Back in the late 1970s, my brother and I went to see the new blockbuster movie, The Deep. I was fascinated by the cool underwater scenes I’d seen in the previews, and when I found out where the movie was filmed, I promised myself I would visit Bermuda someday. Don’t ever give up on your dreams, because almost four decades later—I finally got there. And because the trip was to celebrate a milestone birthday, my son accompanied me on this long-overdue adventure.
As fate would have it, we ended up arriving at the tail end of a hurricane (alert: that’s what can happen if you go in September!). But even though we had to forego some of the water activities we had planned, the island did not disappoint. Here’s what I learned from my first trip there that will help you in planning your own visit.
Transportation and Getting Around
In my many years of solo travel, one thing I’ve always insisted on is being able to get around on my own. I almost always rent a car so that I’m not dependent on anyone else’s schedule. In Bermuda, however, I had to adjust my thinking. Because it’s a small island with limited roads and traffic capacity, only Bermuda residents can have vehicles. Yep, that means no rental cars.
If you’re like me, your first reaction will be, “What? No car? How am I gonna get around to all the places I want to see?” Fortunately, the island makes up for the lack of rental cars by having a very efficient bus and ferry system. During our visit, we decided to try out several different modes of transportation to see which ones we preferred. Each day we would decide where we wanted to go and then look at the schedules to figure out the best way to get there.
The best part about the ferries was, of course, the views from the water. The surprising thing about taking the bus was that it allowed us to really pay attention to the scenery and the “lay of the land” rather than focusing on traffic and worrying about which direction to go. We also got to chat with some locals on the bus—something that would never happen in a rental car!
Another alternative is to rent a scooter, which is what many people envision when they think of visiting Bermuda. In The Deep, there’s a famous scene where Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset are zipping around the island on scooters. The movie makes it look like so much fun (except the part where they were kidnapped), but scooters can be very dangerous with the island’s tight curves and corners. Even our lodging host strongly cautioned us to skip the scooters, so we did.
Instead, we rented a Twizy. Say what? A Twizy is a very small electric vehicle that can run about 40 miles on a charge. If you’re a budget traveler, be forewarned that they’re a bit pricey (about US $180/day), but we decided to splurge and rent one for a day. While it definitely got us to our destination more quickly than a bus, be aware that these cars are a tight squeeze if you’re tall. And with an average speed of about 25 mph, people were constantly tailgating behind us impatiently.
After five days on the island, my preference by far was using the buses and ferries. Just make sure you understand the schedules and plan in advance. We literally sprinted half a mile one day to catch a ferry because it would have been an hour wait for the next one.
The Cruise Ship Effect
Bermuda is a top cruise destination, but if that’s not how you’re getting to the island, you may not be aware of this. What you need to remember is that when the ships are in port, so are lots of people. And they all want to visit the most popular places on the island. The day we decided to go to Horseshoe Bay (rated one of the best beaches in the world), we found ourselves there with hundreds of ship passengers who all had the same idea. Elbowing my way through crowds is not my idea of fun.
We could have easily avoided this situation if we had known to check the cruise ship schedules (which are posted online) to see which days the ships would be there. For example, we visited the popular Jobson’s Cove the day before and practically had the place to ourselves. You also may want to check cruise ship schedules if your lodging is located near the ferry terminal in St. George’s Parish, as you might hear noise and music from the ships at night.
I consider myself a budget traveler, sometimes by necessity and sometimes by choice. Hotels and resorts in Bermuda can run, on average, $300-500 a night and up. If this is in your budget, then by all means—go for the luxury experience. But if you’re traveling on a budget, you’ll probably look for other options. We rented a two-bedroom house through a home rental agency for much less than it would have cost for us to get less space at a hotel. Plus, we had a full kitchen and living/dining areas, as well as an amazing host who gave us lots of inside info and tips!
Be sure to do your research on the location of the unit to be sure it’s where you want to be based on the island. Although we absolutely loved where we stayed, one thing we failed to realize was how far it was from some of the places we wanted to see, which increased our time on buses.
Bermudians Take their Greetings Seriously
There’s nothing I love more than meeting residents and experiencing the culture when I travel. This often means making sure I’m aware of any local customs that I need to respect. One Bermuda custom I had failed to learn about before arriving was bus etiquette. When Bermudians board a bus, they immediately say “good morning” or “good afternoon”—not just to the driver, but to the other passengers as well. It’s a sign of respect and courtesy that I really grew to appreciate.
We climbed on the bus, presented our tickets, and silently headed to our seats. But the driver wasn’t having it. She looked me straight in the eye and said in a very firm tone, “GOOD AFTERNOON!” My son and I quickly followed her lead, said good afternoon to everyone, and then chuckled about our mistake when we got to our seats. So when you board a bus, don’t forget to look up at everyone seated and smile with a friendly “good morning” or “good afternoon.” (I actually would love to do this on a bus at home sometime, just to see what the reaction is.)
You Can Find Your Own Secret Place
There are lots of well-known sites you shouldn’t miss if you visit Bermuda: Horseshoe Bay, Crystal Caves, the Naval Dockyard, Gibb’s Hill Lighthouse, etc. But it’s also very possible to find your own peaceful place that’s relatively undiscovered. We enjoyed a gorgeous red and purple sunset at a beach in Sandys Parish, and we were the only people there. We found a historic fort on a map, which was deserted and had a beautiful view of a bay. So, ask locals or lodging hosts to share some inside knowledge about what to see near where you’re staying. Look at maps and find a place that looks interesting and go explore.
There are so many unique places to explore on this small and charming island. In fact, I was so enamored with Bermuda after this visit that I booked another trip for May 2020. But, alas, COVID-19 had other plans for us all. I hope to return there very soon.
Have you been to Bermuda? Tell us in the comments what advice you have for visitors.
Images and text ©Laurie J. Schmidt, All Rights Reserved