Bermuda vacation on budget
Sounds crazy? Bermuda on budget? In an island which is known to be one of the most expensive vacation destinations in the world, is it actually possible to plan a budget vacation? This is one of the most frequent questions I get from the viewers of this website. And I keep telling them that despite Bermuda's image as an expensive island, this place also enjoys one of the highest inflow of returning tourists, most of who can not afford high-end luxury tourism, but still come back just for sheer love of the island.
And they won't be returning unless a budget vacation was possible. Every time your vacation need not be about just eating, drinking & sleeping in a luxury resort. Because first, it may not be affordable, second and more important, there are different & better ways of making a great vacation in Bermuda.
But when you look at the hotel rates, food prices even in an average restaurant, the taxi fare, admission fees to many island attractions, they will likely scare you away. You will wonder how do the islanders afford such cost. It's true that Bermuda's cost of living is one of the highest in the world. An average Bermudian family needs to spend about four times of what an average American family does. Because virtually everything including food is imported in Bermuda.
And the islanders need to deal with many other exceptionally high costs like real estate, vehicles, electricity, schooling etc which do not directly impact the tourists. But still they manage to live a good life. But if you as a tourist spend your vacation the way the island would typically want you to do, then you will certainly end up exhausting your wallet. They want you to be thoroughly pampered, because after all tourism is one of the main sources of earning in the island.
But if you somewhat follow the Bermudian way of managing cost while you stay in the island, you will know how a budget vacation becomes a reality and closer to real life in Bermuda.
Budget mode of travel to Bermuda
Lot many tourists (mostly from North America though) would argue that a cruise package is the most cost effective way of vacationing in Bermuda. I disagree! Because it then turns out to be a cruise vacation and not a Bermuda vacation. In a 7-day round trip cruise to Bermuda from New York or Boston, you will barely spend two & half days in the island and rest in the cruise ship. If that's what is Bermuda vacation for you, then no more debate. After all more than 60% tourists from the USA visit Bermuda by cruise ship.
But if you want to spend most of your vacation time in the island, enjoying and soaking in the charm and beauty this island is known for, then you must consider flying to Bermuda. And the first thing that I'll look into is a no-frill low cost airline. After all in a 2-hour flight from US east coast to Bermuda, you need not crave for a glass of wine or great food.
JetBlue is a low cost airline that operates daily flights to Bermuda from New York and Boston. For Canadians, WestJet is a good low cost airline to consider. It has flights from Toronto.
While booking your flight to Bermuda, there are several things which you can take care of which otherwise substantially add up to your overall cost of travel.
First, if you are traveling for 3-4 days to Bermuda, consider taking all your stuff in your carry in or hand bag, instead of in a suitcase that you must check in and pay extra cost. Travelling light is fun and easy.
Second, always compare cost of multiple airlines departing from your place to get the lowest fare. The return fares are usually cheaper than two one-way fares.
Third, be a little flexible with your vacation timing. Often you will find much cheaper airline rates in the week or month prior or following your initial target date. Try to avoid the peak time. The weekday fares are usually cheaper than weekend fares.
Airport Transfers... the cheapest way
After you arrive at Bermuda Airport and clear your customs, the most convenient way for hotel transfers would seem to be the taxis, that's what most people do. Taxis are no doubt very convenient, but the fares are also quite high.
Instead, consider a group or shared shuttle that operates on a per person rate and can take 7 to 15 persons depending on its capacity. That would be equally convenient but far cheaper. Let me give you an example... Taxi fare from airport to a location in south shore like Southampton would be about $55 (one way). If you take a group shuttle, it would be around $20-$25 per person.
So for a single or a couple, it can make substantial saving if you consider both way transfers. The only difference is, in a taxi you will reach your hotel in 40 minutes, in a shuttle it may take additional 15 minutes because it may have to drop few other passengers along the way. That's it. But if your group size is 3 or more, then a taxi makes sense considering the total cost.
You can get group shuttles from the airport itself, even better if you book them in advance. I have discussed all the good shuttle companies in Bermuda Airport Transfers
. Unfortunately, bus tickets and passes are no longer available at the airport. That would have been even more cost effective. The authorities have discontinued this because luggage is not allowed in the buses, another hidden reason is to protect the taxi drivers.
How to stay cheap in Bermuda
This is the trickiest and the most important aspect of a budget vacation in Bermuda. Because this is where you are likely to spend the most in Bermuda. Accommodation almost in all forms are expensive in the island. But some are offered at atrocious rates compared to their value.
When on budget, we will almost certainly go for a rental apartment or cottage in Bermuda that has a fully equipped kitchen. Some of them are really cute, in great locations and come at very reasonable prices. You only have to find them. They have their own charm offering nice homelike ambience, some with lush garden settings and foliage, and some with a pool or great view of the harbor. This is where you get a true sense of living in Bermuda.
Consider planning your Bermuda vacation during winter (November to March), and you can get substantial discounts in rates almost in all types of accommodations. Most will offer 25 to 30% discounts on summer rates, and that's a huge saving. On top of it, the island is free of tourists and the beaches will be so pristine and at their very best! True that some attractions and several activities won't operate during winter because of lack of tourists, but many do. Winter has its own charm. Check out Winter Activities
to know about all what you can do during winter.
But which is the best location to stay in Bermuda? It depends on what you want to be closest to. If you like to be close to the pink south shore beaches, then you should plan your stay in Warwick or Southampton parish. If you like to stay close to shops, restaurants & bars (you can't afford that too much anyway in a budget travel, but still if you want to satisfy your eyes), then stay around the outskirts of Hamilton (in Pembroke parish) or Paget.
If you like to be close to Bermuda's history and heritage, then St. George should be the place for you. And if you want to be close to a ferry dock so that you can quickly get across to Hamilton or other places, then get an apartment near Watford Bridge in Sandys (Somerset).
Now the next question... how to find the right budget accommodation?
If you do not find what you are looking for, then go through an island based credible vacation rental agency who has a large database of budget apartments and cottages on rentals. Check out Bermuda Property Agents
where I have discussed several agencies in the island dealing with vacation rentals along with their contact information.
Sometimes online operators like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz etc offer combined flight & hotel deals that can be very lucrative. However they often have a short booking window and even shorter departure window for such extra-ordinary packages. But if it happens to match with your requirement, then why not?
How to eat cheap in Bermuda
You are of course planning to stay in a rented cottage or apartment that has a kitchen. So, carry some essential food so that you can avoid going to a grocery store immediately after you check in. After all you need some time to figure out where is what.
There are food items like cereals, rice, sugar, potato flakes etc which do not attract customs duty. Food items like meat etc attract some duty though. So you can carry some of such items. There is also a duty free allowance for one liter of spirit or wine (per person), a carton of cigarettes etc. Alternatively, you can pick up alcohol at the new Duty Free store at Bermuda airport's arrival section. A bottle of rum costs only $13. Check out Bermuda Customs Duty
to know about what you can bring into the island and associated duties.
Next find the closest grocery store. In fact when you choose an accommodation, an important criteria should be a grocery store close by and preferably within walking distance. Most major grocery stores also offer pre-cooked food like wraps, sandwiches, roasted meat & chicken, salad etc at very reasonable prices. Check out Grocery & Food Stores
for details. Note that even grocery items are not cheap in Bermuda when you compare it to the US. In 4-5 days of stay, if you cook and eat, you will spend about $100-$125 on grocery.
But you can't be cooking everyday and want to try out one or two restaurants as well for a change and also to get a flavor of dining scene in the island. In most restaurants in Bermuda, portions served are large. So unless you are a big eater, often you can share an item like pizza, starter or even a main course. But in an average budget restaurant, be prepared to spend about $50-$60 for two when you order for a couple of beers, share a starter and a main course. I guess that's okay... after all you are not eating out everyday. While there are several budget restaurants in Bermuda, I have discussed our favorites here: Low Priced Restaurants & Eateries
Getting Around The Island - Cheap Transportation
Well as I said earlier, this trip is not about just drinking, eating and sleeping. It's also about getting around and exploring the island. And for that, you will need a transport.
The most convenient and the cheapest form of transport in Bermuda are the public buses and ferries. Both have formidable reputation and great for getting around the island. Between some places, ferries are lot faster than the buses.
Depending on your period of stay and travel around the island, either buy bus/ferry pass or book of tickets. You can buy a pass for a day, several days or even a month, and that will give you unlimited access to both buses and ferries for the number of days it is valid. Which means you can hop on or off. For frequent travel, this can be the most convenient and economic option.
On the other hand, a book of 15 tickets cost $37.50 for adults (for all-zone travel in buses as well as in ferries). You need to use one ticket for each one-way ride in either bus or ferry.
Whether you should buy a pass or book of tickets, will depend on how many rides you will take. For example let us assume that you plan to stay in Bermuda for 4 days. A 4-day pass costs $48.50 which gives you unlimited access to both bus & ferry for 4 days. But if you think you won't make more than 15 one way trips during your stay of 4 days, then a book of 15 tickets (which costs only $37.50) can be a lot cheaper.
Another tip, if you plan to stay in Bermuda for couple of weeks or more, then buy a monthly pass which costs $69. However a monthly pass is valid for a calendar month and not necessarily for 30 days from the date of purchase. For example a monthly pass issued for the month of June, will be valid only between June 1 to 30. You should plan your entire stay within a calendar month to take this advantage. Check out Bus Ferry Passes & Tickets
for complete information about pass/tickets, fares, where to get them etc.
Bermuda Sightseeing & Tours on Budget
If you take a guided tour of the island in a vehicle, that will likely make a big hole in your pocket. But why should you? You now have the bus/Ferry pass or tickets and you can reach out to virtually every corner of the island quite efficiently.
There are two ways to go about visiting attractions in the island without spending much. First identify which are the great attractions with no admission fee. You may already know that admission to all the public beaches in Bermuda including the great south shore beaches is free.
There are several great attractions that have zero or nominal entry fee. Some of them include the St. Davids Lighthouse in St Davids Island, Gibbs Hill Lighthouse in Southampton (nominal fee), Paget Marsh (a nature reserve in Paget), Spittal Pond Nature Reserve, St Peters Church in St George and lot more. Go through Must See Places
and identify all such places that have no or minimal admission fee.
The second way (which we love) is to take self guided tours on public transport and also walk when required. For example when you want to explore the great attractions in St George, or Hamilton City, or a parish, or a combination of few attractions, you must clearly know the directions, modes of transport like bus and ferry routes, time it takes at each place etc. Over the years we have ourselves designed many such great self guided tours on public transport and also by walk. You can find them all here:
Shopping Cheap in Bermuda
This must be a joke? No!!! It's possible to shop cheap and get great buys in Bermuda. Those who know, they visit Hamilton city's glittering stores only to do window shopping and not actually to purchase. They all visit the thrift stores in Bermuda. So what are these?
Thrift stores are run or supported by Charity Organizations who get various items on donation from the islanders and establishments. They sell all these items really cheap. you won't believe that in some such stores you get stuffs even for $1. The profits go towards charity work. But the buyers are the net gainers.
So what can you get in thrift stores? All sorts of items like gifts & souvenirs, accessories, clothes, shoes, caps, T-shirts, belts, cameras, books and more, and many are from great brands. But some items like books & clothes may be used (having being donated) but usually in good condition. Check out Bermuda Thrift Stores
to know about all such stores in the island, their offerings, location, contact info etc.
You are likely to carry your laptop to catch up with your emails. Unlike in the US where you are spoiled to get free wi-fi internet access virtually everywhere, in Bermuda it's quite different. The concept of any free offer is yet to catch up in the island. But there are several public places, restaurants and pubs that do offer free wi-fi services. I have discussed all such options on the page Internet Access
under the section titled 'FREE Wi-fi Internet Access in Bermuda'.
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