Welcome to the fourth post in our new series where women who have lived on multiple rocks compare the lifestyles of different islands. If you missed the first three, click here, or here, or here. This site receives so many questions in the realm of “What’s it like to live on *insert island here* compared to *insert another island here*?” that I wanted to start a comparative post series. Please keep in mind that the opinions represented here are simply based on an individual writer’s experience. If you have follow-up questions, pop them into the comments section at the end of the post and the writer will do her best to reply. If you’ve lived on multiple islands and would like to share your perspective, please visit our Write with Us page and join us as a contributor – we’d love to have you!
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Bermuda, Bahama, Come on Pretty Mama
Confusing Bermuda and Bahamas is common among friends and family. Maybe it is because they have just lost track of which one I am calling home these days, but mostly I blame it on The Beach Boys.
Both countries easily boast spectacular beaches and crystal waters that are a boater’s paradise. Each government requires zero income tax from citizens (a BIG attraction and addiction once you experience it) resulting in a mind-blowing cost-of-living that will make even the most affluent earners pause. Neither is truly Caribbean, though they are often clumped into the culture. One is a former British Colony and one remains a British Colony. The number of churches per capita are astounding on each rock. Bermuda celebrates Gombey, Bahamas has Goombay/Junkanoo, and both market delicious local rum cakes. But that’s about where the similarities end.
Because Tourism is not an economic force in Bermuda, what you won’t find there are beach vendors hawking un-original souvenirs, trying to convince you to get your hair braided, or to ride the jet ski; nor will you find evidence of any franchised stores, fast food, or corporate chains. Don’t look for Hilton or Marriott, though you may enjoy traditional tea time at quaint inns and European properties. What you will find is an impeccably manicured island with a sense of privacy, security, and an overall feeling that you are living inside the Walt Disney compound. Put out trash and recyclables on the assigned evenings and it miraculously disappears. I never saw a refuse truck in 3.5 years! Drive around and you’ll see meticulous lawns, pastel pink houses, and Clorox-white rooftops. It is SERIOUSLY clean in Bermuda, folks!
During my Bermy life, I feared getting behind the wheel to circumvent the windy roads lined with rock cliffs and scooter-posse weaving through the traffic. Taxis are relatively inexpensive and abundant, buses run on-time, scheduled water-ferries cross commuters from the furthest tip of the island into town, and all commerce takes place within an 8-block radius. Comfy walking shoes, a sturdy umbrella, and you are good to go. Walking became the norm on this island of 21 miles end-to-end.
Things just WORK in Bermuda. Rules are followed. Crime is almost non-existent. There is employment if you want it (most locals hold multiple jobs) and the foreign population equals the local tally – about a 50/50 split. Break out your pinks, yellows, and soft pastels and prepare to dress up for every occasion (this NY Metro girl needed to exchange her black and navy wardrobe for more colorful couture when living there).
Before you conclude, however, that Bermuda is total NIRVANA, I will warn you to prepare for BIG hair exploding from humidity and dampness that never goes away and rain that blows sideways, causing the sturdiest of umbrellas to turn inside-out. You will stare down huge flying cockroaches and tiny ant armies regardless of how many poisonous sprays and powders you sprinkle throughout your home. Nightlife is limited, as they roll-up the sidewalks early, so learn to enjoy a Dark & Stormy with friends at a house party instead. You will make many true but transient friendships with those who linger for three years or so and then move on to their next exotic post.
In complete contrast, in Nassau, Bahamas you will observe frenetic tourist activity around the cruise ship port with a plethora of activities geared toward day visitors. This is the place if you have a passion for SCUBA or sharks. The Bahamas appeals equally to the luxury sector and the budget traveler, and the US influence is strong. Spring Break season just about doubles the downtown population!
Comprising more than 700 islands and islets, travel to the mostly uninhabited “Family Islands” as they are called, and you could spend an entire vacation undisturbed. However, meaningful employment exists only in Nassau, a densely populated capital crowded with cars, people, and building cranes as evidence of constant growth. Nassau is also just 21 miles end-to-end, but while 60K is the approximate population in Bermuda, you’ll be mingling with just under 300K in Nassau! That alone changes the vibe. Think Manhattan compared to the Connecticut countryside.
The Atlantis Resort & Casino on Paradise Island competes with the largest hotel property in the entire Caribbean, Baha Mar Resort & Casino, both now dominating New Providence, and each does their best to draw honeymooners and high-rollers. Together they form the largest employer (second only to government) and provide close to 5,000 hotel rooms. Tourism is THE economic lifeblood of The Bahamas.
Here you will find extreme wealth, extreme poverty, and a shrinking middle class. Double-digit unemployment, particularly for those under 30, is a major concern. Foreign workers settling here (and there are many) seem to reside mostly in the west and somewhat apart from the locals, a stark difference from the population mix in Bermuda.
When I first arrived, I naively thought these locales were more similar. I assumed I’d get an apartment near my office, walk to work, and take the bus or taxis where I needed to go. It did not take long for co-workers to suggest: “No Walking Alone,” “Get a place with a security gate,” “Be sure you install burglar bars,” and “Don’t venture out after dark.” So many warnings! This New England transplant was not deterred, but I will confess it did force me to change. Driving here became a MUST – on the left, in crazy traffic, where nobody obeys the rules – beginning each workday with a healthy dose of road rage.
I’ve learned that in The Bahamas, you need a plan. You need to plan where you are going, at what time you need to leave, and where you will find parking. I now plan for power outages, inconsistent internet, and cable television that suffers constant disruptions (surprisingly unstable for what appears to be a modern society). I’ve learned to breathe deep to find my ZEN and draw patience from every pore to get through the hustle and bustle of Nassau. And I’ve learned that when all else fails, some disposable funds will usually facilitate getting things done much more quickly (wink wink).
The Bahamas may be just a 27 minute flight from Miami, but you’ll immediately know you’re not in the US. Don’t be fooled by the Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Dominos, and Dairy Queens that dot the landscape. The Bahamas has a culture and a pulse all its own.
I’m often asked which I prefer and despite what you might conclude, I’m at a loss to choose. Each island has moments that take me to my Happy Place – whether it’s the invigorating winds blustering around me each time I step onto the runway in Bermuda or the dreamy white clouds that fill the Bahamian Sky – I find my bliss on each 21-mile rock.