I know this is a VERY long entry but I wanted to give as thorough of an account of our trip with reviews as I could. I welcome any comments/suggestions etc. on how I can improve!
I had never been to Bermuda, and it had been 25ish years since Ken had been there (if you want that story you will have to ask him! I don’t think I am at liberty to share that one!), so when the opportunity arose for us to spend a few days there we jumped on it! (For those of you who are new to knowing me you should know that Ken and I travel like crazy! We love to see as much of the world as we can.)
I’d been in New York City with one of my very best friends prior to heading to Bermuda and was pleased to find what I considered to be a cheap ticket on Continental to Bermuda out of Newark airport. The flight was super quick (1 hour 38 minutes) and the next thing I know I am in a beautiful paradise!
I will be the first to admit I am geographically stupid… Quite frankly – most of the time, if I haven’t been there I don’t know where it is. What can I say in Geography class in high school I can remember me and Nate (the superintendants son who was a senior I was a freshman or sophomore… what can I say my mind is going. I can’t remember what year it was or Nate’s last name!) would cram in the 10 minutes before class and try to memorize in order the countries, cities etc. that we had a test on that day. Needless to say I am pretty sure neither of us committed many of those bits of information to memory. So when talk of Bermuda came up Ken had to point out to me on a map where Bermuda is. (Hint – it’s not near the Bahamas at all and Bermudians do not like to hear people claim Bermuda is part of the Caribbean because it isn’t…)
You cannot rent a car if you are a visitor to Bermuda but you can rent a scooter (think Vespa). They are a bit expensive however and obviously you need to stay away from the Run Swizzlers and Dark & Stormy drinks if you are going to rent one of these. We instead opted for the 3-day bus ticket. The bus service is very good and quite reliable and VERY affordable. A 3-day bus ticket for 1 person cost $28. This ticket also includes ferry privileges, which I highly recommend partaking in. (More on that later.)
Of note – the Bermudian Dollar is equivalent to the American Dollar and either currency is readily accepted across the island.
The drinks of choice in Bermuda are the Rum Swizzle and the Dark & Stormy. The Rum Swizzle is made using Goslings Black Seal Rum and fruit juices. VERY tasty! (Goslings is the only Bermuda made rum and it is superb!) The Dark & Stormy is Goslings ginger beer mixed with Goslings Dark Rum and it is also VERY tasty! The rum is called Black Seal because back a few hundred years ago when they started making it people would bring their own bottles to be filled from the casks (or the company would use old champagne bottles from the officer’s club that was on the island) and the bottles would be sealed with a black wax. This eventually evolved into the black seal being the “mascot” on the label of the bottle. The Run Swizzle started at the Swizzle Inn (more on that later) and has become world famous! (Picture below is a Dark & Stormy.)
Random – but hilarious to me – Bermuda is full of roosters! For those of you who don’t know me… I can’t stand roosters. I really can’t – I just find them annoying. Ken and I have had quite a few good laughs about them though. There were roosters on Matangi Island in Fiji (where we honeymooned) and now the fact that there were tons of roosters on the grounds of our hotel in Bermuda we couldn’t help but laugh about these creatures! My problem with them is that they don’t only crow at dawn… they tend to crow all night and all morning and well to be quite honest ALL THE TIME!!!
Grotto Bay Resort
I have to admit that how I ended up at this resort is compliments of Groupon escapes. Since September is still considered a high-tourism month (which I totally don’t understand seeing how it’s hurricane season!) the hotels were priced a bit higher than I expected so when I found the Groupon travel deal I was all over it!) This hotel is on Bailey Bay fairly close to the airport (about an $8 cab ride). I guess the easiest way to go about telling you about the resort is to list pros and cons…
· Fairly central location; as mentioned pretty close to the airport and also close to Saint George’s
· VERY close to the Swizzle Inn (in fact it’s staggering distance! If you don’t know the Swizzle Inn now you absolutely MUST after visiting Bermuda!)
· Nice beach area – though it is not the pink sand beach
· There are 2 caves on property, which are a very unique experience. From 9am-5pm you can swim in one of them. I have to say to me this is the highlight of this property. The 2nd cave you can only get into if you purchase a spa treatment (see Cons)
o The water is crystal clear, though a little cool!, and it is so neat to swim around the rock formations
· Nice pool
· Amazing staff! Patricia and Keeva were so happy to help in any way they could. We felt like we had our own tour guide in Patricia because she so articulately presented all the best places to go to us on the map. Keeva was so helpful in helping us secure dinner reservations
· There was a refrigerator in the room (which we used to store our bottled water)
· About a 30 minute bus ride from Hamilton where the majority of bars and restaurants are
· When we went down to the hot tub at 9pm the bar was closed.
· When we went down to the beach/pool at 9:15am-11am the bar was closed.
· The second cane (which I would have liked to have seen just to see it!) you can only get into if you have purchased a spa treatment. While I know resort spa prices are generally inflated these prices seemed even more inflated than the usual gouging.
· Very minimal workout room (1 treadmill, 1 elliptical, 1 bike, 1 Cybex type machine that was in rather poor shape) and no water provided in the workout room
· On-site restaurant menu was fairly limited in their food selection but what we had was very tasty; however there are so many great places to eat around the island so I would skip eating lunch or dinner here unless you just really don’t feel like leaving the hotel
· Walls were VERY thin in the rooms. When our neighbors had their TV on we could hear very clearly every word of what was on if our TV was not on to drown out the noise
· We had a few roaches wander into our room at night…
Day 1 (well our first full day…)
Ken and I didn’t think about the fact that it was Sunday. To be honest we didn’t really realize it – we’d both been traveling so much we’d lost track of what day of the week it was! We set off on the bus for Saint George’s only to find that on Sunday morning pretty much everything is closed! We did however get to see the Unfinished church (unfinished because Saint George’s was originally supposed to be the capital so they were going to build Bermuda’s largest church there but then the capital shifted to Hamilton so they abandoned building this church) which would have been a magnificent church had it been completed. We were a bit sorry we couldn’t walk around inside the structure because it is considered unstable. The buildings are almost all original and the feel of the town is fantastic!
Since nothing was open there we hopped on a bus and headed to Hamilton hoping that more would be open. Clearly Sunday is not the best day for touring about Bermuda because most everything was closed there too with the exception of some restaurants/bars. We wandered into the Pickled Onion and had some drinks and an appetizer at the bar.
The Pickled Onion
The signage looks like this will be a “hip” sort of place and the inside did not disappoint. Definitely an upscale sort of joint but what was most attractive to us décor-wise was the numerous drinking quotes all over the walls. (Many of which we wrote down for use in our next bar!) This was the first Rum Swizzle I’d ever had and I must say I enjoyed it! Here it was served in a great martini glass that was sort of twisted. Ken enjoyed a Carlsberg off the tap and we had some pizza bites that were very tasty!
Sightseeing in Hamilton
North Rock Brewery
Bermuda’s only brewery?! Yes please! Of course we had to go and check it out! That said they fib slightly… North Rock Brewery doesn’t actually brew the beer… Dockyard Brewery does and Dockyard is the only brewery on the island but North Rock is owned by Dockyard…. Slightly confusing but nonetheless they get good marks for their beer. We of course started with a sampler of their 5 beers
1. Whale of a Wheat: Lovely Hefe-style beer with just the right amount of fruitiness
2. Saint David’s Light – a good solid pilsner – great session beer!
3. Somer’s Amber – just the right balance of hoppiness and nuttiness (This is the pint I ordered!)
4. Trunk Island Pale Ale – At one place they called it a pale ale and at the other they claimed it was an IPA, I would say it definitely falls into the land of Pale Ale as it wasn’t quite hoppy enough to be an American style IPA but could possibly pass as a British IPA. Either way – Ken was happy enough with it to order a pint!
5. North Rock Porter – beautiful color, bitter tones with a coffee-ish finish
All in all we highly recommend making a stop anywhere that has these beers on tap as they were all quite good!
After the brewery we had to run to catch the bus that we almost missed (though the buses run about every 15 minutes during the week they only run every hour in certain places on Sunday.)
That evening we made the mistake of taking a nap and had a hard time dragging ourselves back out! But we somehow managed and ended up just down the road from our hotel at the Swizzle Inn.
Contrary to the name this is a bar/restaurant that has quite a bit of notoriety. The saying there is “Swizzle In…. and Swagger Out.” Have a few rum swizzles and you will understand why! These tasty rum based drinks go down quite easily but will quickly leave you drunk if you are not careful! Part of the tradition here is to leave your business card tacked to some portion of wall and/or to leave your mark with a decal/sticker. For those of you who know us well I am sure you can figure out what “marks” we left as reminders of us at the Swizzle J Since we made multiple trips to the Swizzle I’ll give you all my review comments here just to make life easier! If you think you are going to have more than 1 Rum Swizzle go ahead and order a half a jug, if you think you’re going to have more than 2 go ahead and order the whole jug! The price goes down as you order in larger quantities and as we found out the waitress (at lest ours) was not inclined to charge us for 1 full jug and 1 half jug but instead for the 3 half jugs that we ordered costing us a fair bit more than if it had been rung up the other way. Though it is imperative that you have a Rum Swizzle if you go, the beer selection is also good with local beer option(s) on tap. Food-wise we were impressed. We had the pizza which was very delicious and had a delightful crust as well as the junior size nacho which was still a lot of food and very very tasty (even by the standards of those of us who live in Texas currently!)
We decided that we wanted to see The Royal Naval Dockyard this day and to get there we opted to take the bus to Saint George’s and then get on the ferry boat to head to the complete opposite end of the island. We headed to Saint Georges just a little early to see the re-enactments that were set to take place. While we watched from a far as the town crier rounded up the scoundrels who were to be punished for the day, we enjoyed a dark & stormy at the White Horse. I have to admit that I am not a big ginger fan but the dark and stormy concoction is quite refreshing and a great combination of flavors. We wandered outside for a closer look of the re-enactment and were amused to watch the ducking of a woman “accused” of being a gossip and nag. Ducking is when they put you in a chair and literally dunk you repeatedly in the water. I laughed pretty hard as the town crier accused her of being a nag to her husband and her response was “But I was only reminding him – I was not nagging.” When the town crier replied “well that’s nagging and a man shouldn’t be nagged” her response of “Well clearly you don’t know my husband” had me in stitches!
We boarded the ferry and enjoyed the approximately 40 minute ride. We took seats on top and enjoyed the sunshine and great views of nearly the entire island. The Dockyard area has certainly been built up for tourism and this is also where the cruise ships pull in. We wandered and enjoyed a bit of the architecture before finding our way to a few “sites.”
The Frog & Onion Pub
This pub was named for the founders – a Frenchman (Frog) and a Bermudian (Onion) and is definitely a must see. All the food is made from scratch (with the admitted exception of the fries, mozzarella sticks and chicken wings) and this is where the Dockyard Brewery really is. We wandered up to the bar and struck up a conversation with the bartender (little did we know at the time we would end up making a new friend!). Naturally we ordered some local brew and decided we needed a bite to eat as well. We settled on splitting the Onion soup and a chicken Caesar salad. Onion is famous in Bermuda so you will frequently see it in various dishes. Let me tell you the Onion soup was PHENOMENAL! It didn’t have quite as much cheese as some of the French Onion soups, which initially bummed me out when they brought it out, but I quickly changed my tune when I tasted it! Great balance of flavors and it wasn’t overly salty like this soup can be sometimes. DELICIOUS! Also very satisfying was the salad – crisp lettuce, tender well-seasoned chicken and great dressing. We were thrilled with our choices! We continued to chat with the bartender Charles (definitely look for him if you decide to visit!) and inquired about the best place to go and have a lobster. Let me explain and digress a bit… Bermuda lobster is only available from September – March. We’d been trying to determine the best place to go for good lobster. We’d asked some others and been told to go to a place in Hamilton. When we mentioned this to Charles he sort of smirked and filled us in on an ugly little secret…. Many places will substitute frozen flown in lobster for Bermuda lobster and not tell you. Charles not only recommended 3 places for us but also called to make sure they all were really serving Bermuda lobster. We only made it to 1 of the 3 places but as Ken likes to say we always leave something at the places we visit to see/do when we return! With our new information and happy bellies we decided to wander about some more but mentioned to Charles that he might see us again before the day was over.
Glass Works, Rum Cake Factory and Ceramics/Pottery Studio
I am a big fan of glass-blowing studios where you can watch these artists at work. This studio creates some very beautiful pieces but I found them to be considerably more expensive than the place we visited in Grand Cayman last November so while I was tempted I left the store empty handed. The Rum Cake factory is a very good place to at least wander through since they offer free samples off all the varieties of cakes they offer (I think it was about 8 varieties.) I must admit I was surprised to find that my favorite was the Rum Swizzle instead of the chocolate. Obviously you can also purchase these cakes here in various sizes to take home with you. And yes there is actually rum in them – in fact the sample sign says you must be 18 to taste the cake. The Ceramics/pottery studio had 1 gal painting her works while we were in there and they offer a variety of beautiful pieces as well.
After wandering a bit we headed back to The Frog & Onion to partake in their daily Beer & Rum Shack which offers free tastings of the local beer and rum. (I believe this takes place from 14:30-16:30 daily.) We ran into our new friend Charles there who invited to The Bone Fish Grill next door to enjoy a pint with him before we headed back to our hotel. To get back to the hotel we took the ferry from the Dockyard back to Hamilton and the bus back to the resort. I simply can’t say enough about how great the bus and ferry system is for the island! It made our wandering of the island very easy!
At the suggestion of Keeva at the front desk we headed to Rustico for an Italian dinner. This restaurant was what I would call elegant casual as far as attire goes. The maitre’ de recommended an amazing Barbera wine that we enjoyed IMMENSELY! (Parusso Barbera D’Alba 2007) The food was also excellent. We started with calamari, which was cooked very well (perfect tenderness – not too tough) and was not overly breaded. I went simple with the chicken fettuccini alfredo with broccoli and was pleasantly surprised at how well done this dish was. The pasta and the sauce were clearly made from scratch, the sauce was the perfect richness and the chicken was tender. Ken enjoyed the veal chop that was a generous portion and by his commentary was absolutely delicious. While this is obviously not a local Bermudian cuisine I highly recommend this establishment for dinner.
Our plan for the day got modified as the day progressed but that was ok…
We headed to the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse on the Southwest part of the island because we were told it had a tremendous view. After a hike uphill to get to the lighthouse we paid a mere $2.50 per person for entrance to the second oldest cast iron lighthouse. About 170 steps to the top led us to a breath-taking view of pretty much the entire island. I highly advocate making the trip to see this!
After this we intended to go to Horseshow Bay because I really needed to see the pink sand beaches… Mother Nature had other plans however. As we were enjoying a quick bite for lunch after the lighthouse the sky opened up and poured – no way we could go to the beach. I was somewhat bummed since these pink sand beaches are part of what makes Bermuda so famous (and this sand is only in certain parts of the island) but Ken promised that we would get back to see that some day so I look forward to that!
Charles recommended for us to go to Dark Horse In Saint David’s, a locals restaurant, for dinner if we wanted true Bermuda food. (I am a firm believer if you want the best places to eat or drink and you want the truth not the standard tourist answer – ask a bartender!) So for our last night we trekked to Dark Horse. We were not disappointed. I ordered the lobster and Ken ordered the dolphin (the fish of course not the porpoise!) - both were delicious. The restaurant has the feel of a local “mom & pop” joint. I would certainly recommend this establishment to anyone who is interested in local fare especially seafood.
As you can tell we didn’t really spend much time lounging at any beach (though we did a bit on our last day there before heading to the airport) – this was in part because there was quite a bit we wanted to see and also because Mother Nature wasn’t very cooperative for that any of the days. But I can report that the water is beautiful and crystal clear and you certainly could spend more than a bit lounging and soaking up some rays! There are also literally more than one hundred (or maybe it was 200!) wrecks off the coast of Bermuda for diving. This trip we actively chose not to partake in any diving but I think it’s safe to say that could be on the menu for our next trip. Overall Bermuda is a lovely, laid-back vacation that is a good fit for just about anyone!