J&D's Travelog



May 1-8, 2004


The island nation of Bermuda (actually some 350 islands altogether) lies 650 miles east of North Carolina. Formed by the cone of an extinct underwater volcano, the islands jut out of the Atlantic in the shape of a fish hook about 20 miles long and 2 miles wide. Despite a few visitors (such as the Spaniard Juan de Bermúdez in 1503 for whom the islands are named), Bermuda remained uninhabited largely because of the encircling coral reefs that have claimed over 30 ships since 1563. It was the wreck of the Sea Venture on the shoals in 1609 while en route to re-supply the fledgling Jamestown colony in Virginia that first brought colonists to Bermuda.

A year later, the stranded colonists set sail from Bermuda in two ships constructed mainly from the remains of the Sea Venture; however, the Virginia Company would amend its charter to include Bermuda and sent 60 new settlers to create a permanent colony. The new colonists founded the town of St. George not far from where survivors of the Sea Venture first came ashore, making Bermuda Britain’s oldest successful colony. Bermuda was subsequently divided up into nine parishes, the first called St. George and the remainder named for each of the eight investors responsible for sending the colonists.

Bermuda played a pivotal roll as a trading center for Confederate goods during the US Civil War, allowing the South to generate revenue to buy much-needed arms. At the height of the war, a Confederate doctor came to Bermuda ostensibly to help with an outbreak of yellow fever. In reality, he was executing a plan to gather blankets from the diseased patients and send them stateside in the hope of spreading the epidemic to the Yankees. World War II also saw a flurry of activity as Bermuda was used as a hub to monitor transatlantic communications for coded messages as well as housing a US military base and a key port for the Royal Navy.

With no exportable natural resources, Bermuda relies primarily on tourism for revenue. The capital in Hamilton is home to the oldest parliament outside of Britain as well as the Queen-appointed governor, continuing its tradition as a British colony. Four hundred years of British affiliation and the introduction of slavery soon after colonization have resulted in a multiracial nation of approximately 60,000 inhabitants.

Day 1: All Aboard in Boston

We took the train early to meet up with D’s parents at their hotel in Boston. A quick and harrowing cab ride to the Black Falcon Terminal, and we were all set to board the Norwegian Majesty. Heightened security dictated that we wait in line for a good long time, but we made the best of it by chatting up some of our shipmates. The crowd was a mixture of the geriatric crowd and thirty-somethings who either had no kids or ones too young for school. Security was pretty tight as all checked bags were being x-rayed, though the only thing being confiscated seemed to be liquor. Finally passing through customs, we made our way onto the ship.

D’s parents had a stateroom topside with a wonderful view of a lifeboat. We, on the other hand, had opted for the more wallet-friendly bowels of the ship. In the end, things turned out well - the tiny cabin was cozy, and we had no neighbors.

Back up on deck, we watched as our bags, piled ten deep in large bins, were heaved on board. Finally, the engines were fired up, and we slowly pulled away from the Hub. Our expectations of a Love Boat-style bon voyage were left wanting as only a handful of Port Authority officials and Russian cab drivers waved as we motored out of sight.

The Norwegian Majesty in all its glory.

Our bags must have been on the bottom.

Dining al fresco on deck.

Day 2: At Sea

Not surprisingly, this was our first time on a cruise ship. Thus, our first day was at sea was spent exploring the ship and all of its offerings. Since it was a little too windy and brisk for the outdoor track, we chose to make use of the well-stocked fitness center near our cabin. Running on a treadmill is quite challenging on a moving ship.

Norwegian offers a number of dining options. They subscribe to the “free-style” dining format, so passengers can either sample either the restaurants or the buffet lines with both being included in the cost of the cruise. Not unexpectedly, the food in the restaurants is far superior to that of the buffet lines; however, the convenience and flexibility of the buffet it an ideal choice for breakfast and lunch. Dinner, on the other hand, is best had at one of three restaurants (two seatings per night) where one can choose from Italian fare, seafood, steak, etc. The gourmet meals were really top-notch.

Each day provided a new selection of programs ranging from art auctions, gaming lessons, and aerobics to dancing, karaoke, and children’s activities. Seizing the opportunity to relax in the sun and read, we decided to forgo all of the events. One that did look tempting was Beginning Romanian (a significant number of boat staff were Romanian).

Cruising into St. George.

Our port of call for the week.

Cool rock formation.

Day 3: Land Ho!

Just after breakfast, we sighted land in the distance. There was a buzz all through the boat as people prepared for our eventual arrival. It took another couple hours to actually roll through the narrow inlet leading to the port of St. George. Being one of the first boats of the season, a number of locals lined the inlet cheering and welcoming us to the island. They even fired off the cannon at Gates Fort to signal our arrival.

Leading up to our trip, we had been studying the current and historical weather patterns of Bermuda to figure out whether we were going to have sun or rain. For this second week of May, things did not look promising. Still, as we pushed into the harbor, the sun shone high in the sky and not a cloud was in sight. Thinking that the vast majority of passengers would spend the afternoon getting acquainted with St. George, we decided right then and there to head straight for the beach. D had researched some secluded spots such as Water Rocks, Astwood Cove, and Jobson’s Cove, but we found that there were hardly any beach dwellers this early in the season, so we had our pick.

We ended up on a sprawling beach guarded by cliffs on either side near Chaplin Bay. Tiny bits of red coral wash up on shore and mix with the sand to give beaches in this part of Bermuda their unique pink hue. The water itself was crystal clear and looked very inviting, but it was still a little chilly that time of year. Littered along the beach were purple-tentacled, bloated Portuguese man-of-wars waiting for the tide to rescue them back into the ocean. During the course of the day, we didn't see any jellyfish in the water, but you always had it in the back of your mind. The last thing you want to do is run into one of those guys unexpectedly. Jellyfish stings and sunburn are a lethal combination.

Our secluded beach at Chaplin's Bay (except for the peeper on the ridge).

A Portuguese man-of-war washed up on shore.

Still to cold for most swimmers, horseback riding is a popular alternative beach activity.

A city bus rolls by the Sessions House in Hamilton - home of the Supreme Court.

A view of the Royal Naval Dockyards.

Leaving St. George.

Day 4: Bermuda by Bus

High-fives were in order. Passengers dressed in their beach clothes gazed out the ships windows at the torrential downpour that had began early that morning and was not to let up until mid-afternoon. Having gotten enough sun to last the whole week (D was already his usual “vacation red”), we planned on spending some quality time with D’s parents. We had all purchased three-day bus passes from the tourist bureau in St. George. We thought this was a good move since it gave us unlimited bus and ferry use and we didn’t need to worry about having exact change bus fare (drivers don’t make change). In the end we probably broke even but still under-utilized the passes.

The buses are clean, comfortable, and perfect for a rainy-day excursion. We continued along the southern road by Tucker’s Town and the southern coast to Hamilton. Home to around 2,000 inhabitants as well as the island’s government, Hamilton is rife with restaurants and shopping, making it the most lively of Bermuda’s cities. As Bermudians of British, African, and Portuguese descent mingle with tourists along Front Street, it is a true spectacle to see the businessmen in their coats, ties, and Bermuda shorts.

Having caught another bus, we wound along the pink beaches of the southern coast and up the western part of the Bermuda comprising the island’s hook. A highlight of the trip was crossing over Somerset Bridge, a 30 inch drawbridge that is just wide enough for boats mast. Our destination was the Royal Naval Dockyards, built in the early 19th century and intended to be the principal British Naval base in the Atlantic. Today, however, it houses a variety of shops, restaurants, and museums. Between visits to the glass blowers rum cake factory, D and his father sampled some of the local refreshments and a bowl of Bermuda onion soup at the Frog & Onion Pub.

Hamilton's Church of the Most Holy Trinity or Bermuda Cathedral.

Bermudian coat of arms showing the Sea Venture sinking in 1609.

Some of Bermuda's tropical flora.

A view of Fort St. Catherine.

King's Square in St. George.

A carriage ride to Fort St. Catherine.

Day 5: St. George

Our second day in Bermuda, and it was raining again. It was our last full day in on the islands and we planned to spend it in St. George. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the town of St. George was the first established on the island and served as the seat of the government until it was moved to Hamilton in 1815. A thorough tour of St. George doesn’t take more than an hour, but there are several nearby fortifications and beaches that can be included in a more substantial hike. At the port is a replica of the Deliverance, the ship constructed from the remains of the Sea Venture and used by Sir George Somers to continue to Jamestown. Beginning in King’s Square we headed up through the drizzle to the Unfinished Church, so called because its construction was abandoned after 29 years because the funding dried up. Pushing on to the northern side of the island, we approached Tobacco Bay, a shallow inlet popular with snorkelers. Even on this rainy day, the place was crawling with tourists. Swinging past the manicured St. George Country Club golf course, we arrived at Fort St. Catherine. This site has hosted some form of fortification since the very beginning, from a wooden tower constructed in 1613 to the present concrete citadel finished in 1865. Adjacent to the fort is St. Catherine’s Beach where the Sea Venture's survivors first came ashore.

Circling back around the peninsula, we happened upon an old Royal Naval cemetery. We took a few minutes in the drizzle to examine a few of the headstones, most standing for men who died during a yellow fever outbreak during the mid-1800s. Soon we passed some small farms before making our way to an old battery built during the US Civil War. Further on, we came to Gates Fort which guards the mouth of the harbor. In its 400 year history, Bermuda has seen the construction of over 50 fortifications to ensure its protection. Ironically, only a single shot was ever fired. As the story goes, the cannon fire successfully warded off a Spanish galleon attempting to approach the island, which was fortunate since the battery was equipped with only three cannonballs. Moving on, we once again encountered the pastel homes that marked the outskirts of St. George.

The Unfinished Church in St. George.

The Unfinished Church.

Legend suggests that stepping through a moongate brings good luck.

Typical pastel cottages in St. George.

Good contractors are hard to find.

Gates Fort guarded the entrance to St. George.

A view of King's Square in St. George.

St. Peter's Church - the oldest continually used Anglican church in the Western hemisphere.

Navigating the narrow channel leading out of St. George's Harbor.

Day 6: Finally, Some Sun

Our last day began with brilliant sunshine. Knowing the ship was to sail in 3 hours, our options were limited. D’s mother and J went on a glass bottom boat tour of the reef. The seas were a little choppy which resulted in poor water clarity, but they managed to see a few fish. Meanwhile, D and his father went for a walk around St. George for one last look at the beautiful pastel buildings with “wedding cake” roofs. Not long after they ended up drinking dark ‘n’ stormys in Freddie’s Pub on the Square. They moved on to the White Horse Tavern to wait for the ladies to return. Once safely back on shore, J did some last minute shopping for some tanzanite jewelry. Shortly after noon, we were homeward bound.

Later that night was the event for which J had been waiting from the beginning – the notorious midnight chocolate buffet. We ate early dinners and took naps so that we were in peak form. It was everything we expected. There were several large buffet tables replete with chocolate cakes and candies, chocolate covered fruit of all kinds, chocolate cookies and brownies, sundaes with chocolate sauce, and of course just plain chocolate. While D was disgusted with himself after eating a few pieces of the ultra-rich delicacies, J went back for thirds.

The Majesty at night.

The long-awaited chocolate buffet.

Caloric bombs on display at the chocolate buffet.

Day 7: Rough Seas

Back in open water, the waves were considerably choppier than during the trip to the island. Seasickness became a popular malady. It seemed like everyone was on seasickness pills, wearing patches, or sporting wristbands. Both D’s mother and J were feeling green, so the day was passed by dining, drinking, chatting, reading, and napping. It was a good opportunity to wind down and get ready for the reality of home. We arrived back in Boston at the crack of dawn Sunday morning and disembarked by 7am.

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