Remember that eighties Beach Boys song, Kokomo? The first island they sing about is Bermuda. And for me, the island never quite moved beyond that decade. I pictured it as a place where baby boomers honeymooned, not a place for my family. This weekend I learned how wrong I’ve been.
I fell in love a bit before I arrived, starting with the moment the JetBlue captain announced our flying time: one hour, thirty minutes. My New Yorker brain immediately pictured the LIE on a summer weekend: driving to Montauk can easily take twice as much time, and there’s no Direct TV to entertain us on the way there. By wheels down, I regretted not doing this trip a long time ago. -Henley
Why To Go
Bermuda has some of the most spectacular natural scenery you’ll find, Caribbean and beyond. The island is surrounded by coral reefs and diveable shipwrecks, rimmed with pink sand beaches and impossibly clear water, pocketed by limestone caves (the famous Crystal Cave was the inspiration for Fraggle Rock). Bermuda’s interiors are lush and green, with flowering gardens, towering palm trees and colorful homes. And for sporty families, there are enough activities to keep everyone busy for a week or longer.
When To Go
Just 640 miles east of North Carolina, the island is warm-ish year-round but not truly swimming weather until late spring. So right as Miami and the Caribbean islands are heating up uncomfortably, Bermuda is perfect. Don’t think of Bermuda as an alternative to winter holidays in Barbados (although lots of families love the holidays here). For East Coasters, this is a summer getaway with the beauty of the tropics but the proximity of the Cape, the Hamptons or the Shore.
What To Do
The resorts are large and most families tend to stay put by their hotel’s pool or beach. But it’s worth getting out to explore. Visit the island’s coves and snorkeling spots by boat, get underground in the hidden caverns, take an eco-tour of Tom Moore’s jungle, spend a day on the famous Horseshoe Bay Beach. Everything is family friendly, so although there are fantastic kids’ clubs at the resorts, you won’t feel stuck. One word of warning: visitors can’t rent cars, only mopeds, and taxis are expensive. Come with a cash reserve or use the public bus system, which is well-maintained and easy to navigate.
What Not To Do
Don’t expect gourmet food. There are some great restaurants—I especially liked the Ocean Club, the Waterlot Inn and Sur Mer—but be aware that things tend towards casual island dining, and prices are high since many ingredients are imported. Thanks to the Brit influence, there’s a fish n’ chips on almost every menu, but skip it in favor of a locally caught tuna or wahoo. Also, understand that service runs on island time. Everyone is friendly, but expect things to run more slowly than you might like, even at the nicer resorts. A coloring book and crayons for kids are essential for dining out. On the upside, even the fanciest restaurants have a children’s menu, so your tots are welcome anywhere you go.
Where I Stayed
I stayed at the Fairmont Southampton on the island’s south shore, a half-hour’s drive from the airport. When it comes to families, they’re nailing it. The kids’ club offered activities during the day and at the dinner hour, so parents can balance family time with a grown-up dinner and never hire a babysitter. All eight restaurants have kids’ menus, and the pool area includes two children’s pools that are shallow enough for early walkers, plus one has a small waterslide. The beach couldn’t be prettier (seriously, it looks photoshopped), and the water is bathtub calm. But perhaps the best part is the flexibility in rooms. If you want to spend on a big suite, go for it; but if you’re traveling on a tighter budget, even the least expensive room has a double queen option that can fit a family of four. No view? No problem. You won’t spend much time in there anyhow.
The only downside is the size: at almost 600 rooms and with huge public spaces and conference facilities, the Fairmont isn’t a fit for families who like boutique hotels. Design aficionados may not love the Old World decor, and scene seekers will clock the missing cool factor throughout Bermuda. Where the hotel excels, however, is in its strong community connections. I visited over Easter, which is a big holiday for Bermudians. One of the Fairmont’s chefs spends two months prior to Easter building kite frames so that children can create their own traditional Bermudian kites to fly in the big Good Friday event on Horseshoe Bay. Local Gombey dancers led the children to the beach, where everyone from babies to grannies were out flying kites, listening to music and eating fish cakes on hot cross buns (an unusual but delicious blend of island and English culinary traditions). That experience alone was enough to make me think about booking for next year.