Life here is “just beautiful”.
It’s why Sam and Thelma Hess keep returning to Bermuda year after year, and it’s the reason they were able to convince hundreds of people to come with them.
“When I was growing up you didn’t go on vacation,” said Mrs Hess, 80. “My first plane ride was in 1958, coming with my Aunt Romaine to Bermuda. I saw the white roofs, the gorgeous water, the sand that never gets hot and I just babbled and babbled. You could get a wool sweater from Archie Brown & Son for $10, there was Trimingham’s and Cooper’s — I went crazy.
“Sam and I were not married then although we were seriously dating, just about engaged. When I got back home, I couldn’t stop talking about it.”
The much hoped-for return to Bermuda didn’t happen until a decade later.
The Lititz, Pennsylvania, couple had a quick honeymoon in New York City after their wedding that December 21.
“We got married on a Sunday afternoon and my father and brother picked us up at 3am to take us to the train station to get to New York,” Mr Hess said. “We stayed at the Taft Hotel, it was wonderful, and we came home on Christmas Eve. We were just kids. I was 20 and she was 21.
“We didn’t come to Bermuda as a couple until sometime in the late 1960s. I won it as an award for my performance at work. My manager said, ‘What would you like?’ I said, jokingly, ‘Just a trip to Bermuda’ and he said OK. I couldn’t believe it.”
That holiday, spent with Aunt Romaine and her husband Paul, got Mr Hess hooked. The family returned in 1974 with a group of friends they’d convinced Bermuda was paradise.
“After that first visit, we told a friend about it and they asked to come along. We said sure and then another asked and another and soon there were 20 people who wanted to travel with us,” Mr Hess said.
“We went to a travel agency and said ‘How do we get a group together to go to Bermuda? Set it up.’
“The price then for five nights was $333 per person including airfare, transfers, hotel rooms, all meals and gratuities at Elbow Beach. We came back the next year, in 1975, and the cost had gone up to $339. It kept escalating after that. We probably averaged about 20-25 people a year. For our 25th year here, we had 56 people with us staying at the Elbow Beach.”
Stopping at the Swizzle Inn on arrival became a tradition as did a group swim in the ocean at 8am, a ride on the ferry and shopping in Hamilton.
They went to St Thomas one year, interested in a change.
“It wasn’t Bermuda,” Mr Hess said. “After that we came back and have been here ever since.”
They visited the island for their 60th time this week, staying at the Pompano Beach Club.
“She called me, believe it or not, when [she visited with her aunt],” Mr Hess said.
“I thought I’d want to go there sometime, but never dreamt I’d be here so often. We often came in January because it wasn’t so expensive, and we always went swimming. The water was always around 68 degrees, which is the usual temperature in Ocean City or Atlantic City, where we would holiday in the summer.
“But it’s the people of Bermuda that make it wonderful. We’ve only been coming to Pompano for four or five years but when we walk in, everybody says how it’s so nice to see us back. I can’t imagine they’re always happy in their job but they’re always happy around us and I think it’s awesome. I know it’s tough sometimes, but I hope Bermuda never loses that.”
The couple will be for ever grateful to Aunt Romaine for passing on her love of travel before she died last December, aged 105.
“[She and her husband] travelled all over the world,” Mrs Hess said. “Neither of them had a lot of money but they saved and were frugal so they could go to places nobody went to — Peru, the islands, Europe, and they always came with us to Bermuda.”
Their most recent trip was bittersweet, she added.
“Out of all the trips we’ve had, this is the second time we’ve just had our family with us. It makes me teary-eyed because you never know when it’s going to be the last time we can all sit together in all this beauty.”