Many honeymooners and Caribbean travelers today fly into the former Kindley Air Force Base to begin an island vacation. But gone are the signatures of any U.S. Military presence anywhere one looks. Instead, the sign that greets you is, “Welcome to Bermuda International Airport!” The last U.S. tenants at Kindley Field were NAS Bermuda and NAS Annex, both of which vacated the site in 1995. (But that’s another story; see footnote at end of article).
My wife and I decided we wanted to visit Bermuda again after a 15 year hiatus, while we saw other sites and cultures around the globe. Previous vacation limitations here were related to time constraints of the family as academic priorities of our children took precedence. So an eight night stay of R&R was agreed upon. Since Space-A travel to this destination was no longer an option, we chose a time convenient to us. After finalizing air transportation, we learned that had our sequence of reservations been reversed, we could have saved a bunch of money. This will sound like the fisherman’s story of the “one that got away”.
Despite there no longer being military quarters on the island for Space-A usage, the Armed Forces Vacation Club was still an option, and the St. George’s Club, in and overlooking the Town of St. George, continues to be a participant in making unreserved condos available to active military, veterans and retirees! And upon checking availability, here was a 7 day opportunity for the fixed rate of about $360. That’s almost the nightly rate at some top hotels! But the problem was its availability was for a different week than my already arranged travel dates. So we bit the bullet and paid resort prices at the Fairmont Southampton that has all the amenities of a Hilton Hotel (by the way there are no American chain hotels in Bermuda).
Recommended transportation to all island destinations is via public buses as they are frequent and the fares are reasonable. If one is more daring and chooses a rental scooter, be advised that island streets are narrow, poorly marked and traffic flow is on the left hand side, making turn-abouts a real challenge (during rush hour scooters move at the speed of a bumble bee). Local residents are allowed only one automobile per family, but their ownership of scooters or motor bikes is unlimited. As a travel option, ferry boats do connect several localities.
Common English, as Americans know it, is spoken by this very friendly local populous and any accents one may hear are likely those of other tourists, foreign nationals assigned to their respective corporation’s international office here, or foreign workers employed in hotels and restaurants who are here on a work visa. Authentic eateries such as The Frog and the Onion, The Hog Penny, and Flanagan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant are just a few of many worthy of your visit. KFC, in the city of Hamilton, is the only American chain we noticed to break through an otherwise successful effort in maintaining a strict island identity.
Mrs. Alison Otterbridge, who works in the Island Tour Centre along side the Front Street dock in Hamilton, recalls a time years ago when McDonald’s had a presence on the old military base but it was accessible to the local population only twice a year! And that occurred on local holidays when the base opened for visitors to a shrine located inside the base. It’s not hard to guess which location drew the majority of visitors.
The city dock in Hamilton continues to be the primary disembarking location for passengers of medium-size cruise ships as it has been for decades. Hamilton is the largest of three commercial locations where tourists roam the streets, shops, restaurants and seek local transportation to other parts of the island. The cruise industry’s new mega-ships (4,000 plus passengers) must pull into port at the former Royal Navy Dockyards (dating back to the 1700s), where two new deep-water piers have been situated to accommodate them. Needless to say when these huge ships are in port, the crowds are another factor to contend with in planning your day.
An exciting event is being planned in Bermuda for 2017…hosting of the America’s Cup Race (world class sailing competition)! At the Dockyards, an area known as “South Basin” (a size estimated to be about 20 acres and currently under water) is about to be filled-in for construction of a Village in support of the America’s Cup. A construction crane was seen in April 2015 in that location assisting with erection of temporary warehouse buildings.
Taking time to enjoy local museums, found in Hamilton, St. George and the Naval Dockyards will enlighten your knowledge of “man and the sea” and of U.S. History, including our American Civil War in the 1860s. Confederate agent, Major Norman Walker was stationed in Bermuda to orchestrate the trade of cotton for arms and ammunition from European countries and to load the ships destined to run the Union blockades set up along the Carolina coast.
The Fairmont Hamilton Princess is still considered “the gem of the island” since its opening in 1885. The hotel was so named in recognition of Britain’s Queen Victoria’s daughter, Louise, and the property remains “world class” today. But during WWII, the hotel was closed to the public and housed secret, military intelligence operations headed by the British. This collective group effort here was known as “Room 99”. My wife and I enjoyed our time as guests at this location on two previous visits to the island.
James and Barbara Dickerson, Wilmington, DE
Footnote: Many conventioneers and vacationers enjoy golf outings on this beautiful island. So did senior military personnel until the U.S. Base closings in the early 1990s. In his book, USS BERMUDA – The Rise and Fall of an America Base, Canadian-Bermudian author Don Grearson, captures details of the controversial and political wrangling here during the administration of President Bill Clinton. Amazon has the book, but it is a bit pricey.
Reprint from July–August 2015 • Volume 45, No. 4