Bimini Ferry Service
Direct ferry service from the US to Bimini will miss its summer launch goal, but the necessary dredging project that would allow the ferry to access the island’s government dock is now gearing-up.
Leslie Bethel, president of tourism and travel consultancy firm Notarc Management Group, said that stakeholders in the ferry project are investing several million dollars in the dredging project. A part of the management team assisting with the coordination of the ferry, Bethel said that while delays have hindered progress, Bimini – and its neighbor Grand Bahama – could have the additional access soon.
“The dredge work in Bimini is in the mobilization stage,” Bethel said. “Balaeria is also progressing with its plans to launch ferry service into Freeport and Bimini within the next few months.”
Balaeria Ferries will be the operator of the Balaeria Bahamas Express – the ferry lined up to service Bimini and possibly Freeport, Grand Bahama. Bethel said that the service into Freeport was looking “very strong”. The ferry could accommodate up to 240 passengers and 80 vehicles per trip, according to an earlier press release from the company. With initial plans to operate excursion every day except Wendesdays, it translates into potentially ten of thousands of additional passengers annually accessing islands serviced by the ferry.
Bill Lee, general manager at Bimini Bay, the largest resort, marina and private residence development on the island, told that with the dredging “imminent”, he’s looking forward to the ferry service being up-and-running by the end of the year. Despite its geographical proximity to the US – just 48 nautical miles off the coast of South Florida – the ability of potential guests to access Bimini proves a challenge for all industry participants there.
“The developers do have an interest in creating more access to the resort,” Lee said, referring to the resort’s developers and initial management team – the Capo Group. “It’s really why Bimini Bay and all the resorts on the island are underutilized assets. It’s very difficult to get here – airfare is pricey.”
Initial plans were for the ferry service into Bimini to launch in March, with subsequent postponements to April, and then the summer.
This year, however, Bimini has seen a number of new avenues open to bring more tourists to the island. The seaplane terminal is now active again, with Lee reporting that four seaplane companies now fly into the island from Watson Island off Miami Beach. In August, IBC Travel announced an expansion of service into Bimini with daily flights, including afternoon departures. The late departures were expected to increase the amount of visitors who could connect from other flights to get into Bimini.
The dredging of the channel that allows vessels to access the Government Dock in Alice Town, Bimini, is also an important feature to build access other boaters have to the island, according to Lee.
“We have the largest marina here, but many of the vessels that could fill this marina up can’t make it through the channel,” Lee said, noting that any vessel over 80 feet in length would be unable to get in.
The Atlantis Resort and the Grand Bahama Yacht Club & Port Lucaya Marina also vie for the title of “largest” marina in The Bahamas, but regardless as to who has the most yacht slips, being able to facilitate larger yachts bodes will boost tourism in Bimini. Another marina on the island, the Bimini Big Game Club, would also be able to facilitate larger vessels once the dredging is complete.
Lee said that he has recently met with new management of Continental/Gulfstream Airlines in Fort Lauderdale. They will be offering special walk-on rates to Bimini for Bahamians, based on space availability, he said.
“We are doing all of that to get little Bimini on the map,” Lee said. “We’re getting there. I’m pretty happy with it.”