Skip to Content

Escape from Florida: Take the ferry to Bimini

It’s been awhile since I last visited Bimini, even though it’s only 50 miles away. The new Bimini ferry gave me reason to see what I’ve been missing.

The last time I visited the island was aboard a fishing party boat out of Pompano Beach with my buddies.

Long a rustic destination for anglers off the coast of Florida, Bimini has grown in recent years.

The Bimini Islands are now a destination for the every-tourist. These islands just 50 miles from South Florida boast a new luxury resort, transient cruise ships, oceanfront vacation homes, a casino.

Day trippers out of Fort Lauderdale pile out of the ferry onto the new ocean pier for a beach day or a beach tour, snorkel and scuba diving, charter fishing, or they take the short tram ride to the new Resorts World complex with its casino and fancy new Hilton Hotel.

That’s not the Bimini I remember.

bimini
The Bimini Islands from 30,000 feet. The thin strip on the left is high ground, where Resorts World, Bailey Town and Alice Town are located. The large island at the bottom in this photo is less-populated South Bimini, home to a small airport with commercial flights. (Photo by JesseG/Panoramio photo)

The Bimini I remember was funky, a pit stop on the way to productive fishing grounds nearby, or to the reefs and flats around neighboring islands.

There was the Compleat Angler Hotel, where Ernest Hemingway once bellied up to the bar, and the End of the World Saloon, notorious trough for the colorful congressman from Harlem, Adam Clayton Powell.

I remember the rustic bars of Alice Town, must stops for any fisherman processed through the old Customs House: The Compleat Angler, Bimini Big Game Club and the sandy floor at End of the World Saloon, all within a few blocks of each other along King’s Highway.

bimini compleat angler
The Compleat Angler burned down in 2008, but it’s history is legend. Ernest Hemingway was a guest at the hotel from 1935 to 1937. Besides fishing and spending a lot of time at the hotel bar, it’s been reported he wrote “To Have and Have Not” here.

King’s Highway is not the only road on the island, but it might as well be. Calling it a highway is a stretch. It’s barely wide enough for two golf carts to pass. The even narrower Queen’s Highway runs along the beach; Kings Highway along the harbor.

Golf carts are the new Bimini. The every-tourist rents them at Resorts World, and they are a side hustle for those who live here.

Alice Town on the south end of North Bimini Island is still the real Bimini. Sea planes still land in the harbor, though not as often. An airport on South Bimini now accepts commercial airline flights.

And there’s that fast ferry from Fort Lauderdale, an excuse to escape from Florida for a few days.

The Balearia Ferry departs Fort Lauderdale for Bimini three days a week — Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays — arriving at 11 a.m. and returning at 7 p.m. The ferry visits Freeport on Grand Bahama Island on Tuesdays, Wednesdays (via Bimini) and Saturday. Fare information is lower in this article.

bimini alice town radio beach
Sunset from the deck of CJ’s, a fish shack and bar on Radio Beach in Alice Town. Excellent conch fritters and fried shrimp, but get there before sunset, when the fresh seafood runs out and the kitchen closes. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The real Bimini: Alice Town and Bailey Town

Bimini is a small cluster of islands, on the western reach of the Bahamas, closer to South Florida than the rest of the Bahamas, about 50 miles. Only two of Bimini’s islands are occupied (population 2,417 as of 2022): North Bimini and South Bimini.

Alice Town and Bailey Town have long anchored North Bimini, at least until Resorts World opened for business a decade ago.

To find the “real” Bimini in Alice Town, just two miles south of Resorts World — visitors can walk, rent a golf cart or hail one of a handful of taxis that serve the island. Cab fare is $5.

Alice Town is where I wanted to spend a few days.

Passport Required: A U.S. drivers license no longer allows entry to the Bahamas. You must produce a valid passport card or passport book before you board the ferry, and once again to Customs when you arrive at the pier.

Alice Town and Bailey Town still retain their Old Bimini charm, notwithstanding the explorers from the golf-cart corral at Resorts World.

Hemingway slept here

Ernest Hemingway lived on Bimini from 1935 to 1937, staying at the Compleat Angler Hotel, where he wrote To Have and Have Not, published in 1937, and planted to the seeds for many of his other novels, especially Islands in the Stream, which was published posthumously in 1970.

The Compleat Anger’s rustic bar was a gathering place for fishermen and locals, its walls replete with photos of Hemingway posing with his catch. I’ve had more than a few beers there myself.

Hemingway chose Bimini for big-game fishing aboard his new boat, Pilar, which he purchased a year earlier. He liked to fish. He fished a lot. When he wasn’t fishing off Bimini, he was fishing off the coasts of Cuba and Key West. A full-size replica of Pilar is on display at World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada.

The attraction of Bimini for fishing remains to this day, drawing anglers from all over the world, but especially from South Florida, just 50 miles away.

The Compleat Angler burned down in 2008, leaving a vacuum in historic Alice Town, but Alice Town and Bailey Town survived, a bulwark against the development that some say has cursed the island.

The island’s appeal to the every-tourist has grown significantly since the development of Bimini Bay and Resorts World, and that’s where you’ll find the new ocean pier where tourists and day-trippers now disembark from cruise ships and the thrice-weekly ferry out of Fort Lauderdale.

We stayed in a beach cottage

I’m not particularly fond of upscale resorts like the Hilton at Resorts World, nor would I consider myself the every-tourist who needs a swimming pool and casino. A no-frills beach is more my style.

My desire to stay in rustic “real” Bimini accommodations could have easily been satisfied by simply booking a room at the ever-popular Bimini Big Game Club, a relic of the 1930s and home of another notorious bar.

Instead, I looked on VRBO and found an unassuming little cottage in Alice Town, just steps from the beach and two blocks from the empty lot where the Compleat Angler once stood.

bimini katt's kottages
Our little cottage in Alice Town on Bimini. Nothing fancy, but clean and comfortable with “real” Bimini” charm. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Notably, the cottage was less than half the price we would have paid at the Hilton Hotel at Resorts World, though certainly not as fancy.

Katt’s Kottages was exactly what we wanted, the rooms clean and comfortable, and the hosts were friendly and accommodating.

The big attraction, though, was the beach. As natural and quiet as you could want. A real beach with calm, clear water where you could wade and swim without getting knocked over by incoming surf or a tide of tourists.

Besides the one-bedroom cottage where we stayed, Katt’s also has two 2-bedroom apartments in their beachfront house with porches overlooking the ocean.

bimini beach
The beach in front our cottage in Alice Town in Bimini. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

As peaceful as our beach was, if you listened very carefully, you can hear the music a quarter mile away on Radio Beach. We could walk along the beach road or on the sand itself to the cluster of bars that gave this beach it’s moniker.

Radio Beach

bimini radio beach bars cc's bar cj's
A small cluster of bars at Radio Beach, where you can enjoy a few beers (or a Bahama Mama) with the locals and the occasional tourist. This photo was shot from the service window for CeCe’s open deck, where locals gather at picnic tables to socialize and play backgammon. I paid $12 for two Kalik beers and a Bacardi Rum and coke, Bacardi being the rum of choice on Bimini. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Radio Beach is where the action is in Alice Town, during the day until sunset. This public beach is flush with character, reggae-rap rippling out of nearby beach bars, a gathering place for locals and adventurous visitors.

Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent by local entrepreneurs.

We particularly enjoyed CJ’s Deli, where we could sit out on the deck overlooking the beach with a clear view of the sunset, and CC’s, across the street, where we mixed with the locals, an informal social club for backgammon and beers.

bimini radio beach
Radio Beach in front of CJ’s. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

After sunset, the action moves elsewhere on the island, perhaps to soulful End of the World Saloon, which is open until 10 p.m., or Bimini Big Johns, open until 8 p.m. Both are down the block from Radio Beach.

Both are dive bars, Big John’s a little less so with outdoor dock seating not unlike those you will find in Florida. End of the World is a bit more rustic, although the sandy floor has been replaced with tile, which does take a touch off the ambience of bygone years.

Here’s a fun story about End of the World: World’s Sleaziest Bar

More about Alice Town

bimini the church porch where we ate lunch
Kathy and I on the church porch where we stopped to eat our take-out lunch from O Bimini Gal. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Alice Town has long been the heartbeat of Bimini, or at least it was before Resorts World.

A makeshift stage has risen from the ashes of the Compleat Angler, where most nights you’ll find live music by locals for locals. We could hear it from our cottage, just a curious trickle of island music and laughter in the distance.

Around the corner from our cottage was the wildly colorful Dolphin House Museum, it’s exterior walls covered with salvaged tiles, dolphin murals and conch shells. The museum was built with recycled and salvaged materials by Bimini author, educator and historian Ashley Saunders and is open for tours. (Tours are $10).

There’s a “straw market” with straw hats, local artwork and T-shirts back down on Kings Highway, catering mostly to golf-cart tourists and overnight guests at a handful of mom-and-pop lodgings nearby. It’s at the bottom of Parliament Lane, below Radio Beach.

We enjoyed our best meal in Bimini at the Anchorage Restaurant, which fronts on the beach road, Queens Highway, and is part of the Bluewater Hotel and Marina, which fronts on Kings Highway.

The Anchorage is a non-descript, family-owned restaurant with windows opening out to the sea in the Bluewater’s historic wooden lodge. We discovered it while walking along Queens Highway and saw a few people eating inside. There were no signs, just an open gate, so we walked through.

The Anchorage doesn’t take reservations, and there’s no online menu. In fact, there’s no online presence at all. I chose a local fish dish, which was excellent, and my wife enjoyed a fried chicken dinner offered that evening. Outstandng. We paid our tab in cash at the bar.

The next day we walked along the beach into Bailey Town and picked up lunch at O Bimini Gal, a small takeout shack on Queen’s Highway we were told had the best hamburgers on the island. The burgers were out of this world, but there was no seating, so we ate our lunch on the porch of a nearby church overlooking the beach and ocean.

Transportation to Bimini

bimini ferry
Inside the fast ferry to Bimini from Fort Lauderdale. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Despite its proximity to Florida, transportation to Bimini has long been limited to private boats and seaplanes, which landed in the harbor between North and South Bimini islands.

That all changed with resort development on North Bimini and construction of an oceanside pier for the ferry and cruise ships. The airport on South Bimini was also improved to accommodate commercial airlines.

The Ferry

The Balearia Ferry departs Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades) to Bimini three days a week at 9 a.m., arriving in Bimini at 11 a.m., and returns at 8 p.m., arriving in Fort Lauderdale at 10 p.m.

Plan to arrive two hours before departure, and another hour to clear Customs each way.

The posted fare as of January 2024 was $180 round trip per person, but that doesn’t include booking fees. We paid $300 round trip for each of us, including a $75 “service fee” per person booking directly through Balearia. (Premium seating is additional.)

To book online, go to www.baleariacaribbean.com

Included in your fare is a handbag or backpack AND a small carry-on (up to 26 pounds), the same as allowed for an airplane carry-on. Anything larger costs more.

bimini cruise ship pier ferry
The new ocean pier where cruise ships and the ferry from Fort Lauderdale drop off passengers on Bimini. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

You can also fly a commercial airline to the airport on South Bimini. In operation since 2008, the airport is served by United Airlines or Silver Airways from Fort Lauderdale. Fares run $200 and up each way for the 45-minute flight.

You can still book a seaplane on Tropic Ocean Airways from either Fort Lauderdale. Fares run $300 and up in each direction. The seaplane lands in the protected harbor, between North Bimini and South Bimini, reminiscent of the Chalks service that served Bimini for decades out of Miami.

Day Trippers

The ferry was filled with people who were just going to Bimini for the day. At first, I thought it a bit much, given that we have some pretty nice beaches in South Florida and the ferry is not cheap.

But the presence of day-trippers was too obvious. No luggage, perhaps a tote bag, and they were wearing swim trunks and bikinis.

At the foot of the pier is a beach with cabanas, but a greater purpose may lie ahead on the tram to Resorts World and Fisherman’s Village, a modest shopping mall replete with booths with boat tours and snorkel and/or diving excursions.

Taxis are available for hire at Fisherman’s Village, as are golf-cart rentals, if you wish to venture off to other island opportunities.

Day trippers in the know will disperse to Bailey Town and Alice Town, avoid the higher prices for golf carts at Fisherman’s Village, and choose a local concession.

Golf Cart and Bicycle Rentals
  • Sluggo & Rene’s Golf Cart Rentals. 242-473-5121
  • Barry’s Golf Cart Rentals. 242-825-4651
  • BMB Golf Cart Rentals. 242-473-3155
  • Elite Golf Cart Rentals. 242-473-8125

Eclipse Bicycle Rentals and Tours will rent you a beach cruiser bicycle for $25 per day. Eclipse also offer land and sea tours of the islands, including a beach tour. You can book online at eclipserentalsbimini.com, or you can also call or Whatsapp to 242-808-1450.

Whatsapp is a thing on Bimini. We found almost everybody uses it to communicate.

Snorkel/dive trips, tours & fishing guides

Bimini Blue Adventures offers diving, snorkeling, shark snorkeling, sting ray petting, sunset cruises and group fishing trips aboard party boats. You can rent kayaks and paddleboards, or take a guided kayak tour on the island’s pristine waters. (Phone: 242-827-7772)

Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center is based at the Bimini Big Game Club in Alice Town and offers a variety of tours and dive trips, including dolphin swims, shark dives and snorkeling, and dives near shipwrecks.

Fishing guides:
  • Captain Matt Stuart — Offshore and deep sea fishing on a 28-foot Grady White. Also Snorkel and dive tours. Call 242-464-5729.
  • Bonefish Freddy Rolle — Bonefishing and fly fishing. 242-473-0580
  • Small’s Bonefishing and Boat Tours — You define your trip. 242-347-4032
Historic Walking Tour:

Historian and educator Ashley Sanders of the Dolphin House Museum offers a cultural and historical walking tour. Call 242-473-2394

Editors Note: The above listings were provided by our hosts at Katt’s Kottages and do not represent a recommendation by Florida Rambler.


FAQ

How much does it cost for the Bimini ferry?

The posted base fare to Bimini from Fort Lauderdale starts at $180 round trip, according to the ferry’s web site, but you’ll pay more when you add service fees and taxes, as much as $75 round trip per person.

We paid a total of $300 each round trip, and that was the off-season with a discount. The rates vary. When I tested the reservation system on different days for a trip in February 2024, the base fare varied bewteen $180-$250 round trip per person, not including $75 in fees and taxes. Premium seats are $30 more each way.

Is luggage included in the fare?

Yes, but you are limited to carry-ons. Included in your fare is a handbag or backpack AND a small carry-on (up to 26 pounds) per person, the same as allowed for an airplane carry-on.

Your standard carry-on suitcase must weigh less than 26 lbs is free. There’s an additional charge for bags over 26 lbs.

Do I need a passport?

Yes, and it’s checked by Customs at both ends of your trip. A U.S. passport card is a good way to go. It’s valid in the Bahamas and less-expensive version of a passport book ($30 vs $130), although the same screening process is involved.

Passport cards are only valid for land or seaport entry to Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. For international air travel, the traditional passport book is required.

Is U.S. money accepted in Bimini?

Legal tender in Bimini is the Bahamian dollar, but the U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere. Just make sure you get your change in U.S. currency. Credit cards are accepted at many restaurants, but not all. Hot tip: Bring cash with you. There are ATMs on the island, but service fees are steep.

How long is a day trip?

You will actually have only about 7-8 hours on Bimini — and another 9 hours in transit!

Although the ferry ride is just two hours, you need to arrive at Port Everglades two hours before departure, and one hour in advance for the return trip. It will also take up to an hour to clear Customs in each direction — for a total of nine (9) hours!

My recommendation is book accommodations on the island for at least three days, as we did, so that you have time to explore.

How small is Bimini?

The main island, North Bimini, is only seven miles long and the resident population, 2,471 as of 2022, is concentrated in a 2.5-mile strip on the south end of the island, below Resorts World. South Bimini is larger is area but less populated. Theoretically, you would have enough time to explore both islands on a day trip.

If it’s so small, are there cars on Bimini?

Yes, there are a few cars and small pickup trucks, most serving as taxis and vehicles to transport goods or people to and from the docks. Bicycles, boats and golf carts are the main forms of transportation for both residents and visitors.

Where do you pick up a taxi when you get off the ferry?

You must take the free tram from the pier to Fisherman’s Village at Resorts World, where taxis are waiting. Cost is about $5 per person to go anywhere on the island.

How do you get to South Bimini Island?

Take a taxi to the inter-island ferry in Alice Town. The inter-island ferry leaves every half-hour for South Bimini. If you fly into Bimini’s airport, you are already on South Bimini.

Is there camping on Bimini?

Boat camping is OK in the Bimini Islands, but camping on public lands or beaches anywhere in the Bahamas is generally prohibited for tourists. (Locals do it.) The Bahamian government wants you to patronize hotels. Camping is OK on private islands, but you need the owner’s permission.

If you are boat camping, find a boat slip with hookups or anchorage in a sheltered harbor. But first, you must clear customs on the docks at the Seaplane Base at Resorts World. You know the drill: Fly a yellow quarantine flag upon entering the harbor, and nobody except the captain gets off the boat until you clear C\customs.

If you are taking the ferry, there are no legal camping options.

Historical tidbits…
  • In 1917, Chalk Airlines launched seaplane service from Miami to Bimini, bringing supplies and visitors from Florida to the islands. The airline continued service until 2007, when it ceased operations. Today, Tropic Ocean Airways offers private seaplane charters to the island from Fort Lauderdale.
  • In 1987, Colorado Senator Gary Hart’s presidential bid was derailed after media reports exposed a relationship with model Donna Rice. A photo of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap on a dock in Bimini was published by the National Enquirer.
  • In 2008 conservationist Jean-Michel Cousteau called Bimini Bay Resort, now Resorts World, a catastrophe, “allowing Bimini Bay to continue … would certainly strip this island paradise of its precious natural riches.”

Source: Wikipedia

Explore Bimini on Tripadvisor


Related Books by Ernest Hemingway available on Amazon

Should you purchase a book through these links, we may receive a small commission. Our earnings from these purchases help support publication of this web site.

To Have and Have Not was believed written while Ernest Hemingway was living on Bimini at the Compleat Angler.

To Have and Have Not by Hemingway, Ernest (1996) Paperback
  • Ernest Hemingway (Author)
  • Scribner (Publisher)

Islands in the Stream was published posthumously in 1970, but the stories reflect his experiences on Bimini, as well as his service as a submarine spotter off the coast of Cuba early in World War II aboard his fishing boat, Pilar.

Island in the Stream
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Hy

Tuesday 23rd of January 2024

Your article about Bimini is interesting, and intriguing.

Thanks for sharing

Bob Rountree

Wednesday 24th of January 2024

Thanks for reading it! :-)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.