My parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. Their honeymoon was spent in Bermuda. My sister-in-law raised the idea of us all going on a cruise to Bermuda to celebrate their anniversary at Christmas time. Even though I have never considered myself a 'cruise guy,' the idea of sharing this experience caught on, and soon we were all planning the new adventure.
For truth in reporting, I had never been on a cruise before. My fantasy of what a cruise is consists of one word - "buffet." Unfortunately, the second word that I associate with cruises is "norovirus." There had been a spate of really ugly high publicity norovirus outbreaks in the last couple of years, and it was all encapsulated in the National Geographic article, "Cruise Ship Illness: Why Are Ships So Prone to Norovirus Outbreaks?"
I can pretty happily say that the actual experience was quite nice. First things first - the buffet. The ship is really a 14 deck buffet. However, there are lots of activities to separate you from it being a perpetual buffet. Also, the ship that I was on (the Norwegian Dawn) was really top notch for cleanliness. The buffets had people to spray your hands down with rubbing alcohol before reaching the food. This seems like a necessary precaution as I had seen several folks not washing their hands in the rest room. The crowning "Darwin Award" went to the guy who urinating while he was on his cell phone during that short period we were still in cell range. No, I don't think he washed. Also, I can honestly say that I have never seen a staff of people work so hard just to make sure you are happy. The stewards, in particular, are amazingly hard workers. They work in 5 hour shifts - 5 on, 5 off, 5 on every day, seven days a week for five months straight. It is not just the stewards though. Everyone is working non-stop on the ship. It is pretty amazing...I wish I had this kind of work ethic.
What can I say about the cruise besides talk about the buffet? Some of the shows were top notch, and the nice thing about a cruise is that people have the opportunity to see each other - or not - easily. There is no pressure to it. It is a wonderful way to spend time together and still manage privacy for yourself. It was such an enjoyable experience that I would even consider doing it again....at least as a family event. I think that is a real statement.
We left from Boston on a 7 day excursion to Bermuda. The exact itinerary included 2 days travel to Bermuda, 2 1/2 Days in Bermuda, and 2 1/2 Days back to Boston. Cruises are interesting things. They really focus on providing entertainment on the ship. My understanding is that cruises make money on: gambling, alcohol, their fancy rooms and on SPIFFS off of the off-site excursions they offer. To that end, cruises really want you on the water. They do not want to spend time in port as they need to pay port fees. This is why it takes longer to go back to the States than it did to actually arrive. Of course, if you are in a hurry to spend time at your destination, you can always fly. To give a comparison, the flight from New York to Bermuda is approximately 90 minutes. It is that close...just off of the North Carolina coast. It is a real shame that this is the first time I have gone there.
Bermuda is designated as an official territory of Great Britain. However, while Bermuda has its own currency, almost all transactions are provided in US Dollars. The only time I saw Bermudan currency was when I went to the ATM. As the Bermudan currency is weighted to the US Dollar, there was no ATM transaction fee when I went to withdraw cash (there was a $5.00 ATM fee though).
As I mentioned earlier, we were only scheduled to be on the island of Bermuda for a short time. Essentially we were to dock at about 1 PM on the first day, have a second full day on the island, and then leave at 5 PM on the third day. There was no question that this time was going to be tightly used.
Packed with sunrises, sunsets and well...honestly, I do not really care about the rest of the day.
Our first day on the island, we all went to see my parents renew their wedding vows. It was quite touching really. Watching these two people make that plunge a second time. Aww.
After the vows were said, we got back to the boat just in time for the final moments of sunset and had a huge dinner together. Another nice thing about the cruise was that they had capacity for 18 people at either one or two tables. It was pretty impressive.
Interesting Cruise Fact - You do not need a passport on many US Cruises to foreign countries. Yup, that is right. Cruises have a loop hole exemption as it is a "closed loop" vacation where passage starts from and ends at a US city. Apparently some countries require a passport to go travel about in the country, but for many destinations, including Bermuda and many Caribbean countries, you do not need a passport to take a cruise. Please don't forget to get back on the boat. I could imagine that would be a real problem. As one of my sibling's kids could not get her passport, and my sister's never came in, they were excited to be able to travel on and off the boat multiple times while docked at Bermuda.
Our next morning was going to be the first of two sunrise opportunities that we had. Chanthee and I went to a place called Daniel's Head. It was about a half hour from the boat dock. As sunrise was still early, we were out before public transit was available...so we had to cab it. It was about $20, but it was a sunrise that never stopped. I am so glad that we went. We hoofed it back to the main road and got the bus back when they started running and met with the family to take a tour of the island and see some of the haunts that my parents went to on their honeymoon 50 years ago.
One of the locations we stopped at was called the Crystal Caves. Crystal Cave, as its name suggests, is incredibly beautiful, with many stalactites, stalagmites, and deep crystal-clear pools. The tour guides were cool with tripods, so I was able to take some decent shots in the caves. Here is one of my favorites.
We got back to the cruise ship, napped for about a half hour, and then flew out to Horseshoe Beach. It is considered one of the premier locations on the island. While my siblings were out to snorkel, I went wandering about looking for places to photograph sunset. I climbed this giant sand mound and found this location. It is one of my favorite compositions of the trip. If you are looking at it critically, you may notice that there is a small DOF issue, particularly at the top third of the frame. I was shooting practically on top of the shrub and given that the winds were whipping, I had to stop up a bit in order to raise the shutter speed so that the shrub would be sharp. In retrospect, I probably should have kicked up the ISO a slight bit in order get the DOF perfect.
When we arrived that evening there was a wonderful note on our door. The ship was staying an extra evening in Bermuda! My suspicious side wondered what it was that they were working on and if the ship probably should have gone down somewhere over the Bermuda Triangle. Lol. To make a long story short, I saw a bunch of divers going out the side of the boat the next night working on something. I was later told that one of the propellers was having a problem. I did not care...I was getting to stay an extra evening.
Our next morning we went out for sunrise. As my mother wanted to join us, we started calling her at about 4:40 AM. She was not ready when we needed to, so we wound up heading out late for sunrise. We ultimately stopped at an arbitrary marina along the way that looked like the sun was about to start hitting it nicely. When I pulled the camera out of the bag, the lens completely fogged up from the humidity. Lesson - always make sure that you take your camera out and let it sit for 10 or so minutes in the environment so that it does not fog up. However, in this case, the fog on the lens worked to my advantage. It was much prettier than what was actually there.
We headed back to the boat for breakfast and then I headed out on a snorkel adventure. The company was called "Captain Kirk's Snorkel Adventures" so it had to be good, right? As I was mentioning earlier, the cruise lines make a pretty hefty commision on the sale of off site excursions. The coral/shipwreck tour that I took cost me $90 (US). If you go to the company directly, you only have to pay $65. That is a huge difference. There are some big advantages though to paying the additional change and going through the cruise line. For example, I was initially scheduled to leave at 1 PM in the afternoon even though the boat was leaving at 5 PM. Because you are on a tour through the cruise line, you have no fear of getting left behind on the island. For the record, Bermuda is so beautiful, I probably would not have minded too much. You can read more about my snorkel adventure and the $60 underwater camera case, the DicaPac WP-S10 here:
I returned from my snorkel expedition, quickly showered and bolted off with Chanthee to Horseshoe Cove for one last sunset. We got there just in time for the light to start going down. The following shots were all taken from the same location with different lenses during the same sunset at Horseshoe Cove Beach. I was really - really - fortunate.
If you look at the first image in the sequence of the next three, you can actually see the different sections of the next two frames. What a singularly beautiful place. I could easily spend another month photographing this tiny island and still not scratch the surface.
As you can see, we used pretty much every ounce of time we had on land. The cruise ship left at about 6 AM the next morning, and my camera went back into the bag not to come out again until my trip to Yosemite 4 days later. Yeah...life is tough.
Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience in Bermuda. I hope you had fun and learned a few things about the process.