Bermuda has long been a fashionable resort for honeymooners, golfers and the well-heeled, but few think of it as a place to bring children.
True, Bermuda is formal, and, some say, more British than Great Britain, but it also is one of the safest foreign experiences you can give a child.
A self-governing British colony with one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world, Bermuda is definitely in the pink. The archipelago of tiny islands in the Atlantic, east of the Carolinas, boasts no unemployment, illiteracy or income tax. There isn't any litter, either.
In other words, things work here -- a blessing indeed when children are in tow.
The little ones soon will discover being civilized is not so awful. How could it be in a place where Good Friday is national kite-flying day, men put on shorts to dress up and everyone is given two days off to watch a game called cricket?
Would a stuffy island take on pink as its unofficial color or paint its houses every color in the Crayola box?
There are no straight roads on this civilized island, only crooked lanes lined with cartoon-like blooms in shocking pink, orange and red.
And because "visitors" (as locals prefer to call tourists) are not able to rent cars, children have to ride on the back of shiny red mopeds that adults drive on the "wrong" side of the road. While English is spoken, the bit of local accent and Bermudan expressions give it a decidedly foreign flair.
The best way for a family to vacation in Bermuda is to choose a resort with an inclusive children's program. Not only is it cost-efficient, but a good program allows families the most flexibility: Children play with others their own age, parents indulge in private time, and there are plenty of sports the whole family can enjoy together.
Several resorts on the island offer children's programs of varying degrees, but one of the best is at the Southampton Princess, named Bermuda's top resort by "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," and last year voted one of the world's top 20 resorts by readers of Conde Nast Traveler.
The children's and teens' programs are well-supervised by Bermudan "activities counselors." College-age and full of patience and energy, these men and women chaperon all events as well as the children's clubhouse known as Lenny's Loft.
Open and supervised from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, Lenny's Loft entertains children and teens (who may bring their parents if they wish) with a jukebox, video games, movies, ++ toys and, best of all, other playmates.
Activities for the ages
Daily activities divide the children into two age groups. Younger children, ages 5 to 11, can look forward to a limbo contest, wash-off tattooing, a hike to Gibb's lighthouse (the oldest iron lighthouse in the world) and lizard-watching around the grounds. Teens, ages 12 to 16, compete in volleyball and badminton, learn to play cricket and scuba dive. (Daytime care for 2- to 4-year-olds also is available from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. three days a week.)
Best of all, activities counselors ensure that the children have a good time.
"If they want to play stick hockey [with hockey stick and soccer ball] instead of conventional hockey, that's OK," says activities coordinator Lisa Rawlins. "They do whatever they want. The kids are on vacation, too."
Then there's the rest of the island to explore. With only 21 square miles of land, it's hard to get lost for long in Bermuda. Visitors must be at least 16 years of age to rent a moped, but anyone can rent a push scooter (bicycle) to explore the islands. The seven main islands, comprising nine parishes, are all connected by bridges.
The best way for children to see the island is to follow the Railway Trail, accessible from the hotel grounds. The former train tracks have been converted to a trail (closed
to cars) running the length of the island. Children can glimpse sea birds, lizards and frogs amid the breathtaking views.
Horseback riding along pathways and beaches is another great way for the entire family to see the island (some stables will not accept riders under age 12).
Bermuda's biggest attractions are its many powdery, clean beaches and warm waters. Bermuda sits in the path of the Gulf Stream (something children might remember from geography), so the water is beautifully clear and never colder than 65 degrees.
Children will delight in building pink sand castles, flying kites along the water's edge or learning to snorkel. For young beachcombers who like to wade, Shelley Beach has shallow waters almost a mile out. A history of pirates and shipwrecks has left many underwater sites to explore by either scuba diving, glass-bottom boat or helmet diving.
A visit to St. George
Spend an afternoon in nearby St. George, the second English town to be established in the New World after Jamestown, Va. Children can climb aboard a replica of the ship Deliverance, try out the stocks and pillory and explore 17th-century forts.
Other popular excursions for children include the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo; the Crystal Caves and Amber Caves with underground lakes, crystal formations and stalagmites; the Royal Naval Dockyard and the Maritime Museum.
In case children have a yen for American fast food, get a fix at the KFC in Hamilton, the only fast-food joint to have slipped in. Otherwise, there's a McDonald's on the military base (people not in the military are allowed in only on Wednesdays; bring your passport).
Children will love Bermuda, and their parents just might have a good time as well.
IF YOU GO . . .
For more information about Bermuda, call the Bermuda Department of Tourism, 310 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y., 10017; (800) 223-6106 or (212) 818-9800. For information about the Southampton Princess hotel, call (800) 223-1818.