‘I love Bermuda, I’ve visited 30 times’
Sheila Nicholls might be one of Bermuda’s most loyal visitors. The 82-year-old and her family have visited the island more than 30 times in 27 years.
Wherever the Hamilton, Ontario, resident goes, she bigs up the island.
“Back home, my friends don’t understand why I go to Bermuda in the summer,” she said.
“They usually go to the Caribbean in the winter and they think Bermuda is there. I have to explain to them that ‘no, it’s not in the Caribbean, and it’s fantastic in the summer’.”
When she is on the ferry in Bermuda, she loves chatting with cruise ship passengers.
“I tell them you can’t possibly see the island in three days,” she said.
“I tell them to come back and stay awhile. There are so many beautiful things to see here. I also tell them the best places to visit and eat. Often, they only know what their cruise ships have told them about.”
Last week, at Harbour Nights in Hamilton, she bumped into Greg Hartley of Hartley’s Helmet Diving. She went helmet diving with Mr Hartley last summer and loved it.
“I was telling everyone who came up to his stall how beautiful it was,” Mrs Nicholls said. “A few people even signed up.”
When you ask her what she likes to do in Bermuda, her enthusiastic reply is: “Everything!”
This time around, she and her son, Phil, arrived in July and have been doing a lot of trekking.
“We went to Tom Moore’s Jungle, which we hadn’t done before,” she said.
“We went up to Clearwater Beach in St David’s. We have been snorkelling on the South Shore a few times. We have been to the aquarium again. We have been there a lot of times. We go down to St George a lot on Tuesdays and Fridays, when the cruise ships are out.
“Every time Phil and I come, we stay longer and longer. Phil always says, ‘mom you never know how much longer you’re going to be able to come’, so we always add a week. This time, we’ve stayed five weeks, our longest trip yet. We go home next week.”
Mrs Nicholls and her late husband, Peter, emigrated from England to Canada 48 years ago, when their son was a baby.
Mr Nicholls worked as a design draftsman and Mrs Nicholls worked as a play therapist for sick children.
In the 1970s, their vacation spot was Jamaica, but they stopped going due to political unrest there.
In 1983, they took a cruise around the Caribbean and visited 14 different islands. They saw a lot of beautiful places, but still couldn’t decide where they wanted to make their next vacation base.
Then, they heard about Bermuda from a friend they met at a birthday party.
“There was a doctor there and he was telling us all about Bermuda and how beautiful it was,” Mrs Nicholls said.
“He made it sound so nice. He’d been staying at Willowbank for quite a few years.”
So, in 1991, the Nicholls made their first visit to Bermuda and took their doctor friend’s advice and stayed at Willowbank. They fell in love with the island.
“After that, it was Bermuda and nowhere else,” Mrs Nicholls said.
“We liked Bermuda’s Britishness. Of course, we love the weather and the ocean. We go in a lot. It is also so safe here. I can walk anywhere, whereas in the Caribbean there are a lot of islands where you don’t go out of the hotel.”
After Willowbank closed in 2011, the Nicholls started staying at a guesthouse near Watford Bridge. Mrs Nicholls cannot speak highly enough of her landlords Kathy and Valerio Ausenda.
“They are wonderful hosts,” Mrs Nicholls said. “They are so good to us. It is just like being with family. Val comes and there will be a big bunch of bananas that he has picked or fruit left outside our door. Last week, he cooked us the most beautiful supper. They are just lovely to us.”
The guesthouse dock is one of their favourite places to swim and snorkel.
When Willowbank reopened in April, the Nicholls stayed with the Ausendas.
“We’ve stayed with them about eight times,” she said.
Mrs Nicholls’ husband, Peter, died in 2007 after suffering from emphysema for some years. “There were two places he wanted his ashes scattered; at home and at sea,” Mrs Nicholls said.
So, 11 years ago, she and her son brought part of his ashes to Bermuda, rented a boat, and scattered them off the coast.
Now, Mrs Nicholls always brings a framed portrait of her husband with her on her Bermuda visits so that he can be with her in some way.
He would have celebrated his birthday on August 19. To mark the occasion, the Ausendas gave Mrs Nicholls a large bouquet of flowers from their garden.
She tossed them off nearby Watford Bridge to remember her husband, knowing how much he loved the water.
However, Mrs Nicholls and her son have been to Bermuda so often, they also see some of the downsides.
“There is a bus problem and there has been for years,” Phil Nicholls said.
“For the past several years we rarely have been able to catch a route seven bus to South Shore from here at Watford Bridge, because all the route sevens are full with cruise ship passengers from Dockyard on their way to South Shore beaches.
“We either have to get a bus into Dockyard and then line up with the cruise ship passengers to get a route seven to South Shore or try and get a route seven here at lunchtime when many of the cruise folks are on the ships eating their lunch.
“But as far as the bus drivers and the Marine and Ports people go, they are fantastic. Dennis Outerbridge (ferry dispatch supervisor) goes out of his way to make sure we have the right ferry. We’ve met his sister. We know quite a few of the ferry captains. It is like coming home for us.”
Mr Nicholls also thinks a lot of Bermuda’s hotels are pricing themselves out of business.
“I don’t know if there are that many tourists in that price bracket coming to the island,” he said. “If they are, they are spending just four or five days here. Whereas the bed and breakfasts have really taken off.”
Mrs Nicholls said they were not done with Bermuda yet and would be back next summer.
“When I come back to Bermuda next year, I’d like to try jet skiing,” she said.
The Nicholls family have developed some favourites in Bermuda after visiting more than 30 times and often recommend them to other visitors.
Favourite place to shop
Don & Francis Mason’s jewellery stall in the Craft Market in Dockyard. Mrs Nicholls particularly loves his jewellery made with fibre optic cable.
Favourite swimming spot
The dock near their guesthouse in Sandys, but also beaches along the South Shore such as Church Bay.
The White Horse Pub (they like to sit outside on the porch and watch the fish while they eat); The Frog & Onion; and the Somerset Country Squire. The Nicholls love the ambience of these places.
Favourite place to stay
Hands down, Kathy and Valerio Ausenda’s guesthouse at Watford Bridge.
Greg Hartley’s Helmet Diving. Mrs Nicholls said it was beautiful.
Tip for other visitors new to the island
Visit Clearwater Beach and the town of St George’s on Tuesdays and Fridays when the cruise ships are out. It is less crowded.