Our first stop was the island of Bimini. Bimini is the westernmost district of the Bahamas and comprises a chain of islands located about 50 miles east of Miami. Bimini is the closest point in the Bahamas to the mainland United States and approximately 130 miles west-northwest of Nassau. The population is 1,988 as of the 2010 census. Its main settlement is Alice Town and a collection of shops, restaurants, and bars on a road known as "The King's Highway". The second major road is called Queens Highway and runs almost the length of the island parallel to Kings Highway. Because Bimini is close to Miami, Florida, many American anglers go to the islands by boat to fish or to enjoy the local nightlife. Scuba diving and snorkeling are also popular activities, as there are many shipwrecks in the area, such as the wreck of the SS Sapona, which ran aground in 1926 during a hurricane. The top of the ship is exposed to the air while the bottom half is submerged. Parts of the wreck were stripped over the years and some of the wood was used in the construction of the Compleat Angler Hotel and bar on North Bimini.
Bimini is home to several landmarks said to contain mystical properties of obscure origins. Much of the historical data about these places is speculative in nature, and experts in various fields have opined across the full spectrum of explanation. The most contentious of these sites is The Bimini Road. The first inhabitants on the island were the Lucayans, and the name "Bimini" means "two islands" in the Lucayan language.
During Prohibition in the United States, Bimini was a favorite haven and supply point for the rum-running trade. Chalk's International Airlines operated seaplane flights between Miami Harbor and the Bahamas from 1917, so the company was an island institution for generations. As goods on the island were expensive because of shipping costs, many locals used Chalk's flights to buy cheaper goods in Florida and take the goods to Bimini. On January 13, 2006, one of the most famous establishments in Bimini, the Compleat Angler Hotel, was destroyed by fire. The bar is remembered for the photographs and memorabilia of Ernest Hemingway that lined its walls and were lost in the fire, which also took the life of owner Julian Brown.
Juan Ponce de León and his search for the Fountain of Youth included references to Bimini. Although the location was erroneously associated with the Bahamas, the natives referred to a location in the Gulf of Honduras. Though de León's expedition brought him to Florida, the fountain was rumored to exist within the shallow pools of South Bimini. Today there is a small freshwater well with a plaque commemorating the Fountain of Youth, on the road leading to the South Bimini Airport. BTW – We also visited the Fountain of Youth in Florida and I tasted that water. I do NOT recommend it --- UGH !!
Back to Bimini -- Found within the brackish mangrove swamp that covers 3 1⁄2 mile of the shoreline of North Bimini is The Healing Hole, a pool that lies at the end of a network of winding underground tunnels. During outgoing tides, these channels pump cool, mineral-laden fresh water into the pool. Because this well was carved out of the limestone rock by ground water thousands of years ago it is especially high in calcium and magnesium.
As we have seen with most of the islands we have visited in this neighborhood around Florida, all seem to claim Ernest Hemingway as their “son”. I think every other building on every island has a sign that pouts “Ernie Slept Here”, but friend Rob Hunt would know a lot more about Hemingway than I ever will. I do know that Hemingway lived on Bimini from 1935 to 1937, staying at the Compleat Angler Hotel. Bimini is known as the fishing capital of the Bahamas and even the world, thanks in part to Hemingway. He worked on To Have and Have Not and wrote a few articles, but mostly he fished aboard his boat Pilar (named in honor of his wife, Pauline), trolling the deep blue offshore waters for marlin, tuna and swordfish. Hemingway was attracted to Bimini by tales of the incredible fishing available in the Gulf Stream, the legendary “river” of warm water that rushes north past the Bahamas. An Atlantic blue marlin with a mass of 500 pounds caught off Bimini allegedly inspired Hemingway to write The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in The Stream.
While not a resident of the islands, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited in 1964 and worked on his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech while there. South Bimini was home to Colonel Joseph C. Mackey, the founder of Mackey Airlines, which was later bought by Eastern Airlines. He built a home on the southern tip of South Bimini. This structure would become the Sunshine Inn and is currently a bar and restaurant, though the hotel was damaged by a hurricane and was subsequently demolished.
In May 1987, Colorado Senator Gary Hart's presidential bid was derailed after media reports exposed a relationship with model Donna Rice. A well known photo of Rice sitting on Hart's lap on one of Bimini's docks was published by the National Enquirer after Hart suspended his presidential campaign.
Our ship was using Tenders to get folk from the ship to Bimini on a 45 minute, one way boat ride, but we chose to skip it and just explore the ship. We didn’t have much luck with the Tender on our last ship and that was only a 30 minute roller coaster ride to land so we weren’t too excited about riding another one. There didn’t seem to be much on Bimini that interest us anyway.
Speaking of Tenders, we were taking our morning walk around the ship as the crew was putting a few Tenders in the water. I wasn’t paying much attention, but Julieann slammed me in the chest to stop me from walking into a Tender that was in the process of FALLING. Yep, someone lost control and the Tender fell about 15 feet before someone stopped it. It could have given me a very bad headache if Julieann hadn’t caught me. That was the end of my walking for today.
About the Crystal Symphony: This is the most expensive “ocean” ship we have been on (River cruises are costly and don’t offer as much as the Ocean cruises). We are use to a ship that has around 2000-3000 passengers and 1000-2000 crew members. This ship only has 848 passengers and 425 crew members. The ship itself is beautiful, as you can tell by the photos. As I mentioned earlier, we usually pay around $6,000 - $8,000 for a cruise with a cabin that has a balcony. The same kind of cabin on this ship would have cost us around $24,000 so we settled for a cabin without a balcony for around $17,000.
Now, when you get your breath back, let me ‘splain. On other ships they will nickel and dime you for just about everything. The only thing for certain included with the price of your cabin is 18 square meals a day (slight exaggeration, but you most definitely will not starve), a “free” show almost every night and maybe some dance or exercise classes and the use of the pool, hot tub and fitness center. A soda will cost between $2.50 and $4.50, an alcoholic drink would be as much as $12.00. A gratuity of $15.00 per person per day is also added to your account. Wi-Fi is $125.00 for 250 minutes.
With this ship, just about everything was included in the price of the cabin. I drink top shelf vodka and it was free so I feel that I am “required” or expected to drink at least two three five ten drinks a day. We drink daily sodas and they were all free. The Wi-fi I’m now using is free. Afternoon Tea and Snacks is free. They have TEN dining areas and all are free the first time, some are free always and the “special” dining is $30 per person after the first visit (Steak, Italian, Japanese). I’m using the word “free” because it’s easier than saying “pre-paid”, which is more to the truth after paying $17,000, eh? The price also included some “credits” to my account to the tune of almost $2,000 which I have pretty much spent on the excursions I signed us up for ($1,600.00).
With only 800+ passengers and 400+ crew members, service is definitely top notch. At breakfast this morning I was asked at least 20 times if I needed coffee, juice, whatever. Service is absolutely outstanding.
When we first boarded the ship and had to wait for our cabin to get ready, we had lunch in the main dining room. I had the vegetable soup for an appetizer and Julieann had the seafood (whatever it’s called) and then we both had the prime steak. All item were fantastic! The steak could almost be cut with a fork and had a lot of flavor. But, listening to some of our fellow travelers I felt like we were on the Titanic. Not because the ship was going to sink, but the passengers reminded me of the snotty, privileged, rich folk who only used first class facilities in that movie. I was, once again, out of my “stowage class” zone (is that the right name?) where I could talk and interact with “normal”, working class folks that I love. I don’t have time for those others who think, talk and act like they’re better than everyone else. But later, I did meet a few folks who I could and did talk to. Sara Jo (in her 80’s) from Raleigh, South Carolina and I were comparing recent operations and matching scars (those that we could show) and after a while we both laughed at how close we had become in just 30 minutes. Now, she is the kind of people I like!
They also have a dress code on the ship. I’m use to ship dress codes for various areas of a ship at various times, but this ship enforces the dress code for the entire ship beginning at 6PM. I kinda like wearing shorts and t-shirts to eat in the buffet, but here I have to wear long pants and collared shirts to eat ANYWHERE on the ship or even to watch the show. Oh well, my wife says I need some culture even though I keep telling her “It’s TOO LATE!!”
We also ran into a group who we traveled with to Asia last January. This is a group of “special” young adults who are traveling with their teachers to experience the world outside of the compound where they all reside. Nice bunch of kids who were very happy to see us, and we them. We have been invited to attend a few of their activities on the ship and plan to do so.
Crystal Symphony Entertainment: We have been fortunate to see many, many great shows and entertainment on most of the cruises we have taken and the Crystal Symphony, so far, is no exception. Our first night we were entertained by a world famous, and legal, pickpocket. He showed us how easily a professional can remove items from your person and made it funny at the same time. He also runs a seminar, on the serious side, to inform us how to avoid being a target. I’m looking forward to that.
The second night was a mini-variety show which demonstrated the talents of some of the on-board staff. The ship’s four male and four female dancers, male and female singers and the seven piece orchestra had us jumping in our seats. I really wanted to video parts to show you, but they are very strict with copyright laws. But, I did find a Crystal Promo on line that will give you an idea of the entertainment.
No, we aren’t getting a commission from this, but we are very impressed with the ship and the crew members. As Julieann said this morning, “I know we paid a lot more for this cruise than other ships and our cabin is smaller, but it is worth it. Everyone is so friendly and helpful and I feel so comfortable.” They do go out of their way to get your name and then address you by name every time they see you.
Today I attended the “Afternoon Tea”. Just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I’m guessing that being brought up in a lower middle class family did not properly prepare me for the “hotty toddy” upper class goings-on. Yes, it was nice, but as you all know me so well already know, I don’t do upper class stuff very well. It only lasted an hour so I muddled through and tried to enjoy everything, but I know my place. I’m better off sitting by the pool and just watching "whatever" ;-) And, of course, why drink tea when top shelf Vodka is the same price??
More Later ;-)