Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Caribbean Islands (
-   -   Need info on Bimini or other out islands... (

ejcrowe Apr 22nd, 2004 02:41 PM

Need info on Bimini or other out islands...
My granddaughter has her heart set on swimming with dolphins in the wild (NOT captivity!) for her 13th birthday. We take each grandchild someplace special of her choosing for her 13th and would like to make this work. The dolphin excursion in Bimini looks ideal, but I can't find any hotels on Bimini with enough positive reviews to make me feel comfortable staying there. Any thoughts? Is there enough seaplane service for us to stay on another island and just travel to Bimini for the day? We'd like to spend no more than $200/night for a room that will comfortably hold two adults and one teen. We'll be traveling either the last week of April or first week of July, 2005.

Are there other places in the Caribbean that have opportunites to swim with dolphins in the wild (I won't patronize a program that puts dolphins in captivity)? I've read about Jojo the dolphin in T&C interacting with folks, but it sounds a little too random to base a vacation on it. The Bimini program doesn't guarantee a dolphin sighting, but their 80% success rate sounds pretty good to me. Thanks for any advice you can toss my way!

Robert Apr 22nd, 2004 05:14 PM

You're correct about the Dolphin Encounter on Bimini; it would be fantastic for your granddaughter. I do many reef fish surveys around the Bahamas, and completed four in the past several years off of Bimini. Several times I went on the Dolphin Encounter with Keefe's Undersea Adventure. They're located right on the Bimini Big Game Club premises. If you don't interact with the dolphins, you could always go on great snorkeling tours to shallow and beautiful reefs. I stayed once at the Bimini Big Game Club, which is safe and nice. Aslo, you can contact Mrs, Weech at the Ocean Villas (website on internet), which are right on Radio Beach. Here's my reef notes from the Keefe's Undersea Adventure Dolphin Excursion (D= dolphin; please excuse my shorthand, but this is right from my field notes):

"Long briefing before diving with Melony, a Marine Biologist who conducts the dolphin studies on Bimini. Non-guaranteed trip. D?s call the shots; if they want to come, they come. If they don?t want to come, they don?t. Don?t be disappointed. The D are enjoying the time with us, and if they don?t show up it?s not because they don?t like you, it simply means they had to feed or do something that is more important at the moment than interact with humans. 80% of the time we find D. Even if we find them and they come to us, you never know what the trip will be like. Sometimes they?ll show some interest in us and come up and say hi, but then are gone. We will leave the harbor and go around the left side of the island, heading north, we will pass a rock which they call North Rock; it looks like a submarine and has a light post on it. After we pass it you will feel the engines slow down because we?re in the D grounds. It?s about a 40 minute ride, so make yourselves comfortable going out there. D live in an audio world, all our submarine technology is based on D sonar. We know from running our subs that our guys can tell a British from a Russian submarine by the sound imprint of the engine. Stop thinking about it in human terms, it is more of a picture of the boat, the sound is turned into a visual image. The D?s know our boat when we?re out there. We never change our behavior, because when you change your behavior, D don?t know what to expect and they get a little wary, so if we do the exact same thing everytime we interact with them, they know who we are, our boat, they know we go to the exact same spot at the same time of day. On the am trips we do the same trips as the PM trips. We run the exact same course at the exact speed, about 8 knots, so the D?s know who we are, where we are, and what to expect from us. 8 knots is a nice, comfortable cruising speed for D and it makes a comfortable trip for humans as well. Then, we run a triangular course, which we do every time. If we see dolphins a half mile to our starboard, we don?t rush over to see them. If they don?t want us to see them, we don?t force the point; they?ll simply disappear. If they want us to see them a half mile away, it?s because they wanted us to see them. It?s uncanny, but if the D want us to see them a half-mile away they will remain visible. If they're right there in the water with you, they can disappear in an instant. You think because they must breathe on the surface that that couldn?t happen, but it can?they can disappear in clear, gin-colored water in a heartbeat. So, we stay on the course. The first leg of the triangle is a northern leg; it goes away from Bimini, so if you?re nervous about not seeing land, we?ll be about 8 miles from the island at the end of the turn. So, the island looks pretty small on the horizon; I hope that doesn?t make any one nervous. Then, we run south again. It doesn?t mean the trip is over. We need to be watching for D while we run this course. They?ll come to the surface for air, or leap out of the water doing SeaWorld jumps and stuff; they?re wild animals and are having fun. If you see a big cannonball type flash in the distance, let us know. If you see anything that merely looks different, let us know, even if you?re unsure you saw a D. We will watch that area really close to see if we see them again.
Once we do spot D, we observe for a while. When they come, the boat is like a big red ball, this boat is so plush to the D they want to come and play with it. We have an advantage because they love playing with boats and they know we want to play with them. They do want to come to the boat; that?s the reason we only stay out there for 2 hours; we don?t want to disrupt their whole day by bouncing that red rubber ball. The boat is a magnet; it draws them to it. So, we?re going to watch them from the bow, the bow pushes the water in front of it and they love to surf in the forward thrust of water?they?re surfing. If you look over the edge, you can actually lay on your stomach and look over the edge of the bow and they?ll be right there, they won?t swim away from you. And if you look at them, they?re not swimming, not moving their tail fins. They?re conserving their energy. Same with the back of the boat, they surf on the boat?s wake as well. That?s where they do all kinds of cartwheels. They leap out of the wake and do all kinds of somersaults. While we play with them, we?ll turn the boat in a circle; they like it when this makes the wake get bigger. Then, we slow the boat down and actually stop it. If the dolphins keep moving when we stop the boat, they?re not ready to play with us. People say why can?t we jump in? We?re moving at an idle speed of 2 knots, faster than a human can swim, so if I don?t allow you to go in the water it?s because I?ve seen something that won?t let you swim with them. If we stop the boat and they come up to us, then it?s time to jump in. If they don?t then it?s not time yet. And it?s really strange out there; there are areas where the D feel safe swimming in. Did the D come and coax us into a safe area to swim? We?re they luring their toy ball into their playgrounds? The Bahama Bank where we see them is 10,000 square miles of 20 feet of water with sandy bottom. At the end of it to the west is a sheer drop off into 3,000 feet of water. The water does this eddy thing because the Gulf Stream pushes water over that lip and it causes fish to gather up, the D main food source. So, they chose to live on the Great Bahama Bank with its clear bottom because it enhances their sonar capabilities. They send their sonar out and if they don?t get anything back, they know it?s safe to play. If they get a return on their sonar they know there is something to watch out for, like a shark or a school of fish. There?s a tide current out there moving east to west and a lot of time you drift along playing with the D and suddenly their not there; they?re actually back where you started playing with them. The reason is you drifted into an area where they didn?t feel comfortable in. We don?t know why these areas aren?t good for swimming. It means their not done with us; they?re waiting for us and we just need to move back to where they are. What happens is I?ll pick you up in the water and move you back to them. It?s strange, but if we contact D and they come up to the boat but move away from us. It?s weird, but we?ll follow them into an area where they feel comfortable in and then they?ll stop and it?s time to play. To us, we see no difference in their play area, but it?s time to play when they stop. To them, an area is not safe; to us, we don?t know the difference. An alien coming down to earth would think that the cities all look the same, but there are safe and unsafe areas in the cities, but for certain reasons we know not, there are certain areas where they feel it?s unsafe to play. If you try to play with them when and where they don?t want to, it?s frustrating for you; you?ll be in and out of the water. So, we make contact and have them lead us to where they want to play. They?ll give us a signal when their ready to play. There are some behaviors pretty easy to recognize, they make it so. They?re kind of fun to watch. One is a feeding behavior. Most of their feeding is done at night but during the day you?ll see them feeding, a sort of chips and salsa type of thing; snacks before the football game. It?s fun to watch; they?ll leap out of the water, the little fish running for their lives. When the D catch fish, at times it?s like a cat with a mouse. They?ll play with it for a while, bring it back and show it off. If you have a queasy stomach, it may be something you don?t want to look at. Their very proud of what they caught, especially the young ones, they get really excited when they catch the fish. We won?t drive the boat through the school of fish or anything like that, they obviously need the fish. A lot of behavior we see is mating behavior; they mate all year round and mate for fun. They do a lot of funky stuff with their pectoral fins, which has as many bones and muscles as our hands do. They can actually hug their children with their pectoral fins. You will see that so don?t get surprised. Another behavior we see is ?thinking? behavior. D think half their brains at a time, because they?re conscious breathers, as mammals with our faces in the water, we want to hold our breath?it?s instinct. And, D our mammals. When they go underwater, they want to hold their breath. They breathe like we do and their lungs have that automatic connection, they think about inhaling and exhaling, it just happens. But, unlike us, they have to come to the surface to breathe in oxygen. D breath too but they have to use their muscles to do it and that takes thinking. When they sleep they only sleep with one brain at a time so they can consciously breathe and watch for predators as well. So, if you see a sleeping behavior, definitely we won?t bug them. Usually, they?re paired up in shallow dives going together in one direction; they?ll go that way for awhile, turn around in a group. You?ll see them go off in the distance, doing that sleep behavior, then wake up and back to us. It?s not a lost cause if were not playing with them directly. Some of the older D takes naps and they come right up to the boat, mingle with people, and be methodical and slow. They are curious about you and want to play but are sort of groggy. The way to tell spotted D?s is by their spots. Young ones have no spots and the older they get they get more spots. The oldest ones we call ?fused? where they run together, looking like a white with grey spots and the young ones start getting spots under their chins first, then on their bellies, moving up their sides. You can tell how old a spotted D is by the spots; spots are like fingerprints, the pattern doesn?t change so you can pick out a distinct pattern of spots as babies. It gets hard as they grow older because there?s more and more spots around it. But, you can still pick out the same pattern. About 4 years old they start getting spots under their chin, and the females start getting mature and having babies around 10 to 12 years, and they?ll have spots all around, on their back too.
The juveniles are real fun, with no spots or just a few. They are so ready to play all the time. Some of the moms will bring their babies, and don?t be disappointed. The only time you may observe the babies are from the boat and when you enter the water, they?ll take the little ones away. At times the moms bring their babies up to the bow of the boat and play with them. Mom will leap into the air, the baby will try but end up doing a belly flop. The babies get proud when the do this and will come to the boat to see you and show off, "Did you see what I just did?? When they get excited, their bellies get bright pink.
Once they give us the signal that it?s time to come into the water, you must go get your snorkel gear on, because when they want to play, it?s not tomorrow or in ten minutes?.it?s right now. We will play with them with the boat, and then the captain will put the boat right next to the D?s and I will give you a signal that the boat is in park. You get focused and it?s exciting, like global awareness. Don?t leap or do a cannonball into the water; sit and slip into the water. The percussion will spook the D?s. Once in the water, we will point to where we want you to swim, where the dolphins are. Everyone must be on the same side of the boat, stay together. I need to follow the dolphins and must stay focused on where they are, can?t have people on all four sides of the boat. The D also like it better when they know where all the humans are, they feel more in control and will stay around longer and they won?t leave as quickly. Once you see D in the water you must vertically swim in the water. If you submerge they love it when you?re underwater. They come up to observe you and go and tell their friends, ?She?s the one with the rapid heartbeat.? They?ll describe you to their friends by your sonar picture, not by how you look like, ?The one with the blond hair.? It?ll be ?The one with screws in her knee.? Or ?the pregnant one.? If you don?t know whether or not you?re pregnant the D will come up and sonar hard on your stomach. They love you underwater, if you can?t get under, stay over people who can because the D will gather around a free diver and all must come up for air. They are very intelligent and observe all, so when they come up they will be eyeball to eyeball with those floating on the surface. If you begin swimming circles on the surface, they will swim circles with you. If you stick your head up and yell excitedly, ?Did you see that D circle around with me!? they also will stick their heads up and chortle with you. It?s cool?they totally mimic you. So, work together as a team. It?s that global awareness thing again; they are fast swimmers and can swim away from you at any time. They can?t see behind them but sense when you?re there, if the head is away from you and you see the tail, it?s swimming away from you. Don?t follow it. It will leave you by yourself and return to its group. So, when you see the tail fin?stop and go back to the group. The D will eventually return to the group. For some reason you got on its blind side and it couldn?t see you. If you want to come back to the boat for whatever reason, raise your hand.
Sometimes the D?s just want a boat ride because it was an unsafe place to swim or just because they want a fast speed. If I see you here and the D are over there, the first thing I'll do is give the D a bow ride. Just group together and you?ll hear the boat go vroom?I?m not leaving you. It?s likely I?ve picked up the D and I will be bringing them back to you. I?ll holler, ?Look in the water!? Don?t keep staring at me in the boat; the D will be swimming around underneath you and you?re looking at me. Free dive down and you?ll attract them to you again when I bring them around. If I zoom away then come back, but the D don?t follow me back, it?s because they weren?t comfortable where we were. They started to move on, have to meet up with grandma or grandpa, or whatever. That means I will pick you up when I come back. Everyone comes back on board and we go interact with the D again. If they are done playing?they will simply be gone. It?s a strange thing that they can disappear like that. I still don?t know how they do it. Their right there then suddenly disappear. If we had a good swim, we?ll come home early. If it was only for 5 minutes or so, we?ll try again.
Two types of D: bottlenose and spotted. Bottlenose get big, spotted about human size. BN were at first very shy and wouldn?t play with us at all. BN do well in captivity. Through the years, BN have gained some rapor with us; we put people in the water with them and they now stick around. Sometimes we get really intense BN experience where they come right up to you. If we find a group mixed together, spotted and BN, they are a lot bigger and sort of intimidating. Their twice your size and weight so its kind of cool but they are shy. I guess that pretty well describes the operation and interactions. Robert

ejcrowe Apr 23rd, 2004 03:54 AM

Robert, thanks so much for posting your notes. It sounds very exciting. How long did the open water swim last for your experience? My granddaughter is a very good swimmer when it comes to swimming in pools and just off the beach, but she's never swum in open water before. Are there swells of any size to contend with that we should prepare her for?

The Bimini Big Game Club is the hotel that gets such bad reviews online, which makes me a little leery. I don't need luxury but I don't want to compromise on cleanliness or the availability of food (again, I don't need midnight snacks, but food being served for breakfast, lunch and dinner is non-negotiable), which are the two biggest and most consistent complaints about the Big Game Club and other places on Bimini. Also, I don't really care for places whose atmosphere is dominated by the marina--I prefer a beach to set the tone. Any place in Bimini that fits that bill?

Robert Apr 23rd, 2004 08:11 AM

I would get in touch with Debra Weech of the Ocean Villas. There is one villa on Radio Beach that faces the Atlantic Ocean, with beautiful sunsets called Sunset Villa, and an attached villa in back, where you look across Bimini to the Caribbean side, called Sunrise Villa. You'll want the Sunset Villa, due to the beach view. Her husband is police commissioner of Bimini and has English Royalty, and is a super person. Debra and her husband live a hundred feet away, so you can get service instantly. Radio Beach is about 30 feet from your front door on Sunset Villas, across the Great Queen's Highway. Oh, not a super highway, a 6 foot wide coral and sand path that two golf carts can barely pass each other on. In a day's time, if you're lucky, three people and several golf carts may amber past your front door on Sunset Villa. Feel free to lay out on the Queen's Highway and sunbathe all worries! If you do stay there, I did a reef survey on Radio Beach, and it is beautiful. I ID'd over 54 reef fish in an afternoon. Definately bring snorkeling equipment there. The Big Game Club had three squares a day, but I'd recommend you dine at other places, too, for varitey. They Red Lion's Pub is a 20 second walk down the King's Highway and has a Bahamian chef that knows how to prepare conch and grouper dinners. Keefe's is on the premises, but you'll want to rent a golf cart to island explore with your granddaughter. Debra Weech will supply you with one at the Sunset Villa as well. I would prefer Sunset Villa over Big Game, but stayed at the latter last Xmas because Sunset was already booked. But, I had no problem with Big Game. But, it does have a "marina atmosphere" and Sunset Villa would be enjoyed by your granddaughter. It has two bedrooms, a kitchen, and full living room, with new wood floors. It is pretty plush, and much better than the rooms offered at Big Game. Don't fret about the snorkeling, your granddaughter will be with other people, in close proximity, during the Dolphin Encounter. The waves could be a factor though. That's a chance you'd have to take, but they may be rolling and not choppy. Keefe's won't go out if the waves are too large. Robert

Shane May 28th, 2004 10:33 AM

I enjoyed staying at the Compleat Angler in 1990. However, in season, it might occasionally get loud at night, especially on the weekend.

Robert May 28th, 2004 02:20 PM

Shane; I love the Compleat Anger, too, when on Bimini. The photos of Hemmingway fishing and boxing in the streets of Alice Town are priceless, all hung on the walls. I bet the Smithsonian Institution would love to have them! True, it can get a might noisy after dark, at times. I've never stayed there, but dig the atmosphere. Robert

Shane Jun 1st, 2004 08:36 AM

Robert, I haven't been to Bimini since 1990. In fact, the floor made famous by Gary Hart and Donna Rice was being replaced the day I left. In the Compleate Angler bar, is the photo of the two game fisherman with their " catch" (a topless woman hanging upside down) still hanging?

Robert Jun 1st, 2004 12:47 PM

Shane; I didn't notice that fishing photo. The walls in the adjacent room to the pub was full of old photos, including Adam Clayton Powel and BB Rebozzo. The love AC Powel on Bimini; he's an icon to them. Robert

Firstmate Jun 30th, 2004 01:40 PM

I go to Bimini every year for a week. Have done so for at least 10 years. Make no mistake, Bimini is not some glitzy 4 or 5 star resort destination. What makes Bimini unique is that it has not been developed with big glitzy resort. That said, the begining of the end for Bimini as we know it and love it, is in sight. Last year construction on a glitzy hotel resort/gambling casino/golf course began. I am not sure if it is opened yet, but will learn such information in a few weeks when I go there again.
First, there are no really nice places on Bimini to stay. All of the nicest places are average by most peoples standard I think. That said, there are several that are more than adequate for your needs. I have stayed at the Bimini Big Game Club many times. There is a restaurant on site,ajacent to the swimming pool, food not bad. Another restaurant/bar over looking the Marina. All within a short wlak of the Compleat Angler and other venues. I would definately rent a golf cart and take a quick tour of the island.
You could also check with Chalks Air Service to see what there flying schedule to and from Bimini to and from the other Islands maybe. If needed, I would think you could fly into Bimini from the other Islands if need be. You should do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a great experience and stay at Bimini while it is still as it is, and before it maybe comes just another resort.

Robert Jun 30th, 2004 06:42 PM

Firstmate; yes, the end is near for Bimini's culture and ambience. The huge land developers have bulldozed hundreds of acres of Mangrove marshes north of Alicetown. My wife and I used to drive a golf cart into the northern section on the King's Highway. We would snorkel off of pristine beaches about where the Bimini Road is located. I did reef surveys there and underwater videos. But, it will be blocked off soon, and cut off from the rest of Bimini by a huge gate and private acreage. The Bahamians on Bimini were certainly happy and contented years before this alien land development bulldozed the mangrove marshes, coral reefs, and coconut groves. A step back as far as progress goes. Robert

Robert Jul 5th, 2004 04:53 AM

Thatsince; I do not know if the hotel occupancy is low in Bimini. As far as the trash you mention; I haven't noticed that on Bimini. In fact, the local Bahamians keep the beaches pristine and clean. The Bahamas, overall, do not cover much land area for millions of tourists who visit each year. The amount of trash accumulated is incredible for such a small land mass. In the U.S., the millions of tons of trash in New York City, for example, is exported by truckload and by train to midwest landfills, hundreds of miles away, to the dismay of midwesterners who live near these newly-created landfills. I think the Bahamas are doing an incredible job in handling the millions of tons of trash that has accumulated by the tourist industry and the millions of visitors who must be catered to. The impact of the huge land development on Bimini is not yet known, since tons of new products will be shipped to Bimini to cater to the needs of the people who buy and rent the condos in northern Bimini. But, they're an ingenious people on Bimini. The Junkanoo I attended in December left me in awe. Young children retrieved junk from garbage cans and made artful headresses and costumes. They beat on home-made steel drums from trash, and we all marched down the King's Highway at midnight, with drums, cowbells and horns blasting a rhythmical beat. I marched in the crowd, with many Floridians. That's an example why Bimini has no problem getting tourists to come to the isle. Robert

jacketwatch Jul 5th, 2004 05:59 AM

Hi guys: FYI "thatsnice" in the resident psycopath AKA Harald, critic, 1111, et. al. who has a Paul Bunyanesque axe to grind inre the Bahamas. Pay no heed.

tully Jul 5th, 2004 06:17 AM

Shane - haven't been to Bimini since 1999, but as of then that picture was still hanging! :)

Robert Jul 5th, 2004 06:36 AM

Tully & Shane; I guess I didn't notice that picture due to too many Kahliks. HAROLD! You keep harping on the trash in the Bahamas, but think deeply into the huge amounts of trash needed to cater to millions of tourists each year. How 'bout thinking proactively, and come up with some solutions. It's a problem they inherited. Robert

Firstmate Jul 5th, 2004 07:51 AM

There are certain places on Bimini that one could say are cluttered with trash from tims to time. However, it is a very small island. Both North and South Bimini. It would not be the easiest job in the world to keep all pristine white glove clean when most of the trash needs to be hauled out by barge. Anyone who has been there can also see the remains of Hurricane Andrew from 15 years ago, and notice that it doesn't ever appear on a postcard either.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Bimini now. It will have to be good for the local economy, but I have a feeling, it will not be the panacea for the locals that some may have anticipated. BE interesting to hear what ole Julian has to say about it.
Anyone know if T-mobile or Sprint cell phones will work in Bimini yet?

tully Jul 5th, 2004 02:49 PM

Robert - you mention Debra Weech. I'm assuming it is the same, but do they own (or did) Weech's Marina? Just curious as that's where we tied up for 2 nights in 1999 & they were so friendly & helpful there.

Robert Jul 5th, 2004 03:19 PM

Yes, same family. Her husband is the police commissioner of Bimini and has royal English blood, a lord I believe. But, neither are the stereotyped "stuffy." They live at the souther end of Queen's Highway, and also manage the Bimini Museum of King's Highway, just across the street from the straw market. Robert

budg Jul 5th, 2004 06:43 PM

Try Bimini Sands, new condos and hotel, small but nice beach. Drops off very deep quickly, but very pretty. On the other side of the island by the Big Game Club are a lot of nice beaches that you can either walk to or golf cart to and walk down. Water is beautiful. Keep in mind, mostly, the ONLY reason to visit Bimini is for fishing. Not much there. So close to MIA that most just go to fish. Very bare bones, but beautiful beaches and water. Enjoy. Eleuthera and Exuma are also fantastic.

ejcrowe Jan 19th, 2007 05:39 PM

hmmm...did someone post something inappropriate here and it was deleted? I started this topic a few years ago and it was at the top of the new message queue when I logged on tonight, but the most recent message that I can see is dated 2004.

Anyway, we never made it to Bimini, but I've enjoyed reading all of the posts here about it. Maybe one day!

eaf2007 Jan 21st, 2007 02:51 PM

I had hoped to make it to the Compleat Angler one day, but in case anyone is reading for reference material, it burned down last year. :(

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:09 AM.