BERMUDA Cruise ship as hotel

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Some of the finest hotels in Bermuda are not on the beaches or hills of this delightful island. They're anchored, for several days each week, along Front Street, in the heart of the capital city, Hamilton. These are the luxury ships that call at the island every week, from early spring until late fall bringing roughly 25 percent of al l visitors to Bermuda.

Recently, my wife and I took a one-week cruise on the Holland America Line's SS Volendam. It was our first trip to Bermuda, but it took only this one visit to understand why so many return time and time again. All in all, we spent about 3 1/2 days at sea and about the same amount of time in Bermuda. Thus we were able to enjoy shipboard life yet had ample time in port to explore the island.

On many other resort islands, once you leave the grounds of the tourist hotels and venture into town, you're apt to find things a bit rundown. Not so in BermudA. Hamilton is a sparkling clean, prosperous looking city of attractive, pastel-colored buildings and homes. You'll find that same just-washed look in St. George, Somerset, and the other towns on the island.

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If you're a beach person, you'll be in your glory here. There are miles of lovely beaches, with sand as pink as they say and warm, clear water.

Getting from your floating hotel to the beaches, or anywhere else in Bermuda, is easy. We found no need to join any of the shore excursions available to the ship's passengers at extra cost. You can get around the island by cab, bus, moped, or bicycle. Rental cars are not available. Mopeds seem to be the favorite form of transportation. They can be rented for about $7 a day, even less if you take one for three days. However, unless you're familiar with these motorized bikes, it's best to consider some other means of moving about. The roads sometimes seem alive with them.

We chose the buses, and it proved to be an excellent choice. They're frequent, inexpensive, and leave for just about every place from a main terminal just a short walk from the ships at Front Street. Invariably, the drivers were pleasant and helpful. One-way fares range from 55 cents to a maximum of 85 cents. If you don't have Bermudan currency, that's OK. US and Canadian money is accepted, but exact change is expected.

We arrived in Bermuda on a Tuesday morning at 7, having left New York the Sunday before at 4 p.m. Since the Volendam is the only New York-to-Bermuda cruise ship with a Sunday departure, it has a reputation of being a great favorite with honeymooners. My wife and I, a long way from newlyweds, had some misgivings. But we found there were only 84 honeymoon couples among nearly 700 passengers, so we did not feel as though we were attending a long wedding reception.

On the first day in port we wandered around Hamilton doing a bit of window shopping. We returned to the ship for lunch and a swim in the pool. Later, relaxed, refreshed, and well fed, we set out again on a leisurely, unplanned walking tour of the town. Strolling along Front Street, we admired the ships from a dockside park; visited the Anglican cathedral; took photographs of the city hall; and my wife examined Waterford crystal in one of the shops. By now it was time to start getting ready for dinner, always a festive occasion on board. Time to dress up, to enjoy elegant surroundings, attentive service, and most of all the parade of good things that emerges from the kitchen.

After dinner those passengers in search of night life have an extra option. They can go ashore to sample the local variety, found for the most part in the hotels, or stay aboard for the show, dancing, movies, or other activities which continue while the liner is in port.

Our second day in Bermuda began with an early breakfast, then we set out by bus with another couple to visit the beach many consider the island's loveliest. All too often highly touted places turn out to be a disappointment. This was not the case with Horseshoe Bay, a curving expanse of the type of beach you usually encounter only in travel folders. Sand that is clean, soft, kind to the feet, and, of course, pink -- washed by aquamarine waters of just the right temperature. We explored and discovered several small coves, miniature beaches hidden from sight by huge boulders at both ends of the main beach. We selected a stretch of sand shaded by tall pine trees and spent a thoroughly delightful day. It was a slightly sunburned group that assembled that evening for dinner.

On Wednesday of each month, from April until July, the Bermuda Regiment and Pipe Band stage something called the Beating of Retreat, a tradition that was started by the British a couple of hundred years ago. It takes place on Front Street at 9 p.m. Joining the crowd of enthusiastic onlookers, -- tourists and natives alike -- we were captivated by the sight of high stepping members of the regiment, smartly dressed in bright red and gold uniforms, performing a series of intricate marching maneuvers. We returned to our ship, ready to dig into the midnight buffet, since we had only had five meals that day.

I found Bermuda to be one of the world's most civilized places. Courtesy and friendliness are as characteristic of the island as pink beaches, pastel houses, and bougainvillea. People seem to go out of their way to be nice. An example: I saw a shirt I liked in a shop window. When I entered the store and asked the saleslady about it, they did not have that shirt in my size.Now this was hardly a major purchase; as I recall it was about $15. Yet, she phoned two other shops , one of which had the right color in the proper size. She volunteered to pick it up on her way to work the following morning. I could stop by and get it later, which I did.

Friday afternoon at three found us lining the deck as we prepared to get under way. There was no other large ship to bid us farewell. But, before the tugs took leave of us, they gave the customary salute. We answered and began to move out of the harbor. While passing the Hamilton Princess Hotel, a bugler appeared on the lawn and proceeded to toot a bon voyage. Then, the spine tingling sound of our foghorn. Then the hotel lowered both the British and American flags to half- mast. They really know how to say goodbye. The only jarring note came from several members of the ship's orchestra who were on deck playing "Hello Dolly." "Auld Lang Syne" or "Auf Wiedersehen" might have been more appropriate. On the other hand, whatever feelings of sadness we experienced were soon dispelled by the realization that although our stay in Bermuda was over -- our trip wasn't. We still had more than a day and a half to look forward to before arriving back in New York.

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