Does It Make Sense to Take a Short Cruise to Bermuda?
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Looking for an inexpensive way to do a quick trip to Bermuda? If you live along the East Coast, one of the least pricey options is to take a short cruise there with one of a handful of major lines sailing out of such cities as New York and Baltimore.
Four-night sailings to Bermuda from the New York area sometimes are available for as little as $400 per person, for a package that includes your room, transportation and meals.
As those who regularly fly to Bermuda from the East Coast know, that’s not much more than the typical cost of roundtrip flights to and from the destination alone, and all those flights do is get you there. If you go by air, you’re still facing the cost of a hotel and meals in what has long-been considered one of the most expensive places in the world. You easily could end up paying two or three times more on flights to, and accommodations in, Bermuda than you would on a cruise from the East Coast.
Sounds like a cruise is the way to go, then, right? For some people, yes. But having done short cruises to Bermuda multiple times over the years, including just this past month on Carnival Cruise Line’s just-christened Carnival Sunrise, I can honestly say traveling to the fish-hook-shaped island by ship is a very different experience than going by air.
And it’s not for everyone.
Before you reach for one of the best credit cards for booking cruises to reserve that short voyage to Bermuda, here are some key things to know about the trips:
Your Travel Dates are Limited
While you can fly to Bermuda for a hotel stay on any day of the year, cruise ships typically only sail there between April and November, and they don’t go every day during those months. There often are just one or two short cruises to Bermuda from all East Coast ports combined in any given week.
There also only are a few lines that offer the trips. For this coming summer and fall, your choices are limited to Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line.
Royal Caribbean is by far the biggest seller of short cruises to Bermuda, with regular five-night sailings this year from the New York-area on the 4,180-passenger Anthem of the Seas and from Baltimore on the 1,992-passenger Grandeur of the Seas. This year, the line also is offering a single five-night sailing from Boston (departing Sept. 10) on the 2,146-passenger Serenade of the Seas.
Carnival’s short cruises to Bermuda this year, all on Sunrise, are four nights in length and mostly take place out of New York, with a single four-night sailing out of Charleston, South Carolina.
Norwegian and Disney each have three short cruises to Bermuda (varying from four to five nights) on the schedule between now and the end of the 2019 season, all out of New York.
For those already looking ahead to 2020, the big news is that Norwegian is planning far more short Bermuda cruises. On the flipside, Disney is planning to skip the destination entirely next year.
You Could Experience Rough Seas
Personally, I love a little pitch and roll when I’m on a cruise ship. It’s part of the charm of sea travel. But if you’re the kind of person who is going to be laid low by even a small sway, a Bermuda cruise may not be for you.
Unlike St. Thomas, St. Martin and most of the other sunny isles that cruise ships visit from Eastern ports, Bermuda isn’t in the relatively calm Caribbean. It’s way out in the North Atlantic, and that’s a body of water that isn’t always tranquil.
On the way to Bermuda a few weeks ago, we got sideswiped by one of those big North Atlantic storms that conjured winds of 55 knots and waves as high as 12 feet. Those are the sort of numbers that will cause even the biggest, most stable ships to move around a bit. While I was basically fine, there were plenty of passengers looking a little green.
The heavy winds (and periodic rain) also prompted the ship’s captain to order the closing and draining of its deck-top pools, where the water was sloshing around, and the closing of deck-top waterslides and other deck-top play zones, all of which are normally top draws on a sea day.
Not every ship on a Bermuda cruise experiences such a storm, for sure. And even when they do, it’s generally a transitory thing. Sailing back from Bermuda just a couple days later, we experienced much calmer seas and mostly sunny skies, providing for a lovely sea day. But a day or two of iffy weather on your Bermuda sailing is definitely a possibility.
You Won’t Have Much Time in Bermuda
Perhaps nowhere is the phrase “the journey is the destination” more apt than on a short Bermuda cruise. While the marketing material you see touting the trips is heavy with images of passengers strolling Bermuda’s famously pink sand beaches and snorkeling its turquoise waters, the reality is that you’ll spend most of a short Bermuda voyage aboard your ship as it sails to and from the destination. The amount of time you’ll actually have in Bermuda is sometimes absurdly short.
On a typical four-night sailing like the one I just took on Sunrise, passengers get just a single day at the destination. And by day, we’re not talking 24 hours. Officially, our call at Bermuda was scheduled as an eight-hour stop, with the ship arriving at 8am and departing at 4pm. But given that it took a few minutes for the vessel to clear customs upon arrival (22 minutes, to be exact) and the all-aboard time was 30 minutes before departure, the true length of the call was closer to just 7 hours.
Read that above paragraph one more time: On a four-night cruise to Bermuda, a trip lasting nearly 90 hours, you’re going to spend closer to 7 of those hours actually at the destination.
That’s just enough time to pick out one major activity, and even then, you’re going to be racing around. For my recent one-day call, I tried to make the most of it by signing up for a whirlwind adventure tour that included a (very short) jungle hike, a headlamp-aided descent into a cave, a visit to another cave for swimming, a cliff dive and a stop at a beach for snorkeling. As exotic as that sounds, it was nothing if not rushed, with each stop basically lasting just long enough to get the Insta photo, and we still barely made it back to the ship before departure.
Note that five-night voyages to Bermuda offer significantly more time at the destination than four-night trips. A typical five-night itinerary has the vessel spending the better part of two days in Bermuda. Many arrive around 9am on the first day of the visit and depart around 5pm on the second day, for a stay of about 32 hours.
You Need to Carefully Choose the Ship
Because you’re going to spend a good chunk of your short Bermuda cruise not in Bermuda at all, but on your ship, it’s important to choose the right vessel for you.
One way to look at short Bermuda cruises is that they really are resort vacations, not Bermuda vacations, with the resort being your cruise ship. Put another way, the vessel isn’t your transportation to your destination. It is your destination. The stop in Bermuda is almost tangential to the experience. (This isn’t a bad thing, mind you — at least for that segment of vacationers who are hooked on cruising for cruising’s sake.)
So, you want to look closely at the various ships offering the trips and weigh how they match up to your personality. Are you a huge Disney fan? That makes it easy. The three short Disney sailings to Bermuda later this year are the way to go (if you can afford them; more on that later). Meet-and-greets with Disney characters, Disney-themed shows and the most extensive kiddie fun zones at sea are just a few of the family-friendly allures of a Disney cruise.
For families who aren’t so hung up on Disney, a top choice is Anthem of the Seas, the Royal Caribbean ship sailing out of the New York area (its home port is just outside the city in Bayonne, New Jersey). It’s chock-full of family-friendly attractions that play particularly well with teens such as a deck-top skydiving simulator and a bumper cars pavilion.
The Carnival ship that I recently took to Bermuda, Sunrise, is typical for the “Fun Ship” line, which is all about fun in a loud, lively and sometimes low-brow way, all for a very low cost. Expect lots of live music, bustling bars, flashy shows and such deck-top silliness as a Hairy Chest Contest plus the most raucous karaoke sessions you’ll ever see. For travelers on a tight budget who like a good party, Carnival is hard to beat. Just don’t expect a lot of quiet nooks where you can read a book.
For the record: All of the vessels on short Bermuda runs are relatively large, amenity-packed ships with multiple pools and other deck-top attractions such as waterslides, basketball courts and miniature golf courses; multiple restaurants and bars; and various showrooms and lounges offering everything from Broadway-style productions to comedy and magic shows (all included in the fare).
Your Bottom Line
As of this writing, fares for the least expensive, four-night Bermuda cruise available (a Sept. 12 departure from New York on Carnival Sunrise) were starting at $416 per person for a windowless “interior” cabin. That works out to just $104 per day for a package that includes your room, transportation and meals.
You’ll pay more, of course, if you want a cabin with a window or, better yet, a balcony. Fares for cabins with windows start at $486 per person for the same September sailing, and balcony cabins on that voyage begin at $571 per person. You’ll also pay more if you want a sailing during the busier parts of the summer. Fares for Carnival’s Aug. 15 departure to Bermuda start at $639 per person.
In general, short Bermuda cruises on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian ships cost a bit more than those on Carnival vessels, assuming similar sailing dates, and Disney’s trips to Bermuda can be far pricier. We found fares for Royal Caribbean’s least expensive five-night voyage to Bermuda from New York in September starting at $687 per person, while a four-night Norwegian sailing on the same routing in September was pricing from $579 per person. Fares for a five-night Disney trip from New York to Bermuda in September started at a sky-high $1,194 per person.
Note that none of the above rates include taxes, port charges and fees, which can run around $200 per person on sailings from New York. You’ll also need to budget for extra charges you ring up on board. While meals are included at many of the on-board eateries on the ships operated by all the above lines, you’ll pay extra for “specialty” restaurants such as the signature Fahrenheit 555 steakhouses found on Carnival vessels. Just like at most land resorts, you’ll also pay extra for drinks. Beers at the bars on Carnival ships run $5.95 to $6.50, while wine starts at $7.75 per glass.
You’ll also need to budget for the automatic service gratuities that all the above lines add to passenger bills, which currently run around $14 to $15 per person, per day.
So, if you’re looking for a quick, inexpensive resort getaway from East Coast cities such as New York and Baltimore, short Bermuda cruises are an alluring option. Starting around $400 per person, a short Bermuda cruise probably is going to cost you less on a per-day basis than heading to a nearby beach town. Just don’t expect much of an in-depth Bermuda experience. Traveling to the island destination is really just the excuse for the ships on these runs to get out into some (hopefully) warm and sunny waters where you can experience the amenity-packed vessels.
That said, you’ll at least get a taste of Bermuda on these trips. On that front, the five-night voyages to the destination clearly offer a much bigger nibble than the four-nighters. But if you really want some time to dig into Bermuda, you should look at the longer sailings to the destination that some lines offer — or go by air and stay on land.
Note that short Bermuda cruises make the most sense for those living in or near the East Coast ports from which they depart. If you have to fly to one of these cruise gateways to take the trip, it sort of defeats the purpose of the easy-and-inexpensive getaway the sailings are supposed to be.
Gene Sloan has written about cruising for more than 25 years and for many years oversaw USA TODAY’s award-winning cruise site, USA TODAY Cruises. He’s sailed on nearly 150 ships.
Featured photo by Scott Dunn / Getty Images.
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