs the length of the island. Oleander Cycles' location in Southampton is the closest (www.oleandercycles.bm), although they are likely to try to sell you a standard bicycle; ask them if they have electric bikes that you can rent for the day.
Pink buses travel along all major roadways, making stops every 15 minutes except Sundays and holidays when it's every hour, or...well...not. That's the good news. The bad news is they'll eat into the time you have on the island. You'll need exact change in coins (or tokens) for the fare box (from Hamilton to King's Wharf, for example, is $4.50; ages 5-16, $2; under five, free). Transportation Passes for one or three days are also available for unlimited use for all zones for $12 and $28, respectively. For more information, visit www.bermuda4u.com.
Time-saving ferries criss-cross the Great Sound between Hamilton and King's Wharf for $4 (kids pay $1), but cash is no longer accepted. Tokens are available at the Hamilton Ferry Terminal, the Visitors Information Centre (Front Street and the Clocktower at King's Wharf) and the Central Terminal (Washington Street). Take mopeds and bikes onboard most routes for an additional $4. Schedules are posted at the landing. For more information, visit www.bermuda.com or www.seaexpress.bm.
Taxis are plentiful but pricey; if you want to use one for sightseeing, we suggest taking ones that have blue flags on their hoods. That means the driver is government qualified. Fares increase by 25 percent between midnight and 6 a.m., and on Sundays and holidays. There are more than a handful of taxi stands along Front Street and another on Church Street near the Central Terminal.
Surrey rides are fun, and you'll find plenty near Front Street's docks in Hamilton. A half-hour jaunt will run you $30. There's not much wiggle room when it comes to negotiating a lower fare.
The Bermuda Aquarium, Natural History Museum & Zoo (North Shore Road, daily from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. North Shore Rd.) features the requisite large collection of tropical marine fish, turtles, harbor seals and other forms of sea life. Exhibits range from the geological development of Bermuda and deep-sea exploration to humpback whales. There's a huge seven-foot moray eel whose head is bigger than a human's. Check out the North Rock Exhibit -- a 140,000-gallon tank filled with a Nemo look-alikes. The first living coral exhibit on this scale in the world is here, too.
The Bermuda Arts Centre (Freeport Road, daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.). Opened by the late Princess Margaret in the early 1980s, you'll find works by a gaggle of local artists. In-residence artists include a cedar sculptor, a wood carver and a jewelry designer. Of course, most everything is for sale.
The Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (Crow Lane, daily 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.) is the world's first scientific institute to focus entirely on deep-water exploration and research. The 3,000-plus shell collection is bar none, the world's best. Wait'll you see the shrunken human heads showing gruesome effects of deep-water pressure -- and leave time to hop aboard the world's first simulated "deepwater submersible" down to the 12,500-ft. base of the Bermuda Sea Mount. Try to have lunch here at La Coquille.
Fort Hamilton (Happy Valley Road, Monday - Friday, 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.) is one of those places that really does take you back in time. The sights are music to the eyes from this 19th-century fort that stretches practically forever. Show up at noon on Mondays to be regaled by bagpipers and dancers at a Skirling Ceremony. Ask the on-site Victorian Tea Room to set up a picnic lunch for you. The basket includes a blanket and umbrella.
Afternoon tea is a must -- and top choice is the stylish silver service inside Heritage Court at the Fairmont Hamilton (daily from 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.). Oh, the clotted cream with the warm maple walnut scones! The extensive (and tad pricey) tea menu options even include one for kids replete with homemade peanut butter. A fine second choice (and cheaper) option is the Botanic Tea Room inside Trimingham's (cash only).
Bermuda is a major destination for duffers - the island boasts the most golf courses per square mile of any other place on earth. Hint: Golf balls are astronomically expensive. Bring your own. Among those near Hamilton:
Port Royal Golf Course: Excellent 18-hole par 71 Robert Trent Jones-designed course. You can book tee times up to seven days in advance. Green fees $139. 441-234-4653, Southampton.
Riddell's Bay Golf & Country Club: First 18-hole par 70 course in Bermuda. Designed by Deveraux Emmett (Washington, D.C. area's Congressional Club). Private, but allows visitors. You can book tee times up to 24 hours in advance. Green fees $145. 441-238-1060, Warwick.
Fairmont Southampton: An 18-hole par 54 Ted Robinson-designed course. Carts are mandatory and included in the green fees. You can book up to seven days in advance. Green fees $70, cart included. 441-238-0446, Southampton.
Beyond Hamilton are other top-notch courses, including:
Mid-Ocean Club: The best you'll come across. Rated one of the best in the world. C.B. Macdonald-designed 18-hole par 71. Private, but allows visitors Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays. You can book tee times up to 24 hours in advance. Greens fees $210. 441-293 0330, St. George's.
Bermuda Golf Academy: The only mini-course on the island, it has a 320-yard driving range. Daily 9 a.m. - 10:30 p.m. 441-238-8800, Southampton. $5 - $6 for a bucket of 40 balls; $10 for mini-golf (adults) $8 for children under 12.
St. George's Golf Club: Wonderful sight lines on an 18-hole par 62 Robert Trent-designed course. This was one of the last designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior prior to his retirement. You can book tee times up to seven days in advance. Green fees $90. 441-297-1836, St. George's.
Ocean View Golf Club: Views that can drive you to distraction. A 9-hole par 35 course. You can book tee times up to 14 days in advance. Green fees $93. 441-295-2093. Devonshire.
Tucker's Point Golf Club: Challenging 18-hole, par 70 Roger Rulewich newly-designed course. Incredible views. Private, but allows visitors. You can book up to 48 hours in advance. Greens fees $195. 441-298-6959, St. George's.
Been There, Done That
Spittal Pond Nature Reserve (South Shore Road, open daily from dawn to dusk) is Bermuda's largest wildlife sanctuary -- it attracts about 25 species of waterfowl from November to May. Absolutely consider the very scenic mile-long walk past an amazing variety of flowers and trees. Don't miss Jeffrey's Hole, a cave named for an escaped slave who supposedly hid out here.
A private home until 1951, the circa-1710 Vermont Museum (Verdmont Lane in Smith's, Tuesday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.), offers a glimpse at residential life on Bermuda from the 18th century. The house pretty much remains as it was in 1710. Much of the furnishings are made from cedar (the rich fragrance is lovely). Take a look at the china coffee service said to be a gift from Napoleon to President Madison (he never received it since the ship carrying it was seized by a Bermudian privateer). There are eight fireplaces, indoor shutters and a grand stairwell leading to the attic. Walk along the brick path through the formal gardens for excellent ocean views.
The beaches are small when compared to most found in the U.S. -- ranging from as little as 15 yards to about half a mile. Set your mind on idle and let the sun go to your head on pink-tinged sands that seem to melt into the sea. Note: Bermuda's Guide to Beaches and Transportation is free at all visitor centers and most hotels.
Closest to Hamilton:
Shelly Bay: Shallow and shaded (a rarity). Great place for kids. Umbrella rentals, changing room, snacks. Hamilton.
Elbow Beach: Swimming and body surfing are the draws here, but the crowds, not so much. Restrooms, snacks. Paget.
Horseshoe Bay Beach: What can we say? Clear water, pink sand and a really hot social spot. Watch the kids, the undertow can be strong. Umbrella rentals, changing room, snacks. Southampton.
Other great island beaches:
Mangrove Bay: Once a smuggler's cove, there are two beaches, but only one is public. The calm waters for are perfect for kids and non-swimmers. A favored spot for landscape artists. No changing rooms or restrooms. Near Somerset Village on the North Shore.
Somerset Long Bay: Quiet, low-key, shallow and dotted with plenty of coral bluffs. Restrooms. Sandys Parish.
Tobacco Bay: Great snorkeling. You can see families of squid -- and even octopus. Gear rentals, umbrella rentals, changing room, snacks. St. George's.
Achilles Bay: Small beach that's great snorkeling and windsurfing. Not as crowded as Tobacco Bay. Gear rentals, changing room, snacks. St. George's.
Clearwater Beach and Park: A 36-acre great-for-kids site that includes nature trails. Reid Clearwater Cafe is a good bet for snacks and light meals. Gear rentals for snorkeling, as well as chair, lounges, towels and rafts. Changing rooms, showers and restrooms. Cooper's Island, off St. David's Island.
Church Bay: Off the beaten path-and superb for snorkeling. Rent what you need elsewhere. No changing rooms or restrooms. Southampton.
You'll find plenty of traditional dishes like fish chowder laced with black rum and hot peppers, hashed shark, and conch anything in Hamilton. And definitely order anything made with their fabulous Bermuda onions.
Harley's at the Fairmount Hamilton Princess (Tuesday - Sunday noon - 2:30 p.m. Fairmont Hamilton Princess, Pitt Bay Rd) is a gem. We love their Caesar salad with lobster and the creamy spinach with the crispy crunchy Bermuda onions.
At Fresco's (daily noon-2:30 p.m. Chancery Lane), you'll think the ship just tied up in Morocco. Award-winning, these folks also run Aqua at the Ariel Sands. Take a chair or a cushion - and dig in. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $60.
La Coquille (daily noon - 2:30 p.m. 40 Crow Lane) is Paris-worthy. Don't skip the pan-fried foie gras and caramelized pears. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $30.
At the Lobster Pot (Daily 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Bermudiana Rd.), the fish chowder is so good, tourists haul quartfuls back home. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $35.
Port O'Call (Monday-Friday noon - 2:30 p.m. Front St.): Go fish. Brilliantly prepared and worth pursuing. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $28.
Hog Penny (Monday - Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. Burnaby Hill St.) is the pub of choice for conch chowder or bangers and mash. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $25.
Waterloo House (open daily, noon - 2:30 p.m., 100 Pitts Bay Rd, Hamilton) offers waterfront dining. If you can't make lunch, go for cocktails at sunset. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $28.
Monte Carlo (Monday-Friday noon - 2:30 p.m. 3 Victoria St.) is a great spot for people watching and bouillabaisse. Oh--- the white chocolate crème brulee. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $30.
At Barracuda Grill (open daily 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m. Burnaby Hill) start with the oysters Rockefeller and have their perfectly grilled rack of lamb that is accompanied by a wild mushroom risotto. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $100. Hamilton.
The Newport Room (dinner only, daily, 6:30 p.m. - 10 p.m., jacket required, Fairmont Southampton, Shore Rd) is formal and fabulous. Hope that the duck breast with a cinnamon and fig sauce is on the menu the day you show up. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $55.
At Aqua (daily from 6:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. Ariel Sands, Devonshire), try the pan-fried scallops. They're divine. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $110.
More than three centuries old, the Waterlot Inn (dinner only daily 6:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m., jackets required, Fairmont Southhampton Princess), the gravlox is dressed up with a pineapple-ginger salsa. Per person cost for three courses including wine will run about $55.
Be sure to check out Extraordinary Excursions: Bermuda for more options!
Best Choice for Nature Lovers: Reef fishing on the Eureka. Duration: Up to 4 hours.
Best Choice for Sportspersons: Teeing off at the Ocean View Golf Club. Duration: Up to 5 hours.
Best Choice for Culture Vultures: Art & Architecture Tour includes a guided visit to the Bermuda National Gallery and stroll through town. Duration: 2 hours.
Staying in Touch
Logic Internet Cafe, 10-12 Burnaby Street. Not only do you get great rates on Internet service, but Internet users get free coffee as well. Visit www.bermuda4u.com/Essential/bermuda_logic_internet.html.
For More Information
Call the Bermuda Department of Tourism at 800-237-6832.
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Bermuda
The Independent Traveler Message Boards: Bermuda
--Updated by San Diego-based Jana Jones.