(Sitting in for me this week are my colleagues from Cruising Done Right, Bob and Nancy Dunn, with a fresh look at beautiful Bermuda.)
BERMUDA -- On a map, this archipelago of loosely connected islands shaped like a left-handed fish hook is too far north to be Caribbean and too far east to be North American.
It's an island the poor are dying to leave and the rich are dying to inhabit and, while that's not totally unique, its reputation as the "most expensive place in the world" might be.
It's an island that gave the world shorts, a triangle and a national drink locals call a rum sizzle. It's a place not that far from home, where cruise passengers can taste "idyllic-try" they can't find at home. "Idyllic-try" means it rarely rains, crime is low, unemployment is below six per cent and a national treasure named Johnny Barnes sits on the sidewalk every morning waving at passersby and calling "I love you" as he has for 70 of his 90 years.
Of the 23 cruise ships visiting the Atlantic's most famous island and the northern tip of the so-called Bermuda Triangle (Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, are the other points) this year, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas was here the most. By November, its 26 visits will have single-handedly brought 85,000 tourists (including us) from its New Jersey home, with every second cruise continuing to the Eastern Caribbean.
After 2014, the ship will hand off this popular run to the cruise line's new arrival, Quantum of the Seas. When Explorer arrived 13 years ago, it was the world's biggest cruise ship, a title that's changed hands seven times -- six of those times to Royal Caribbean fleet mates.
Like all big ships, Explorer docks at King's Wharf, the tip of that geographical fish hook. Smaller ships can dock in the cities, Hamilton and St. George's, both readily accessible to King's Wharf passengers. On our maiden visit, we found the best transportation bargain was a ferry ride from there to Hamilton, a public bus to St. George's and another ferry back -- all for US$15 each.
Hamilton is a city drenched in history and white roofs, designed to collect and purify the rainwater on which Bermuda subsists and topping the mostly pastel-coloured buildings. Some architecture goes back four centuries and there are, predictably, heritage sites and museums commemorating that. Hamilton's a great place for walking, with streets clean and free of traffic congestion -- most vehicles are parked underground.
We didn't see Johnny Barnes. His workdays are 4 a.m. to 10 a.m., about the time cruise-ship passengers are still getting their bearings. Bermuda is already prepared for the day he's no longer here -- a bronze statue of "Mr. Happy Man" already exists.
St. George's is quaint. There's little you can't see during a short visit and Bermuda hired ambassadors (retirees) for $22 an hour to point tourists in the right direction, although it was Renalda Bean, a friendly cab driver, who directed us to Wahoo's for a chance to savour tasty local wahoo (from the tuna family) chowder.
Ambassadors happily drop the names of Bermuda's famous landowners -- such as politician Ross Perot and actor Michael Douglas -- and point with justifiable pride to the still-developing King's Wharf area that offers passengers plenty of entertainment just steps from their ship.
"My motto," Bean says, "is that no visitors leave our country saying they're not coming back."
For cruisers, coming back is easy.
Phil's pick of the week
Could it be great deals like this exist because the completion for the new Panama Canal originally slated for spring 2014 is now said to be 2015?
For just $899, you can take a 15-day voyage on Norwegian's Star from Los Angeles to Miami on April 20, 2014. Ports are Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas, Puntarenas, Cartagena and Key West. That's $60 a day!
Price is per person in U.S. dollars and correct at time of writing. Check Ncl.com for details.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013
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