Cruising to Bermuda  has been a popular mode of getting to the island since the wintering elite used to journey here aboard elegant steamships from snow-bound U.S. cities in the late 1800s. Today, cruise ship passengers to Bermuda are typically American budget travelers, and the season has long switched to summer (avoiding the north Atlantic’s fierce winter storms—though hurricane season can still make for turbulent passages). Due to the efficiency of Hamilton-based port agents Meyer Group of Companies (35 Church St., Hamilton, HM 12, tel. 441/295-4176, www.meyer.bm ), and the well-organized slate of shore excursions, cruising is a good way to experience Bermuda’s highlights in just a handful of days.
Cruising is popular, as it offers an all-inclusive package vacation, with transport, meals, and lodging included in a single price. Passengers sleep onboard the ship during their Bermuda stopover, and most also eat onboard—though flexible dine-around programs are now offered. But the all-inclusive arrangement has forged a somewhat ambivalent relationship between Bermudians and visiting ships. While island hoteliers and restaurateurs don’t benefit financially from cruise passengers, and high-end retailers bemoan the “T-shirt and ice cream” crowd, cruise ships do pour a substantial amount of revenue into government coffers through passenger head taxes alone (a maximum $60 levy, included in the fare). Additionally, island tour operators, such as water sports companies, do a roaring trade when liners are in port.
Most excursions from U.S. ports take the form of weeklong cruises, with three and a half days spent in Bermuda. Cruise ships visiting the island have hailed from dozens of different ports in recent years, including Baltimore, Boston, New York, Charleston, Fort Lauderdale, the Azores, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands. Of these, a select few serve Bermuda weekly through the summer season, though ships and schedules change each year.
As of 2009, most cruise ships visiting Bermuda no longer berth at Hamilton or St. George’s, but at Dockyard , where alongside the current King’s Wharf, the new Heritage Wharf and terminal were built in 2009 to accommodate the trend toward larger vessels.
The main cruise lines serving Bermuda in 2008 and 2009 were: Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com , Norwegian Dawn from New York; Norwegian Majesty from Charleston, South Carolina; and Norwegian Spirit from Boston); Royal Caribbean International (www.royalcaribbean.com , Explorer of the Seas from Cape Liberty, New Jersey; Grandeur of the Seas from Norfolk, Virginia); Princess Cruises (www.princess.com , Caribbean Princess from St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, to New York).
Numerous other cruise ships, the majority of which are European vessels sailing trans-Atlantic, 10-day, or two-week excursions to or from the Mediterranean, schedule briefer stops at Bermuda, typically a one-day or overnight call. These occasional visitors have also included ships of American lines, such as Carnival Cruise Lines (www.carnival.com ) and Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (www.rssc.com ). For updated cruise schedules, with information on specific ships and ports of call, check Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre's website (www.marops.bm ), or contact Bermuda’s Tourism Department at tel. 441/800-Bermuda (441/237-6832) or www.bermudatourism.com .
Regularly visiting cruise ships arrive in Bermuda on either Monday or Tuesday morning, and depart on Thursday or Friday afternoon. Technology has automated the Customs and Department of Immigration checks; these departments receive the passenger manifest in advance and electronically review them before ships make port. Upon the ship’s arrival, Customs officials board for a 30-minute inspection process, including a walk-through with drug-sniffing dogs, before passengers are free to go. Passengers need their ship’s identity card—also usable as a credit card and cabin key on some vessels—plus personal ID, such as a driver’s license, to reboard the ship.
Shore excursions, including golf, kayaking, and snorkeling tours, yacht charters, walking tours, and bus tours to the Aquarium, Museum & Zoo  and Crystal Caves , may be booked online via cruise ships’ websites or arranged after boarding through vessels’ shore excursion desks. Alternately, visitors can independently book tours and activities when they disembark at Bermuda, including sports or sightseeing options that may not be available on the ship’s prearranged slate. If you prefer doing your own thing, this is the best way to go—but be warned: If you have not pre-booked your excursions, you run the risk of sold-out tours and zero tee times.