Travel: Swimming in the Unique Culture of Bermuda

The culture of Bermuda lives and thrives on the warm ocean waves surrounding it — and the occasional fish sandwich.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

As much of the nation prepares to celebrate Christmas, I’d planned to counter all of that White Christmas and “…long winter’s nap…” business with a look back at my recent travel jaunt to Bermuda. While readers might be looking at snow drifts outside and sipping cocoa, they could be reading about the culture of the island nation.

Of course, now it looks like it’ll be knocking on 70 degrees in New York on Christmas Day. A lot of states between Manhattan and warm, steady Los Angeles will be warmer than usual — enjoying similar weather to what Bermuda enjoys most of the year. So, the likelihood of warm Christmas thunderstorms stole my ironic weather thunder.

Still, I’ll shake that off and open with weather anyway. While the average traveler might envision Bermuda as stocked with warm, balmy conditions 24/7, the fish hook of an island sits out amidst the warmer reached of the temperamental North Atlantic – so the prevailing wins can throw the weather for a loop day to day. 

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I visited for the island’s celebration of the America’s Cup Series, and I arrived into humid and sticky conditions. On the first day of racing, there wasn’t a whisper of wind. The island felt lazy and quiet. The next day, strong winds whipped the island — making for excellent racing and a cooler evening.

A round of golf on day three provided the full menu of Bermuda weather. A cool morning gave way to a warm afternoon, while autumnal squalls passed over the island — bringing brief, but disruptive periods of aggressive wind and stinging rain. Once those clouds passed, it was back to sun and fun.

So, the traveler never need worry about cold during a journey to Bermuda, but he or she needs to pack for variety.

Also: Travel: Turtle Hill Golf Club at Fairmont Southampton, Bermuda

I stayed at one of the island’s more elite resorts, the Fairmont Southampton. A full service property with outstanding service, the resort served me as a gateway to many of the island’s bespoke travel experiences. Most of Bermuda’s more unique, signature activities center on Bermuda’s home, love and lady — the sea.

From paddle boarding to sailing tours to jet-skiing to deep sea fishing, Bermuda’s visitors come to enjoy the ocean. Of course, that was in full effect during the America’s Cup Series. However, the sea’s attraction is in full effect all year round.

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While on shore, locals and visitors alike enjoy a civil adult beverage now and again. Since the island is famous producing both dark rum and ginger beer, you won’t have to look very far to find yourself a Dark n’ Stormy around these parts. And, you can pay for your drinks with Bermuda’s currency or American dollars. Both are welcome.

While live music and demon rum might make other island destinations seem decadent or even wild, my visit to Bermuda left me with the firm impression that the island is not a place to go for warm weather debauchery. This is still a British colony, and Bermuda clings to some of UK culture’s more Victorian ideals of civility, restraint and class. One simple example? You can be fined for appearing on island streets without a shirt. Margaritaville this is not.

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As for quirkiness, the island does have one odd obsession. While freshly caught seafood goes into spicy red chowders or is fried into a selection of tasty dinners, some of the day’s catch goes into the signature Bermuda fish sandwich. 

Recipes vary between dining stops as joints across the islands argue endlessly over who makes the best sandwich. But, essentially, we’re talking fried fish filets and the works (usually including lettuce, tomato, Bermuda onions, cheese, hot sauce, tartar sauce and coleslaw). The end product is huge and tasty, but it’s more satisfying to get the locals arguing about where to get the best example.

Maybe that’s Bermuda in a nutshell. While the resorts display refined, British traditions of polite service, the locals are down in the marinas debating fish sandwiches. And everyone is more or less OK with it all.