|Norwegian Breakaway and Explorer of the Seas docked in Bermuda // Photo by Susan J. Young|
More than 350,000 visitors will arrive at Bermuda by cruise ship this year, up 10,000 or so from 2013. During the prime cruise season from May through September, six ships plan regular calls – many multiple night visits -- at the Royal Naval Dockyard’s two piers.
Docking either at King’s Wharf or the adjacent Heritage Wharf, the regular cruise “callers” this Bermuda season include: Celebrity Summit (19 visits), Norwegian Dawn (22 visits), Explorer of the Seas (27 visits), Norwegian Breakaway (22 visits) and Grandeur of the Seas (14 visits).
In addition, there will be an additional 27 other visits – one to three calls maximum this season -- by ships of AIDA, Fred.Olsen Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises, among others.
|Bermuda Dockyards // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Located within Bermuda’s western end in Sandys Parish, the Royal Naval Dockyard is at the northern end of Ireland Island. It’s true that when cruisers arrive they often can’t wait to get out of the Dockyard and explore St. George or Hamilton, the island’s best known destinations; both offer historic sights, dining, shopping, harbor views, cultural pursuits and more. Or, they hop on transportation that takes them to area beaches or to dive sites.
However, cruisers who’ve previously “been there, done that” for Bermuda activities across the island on previous cruises, or for those who simply want a close-by, easy time ashore, the Royal Naval Dockyard can be a destination unto itself.
|Historic fortifications still stand in the dockyard. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
History All Around
The Dockyard is also a great spot for those who love history to explore. For more than 150 years, this site was the bastion of the British Royal Navy in the western Atlantic. During the War of 1812, the British fleet with more than 5,000 troops sailed from this dockyard on the mission to attack and seize Baltimore and Washington D.C.
In fact, Francis Scott Key was a prisoner within one of the British ships attacking Fort McHenry in Baltimore and wrote the Star-Spangled Banner onboard while watching the action in Baltimore harbor. Over the years, the military vessels visiting the Royal Naval Dockyard changed from tall ships to ironclads, from steam-driven dreadnoughts to diesel turbine frigates.
|Signage helps cruisers navigate. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
In the early 1950s, the Dockyard opened to commercial vessels. Today, cruisers just walk off their ship and see the Dockyard’s easy-to-locate sites ahead. Good signage helps point visitors in the right direction, as do maps and brochures travelers can pick up at the Dockyard’s visitor center.
|A free shuttle train helps cruisers get around the dockyard. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Touring the Dockyard
In summer, a free trolley service will take guests around the Dockyard, allowing visitors to hop on and off at important sites.
From May 5 to Oct. 3, cruisers might also take the free “Historical Re-Enactment & Walking Tour,” offered every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; the re-enactment takes place in the historic Victualing Yard from 9:30 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. and is followed by the walking tour from 9:50 a.m. to 10:30am.
If clients prefer a Segway Tour, for $75 they can listen to historic facts on a wireless headset as they glide along the Dockyard viewing the various buildings. This is a great way to cover more territory. In addition, the Segway is the only type of vehicle allowed to tour the Maritime Museum and the Commissioner’s House. Some lines offer this tour, but your clients might also check out the operator’s site itself at www.segway.bm.
Other travelers may just want get off and stroll. The Dockyard has many benches, places to linger and relax. On a nice day, the people watching and boat views are superb.
|A relaxing bench in the dockyard. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
On a Norwegian Breakaway cruise last fall, I opted for the cruise line's one-hour, easy “Marquis Horse and Carriage Ride.” Cost was $49 for adults, $29 for kids, but I wouldn’t recommend it for kids. It’s much more a sightseeing activity for those who just want to relax and watch the scenery.
|A carriage ride takes in many sights of the Dockyard. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Two perfectly matched Belgian horses pulled the carriage, we got an good overview from our carriage driver about the Dockyard’s history and attractions. I advise taking the carriage ride early in the day; then visitors may see exactly where shops and attractions are in the Dockyard, helpful for exploring later on their own.
I particularly liked that the carriage ride exited the Dockyard and explored small roads and nearby residential areas. Our our ride, we spotted a couple of pastel blue buildings and also admired quiet, gorgeous coves and a small beach.
Sites along the way include the Old Naval Cemetery, Black Bay, Parsons Bay and the local fisherman's area. The guide also pointed out sites where movies such as "The Deep" and "Bermuda Depths" were filmed.
Back at the Dockyard
Prime sites at the Dockyard? Certainly, one “not to be missed” is the National Museum of Bermuda (still known as the National Maritime Museum by many) within the fortress known as “The Keep.” From the fortification’s ramparts, cruisers also have terrific views of Bermuda’s North Shore as well as their cruise ship in the harbor.
|The Dockyard's fortifications offer views of the surrounding area. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
It’s fun to tour the Commissioner’s House overlooking the Dockyard. What’s unusual? Painstakingly restored over 25 years in the largest restoration project ever undertaken in Bermuda, this is the oldest cast-iron frame residential building in the Western Hemisphere.
|Commissioner's House and National Museum of Bermuda // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Re-opened to the public in 2000, this house was the port commissioner’s house and it also served as a barracks during World War I; it was used for military intelligence during World War II. What’s to see? On display are exhibitions on Bermuda’s cultural, social and military history.
The jewel of this attraction, though, is the mural by local artist Graham Foster that spans 1,000 square feet and illustrates 500 years of Bermuda history. It took 3.5 years to complete.
Within the lower grounds of the Keep are other exhibits focused on Bermuda’s maritime heritage. The newest exhibit, “Shipwreck Island: Sunken Clues to Bermuda’s Past,” tells the story of the island’s early history through 16th and 17th century.
If clients are more interested in nature, the National Museum is also home to Dolphin Quest, a one-of-a-kind dolphin encounter. Adults and kids five and up have “encounter options” in the historic “Keep Pond.” This enclosed d waterway once was used to transport ordnance stores from ships anchored in Grassy Bay to storage houses within the Keep.
Even if your clients don’t plan a dolphin encounter, it’s still fun to watch; that's a free perk of museum admission. But if consumers wish to have a first-hand dolphin encounter, it costs from $160-$310. If those 10 and up want to be a dolphin trainer for the day, the price is $700 per person. Advance reservations are highly recommended; visit www.dolphinquest.com
Celebrity Summit’s guests might also book the line’s one-hour “Dolphin Experience.” It includes a 10-minute introduction and 20 minutes of dolphin time, plus guests are asked to be there 30 minutes before their scheduled “encounter” time. This shore trip costs $225 per person and is available to those 10 years of age and older.
|A British-style phone booth stands near the Bermuda Craft Market. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Arts and Crafts
Directly across the street from the Keep is the entrance to the Bermuda Craft Market in the Dockyard’s old Cooperage Building. As cruisers head there, they’ll pass a red British-style phone booth.
At the craft market, cruisers will browse amid hand-made candles, ceramics, holiday ornaments, paintings, decoupage, dolls, gems and glass jewelry. The small holiday ornaments of Bermuda pink sand are fun as inexpensive gifts for family members back home.
Adjacent to the market and separated by a common covered patio with tables and chairs is the Frog & Onion Pub, Bermuda, a great spot for a break. The British style pub was once a cooperage, a workshop where barrels, kegs and casks were built and repaired.
|The Frog & Onion Pub Bermuda was once a cooperage. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
One cruiser’s helpful description of her family’s time spent at the pub, the various features and what dishes to order is here: www.bermuda-attractions.com/bermuda_0000a8.htm.
If clients would like to peruse works by local artists, the nearby Bermuda Arts Centre has resident artists on site plus exhibits of original artwork. Visitors also will find a large selection of local prints and a gallery shop. Visit www.artbermuda.bm.
A bit further afoot in the Dockyard is the Dockyard Glassworks. Visitors can experience the heat of the furnace and watch as the artists demonstrate the process of creating hot furnace glass. It’s a great place to pick up original gifts for family and friends back home, including lovely glass jewelry and glass beads. Visit www.dockglass.com.
Also at this site (within an old machine shop) is the Bermuda Rum Cake micro-bakery. It smells as good as it looks. Here you might watch bakers producing Bermuda Rum Cakes and sample the cakes. This reporter’s favorites include the coconut rum cake and rum-and-ginger cake. All the cakes are made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. Visit www.bermudarumcakes.com
Just a short walk away is Bermuda Clayworks, a production pottery and ceramic artists’ collective gallery. This is a good place if travelers want to view or buy vividly colored tableware, salt glazed stoneware pottery, ceramic jewelry, porcelain, souvenirs and hand-painted house plaques. Visit www.berrmudaclayworks.com.
|The Clocktower Mall is in an 18th century Royal Navy administration building. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Shoppers will likely head for Clocktower Mall, which houses about two dozen shops in an 18th century building that originally served as a Royal Navy administration building. Cruisers can easily spot the mall’s twin, 100-foot towers, upon arrival.
Interestingly, the South Tower is a clock, the North Tower isn’t a one-handed clock – it’s a high tide indicator. The interior of this shopping center has beautiful restored cobblestoned floors and wrought-iron pillars.
Inside, shoppers will find stores selling Bermuda clothing, souvenirs, jewelry, glassware, linens, artwork, sports attire and more. An ice cream shop is another draw here, particularly when the weather is hot outside.
|Remember the Dockyard Pharmacy for minor travel emergencies. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
One handy place to know about if clients need a prescription or over-the-counter medications, sun screen, beach gear and magazines is the Dockyard Pharmacy, a subdivision of The Phoenix Stores (www.phoenixstores.bm).
Beach and Dive Activities
Nearly all lines offer shore trip shuttles to some of the island’s best beaches; shuttles are immediately outside the cruise piers or, if water transport, right at the Dockyard’s marina. If clients want to buy water/beach gear in advance, Makin’ Waves has a location in Dockyard; visit www.makinwaves.bm.
|Cruisers on Explorer of the Seas can book a scuba diving shore excursion. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
For those seeking a dive or watersports day off the ship, these can be booked as a cruise line shore trip. For example, the half-day “Bermuda SCUBA 2 Tank Dive” offered by Royal Caribbean International from its ships (including Explorer of the Seas shown above) is $165 per person.
Prefer to book independently? Fantasea Diving and Watersports is the only PADI diving centre at Dockyard. Visitors can sign up for two-tank dives, scuba lessons, PADI certifications, SNUBA diving, shipwreck & beach snorkeling, power snorkeling, glass bottom kayak tours and stand-up paddleboard tours, mountain bike tours, pontoon boat rentals, boat charters and more. Advance reservations are recommended; visit www.fantasea.bm.
Want a beach right at the Dockyard? A limestone tunnel will lead Dockyard visitors to the Snorkel Park Beach, a tropical oasis with plenty of beach activities and watersports. You can rent kayaks, jet skis, pedal boats and other equipment.
This beach also is home to Hammerheads Bar and Grill and Club Aqua, a hopping nightclub when the sun goes down. Visit www.snorkelparkbeach.com.
One nearby beach – with a more laid back, low-key feel – is Black Bay Beach. It’s five minutes away by cab and a 20-minute walk, but if clients walk, advise extreme caution as roadways do not have sidewalks.
|Black Bay Beach near the Dockyards // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Black Bay is also a good spot for snorkeling and swimming, with shallow, calm waters. But the rocks have sharp edges so take care to prevent cuts or bruises. In the past, tourists collected lovely sea glasses here, but now that’s prohibited by law.
This small beach has some rentals -- beach chairs, umbrellas, snorkel masks, hammocks and fun inflatables. Our carriage ride passed a couple of the swinging chair hammocks that looked very inviting, given the views.
|Chair hammocks on Black Bay // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Once cruisers are back at the Dockyard, it's easy on and off the ship. For those who’ve seen St. George and Hamilton and simply prefer to stay closer to the pier and have a laid-back, easy experience, the Dockyard may appeal for its istorical, arts, shopping, beach and eco-diversions.
|Norwegian Breakaway docked in Bermuda // Photo by Susan J. Young|