Genting, the Malaysian resort conglomerate that is attempting to build the world's biggest casino in Miami, is working on another project at the moment called Resorts World Bimini and—along with a bright red cruise ship and flock of seaplanes to get there—marketing it heavily to Miamians. We recently took a media trip over there, and here's what we saw.
3:30 PM: I arrive at the old Miami Seaplane Base on Watson Island, an ancient shack full of old Miami history surrounded by the massive presence of new Miami, including Jungle Island, the Miami Children's Museum, and the construction staging area for the Port Tunnel. I had planned to take the boat over, but after a last minute change of plans, I'm headed to Bimini by seaplane. Apparently it's cool if I just leave my car in the grass out front of the seaplane base while I'm in Bimini, so I do.
Inside, Miami's oldest and probably its smallest airport is lined in aeronautical souvenirs. It was built by Chalk's International Airlines in 1926, two years before Miami International Airport opened for business as Pan American Field. The base was used by Chalk's until 9/11 when they moved their operations up to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport so as to be farther away from possible terrorist threats at the port, which is right across the channel. Seaplanes landing and taking off along Government Cut were a familiar sight throughout Miami history and Chalk's heydays at the Seaplane Base. Now many people don't even know it still exists. But far from just existing, the seaplane base has the possibility of a very bright future which, as I'm soon to learn, is mostly because of Genting.
My fellow passengers casually arrive. Since it's just five of us, plus pilot and copilot, the whole thing is a much more casual, personal, affair than over at the port. I fill out my customs declaration form while sitting on an old leather couch and looking out over the bay. Genting has been using the seaplane base to shuttle executives and high rollers back and forth between Resorts World Bimini and Miami, but in the process have become the seaplane base's primary, if not their only, client. Although they also fly seaplanes out of Fort Lauderdale and MIA, Genting has singlehandedly been keeping the Miami Seaplane Base afloat.
4:15 PM: The plane finally arrives, fifteen minutes behind schedule. Because the fuel truck was unavailable prior to our takeoff, they had to send the plane over to MIA for refueling. A guy in a yellow polo shirt and baseball cap hand sweeps seaweed from the runway, and we walk over to the plane and board.
As we take off, Miami looks beautiful but it quickly starts to rain. The flight to Bimini only takes about twenty five minutes. We fly low, in the rain, the entire time. It's much noisier than a jet, but apparently not nearly as noisy as seaplanes used to be. The inside is quite plush, with leather seats and Bose noise canceling headphones.
The eventual plan is to have a plane leaving and arriving at both Miami and Bimini every hour, on the hour. First they'll be used for executives, (the Resort's president was on the plane with me) as a treat for high rollers at the casino, and as a very visible advertising tool, taking off and landing in Government Cut, right in the middle of Miami. Like in the good old days. Eventually Genting will start selling tickets.
4:45 PM: After a short half-hour flight, the plane touches down at Resorts World Bimini. Although the weather had been sunny in Miami, it's raining hard by now. Umbrellas in hand, we leave the plane at the dock and run in to the resort's one room customs house.
Stay tuned for parts two and three, as I check out Resorts World Bimini, and return home on the Bimini SuperFast ship.