You may want to close your eyes when the friendly dolphins make a splash, but for the rest of your time exploring Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyard, it's strictly eyes wide open.
Arriving at Ireland Island, on the northwestern tip of the multi-island country, I am immediately struck by the visual abundance. Centuries-old canons and an array of sturdy limestone structures command attention on shore while massive cruise liners dwarf the Heritage and King's wharfs. Further out playful sailboats enhance spectacular views of the shimmering Atlantic Ocean.
There is also the allure of trendy shops such as The Littlest Drawbridge offering handcrafted Bermuda gifts from its spot in the Clocktower Mall, repurposed from its 1856-origins as a massive naval storehouse. Tempting eateries include The Frog and Onion Pub, housed in the Cooperage, and Bone Fish Bar & Grill where I, and a few other travel writers hosted by Tourism Bermuda, later enjoy a traditional fish-cake lunch. The view of the Great Sound from the patio is itself a feast for the eyes.
Indeed, it's a beautiful day at Bermuda's top attraction being enjoyed by tourists and locals alike, lured to the dockyards' family friendly mix of history and culture operated to modern standards.
First up is a stroll around the Keep or citadel of the dockyards and its seven bastions. It's the British colony's best known fortress, established to protect Bermuda as a strategic naval base following the independence of the "American" colonies. Built in the early 19th century, it served as Britain's largest naval base outside the United Kingdom from the War of 1812 to a few years after the Second World War.
Home to the National Museum of Bermuda since 1975, the site has several restored buildings, among them the imposing cast-iron Commissioner's House built in the 1820s, itself a 20-year restoration project.
It's the perfect setting for military and cultural exhibits such as Slavery in Bermuda, Women at War, Royal Navy Collection. Art too, has been embraced by the House in the form of a spectacular 93-sq.-metre mural depicting more than 400 years of Bermuda's storied past. I'd easily put The Hall of History mural by Bermudian artist Graham Foster on any must-see list for visitors.
The project commemorating Bermuda's 400th birthday in 2009, took Foster about 7,000 hours to paint and involved extensive research. It's impossible to take in all the wonders of the two-storey mural in one viewing but a book and poster featuring details of the fascinating creation are available for purchase at the nearby Bermuda Arts Centre.
Restoration is ongoing at other dockyard buildings where ammunition and arms were stored. The Casemate Barracks, closed in 1951, took on a second life from 1963-94 as a maximum security prison.
Perhaps the biggest draw to the National Museum is the Shipwreck Island exhibit of artifacts from more than 1,000 shipwrecks spanning 500 years. Gold, silver and rare weapons are among the treasures beneath the Keep inside the Queen's Exhibition Hall.
Being immersed in maritime history on this warm July day put me in the mood for a dip as we passed the Keep Pond, used to transport goods from ships, but now stocked with dolphins.
The friendly mammals swam at the ready for human visitors, but with no time to jump in ourselves we were content to share smiles with the dolphins' cool customers.
NEED TO KNOW
Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyards can be accessed by Sea Express Ferries from Hamilton, St. George and Somerset, and by bus or taxi. For more on the docklands, see gotobermuda.com.
-- Big Guns & Bermuda Roses Tour, April 24-27: Local experts lead tours of ancient forts and armouries or private gardens filled with Bermuda mystery roses (hardy roses whose proper names have been lost).
-- Bermuda Day, May 26. A series of road races including a cycle race, inline skate race and runners, plus an afternoon parade in Hamilton.
-- Newport Bermuda Race, week of June 20: World's premier blue water sailing race starts June 20 at Newport, R.I., and finishes at Bermuda's St. David's Lighthouse. During race week, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club is open to the public.
-- Cup Match, July 31-Aug. 1: Annual cricket Cup Match originated in 1902 to celebrate emancipation of Bermuda slaves. Now a wildly popular two-day public holiday and event featuring local cuisine and gaming.
-- Summer Sundays in Victoria Park, Hamilton: Local bands, artists, food court, vendor village and a children's area. Free.