An empty restaurant in Hamilton, Bermuda.
A park without people in Hamilton.
Words probably can’t adequately express just how much love I have for the island of Bermuda.
I’ve been going there since I was sixteen years old. I first laid eyes on that incredible little country in the midst of the Sargasso Sea in August of 1977. I was in the most pleasant state of shock imaginable as our Holland America Lines ship, The Statendam, docked on Front Street in the capital city of Hamilton. Pastel-colored houses with limestone white roofs lined the streets and dotted the gentle hills; palm trees swayed in the humid breeze; British department stores could be found a few steps away from the dock. So could souvenir shops, including a few tucked away in what looked like an old pirate’s lane. Tea sets vied with Bermuda hand-blown glass and plastic Santas riding Bermuda scooters in just about all of the stores. All this I loved on first sight that morning, and it was before getting my first taste of what it was like to jump the gentle waves at Elbow Beach that afternoon.
Bermuda was, and still is, a blend of Great Britain-style propriety and Caribbean islander-casual. It’s a combination that I love. It’s an island that would have counted me as a citizen if only it were possible for Americans to relocate there and become one (it isn’t, not unless you marry a Bermudian and stay married at least ten years). I’ve been on maybe 35 cruises over the years, usually on Holland America Lines or Celebrity Lines, both of which ran “class act” ships, and consider Bermuda “home.”
So I was very shocked, and saddened, by the conditions I found in Bermuda this past week, when I cruised there on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s megaship, the Norwegian Breakaway. It holds nearly 4,000 passengers. It features five waterslides which struck me as terrifying, a climbing wall, a zip line course, several pools, and outdoor movie theater. It also boasts of “freestyle” cruising, which is different from the old Holland America and Celebrity types of vacation, where you were assigned to a dining room and a dinner seating, eating with the same people every night. All meals, plus your transportation, accommodations, and entertainment used to be included. Pay the one price, and except for liquor or sodas from the bar, you used to have automatic access to everything.
On the Norwegian Breakaway, I had a choice of five places where the meals were included and could be had at any time, with no assigned seats, but there were many more restaurants that would have cost extra. There’s a Spiegel Tent with special shows, I think circus acts, but that’s extra. There’s an ice bar, which sounds like great fun, except just getting inside of it is extra, then there’s the cost of the drinks. There’s special cabins in a region of the ship they call “The Haven,” with their own special lounges and pool, but guess what? They’re extra. Most outrageously of all, though, was their Internet/WiFi package: only one option was available where you had absolutely no choice but to either pay $24.95 per day, for all seven days of the cruise, to have access to your own email on your own phone – or you got no WiFi at all. It was “pay for all days or get no days.” Hello? I don’t like shakedowns, and that clearly was one, so I didn’t get their WiFi package.
Norwegian Cruise Lines cares to make as much money as possible off their passengers. That much was obvious. It’s the same old story about corporate greed, just on the high seas, this time. However, it’s what they, and other cruise lines that operate these “mega-ships,” have done to my beautiful Bermuda that really breaks my heart.
The towns of Hamilton and St. George were the two cruise ship port towns…but Norwegian’s mega-ships are too big to dock at either one. Therefore, they berth at the northern Bermuda locale of the Royal Naval Dockyard, where the 4,000 passengers find themselves in an old for area. I like the dockyard, which has a mall, many little shops, a museum, a Dolphin Quest attraction, etc…but…the use of this port is all but killing the business in Hamilton and St. George.
Passengers can only get to either place now if they take buses or ferries. St. George and Hamilton, always so bustling with tourists, both struck me as ghost towns. It was almost creepy to be walking around an almost-vacant Hamilton on Wednesday, in particular. Where was everybody? Why were so many shops all closed up, even the Lemon Tree, where I used to stop with my mother for a soda? Thursday in St. George was just as empty as Hamilton had been, if not worse. The old passenger ship terminal was being used as the ferry terminal, of all things. What? So many stores were shuttered, closed – gone. One nice shopkeeper of an off-the-beaten-path store said to me, when I asked what was going on there, “It’s eleven o’clock, I’ve been here all morning, and you’re the first person to walk into the shop.”
I said I knew the store was there and had looked for it. She told me the problem was the mega-ships. “All the tourists are at the Dockyard now – nobody comes here anymore.”
Nobody comes there – and it’s such a beautiful place.
This is untenable.
So, cruise ship lines of the world – if you’re reading this – Bermuda has two beautiful port cities, called Hamilton and St. George, and they’re both in need of some cruise ships! Some smaller ships that can dock in either place, not these 16-deck gargantuan ones. There’s got to be some ships out there that would love to visit such a destination. Holland America, Celebrity Lines – come back to our old island paradise! Your passengers will love it, you won’t regret it, and you might save Hamilton and St. George!
My favorite St. George restaurant, without customers.
Shops awaiting customers, St. George. This was where I was the first shopper of the whole morning.
Lovely new benches without butts in the seats, St. George, at the once-bustling Square. Come on, ship lines, go back to St. George and Hamilton, Bermuda!