Reporting Jay Lloyd
A popular cruise destination for Philadelphia vacationers is the coral island of Bermuda. Fares are reasonable and you’ll likely get a full three nights on the island.
But more likely than not, you’ll be docked at “Dockyard.” When Britannia ruled the waves and the empire was far flung, the Royal Navy dockyard in Bermuda was a major repair and refueling stop. As the sun set on the Empire and long range jets spanned the oceans, Dockyard was abandoned, but it solved a problem for Bermuda, where leviathan sized cruise ships were crowding Hamilton and were unable to pierce the narrow cut leading to St. George’s. Dockyard, also called “King’s Wharf,” was a splendid place to park the tourist laden ships. The only problems were a lack of amenities and the distance from the places visitors wanted to be. Here’s a look at how to make the best of a Dockyard landfall. – Jay Lloyd
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF BERMUDA
The naval fortifications and facilities have become a living history museum that displays the rich legacy of the Royal Navy and Bermuda’s role in nautical affairs. If the cruise has piqued your interest in maritime history, this solid bastion and collection of unique artifacts is worth some exploration. But the museum also unveils a comprehensive look at the development as well as the customs and people of this popular destination island.
One of the new attractions at dockyard is Dolphin Quest, a water world that allows visitors to get up close and personal with a dolphin population. You swim and play with the pod, or you can just stop by to watch these unique mammals at play. The cost is $10 to look, or north of $300 a head to dive in and become part of the school.
A number of small boat tours that allow you to snorkel or dive, simply relax under sail or sightsee among coves and coastlines depart on regular schedules from Dockyard. One of the more popular tours is the glass-bottom boat, which opens stunning images of coral reefs, brilliantly colored aquatic life — even a shipwreck!
SUPPING AND SIPPING
Most cruise passengers have a tendency to eat and drink on the ship since the meals are included in the price of the cruise. Still others prefer the occasional taste of Bermudian fare without venturing too far afield. These are a couple of dockyard favorites:
Freeport is a casual eatery that specializes in local seafood. The Bermuda fish chowder here, served with a splash of dark Bermuda rum, is outstanding. Wahoo is generally the local catch and a finer fish to decorate a grill is hard to find.
FROG AND ONION PUB
Centrally located, the colorful Frog and Onion is a good Dockyard stop for a midday toddy while planning an evening adventure. The local drink of choice is the Rum Swizzle or Dark and Stormy. The former is fruity and intoxicating, the latter, robust and equally intoxicating. Having lived in Bermuda for nearly five years, my choice was always a cool, refreshing Cockspur Rum with a splash of ginger ale.
Since my last visit, a floating bar has opened near the cruise ship docks. It’s worth a beer stop to check out, but I haven’t as yet lifted a mug on its deck.
There are a few public beaches near Dockyard within reach by rented bike or on foot and one commercial beach within the dockyard facility. But the most stunning beaches are about 20 minutes away by bus or less by taxi. Horseshoe Bay has been an oceanside haven of pink sand for generations of Bermudians and visitors. It’s on the South Shore and is broad and expansive, with stunning views of the adjacent coastline. Horseshoe Bay also has some basic facilities.
Available transportation will determine when and where you go to explore the island, and when you’ll be able to return. I usually advise travelers not to make plans for trips further than the City of Hamilton in the island center unless you rent a motor bike and can set your own schedule. While the Bermuda public transit system is good when it’s working, there are frequent ferry and bus breakdowns and more frequent transit strikes that seem to occur at the drop of a hat. The drivers and crews call it “downing tools.”
When everything is running, the ferries are the best link to Hamilton, where you’ll find shops carrying duty free, old world items at very reasonable prices including perfumes, liquor, finely tailored European and British clothing and colorful beach and casual wear from abroad. Restaurants and pubs line the Hamilton streets, most are high quality with prices to match.
Buses are the best choice to reach the South Shore beaches. You’ll also find taxis and mini-buses or vans in Dockyard queues. Taxis are extremely expensive, while mini-buses are less.
The Bermuda dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar and the value is the same. There is no advantage to exchanging money, and U.S. currency is accepted all over the island. But if you use a credit or debit card, foreign exchange fees (usually 3%) will apply, so it’s best to use cash or a fee-free card.
A couple of tips: The Bermuda sun is amplified by the reflection of the coral sand. You can become severely burned more quickly than on Jersey beaches. Limit your sunbathing time (sorry about that!). Also, if you plan to rent a motor bike, remember that Bermudians, like the British, drive on the left side of the road. It takes some getting used to. Finally, if you shop at the local stores for liquor and perfume, check the ship’s store for prices before you go to town, then compare. I found that all the items on my list were more reasonable on the ship.