Bimini Bliss

Thanks to a new luxury resort, reaching this tiny Bahamian island located 50 miles off Florida’s shore just got easier.

Have you ever gone swimming in a pool that is so long you can’t see the end? Where you can backstroke and freestyle and still need to rest before reaching the end to turn around? If you’re staying at the new Hilton at Resorts World Bimini, you can swim right up to your first-floor room or suite in this 600-foot-long pool—an injection of pure luxury on an island better known for its simple offerings and laid-back vibe. 

Ashley Saunders collected recycled materials to build the Dolphin House museum (COURTESY OF THE ISLANDS OF THE BAHAMAS)

South Floridians have boated to Bimini for decades, coming for the low-key family fun that can be embraced on an island whose inhabitants are warm and welcoming and where the one-and-a-half roads were, until very recently, paved with sand and traversed only by foot or motorized golf carts. Fishermen and scuba divers stayed in simple lodgings grouped around marinas and gathered with locals at the End of the World Bar or the Compleat Angler to trade fish tales. The empty beaches on the island’s west side were inviting: white sand, gentle waves and alluring turquoise water. 

Now, with the opening earlier this year of 305 guest rooms in the new Hilton—part of the ambitious Resorts World Bimini (RWB) project that includes a casino and sizeable deep-water marina—access to Bimini has greatly improved for landlocked Orlandoans. Silver Airways flies from Orlando via Fort Lauderdale, and Cape Air operates four daily seaplane flights from Fort Lauderdale and Miami—a breathtaking 25-minute experience of a lifetime—that land directly on
the RWB property.

Bimini’s east-facing shores are piled high with colorful conch shells (COURTESY OF THE ISLANDS OF THE BAHAMAS)

The resort and its amenities—including spectacular ocean views from its rooftop spa, fitness center, salon and private party lounge adjacent to the rooftop infinity pool—are plentiful and pleasurable, and serviced by friendly employees who often remember your name. But first-time visitors and those who haven’t been in many years may be wondering: “Does the old Bimini still exist?”

There is plenty to keep you on the RWB property, or lure you out on (or under) the water, which is famous for fishing, scuba diving, and possible swimming encounters with wild Atlantic spotted dolphins. But don’t miss a chance to check out the island. Just rent a golf cart and explore at will. Everything on North Bimini is within a couple of miles of RWB’s gate. 

It’s liberating to tool around without a seatbelt in an electric cart pushing 15 mph. For starters, you come face to face with locals walking roadside, riding bikes or in their own carts. Everyone is quick to offer a smile or raise a hand in greeting. 

The fresh seafood platter at the hotel's Tides Restaurant (MEGAN PADILLA)

If you’ve known Bimini for years, the warmth of its people hasn’t changed. Their hangouts are your hangouts. Tell the woman frying your conch fritters at CJ’s Deli, a simple yellow food shack overlooking the spectacular white-sand and turquoise-banded Radio Beach, that you last visited 15 years ago, and she’ll say, “Welcome home.” 

Conch is the manna of the island. Its shores are lined with heaps of discarded pink and white shells, whose former inhabitants are prepared and eaten six ways to Sunday—fried, in chowder (red and white), on pizzas, in pasta and omelettes, as ceviche-like salads, in fritters dipped in spicy remoulade sauce. If you only have one shot, though, don’t miss the conch salad at Stuart’s Conch Salad Bar in Porgy Bay, efficiently run by “Boss Lady” Fabrice, who won’t sell you anything less than an ice-cold Kalik beer. Deft hands slice and chop just-harvested conch meat, onion, tomato and bell pepper tossed with garlic salt and “cooked” with freshly squeezed lime juice. Brave souls add hot sauce, made on site with locally grown ghost peppers (small, red and wicked). The open-air wooden shack overlooks shallows where stingrays hunt and the conch shucker uses a hammer and knife to extract the meat—his man-made island of cast-off shells growing by the day. 

Resorts World Bimini and its new Hilton Hotel bring a lot of rapid change, as well as jobs, to the island. Only time will tell if it can all exist in balance. Today, the people and signature blue waters are as welcoming as ever, and the simple joy of island life, engaging in each moment, is a gift that remains plentiful. 

Know Before You Go

Most of Bimini’s sites, which are within a few miles of the Hilton, are worth including in your visit.

Where to Stay  
The Hilton at Resorts World Bimini is an all-in-one island getaway. Expect comfortable, well-designed rooms with balconies; four  unique pools; a beach club; varied dining options including a sushi bar; spa and fitness facilities with ocean views; a tasteful casino; plus seaplane and water ferry terminals.

Local Flavor
Artist and historian Ashley Saunders is behind the Dolphin House museum, a must-visit site that he’s been creating since 1993. The gift shop carries mostly Bahamian goods, including Androsian batiks and a set of books documenting Bimini’s storied history. They were written by Saunders, whose family has lived here for 200 years. 

A Taste of Heaven   
Bimini Bread is a soft, slightly sweet yeast loaf that is as typical on the island as conch. Three bakeries vie for “favorite” status: A Taste of Heaven, Charlie’s (both are on the main King’s Highway near Bimini Big Game Club) and third-generation Nate’s (uphill on the parallel Queen’s Highway).Bimini Bread also shows up as pizza crust at Edith’s Pizza. 

Timing Your Trip
Look for low-season winter rates (South Florida boaters flood Bimini during the summer months). Lively Junkanoo parades—the Bahamian answer to Carnival—take place throughout the Bahamian islands on Boxing Day, Dec. 26, and on New Year’s Day.

Categories: Destinations