Off-season escape to Bermuda

There is something very satisfying about leaving for a vacation on the same day a winter storm hits home. We had chosen to go before the Christmas season, something we’d never done before, hoping we would come home refreshed, rested and ready to meet the craziness of the holidays head on.

Landing two hours and 40 minutes later in sunny, inviting Bermuda and hearing about the snowfall back home, we felt we’d made the perfect escape.

Located due south of Nova Scotia and east of North Carolina, Bermuda is a 34-kilometre long stretch of 181 named islands and islets. Its easy accessibility from either Toronto or Halifax makes even a four-day weekend trip to Bermuda a great getaway. And with pink sand beaches, stunning turquoise water and lush foliage, you feel worlds away from home – exactly what we were looking for.

Because the number of flights a week is limited in Canada and with the strength of the Bermudian dollar (the U.S. dollar is accepted at par on the island), the island has a higher number of American tourists than Canadian. However, Air Canada flies direct while many American carriers require a stop-over. But it didn’t seem dampen the spirits of the American visitors we met.

Temperate climate – and well-tempered people
It’s not just the proximity of the island that draws most vacationers, it’s the temperate climate and the amazing warmth of the people. Temperatures tend to remain mild without extremes. The hottest time of year is from May to mid-October with temperatures ranging from 75 to 85 F (24 to 29 C). During winter months, from December to March, the temperature averages 70 F (21 C).

When we visited in November, the wind was blowing but the sun shone each day and the mercury hovered in the low 70s. As long as we were able to wear shorts and swim in the ocean or pool, we considered it perfect. Not only did we experience pleasant weather, but we were also there during off-season, so the island attractions weren’t busy and the cost of the island’s hotels, resorts, B & Bs and cottages were considerably lower.

Another reason people love the island is the friendliness of everyone from cab drivers to other tourists. Even with memories of the recent hurricane Fabian last September (which damaged many of the hotels and homes lining the ocean), everyone seemed genuinely good-natured. But then again, we reasoned, living in a place like Bermuda, what’s not to be happy about? And this easy-going nature rubs off on those who visit; we were routinely chatted up by people we met on a bus, at a store and in our hotel.
Next page: The ultimate pampering – and dolphins

Arriving at The Reefs hotel, we were struck by the beauty of its pink buildings, which seemed to tumble down the cliffs and jut out into the ocean, providing a protective wall to the hotel’s secluded beach. Each room has a gorgeous ocean view or guests can stay in their own cottage atop the cliffs beside the main building.

The hotel’s crowning glory, however, is Bermuda’s only infinity pool, which appears to meet the ocean at one end, perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the private beach.

It’s clear the guests at The Reefs know a good thing when they find it. Many have been coming to the hotel for years and attribute their repeat status to the friendliness of the hotel’s staff and the good food. The Reefs recognizes those who come back year after year with a Repeaters party held every Thursday at the resort. When we were there, the room was full, and it wasn’t uncommon to meet someone who was on their 20th visit to the hotel – and staff members who had been there since the 1960s.

With the meal plan, which provides breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner, we were treated to four-course dinners and hearty breakfasts that made it hard to want to go anywhere else to eat.

Treating muscles to massage
During our stay, we indulged in the ultimate pampering with a Thai massage at The Reefs’ new La Serena Spa. For my authentic Thai massage, I changed into soft cotton pajamas and lay on the cushioned floor. The resident Thai masseuse went to work, putting me through various yoga-like positions while massaging me from feet to head. It was like a relaxing and intense full yoga workout with someone else making my body do all the work.

If you prefer complete relaxation, you can choose from more traditional massages such as anti-stress, Swedish and reflexology as well as other spa services including pedicure, manicure, body scrub and facials.

On our second day, we rented a scooter to explore the island. While I was apprehensive about our safety, I didn’t need to be. Because only one person per household can own a car in Bermuda, the roads are surprisingly free of traffic. After the first 15 minutes of being a passenger on the back of our bike, I began to relax and enjoy the scenery as we drove up Middle Road on the north side of the island from our hotel in South-ampton Parish.

Our first stop was the capital city of Hamilton. We parked the scooter and walked the streets of quaint colonial-style storefronts where you can indulge in high-end luxury shopping or browse more reasonably priced shops and department stores.

Next, we headed to the east end of the island called St. George’s Parish, which was once the capital city of the island and is the most historic with stocks still standing in the town square. We walked the cobblestone streets, ducking in and out of tiny shops to buy souvenirs. After exploring some old churches, we enjoyed sitting in the town square, which bustles with activity during high season but was very quiet on this November day.

On our way back to our hotel, we travelled on South Road to get a view of the other side of the island. For curiosity’s sake, we took a detour into Tuckers Town hoping to get a glimpse of the grand mansions, including those belonging to Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Ross Perot.

Golfing delights
The following day, we booked a golf game at the Port Royal Golf Course at the west end of the island. Its reputation as one of the best courses on the island (Bermuda is home to more golf courses per square mile than anywhere else in the world) made it a must for our trip. For my husband, an avid golfer, it was a dream to play such a challenging course with breathtaking views on many holes.

The course’s signature hole is 16, where the green runs alongside the ocean and the view is spectacular. We spent the day golfing with a couple from Maryland who were on their fourteenth trip to Bermuda and had played the Port Royal course every day of their vacation.

With the theme of our holiday being escaping the stress and reality of home, we saved the very best for our last day. As a sort of coup de grâce for our trip – one of those things you would love to do but never think you will – we booked a trip to the Maritime Museum in the Royal Naval Dockyards for an opportunity to swim with dolphins.

Before our dip with these amazing animals, we first walked around the historic buildings. At one time, the Dockyards had been a strategic British military complex, and visitors can roam freely through the museums, art galleries and shopping all housed in stone buildings from the 1800s. Accessible by bus or ferry from Hamilton, you can easily spend the day exploring all that this huge tourist centre offers.

Playing with dolphins
For us, the main draw was the dolphins at Dolphin Quest. We were given wet suits and introduced to the trainer who took us into the water and taught us how to interact with the mammals. Because there were so few tourists, we had our own private session with the trainer and four loveable dolphins.

They swam up to rest their noses in our palms and rolled over to have their soft bellies rubbed. The younger dolphins did jumps and offered us their fins to shake. It was truly a memorable experience.

While our trip lasted only four days, we had just the right amount of fun and relaxation and were ready for the hectic pace awaiting us back home. Returning from our escape as excited as school kids, we’ve concluded we want to be on The Reefs’ Repeaters guest list next year.