A tale of two islands: Bimini and Aruba

November 13, 2016

The typical Bahamas vacation involves baking in the sun, with exercise limited to lifting rum drinks and swaying to the beat of goombay drums and rake ’n scrape — music created by scraping a carpenter’s saw — at homey dockside clubs.

But for those who love swimming, Bimini offers more fabulous, refreshing settings than ever.

Pack your swimsuit, catch an affordable flight to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, then hop a 25-minute seaplane or cool two-hour boat ride to North Bimini Island, a haven with delicious local food and a friendly community feel. Fans have included Ernest Hemingway, who loved fishing here, and Martin Luther King Jr., who penned speeches while hanging out with a local boat-builder.

Pools and beaches

Resorts World Bimini sets a high bar for places to swim. Based on a tranquil swath of North Bimini dotted with pastel villas and palm trees, the resort opened its new centerpiece in June: a five-floor Hilton with fashion-forward features such as huge window-walls, swim-up bars, swim-up guestrooms edging a long, artfully designed lazy river crossed by sleek bridges and breathtaking infinity pools high and low.

More than dream-board architectural elements, these pools are designed for swimming, not just dips.

The Hilton’s rooftop infinity pool is edged by chaise lounges, round super-sized cushions and sleek catwalks overlooking cottages, docked boats, bay channels and the ocean.

The Hilton’s high-design lazy river zigzags gracefully along the dock, starting at a canopied bar. Sitting on submerged stools, guests sip rum and pineapple Bahama Mamas and avocado-coconut coladas and nibble on tasty kabobs. The manmade river passes the swim-up guestrooms.

The nearby Sabor pool offers romantic cabanas, but also generous spaces for swimming and playing water volleyball. A giant wedding-cake fountain provides a splashy soundtrack for doing laps.

A quick stroll from the Hilton, the Aqua infinity pool spills silently on ocean’s edge. It’s fun to swim along the long dramatic curves. At sunset, look up as the sun sinks behind colorful streams of clouds.

Soft-sand Paradise Beach hugs the island’s north end. Swim in the waves, rent paddleboards or big-wheel beach trikes, or groove to tunes broadcast from huge speakers until you swim into the surf. Lifeguards keep watch by day.

At Fisherman’s Village marina, a curving sand beach dotted with thatched palm frond umbrellas faces the dock where 8-seat seaplanes make water landings several times daily. Like the other swimming spots, a beach bar is just steps away.

Shipwreck snorkeling close-by

Bimini Undersea excursions include a 20-minute trip to the SS Sapona, a wrecked ship in waters shallow enough for snorkeling amid amazing marine animals and plants.

Being so close to Miami, Bimini made the perfect drinker’s getaway during Prohibition. Rum runner ships included the Sapona, until a 1926 hurricane wrecked the concrete-hulled cargo steamer. It’s now a showplace for splendid corals and parades of brilliantly colored fish. You might also spot turtles, dolphins and small nonthreatening sharks.

A bit further east at undeveloped Gun Cay, you can swim with large stingrays at Honeymoon Harbour beach. These gentle creatures are accustomed to human visitors.

At the south end of North Bimini Island, a freighter named Gallant Lady ran aground during a 1997 storm. After exploring the rusting craft, which reminds me of a giant blowfish, go swimming on Radio Beach.

At night, flashing lights beckon at the new Resorts World Bimini Casino. No swimming holes, but floor-to-ceiling windows showcase water views — and you can dip into cocktails or mocktails.