Family-friendly Bermuda

| July 2, 2007

One possible problem presented itself on our recent cruise to Bermuda aboard the Costa Magica: We docked for two days and nights at the Royal Naval Dockyard out on the island's West End. Most ships call at the main towns of Hamilton and St. George, so I was concerned that my children would whine about having to use public transportation to get from the West End to the island's beaches and attractions. But it worked out fine. In fact, my teenage daughter Alex said she liked the tranquility of the West End compared to Hamilton and St. George. Since Bermuda's bus and ferry system is so efficient, friendly and reasonably priced, our entire stay was smooth sailing.

Adding to the high satisfaction level of our stay in Bermuda was the quality of the family-friendly attractions we visited. From a nicely-landscaped aquarium/aviary/zoo to world-famous beaches and colonial re-enactments, there are plenty of activities to keep kids and teens happy in Bermuda.

(Note: Buy a multi-day transportation pass based on the number of days your ship will be in port. We bought a two-day pass, which gave us unlimited use of buses/ferries. The pass costs $20 for adults and $10 for children ages five to 16; kids under five travel free.

For more details on transportation or any of the following attractions, visit

Historic Bermuda

Bermuda was founded in 1609 by British colonists who were en route to Virginia when their ship, Sea Venture, crashed near the shores of the island. Today, Bermuda is still a self-governing British colony and thus has retained its British flavor. From Parliament � which dates to 1620 and is characterized by barristers in wigs and black robes � to pubs serving fish and chips, you won't be disappointed with the British charm. Although 785 historic buildings around the island are listed in the Bermuda National Trust, you'll find the most history and British atmosphere in quaint St. George. Since the town is compact, it's perfect for a quick stroll to take in the flavor of the old buildings painted in soft hues.

Take a very short walk from the cruise ship dock to the spot where entertaining, historical re-enactments take place periodically. (If you reach King's Square, you've gone too far.) Make sure you're there at noon (every day except Fridays) for the Dunking of the Wench. This short, amusing skit is a 17th-century re-enactment of what happened to women who gossiped too much. Continue on to King's Square for fun photos of your kids with their hands and feet in the stocks.

In Hamilton, children will enjoy Fort Hamilton, built in the 1870s. With its cannons, ramparts, dungeons and a moat, kids' imaginations can run wild here. There are winding pathways, lawns and gardens where they can literally run around a bit too.

The Bermuda Maritime Museum is located within another fortress. This one is at the Royal Naval Dockyard in the West End. The Royal Naval Dockyard was an active navy base during the War of 1812. Kids will enjoy exploring the munitions warehouse and parents will be impressed by the sea views afforded from the ramparts. If you have little ones, there is a jungle gym and swing set within the complex, perfect for blowing off a little steam.

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Fortress at the Royal Naval Dockyard   Typical lovely Bermuda scenery
Nature attractions

My son is a science and nature fan, and we found plenty to keep him happy. His favorite was the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo, conveniently located in Flatts Village. We got there via a 15-minute bus ride aboard the #10 or #11 bus from Hamilton. Prior to that, we took a 30-minute ferry ride from the West End to Hamilton. After visiting the zoo, we proceeded on the same bus route for about 30 minutes to St. George. Make sure you tell your bus driver that you want to get off at the aquarium. Have your camera ready, since the BAMZ is located across the road from a scenic, small harbor called Flatts Inlet.

The aquarium/museum/zoo is not huge, but it has great diversity and nice landscaping of the exhibits. There are a few indoor exhibits including the aquarium and a small museum dealing with Bermuda's natural history of tides, rock formations and sea life. We all enjoyed strolling outdoor trails that led us to tortoises, flamingos, South American birds and even an alligator. There's a small playground (behind the Discovery Room) set against a lovely seaside backdrop; it has a slide, a "pretend fort" to climb, and a huge xylophone.

If you continue on the same bus from the aquarium towards St. George, you will stop at the Crystal & Fantasy Caves, which are also a hit with youngsters. At Crystal Cave, floating pontoon pathways let you walk right above a 55-foot-deep underground lake. The formations on the bottom are visible due to the clear quality of the water. At Fantasy Cave, ceilings are covered with delicate formations and entire walls are full of mineral deposits that give the appearance of a frozen waterfall.

A short drive from Hamilton are Bermuda's Botanical Gardens. We visited there many years ago when my daughter was young, and she enjoyed looking at and smelling the pretty flowers. However, since my five-year-old son is more into animals we instead visited the Aquarium/Zoo this time. The Botanical Gardens are not too far from Hamilton and can be reached by cab or by bus #1 from Hamilton. The 36 acres are characterized by exotic flowers (especially hibiscus), a mini-forest and aviary. The West Indies-style grand house on the grounds is the residence of Bermuda's premier.

There are several aquatic adventures that are great choices for families of all ages. A good choice for young children is Coral Sea Cruises' glass bottom boats, which depart from a spot near the St. George cruise ship dock. Your family will see coral reefs, turtles and multi-hued fish through the floor of the boat.

Another option is the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, which offers myriad interactive things to do with your kids. For example, BUEI features a simulated submersible dive to the ocean floor; marine artifacts from shipwrecks off Bermuda; an extensive seashell collection; and scuba gear to try on. BUEI is either a short cab ride from Hamilton or reached via bus #1, 2, 7, or 8.

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Alligator   Aquarium

Some maritime adventures, such as Dolphin Quest and helmet dives, are better for slightly older children. Hartley's Helmet Diving, for example, requires that children be at least five years old since there is a half-hour boat ride to/from the dive site and the dive also lasts about half an hour. Guests are fitted with an underwater helmet and given pre-dive instructions. During the dive, a hose from the boat delivers air to the helmets. You can wear eyeglasses if needed, and you don't need a mouthpiece to breathe. A guide then conducts a walking tour along reefs and schools of fish. Most cruise lines offer Hartley's Helmet Diving through their shore excursions programs.

Another exciting option is Dolphin Quest, at the Royal Naval Dockyard. It's also for those five years and older. Trainers teach guests about the intelligent Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, and there are interactive opportunities to touch and swim with these gentle creatures.

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Historic, quaint St. George   British mail box evokes the flavor of Bermuda
The Beaches

Everything you've heard about famous Horseshoe Bay Beach and Elbow Bay Beach is true. The sand has a faint pink hue, and these beaches truly are beautiful. Most Bermudian beaches are broken up by interesting rock formations, which make for lovely scenery. About 10 years ago, we called in Bermuda and spent an enjoyable day at Elbow Bay Beach; its situated between Hamilton and the West End, but is closer to Hamilton than Horseshoe Bay Beach is. During the summer months, lifeguards are stationed at Horseshoe Bay Beach, John Smith's Bay, Clearwater Beach and Turtle Bay.

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Horseshoe Bay beach   Horseshoe Bay beach

This time, we swam at Horseshoe Bay Beach. We loved it due to its tranquil, clear waters and its interesting rock formations, which made great backdrops for photos of the kids. Note that there is a five-minute walk down a steep road from the bus stop to the beach. Often there is a cab available for $1 a person to shuttle you up and down the hill if you wish. Horseshoe Bay Beach has bathroom and changing facilities as well as a snack bar and chair rentals. There is no fee to use the beach. We took the #7 bus from the West End to Horseshoe Bay Beach. Just let the driver know when you get on where you'd like to be left off and he'll call out the stop. The ride took about 40 minutes, with gorgeous scenery along the way.

And that's what Bermuda is all about � enjoying the "ride," be it via ferry, bus, bike or ship. For your ride will be graced with postcard-perfect scenes of azure seas and pastel hued homes.

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