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King's Wharf Overview
Royal Naval Dockyard (generally referred to by cruise lines as King's Wharf) is home to two docks: King's Wharf and Heritage Wharf. This area makes up one of Bermuda's three ports (which also include Hamilton and St. George's), and it's the port of choice for larger ships calling on the island. Located at the West End of Bermuda on Ireland Island in Dockyard Parish, the port was built for the British Navy as a base between Halifax and the West Indies. The Georgian-style fort later served as a North Atlantic base during both World Wars. Finally abandoned in 1951, its reincarnation gives visitors plenty to do and see, what with the National Museum of Bermuda, the Arts Centre and the Bermuda Craft Market. The parish's isolation is part of its charm, and it translates to romance and privacy with significant others.
King's Wharf is rich in naval history with an endless array of activities for all ages, be it culture, water sports, good food, shopping or kicking back at the beach. In addition to galleries, craft markets and museums, you can include world-class golf courses, parasailing, scuba-diving and dolphin swims on the short list of things to do. Trek up nearly 200 steps to the top of historic Gibbs Hill Lighthouse in Southampton; then follow it up with a listen to the lovely Gregorian chants of three nuns inside a teensy 1620 chapel at the Heydon Trust in Somerset. Shop at 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.
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Other Bermuda Cruise Ports:
Baltimore • Hamilton • King's Wharf • St. George's
Bermuda offers its best deals on U.K. imports like cashmere sweaters and Harris tweeds. You're shopping duty-free in many places, 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 prices aren't as good as they once were. Other souvenirs? Pick up some ginger beer (it's an acquired taste) and Gosling's rum to make a Dark 'n' Stormy back home. Don't forget the Bermuda shorts! Shop big-name (but less stocked) outposts such as Trimingham's-Smith's, the Crown Colony Shop and Crisson Jewelers at the Dockyards for your take-home treats.
You might also want to check out the Bermuda Craft Market, Glass Blowing and Rum Cake Factory and Bermuda Clayworks -- all located in Dockyard, most at the Clocktower Mall. Although the mall is not duty-free, there's no sales tax in Bermuda, so the price you see is the price you pay.
English is the official language in Bermuda.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Legal tender is the Bermuda dollar, which is divided into 100 cents. BD$1 = US$1. U.S. currency is accepted in shops, restaurants, and hotels, but currency from Britain, Canada and other foreign countries is not. Getting money is easy at ATM's and banks. The Bank of Butterfield ATM is located at the Clock Tower Mall, and an HSBC Bank of Bermuda ATM is located near the Victualing Yard. The nearest actual bank branch is located in Somerset Village, about a five-minute ride from the port. For more currency exchange information, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.
Where You're Docked
You'll call on the Royal Naval Dockyard in Dockyard Parish at the West End of Bermuda. Your ship will pull up to one of two docks: King's Wharf or Heritage Wharf, which are located right next to one another in the main port area.
The sprawling Royal Naval Dockyard six-acre complex gives visitors plenty to do and see -- with every convenience close at hand. You'll find buses, taxis, tours, a bike-rental shop and a stop for the ferry, which is the fastest way to explore the island beyond the Royal Naval Dockyard.
By Scooter: Sure, those mopeds are cute, and you'll 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. If your heart is set on a scooter, you should still consider a taxi for evening outings and rainy days. You'll need a driver's license, helmet and insurance. (The rental company includes the last two in the rental fee.) You also must be over the age of 16. Ask about multi-day prices.
By Bike: Conventional bikes (livery cycles to the locals) are rentable at just a few shops throughout the island -- but use caution, as Bermuda is known for its steep hills. If you don't want to splurge on renting a bike helmet, bring one from home.
By Bus: The pink and blue buses travel along all major roadways, making stops every 15 minutes, except on Sundays and holidays when it's every hour or, on some routes, not at all. The good news is that buses really aren't a bad way to sightsee. The bad news is that they'll eat into the time you have on the island. You'll need exact change in coins (or tokens) for the fare box. Transportation Passes for one or three days are also available for unlimited use in all zones.
By Train: The Bermuda Train Company does 20-minute loops from the Royal Naval Dockyard to the cruise terminal from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., allowing for five hop-offs at various locations.
By Ferry: Time-saving ferries crisscross the Great Sound between the City of Hamilton and King's Wharf. You can even take mopeds and bikes onboard most routes for an additional fee.
By Taxi: Taxis are plentiful but pricy. If you want to use one for sightseeing, we suggest taking ones that have blue flags on the hoods. That means the driver is government-qualified to give tours. Fares increase by 25 percent between midnight and 6 a.m., Sundays and holidays. Taxi stands are located next to the Craft Market near the National Museum of Bermuda, in front of the Clocktower Mall and at the Cruise Ship Terminal.
Note: The Visitor Information Centre near the Ferry Landing (Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is where to get tokens, Transportation Passes for buses, maps and other information before setting out.
Watch Out For
If you're exploring the island via taxi or bus, don't be alarmed if you hear drivers routinely beeping at one another. Unlike in America, it's not hostile; rather, it's just a friendly indication that they know each other.
It's also fun to note the differing colors of license plates on scooters you see whizzing around town. The plates of tourists who have rented scooters during their stay are marked with a certain color to warn locals.
The people of Bermuda are friendly and helpful, but it's always good to be aware of your surroundings. Leave any unnecessary valuables and cash in your stateroom safe.
Bermuda Arts Centre: Formerly opened by the late Princess Margaret in the early 80s, 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. (open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Freeport Road)
National Museum of Bermuda: Filled to the brim with recovered treasures from the island's shipwrecks. Also check out the Commissioner's House. Built in the early 1800s, you'll enjoy this brilliantly restored home that offers great views from the verandas. Exhibits include antique maps and coins as well as an excellent one on slavery. (open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Royal Naval Dockyard)
Old Cooperage: A former barrel-making factory built in 1831, it is home to the Bermuda Craft Market. You can stroll through numerous stands displaying the works of local craftspeople, including wood carvings and miniatures. (open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Royal Naval Dockyard)
Dockyard Glassworks: Visit here to see beautiful gift items made from glass while you wait, in their 2,000-degree furnace. (open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Royal Naval Dockyard)
Fort Scaur: Built in the 1870s to protect the Royal Naval Dockyard because the British feared an attack from the U.S. Commanding views of Ely's Harbour and Great Sound if you stand on the ramparts. It's a nice place to stroll. (closes at 4:30 p.m., but the grounds stay open until sunset; Scaur Road, Sandys)
Gibbs Hill Lighthouse: This is the oldest cast-iron lighthouse in the world. Although there's a 185-step climb to the top, the panoramic view of Bermuda and its shoreline from the balcony makes the exertion worthwhile. (open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Lighthouse Road, Southampton)
Heydon Trust: Named for the unpopular 17th-century Governor Jeremy Heydon. A staunch Puritan, he was charged with treason at the age of 80. Acquitted a few years later, he established the trust, and all the land remains intact today on 40-odd acres of magnificent, undeveloped countryside offering splendid water views. In addition to being a bird sanctuary, the grounds include fruit groves, gardens and a tiny 1620 chapel, which is overseen by three nuns who sing Gregorian chants in Latin at services (open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 7:30 a.m. & 3 p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday, 3 p.m.; Somerset Road, Sandys)
Sea Gardens: Take the Bottom Peeper -- a glass-bottom boat that allows you to see shipwrecks as well as plenty of coral reefs, brain coral and parrot fish. Ask about making it four hours to include snorkeling (the gear's onboard). (open daily; departs from Point Pleasant in Hamilton)
Somerset Bridge: A 17th-century bridge to Somerset Island -- it's the world's narrowest drawbridge with barely a 19-inch mast clearance. The bridge will also give you a bird's eye view of Cathedral Rocks, aptly named for the natural rock formation that evokes images of a medieval cathedral.
Been There, Done That
Dolphin Quest: A 30-minute swim with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Ages 8 and up. (open Monday & Thursday to Friday: 10:15 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:45 p.m.; Tuesday: 10:45 a.m., 1 p.m.; Wednesday: 1 p.m., 4:15 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 10:15 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:45 p.m., 4:15 p.m.; Royal Naval Dockyard)
Gladys Morrell Nature Reserve: Perfect for nomadic strolls above Mangrove Bay, this small gem of a nature reserve serves up nice views, lovely foliage and nesting areas for endangered Bermuda bluebirds. First-rate setting for a romantic picnic. (open daily, dawn to dusk; East Shore Road, Somerset Island)
Skyrider Parasailing: It's easy to take off for a chair parasail ride built for two from the rear of a Para-Nautique powerboat. So easy, it's even safe enough for kids. (open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 441-234-3019; Watersports Centre, Royal Naval Dockyards)
Somerset Village: A postcard-pretty village that might look familiar. It was featured in the 1962 film, "A Touch of Mink," with Cary Grant and Doris Day. Enjoy the short walk to Mangrove Bay from here. There are a few Front Street outposts here.
Snorkel Park: The best attraction is the Seascooter Safari. For all ages and swimming abilities, it's an electric scooter ride on the water. You can also rent gear and snorkel the well marked trails. (Royal Naval Dockyard)
Spithead House: Built by Hezekiah Frith, who's best remembered for his hidden bounty from two stolen ships and the kidnapping of a French woman he hid from his wife. Local lore says they haunt the house. The house was once the home of Eugene O'Neill (his daughter Oona was born in it) and Sir Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin (after marrying Oona). (not open to visitors, but fun to pass by; Harbor Road, Warwick)
Golf: Bermuda is a major destination for duffers, boasting more golf courses per square mile than any other place on earth. Below is a partial list. Hint: Although they're available for purchase, golf balls are astronomically expensive. Bring your own.
Bermuda Golf Academy: This mini-course has a 320-yard driving range. (open daily, 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; 441-238-8800; Southampton)
Port Royal Golf Course: Excellent 18-hole par 71 course designed by Robert Trent Jones. You can book tee times up to seven days in advance. (441-234-4653; Southampton)
Southampton Princess: An 18-hole par 54 course designed by Ted Robinson. Carts are mandatory and included in the greens fees. You can book up to seven days in advance. (441-238-0446; 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. (441-238-1060; Warwick)
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, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can book tee times up to 24 hours in advance. (441-293 0330; 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. (441-295-2093; Devonshire)
Tucker's Point Golf Club: Challenging 18-hole, par 70 course newly designed by Roger Rulewich. Incredible views. Private, but allows visitors. You can book up to 48 hours in advance. (441-298-6970; St. George's)
The beaches are small when compared to most found in the U.S., ranging from as narrow as 15 yards to as wide as 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 King's Wharf:
Church Bay: Off the beaten path, and superb for snorkeling. Rent what you need elsewhere. No changing rooms or restrooms. Southampton.
Mangrove Bay: Once a smuggler's cove, there are two beaches, but only one is public. The calm waters are perfect for kids and non-swimmers. A favored spot for landscape artists. No changing rooms or restrooms. Near Somerset Village.
Somerset Long Bay: Quiet, low-key, shallow and dotted with plenty of coral bluffs. Restrooms. Sandys.
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:
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 for snorkeling. 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 chairs, lounges, towels and rafts. Changing rooms, showers and restrooms. (Cooper's Island, off St. David's Island)
You'll find plenty of traditional dishes like fish chowder laced with black rum and hot peppers, or hashed shark. And definitely order anything made with their fabulous Bermuda onions. One aspect of Bermuda we find refreshing is its lack of fast food. One Kentucky Fried Chicken stands on the island, and it was erected prior to regulations that were passed to prevent famous venues like McDonald's and Berger King from taking up residence.
Frog & Onion: Bangers and mash and plenty of Guinness. (open Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; Royal Naval Dockyard)
Freeport Gardens: Copious amounts of locally caught fish. Try the excellent fish and chips. (open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Royal Naval Dockyard)
Henry VIII: The roast duck will have you purring. Their pub rocks after 9 p.m. with live entertainment. (open daily, noon to 2:30 p.m.; South Shore Road, Southampton)
Somerset Country Squire Tavern: One of the best in Bermuda for seafood. Curried mussel pie is the winner here. (open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Mangrove Bay)
Waterlot Inn: More than three centuries old. The gravlox dressed up with a pineapple-ginger salsa kills. Jackets required. (open daily, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Fairmont Southampton Princess, Southampton)
Cafe Amici: At this charming venue, located in the Clocktower Mall, you'll find delicious Italian fare, prepared with fresh ingredients.
Staying in Touch
Freeport Seafood Restaurant (1 Freeport Rd., Royal Naval Dockyard) is home to an Internet cafe that offers web access while you grab a bite to eat.
Here are our choices for the best ship-sponsored shore excursions.
Best Choice for Nature-Lovers: West End Sea Trek Eco-Historical Tour. Duration: 1 3/4 hours.
Best Choice for Active Travelers: Dolphin Encounter & Swim Duration: 1 1/2 hours.
Best Choice for Culture Vultures: Admiral's Tour with historian Brian Darby plus a private tour with the Maritime Museum's Conservator. Duration: 4 hours.
For More Information
On the Web: Bermuda Department of Tourism, Royal Naval Dockyard Web site and Bermuda Web cam
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Bermuda
The IndependentTraveler.com: Bermuda Travel Guide
Image of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse appears courtesy of the Bermuda Shorts Design Gallery. Image of Royal Naval Dockyard appears courtesy of www.bermudashorts.bm.
--Updated by Ashley Kosciolek, Associate Editor