Bahamas Birthday in February [Bimini Style]

Looking into a Bahamas getaway? Have you visited Bimini yet? If you’re traveling from Florida it’s quite the easy-breezy route, a 15 minute sea plane journey to be approximate! What better place for a Bahamian getaway than just around the corner? The Bimini Islands are a quick 50 miles from Miami. Located right in the middle of the Gulf Stream, Bimini attracts hundreds of marine animals and pleasant temperatures year-round- so going in February like us, was a perfect idea, the chillier ocean temps were the only drawback + we realized after the fact that February is the only month that the island offers a dive with great hammerhead shark- WOW! Though relatively overlooked in the Caribbean, the Bimini Islands have always been popular with deep-sea fishermen. It’s a quiet island; gorgeous beaches, no cruise ships and one of the best places for a tropical vacation. Did I mention GORGEOUS beaches!? Absolutely stunning views.

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Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when planning:

To Know Before You Go: Arrive in a timely fashion from the air–the best way to enjoy exhilarating views of the emerald waters! Board the Cape Air seaplane, which offers 4 daily flights from Miami in an intimate 8-seater. Or opt for the comfortable Silver Airways plane, (which we did, since the ferry was out of season) direct from Fort Lauderdale to South Bimini. Once landing, you can hop onto a ferry to North Bimini! Some hotels offer direct flights from Miami via seaplane– Resort World offers daily flights direct to the resort in North Bimini, so that is another terrific option!

Here’s a glimpse of what the view is like walking down the  pool steps to the ocean.

A breathtaking sunrise taken right from the rooftop of the Hilton Bimini. 

A FEW THINGS TO EXPECT WHEN PLANNING A TRIP TO BIMINI:

Bimini is the westernmost chain of islands in the Bahamas, located about 50 miles east of Miami. Bimini is made up of three islands: North Bimini, South Bimini, and East Bimini. The largest islands are North Bimini and South Bimini, so you’ll most likely stay on one of the two!

North Bimini is about seven miles long, and home to Alice Town, a collection of shops, restaurants, and bars on a road known as “The King’s Highway”. Scuba diving and snorkeling are popular activities, because there are many shipwrecks in the area that make for fun diving experiences!

South Bimini is home to the airstrip, South Bimini Airport, and offers a quiet alternative to the lively nature of North Bimini. There is a small community of homes on South Bimini known as Port Royale, and an epic nature trail.

Language: The official language is Bahamian English, so it is quite easy to converse and talk with locals!

Currency: Bahamian dollar– same value as the USD!

Credit Cards and Banks: The majority of retailers and restaurants accept debit card as payment, but it’s always a good idea to carry some cash with you. Some larger resorts may except credit cards. But keep in mind when visiting this small island destination, cash is king!

Climate: Bimini has a warm and tropical climate– averaging 70 degrees in the winter and 80 degrees in the summer months. The rainy season in the Bahamas runs from May to October, and October and June are the wettest two months.

HOW DO WE GET AROUND THE BIMINI ISLANDS?

The greatest way to get around the gorgeous 7-mile North Bimini is with a golf cart or bike!  Shuttles are usually a little slower, making them a secondary, not best option for cruising down King’s Highway for some snacks or souvenir-shopping.

Taxi: Bimini is so small that cars are limited. Taxi service is available by telephone, radio (VHF Channel 68), or you can flag one down on the street. We never actually found any use for one so didn’t experience it.

Boat: There is a daily ferry between North and South Bimini. We only used this to and from the airport (which is quite small, but you might want to bring a book for the way home, as we sat inside a very tiny terminal for a few hours before boarding our flight

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Golf Cart: The main form of rental transportation available on North Bimini is a golf cart. You can also rent a bicycle to get around. Pedestrians should remember to first look right and then left before crossing streets. For maximum mobility, pick up a golf cart ($75-90 per day) first thing in the morning before they sell out!!

Bicycle: You can find several bike rental spots on the islands.

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PRO TIP:

Check with your hotel to see if they supply any bikes/ golf carts before renting from a vendor. You never know, they could offer them right in front! We actually rented a golf cart this day and took it down to the other side of the island where we stumbled upon a ship wreck!

Big Game Club Bimini

RESORTS WORLD BIMINI

Location: Alice Town, North Bimini

These are cute, pastel villas available. Seaside, and several pools on the property and gorgeous oceanic views.

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HILTON at RESORT WORLDS BIMINI

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IMG_5399Location: North Bimini, new as of 2017! This is taken on the rooftop pool deck 🙂

We stayed here and oh, it was absolutely perfect. Breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Since we went in the off peak month, I think we were one of just a few other couples in the entire hotel! The casino connected had amazing food too.

We absolutely loved the infinite pools that overlooked the clear blue ocean! Who knew?!

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This sunset shot was taken from the Hilton’s Fitness room! UH-mazing.

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I have a feeling this little location right here would make an awesome wedding or events’ venue! Talk about an incredible view. (It’s elevated on a cliff-like level)

Highlights

  • Exciting Caribbean water activities and unique shore excursions plus 2 pools
  • On property casino featuring table games, slots and sports book
  • Many restaurants and bars with a variety of cuisines
  • Beach Bums Kids Activity Center, games and family beach
  • Suites and deluxe rooms with marina and resort viewsIMG_5436

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On this night, we drove our little golf cart to dinner at Big Game Resort where we were told they would be feeding the bull sharks! It was a lot of fun and casual atmosphere.

MUST EAT:

STUART’S CONCH STAND

The Conch Salad is Bimini’s main claim to fame–a tasty mixture of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, raw conch, orange and lime juice spiced with Scotch Bonnet peppers. Never have I ever had a conch salad so FRESH! Nobody does it better than Stuart’s, a beachside wooden hut and favorite with the locals. We actually saw it on the following week’s episode of The Bachelor! We enjoyed some Bahamian beer too! I miss that pink!

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More Restaurant Recs:

1, 2, 3 FLOOR BAR

EDITH’S PIZZA

SCANTS JERK

SHERRY’S PARADISE BEACH BAR

What To Do:

SNORKEL AT THE SAPONA WRECK

Dive down to the floating Prohibition-era liquor cargoship, which ran aground in a 1926 hurricane. The tip of the boat is visible above water, making it perfect for snorkeling. You’ll find every form of coral, sponges and lobsters here!

DIVE WITH GREAT HAMMERHEADS (SEASONAL)

The best time to visit Bimini is in February, the month when huge hammerheads collect off the coast of Bimini. This is the only time of the year you can swim with these shy animals–so don’t miss your chance to get up close and personal! Join a qualified diver for this fun and unique dive of a lifetime. If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch the shark feed at Triangle Rocks Reef.

SAILING

If you don’t have your own sailboat, you can rent one from the marina and take it out for the afternoon.

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SNORKEL WITH SHARKS: 

The Bimini underwater is a rich playground for snorkelers and divers. The crystal-clear water makes for unforgettable swims with fish and coral….and SHARKS.

NATURE WALK

On the Bimini Nature Hiking Trail you’ll learn a lot: ecology, wildlife, history. Guided tours are led by professionals. You’ll find birds, iguanas and the endemic Bimini Boa that call the islands home!

BE A BEACH BUM

I mean, what would the Caribbean be without the beach! The islands’ top three are Radio Beach, Blister Beach and Spook Hill Beach, plus a couple of really cool cays more south.

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We Were Stayin’ In Paris

Birthday Surprise

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What a trip!!

So rewind to 2 weeks before my birthday. My boyf refused to drop ANY hints on where he was taking me to celebrate! He said pack a bag for a long weekend… the temperature between 65-70s.

If you’re a female, you know it’s hard enough to pack for a “long weekend” type of trip as it is, when you KNOW where you’re going, and what the weekend’s agenda will be! So imagine my thought process… so that year we had discussed potentially traveling together to New York, to Seattle & Vancouver, to Napa, Nashville… so I thought maybe one of those would be the destination. I’d pack for outdoor activity but also for urban vibes! To be comfortable but cool! Some athleisure + some neutral-colored streetwear! My mom encouraged me to find a leather jacket for fall and I agreed– that’d be a good piece to pack too!

SO. A week out and hurricane weather advisories were all over the forecast for Southern Florida. Just great. The plan was for me to fly down to Miami, and then together, we’d head to our destination from there the next morning! Which would’ve been totally fine, but I soon come to find out most of the state of Florida was being evacuated!!! You read correctly, evacuated.

After quite a few texts back and forth. Worried families. And me demanding to meet my bf at whichever city he chose to take me for my birthday, I was told to relax, and get on my Miami-bound flight.

Just to give you an idea of my airport experience heading down to Charlotte, the connecting city— many, many delays, kids from Florida were we’re flying north to get out of the storm, and passengers on my plane were only heading south to help board up their parents’ homes!! Yikes. This had “bad idea” written all over it.

BUT, eventually my flight boarded to Charlotte, and then to Miami- where I was pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to First Class. If I was flying into the eye of a hurricane, I suppose First Class and unlimited glasses of wine would be the way to endure that.

Fast forward to the next day.

So to my surprise, we make it to the airport quickly and like any other sunny, beautiful Miami morning. (Enter confusion) We grab a relaxed Cuban breakfast at the airport and head to our gate.

[Keep in mind- at this point I truly have no idea where we are heading- I’m just praying it’s away from this hurricane! The city is scheduled to evacuate before the storm hits 2 days from our departure…. talk about cutting it close. We are lucky the airport wasn’t closed down! I expected gridlock traffic. The works. But no- everyone was fine that day. ]

We head to the end gate #’s of D and down the escalators toward our group of gates.

So is this a joke? Truly- the listed gates where we were sitting went as the following : Freeport, Bahamas (please let us NOT be heading to the Bahamas, fairly certain at this point the Bahamas had been wrecked by Irma.) Listed Next: Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. (Don’t get me wrong, the midwest is great but I wasn’t flying down to Miami just to fly right back up to the Midwest area!) The last listed: Pittsburgh, PA. (Similar to the Midwest, I could’ve driven to Pittsburgh and saved me an entire day of flight delays and worry if that’s where we were heading, seriously was this his plan? I mean to catch maybe a Pirates game and hang in the ‘Burgh?)

Well. We boarded the plane, and took off NOT before being delayed by none other than NASA space center, who was, at the time, launching some kind of rocket? How many times can you say you sat on the runway 30 minutes due to NASA launching space stuff? (Ha)

I was super confused why we were heading to Pittsburgh. Small plane, and my bf seemed nervous, like we needed to take off or we would be running behind for our connection- nervous. He stayed cool and collected but I just knew our final stop couldn’t be that! We finally took off and ran to our next gate, where before I looked, asked permission. New York City – JFK.

Awe. NYC it was! I always loved visiting my best friend in New York, and attending my favorite, ABC’s Live with Kelly and Ryan Morning Talk Show (Michael was co-host when I would go!) I instantly was thinking of all the possibilities the weekend had in store.

Maybe my bf’s brother and his wife would be joining us at a surprise, maybe we’d all see a show, perhaps my best friend was in on the surprise, I would definitely be seeing her.

We rode the terminal train out to where I thought we would be picking up an Uber. (It’s a huge airport, are you ever really aware of where you are inside ha?)

Finally we are walking so quickly through the main entrance of another section of the airport where several people are checking in, etc. My boyfriend is on the phone at this point – seemingly getting the status of someone. I figured it was one of the friends or family I assumed we were meeting there for our NYC weekend.

He hangs up his phone and tells me to open up a birthday card my mom had packed in my carry-on bag. I pull out the card…..and my passport!!!

What? He hands me a printed ticket as I look at him, laughing in confusion. (See photo above- a screen shot of the video he took ha) I read the destination: Paris, France. Holy sh*t! Wow. haha, never, not once, did I expect to be leaving the country (from what I knew, without my passport) let alone, Paris, what a dream. I’d be spending my birthday in Paris.

(Photo) PS could we please just take a moment to check the shirt I was wearing as all this was taking place?! St Germain?? Haha whaaaat are the odds??

I turn around, completely oblivious that we were right in front of the TSA check-in line for Delta. We had made our way from the American Airline terminal to Delta without me even realizing haha! I was so focused on what could be taking place in NYC that I didn’t even realize that wasn’t our actual final stop! And to my surprise again, we weren’t the only ones going to Paris— my bf’s best friend and his gf were joining us! I was so mind blown and excited, I just kept repeating myself, “I can’t believe you pulled this surprise off… we are going to Paris?! What in the world?”

I think we talked the entire flight haha. It was an unforgettable trip. Paris is such an elegantly beautiful and breathtaking city. I absolutely loved taking it all in. The wine was on another level. The architecture, the art, the gardens, the palaces, the food, the language, the cafes, the pastries, the views. It was magic Hands-down one of my favorite cities. Such magic fit into just a quick weekend. A very happy birthday, indeed. Xoxo

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A Weekend in Cuba | Havana Style

Travel Tips for Havana, Cuba

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In case you were ever looking to visit Cuba, NOW is the time to go! We flew out of Miami, FL via Delta Airlines — it was a piece of cake, not to mention, affordable. (Speaking of cake, a passenger on board lost an arguing battle between himself and the flight attendants about a whole box of CAKE he had on his lap, while seated in an emergency exit row. Beyond random, and better question would be, how in the world did he get a cake through TSA security? I guess we will never know. After 45 minutes in the air, we had arrived to our destination of Havana, Cuba, our home for the weekend.

Below are some of our recommendations for Havana! We were there for 3 days, and did not have a chance to do any other cities. We purposely tried to take it a bit slower this trip rather than be go-go-go, so this a lighter itinerary. This mostly focuses on things to do and restaurants, with my strongest recommendations at the top of each section. I also included some travel tips for Cuba passed along to me by a good friend who had made the trip a few months prior to ours.
Note that she had a guide and driver, but you could still do a lot of these things without either, especially if you or someone you’re traveling with has family or friends still in Cuba to help get around. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments! IF you are heading there soon, you are going to have an amazing trip!
Things to Do:
  • Walk Around Old Town – walked around Old Town and learn a bit of the history of the city. Some of the highlights to see are Cathedral de San Cristobal, Neoclassical Capital Building / El Capitolio, Great Theater, Plaza del Cristo. If you don’t have a guide, there may be walking tours but it was a nice way to get our bearings the first day.
  • Malecon – this is the sea wall that stretches for quite a while, but it’s a gorgeous walk. We started around Plaza de Armas and walked northwest for a while. Highly recommend at sunset! (Sit outside the Hotel Nacional for drinks and sunset views)
  • Classic Car Ride – we had a driver with a beautiful red car for the classic car experience and photos. If you don’t hire a driver, there are still plenty of classic cars all over Havana! You can either pay them like a cab to take you places or pay them a little bit for a photo. You’ll see a ton of them on Paseo de Marti by the Capital building or there is a lot where they park near Malecon / Plaza de Armas.
  • Fusterlandia – this is an outdoor public art space by an artist who was inspired by Gaudi (the guy who did all of the cool art in Barcelona). The art is all around the streets, on houses, on fences, etc., and then you can walk into his house which is decorated in all of these mosaic tiles.
  • Grand Theater Tour / Ballet – we did a short tour of the Grand Theater during the day (where the Cuban Ballet performs)and ballet show in evening. $35 each for private box seats – and the performance is absolutely incredible.
  • Cigar Factory Tour – if either of you like cigars, the cigar factory tour was really cool!  There are a few of the factories that you can tour including Partagas, Romeo & Julieta, Habanos S.A.
  • Beach Day – there are a few nice beaches a short drive away. We spent half day in Guanabo (30 minute drive away) and then stopped at La Terraza de Cojimar on the way back (another Hemingway spot with a famous blue drink). Kind of a touristy place but it was a cool little pit stop on the way back to Havana.
Restaurants / Bars:
  • El Cocinera – new, hip restaurant, menu changes based on availability, outdoor terrace area is beautiful; suggest making reservations online beforehand; right next to Fabrica de Arte Cuba (FAC) so recommend doing dinner here and then going to FAC around 10 pm on a weekend night
  • Fabrica de Arte – this is art space / museum that turns into a club / party scene on the weekends; you buy a ticket and get 4 or so drinks included and wander around all of these cool art spaces; I thought it sounded weird beforehand but it ended up being so much fun! I think it’s only open Friday and Saturday nights
  • Restaurante Trofeo – our guide took us there for lunch and it was the best Ropas Viejas (traditional Cuban beef dish) that I had the whole time in Cuba. We went all of the way the top floor; there seemed to be different levels with different restaurants.
  • La Bodeguita de Medio – this was Hemingway’s favorite spot for a mojito in Havana; kind of touristy but fun to stop by for one drink when walking around the Old Town area
  • Hotel Nacional – a swanky hotel for a cocktail and hanging out by the ocean; all of the famous people who have visited Cuba stay here; amazing views of the ocean and the Melacon from the back patio. We also stayed here and recommend it.
  • Plaza Vieja Restaurants – we stayed in the Old Town area and could easily walk to Plaza Vieja. There were some cute restaurants with second floor patios that overlooked the plaza. We ate at one for dinner; I can’t remember the name but they all kind of looked the same!
  • La Guarida – one of the upscale, fancier restaurants in Havana; suggest making reservations online beforehand; this is recommended by every American but was a bit over-hyped in my opinion; the building itself is really cool though
Travel Tips: You guys may already know some of this, but there are some nuanced things about traveling in Cuba that are unlike other countries. Below this are also some websites that I read before traveling there.
  • Money: Cuba is a total cash-based economy and has two currencies – one for locals and one for tourists. Bring as much cash as you think you’ll spend. I think that we budgeted ~$100 per person per day for meals, drinks, activities, etc. If you want to buy cigars or rum to take back, that will be a bit more. In general, Cuba is inexpensive but bring a little buffer just in case. We exchanged currency at the airport (outside of the building at an exchange desk).
  • Safety: In general, Cuba felt very safe. Chris and I were mostly with our guide or a driver, but at the times that we were alone, it still felt safe. Without our guide, we noticed that the locals heckled a little bit more (e.g. offering taxi rides), but never anything dangerous.
  • Wifi: If you want Wifi, you need to buy a card at a telecom store. It’s fairly inexpensive, but the lines are long (we arrived at 8 am before it opened and had to wait outside the door for 30 minutes after it opened). You need a card even to use Wifi at an Airbnb. We just did most of our research / planning before we arrived, so that we didn’t have to look many things up while in country.
  • Guides / Drivers: We organized our trip through a family friend who runs a Cuba travel service out of the US. She explained to us that under Trump’s latest laws as of November 2017, Americans needed a guide and driver to be compliant with the “Supporting the Cuban People” visa. It made the trip a bit more expensive ($400 per person for 4 days), but it also made things hassle-free.
  • Visa: Regardless of what type of visa you’re traveling under, Americans need a Cuban visa that can be bought at the airport the day of your flight. Most likely, you are connecting through Miami. At the airport, they have special Cuba visa desks for the airlines before and after security. The visa is $100 and can be paid on a credit card.
  • Customs: Both arriving in Cuba and coming back to the US were much less climatic that I expected! I thought there might be a different customs process, but it was fairly similar. We brought back some cigars with no issue.
  • Websites: