Pack your long shorts, and brush up on your cricket; the British colony of Bermuda has become a major destination for cruisers, particularly those from the East Coast. In 2014, four mainstream cruise ships made three-night calls in the port known for its pink-sand beaches -- meaning that if you go, you'll have plenty of time to explore this affluent island.
Everyone has his or her own vision of "perfect," but here are some of our suggestions for how to get the most out of a typical three-day port call. If you don't get to them all, don't worry; you can always make another trip back. We met many passengers on our Celebrity Summit cruise who had signed up to do the same voyage the following year.
Typically, cruise ships take at least two sea days before docking in Bermuda, so by the time the vessel reaches King's Wharf, people are raring to get off. Luckily, the Dockyard is fairly well organized, with different zones for different types of transportation and easily visible kiosks to buy ferry, bus or shuttle tickets. If you've booked an island taxi tour and can't find your driver, ask the dispatcher; everyone knows everyone in this tiny colony, and she'll track him down.
Tip: If you're going to be taking the bus or ferry on multiple trips, you can buy a transportation pass. A two-day pass is $25, and a three-day pass is $35. New private beach shuttles from King's Wharf to Horseshoe Beach cost $16 roundtrip.
An island tour on the first day gives first-timers a good overview of what Bermuda is all about. Among the sights you'll visit is Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, the second-largest cast-iron lighthouse in the Caribbean. Bermuda is known for shipwrecks (remember all those Bermuda Triangle stories), so the lighthouse is still in use.
Tip: The 185 stairs to the top might seem daunting, but once you get there, the view is fabulous. Make sure your camera is on a strap before you step out onto the vertigo-inducing platform circling the top. It's narrow and you don't have a lot of room to maneuver.
On our full-day private tour of the island, we stopped at several sites, including Bermuda's smallest church, the Heydon Chapel built in the 1600s. It's a good example of the island's signature architecture, which includes high, slanted limestone roofs with cisterns to collect rainwater. (Although lush, Bermuda periodically suffers water shortages.)
Tip: The Moon Gate, a rounded stone arch often seen in gardens, is another design feature often seen in Bermuda. One of the prettiest is on the grounds of the Palm Grove Gardens, owned by a former Bermudan prime minister. If newlyweds walk under a Moon Gate together, it's supposed to bring good luck. Also on the Garden grounds is a landscaped replica of the island, housed within a fishpond.
A volcanic island, Bermuda once stood much higher above sea level than it does now, and the last Ice Age left the colony with caves all around it (perfect spots for pirates to hide their booty). Crystal Cave, the island's biggest tourist attraction, wasn't discovered until 1907, when two young boys found it while looking for a cricket ball. Go inside, and you'll see stalagmites and stalactites that have taken thousands of years to form. Part of the tour takes you over a pontoon bridge; the cave formations can look particularly eerie reflected in the water.
Tip: There are two caves on the site: Fantasy and Crystal. You can buy a pass that gets you into both. Of the two, Fantasy is smaller and deeper; if you have problems with steep stairs, skip it.
On a typical island tour, you should reach St. Georges, a UNESCO World Heritage site at the east end of the island, around lunchtime. If you're there most days in the summer, you'll arrive just in time for a historical re-enactment, held at noon Monday through Thursday and Saturday. The free show makes use of some of the historical "punishment" devices in the Town Square, including a stockade and ducking chair.
Tip: Bermuda prides itself on its seafood, and restaurants compete for the title of top fish sandwich. While many consider Art Mel's Spicy Dicy in Hamilton to be the best, the famed Swizzle Inn ("swizzle in, swagger out") has several versions.
If all this touring has made you tired, you might be tempted to head back to the ship. But on Wednesday nights, shops and restaurants in Bermuda's capital, Hamilton, stay open for Harbour Nights, a street fair/art festival on Front Street, where you can buy crafts and locally made souvenirs and watch dance performances.
Tip: Harbour Nights runs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. all summer long. The ferries to King's Wharf run late, specifically so cruisers can take part.
It's Day 2 of your Bermuda trip. Since you spent yesterday touring the island, now's the time to take an excursion that gets you into the colony's turquoise water. A host of options leaves directly from King's Wharf; popular excursions include the Jet Ski Safari, a glass-bottom boat ride and helmet diving, where you walk along the sea floor. (Our tour, a half-day snorkel on Rising Son catamaran, offered snorkeling, paddleboarding and kayaking, as well as several rum swizzles.)
Tip: An island of English-speakers, Bermuda makes it easy to book your own tours, independently of the cruise lines. Don't be afraid to go off on your own, although we do caution you not to rent a scooter if you're inexperienced, as the hills are steep and the drivers unforgiving.
On Day 3, many cruisers are pooped, leaving the island's famed beaches less crowded than usual. If you've been hankering to visit Horseshoe Beach Bay, this is the day to do it. A private shuttle runs from the Dockyard directly to Horseshoe Beach; if you leave the ship early, you'll have several hours to squeeze in some sunbathing before sailaway.
Tip: All beaches in Bermuda are public, but not all have chair rentals or facilities. Cruise Critic members enjoy Coco Reef, a resort on Elbow Beach that sells day passes. When we went, we had the pool entirely to ourselves -- and enjoyed a two-course lunch with wine to boot.
By mid-afternoon on Day 3, you should be heading back to your ship; you don't want to miss the boat, and lines to embark can form at peak hours. If you're interested in grabbing one last rum swizzle, check out Calico Jack's, a pirate-themed bar set on a ship that's docked a stone's throw from the cruise pier. The drinks are strong, the bartenders are friendly, and you can jump into the water from the top deck. It's a splashy way to end your trip.