Bermuda: Third Time's a Charm? With sun, sand as soft as sifted flour, and blue-green water, the island is pretty appealing--despite what I'd been saying for years. Budget Travel Tuesday, Apr 17, 2007, 12:00 AM (Buff Strickland) Budget Travel LLC, 2016


Bermuda: Third Time's a Charm?

With sun, sand as soft as sifted flour, and blue-green water, the island is pretty appealing--despite what I'd been saying for years.

(Buff Strickland)
(Buff Strickland)

Late in the day, my friend Jim and I walk down the stairs that lead to Elbow Beach, where the sand is so soft it's like sifted flour. Waist-deep in the blue-green water, we throw a Frisbee wide on purpose, forcing each other to dive awkwardly. Afterward, we sit on the beach, watching the waves glitter in the lateral light. I admit to Jim that Bermuda is pretty appealing--despite what I'd been telling him for years.

NINE YEARS AGO, I went to Bermuda on assignment for another magazine and had a miserable time. Actually, I had two miserable times, as I had spread the reporting over two trips.

I was new to travel writing, and my first two trips to the island were when I learned that travel writing is a vocation, not a vacation--though we're fortunate that our business trips tend not to involve conference rooms. The fact is, most travel writers don't simply wander the world jotting our observations in leather-bound journals. Most of us do what's called service journalism: We spend our days and nights looking for things to write about, always worried that we're missing some great spot.

So while everyone else goes to Bermuda to relax, I was buzzing around on a moped (you can't rent a car), searching for shops and restaurants that felt authentic and not aimed squarely at tourists. Moreover, at that time the island was a poor value: I was spending well over $300--at a different hotel each night--for rooms that should've cost far less.

The low point occurred when I got caught in a thunderstorm on the far end of the island and stupidly chose not to wait it out. Three hours later, it was dark, I was soaked (from the rain and from the cars' backwash) and lost (my map had totally disintegrated), and I might have been crying, but who could tell? I was that wet. When I paused at a bus stop, a kind soul saw me and led me to the turnoff to my hotel, where I ordered two gin and tonics from room service and took an hour-long bath. I have a T-shirt that says I SURVIVED THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, and I don't wear it ironically.

Worst of all, I was alone. The days were fine, but the nights were rough. Like most resort islands, Bermuda appeals mostly to couples and families. At dinner, they looked at me with pity, like I'd been jilted at the altar but decided to go on the honeymoon anyway. Soldier on, brave chap.

When the island's minister of transport and tourism, Ewart Brown, persuaded JetBlue to fly to Bermuda, driving airfare costs down all around, I grew curious. Then came word that Brown (who has since been elected premier) was telling hoteliers they need to deliver more for the high cost of lodging. I thought Budget Travel should send a writer to find out if Bermuda was really a better value. The more the editors here talked about it, the clearer it became who that writer should be.

I vowed to see Bermuda the way any normal person would--like someone actually on vacation. I invited Jim, who had never been to Bermuda, and who's far less critical than I am. I figured I'd avoid the high end--all the fussy-and-fusty hotels, the mediocre beef Wellington--and I'd absolutely skip the mopeds. I'd give Bermuda not just a third chance, but a fair chance.

WHEN JIM AND I ARRIVE AT SALT KETTLE HOUSE, the first thing out of innkeeper Hazel Lowe's mouth (after a rather blunt "Do you want a king bed or twins? Just tell me!") is a litany of exactly what we should do on the island. She's lived on Bermuda for 37 years, and she knows what she likes: in particular, the chicken salad at Mickey's Bistro & Bar ("But only for lunch--dinner is too expensive"); Bistro J; a new Thai restaurant called Silk ("But you don't have to have Thai food"); the Lemon Tree Café ("Take your lunch and go sit in the park"); and the souvenirs at The Island Shop.

After Jim asks about jewelry shops--he and his wife just learned they're having a baby--I tease him that he did so because he wanted to make sure Hazel understands that we aren't a couple. Not so, he says; he simply doesn't want to buy something at the wrong shop and then have to hear about it later. (Hazel has a forceful personality.)

Personally, I find it a relief to take advice rather than worry about giving it. Hazel encourages us to walk over to the liquor store, so we can make our own happy hour; discourages us from renting mopeds--no worries there; and warns us that the ferries often leave early.

Salt Kettle House is on a harbor peninsula, just down the street from a ferry landing, and when we miss the boat to Hamilton--it left early--Hazel offers a ride into town if we'll pick up some ferry schedules for her. Jim and I grab a bite at the Lemon Tree Café, and Hazel was right again. The sandwiches and salads are fresh and filling, and the back patio is so pleasant we don't even feel the need to go through the gate and into Par-la-Ville Park.

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