story and photos by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Out and Travelin’, Critics On The Aisle ™
It’s a breeze of a drive along the interstate highways to Port Liberty, New Jersey from Southeastern Connecticut and its northeast corridor neighbors for a seven-day Bermuda cruise on the luxury Celebrity Summit.
This recently Solsticized Celebrity ship leaves every Sunday afternoon and returns the following Sunday morning. It’s just what the doctor should have ordered – four relaxing and fun days at sea and three carefree days and two happening nights at King’s Wharf in Bermuda’s historic Royal Naval Dockyard.
The Summit is also your 5-star hotel for the visit and it’s a few steps to the dockside Visitor Information Center (VIC). Here you’ll be given a truly user-friendly Bermuda Handy Reference Map, and a chance to purchase a 1, 2, or 3 day transportation pass ($28.) for unlimited travel on Public Bermuda Transport buses and ferries! Believe us, it’s not only a bargain but it’s refreshing to do nothing but look out the window at the terrific sights, instead of keeping a vigilant watch on the narrow winding roads and the NASCAR-fast traffic.
Yes, there are the ubiquitous scooters and Segways, but it’s more fun (and safer) to get to the city of Hamilton and the glorious town of St. George via ferry, or out to the pink sand beaches, especially Horseshoe Bay, by equally pink public bus # 7, so you can concentrate of the semi-tropical beauty of the islands that make up Bermuda.
For a change of pace, you can wait in front of the Summit’s entrance awning for the complimentary little white and blue choo-choo train which will take you to the ferry and bus stops in the Royal Naval Dockyard. Or take a colorful five minute walk along the dock if you miss the half-hourly shuttle.
Once at the charming ferry/bus stop, the Gazebo Gift Shop/VIC building also sells transportation passes as well as Bermuda souvenirs – fine hand-crafted and the usual garden-variety. Look for guides in orange tee shirts if you have questions – two lovely Bermudian Tourism ladies, Sandra in the VIC building, and Tiffany Sanchez at the ferry dock, helped us sort out our timetables, maps, and put us on the right ferries and buses to our daily destinations. All the guides are well-trained, knowledgeable and utterly friendly, as we found most Bermudians to be.
Over the past several years the Dockyard has been restored to its 19th-century splendor and has been expanded so that it can now be considered one of Bermuda’s attractions. Site of the National Museum of Bermuda, this huge fortification, called The Keep, consists of ramparts and cannon, a three story exhibition in the Commissioner’s House, the Queen’s Exhibition Hall, and barracks. The Keep also houses the center for dolphin display and training – Dolphin Quest Bermuda. A hefty fee applies to those who want to ‘swim with the dolphins’ but easier-on-the-wallet is a five minute session of hand-feeding and touching the mammals. Check it out at www.bmm.bm .
The Bermuda Craft Market, in the Dockyard’s Cooperage Building is celebrating its 25th year of showcasing local craftspeople, guided by Manager Audrey Brackstone, who doubles as cashier, historian and is a witty raconteur. She founded this 21st-century treasure trove of beautiful pieces that is the only artisans’ cooperative in Bermuda. Here you can find a dazzling variety of ceramics, condiments and rum cakes, Christmas ornaments, decorative painting, decoupage, dolls, gems, glass, local cedar items and exquisite locally hand-crafted jewelry. Artisan Lyn Morrell makes the molds for her sophisticated silver pieces and she also crafts colorful textiles and paper mache bowls. Another silversmith makes delightfully original rings and necklaces filled with Bermuda’s famous pink sand. Perfumer Sheila Gomez hand-blends her fragrances for both women and men using only the finest oils in the world. Her Dark Knight scent for men is deservedly a best-seller. If you have questions, these Bermudian artisans love to chat about their work and creations.
If you’re an enthusiastic shopper, the Clocktower Shopping Mall (24 shops), Dockyard Glassworks, Bermuda Rum Cake Company and Bermuda Clayworks will keep you happily engaged all day, and they’re all just five minutes from your ship. The exchange rate is one Bermuda dollar per one US dollar, but change is always given in Bermuda currency.
We cued up under a shade tree for the ferry to the City of Hamilton, a wonderful 25-minute sightseeing cruise to picturesque Front Street. Restaurants, bars, and shopping, shopping, shopping abound on Front, Queen and Reid Streets. We leisurely wandered through the renowned Irish Linen Shop with it exceptional bedding, place mats and napkins, plus gifts and crafts; the English Sports Shop (fine clothing and accessories), Goslings Wine and Spirits ($13 bottles of Bermudian Rum) and Lusso, a stylish (Prada, et al.) boutique.
Inside the Lusso shop is a staircase on the left which is ‘secret entrance’ to the popular English department store, Marks and Spencer (aka Marks and Sparks)! Its classic colonial-style main entrance is actually on the parallel Reid Street in the heart of Hamilton.
Approaching a jolly-looking gentleman, wearing a store ID, in the tantalizing food, wine and spirits department, we asked if we could take a photo of something that stopped us dead in our tracks – sealed single-serve plastic-stemmed glasses of red and white wine. The gentleman said “I think you’ll have to clear that with the manager, sir.” Asking where we could find the head of the firm, he replied, in his wonderfully dry, witty British English “You’re looking at him!”
Manager Paul David Dean turned out to be a wealth of information regarding the current state of tourism in Bermuda (steadily recovering and growing), what to see in Hamilton (the City Hall and Arts Center, the Historical Society Museum, the historic Perot Post Office), and where to have a quick snack (the nearby unstuffy Café Continental). He got back to the business at hand and told us the take-away wines are popular “for picnics or the beach!” A passer-by chimed in, “Or breakfast.” We exclaimed in unison, “You drink wine for breakfast?” To which he casually, as you please, said “it depends on who spent the night with me.” Apparently, that’s what balmy Bermudian nights can do for you!
Beside colorful locals to chat up, the palette of pastel buildings in Hamilton are well-maintained, and the streets are clean and feel safe. Wandering up to Church and Court Streets we entered the Bermuda Department of Tourism where we were warmly greeted by the reception staff who gave us a more comprehensive map of Hamilton. There we were told not to miss using bus number 7 for an up-close view of the Bermuda’s villages, flowering landscape and its fabled pink (many shades from pale to bright) beaches.
On the following day we once again made our way from the ship to the transportation area of the Royal Naval Dockyard where we boarded the recommended bus toward Hamilton. Number 7 wends its way through Somerset Village, Sandys Parish and Southampton Parish before turning right onto South (beach) Road. As it was suggested, we sat on the right side of the bus to get a good look at Horseshoe Bay Beach and the many other beaches along the Altantic Ocean.
The settlements traversed by the bus are well-kept and attractive, with the houses that are all of different designs and bright colors. The white limestone roofs are terraced to catch precious rainwater. In about an hour our bus dropped us off – again on Front Street in Hamilton. It was a highly enjoyable bus ride which is the main mode of transportation for local residents, and a chance for visitors to rub elbows with the sweet and friendly locals. (Bermuda limits ownership of autos to one per household, and there are only scooter and Segway rentals on the island.)
Many of our fellow cruisers took the 45 minute ‘orange route’ ferry from the Dockyard to the Town of St. George. This yachting center on St. George’s Harbour is home to The Bermuda Perfumery (Lili Fragrances), Somers Garden, King’s Square, the Bermuda National Trust Museum, and the World Heritage Center. If you haven’t been shopped out by the time you arrive in St. George, then visit the shops on the Duke of York and Water Streets, follow the signs to the hidden shops and arts and crafts studios, or have a drink at Griffin’s Bistro, high above the harbour at the St. George’s Club, to spend the rest of your Bermudian currency!
On the third day of the Summit’s dockside stay at King’s Wharf, we knew we had to be back on board by 4 p.m. for the return trip to Port Liberty, so we spend those precious few hours scouting around the fortress part of the Royal Naval Dockyard. As we climbed to visit the impressive 1824 commissioner’s mansion, now a fascinating museum, we saw a flock of tame goats roaming the grounds as they nibbled on the thick green grass. Their casual grazing seemed to put Bermuda into perspective – an unhurried, friendly and balmy destination far removed from the hustle and bustle of the work-a-day world.
A Bermuda visit aboard the Celebrity Summit is, to quote tourist sources, and we agree, “a world away, not so very far away……” This delightful country, made up of about 130 islands, is worth more than one visit. We will certainly be putting Bermuda on our “can’t-wait-to-get-back-to” list.