It’s 8 a.m., and Norwegian Star is gliding toward the southwestern tip of Bermuda, sorbet-colored houses and cobblestone streets coming into view. But rather than feeling excited, I’m apprehensive. I’m familiar with the Atlantic island’s reputation for being notoriously expensive. But despite years of living in New York City, home of the $45 entree, I’m still a serious penny pincher, and as usual, my travel funds are tight. I’m curious but concerned: How can I possibly enjoy Bermuda on a budget?
Luckily, I’m sailing in on my “hotel,” therefore eschewing the considerable cost of accommodations on the British isle. So later that day, when I disembark in the capital, Hamilton, and hit its store-lined Front Street, I’m braced for the apparently inevitable financial onslaught and (almost) ready to splurge. But something is amiss. The prices are, dare I say, reasonable — at least by New York City standards. No Swarovski-encrusted seashells. No $1,000-an-hour anything to rent. No $20 rum swizzles garnished with gleaming curlicues of 14-karat gold leaf. Really?
Perplexed, I abandon shopping to meet family friend Judge Charles-Etta Simmons. Like Bermuda, she pairs British influences with Caribbean-style flair, with attire fit for Ascot and dreadlocks cascading to her knees. Our first order of business is lunch, a fish sandwich from Art Mel’s that she promises is “one of the best things you’ll ever eat.” We picnic on a cliff, with the glistening sea our backdrop. Afterward I’m blissfully satiated — and confused. The feast cost $10; shouldn’t we have been having a $75 salad somewhere?
Driving back, my host is an encyclopedia, rattling off details about every bridge and beach we pass, sharing the best spot for sea glass (Alexandra Battery Beach) and the location of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hideaway (Tucker’s Town). And as she speaks, I sense a fierce pride, an unmistakable love of country.
The next day, I browse the Bermuda Perfumery, in St. George’s. “Aha,” I think. “There’s got to be some expensive stuff here!” But it’s $65 a bottle. Not exactly cheap, but hardly astronomical. I’m baffled; I was sure I’d need a wire transfer by now. Next I venture to Clearwater Bay. In anticipation of what my beach break would cost, I’d forgone a $25 pizza in town the night before (finally, high prices!) for a “free” steak dinner aboard the ship. But the bus fare is only $12, and after I’ve seen and sunned, I still want to wave $300 in the air and beg someone to overcharge me for something!
At the dockyard I meet Geri, who recommends the Bermuda Triangle cruise: “All the rum swizzles you can drink!” Sold! Our captain looks like Ryan Reynolds, and the crew is refreshingly unscripted. It’s so much fun that even after two days at sea, I enjoy the ride, happily letting the salt air and six rum swizzles wash over me.
On the final of three days in port, I ask about the cheapest way to Horseshoe Bay. “Hop in,” Kenneth Byron offers. My newfound friend’s tour is so packed with quirky details and superlatives (the smallest drawbridge, the oldest church) that I don’t care if I ever see Horseshoe’s pink sands. Because there it is again, the tone that enlivened Charles-Etta’s tour and now percolates Kenneth’s laugh: island pride. Perhaps, I conclude, there are really two secrets to enjoying the island inexpensively: arriving by cruise ship and making local friends.
Later, as I wistfully sail away, all my preconceived notions of Bermuda are carried off with a warm breeze. For once, it’s not my travel budget that’s been lacking; this time it’s only the length of my stay.
Bermuda: Travel Information
• Tourist Information: 800-506-6215; gotobermuda.com
• Documents: Passport required
• Getting There: Bermuda’s tourist season hits during the summer months, opposite the Caribbean’s, and Norwegian Cruise Line offers excursions to the island departing from New York City and Boston from May through October. Starting in May 2013, the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway will sail its inaugural season to Bermuda from its New York City home port. Airlines including AirTran, American Airlines, Delta and U.S. Airways offer several flights from major U.S. gateways.
• Currency: Bermuda Dollar (US$1 = 1 BMD)
• Dialing In: 1 + 441 + seven-digit number
• Getting Around: Bermuda is only a compact 21 square miles, and regulations limiting vehicles to just one per family mean that you can’t rent a car. But there’s no end to scooter rental shops that will give you a lesson in a nearby parking lot and release you onto the island’s winding hedge-bordered roads. Just remember to wear your helmet (it’s the law), drive on the left and keep to the middle of the lane.
DO: Take the time to fully explore your floating hotel and its amenities. The spa usually features embarkation deals that can put a pampering day at sea within your budget. And for those traveling kid-free, the spa’s hydrotherapy pools, sauna and steam rooms offer a tranquil retreat from rambunctious mini cruisers. DON’T: Plan your time in port down to the last minute. You have three whole days on island, so explore at your leisure. DO: See Bermuda inexpensively with a one- or three-day travel pass ($12 or $28 from the kiosk at the Royal Naval Dockyard), which covers unlimited trips on the ferry and bus. — KH