Parenting: Traveling With Kids - Bermuda

David Murphy's kids having "fun" in front of Bermuda's azure-blue waters.
October 27, 2010 6:17:18 AM PDT
It's close. It's temperate. It's Bermuda! But if you're thinking about taking your kids there, there are a few things to consider.

Bermuda lies approximately 780 miles from Philadelphia in the Atlantic Ocean, due east of Charlestown, South Carolina. Its northern location relative to most Caribbean travel destinations makes it a quicker hop; non-stop flights take only about two hours and fifteen minutes gate-to-gate, which compares favorably with any other Caribbean destination and even Florida. Cruise ships also get there quickly and some leave from Philadelphia. This, along with Bermuda's famous pristine beaches, rocky shorelines and clean, picturesque architecture make the British Territory an attractive destination for Delaware Valley families.

But there are some draw backs. You'll find that, in general, flights to Bermuda tend to be more expensive than some other more distant destinations, especially during the warmer, more desirable season. This can make it tougher on the wallet for families requiring many seats on the plane. You may also find that resorts are a little pricier than in some other vacation destinations. This is partly due to Bermuda's small size and limited capacity for tourism, as well as the aforementioned ease of getting there. Not that there aren't hotels---there are, and plenty of them. But the competition for space can be high during the busy season, given Bermuda's proximity to so many major east coast cities.

In season, out of season

Another drawback is the weather, depending on when you want to visit. While Bermuda can be as warm and tropical as other more southern destinations in the summer (due to its position in the middle of the warm Gulf Stream), the winters are cooler than points south. For example, highs in the warmer May-October season can average from 75 to 85 with high humidity. But in the winter months, highs generally stay in the 60s. The same goes for the ocean temperature which is typically around 75 in the summer but only 65 in the winter. This shortens the season for true, tropical vacationing to only about 5 or 6 months. What's more, hurricanes and tropical storms occasionally pass through the area.

Drivers not wanted!

There are no rental cars in Bermuda. Because room is tight on the 22-mile long, crescent-shaped island, and there are only one or two roads that move down the majority of its narrow length, the government severely limits the number of vehicles allowed. As a result, anyone who wants to explore Bermuda must resort to buses, cabs or passenger ferries. This can be a little tiresome, especially if you have kids in tow.

Get on the bus?

The buses run regular circuits around the island, but we found them less than punctual. We waited anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes, depending on how lucky or unlucky we were. Also, many of the bus stops are nothing more than standing areas near a colored pole next the busy roadway. You have to keep a close eye on bored children during a 15 minute wait as wandering even a few feet from some of these makeshift bus stops can put them in harm's way. Cabs are more convenient, but can get pricey if you use them often. The best way to secure a cab is to use one between the airport and your hotel. Along the way, the driver will usually be happy to give you a card with his or her home number. In our case, we called the same cabbie every time we needed a ride and either she or a neighbor would arrive within ten or fifteen minutes, no matter where we were on the island. We didn't use the ferry system because the pick-up and drop-off locations weren't convenient for us, but they do operate between several main towns and tourist centers and would be a fun activity for most kids.

Stepping out

One way to avoid the hassle of commuting from point to point is to simply pick a nice resort and hunker down, but you'll be glad if you go exploring. The nicest beaches on the island are the famous pink-sand locations like Horseshoe and Elbow. These are public beaches and not within walking distance of most hotels. But the trip is worth it because Bermuda sand is the softest and prettiest you and your kids will see anywhere. Coves are shared with fish, and sizable crabs cling to the rocky outcrops and cove walls.

Crystal Cave is also a fun attraction for kids. Guides tell you the history behind the caves, and the paths are good and well lit---except when you get to the part of the tour where they turn out the lights! My kids enjoyed this, and their mom and I felt it was a worthwhile diversion from the usual beach-related activities.

There are numerous forts built by the British, the granddaddy of them all being located at the Royal Navy Dockyard on Bermuda's western tip. There are numerous shops and food options here, as well as the fort grounds over which goats can be seen skipping about. Make plans to swim here, too. There's a great snorkeling area in the shadow of the fort which includes a beach that's sheltered from the open ocean by a rock jetty. We spent a very enjoyable day here touring the fort and then cooling off for the afternoon in the water. Dolphin Quest is also located nearby, which gives children and adults a chance to interact with dolphins in a controlled environment. It's expensive, but if you have, say, one kid who's really into dolphins, they let you sit on the sidelines for free while you watch your child enjoy the big bucks experience.

Chances are good that if you take buses to some of the more far-flung sights, you'll change vehicles in Hamilton, Bermuda's largest town, and that's a good thing because the city is picturesque and includes plenty of neat shops, galleries and open-air restaurants. If you're there at the right time, cruise ships will be docked right next to downtown, towering above the three and four-story buildings.

Life with our tropical friends

Bermuda is tropical and therefore suffers the same pitfalls as other tropical locations. We tried renting a house and wound-up transferring to a hotel after several nights, having had enough entertainment from ants in the kitchen and nightly visits from large, fearless cockroaches. Some of the local wildlife is great fun, though. Birds, fish and crabs abound at the beaches, of course. And tree frogs sing loud and proud at night from seemingly every shrub. One fun activity for kids and parents is to go hunting for these frogs with flashlights at night. You have to look carefully, though, because they're very small and hide under leaves. An easier-to-spot reptile is the giant toad, which lives in holes in the ground and comes out at night onto lawns. These toads are not fast movers, and are easily approached. But don't let your kids touch them. They have a toxin that can sting if you get it in your eyes. The toads, by the way, were brought to Bermuda from South America to eat the cockroaches, according to various reports. But in the typical way that plans like this tend to backfire, the toads are reportedly now endangering certain native lizards.

To summarize, Bermuda is attractive to the Delaware and Lehigh Valley traveler because it's nearby. It has some of the best beaches anywhere and plenty of fun activities and sites for families. But it can be expensive, and getting around is not as convenient as other locations. If you go, do your homework, shop around for the best deals, and budget time for those unbelievable pink sand beaches!

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