Skip to main content

To Plan A Trip

June 2024
1min read


A call to Bermuda’s tourism office (1-800-223-6106) will produce a raft of enticing brochures. The government carefully regulates hotels and guesthouses; as a result they all are reliable and agreeable. Obviously, the more costly ones offer more amenities, but many of the smaller guesthouses draw an intensely loyal clientele, year after year, generation after generation. I count among my favorites the Hillcrest Guest House, Waterloo House, Palmetto Hotel and Cottages, and the Princess, which is where I stayed last March. (Waterloo House is famous for its kitchen and offers a lovely waterside setting on the outskirts of Hamilton for an al fresco drink.)

The Princess, Bermuda’s oldest hotel, is a five-minute walk from the heart of the town of Hamilton. Occupying six beautifully planted acres, it has a compelling view of the harbor, two pools, a putting green, and tennis courts. It caters to a mixed clientele of families, businessmen and -women, and conventioneers and manages to keep everyone happy. The original Princess was built in 1884, shortly after Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise came to the island as its first royal visitor, and it remembers her in its name. Early photos of the hotel, the first built in Bermuda along the water, show a wonderful five-hundred-foot-long veranda overlooking the Great Sound. Slowly the Princess grew, rebuilding itself five times and losing the first wooden buildings and the cottage colony that once occupied the grounds. Now the oldest part of the hotel dates from 1931.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Princess’s World War II role as the headquarters for a major Western Hemisphere intelligence-gathering operation. All mail crossing the Atlantic by Pan American Clipper or by ship was intercepted at Bermuda, brought to the basement of the Princess, opened, and read by hundreds of examiners. Meanwhile, passengers were taking tea upstairs in the lounge, supposedly unaware of the secret goings-on below. One of the hotel’s managers kindly guided me through the basement quarters where the decoding had taken place, now home to boiler equipment and laundry operations on an enormous scale. It was somehow reminiscent of the workings of a great, purposeful ocean liner.

Another Bermuda anachronism is that tourists can’t rent cars, so getting around is a matter of taxis, motorbikes, ferries, and an excellent fleet of public buses painted pink. Some visitors buy weeklong bus and ferry passes, but I’ve always preferred to get a card of bus tickets, the way the locals do. Because I’ve never used up a full set on one visit, they function as three coins in the fountain in reverse. Take a few home and you know you’ll be back to use them another time.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate