Cruise Port Spotlight: St. George and Hamilton, Bermuda
East Whale Bay in Southampton Parish, Bermuda. (DAVID DAT NGUYEN, Chicago Tribune)
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Bermuda is in the Atlantic (it is often referred to as "the jewel of the Atlantic"), not the Caribbean Sea, and its high season, instead of winter like on Caribbean islands, is in the summer, roughly from April to October. Bermuda's climate is mild -- usually ranging from 75 to 85 degrees in the summer cruise season and reaching 90 during the hottest months of July and August. During August and September hurricanes may affect Bermuda, and the island's winters are mild, with temperatures ranging from 50 to 75 degrees from December to April.
Among the "musts" when it comes to Bermuda's fabled beaches -- Bermuda is only 21 square miles but has 75 square miles of coastline with many lovely coves -- are Horseshoe Bay in Southampton parish with its curving pink sands and Warwick Long Bay, with Bermuda's longest expanse of pink-sand beach. While locals may tell you that Bermuda is such a romantic spot that even its beaches blush -- scientists explain the pinkish hue in a more down-to-earth way: It is due to calcium carbonate, crushed bits of coral and the pulverized skeletons of foraminifera (a microscopic scarlet protozoa). Either way, the "blushing beaches" are undisputedly just beautiful.
The town of St. George (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000) is where Bermuda had its beginnings -- when a British vessel, the Sea Venture, shipwrecked off its coast in 1609. The island was claimed for the Crown and three years later its first settlers arrived. Named for the patron saint of England, the dragon-slayer St. George, the town -- which served as Bermuda's capital for more than two centuries -- is picturesque, with traditional cottages, shops and pubs in pastel colors and quaint lanes and alleys. Must-sees in St. George include historic St. Peter's Church on Duke of York Street (parts of this whitewashed stone church date back to 1620); the Bermuda National Trust Museum at the Globe Hotel built as a governor's mansion circa 1700 and a center of activity during the American Civil War; Fort St. Catherine, a hilltop defense dating from the 17th century; and King's Square with its replica stocks and pillory and where historic re-enactments featuring the Town Crier take place during the summer. Ordnance Island is where visitors may see a replica of the Deliverance II, the ship that was built to replace the shipwrecked Sea Venture.
Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda, is home to Bermuda's principal harbor and offers wonderful shopping along Front Street at stores, boutiques and galleries in ice cream colored buildings. Sightseeing highlights include the City Hall & Arts Centre (housing the Bermuda National Gallery) and the imposing Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, both on Church Street. Fort Hamilton is a must for history buffs and for casual visitors as its fortifications feature a moat, pretty grounds and splendid views of Hamilton and the harbor, and the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute with exhibits on sunken treasure and seashells. Shipboard-sold tours generally take in these points of interest as well as the Royal Naval Dockyard, a former British shipyard at the West End (west of the city of Hamilton), with panoramic views from its ramparts and the Bermuda National Museum on-site with exhibitions on shipwrecks, whaling, shipbuilding and sailing.
Glass-bottom boat excursions, sailing, diving, snorkeling and other water sports and fishing, as well as golf outings are also popular pastimes in Bermuda, easily arranged on-board cruise ships.
For local flavors try Bermuda's national drink, a rum swizzle, a rum-based cocktail with various fruit juice flavors. It was supposedly invented at the Swizzle Inn (3 Blue Hole Hill). Bailey's Ice Cream (2 Blue Hole Hill) is ideal for those looking for something less potent but also delicious: some two dozen homemade ice cream flavors, plus sorbets and yogurts.
When it comes to souvenirs, nobody leaves without a pair of Bermuda shorts. While the term now loosely applies to any knee-length shorts, the real Bermuda ones are distinguished by their fabrics (usually wool or linen blends) and extend to two inches above the knee. Visitors will often see businessmen wearing them with jackets and blazers and knee socks. Among the stores that sell authentic Bermuda shorts is the English Sports Shop in Hamilton (they run about $50 a pair). Cruise Lines that visit Bermuda include Carnival, Celebrity, MSC, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Silversea. IF YOU GO -- For additional information on Bermuda, visit www.gotobermuda.com.