UPDATE: The Bimini SuperFast is no longer running out of Port Everglades. The ship now only departs from PortMiami.
It's 5:33 p.m. Bimini is at our backs now as dozens shuffle aboard the boat that brought us the roughly 50 miles that separates Florida's coast from the tiny island. We're about to make our way back to Port Everglades.
Before we're allowed back on the ship, we have to put on shirts and have our feet washed off with a hose wielded by an island employee who seems to be enjoying his job a little too much. The immediate protocol before boarding -- both in Fort Lauderdale and Bimini -- is to get your hands sprayed with a squirt bottle full of hand sanitizer by an impossibly cheerful Filipino employee.
Present your room key. Glide up the escalator. And you're back inside the floating entertainment center known as the Bimini SuperFast. Wave goodbye to the seven-mile-long, 700-foot island poking out of the Atlantic.
See also: The Bimini SuperFast Day Cruise (Photos)
Let's take a step back for a moment, though, to the beginning. It all started this morning. Today was the inaugural voyage of Resorts World Bimini's Bimini SuperFast out of Port Everglades, an eight-hour day cruise to the island of Bimini in the Bahamas. The vessel (today sailing with around 600 out of a roughly 1,500 capacity) has been cruising to Bimini from the Port of Miami since 2013, but as of today, October 14, it added Fort Lauderdale departure dates for anyone looking to kill a Tuesday, Wednesday (don't we all want to kill Wednesday?), and Thursday. The day cruise costs $157.30 per person. Though if you buy one full-priced ticket, you can get up to three free, which is why the advertised price per person on their website is $49.50. Their competitors, the Baleària Group, will send you on a day cruise to Grand Bahama island from Port Everglades for $119.
Before we shoved off, there was a morning ceremony held at Port Everglades terminal 21. In attendance -- bright and early (as she reminded us several times) -- was the Broward County mayor and face you've probably seen on a local Suburban -- Barbara Sharief. After a few other speeches, exchanged plaques, and smiles, we were ushered onboard the apple-red Bimini SuperFast.
Two squirts later, we were in the belly of the boat. The ship weighs in at 3,200 tons. It has six bars and restaurants and a casino inside. From nose to tail, it's 669 feet.
Describing a cruise ship to those poor land-locked souls who've never been on one is a difficult task. It needs to be experienced. It's like a hotel but swaying. Not just that, but there's this awareness of the ocean beneath you. It's clear on everyone's faces. Some wobble. Some stare out at the horizon, which, no matter how often you've seen it, never looks as pretty as it does from the top deck with a rum in hand. And some, well, some just get really drunk.
The cruise experience kind of makes you get pirates. Out on the open sea, rules seem insignificant. Why not chug a bottle of rum? You're in the ocean, bitch. Your cell phone won't work. Your Gmail account can go fuck itself. Even that dolphin the person next to you swears they saw? Fuck that dolphin, man. To quote Andrew Samberg, "I'm on a boat." Which oddly, wasn't played at all on the voyage (even more oddly, we heard Pharrell's "Happy" only once. Once!).
The Bimini SuperFast does feel, well, superfast. At least for its size. It chugs along at around 30 miles per hour, kicking up a soccer-field-sized white foam in its wake. When peering over the railing of the ship, it dawns on you just how terrible -- how lonely -- a death it would be to fall overboard. Luckily, no one did. Though New Times did toss an ice cube off the starboard side, you know, for science.
After some drinks -- gambling, if you prefer -- land peers over the horizon. From Fort Lauderdale to Bimini, the trip is about three hours long. We boarded around 9 a.m., rolled into port at Bimini at 11:58 a.m., and touched sandal to concrete at 12:11 p.m. After unboarding, we were put on a human centipede of a golf cart and driven to a designated Resorts World Bimini beach. Our deadline to be back at the boat was 5:45 p.m.
The beach in Bimini is beautiful. Even for a native South Floridian, it's impressively blue. Like if a Smurf had a baby with a sapphire. And clear too.
There were a few jellyfish drifting around the beach. "Fuck, dude. I got stung like eight times already. I'm done," one sailor complained as they bolted for shore. New Times heard no other jellyfish complaints throughout the day. Actually, we heard no other complaints at all.
One group of Norwegian college students on break from their university in Mexico could not think of one bad thing to say. When pressed if they had any complaints, they shook their heads no.
Bimini SuperFast guests and Fort Lauderdale natives Kit Steliaa and Arden Avedisian also had good things to say. "I think it's great. It's been fabulous," Avedisian gushed.
From the food to the cabins, Avedisian and Steliaa loved it all. They even got prime chairs on the deck facing the sun, which for them (self-described sun worshipers) was a must.
New Times did overhear a patron reading what sounded like negative Yelp reviews of the ship's restaurants, but if we had to write a review of said patron's personality, it would be negative as well, so that probably cancels out.
Overall, there weren't many unhappy campers. And it makes sense. A day cruise might be the perfect amount of time to spend on a boat. It's enough time to feel adventurous but short enough to not feel like a really nice floating prison.
Bimini is an interesting place. It was New Times' first time there. The island is tiny. Like, Jameis Winston could probably throw a football from one side to the next (and then probably clean the place out of crab legs). There is a North Bimini and a South Bimini. We were on North Bimini. It's around seven miles in length and 700 feet wide.
The island is a postcard. And there's no shortage of concern as to whether it will stay that way. While the emergence of the SuperFast has brought tourists to Bimini at rates previously unimaginable, it has also drawn deep concern from some environmentalists and divided the some-2,000 locals as well.
Outside groups like Save Our Bays action group and Fabien Cousteau (grandson of the famed Jacques Cousteau) see Resorts World Bimini's rapid development of the island in a negative light.
There is much concern over the dredging of channels for incoming cruise ships and the damage it will cause Bimini's globally beloved reefs and endangered marine life. Resorts World Bimini does have the support of the local government (at least the ones that matter), and many locals see the island's new casino and resort as an opportunity for hundreds of potential jobs.
Others see it as a slow-moving and irreversible island tumor, one that will eventually kill everything about Bimini that makes it unique.
There is much history attached to Bimini. Ernest Hemingway was a frequent visitor. He wrote a novel, Islands in the Stream, that was based in Bimini. He got drunk and fished the beaches when Bimini was little more than a pit stop for rum runners.
What would he think of it now? Of the Americanized sports bars and five-star resorts? Of the many pastel upper-class vacation homes? Of the hundreds of tourists scooting across the island in golf carts? Of the SuperFast?
He'd hate it. Unquestionably. He'd want to punch it. Granted, he'd probably feel the same way about Key West, another of his old stomping grounds.
So much money is being poured into the island's tourism market. Most recently, around $150 million for a new Resorts World Bimini 300-plus-room hotel slated to open in spring 2015. The island does feel like one big hotel at times. It's tough to find a Bahamian not in uniform. The parts of the island not owned by foreign companies, like Alice Town, Bimini's capital, are a sharp contrast from resort property. They are authentic, and -- at times -- a bit rundown. There are boarded-up houses, graveyards of abandoned boats, and scenes that are anything but luxurious.
"I love it. I get to meet so many interesting people," local waiter Lamar Wallace had to say about the island's influx of tourists.
It should be noted that Wallace was saying this in the face of an outstretched hand clutching a $5 tip.
The economy of the Bahamas has revolved around tourism for some time now and will no doubt continue to depend on it. Where exactly does the bulk of that money go, though? To foreign companies. The hotels, restaurants, cruise ships, and resorts. By the time the wealth trickles down to the true locals, it probably feels like an ice cube tossed from the top deck of a cruise ship.
That, however, is not the concern of the 600 SuperFast passengers perusing the still-picturesque island. Their concern? Fun. And dammit, they are having plenty of it.
Around 5 p.m., the island starts to clear. Literally. It's eerie. Hundreds flock back to the boat, show their room keys, pass metal detectors, and hit the restaurants -- which, despite those whisperings of snarky Yelp reviews -- are pretty darned good.
People are hungry, sunburnt, drunk, and decidedly less rowdy than on the way to Bimini. It could be because it's a slightly older crowd sailing on this particular Tuesday. Snowbird season is in its fetal stages, and spring break is still a ways away.
After a couple more hours, we dock back in Fort Lauderdale around 9:10 p.m. One more winding line through customs and we're back on American soil.
So what about the cruise? This blog got a bit long-winded and veered off-topic, but let's blame it on the lingering effects of a clock-less island paradise.
It's fun. It's really fun. It's a hell of a way to kill a day. There aren't many other opportunities to embark for another country at 9 in the a.m., spend five hours gallivanting around, and be back before bedtime. You'll spend some money, but you'll spend a similar amount drinking all day on Las Olas.
The cruise itself is everything a cruise should be.
The larger question at hand is where exactly that cruise will be cruising to in ten years. What kind of Bimini will the SuperFast be dropping its passengers off at in 2024?
There are many different answers to that question depending on whom you ask. One thing is certain, though. Whatever Bimini will look like in a decade, Ernest Hemingway probably wouldn't write a book about it.
Day Cruises start at $157.30 per person from Port Everglades. If you buy one full-priced ticket, you can receive up to three free tickets. You can book them here or call 888-930-8688.