“You took da bus?” cried our hostess in her endearing accent. “All da way from da airport?” She said it like she had never heard of any tourist doing something so complicated.
Traveling well requires a good bit of creativity. Or money. Often both. But creativity can kick in to help you save money, learn more about a local culture, and help you have a much better trip. You can also have some fun surprising locals with your cunning.
Bermuda, one of the havens of the super-rich, proved on our recent visit to require ample creative problem solving in lieu of shelling out for exorbitant taxi rides and restaurant meals. I gathered that, because many of the tourists were either so rich they didn’t care what the taxis cost or had arrived on cruise ships with prearranged island tours, we remaining DIY-ers had to fend for ourselves. We learned a lot about Bermuda through pure scrappiness, and I am proud now to share with you what we learned.
- WHY BERMUDA…
My parents honeymooned in Bermuda and always described it as paradise with pink beaches. This proved fully accurate. The water is so clear that you can see rainbow-colored fish straight through the cresting waves. Rocky outcroppings along the southern shore make for secluded swimming grottoes so picturesque it hurts. Bermuda is a world-class destination for golf, sailing, and scuba diving, and offers many other activities including cave swimming, kayaking, and renting mopeds. Located in the middle of the Atlantic at a similar latitude level to North Carolina, it is decidedly not Caribbean, and for much of the year has significantly cooler temperatures (averaging around 75-80 in the summer). It is a quick flight from East Coast cities (less than two hours) and we found the best deal from New York’s JFK. The Bermudian dollar is fixed to the value of the American dollar, and the currency is interchangeable, so easy peasy. All told, Bermuda makes for a seriously nifty getaway.
- BEFORE YOU GO…
One of the most important things to know about Bermuda is that it is very expensive to be there. Almost all of the country’s GDP comes out of off-shore banking, which means they produce virtually nothing of their own and import everything they need. This means you will be paying $17 for a sandwich, $30 for an entree, and $7 for a loaf of bread. This shouldn’t turn you off to visiting, but you need to be aware. My husband and I made it work on a budget by cooking breakfast and one other meal in our apartment rental, and then sharing an appetizer and an entree at a restaurant for the remaining meal. Another way to ease your wallet pain would be to bring non-perishable and non-produce snacks from home like pretzels, trail mix, etc. along with refillable water bottles (the water is safe to drink).
In planning our itinerary, I was surprised to find few guidebooks, and even fewer recent guidebooks, available for our type of traveler. The Fodors I perused proved a waste of time; no way was I going to believe that the cheapest accommodation ran north of $300 nightly. I’m also not into birding or shopping and wasn’t planning on playing golf this time around. Given this, I spent my prep hours looking at TripAdvisor reviews for activities, taking notes on the nicest beaches, the prettiest nature preserves, and must-see historical landmarks. In the next installment, I will cover top attractions.
Finding lodging on a budget was no easy feat, especially in high season. Originally I set out to find a hotel to benefit from amenities like airport shuttles and pools, but ultimately suffered from sticker shock, feeling frustrated by the thought of spending more than $200/night on decrepit rooms desperately in need of refurbishing. Bermuda, however, is full of alternative lodging options including B&Bs and apartment/house rentals. We had good luck with VRBO, finding several solid choices in our preferred price range. Our first VRBO inquiry led to even better luck because, though that particular unit was not available, the property manager sent us back a list of available units that were even CHEAPER AND NICER than the one we had wanted! The company was Bermuda Accommodations Inc., and I can recommend them highly. We booked a small apartment with a fully outfitted kitchenette, a king size bed, a huge bath tub, AC, and charming hosts, all walking distance from the nicest beaches on the island.
This leads me to location. Much of the island’s attractions are spread out across the island which means you will be doing some commuting between them. This will be slow going. The speed limit is only 25 mph, though it actually feels fast on those narrow, windy roads—believe me. At this pace, the two main villages, Hamilton and St. George, are about a half-hour apart. The nicest beaches are 20 minutes south of Hamilton. The Dockyards are about 45 minutes away from everything. This said, it is important to choose your lodging to be closest to the features you will use most often. If you want to be near the nicest beaches, then stay along the south coast in Warwick Parish. If you want to be closer to multiple public transit routes, restaurants, and night life, stay closer to Hamilton. If you want old-world charm, shopping options, and access to Tobacco Bay, stay in St. George.
- WHEN YOU GET THERE…
Your plane will soar over waters that grow increasingly turquoise the nearer you get to landing. You will step out of the airport and breathe in the salty, sunny air. Then you will realize there was no information booth in the airport. Customs just dumped you onto the curb to be accosted by taxi drivers. No maps, no guidance, no functional pay phones. We went around asking employees for tips and eventually figured out the buses.
From the airport, you have several options to reach your lodging. The first is to have arranged it ahead of time if your lodging offers shuttle service. The second is to pay for a taxi. This might be the easiest option, but depending on where you are located, be prepared to spend, especially if you get in on a Sunday when they charge 25% more on fees. The third is to take the bus. There are several buses that pick up in front of the airport and go either to St. George or Hamilton. Reference where you’re staying on this bus map and pick your route. You will need to pay in cash until you can get other bus tickets. They do not give change, so have some coins ready to pay exact fare. If you are transferring to a second bus, ask the driver to give you a transfer slip, and he or she will tear off a piece of paper noting the time. Remember that the pink poles at the bus stops lead you toward Hamilton, and the blue poles lead you away from it. NOTE: Depending on how crowded the bus is, the driver may not let you on with luggage. We were told they rarely enforce this, but there are between 0-1 luggage racks on these buses, and some bus rides are packed full.
You can buy bus passes and individual tickets at the bus terminals, ferry terminals, and information booths. These tickets also work on ferries. They offer multi-day passes as well as packets of tickets. Probably the best way to save money was to estimate the number of trips you will be taking and buy a packet of 15 All-zone tickets. This way the tickets can be used by whomever (whereas the passes can only be used by one person at a time) and you save a bunch of money by buying in bulk. Just remember to ask for those transfers!
Stay tuned for Part 2, Top Bermuda Activities!