Our Favorite Port: Bermuda

Here we are at the end of my five part series, and we’re ending it with the trip that I started this blog with, Bermuda. We all agree this is our favorite to date, and it was a pretty easy choice. Since I’ve already talked about this port in-depth in my Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 posts back in June, I’ll do my best to bring new material to this entry.

When we were initially looking for a graduation cruise to take our daughter on, we were looking at Alaska. Jen and Bayley had never been there, and everyone who’s been on an Alaskan cruise seems to love them. After a bit of deceptive questioning to avoid letting Bayley in on the surprise, we came to realize that she’d prefer something tropical. My wife and I started the search over, quickly coming to the realization that we wanted to do something different from the normal Caribbean itineraries we’d been doing. We did consider cruises out of San Juan, since those go further south to ports we haven’t been, but most of those were out of our budget when adding airfare. That was when my wife brought up Bermuda. We’d talked about this in the past, but weren’t sure how we’d like a cruise where you basically park in one spot for three days. In researching it, she found it to be a favorite of a large percentage of those who posted reviews on Cruise Critic. Many people talked about how they’d been to Bermuda multiple times on cruises, which is something we really hadn’t seen with any other U.S. based itinerary. We were sold.

This itinerary started with two days at sea. On the morning of day 3, I got up early to watch the sunrise as we arrived in port. If you cruise to Bermuda, I highly recommend being up early and getting out on deck or a balcony to watch the sun come up as you pass around the island. The arrival provided some of the best views of the trip in my opinion, and as you can see, the Norwegian Breakaway beat us in to port:

1Sunrise2Island3Sunrise4Arrrival

5Island6Island

Getting back to the point of this post, this island is our favorite port of all time for a few reasons:

  1. The people were all incredibly warm and friendly, and you never felt unsafe. Wherever we went, people were always smiling, and willing to help you out with information or directions.
  2. The transportation system is second to none among ports we’ve stopped at. I talked about this in my previous posts, but when you first get off, there are transportation stands just off the ship where you can buy bus/ferry passes. If they can’t get you where you want to go, you probably don’t need to go there. We made use of the bus and ferry every day we were there. These are the same buses the rest of the island uses to get around, and the same ones kids take to and from school.
  3. A friend of mine at work is from Bermuda, and always talks fondly about the island (except maybe the cost of living 🙂 ). I’d heard about a few of the different landmarks on the island, like Somerset Bridge, so we made time to stop and see a couple of things most visitors aren’t aware of on his recommendation.
  4. There’s a ton of stuff to do. Even with 3 days in port, we still didn’t see everything we’d planned to. We definitely want to visit again and work on that list some more.

Number 2 above is a huge deal in my opinion. Going in, we had zero guided excursions planned, private or cruise sponsored, due to all we’d read about how good the transportation system was. When it was all said and done, we only took one guided tour, a last minute choice to take a jetski tour on our final morning there. As I mentioned in the Day 3 post in July, that tour was excellent and worth the extra money that was spent on it. Outside of that, everything else we did was on our own, utilizing the transportation system and our feet to get us where we wanted to go. It was nice to not be on a set schedule, not having to hurry to meet tour operators. We basically got off the ship whenever we want and headed out, and returned whenever we wanted.

This cruise also represented the first time we’d been parked in the same port for more than a few hours, which we all found pretty cool. On the first and second day in port, there was no stress about getting back to the ship before it left, since it wasn’t going anywhere. It was an awesome way to see Bermuda.

I think that about covers it. I highly recommend reading my three posts about our days on the island (linked in the first paragraph in this post) to get an idea of what we did. It’s been fun going over these five ports and reliving our time on these islands. My next posts will come some time next week and cover our upcoming trip to Daytona for the Rolex 24, a 24-hour sports car endurance race. In the meantime, here are a few more shots from Bermuda!

1Night 2Front 3Govt 4Fire 5BandS 6Bermuda 8Hamilton 9BandS 10Ship 12Beach 11Beach 13Beach

Visiting Bermuda – Day 3

From the start, we’d decided to hold off on going to the beach until the last day. Most of what we’d read going in suggested not going on day 1, as that was the busiest time, so we decided to heed the warning. As mentioned in my last post, we’d stopped by the watersports booth at the docks the evening before and booked an early morning jet-ski tour, so we had that on tap as well.

We got up a little before 7, and headed up to Lido for a quick breakfast after getting ready. We were supposed to have room service delivery before 7am, but it didn’t show. I think they finally got to the room at 7:30, but by that time we’d already grabbed some food from the buffet. The meeting time for our jet ski tour was 7:45, and even with the kids being slow to get moving, we made it on time. Upin arrival, they went over some basic safety procedures, gave us all life vest, and we hung out for a few minutes while they prepped the jet skis. Once they were ready, we boarded in groups. My wife and I on one, and my daughter and her boyfriend on another. There were a handful of others in our group as well, so once we were on, we did slow circles in the harbor while we waited for everyone else.

Here’s where I should stop and make an important point. If you can’t swim, you probably shouldn’t be out in the ocean on a jet ski. One of the couples in our group included a woman who apparently can’t swim, and in true Murphy’s Law form, as soon as they got on the ski and were pushed off the dock, they rolled it. With the ski completely upside down, they were left to climb back up on the dock. We felt for the woman, after she got helped back on the dock, she sat there hugging the railing for a bit. I’m sure that was terrifying, but it would have been far more scary if it had happened while we were well off shore. The man with her decided to come out on his own, and seemed to have a blast.

Back to the tour itself, we took a 75min tour of that section of the island with one of the guides from KS Watersports. It was spectacular, taking us into Ely’s Harbor, and then out to the HMS Vixen, which was intentionally sunk out there in the late 1800s. While at the shipwreck, the guide feeds some bread to some local fish as well, and they know it. A ton of fish were out there hanging around waiting on it, and once he threw the bread, they were swarming like a bunch of piranhas going after it. After that, we circled back around and came around the end of the dock area, which gave us great views of the two cruise ships. Here are a few screen grabs from my GoPro that I’d strapped to the front of the ski, including one showing the swarm of fish when bread was thrown their way.

Bridge Fish Returning Shipwreck ThumbsUp

Again, it was a great tour, well worth the money. Our guide was excellent, and when he noticed that we were kinda stuck behind a couple of slower skis early on, told us he was fine with us breaking out of line to pass them and go faster if we wanted. I love jet skis, and was more than happy hit full throttle and oblige :). Good times were had by all!

Our tour over, it was time to hop the #7 bus for Horseshoe Bay Beach. Upon arrival, it really didn’t seem that crowded to us. Up near the entrance where the food/showers/restrooms are was where most people seemed to be set up, but walking down the beach a bit wasn’t an issue. Before doing so, we decided to climb the rocks to get a cool view of the beach. The first two shots are from the top of the rock, the last is looking back at the rock itself after we walked down the beach a bit

BeachFromTheRock TopOfTheRockTheRock

After we got back down, we decided to walk down the beach. Having read up on Horseshoe before we came, I knew that if we walked past the end of the beach, we’d hit a section of small coves, and a smaller beach that few people would be on, so that’s what we did, and it was well worth it. While it was still very humid, it was a beautiful day. We found a little spot on the beach with an overhang, and set up shop.

Beach Beach2 beach3 Cove

One tip, and this is probably an obvious one since they have a captive audience: bring your own food if you can. The food at the stand is fairly expensive, which we expected going in. We just didn’t have time to stop and get something on the way.

Horseshoe is awesome, and we were glad we chose it. We’d hoped to make it to Church Bay beach in the early afternoon, but were so happy with Horseshoe that we decided to stay put. Just gives us something to do next time! Anyway, about 2pm, we decided to head back to the ship so we could clean up and be out on deck for sail away. I will say that when you’re already hot and tired, the hike back up the hill to the bus stop is brutal. I admit I wanted to pay the $2 per person to take the shuttle that short distance, but was overruled. We hiked back up, and were met with a large line for the bus back to the dock. Once again, the local transportation board was prepared. While we had to wait 10-15min for it, they had an empty bus ready to go as an express back to the dock.

Once back at the dock, the kids got off at Clocktower Mall to stop and get some fudge from the shop in there (excellent fudge, btw). After they got off, we all realized that I had their passports, so I hung out over by the ship and waited for them to walk back over. While waiting, I snapped one last shot of the ships:

Ship Panoramic

Once they arrived, we headed back to board the ship one last time. As I hope I’ve conveyed in the past few posts, we had an awesome trip, and absolutely loved Bermuda. It’s a beautiful island with incredibly friendly residents, and we definitely plan to visit again!

Visiting Bermuda – Day 2

Our planned itinerary for day 2 meant taking the ferry to St George, and working back towards Hamilton from there:

But, much like day 1, it didn’t quite go as planned. What hurt us the most was getting up late. I was up at my normal time, around 7am, but everyone else seemed to be moving in slow motion. We ate breakfast a bit late as a result, and got off the ship at 10:32am. I only know the exact time because I happened to look at my phone to see what time it was as the 10:30am St George ferry was pulling away. Those only run once an hour, so at that point we knew our schedule was blown since the next one wasn’t until 11:30. To kill time, we walked through some of the shops around the dock area, and just after 11am, joined the ever-growing line for the next ferry.

That next ferry was 100% full, and not everyone made it on. Fortunately, they had another one waiting in the wings to handle the overflow for those who didn’t make the first one. We did make it on though, and were on our way to St George. The ride is roughly 40min long, and while on board, members of the tourism office talked about the things to do in St George, answered questions, and handed out local maps to anyone who wanted one. This wasn’t a sales pitch, it was just the local tourism board being helpful, and it was a very nice touch.

Arriving at St George, we decided to walk around the dock area a bit before heading up to the unfinished church. A few shots from the dock area, including our ferry heading back to Kings Wharf:

DockArea FerryLeavingStGeroge Town TownHall

After walking through a few shops, we headed up to the unfinished church, and yes, it’s definitely unfinished :). The tourism people on the ferry mentioned that a couple of weeks ago, some cruise passengers got married in it, but it wasn’t open when we were there, so we just had to enjoy it from the outside.

Church2 Church3 Church

 

Our visit to the unfinished church complete, we headed to the nearest bus stop to make our way to the Crystal Caves. Once we got off the bus, we found something I’d read about a number of times before our cruise, the Swizzle Inn. Being that it was past lunch time by now, we decided to stop for a bite.

Swizzle InnSwizzle2

 

I had the Swizzle burger pizza, and it was absolutely delicious. I also tried a Rum Swizzle, a signature on the island, and while it was good, I’m not sure I get the “YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS!!!” hype people who’ve been there give off. Anyway, our stomachs full, we walked down the road to the Crystal Caves. There are actually two caves you can tour here, Crystal and Fantasy. We chose to stick with Crystal, but it did seem like a number of people were doing both. The tour of Crystal takes around 30 minutes, and is quite interesting. Our guide, while obviously very knowledgeable, was a bit overdramatic. It really seemed like his act was geared for a group of 1st graders, and not a bunch of grownups, but he was very friendly, and we learned quite a bit about the caves.

So humid... Waiting for the tour to start caves4 Caves3 Caves2

By the time our tour ended, it was too late to get in to the aquarium and zoo, so we headed back up the road to get some ice cream. Right across the street from Swizzle Inn is Bailey’s Ice Cream, and it’s definitely worth stopping here for a delicious treat

Baileys

Once we were done, we decided to hop on the next bus to Hamilton, and catch the ferry back to Kings Wharf. Getting up late really limited what we could get done, but it also left us with more to see the next time we come to Bermuda. The bus ride from the caves back to Hamilton was very scenic, and gave us some time to relax and cool off. Upon arriving in Hamilton, we hit a couple of shops, then hopped on the next ferry back to the dock. We walked around the shops at the dock a little more as well, and my wife and I decided to stop at the water activity stand and get some info on the jet ski tours. The only thing we had on tap for day 3 was the beach, so we figured if the jet ski tours looked interesting, we’d slip that in too. After talking to the woman at the stand, we were hooked, and decided to book two doubles for the next morning.

With that set, and all of us being hot and tired, we headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner. Day 2 on the island was complete!

Visiting Bermuda – Day 1

Focusing on the time we spent ashore in Bermuda brings a smile to my face. This is by far one of the coolest islands we’ve visited, and we see why so many people do the Bermuda cruise more than once. Also, because of everything I’d like to cover, I’m going to split this in to three posts, one for each day we were there.

We went in to this cruise far less prepared than we normally are thanks to a hectic schedule leading up to my daughter’s graduation. Normally we have all excursions booked with various operators a few months in advance, and for places we just want to walk around, we’ve done some scouting online. This time, the most we did was come up with a list of things we wanted to see while we were there, and drew up a rough idea of what day we wanted to do or see each thing.

Now, Bermuda’s a bit different than normal ports in that they have an outstanding public transportation system. When you get off the ship, there’s a little pink building where you can buy ferry/bus passes, and we’d decided from the start to buy 3-day passes to use while there and get around the island that way, versus using taxis or doing tour excursions. When we arrived in Bermuda, we decided not to get off right away to try and avoid lines at the ticket booth, so we waited about an hour, and ate breakfast on the balcony again.

Getting off the ship was easy, with very little wait (I love docking :)). We walked over to the transportation ticket office, and with only one person in line in front of us, got our 3-day transportation pass within a couple of minutes. Here’s a shot of the building where you buy the passes, the windows where they’re sold are on the left where the group of people is:

TranspoOffice

One tip here: they only take cash. The 3 day pass that we bought was $35 per person (current prices and more information are available here). Once we had our passes, we hopped the ferry to Hamilton. Our initial plan for that first day was:

  • Visit Fort Hamilton
  • Hop the bus and head to St George to see the unfinished church
  • Visit Fort St Catherine
  • Head back to Hamilton for Harbor Nights

But plans don’t always work out, right?  It was really humid during our stay, and as a result, things got moved around and removed from the schedule based on how hot and tired we were at any given time.

Anyway, we got to Hamilton and walked up to Fort Hamilton. The fort itself is beautiful, and sits up on a hill, providing some great views of the island.

FortHamilton1 FortHamilton2FortHamilton HamiltonView

You can also walk down in to the area where the moat used to be, and even into the tunnels in the outer walls at the front of the fort

Moat tunnelentrance insidethewalls

Now if you visit the fort, beware. When you walk down to the moat and into the tunnels, you do have to walk back up :). When you’re already hot, that climb seems unforgiving

Walkingbackup

After climbing the stairs and walking around the rest of the fort, we decided to head back in to Hamilton to walk around and shop a bit on Front St. We stopped in a few stores, enjoyed some AC, and bought some shirts. Being that it was now around lunch time, we decided to head back to the ship and grab something off the buffet to avoid having to spend money on lunch. Once we ate, we checked out the shops around the dock area, including the Clocktower Mall. After spending a bit of time over there, we went back to our list to see if we could squeeze anything in before dinner. We decided to grab a bus and head to Somerset Bridge, which I’d heard about from a friend who grew up in Bermuda.

Somerset Bridge is claimed to be the smallest drawbridge in the world, and it’s on what basically seemed to be the main road from the docks to everything else. While on the bus, we weren’t sure where to get off for it, and the bus driver was more than happy to let us know when we should get off. Once our stop came, we found ourselves having to walk down the road hugging the stone wall on one side to avoid traffic, as the main road is two very tight lanes (In hindsight, I wish I’d gotten a picture). Once we got to the bridge, we quickly saw why it’s the smallest drawbridge (yes, that’s me)

Somerset Somerset2

The opening is only 32 inches side to side, so I can definitely see how this is the world’s smallest.

After making our way back to the bus stop – oh, and another tip: blue poled stops take you away from Hamilton, pink take you towards it (more bus info) – we headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner. Having what more or less equated to a floating all-inclusive resort handy, my wife wanted to pay for as few meals as possible while in Bermuda, which is why we ate both lunch and dinner onboard on day 1.

After dinner, we headed back down to the ferry and took the ride over to Hamilton. During cruise season, they put on a little festival in Hamilton called Harbor Nights. We arrived a little before 8pm, and things were in full swing. There were quite a few tourists (duh), along with a line of vendors set up on Front St. In addition, there was live music, and booths selling delicious smelling food. In hindsight, I wish we’d skipped dinner on the boat and eaten at one of the booths.

HarborNights4 HarborNights3 HarborNights2 HarborNights1

We really enjoyed our time there, and my daughter ended up buying a couple of pink sand picture frames for her and her boyfriend. One theme throughout our stay in Bermuda was that no one’s pushy in trying to sell you stuff, and Harbor Nights was no different. After we finished walking around and checking out booths, we stopped for snow cones:

HarborNightsSnoCones

Harbor Nights doesn’t end until 10pm, but we’d pretty much walked it all and seen what we wanted by around 9:15pm, so we hopped the ferry back to the ship. I should note that the ferry is obviously more packed going to and from Harbor Nights, but the local transit authority does a good job of adding more boats as needed and getting people in and out quickly.

While we didn’t stick to the original plan, day 1 was definitely a success. The transportation system makes it very easy to change things up, and there is no shortage of stuff to see and do in Bermuda!

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