A Site of Memory: The Princess Resort and Casino

A Site of Memory: The Princess Resort and Casino

The Princess Resort and Casino, or the Royal Oasis Resort which it was later named, was one of the best places for leisure time on Grand Bahama. You can just imagine the island of Grand Bahama back in the 1980s and 1990s. There were many activities to choose from to do on the weekends, and the downtown area used to be bustling with tourist and locals alike. Out of these various activities, one of the main things to do was visit the Princess Resort and Casino. Tourists would be brought in every hour by tour buses and taxis to book into the Princess and then go to Xanadu Beach. At night the Princess Towers and Casino would be lit up in various color lights including all the colors of the rainbow. This resort greatly contributed to Grand Bahama getting the renowned name “The Magic City.”

Princess Resort in the 1990s

Indeed, the Princess Resort is a very memorable place on Grand Bahama and to its citizens.

According to (Ayala-Strachan, 2018), the Princess Resort and Casino was built in the early 1960s through the Hawksbill Agreement and soon after became a major source of income for Grand Bahama. Soon after, the International Bazaar was built and gained sales in union with the Princess Resort. In 2000, the Princess Resort properties were sold to Driftwood, which changed the hotel’s name to Royal Oasis Resort and Crowne Plaza (Maycock, D. 2018). It was a well-known hotel establishment sitting on 1,000 acres of land with pools and various activities.

Aspects of the Resort

The Princess Resort was known for its grand casino called El Casino. Tourist would fly into Grand Bahama all the time to partake in gambling and the casino was also known for its unique and elaborate design which was iconic. At the entrance of the casino, the roof was designed like an Arabic dome and the entrance was also lined with gold as shown in the figure.

El Casino
El Casino at night

There were also various types of nighttime entertainment at the casino. There would be a night show from around 8 pm – 12 am where showgirls would perform topless and Bahamian singers such as Jay Mitchell would perform. A disco would be held at the Sultan’s Tent which was near the casino and various bands would play live in front of guests on Tuesday through Saturday.  On Wednesdays, there would be a “ladies’ night” which would draw a lively crowd (After the Sun Goes Down, 1990). My aunt who worked at the Princess for eleven years as a Food and Beverage Clerk stated that the resort had a contract with an airline called Lakers Air to bring in wealthy guests.

Another aspect of the resort was Princess Towers, where the guests stayed. My aunt told me that during her time at the Princess, she used to give discounts to our family on days that they decided to eat there. The towers were a modern, first-class established hotel, built in the 1960s which consisted of ten floors with 400 rooms, including 19 suites with the top floors being penthouses (Bahamas Princess Resort & Casino 1995). The Princess Towers also had the International Ballroom which was on the first floor of the Towers.  This ballroom was known as the most high-class room to hold functions during the 1990s. My parents held their wedding reception at the ballroom in February 1994 and related that once someone reserved the ballroom, that person would get a free room at the Towers. The guests who attended their wedding always say that it was one of the best weddings they ever been to.

The Princess Towers and entrance to the lobby

The Princess was also known for its grand lobby area. As you entered the Princess’ lobby there was a water fountain in the middle of the floor along with a piano where a pianist would play. There would be bellman waiting to take guests and their luggage to their rooms. My aunt who worked there told me the Princess had three different restaurants: La’Tateria, Morgan’s Bluff and the Lemon Peel. These three restaurants served a variety of dishes including Italian, gourmet, breakfast and native Bahamian dishes.

The Princess Resort and Casino Presently

Today, the Princess is in a very depressing state. It really is heart-wrenching to see that it once used to be such a grand place and a gem to Grand Bahama and now it is in ruins. In 2004 when Grand Bahama was hit by two massive hurricanes, Jeanne and Francis, the Princess got badly damaged. Due to the damage, the owners of the resort decided to close the Princess. As a result of its closing, approximately 1,300 Grand Bahamians lost their jobs (Detroit of The Bahamas, 2017, August 02).

In 2007 Harcourt Development later purchased the Royal Oasis resort property, but was unable to redevelop and open the hotel and casino property due to claims of insufficient funding. They had plans to transform the site into the Crowne Plaza Golf Resort and Casino at the Royal Oasis (Catobear.com 2018). Homeless persons are reported to currently live in the abandoned buildings of the Princess Resort and Casino. Currently, officials and citizens of Grand Bahama are unsure about the state of Grand Bahama and the future. The majority of Grand Bahamians feel that such a grand place like the Princess was never supposed to be ruined like so. My mother also stated that the government and owners of the hotel were never supposed to let the establishment deteriorate to such a state.

In October 2018 I was able to drive through the area where the Princess Resort or Royal Oasis was and took some pictures. While driving through and looking at the buildings, I could empathize with my mother and with how other Bahamians of her generation feel about the Princess.

The road leading to the Princess Hotel
The Princess Towers Currently
IMG_5552 (2)
The current state of El Casino robbed of its gold plates (Photo by author November, 2018)

The towers and the casino buildings are overtaken by vegetation and severely broken down as shown in these images. At the entrance of the casino, you can see how persons have robbed it of its gold plates and other valuables in the Princess Tower. While driving we were not able to pass through all the roads because there are blocked by the over-grown trees. On the other hand, my parents and I were able to see that the authorities have cleaned up the area a bit.

The people in my family feel very nostalgic about the Princess. They also feel very heart-broken about how much the building has deteriorated and if the Princess was still in business, the state of Freeport would be much better. They have made lots of memories there and have lost their jobs when the hotel closed. They all feel that those days were truly ‘good days.’

In conclusion, even though many of us have not been around long to fully witness the beauty and significance of the Princess Resort and Casino, through my research I was able to see and appreciate the value of this site. Many Grand Bahamians feel that the building should be demolished and hope that a new hotel establishment can be built on this island, instead of in Nassau. The Princess Resort and Casino is truly and always will be a place of memory on Grand Bahama.

Postcard: A memory of the Princess Resort and Casino