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Caribbean Queen in the Bahamas

On January 14, 1958, Lawrence Lewis, heir to the Henry Flagler railroad fortune opened the charming colonial style 24-room Club Peace & Plenty on the un-discovered Bahamian island of Great Exuma. The main building was originally a sponge warehouse and the bar, a cookhouse dating back several hundred years to the Loyalist cotton plantation days. Following success in offering a safe, relaxed Bahamian Out Island atmosphere, pristine waters on sheltered Elizabeth Harbor, white powder beaches, and world-class fishing, another wing of 12 rooms was added to the Club for a total of 32 rooms and suites.

When manager George Franks moved to Nassau in 1969, Lewis sold the Club to Paul Swetland, Armand Angelone and Charlie Pflueger. In the same year, while on vacation, Stan Benjamin, a Cleveland, Ohio industrialist fell in love with Exuma and its people. A few years later, he purchased the property and began a long successful association stretching to this day.

The hotel experienced numerous remodelling efforts over the years, including the addition of three Bay View Suites on the end of the west wing and the conversion of six rooms into three deluxe harbor view suites. The owner decreed that in any remodelling, the original character of the buildings must be maintained to preserve the old colonial style as first envisioned by Lewis. Today’s visit provides proof that although the entire hotel has been upgraded, it visually appears as it did when first constructed by Tippy Lightburn and Cavalier Construction in the mid-1950s. Probably, the most significant change is from the original concept of a first-class fishing club to the present day family vacation Mecca.

Over the years, Benjamin, the Peace & Plenty and its management have been singled out for Bahamian Tourism awards including Stan’s lifetime tourism award presented by the government’s deputy director-general for tourism a few years ago. The hotel also received in 1998 the Silver Jubilee Award from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, for Out Island hotels. Pflueger, the long-time general manager, served as president of the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board in 1889-90 and won the prestigious Bahamas Hotel Association Hotelier of the Year in 1991. The hotel also boasts over 40 years of actively promoting the Bahamas Tourism industry around the world.

Through the years, Club Peace & Plenty and the Exuma area have been fortunate enough to have hosted interesting celebrity visitors, some of whom include Jimmy Buffet tying up his sea plane to the Peace & Plenty Beach Inn dock while working on his musical Don’t Stop the Carnival; Prince Phillip of England (who yachted down from Nassau), actors Robert Mitchum, Sam Elliott, Gene Hackman, Johnny Depp (who accepted on national TV the Golden Globe Award in the bar at the Club while in Exuma filming Pirates of the Caribbean II, Hume Croyn and wife Jessica Tandy (who used to own nearby Children’s Bay Cay); Ester Rolle (star of ‘Good Times’ television show and originally from Rolletown); Today’s Show’s Al Roker (whose grand parents hailed from Exuma); Jackie Kennedy Onassis (who dropped by the hotel restaurant for lunch from a yacht in the harbour); baseball greats Mickey Mantle (who stayed at the Peace & Plenty Bonefish Lodge early in the year before his unfortunate death), Dusty Baker and Davey Johnson; golfers Jack Nicklaus, Ray Floyd, and Greg Norman (who designed the Emerald Bay/Four Seasons course next door) and Tom Weiskol; footballer Joe Namath and coach Don Shula – to name a few of the international celebrities that found their way to the island paradise.

This jewel on the crown of the Out Island’s hotels celebrates its golden anniversary with a week of festivities capping the night of January 12, 2008 with a lavish cocktail party graced by tourism officials, VIP guests and the global media. The invitation includes a poolside junkanoo with traditional costumes and music, dance, commemorative shirts, plus exciting prizes and surprises. A similar event is planned for January 14, the actual opening date in 1958, gathering previous managers, local dignitaries and guests. Parties and activities the rest of the week conclude the opening celebrations. Other programs have been slated around the 14th of each month including special discounts for the remainder of 2008. Guest stays inclusive of the 14th day of any month after January also receive the fourth night free throughout the year, when booking the special four-night anniversary package.

Article and Photos by Hazel Heyer.