Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



November 1, 1962 -- The resort islands of Bermuda, Nassau and Jamaica, though separated by hundreds of miles, are part of a distinct geographical pattern. From north to south in a shallow half circle, with Bermuda at the top, the Bahamas in the middle and Jamaica at the bottom, they form a perimeter of vacation pleasure along the southeastern shores of the United States. Bermuda and the Bahamas are still British colonies, but since last August, Jamaica has been independent. Due to their common heritage, these islands share many things, such as the English language, driving on the left, a fondness for the cocktail hour and a stern view of women who expose too much in the more public areas of town.

Accommodations in these islands are plentiful in all price categories, with off-season rates some forty percent below those of the peak months (specific rates for accommodations and transportation further on).

The Bahamas lead a double life. The city of Nassau is a polished, popular vacation haven. On the other hand, the 700 out islands, populating 90,00 square miles of the Atlantic, are chiefly lonely specks of coral, many with beaches--an isolated, ideal region for fishing and boating. Not all of the out islands, which have been enjoying a travel boom the last few years, are empty of people and facilities; a number of them offer accommodations and amenities ranging from the deluxe to the adequate. They are oases for the weary or jaded traveler or sportsman.

Nassau is distinguished by immaculate white and pink houses, policemen ("bobbies") with white helmets and handsome uniforms, horse-drawn surreys with fringed tops, and fine hotels, many of them reasonably priced. Rates range from $5 per person, with light breakfast at attractive guest houses, to $30 a day per person with two meals at one of the swanky hotels. Rates are usually a good bit lower in the summer months (mid-April to mid-December). Despite references to summer and winter seasons, it's swimming weather every month in the Bahamas.

Any tour of Nassau should get underway with Bay Street, the main artery and shopping center. Sold at duty-free prices, here are fine English china, cameras and golf balls, locally made straw goods and, of course, a mouth-watering selection of liquors (rum at $1.40, scotch at $3.50 and cordials at $3).

Having spent a few hours spending, let's call on the flamingos at the Adastra Gardens. Twice daily, fifty of these beautiful pink birds put on a precision performance, responding to voice instructions from their trainer. Three old forts in the area merit a look: Fort Charlotte built in 1870 (dungeons, underground chambers and a history of never-a-shot-fired-in-anger); Fort Montagu, 1741, was captured briefly by the Americans in 1776, and Fort Fincastle (also never used).

In front of the governor's home, Government House, stands a statue of Christopher Columbus, whose first stop in the New World was at San Salvador, one of the Bahamas, on Oct. 12, 1492. The Bahamas have also had some other noted visitors: Ponce de Leon stopped by, seeking his fountain of youth, and in the eighteenth century, George Washington paid a visit, referring to the Bahamas as the "isles of perpetual June."

Don't miss the trip to the beach on Paradise Island, just across Nassau Harbour, for a fine day in the sun with white sand and clear, blue-green water.

Sightseeing and shopping out of the way, you can enjoy some of the area's many swimming pools and beaches, water-skiing, spear-fishing and skin-diving, as well as a trip to the lovely sea gardens via glass-bottom boat ($3 per person). Water-skiing instructions are available at the hotels for $10 for three beginner's sessions; a skin-diving lesson with aqualung runs $15. You can also arrange for a half-day of deep-sea diving at $7.50 per person (very safe, I'm told). There are eighteen-hole golf courses at the Bahamian Country Club and at Lyford Cay, and tennis courts abound. Bicycles may be rented for $2 a day or $10 a week, cars will cost you from $10 to $14 daily, guided tours run $6 or $7 for adults and $4 for the youngsters, and horse-drawn surreys cost $2.80 an hour.

There is horse-racing, too, from January through April on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Entertainment and night life at the hotels and downtown clubs revolve around Calypso rhythms, steel bands, the Limbo and fire-eaters. Among the more colorful places are the Junkanoo Club, the Cat and the Fiddle, Dirty Dick's and Blackbeard's Tavern. While the cuisine is generally a mixture of Continental, French and American, there are also some notable local dishes, such as green turtle pie, pigeon peas and rice, and baked Andros crab.

Sail and motor-powered boats are for hire, with skippers, from $4 per hour to $20 per day, and charter yachts are available for cruising among the out islands at approximately $30 per day per person. The sea teems with marlin, dolphin, blue-fin tuna, sailfish, snapper, grouper, etc. At least sixty world-record game-fish catches have been made in Bahamian waters.

Among the better-known of the out islands are Cat Cay, Great Exuma, Eleuthera, Abaco, Bimini, Andros and Grand Bahama. These all offer a choice of guest facilities. For fishing and cruising through these waters, fully equipped charter boats average from about $10 to $30 per day per person.

Daily jet service to Nassau is offered from New York (two-and-a-half hours), Miami, Montreal and other major cities by Pan American, BOAC, Trans-Canada, Cunard Eagle, Bahamas Airways and Mackey Airlines. A typical round-trip, New York to Nassau, is $129 (off-season seventeen-day excursion). Flights within the islands are offered by Bahamas Airways and Mackey. Steamship connections are made weekly from New York by Home Lines' Italia; round-trip cruise-fare minimum is $170. Two vessels, the Bahama Star and Florida, sail twice a week from Miami; round-trip costs for the three-day voyages begin at $54. A number of smaller ships make daily runs from Miami and West Palm Beach to Bimini and Grand Bahama. There are also ten-day "Windjammer Cruises" from Miami.

Additional information and folders are sent on request by the Bahamas Development Board offices in New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Toronto and Los Angeles.

The visitor has a choice on his visit to Jamaica. He can land in Kingston and wind up diagonally across the island in Montego Bay, or he can reverse the program, since Montego also boasts a modern jet airport.

For our purposes, we'll get underway in Kingston, following an itinerary that will take us through four of Jamaica's five major tourist areas.

Kingston itself is a busy, colorful city, with a fine harbor; a good selection of hotels; a wide choice of restaurants; an active night life at hotels and clubs in town that spotlights Calypso; golf at three courses; year-round horse racing at modern Caymanas Park; cricket, soccer and polo matches; bird shooting, horseback riding and tennis. Mountain climbing to Blue Mountain Peak (7,402 feet) can be arranged in Kingston, but plans for provisions, mules and overnight accommodations should be made in advance.

Any sightseeing plans should definitely count in the site of Port Royal, one the "most wicked city" in the world before an earthquake swallowed it up in 1692. During its heyday, under British rule in the seventeenth century, it was the base for pirate fleets in the Caribbean. The chief buccaneer, Henry Morgan, was punished for his acts by being knighted and eventually appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. Must've been quite a place.

A half-day city tour ($3) will cover most of the local highlights, including the Victoria Arts and Crafts Market, a rum plant (low prices, high quality), and the renowned Royal Botanical Gardens with its rare and exotic tropical flowers. Shopping in Kingston (as well as Ocho Rios and Montego Bay) is quite good, with free-port prices on a wide selection of items, including excellent Jamaican rums. This is unquestionably the place for a Planter's Punch.

The Kingston area, as well as the other popular resort sectors, offer hotels, guest houses and cottage colonies to suit all budgets, with rates as low as $4.50 a day per person, breakfast included, or as high as $60 daily for two, all meals provided. Summer rates, in effect from April sixteenth to December fifteenth, are reduced twenty-five to forty percent.

One side trip in the "must" category from Kingston takes in Port Antonio (which merits a few days stay if your program allows), a splendid, scenic, low-key resort, famous for its river-rafting. A two-hour ride down the Rio Grande, on a bamboo raft guided with poles by a native raftsman, carries you through a tropical forest, and occasionally, over mild rapids. The day-long journey from Kingston, rafting included, runs about $12 per tourist via limousine.

The resort complex of Ocho Rios, characterized by beaches, informal and charming resorts, fishing and boating, lies on Jamaica's north shore, just over two hours by auto from Kingston. This drive is unquestionably one of the highlights of a trip to Jamaica, taking in Spanish town, with its 300-year-old cathedral; the breathtaking gorge of Bog Walk; Mount Diablo, and finally, Fern Gulley, four miles of primeval, picturesque foliage. Cost per person--about $7.

Montego Bay, several hours past Ocho Rios, is a deluxe, sprawling, visitor paradise, with plush hotels, a white-sand beach with an international reputation (Doctors Cave) and a modern jet airport. While room rates are generally high, there is a good choice of hotels in the medium-price spectrum and the bite moderates in the summer.

Jamaica's fifth resort area, Mandeville, holds sway in the heart of the island. The attractions here encompass a quiet, English atmosphere, a cool mountain climate, horseback riding, tennis, golf, croquet and hunting for crocodiles. The latter is done at the Black River day or night, and we're told it's quite safe--but different.

This island has much, much more, but we'll leave that for another time.

To get to Jamaica, you have daily jet flights to Kingston and Montego Bay from New York and Miami, using such carriers as Pan American, BOAC, Avianca, KLM and British West Indian Airways. Delta flies from New Orleans, Trans-Canada from Montreal. Typical round-trip fare from New York is $182; from Miami, $79 (both seventeen-day summer excursions). Alcoa offers regular sailings from New Orleans, and Eastern Shipping Corporation from Miami.

More detailed information and literature is offered by the Jamaica Tourist Board in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto.

Little more than ninety minutes from New York by jetliner, Bermuda features mild weather, deep-sea and reef fishing, golf, sightseeing, and, of course, the splendid isolation prized by honeymooners. Once an impregnable and exclusive playground for the wealthy and socially prominent, this island is now an easy-to-reach, relaxed resort, catering to vacationers in all categories.

For the past several years, Bermuda has been promoting itself as a year-round resort. However, except for an occasional day here and there, it is too cool for swimming and sun bathing from November into March. (Local residents swim only from May to October.) High season for Bermuda runs from mid-March to mid-May, with hotel rates at a peak. It is then that the island plays host to an influx of college students and other spring travelers over the Easter holidays. Rates are somewhat less during the temperate summer months and lowest from December through mid-March.

Bermuda's larger hotels operate generally on modified American plan (breakfast and dinner), with rates from $30 to $60 per day per couple. Guest houses cater to fewer clients, and do not generally offer the extras of nightly entertainment and a swimming pool, as do the larger hotels. Usually run on full, American plan (all meals) or modified, their rates per couple run between $20 and $40 a day. Cottage colonies put up their visitors in individual unites, often with verandah. There are also rooms available in attractive private homes from $4.50 to $8 a day for a couple, with breakfast. A typical two-week tour in Bermuda will cost about $1,000 (minimum) at one of the big-name hotels. Two on a budget can stay for the same length of time for $600. (Round-trip transportation by air from New York is included in both estimates.)

There's plenty here to keep the visitor busy. Almost all vacationers spend several pleasant days exploring this ideal family resort on rented bicycles or motor bikes and picnicking and swimming at one of Bermuda's many secluded covers. (The sand on the beaches has a pink tint.) Bikes also afford a fine way for getting to know the winding, lovely roads, so reminiscent of the English lanes.

Among the other popular activities are golf, tennis (courts all over the place), sightseeing on the land and by sea (glass-bottom boat to the coral gardens is recommended), water sports (snorkeling, skin-diving), sailing and fishing. The waters abound with tuna, white and blue marlin, dolphin, wahoo, amberjack, barracuda and bonito. Charter rates average $65 a day for up to six in a party. Smaller cruises offer reef fishing.

Shopping on Bermuda centers in the two major cities, Hamilton and St. George's, with some good buys in perfumes, English woolens and liquor. Unlike Nassau and Jamaica, where light wear is the rule throughout the year, spring clothes and topcoat are advisable from October to April.

Getting to Bermuda is a snap. Four airlines link the island and New York, with frequent service. Pan American, Eastern and BOAC fly jets; Cunard Eagle offers prop-jets. Round-trip, tourist class fare in the jets is $115. By ship, Furness Line offers weekly sailings every Friday from New York, with a $125-minimum round-trip price tag. The ships are often used as a hotel by cruise passengers during the two-day Bermuda stopover.

For more information and literature, contact the Bermuda Trade Development Board, 620 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y.

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright 1962-2010 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.