For our final day in port in Bermuda, I wanted to do something more adventurous than the average walking or bus excursion. Come along with me on the Hidden Gems Tour! Explore Tom Moore’s Jungle, take a swim inside a cave, snorkel next to a reef and more.
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This is the final article in a three-part series on our three days in Bermuda. Haven’t read parts one or two yet?
We find a shore excursion, but is it worth it?
While researching our cruise, none of the shore excursions that NCL offered really stood out to me as fantastic, I-must-do-this experiences. I checked with my travel agency, as well as with the major excursion companies. A lot of the “tours” were just transportation to an attraction. We could definitely find our own transportation for less. Many were boat rides, but we would be spending three days on a ship to get to Bermuda. I wanted to see Bermuda! However, one excursion did look interesting: The Hidden Gems tour.
The Hidden Gems tour included a visit to a jungle with wet and dry cave exploration, cliff jumping, lunch, and then snorkeling. It finished with a stop at a local homemade ice cream parlor. Sounded pretty good, but at $209 per person, I thought that was a bit expensive.
I (almost) get it for cheaper…here’s how you can!
Always looking to save a buck, I tried to find out who ran the Hidden Gems tour. I’ve sometimes had good luck with doing this – on a cruise we took that visited Costa Rica, we had our hearts set on doing the behind-the-scenes tour of the sloth sanctuary. The cost of the ship’s excursion was just insane. I emailed the sanctuary’s staff, and was able to book our own tour. I was also able to exclude a poorly-rated boat ride from the package and save quite a bit of money.
In five seconds of googling, I was able to discover who ran this tour. Hidden Gems! That was easy. Their website listed the exact tour that NCL was advertising, but for $175 per person. Score! I started to reserve our tour, but they had no slots available on that Tuesday. No doubt, the fact that NCL had only picked that day to offer the excursion was the reason why they were full.
They had availability on Monday, but we really wanted that day to explore the main shopping areas, and have the chance for a leisurely dinner and maybe a pub visit in the late evening. They also had availability on Sunday, but the tour starts early in the morning. We wouldn’t even be in Bermuda yet.
I really wanted to book the tour for Tuesday, and my only option was through NCL, at the premium price. Grrr. I bit the bullet and reserved it, thinking, “This had better be good.” They DO have a five-star rating on TripAdvisor, which is usually a very good sign.
We meet our group
Tuesday morning arrived, and we woke up early (cruise early – like 7:30. Not real-life early.) and grabbed a quick, but filling breakfast from the buffet. Our excursion included lunch, and ice cream at the end, but I had read some reviews that said all they got for lunch was a turkey sandwich in a bag. I wasn’t taking any chances, considering that we had an active day ahead of us.
We headed down the gangway and were happy to see a pleasant young woman right at the end of the gangway holding a Hidden Gems sign. We greeted her, and she introduced herself as Angel, our guide for the day. As our group assembled (there were about 12 of us), Angel led us to our bus. Before we got on, she asked if everyone had their bathing suits on under their clothes, because there would be nowhere to change before our first swimming stop in the jungle.
One couple, who apparently didn’t know there was swimming involved in a cave swimming/cliff jumping/snorkeling excursion, had to return to their room to put on their suits, because they didn’t even bring them. I was very surprised that Angel was fine with the delay, given our long schedule and the fact that we had to be back by a specific time. It was a small group though, not a massive excursion where the guide times everything to the minute. Plus, we were on island time. No stress.
They don’t tell you about the sunscreen…but I will!
Angel then mentioned that we shouldn’t put sunscreen on until after our cave swim, because the chemicals can erode the cave. I must have had a guilty look on my face (I had put loads of sunscreen on because of my horrible shin sunburn from our outing to Horseshoe Bay Beach). She looked right at me and said, “Don’t worry, it’s OK. You didn’t know.”
My daughter had previously lectured me about what the chemicals in traditional sunscreen can do to coral reefs. We started buying Badger sunscreen, which is made here in New Hampshire and is coral-safe. So my sunscreen didn’t contain many of the nasty chemicals that most do, but I still felt bad. Both the Hidden Gems website and the NCL excursion description had no mention of not applying sunscreen!
On the road again
Once we were all reassembled, we got on our tour bus and met Dee, our driver. We headed out to Middle Road, the same way we had gone the day before on our trip to Horseshoe Bay Beach. As we rode, Angel narrated, pointing out the sights as we went along. She had mentioned that Dee isn’t her regular driver, and I think she was a little thrown off that Dee didn’t stop at the scenic points that her usual driver did, so her narration was probably not as smooth as usual.
It took us almost an hour to get to our destination, and Angel quickly acclimated to having a different driver. By the middle of the ride, Angel would point out where to stop, and Dee would often chime in with additional information.
We learn about alcoholic trees?
Arriving at the jungle, we stopped in a clearing where we saw a squat palm tree with what looked to be some chunks hacked out of it, that had long since healed over with bark. Angel told the story of how Tom Moore’s Jungle got its name. Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, was appointed to a government post in Bermuda in 1803. He spent only three months there and reportedly was bored out of his skull. According to Angel, he would sit under the now 500-year-old tree that still stood in the clearing to write poetry. He was well-known for getting very drunk in this clearing, from alcohol that he had obtained by hacking those chunks out of the palm tree.
I was very dubious about the validity of this part of the story at the time, for two reasons. Firstly, you can get alcohol out of palm trees?? I used to live in Arizona within a short walk to a huge college campus. There were palm trees everywhere. Never once did I see a college kid hacking away at a palm tree to get the alcohol inside! So I researched it. Apparently, there IS a way to get alcohol out of palm trees. Don’t tell the kids.
My second doubt was that the palm tree is 500 years old. Well, it’s a possibility, as certain palms could live that long, but it sounds like it’s very rare. The native palmettos don’t live anywhere close to that long. It’s more likely that the tree was younger when Moore sat under it, or it’s a completely different tree.
A blue hole and modern art
We made a quick stop at a small blue hole (swimming isn’t allowed in this one), where an artist had installed fabric pyramids to float on the water. We could tell our guides were not fans of this oddity, and neither were we. The water in the blue hole was an otherworldly, semi-opaque cerulean. It was beautiful on its own, and I hope the pyramids won’t be a permanent feature.
To the caves!
We headed off on our hike to the first part of our adventure: the cave exploration and swimming! We headed down a jungle path, with lots of roots sticking up from the ground. Angel pointed out the various vegetation on the path, including a plant that wards off mosquitoes. The plant does an excellent job, because despite being in a dense jungle, we didn’t get a single bug bite!
We had to then climb down a steep, rocky hill to get to the cave. Arriving at the cave, we put on hair nets, hard hats, and head lanterns. I looked like a school lunch lady visiting a construction site. We had to duck and twist our way through the entrance of the cave until we arrived in a series of chambers with stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the stalactites were dripping with water, rich with minerals. Angel explained that the dripping is how the formations develop, over thousands of years. In Bermuda, it’s considered good luck if one of the droplets falls on you.
Angel told us that the formations in this cave are in their natural state, as opposed to the formations in the famous Crystal Caves. Although they are the same type, the Crystal Caves formations have been polished to reveal the inner minerals!
Cave swimming and cliff jumping
We continued on to visit the swimming hole in another part of the cave. Before we ventured inside, Angel took our lunch orders to call into the restaurant. She encouraged us to jump off the rocks into the small pool. With our painful sunburns, I was too nervous that I would scratch my skin on the rocks while jumping into the water. I told her about our concerns, and Angel showed us where we could ease ourselves in.
The water felt fantastic, and we were able to swim around for about twenty minutes. The visibility was better than I would have expected, as a lot of natural light entered this part of the cave from the large opening at the entrance.
Off to the cliff jumping! We headed out to another area in the jungle where we could cliff jump into a larger blue hole. Angel told us that she had recently had a 90-year-old woman do the cliff jump! I’m sure that woman didn’t have a sunburn, though. We skipped the jump, but spent the time swimming in the water below and watching the jumpers.
Time for a lunch break!
Next stop was lunch, and we were hungry! We got back on the bus to go to Eliana’s Fine Dining. On the way, Angel told us that the restaurant was housed in a former McDonald’s. McDonald’s, and most chain restaurants, can no longer open in Bermuda. She explained that Bermuda now has very strict anti-franchise laws, preventing fast-food restaurants from opening. The only exception is KFC, which was grandfathered in.
As we exited the bus, most of us still pretty wet from our swim, Dee encouraged us to spread our wet towels out on the grassy area next to the parking lot, so they could dry in the sun while we ate.
We went inside and noticed that we were the only ones there! I found out that the restaurant is not open to the public until later in the day, so it was just us. Our waiters brought us glasses of ginger beer, with the option of a cocktail at an extra charge. I had ordered fried fish with black-eyed peas and rice, and Mr. SBC chose a veggie patty.
Our meals were okay, not fantastic, and definitely not “fine dining”, but the food hit the spot. Much better than the bagged turkey sandwiches I had read about in some reviews. The ginger beer was nice – I never drink soda, but I made an exception to try the local specialty. Angel told us that the ginger beer used to be made in Bermuda, but they have since moved the production to New Jersey. So much for local!
We try out our new snorkel equipment
Our group piled back in the bus after retrieving our now much drier towels from the grass. Dee drove us over to a public beach to snorkel near a rocky reef. We passed a few other beaches before we arrived, and Angel pointed out one that was man-made. She said it was filled with construction sand! If you’re planning on visiting the beach in Bermuda, definitely check out some reviews before going – there are quite a few man-made beaches.
Arriving at our natural beach, Angel and Dee passed out snorkels, masks, and fins to all of the guests (except us – you can read my review of our new snorkel gear here). She also gave us bright pink pool noodles, and told us that we needed to swim with them. Angel pointed out a large rock sticking out of the water, not too far from shore, where the reef is. She said that we could swim around the rock, but not to stay behind it because she needed to make sure everyone was visible. Angel and Dee were not joining us in the water; they were going to watch from the beach.
On our last snorkeling tour, in Grand Cayman, our guides came in the water with us. They didn’t snorkel, but they were right there to ensure our safety. This time, I felt like I did as a child at the beach, with my mom watching from shore. Thankfully, they didn’t continually yell to me that I was out too far!
I embrace my inner rebel
We put on our new snorkel gear and waded into the ocean. Wrapping our noodles under our midsections, we began swimming, not too far from shore. This is when I realized that there’s no way I can snorkel with a pool noodle under my stomach. I’m a huge rule-follower, but this was just too much. If they had asked us to wear big flags on our heads, or even a brightly-colored snorkel vest, I would have been fine. But I couldn’t swim normally, never mind go under the water, with this huge piece of foam underneath me.
So I broke the rules. Don’t tell anyone. I gave Mr. SBC my pool noodle, and just snorkeled right near him. He didn’t mind having two noodles, as he was happy to just float around and look at the fish.
We saw lots of smaller but beautiful fish swimming in schools where we started snorkeling, just a few yards from the beach. There were sergeant majors, blue angelfish, banded butterflyfish, and a few other types of fish I didn’t recognize. Next time, I’m going to bring some laminated fish identification cards so I can tell what I’m looking at!
We went out a bit deeper, and I decided to check out the reef area near the big rock. There were more people snorkeling over there, so the visibility wasn’t as good. I saw the same exact fish by the reef, so I headed back to where there were fewer people.
After a while, Angel called us all back to shore to pack up. We headed back to the bus, stopping next to the restrooms to rinse the sand off of our gear and ourselves. Growing in front of the building is a huge aloe plant. Angel encouraged us to break off a leaf or two to use on our sunburned legs. Usually I wouldn’t break pieces off of a plant that didn’t belong to me. But both Angel and our bus driver from our trip the day before (to Horseshoe Bay Beach) told us that in Bermuda, everything growing on public property is free for everyone to use. Pretty cool!
Ice cream but no swizzles
Our final stop for the day was for local homemade ice cream at Bailey’s Ice Cream Parlour in Hamilton. Bailey’s is located across the street from the Swizzle Inn, and close to the Crystal Caves. Housed in a mint-green cottage, they are known for their wide range of unusual flavors, such as Cumin Nut and Dark & Stormy.
Angel said that if anyone wanted to visit the Swizzle Inn, we could, but we would have to be quick. The Swizzle has been in operation since 1932 and is the home of the Rum Swizzle. We originally were going to go across the street to check it out, but realized we would only have about two minutes. If we had been able to take the tour on our second day in Bermuda, we would have been allowed to end our tour here to visit the Swizzle, and then find our own transportation back to the ship.
Angel gave us each a ticket that entitled us to a single scoop in a dish or cone. If we wanted an extra scoop or a fancy waffle cone we could just pay the difference. Although I usually go for far-out flavors, none of them seemed up my alley. I decided to play it safe with their Mint Chip. Mr. SBC chose the Bailey’s Irish Cream flavor.
We took our cones out to the patio to enjoy them in the shade. I noticed that my mint ice cream had an unusual flavor, almost medicinal. It wasn’t terrible, it was just…strange. One of the other tour guests came over and asked if I had chosen the mint chip, too. When I said I had, she said, “Do you think it tastes a little weird?” Mr. SBC’s ice cream tasted normal, so maybe they just use an unusual mint flavoring.
Back on the bus, we settled in for the almost hour-long ride back to the Dockyard. On the way, Angel told us stories of growing up in Bermuda, and how everyone seems to be related to everyone else. She told us a funny anecdote about how as a kid, she almost started a fight with a young boy at school. She had heard the boy calling her own grandfather “Grandpa”.
It turned out the boy was one of her many dozens of cousins, and they did indeed share the same grandfather! From the number of folks she waved to on the street from the bus window, I think we passed half of her family on the way.
We arrived back at the ship in a short time before we set sail back to Boston, and said our goodbyes to Angel, Dee, and beautiful Bermuda. I know I can’t wait to cruise there again!
My thoughts on the excursion
Overall, I enjoyed the Hidden Gems excursion. At $209 per adult, it was a bit expensive, but it was a seven-hour tour to the other side of Bermuda.
- Our tour guide was amazing and friendly. She really watched out for us, making sure we were safe and that we all stayed together. Angel pointed out so many things about each area that we visited, that only a local would know. I loved her stories about growing up in Bermuda!
- We would never have been able to figure out where the entrance to the caves was, or how to navigate them without a guide. The caves were fascinating, and I enjoyed swimming underground.
- This was a very active tour, which is exactly what we were looking for.
- All of the places we visited were public and free to enter without a tour.
- The lunch was not the greatest. I would have preferred something more authentic and less bland. My ice cream tasted funny (although I think it was just that flavor).
- I would have rather had a bit more freedom with the snorkeling, without rules about pool noodles.
What would I have done differently next time? If I had realized that Heroes Day, a national holiday, was celebrated on our second day in port, I would have booked our excursion on Monday. The shops were closed, but beaches and parks were not. We would have saved almost $70 by booking directly. Plus, we would have been able to exit the tour after our ice cream, and have dinner and a couple of cocktails at the famous Swizzle Inn.
Have you done the Hidden Gems tour, our visited any of the attractions? What did you think? Drop me a comment below!
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