Several years ago, at a small pub near my home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I began my love affair with the Dark ‘n Stormy, a spicy drink made with dark rum, ginger beer, and a twist of lime. Originating in Bermuda, it can only be made properly with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Barritt’s Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer. I tried to recreate the snappy cocktail at home, but lacked the precise ingredients.
Sure, if I looked hard enough, I could probably find at least the Gosling’s at a nearby liquor store. But what fun would that be, especially when I could fly directly to Bermuda and spend a few days visiting, all for under $500.
What’s the deal?
About 650 miles off the coast of North Carolina, Bermuda’s location in the Atlantic makes it very accessible for many U.S. travelers. However, not everything about the destination is cheap. While airfare and shop goods like clothing and handbags can be excellent bargains, hotel rooms and food are more likely to be quite expensive. To make things work for my budget, I had to cut corners on accommodations and get around by low-cost public transportation (although my companion, Jack, let me hop on the back of his scooter from time to time).
My next biggest challenge was to make the most of Bermuda’s sunny weather, gorgeous pink sand beaches, and history of shipwreck proportions, and still have time to find the best Dark n’ Stormy in the country that claims it as the national drink. And perhaps even more importantly, I needed to spare a little Gosling’s- and Barritt’s-ready cash for stocking up at the duty-free shop before returning home.
Only a two- to three-hour flight from many cities on the East Coast, Bermuda is a convenient getaway destination. And with JetBlue flying from New York and USA 3000 from Baltimore, fares have remained competitive and affordable. My flight from Boston on Continental had one connection in Newark and cost $330.30 round-trip, including taxes and fees. Had I booked earlier than one month in advance, I could have snagged a nonstop flight for a little less.
Here’s a sampling of round-trip fares from other cities at the time I booked.
- $299 from Newark (including taxes and fees)
- $333 from Washington, D.C. (including taxes and fees)
- $290 from Chicago (not including taxes and fees)
- $290 from Columbus (not including taxes and fees)
- $290 from Indianapolis (not including taxes and fees)
Where to stay
Many hotel rooms in Bermuda start at over $200 per night, especially during the summer high season, which was way too steep for me. One value gem is the Salt Kettle House, an informal inn located in Paget Parish directly across from Hamilton Harbor. The owner, Mrs. Hazel Lowe, runs things very differently than most hoteliers. I didn’t get an email booking confirmation, but instead received a postcard describing my room and thanking me for my deposit, which I was required to send in advance. When I arrived for my two-night stay, Hazel sat me down with a map and brochures to explain the best way to see Bermuda, rendering all my journalistic research in vain.
My room, which cost $120 per night for two plus 17.25 percent tax, was fairly large with a king-sized bed and an outdoor patio overlooking the water. The decor was a little outdated, with faded Laura Ashley linens and mismatched furniture, but the price, personal service, and comfort made it worthwhile. The rate also included a full, cooked-to-order breakfast every morning, which I needed before tasting all that rum.
For the truly budget conscious like me, public buses go just about everywhere and start at $2.50 for a single ride ($3 if you don’t have a token). Ferry service for the western part of Bermuda is run by Sea Express, with rates also starting at $2.50 for a single ride.
If you want to splurge on a scooter, which is the most convenient and fun way to get around, Hazel will set you up with Oleander Cycles. Rentals are comparable to other agencies and start at $50 per day for a standard scooter or $55 for a deluxe (for two people). Just remember to drive on the left and lay off the rum drinks if driving.
After watching Jack do a test run in a church parking lot, I rode with him over to the tiny grocer across the street, where I found a six- pack of Dark ‘n Stormies. Unfortunately, this soda-fied variety in a can was a little too syrupy-sweet to be “it,” so I still had my work cut out for me.
What to do
Just a short ferry ride from my inn, Hamilton is the biggest city on the island. I visited during Harbor Nights, a free festival on Wednesday nights during high season, where I saw a colorful Gombey dance and perused the art and jewelry vendors lined up near the mega cruise ships on Front Street.
Dinner that night was at the Hog Penny, where I sampled local dishes like grilled wahoo and Bermuda fish chowder served with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and sherry pepper sauce. House specialty entrees cost $20 to $30, which is inexpensive for Bermuda. Despite not being listed as a signature drink, its Dark ‘n Stormy is respectable: less sweet with a stronger hint of lime than the can. I was getting closer.
To see where the upper crust stay while on Bermuda, swing over to the south shore’s fancy Elbow Beach Resort for a lunch on the sand at Mickey’s. After a pricey but satisfying mango and curried chicken salad for $18.75, I headed to the main hotel building for an afternoon nip at the vintage style Veranda Bar & Terrace, which stocks more than 50 different labels of rum. There, the Dark ‘n Stormies were elegant, tall, and well-balanced, but priced for style at $9.75 each.
The west end of Bermuda is home to the Royal Naval Dockyard and Bermuda Maritime Museum. The museum, filled with fascinating nautical history, particularly on the shipwrecked Sea Venture, charges a $10 admission. However, the Dockyard houses several local artisan shops and the Bermuda Rum Cake Factory, which charge nothing to browse (or taste).
At Bermuda’s east end, I took a self-guided walking tour of the World Heritage town of St. George, lunching at the reasonably priced Cafe Gio, which had a tasty but less memorable Dark ‘n Stormy. I spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming at the artificially created but pretty Clearwater Beach, followed by dinner in “the country” at the Black Horse Tavern (101 St. David’s Road). Far off the beaten tourist and cruise ship passenger path, this pub-style waterfront restaurant is more of a local hangout with all meals priced under $20.
Not too far away from the east end, near the airport, stands the Swizzle Inn. Among the graffiti-covered walls and ceilings pinned with thousands of business cards, I at last found the Holy Grail. Although the bar touts the Rum Swizzle (another drink of national notoriety) as its house cocktail, its Dark n’ Stormy wins top honors. Relatively inexpensive, with a good balance of Gosling’s Black Seal, Barritt’s, and lime, it was simply perfect. To commemorate the moment, I tacked my business card to the ceiling; the first one to find it gets a round on me.
With no bad weather to speak of, my Bermuda trip was a fulfilling warm-weather getaway that can be affordable if done right. And while the sun shone every single day I was there, even in October, my experience was everything Dark ‘n Stormy, just the way I hoped it would be.
Escapes Under $500 is growing up. My next column, starting in January, will focus on affordable hidden secrets. If you’d like to see a preview, read my latest story on the Azores. If there’s a place you’d like me to explore in the future, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.