For years, sport fishing drew tourists to Bimini — especially giant blue marlin and bluefin tuna — and it still does, although the big game fish are scarcer these days. During Prohibition, it was a hub for rumrunners. But now there’s more.
The little cluster of islands collectively known as Bimini is less developed than its neighbors Nassau or Grand Bahama. But it has new attractions on North Bimini: a casino, a hotel, a marina for megayachts and a ship that ferries tourists from Miami (a three-hour trip), all owned by Genting, the Malaysian resort and casino giant.
Although the company experimented with day trips and one-night trips, currently all the cruises are two-nighters. Guests can stay in one of the ship’s 180 staterooms or in Genting’s lodgings on the island — or make their own arrangements.See also10 best U.S. beaches of 2015
The Bimini SuperFast, a 13-year-old, 669-foot renovated ferry that once worked the waters between Italy and Greece, departs from PortMiami in the early evening.
Although the Bimini SuperFast is clean and well-maintained, the ship is small and spare, its amenities few, the service friendly but limited. Carnival or Royal Caribbean this isn’t.
We arrive at Bimini on time, and after clearing Bahamian Customs, disembark for the short shuttle ride to Resorts World. The table games here can start as low as $15, but most have a minimum of $25. There’s a high-roller room, a sports book and more than 100 slot machines.
I had planned to sign up for a kayak excursion on the second day, but through a variety of misinformation and missteps — mine and the crew’s — it doesn’t happen. Lesson learned: Book the excursion in advance. Since my visit, Resorts World has expanded the variety of shore excursions to include a glass-bottom boat tour, South Bimini nature tour, Bimini Heritage Trail, seaplane tour, Jet Ski tour, wild dolphin expedition, shark encounter and snorkeling. Equipment such as kayaks, water bikes and paddle boats are also available for rent.
Exploring the island
I spend the day exploring the island, starting with a shuttle tour of the resort, its beach, two marinas and nearby Fisherman’s Village. Then I catch a shuttle ride to Alice Town, Bimini’s biggest town. We go south along Kings Highway, the main street on an island that is only 7 miles long and 700 feet wide. We pass Bailey Town, where most of the locals live; a shack selling fresh conch salad; and enormous mounds of discarded conch shells in the shallow water.
Ernest Hemingway came here to fish and write in the late 1930s — Bimini is said to have inspired “The Old Man and the Sea” and the first story in “Islands in the Stream.” Three-quarters of a century later, there are still reminders of his time here, although much of it was lost in the 2006 fire that destroyed the Compleat Angler Hotel, where he stayed.
The shuttle drops us off in front of the Bimini Craft Centre, which sells straw bags, hats and other souvenirs, as do many straw markets elsewhere in the Bahamas. A bust of Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech while staying on the island, stands at the center of the market.
Across the street, the Bimini Museum is up a flight of creaky stairs. No one is inside, only an honor-system box that asks for a $2 donation. The museum is one room with a maze of walls for displays on pirates, fishing, Hemingway, King and other notables who visited.
I walk to the southern tip of the island — past the End of the World Bar, where Hemingway used to hang out; past colorful bougainvillea climbing fences; past a boat on a trailer with the words “water taxi” painted on it. The boat has been on land so long that flowers grow around it.
At the end of the road I walk through the pines and sea grape and coconut palms and stand on the shore by an eroded breakwater, watching boats small and large motor by on the crystal blue water.
That night, I’m back at the resort, but outside this time. Several dozen guests have gathered around the firepit out front where a bar has been set up.
Most of the guests are younger adults, some of them parents who are roasting marshmallows for their kids. A few hammocks have been strung up between trees. There is a sense of camaraderie around the campfire.
An open tram rolls in and its passengers step off and walk into the casino, while another group boards, en route back to the ship that brought them here.
In the morning, the SuperFast takes us back to PortMiami, just 50 miles away.