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Friday, April 15, 2011

Holland America returns to Bermuda with weekly round-trips from New York City

The ms Veendam at anchor in this photo taken at Fort St. Catherine in St. George, Bermuda. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   (c) By Jim and Barb Fox
   After an absence of 27 years, Holland America Line has resumed regular sailings offering stay-and-play fun in Bermuda.
The Veendam off St. George, Bermuda. (Photo by Jim Fox)
    The ms Veendam is again this year making weekly round-trips from New York City from May 1 through Oct. 9 to the tiny archipelago of Bermuda with its rich heritage of 400 years of colonial rule.
   Noted for its shimmering turquoise seas, powdery pink sand beaches, exotic tropical gardens, spectacular sunsets and dressy colourful shorts, Bermuda offers an upscale adventure to a semi-tropical isle that's 1,030 kilometres off the coast of North Carolina.
   We sailed to this oldest British oversea territory and were the first to experience Veendam's complete itinerary with an overnight at anchor at St. George and three nights "parked" right downtown in Hamilton, the capital city.
    The ms Veendam ties up along Front Street in downtown Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda. (Photo by Barb Fox)
   Previous sailings headed directly to Hamilton as high winds made the "tendering" of passengers to shore potentially dangerous via Bermuda ferries. The ship itself is too large to navigate the narrow "Town Cut" through the reef and tie up in St. George.
   Covering just 54 square kilometres, this refined land in the North Atlantic is warmed by fresh ocean breezes and scented with gardenias and spices while visitors are treated as distinguished guests.
   Johnny Barnes, Bermuda's unofficial goodwill ambassador, welcomes visitors and offers his best wishes to morning commuters in Hamilton. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   Along with town criers in St. George and Hamilton, you might come across Johnny Barnes, Bermuda's unofficial goodwill ambassador.
   He greets sightseeing tours and morning commuters at the Crow Lane roundabout where he waves and throws kisses at all.
   The Veendam, carrying 1,350 passengers, steams out of the Manhattan Cruise Ship Terminal on Sundays at 4:45 p.m. and down the Hudson River.
   The sailaway party is highlighted by the passing of the Statue of Liberty, after which the ship sails into the open ocean, arriving in Bermuda on Tuesdays at 8 a.m.
   The Veendam has undergone "Signature of Excellence" upgrades including the addition of lanai staterooms with sliding glass doors. These lead to the outdoor Lower Promenade, a wrap-around teak walking deck.
   New staterooms have been added to the aft along with a resort pool, the Retreat, Showroom at Sea and the Mix, a specialty lounge with popular cocktail mixing demonstrations.
   There's also the Canaletto casual Italian restaurant (no extra charge) in addition to the extra-fee alternative steak and seafood Pinnacle Grill.
   An imposing figure is the six-foot, seven-inch town crier welcoming the ms Veendam passengers -- and writer Jim Fox -- to Hamilton, Bermuda. (Photo by Barb Fox)

   Erik Elvejord, Holland America director of public relations, said the Bermudan sailings are popular with Canadians. On this cruise, there were 155 Canadians onboard as well as David Wood, hotel manager.
   Digital workshops, led by "techsperts," are new popular activities as well as cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Centre, Elvejord said.
   At mid-week, we took a scenic ferry ride to stay overnight at the Fairmont Southampton, a luxury resort on Bermuda's highest point on the south shore.
The Fairmont Southampton (Photo by Jim Fox)
   Each of the 593 guest rooms and suites has a private balcony and incredible views of the ocean, harbour or the hotel's 18-hole golf course.
   Dining at the Waterlot Inn, the hotel's 340-year-old, four-diamond restaurant said to have the best steaks and seafood in Bermuda, we watched the sun set into the ocean.
   Executive Chef Clifford Crawford, of New Brunswick, will even cook you up a Kobe beef ribeye for $145 U.S. and his dessert specialty, sticky toffee pudding.
Waterlot Inn Executive Chef Clifford Crawford (Photo By Jim Fox)

   Nattily attired in his red Bermuda shorts, island native Peter Frith, former Southampton director of sales, showed off the multi-level penthouse suite with views of the entire island and the luxurious Willow Stream Spa.
   The waterfront Fairmont Hamilton Princess, marking its 125th year, continues the fine tradition of afternoon tea. We dined the next day on "finger sandwiches," scones with Devonshire clotted cream and sweet pastries along with steaming pots of English tea.
Tea at the Hamilton Princess. (Jim Fox photo)

   Getting around Bermuda is easy and exciting whether by one of the spotless taxis with pleasant drivers (no rental cars are available), motor scooters or municipal buses and ferries.
   St. Peter's Church in St. George, completed in 1619, is one of the oldest Anglican churches in the Western Hemisphere and is where the Bermuda Parliament was founded. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   Historic St. George, founded in 1609, has narrow, twisting streets and pastel-painted houses along with forts from the 17th century.
   Hamilton, in the centre of the island, is close to the south shore beaches, with the ship docking alongside the many restaurants, shops and businesses.
   We learned about the many shipwrecks littered around the island and sea life at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, while the Bermuda Botanical Gardens, circa 1898, has 14.5 hectares of trees, flowers and shrubs.
   The Veendam sails from Bermuda on Fridays at 2 p.m., arriving back in New York City on Sundays at 7 a.m.


   If you sail:
   - Veendam's seven-night sailings to Bermuda are from about $700 U.S. a person for an inside cabin to about $3,000 for a deluxe verandah suite. www.hollandamerica.com; 1-877-SAIL-HAL.
   - Fairmont Southampton and the Fairmont Hamilton Princess have a variety of getaway packages. www.fairmont.com; 1-800-441-1414.


Jim and Barb Fox can be reached at outtosea50@hotmail.com
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