Ahh, Bermuda, land of billionaires. But surprise – it can be quite affordable to visit. Here’s how:
First, aim for the off season. It may rain, but mild temperatures and no crowds provide a delightful break from winter.
In early 2016, several airlines, AARP, and Travelocity offered 50 percent off Bermuda hotels. We chose Jet Blue’s package at the Grotto Bay Beach Resort for a February 5-day, 4-night stay, double occupancy. The price included nonstop airfare from JFK (only 2 hours!), hotel, staff gratuities, and taxes.
We also reserved online a 2-person, 3-day scooter rental with Oleander Cycles and saved 10 percent.
Our accommodations — a king-size bed, dinette, coffeemaker, mini-fridge, and a balcony overlooking turquoise Castle Harbor in Hamilton Parish — exceeded our expectations.
On the lush, spacious grounds peppered with Birds of Paradise, was a heated pool, hot tub, beach and two limestone caves, one for guests to visit or swim, the other for spa customers. The main building contained the lobby, dining areas and a cozy section to meet or read a book. Our only complaint — the lukewarm hot tub.
We unpacked, then attended the resort’s complimentary high tea before exploring our neighborhood. Oleander’s was next door, and, across the street, was Tom Moore’s Jungle, a 12-acre maze of trees, plants, birds, limestone caves, and — astonishingly — a high-end restaurant. The all-white building glistened in the sun like fresh snow.
Later, we walked to the funky Swizzle Inn for a pub-style dinner. The Rum Swizzle, considered the national drink, is a delicious yet potent concoction of rums and citrus. I ordered fresh Wahoo, a meaty, firm fish while Greg ordered fish ‘n chips made with fresh cod.
The next morning at Oleander’s, following a brief training, we hopped on a scooter. Greg drove with me on the back. It was a totally new experience.
The narrow, hilly, congested roads driven on the left are poorly marked. Rental cars are prohibited. The scooter, although somewhat scary, proved to be a good choice; buses are slow, taxis expensive, and sidewalks often ended, dumping pedestrians onto busy streets.
First stop, St. George, the oldest and most historic town in Bermuda. Settled in 1612, this UNESCO World Heritage Site houses St. Peter’s, the Islands’ oldest Anglican Church, and the adjacent cemetery. We also visited The Perfumery, where floral scents are manufactured. Unfortunately, I started sneezing and departed — but otherwise, a great place to tour and attend high tea.
Meandering the narrow streets, we found a grocery store, and purchased food for a lunchtime picnic in the lively town square.
Under a dazzling sun, we traveled along the scenic Tobacco Bay loop. After lingering at Fort Charlotte, touring the gunnery and observing the mesmerizing multicolored Atlantic, we returned to St. George.
Alas, heavy traffic greeted us on our return. Motorists honked. I waved them on when the road ahead was clear, vowing to avoid the 3:30 rush hour in the future.
Following high tea, we hiked to neighboring Coney Island. On the way, we discovered the Railway Trail, an 18-mile walking/biking path; a Cricket
Field, and the Jamaican Grill, where the friendly counter-person offered an enticing sample. Impressed, we promised to return.
That evening, in the resort dining room, we ordered the national dish, fish chowder: a blend of tomatoes, onion, and grouper seasoned table-side with black rum and sherry pepper sauce. Delicate, yet hearty, the fish was a bit pulverized for my liking.
The next morning, we headed south to Hamilton City for a ferry to the Naval Dockyards. We booked passage, but had only an hour to spare — insufficient time, unfortunately, to fully explore the sophisticated, bustling city.
The scenic ferry ride afforded great views of the Islands’ Sound side. At the Dockyards, we visited a few Clock Tower shops, but skipped the museum, preferring the outdoors on this scintillating 70-degree day.
Planning to scooter back, we headed down Middle Road. The hills popped with square Easter-egg-colored homes, topped with dazzling white roofs. I later learned that the limestone roofs, covered with a lime wash, collected rain for drinking water due to a lack of fresh water sources — a practice perfected over 400 years.
In Southampton Parish, we detoured to Gibb’s Lighthouse for panoramic views of the islands. Then, we lunched at The Henry VIII Pub, where our window seat overlooked the south shore. Our friendly waiter, a Bermuda newcomer, was kind enough to refill our water bottles with ice and that precious commodity — water.
On to Horseshoe Bay Beach. A popular tourist destination, it was sparsely populated this lovely off-season day. Dramatic black limestone sentinels marched into the sea. We walked for miles, listening to the surf and marveling at the glorious water colors.
Our return led back to Middle Road and an imminent rush hour. Stopping in picturesque Flatts Village, we found ourselves uncomfortably close to heavy traffic because there was no sidewalk. We noted the Aquarium, where we planned to visit the next day.
Reaching our room, we relaxed on our deck, enjoying the view. Refreshed, we walked to the Jamaican Grill for a large takeout container of spiced oxtail, goat, grouper, and beef, with a side of pumpkin rice. Later, we listened to a guitarist in the Grotto Bay lobby.
Another sun-drenched day greeted our over-scheduled agenda. We consulted the concierge; he advised, “Forget the aquarium.” Greg noted Elbow Beach was private, but the concierge said, “Just don’t trample on the Queen’s bottom.” We laughed, agreed not to, and headed out.
Elbow Beach was deserted on this 70 degree day, perfect for wading into the waves. Only one other person strolled about. She lamented, “I’m moving to London. I’m going to need a whole new wardrobe.”
After this intoxicating beach jaunt, we purchased supplies for a picnic at Spittal Pond Nature Reserve. Nestled in the rocks overlooking the aquamarine Atlantic, we devoured ham, cheese, olives and fruit. Poor signage frustrated a planned hike, so after an hour, we hopped on the scooter heading for Tucker’s Town.
Again no town center — just landscaped, manicured yards, pristine private golf courses and mansions dotting the hilly terrain. At the top of Tucker’s Town Road, we visited a secluded beach and watched a crew shoveling sand, preparing for high season.
Getting late again, we aimed for Grotto Bay. The high wind filled me with anxiety. But thankfully, we arrived safely and returned the scooter.
Back at the resort, we enjoyed a swim. The large pool had a perimeter bar and in-pool bar stools, so guests could relish a drink and remain in the water. But, it being the off-season, the bar was closed.
After a shower, neither of us felt like a formal dinner, so we returned to the Swizzle Inn. This time, I ordered Rockfish, a local, delicately flavored grouper, and Greg, the Wahoo. Both were delicious, but I preferred the firmer, fuller-flavored Wahoo.
Crystal Caves was on the docket for our last morning before our afternoon flight. Although it downpoured during the night, the sun appeared when we awoke. It was in the 60’s and with snow forecast for the Northeast, we opted to spend our last hours outdoors. We hiked the coastal Railway Trail, then cut back through rural streets, walking along a canopy of tree-lined thoroughfares and banana plantations.
Sadly, it was time to go. The bellman opened the door, saying, “Have a Bermudaful Day.” We smiled wistfully, taxied to the airport, and returned to the U.S. We calculated the trip had cost less than $150 a day per person. We hadn’t intended to make this trip so economical — we did what we wanted and felt we’d fully experienced the character of the Islands. It had indeed been a Bermudaful Getaway.
Soon it will be time to look for similar deals for a 2017 winter getaway. Maybe, next year, it will be a different off-season destination. But we’ll look for one that excites our interest as well as satisfies our budget requirements.
Breaking it down
Airfare, double occupancy room, taxes, gratuities: $879
Oleaner’s Scooter Rental including helmet and basket: $174
Gas for scooter: $8
Ferry ride, including scooter: $14
Entertainment and admissions: $25
Taxis to and from airport: $25
Total per person, per day: $145
Editor's note: This article deals with off-season travel. If you're looking for less do-it-yourself or to schedule visit during the on-season, a local travel agent can help. Klingerman Travel in East Lyme has a Bermuda getaway on their 2017 itinerary.