At last, an alternative to scooters in Bermuda: cuter-than-cute electric cars. We sent our intrepid reporter Jesse Oxfeld to investigate and zip around.
BERMUDA – It was a gray, drizzly afternoon, and the under-customered bartender was feeling chatty. Where were we from, how long were we visting, where were we staying. When we mentioned a spot on the other side of the island, she was flummoxed. “Well how did you get here?” she demanded.
That, dear bartender, was the point.
We were at the Pompano Beach Club, a seen-better-days resort located in perhaps the most perfect spot on Bermuda, between a golf course and the ocean on the island’s western edge, a #sunsetgrammer’s idyll. The weather wasn’t cooperating, but, because we were headed from the Dockyards at the island’s northwestern tip back to Hamilton, the main city located near its center, we decided we’d pop in for a quick cocktail and, fingers crossed, perhaps a break in the clouds. (There would be no break in the clouds.)
The popping in was the unusual part.
Bermuda is a paradox of transportation. Its value proposition is its ease of access — 665 miles east of Cape Hatteras, 1,000 miles north of its nearest Caribbean competitor (located in the Atlantic and warmed by the jet stream, Bermuda is a pleasantly temperate island but neither a tropical nor a Caribbean one), it’s a mere 90 minutes in the air from New York. But once you’re there, conversely, transport is no longer easy. Rental cars are forbidden, taxis are the norm, and, for decades, the only personal transportation option was rented mopeds, which left the tourists who braved them — most unaccustomed to motorbiking, most unaccustomed to Imperial left-side driving — all navigating narrow, winding, hilly streets, mostly either terrified of injury or else injured.
But at the very end of last year, Bermuda’s legislature approved a law permitting tourists to drive a small electric vehicle, the Renault Twizy. The Twizy is a sort of open-air, miniaturized, bulbous, street-legal golf cart. Earlier this year, a single company, Current Vehicles, began renting them from a parking lot in front of the grand Hamilton Princess hotel. Only available there, only — barely — seating two, and without any room for luggage, they’re no threat to the taxi industry. But they’re a safer alternative to mopeds, and, for the first time, they make things like quick stop-bys at picturesque bars easily achievable.
Last month, the Bermuda Tourism Authority hosted a small group of journalists to the island to experience Bermuda by Twizy, which is what got me behind the wheel.
Here’s one thing the Twizys make possible, or at least much more practical: Airbnb. The Tourism Authority put us up not in one of Bermuda’s many self-contained resorts but rather in the rented guest cottage on an expat family’s beautiful estate — Dreamscape Cottage, it’s called. Up a winding road, with a gorgeous view from its sprawling pool deck of Harrington Sound, an interior lake on the northeastern part of the island, it would require an endless series of cab rides — to dinner, to sights, to beaches — without a vehicle. But there’s a Twizy charging dock, and so we were able to zip in and out as we pleased.
(Don’t worry that the taxi industry won’t exact its tribute, though: You still must cab from the airport to the Hamilton Princess to get your Twizy, and, without any room in the Twizy for luggage, you’ll likely do what we did and follow a taxi to your Airbnb.)
From this elegant home base, our friendly minder from the Tourism Authority, the exuberant Jill Dill, took us and our fellow journalists on a Twizy-caravan whirlwind tour of all Bermuda’s highlights.
We saw pink sand beaches and historic colonial towns and the new boutique hotel The Loren and a lighthouse and Crystal Caves, a subterranean natural spectacle shown off by a enthusiastically goofy tour guide who apparently enjoys his job more than anyone else I’ve ever known.
We had a decadent dinner at Marcus Samuelson’s excellent Marcus’, inside the Hamilton Princess, breakfast overlooking the ocean at the Elbow Beach Bermuda Resort and Spa, and Bermudian fish chowder and local, in-season Bermudian lobsters — smaller and sweeter than the Maine sort — from one end of the island to the other.
This is the big advantage of the Twizy: You can get around. Suddenly, and without the terror of mopeds, it’s possible to crisscross Bermuda at your own pace, to see so much in one day, to get from one end of the island (the town of St. George’s, the third oldest English settlement in the New World) to the other (the Royal Naval Dockyard, once a major base for the Royal Navy and today where cruise ships dock).
So what’s it like to drive a Twizy? It takes a little getting used to, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s occasionally a little bit nervewracking.
It’s perhaps wiser to think of one as an amped-up golf cart than as a scaled-down car. Its electric-powered motor doesn’t respond the way a car’s would; it’s a bit sluggish to get going and doesn’t have much in the way of pickup. Most of the time, that’s fine. When you’re trying to make an uphill turn onto a busy thoroughfare, that’s slightly terrifying.
Or perhaps it’s even wiser to think of it as a remedial scooter: The passenger rides behind the driver, seats positioned such that the passenger’s legs wrap around the driver’s compartment. There are no windows on the side doors, so when it rains you get wet. Also, there are not power brakes, whose absence can take a little getting used to, especially on those hills.
But when tooling around on a sunny day — with the glittering, oh-so-blue ocean at the side of the road, music playing through the Bluetooth — the thing is a blast. The Twizy gets decent speeds, and it handles easily. Because it’s only wide enough for a single person, about 4 feet wide, you can navigate the narrow Bermuda streets comfortably, even when a truck or bus comes flying past in the other direction, overflowing its lane. I found it easier to acclimate to other-side-of-the-road driving when positioned in the center of the vehicle, as opposed to also doing it from the wrong side of the car, like when driving in England. Also, everyone thinks they’re adorable, so you get happy waves and friendly toots from Bermudians all around the island.
So does that mean you should rent one? They’re great fun and a nice convenience. But they’re not cheap — around $100 per day — and still require taxi rides to get to and from the airport and to carry anything larger than yourselves.
But also, again, really fun. It’s probably best not to think of renting a Twizy like renting a car on vacation — get one for the duration, use it for a fun excursion or two. Because, yeah, it’s really nice to skedaddle across the island for a sunset cocktail then back to town for dinner. And you’re on vacation.