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David J. Danto

 

 

Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion

 

 

 

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Trip Review: Hilton At Resorts World Bimini

For our 10th Wedding Anniversary my wife and I stayed at the Waldorf and saw Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the Producers on Broadway.   It was a wonderful memory, and made it difficult to find something to top it with for our 25th wedding anniversary in March.  Late last year I began searching for something in a tropical paradise motif.  We saw a beautiful property in Asia where each room had its own private infinity pool, but we only had about 5-6 days to be away at this time of year, so we felt like a trip halfway around the world deserved more time.  We then found some breathtaking pictures of a brand new Hilton hotel in the Bahamas – Hilton at Resorts World Bimini – which seemed to be superb.  It was a short trip from Florida, we could get a room inexpensively using a Hilton “points and money” award, and everything looked stunningly beautiful.  We made the reservation and started planning our trip with many months to spare.  Having just returned from that trip I can report that while we had a wonderful time away we learned a lot about this location and property that we wish we’d have known before we booked it.  Hopefully this blog will help fill that information in and also highlight for the firms in question what they’ve done exceptionally well and what they can improve.

I had to be at a conference in Orlando just before our trip, so I reserved my flight to Orlando, but then we drove (three hours) to Ft. Lauderdale where we could take a Silver Air flight to Bimini.  I booked the Silver Air flights through the Hilton at their suggestion because they offered a $50 discount on the airfare.  This was probably a mistake, because as a United Premier flier one of the few benefits I do still get is free checked bags.  By using a separate reservation with Silver we lost that benefit and had to pay for our luggage.  Silver flies a small, slow, loud Saab 340b turboprop aircraft from FLL to Bimini, and yet still it’s only a 20 minute flight in the air.  Being such a small aircraft our carry-on bags were gate checked (something else we and other passengers would have liked to know in advance.)  Silver operates out of one gate at FLL – C8 – and they fly to inter-Florida destinations and the Bahamas in rapid fire from there - with seemingly no specific order.  When they get a plane that’s ready to go they announce it and the passengers scrum towards the door.  It was easy for people to get on line for their flight only to find out that (despite the scheduled times) it wasn’t their flight.  I assume that Silver personnel would catch anyone boarding the wrong flight before they boarded, but it was still a scary, low budget experience.

When we landed, we walked out onto the field and into the tiny buildings that had customs and immigration.  Getting through that entire process, as well as picking up our checked bag, took less than 10 minutes.  When we walked out of the building, there was someone waiting for us asking where we were going.  We told them the Hilton, and they pointed us to one of a couple of unmarked white vans.  Apparently these are unaligned drivers that take us on the short trip over to a Hilton Ferry which brings us from South Bimini right over to the hotel on North Bimini.  When we got out of the van the driver said we needed to pay five dollars each.  Complaint number one – none of this process was explained to us, none of the vans or workers were marked or branded.  There wasn’t even a sign in the dirt that said “Hilton Van Loads Here.”  It was at that point we started to worry about what we got ourselves into.  As it turned out everything was fine with the process, but here was the first example of what will be an ongoing theme – a little bit of extra effort or professionalism would have made the experience great.  If the drivers had Resorts World Bimini polo shirts or a van that said “Hilton” we wouldn’t have thought twice about it.  The ferry itself was wonderful, with a gorgeous preview of the island.

When we arrived at Hilton Resorts World we were very impressed.  Saying the property is stunning doesn’t do it justice.  The lobby is gorgeous – modern, stylish, open and airy with tasteful accents yet still a bit of a hipster vibe.  The hallways are beautiful – with artwork, carpeting and room numbers on the walls all conveyed in an island stone theme.

The rooms are also stunning.  Faux wood floors that extend even into the rain shower in the bathroom.  Balconies with views of the marina or gardens, with ocean views in the distance.  Our room sported a fridge, a coffee maker and plenty of room for luggage.  My only complaints about the rooms are the doors and the TV.  The room’s main entrance door doesn’t go all the way to the bottom.  There is about a one inch gap there, which means that you can hear everything going on outside your room, and anyone outside can hear what’s going on in yours.  That lack of privacy seems very weird for a luxury island resort.

The room’s TV is a brand new Samsung (the same one I have at home) but it’s only connected to local cable TV channels / networks.  There is no channel guide, or information service at all.  That means no checking on hotel services, no review of bill, no movies on-demand – nothing.  I expect much more than local channels from a top quality resort.

The person that checked us in was wonderful – spending lots of time with us to go over all our questions.  That seemed to be the norm – the workers here are amongst the nicest and friendliest at any property I’ve experienced anywhere.  We came to learn that most of them have been recruited from the neighboring islands and live on property in shared dorms.  They are clearly treated well, but they seem a bit overworked.  One of our servers opened the breakfast room at 6am and also served us dinner the same day at 8pm – two days in a row.  Even if that was their choice - agreeing to take extra shifts during a busy time - something seems a bit wrong about that. 

During check-in though, we discovered one of the biggest problems with this property.  It has no concierge desk and no concierge.  There is no one to go to to ask questions.  At a property of this class in a location where so much is unknown, this lack of information is a travesty.  Everything we learned about the area and its dos and don’ts we had to pick-up from the workers or other guests we ran into.  Hilton really needs to step-up here and add a concierge.  Just a few examples of what needs to be learned are:

·       The property has all of its services available only on the weekends.  For example, during weekdays there is no executive lounge and the Sabor restaurant (their nicest) is closed.

·       Hilton offers shuttles to the beach and trams to the local village, Alice Town.  It isn’t clear when they leave, where they drop you and when they’d come get you.  We were told the beach shuttle would be by every 15 minutes, but when we needed to be brought back to the hotel it never came and we had to call – twice.  It also wasn’t clear what services are available on the beach or from the nearby merchants.  We learned that cash is not accepted anywhere on the resort (you have to charge your room) EXCEPT on the beach, where only cash is accepted.  The flyers say paddle boats are available for rent on the beach, but they’re not.

·       There are golf carts available for rental at the front entrance of the property.  They are unaffiliated with the resort and there is no official process to rent one – you have to find someone that seems to be in charge and haggle with them.  From its time as a British territory the driving is on the left side of the road.  Parking means putting your cart anywhere out of the way.

·       There isn’t even a stand with pamphlets of local interest that one would find at the grubbiest motel in Florida.  You’re on your own finding out where to go and what to do.

·       The hotel offers turn-down service, with as much bottled water as you’d like and chocolates by your pillows.  That would have been nice to know before we purchased water in the gift shop.  Strangely we didn’t seem to get the turn-down service every night, but there was no pattern we could discern.

If you come to the property to fish, snorkel, generally enjoy the perfect waters around the island, or just have tropical drinks at poolside, then this resort is paradise.  If you come to visit the local town or play in the casino, then…not so much.

The casino at the property is very small.  They have about a dozen table games and about a hundred slot machines.  The first time I walked through it I was shocked at how small it was.  We really expected something bigger from the description.  The whole thing is about the size of your typical fast food restaurant.  And if you’re familiar with the MyVegas online Facebook game / rewards program, they participate in it here, but it took them an hour to figure out how to do it, and then afterword told us that the “Dolphin Excursion for Two” reward we had purchased “wasn’t available” so we should “ask for our points to be refunded.”

The local towns, Bailey Town and Alice Town, are very underdeveloped.  Yes there are some restaurants and a few shops that dot the beach and the one road on North Bimini, but if you’re imagining walking around paved streets and exploring a typical suburban or even rural downtown, forget it.  It’s like they took a big city hotel and plopped it down in the middle of nowhere.  Expect the best restaurant or store off the property to be nothing more than a shack with windows still boarded-up from the last hurricane that no one bothered to take down.  If there are any entrepreneurs interested in making a killing they could come here and corner the market by opening the first…well, anything.  It’d be the first bowling alley, the first movie theater, the first supermarket, The first newsstand… like I said, unless it is a roadside food hut, it’d be the first anything.  It really is deceptive of the property to brag about a tram into the city when there is no city.

The on-property pools however are stunning.  The rooftop has an adults-only infinity pool with spectacular views.  The lower level has a long thin pool that they call a lazy river (but it isn’t the kind of lazy river where you float around in tubes, which we expected from the description) with an in-water bar / restaurant.  The Sabor restaurant area also has a pool with a fountain and an extra-long hot-tub.  We were also surprised that (other than the hot tub) none of the pools were heated – which is arguably a necessity for outdoor pools at a year round resort. 

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As I mentioned earlier, if you’ve come for the water, this place is paradise.  The on-property beach is called Paradise Beach – for a reason - it’s beautiful, but then drive up any access road along Bimini and you’d be likely to find a secluded beach just as beautiful.

My wife and I chartered a boat from a local company – Bimini Undersea.  (Again, there was no one at the property to help us.  They pointed us to their “Fisherman’s Village” shopping area about a ten minute walk away to go to this company’s office.)  We didn’t want to go on one of the many sports trips they offered (for snorkeling and swimming) so we arranged a private tour around the island.  It was breathtaking.  Here is a 15 second video excerpt of our tour through the mangroves, and below are some of our pictures.

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The water was crystal clear and shallow at most parts of the trip.  We were actually able to just step-off the skiff to wade into the water, pick-up a conch, say hello to the rays and nurse sharks we passed, and wave at the turtles who (in the water) do not deserve their reputation of being slow.  Our captain and guide (Chuck and Joel – pictured above with the skiff) were terrific.  We highly recommend them and Bimini Undersea for the experience of a lifetime.

When it was time to head home, we did some more learning about what we didn’t know and how much of the things we were told that weren’t true.  The Hilton people get you back to the airport the same way they brought you - their ferry to an independent, unmarked van/taxi service at $5 per person.  The Silver Air agents at FLL told us that the team in Bimini could check our bag all the way through to our United flight to Newark.  They couldn’t.  They also told us that we clear customs in Bimini, so the change in Florida is just a neighboring gate.  That was a lie too.  At FLL our flight disembarked on the tarmac into a bus which brought us to the international arrivals complex.  After clearing the CBP process we were directed to a bag-recheck stand that (of course) wasn’t able to re-check our bag.  We had to leave the terminal, go into the parking lot, and wait in 90 degree heat for a Disney style tram to take us to the parking lot outside terminal 1.  At that point we realized it was just easier to expect that anyone from Silver Air is lying to us all the time.  For our return trip home then we wound-up taking a boat, then a van, then a turboprop, then a bus, then a tram, then a jet and finally a taxi.  Unless Silver Air, the Hilton and the Resorts World people get their act together I can’t imagine putting-up with that hassle for a return trip.

So the bottom line for the Hilton at Resorts World Bimini is, if your desired Bimini adventure involves swimming, snorkeling, fishing, gambling in a tiny casino, or hanging around by a pool bar, you’ll really enjoy this property.  If you’re looking for a resort in an area with lots to do other than be in the water, there are better choices.  Bimini still has a long way to go before it has the kind of activities that a full-service resort should have either on property or nearby.  And, as I mentioned, Hilton needs to put a concierge desk in to help answer guest’s questions and make off-resort arrangements.  Short of that, people will definitely find this place a pretty but confusing and difficult to navigate to oasis. 

 

This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.

All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.