Bermuda on a Budget
I just returned from my fourth trip to the pink sand island - with the pink sand a sort of rosy white and not hot pink! Bermuda is surrounded by coral reefs that are located the farthest north of any in the world. This is made possible by the island sitting smack in the middle of the gulf stream.Turquoise and gin clear waters greet the traveler at every turn and vista.Bermuda is also very well kept with tidy houses, zero litter, and little to no poverty. But Bermuda is expensive and if you are not careful you can exceed your budget quite easily.
I had originally planned to connect through Philadelphia for my final Bermuda destination. Those plans were obliterated by a phone call received at 9pm on the night before I was to fly telling me that our USAir flight crew would not have enough FAA rest for the 6am departure.Working with USAir, on the phone, had me driving two hours to Reagan National for a direct flight the next morning - at least I wouldn't be losing a valuable day on island.
After reviewing Kayak and the USAir site, the ticket was bought through Expedia on a Tuesday (early mid-week purchases tend to be lower priced) and six weeks before traveling. I had packaged this trip with a hotel deal at Grotto Bay Resort which cost $200.00 per night for a second floor, bay front, balcony room that was both clean and comfortable sporting a new mattress and recently updated bath rooms.I always check for bedbugs during check-in by pulling the sheets off the mattress and looking for signs in the seams of the bed - not that I expected anything but even the best hotels these days may have issues with these critters making a comeback since the DDT ban.
The Grotto Bay also has the convenience as being one of the closest hotels to the airport with a cab ride costing a Bermuda deal low of $8.00 including tip. Hamilton fares could cost three to four times this amount.
In Bermuda, to avoid the costly cab fares, it is advised that scooters be rented.I rented a red 50cc two seater, scuffed and sputtering, for $170.00 for three days - a great deal since I rode it to St. George multiple times as well as the Dockyards on the very far side of the island.Cab fares to the same places would have cost a small fortune. Now a word about scooters - please know how to ride before you come to Bermuda - each time I have been on island I have seen someone with a bandaged appendage after sliding down the road on their bike. Ride slow and defensively and be aware that buses and taxis will tailgate hoping to intimidate you into the bushes! But seriously the scooters are fun and will get you to places other tourists won't see - and remember to drive on the left in this British influenced rock.
If you are less adventurous - buses are numerous and inexpensive but you are at the mercy of the bus schedules.
Drinking is also expensive in Bermuda with the typical beer or mixed drink costing north of $8.00.A good way to lessen this pain is to go to the Duty Free shop after clearing security in the US, buying a fifth of Bombay Gin for $18.00, then in Bermuda stopping at one of the local markets and picking up a few mixers. This will save you a not so trivial sum in bar tabs.
I know I am getting ahead of myself - but the best bar on the island, in my opinion, is the airport watering hole on the second floor of the international terminal. They make a Dark & Stormy just this side of paradise and served in top of the line hi-ball glasses.For the uninitiated a Dark & Stormy is made from Ginger Beer (which in non-alcoholic) and mixed with Gosling's Dark Rum.
Food is another very expensive proposition on the island.I took advantage of the Grotto Bay Bar where in the morning they had croissants, yogurts, muffins and all you can drink coffee for less than $8.00.It was both delicious and filling.
Lunch can be taken at any one of the small beachside cafes, town pubs, or my favorite Jamaican meat pie shacks next to the cricket field in Hamilton Parish. This little gem is located just past the intersection of Blue Hole Hill and North Shore Road.
Dinners can be taken at one of the numerous British pups located throughout the island. The first night I was able to walk from the Grotto Bay to the Swizzle Inn - one of Bermuda's best known and eclectic eating spots. The establishment is located within a 200 year old two story building complete with balconies overlooking the hustle and bustle of traffic coming over the bay bridge from St. George's.The interior is covered in graffiti and the tables are rustic. Island music is playing either from speakers or, if you are lucky, from a live local band tucked into the corner. The Swizzle Inn was the inventor of the Rum Swizzle - a local concoction of fruit juices and rum served in a pitcher and packing a wallop that sneaks up on you.The party I was with had quite a few and we were glad it was only a short walk back to the Grotto Bay. The food is British influenced island - start with the Fish Stew which is simmered since morning in a dark broth with bits and pieces of various fish species caught that day - I anticipate this dish for months before my trips to Bermuda! I followed this up with a Bangers and Mash entree that was made of homemade sausage which melted in my mouth and served with sautéed onions, creamy mashed, and al dente vegetables.
Day two found me at Dockyards eating a Wahoo sandwich and chips at the Frog & Onion Pub. This eatery is located in the old Cooperage that the British used to provision their 19th century vessels before they were sent west to break the Union blockade while supplying the Confederacy in such ports as Savannah and Charleston. Union Jacks greet you upon entrance as well as a pint of their locally brewed ales - I had the Somer's Amber Ale which was light and delicious.The cruise ships make port at Dockyards and the area can become quite crowded - but if you avoid the beach (which charges a fee anyway) and stick to the pub and local shops you will be fine.Cruisers tend to eat on board so I have never been turned away from the Frog & Onion.
Day three found me at my brother Doug's discovery in Hamilton - the Hog Penny Pub.Established in 1957 it is rumored to be the inspiration for the Cheers bar. While difficult to envision I was willing to entertain the romance! The pub is dark and English to its' core serving British pub fare and colonial delicacies. I had the curry chicken dish made with a mild curry, tender chicken, served over arboreal rice and sided with spicy chutney and naan - absolutely mouth watering. I, of course, topped this off with a draft of Boddingtons's Ale - creamy and light on carbonation while leaving your palate with just a hint of butter - finding this brew on draft was a special treat and not readily available in the US.
Inexpensive Gifts for Home
While in Dockyards check out the Rum Cakes made locally and doused with a generous amount of dark rum - coconut, chocolate, banana and vanilla all are equally good with subtle flavors and great with ice cream.Local glass blowing can be viewed as well as bought in the same location. The shot glasses at the Frog & Onion are made from the thickest glass I have ever seen and cheap at a little over $7.00.Any of the pub T-shirts are quality made and unique while avoiding the overpriced and uninspiring items stocked at the tourist shops. Local artisans can offer a bargain with hand made jewelry and gifts -again avoid the larger shops and purchase at the cooperatives found at Dockyards.
A sad note for Bermuda is the decline of the town of St. George in St. George's Parish. Since the cruise ships stopped docking here because of their vast increase in size and the inability of the harbor of St. George's to accommodate them - a number of my favorite eateries have closed. The ones that remain may be quaint and on the water, but going against the theme of this article, quite expensive. If you must, for a drink and appetizer, go to the White Horse Tavern. Located on the square directly on the waterfront you can watch the local children jump off the dock and bridge into the turquoise blue channe lseparating the main city from the old Customs Island.
What Sights Can I See for Free?
- Any of the magnificent Beaches - Elbow and Horseshoe are my favorites.
- Snorkeling - bring you mask and snorkel to avoid the $10 per day charge.Tobacco Bay in St. George's is a great spot with its protected beach, limestone and coral formations - for the more adventurous swim 100 yards to the reef edge to view huge Parrot Fish and Barracuda.The Buzz beach bar is a local hangout where sandwiches and beer can be taken under umbrellas.
- Cricket - touring on your scooter you are bound to stumble upon a cricket practice or match on a local field.Stop, watch, and learn about Bermuda's national pastime.You will be warmly welcomed and schooled on the intricacies of this sport.
- Ferries - are inexpensive (not free) and will afford you a tour of the island by sea that you would otherwise have to pay a more substantial sum by chartering a private boat. A good choice is the ferry from the Hamilton waterfront.
- The numerous Nature Preserves - un-crowded but hot in the summer, Spittal Pond is a favorite with its breathtaking cliff views and the rock where Theodore Fernando Camelo carved his initials in 1543 after being granted the islands by the Spanish crown.
- Hike the Railway Trail - spanning the island it affords great views and access to hidden beaches - originally a rail line the tracks have been removed. You can even ride scooters on some sections.
- Tour St. Peter's Church in St. George - perched on a small hill, the brilliant white washed building was influenced by Sir Christopher Wren who designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London - parts of this church date to 1620.
- Just outside of St. George stands Fort St. Catherine - begun in 1614 and set atop a hill overlooking the main channel you can view the huge cruise ships as they pass by on their way to the Dockyards. At twilight, after all the other tourist have left, you may even hear George, a specter who is said to chant within the fort.
Important Items to Remember
- It may be sunny and calm on one side of the island while the other side is bathed in showers and wind - remember to pack a light weight rain poncho and carry it in the seat storage of your scooter at all times!
- Keep your credit card numbers, driver's license info and passport numbers in a separate spot. A lost wallet can cause major problems.
- Search for a credit card that does not charge a fee for currency conversion. I use the Capital One card for this very reason.
- Take out trip insurance - for the $150 fee it can pay you back in the event of a travel snafu or a more alarming medical evacuation.This insurance has paid me back each time I have purchased it - this latest time by expensing me for the additional miles I had to drive for my delayed flight and the more costly parking at Reagan National.