Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekend Update

“What’s the best part about living in Bermuda?” It’s probably the most common question I'm asked. So many things I can say with all honesty, but perhaps the best of the bunch is the island’s proximity to the east coast and the opportunity to share my island home with vacationing friends and family. I already told you about when my niece’s came to visit (along with their respective parents and grandparents, of course)—how we visited the aquarium, made sandcastles at Horseshoe Bay, ate fish sandwiches at the Swizzle Inn. Fortunately my wife and I got to do it all over again when old friends from New York, Boston, and Atlanta paid us a visit last weekend. In town to celebrate an 80th birthday, the multigenerational family of sixteen stayed at Willowbank Resort, a non-denominational Christian hotel on Bermuda’s west end (after all, the birthday girl’s husband was the priest who married us!). With rooms starting at $149 a night, it’s probably one of the sweetest deals in town. Best of all, it was in the perfect location to begin a full-island bus tour, an excursion booked through the Public Transportation Board of all places. Who knew public busses could be chartered? And driven by such pleasant and knowledgeable tour guides? I for one didn’t, until I started calling around on behalf of my guests. What resulted was a four-hour tour on a bubble-gum-colored public bus—by far the most informational endeavor I’ve embarked upon since moving to Bermuda. Our driver was a jokester named Swain, a delightful guide who regaled us in tales historical and otherwise (like when he pulled over to pick a branch of the spruce tree, what his mother used to call The Rod of Correction. Ouch!). We took in the breeze at lovely John Smith’s Bay (see above) and even explored the town of St. George and historic St. Peter’s, the oldest continually used church in the Western Hemisphere. In the end it was yet another wonderful weekend with friends. I’m just glad it could happen here in Bermuda.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Party Like Teddy

Heard the news about Ted Kennedy? Of course you have, although you probably haven’t heard how the now deceased U.S. senator spent his younger days on Bermuda’s pink shores. When he wasn’t fighting for human rights, championing health care, or captaining his beloved 50-foot sailboat the Maya, he was here enjoying the very things that make Bermuda such a wonderful place to visit. There was the 1990 stay when he popped up at a Ziggy Marley concert at the Bermuda Athletic Association (go Teddy!) and according to Frommer’s Boston, he was a frequent patron of the Swizzle Inn in Bailey’s Bay, no doubt sipping one of its potent house drinks. Like the Clintons he would relax at Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa, a swanky hotel tucked away on Bermuda’s west end and it’s been reported that he and his first wife Joan liked to stroll the beach at Horseshoe Bay. Sounds like a lovely tour to me. In fact when my family paid me a visit just a few weeks ago, that was pretty much our itinerary to a tee (minus the reggae concert, of course). Wanna party like Teddy? Check out this deal from Cambridge Beaches: The resort is offering 25 percent off four-night stays through December 31, but you have to book by September 18. That means luxurious rooms that normally sell for $605 per night are on sale for around $345—still pricey but a hefty discount nonetheless. You’ll have a king sized bed, marble bathroom with whirlpool tub, and your very own private patio with endless ocean views—probably just the way Teddy liked it. 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cash For Clunkers

According to this article in today’s New York Times, Asian automakers were the big winners in last month’s Cash for Clunkers program—officially known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, the U.S. program offered a $3,500 to $4,500 rebate to people who traded in an old car for a new one with higher fuel economy. Considering automakers like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan specialize in fuel-efficient compact and sub compact models, it’s no wonder more than 41 percent of cars sold in the U.S. last month were made in Asia. Who knew Bermuda was so ahead of the curve? Spend any amount of time on the island and you’re bound to notice a distinct difference between cars on the road here as opposed to those on any U.S. highway. In Bermuda folks drive tiny cars. If ever a sub-sub-compact class went on the market, they’d get scooped up faster than Usain Bolt at the Olympics. And the vast majority of cars in Bermuda are Asian made. Just last week my wife and I bought our own Asian made vehicle—a five-door Daihatsu Charade (see above). It’s probably the best car I’ve ever owned (Full disclosure: The others were pretty sad, actually. There was a 1988 Hyundai Excel, my very first car bought in high school; a 1980s model rusted-out Subaru I bought in St. Croix, U.S.V.I, for $400 cash; and a Mazda B2200 baby-blue pickup truck that needed a firm smack from a hammer just to get started). At any rate the Daihatsu rides like a dream and best of all, it’s totally fuel-efficient. Considering gas costs a whopping $7 a gallon here in Bermuda, that may be the best news of the day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Damage Report!

Hysterical, right? This picture’s been making the rounds all morning and it couldn’t be more to the point. Reports are rolling in and aside from salty cars and a few downed power lines, Bermuda is still very much intact after Hurricane Bill came within 150 nautical miles of the island on Saturday morning. The worst of the impact was felt by Bermuda’s hotels: Elbow Beach, a swanky Mandarin Oriental property on the south shore, lost about 40 bookings due to the storm; about 50 guests backed out of their vacations at the Pompano Beach Club; and Newstead Belmont Hills Resort & Spa—a chic all-suites hotel on Hamilton harbor—lost about a dozen guests. Occupancy was also affected at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess and the Fairmont Southampton, but no doubt vacationers will be returning soon since Fairmont recently announced its stellar $99 a night deal that unfortunately expired over the weekend. Thankfully, no real harm done. In the meantime however, the rest of us will be tending to our door mats.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hurricane Bill...Clinton

All of this hurricane business has clearly diverted my attention from spilling the beans on the arrival of yet another Bill to Bermuda’s pink shores: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Admittedly it’s old news by now. The two arrived last Tuesday with plans to vacation through the weekend. But the storm changed all that, forcing the Clintons to leave on Thursday night instead. It’s a shame they couldn’t stay longer, however it’s clear the power couple enjoyed their short time at Cambridge Beaches, a secluded hotel on the island’s west end with 94 cottages and panoramic views of Long Bay (although I’m guessing they skipped the hotel’s new clothing-optional pool deck). According to the Royal Gazette, the two ate breakfast at Tamarisk Terrace—Cambridge Beaches’ waterfront restaurant—and enjoyed lunch at Shutters, its casual poolside cafĂ©. President Clinton even played a round of golf at Port Royal, the newly renovated public course that will host the PGA Grand Slam of Golf this October (I wonder how he fared on the punishing sixteenth hole?). Early reports said the couple was visiting Bermuda to celebrate the 30th anniversary of conceiving their daughter, Chelsea, which by all accounts is way too much information, but I suppose Bermuda can have that affect on people. Feel the love, indeed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Storm That Wasn't

So much for all the hype. The weekend saw strong winds, high surf, and driving rain, but Hurricane Bill largely spared Bermuda for what was undoubtedly an anticlimactic two days. We didn’t even lose power, an event my Bermudian neighbors—most of whom endured the punishing blows of Hurricane Fabian in 2003—all but guaranteed. Of course I’m not complaining. The island is certainly breathing a collective sigh of relief, especially since a seven-year-old girl just died off the coast of Maine after getting swept away by a rogue wave. But the storm did feel, shall we say, much ado about nothing. Local news is still trickling in, but a spokeswoman from Bermuda Electric Light Company said 3,700 customers lost power (down to 1,300 as of yesterday) and minor flooding was reported island-wide. A Saturday afternoon drive confirmed stray branches had been cleared from roads, although the same can’t be said for the island’s beaches, many of which are still littered with debris that washed ashore (see above; that's Church Bay). Gold stars go to Digicell—Bermuda’s largest wireless provider—for sending storm updates to all of its customers via hourly text messages and Marketplace Southampton for only charging me $4.50 for a box of five candles (as opposed to the price gouging that was going on at Gorham’s, the Home Depot of Bermuda). So consider the storm weathered. It’s clear all those extra batteries, hefty six-volt flashlights, and multi-packs of duct tape will have to stay put for awhile, which is fine by me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Live From Church Bay

Watch the video!

Storm Watch

According to CNN, Hurricane Bill is about 425 miles south of Bermuda with tropical storm conditions expected for the weekend. It’s hard to tell just by looking outside—after all, it’s another beautiful day here in Bermuda—but there are indeed signs that a big storm is on the way. Just this morning I stopped at Church Bay to peek at the ocean on the island’s south shore. Long lines of waves were crashing in, chest-high rollers my surfer buddies back home would’ve loved to paddle out in (see above). It’s crazy. On any given day that bay is totally flat. We’ve had ominous thunderstorms too—deep clangs from dark clouds that seem to shake the Earth. There are less natural indicators too, like the front-page headlines from the Royal Gazette, our local newspaper. Yesterday’s was “Island Prepares for Hurricane Bill,” with repeated recommendations from the Bermuda Weather Service to buy water, canned goods, flashlights, and more. The radio’s been abuzz too, with hourly updates on the storm’s progress and public service announcements regarding ways to stay safe. And I already told you about the scene at the hardware store—lots of panicked shopping. So consider myself warned. I’ll be spending my Friday morning taking in patio furniture, taping up the windows, and making sure we’ve got the essentials: Water, flashlights…rum. I think it’s time for a dark n' stormy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Weather Center

Big news from the Atlantic Ocean: Hurricane Bill is now a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds up to 135 mph and its sights set for Bermuda. Well, almost. In the next 24 hours Bill is expected to begin a gradual turn northwest, but most models suggest the storm will veer just west of the island (see above). We’ll definitely get some rain, and the swell on the south shore should be head-high or bigger (hear that surfers?), but the chance of a direct hit seems pretty slim. That’s great news for Bermuda although most people I’ve met today aren’t buying it. Having just returned from my local hardware store preparedness is the order of the day. It was amazing. Or amazingly scary, I should say. Hordes of people were snapping up batteries, tarps, flashlights, rope—and whatever else they could fit in their shopping baskets—then returning for more. It was nuts. Workers could barely keep the items on the shelves but no doubt Bermudians have far more experience at this than I do. I think I was just a kid in New York the last time I endured a hurricane of any strength and I'm sure it was paltry at best. There was a lesson to be learned here—so I caved and bought the fear that Gorham’s was selling: Two flashlights, a few rolls of duct tape, and enough batteries to last me through 2010. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Deal of the Day

Last week I told you about JetBlue’s All-You-Can-Jet pass, basically a ticket for unlimited travel wherever the airline flies for $599 (not including taxes and fees for international flights, which means about $57 for a roundtrip flight to Bermuda). Today’s deal is from Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, more specifically, the Fairmont Southampton on Bermuda’s beautiful south shore (see above). For a limited time the hotel is booking rooms for $99 a night for travel good until March 31, 2010 (some blackout dates apply). The catch? You’ve gotta book by August 22. That means you’ve got about four days to decide when you’d like to visit Bermuda’s powdery pink sand. The $99 rate will buy you a moderate room (meaning no view); $139 will get you a Fairmont room (partial views of the golf course and/or harbor); and $169 will put you in a Deluxe room (with full views of the golf course and/or harbor), all of which don't include taxes and fees. It’s a Cinderella deal but don’t delay. On Saturday at around 11:50pm EST that chariot will surely turn into a pumpkin. For booking information go here or call (888) 920-7077 and ask about the $99 for 99 hours promotion. Happy travels!

Monday, August 17, 2009

From the Links

“Y.E. Yang Beats Tiger Woods at PGA.” That’s the unfortunate headline you’ll read on most sports pages today. Why so unfortunate? This was Tiger’s last chance to win a major, a win that would’ve meant an invitation to the Grand Slam of Golf held this October at the newly renovated Port Royal Golf Course here in Bermuda. So instead of watching Tiger compete against a field including British Open champion Stewark Cink, Masters champion Angel Cabrera, and U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, we’ll be watching Y.E. Yang, a virtually unknown golfer from South Korea. Nothing against Yang of course—he certainly earned his spot in the tournament by beating the number one golfer in the world—I just really wanted to see Tiger swinging his clubs on Bermuda’s biggest stage. And what a beautiful stage it is. After investing more than $14 million regrassing fairways, rebuilding cart paths, and creating sweeping water views on the back nine, the government has turned Port Royal into one of the finest public courses in the world. Not to mention Tiger would've looked great in the tournament's famed pink jacket. Ah well, I guess there’s always next year.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From the Tarmac

Frequent flyers rejoice! JetBlue just announced its brand new All-You-Can-Jet Pass, a ticket available for purchase now through August 21 good for unlimited travel between September 8 and October 8. Yes, you read right—unlimited travel to and from anywhere JetBlue flies. For all you Bermudaphiles out there, that means you can fly from New York City and Boston as much as you’d like for an entire month for the price of two roundtrip tickets. The catch? International flights don’t include taxes and fees, but after a little checking around I’ve learned that Pass holders would pay $57.77 on a roundtrip flight to Bermuda from Logan or JFK airports. Not bad considering the mid-Atlantic island is only a ninety-minute flight from the east coast. Interested? Get the details here. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Money Matters

According to this report in yesterday’s BusinessWeek, Bermuda’s economy is looking bleaker than ever: Visitors are down 12%, tourism spending is off by half, and worst of all, the country’s financial service industry—the bread and butter of long-term economic health—is being threatened by proposed anti-tax-haven legislation in Washington. I’m not worried about tourism numbers, after all, what leisure travel destination hasn’t been effected by the global economic downturn? But it’s that last part that really has corporations concerned (and others, like Tyco and Accenture packing its bags altogether). The biggest stink is over the Neal Bill—introduced by Representative Richard Neal (D-Mass.) in July, the proposed bill would limit the ability of U.S. companies incorporated in Bermuda to shelter overseas profits. This includes limiting tax deductions by major reinsurance affiliates, which would no doubt cause major damage to the local finance-dependent economy. I’ve never been one to publicly go to bat for the corporate dollar, but these companies are a big reason why Bermuda is such a special place to live. Tax deductions mean profit and profit means incentives—basically huge reinvestments in island infrastructure, education, and community outreach. Without these local tax loopholes the flow of cash would largely be cut off and that’s no good for Bermuda. For the island’s sake, here’s hoping President Obama and the other folks in Washington agree.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Men at Work

There’s been much ado about four suspected terrorists who were recently transferred from the federal prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to their new homes here in Bermuda. I’ll spare you the details of their arrival and tales of the parliamentary protests that followed, but by all accounts it looks like the island’s newest ex pats have settled in quite nicely. Last week the New York Times reported the four men now have jobs as groundskeepers at Port Royal Golf Course—not a bad gig considering they’ll be clocking in on one of the most beautiful public courses in the world. Check out the sixteenth hole for example (see above). It just doesn’t get much prettier than that. Whether the community at large accepts these men into daily life has yet to be seen, but I for one applaud the decision to give them jobs at this public gem of a course. Nothing builds pride and self-confidence quite like a good day’s work and it seems the Uighurs will be getting just that, one ocean view hole at a time.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bermuda for Families

Apologies for the brief hiatus, however I’m hoping this oh-so-cute picture of my nieces enjoying the Bermuda aquarium is reason enough for you to forgive my lack of writing. Why the delay? You guessed it: I’ve been entertaining family from out of town—a six-day, beach-hopping, face-stuffing stint that proved to me Bermuda is yet indeed a wonderful place for families. Did you hear that all you nay-sayers? I’m talking to you authors of Fodor’s Bermuda. When I first moved here three months ago I read a page in said guidebook that declared Bermuda not kid-friendly because “there isn’t a single water park on the island.” Huh? Last I checked the south shore was chock full of them; I think they’re called beaches. Horseshoe was a hit, Elbow didn’t disappoint, and Long Bay, with its natural rock outcroppings and powdery sand was spectacular as ever. The book also lamented the lack of rental cars, adding how difficult it was for families trying to get around. Sure, we paid a bit more than we wanted for taxis here and there, but nine times out of ten we were greeted by a kindly cabbie who happily escorted us on our way (not to mention, my niece, Isabel, loved the bubble gum colored busses which run frequently and cover much of the island). Entertaining guests also allows you to be a tourist in your own home, something I enjoyed whole-heartedly during subsequent visits to the aquarium and Bermuda’s famed crystal caves. The kids loved them too, which is exactly the point. Bermuda might be for deep-pocketed sun-seekers, but it’s without a doubt well-suited for families searching for a break from the norm. I just can't wait to do it all over again.