Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Justin Lansford was struggling to stay 20 feet deep as he tried to help his teenaged dive buddy Diana plant staghorn coral fragments on the ocean floor. It was only Lansford’s …
By Hannah Sampson
ALICE TOWN, Bimini — Sleepy is almost too caffeinated a word for the laid-back, sun-drenched Bahamian island just a 20-minute hop from Fort Lauderdale.
Locals — they’ll be friends before long — saunter by with a wave. Water laps at deserted white sand. Hammocks swing between palm trees. Legends of former visitors, including Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King Jr., still linger.
“He loved the island atmosphere,” said John Hemingway, the novelist’s grandson, who has visited the island since he was young. “This is calm. This is relaxed.”
Looking for the Fountain of Youth or the lost island of Atlantis? Local lore says you can find both around here. And even if you can’t, there’s plenty to discover if you know where to look.
What Bimini lacks in action — explore elsewhere in the Bahamas for shopping, entertainment, luxury hotels and lavish restaurants — it makes up for in richness of history and abundance of offshore options.
That history includes a colorful stretch during Prohibition, when partygoers made use of Bimini’s proximity to the United States to get away for outlawed refreshments. Decades later and still a getaway, Bimini found new notoriety when presidential candidate Gary Hart was photographed with companion Donna Rice on his lap.
Banking on the island’s storied past and lasting appeal, a South Florida-based group earlier this summer reopened the historic Bimini Big Game Club as a Guy Harvey Outpost Resort & Marina with a focus on environmentally friendly adventure. Harvey, a well-known marine artist and conservationist, has his art hanging throughout the resort.
Founded in 1936, the hotel closed two years ago after piling up a mountain of debt. The hotel’s demise was the final in a series of blows that devastated Bimini, starting with the December 2005 crash off Miami Beach of a Bimini-bound Chalk’s seaplane that killed all 20 people aboard.
Just a few weeks later, a hotel that was Hemingway’s old haunt, the Compleat Angler, burned down. One man perished in the fire, which also destroyed a trove of Hemingway memorabilia. Only charred ruins and a chimney remain where the hotel once stood, though the family who owns it plans to rebuild eventually.
BACK IN THE GAMENow, with a $3.5 million renovation, the 51-room Big Game Club has gotten a face lift — and the island has a new surge of energy.
For visitors like Bruce Freund, a Miami resident who has been coming to Bimini for decades, the resort’s reopening is a welcome addition to what he calls a “superbly romantic” island.
“I think the facility is as nice, if not nicer, than it was in its prime,” he said.
Freund, his wife Amy and their dog spent weeks this summer docked at the marina outside Big Game or out in the open water diving for conch and catching snapper or mahi-mahi for dinner.
“It literally is a foreign country,” Freund said. “But it’s 50 miles and two hours in my boat.”
The resort, with six cottages that have two guest rooms apiece, 35 standard rooms and four penthouse suites, also includes a 75-slip marina, a restaurant and bar, freshwater pool and shop. Still to come: a fuel dock at the marina, fitness center and spa, a theater for lectures and DVD viewing, and conference space.
Because of its focus on conservation and Harvey’s passion for protecting sharks, the resort has formed a partnership with a shark research lab on South Bimini so guests can learn more about the researchers’ efforts.