While a long, leisurely cruise is nice, sometimes you just crave a spur-of-the-moment, quick getaway. For anyone looking for a short-term, high-value cruise, it’s hard to beat Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s trips to the Bahamas.
As the only cruise line serving the Port of Palm Beach, they have established themselves as the value leader in this part of Florida. Trust me: For those who live nearby, having a port option other than Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or Port Canaveral is a godsend.
For the first few years, BPCL operated a single ship — Grand Celebration. Two months ago, they added a second ship, Grand Classica (you can read the review here ). We were impressed enough to make arrangements to sail on Grand Celebration and compare the experience.
For starters, both ships have a long history. Grand Celebration was originally launched by Carnival in 1987 as “Celebration.” BPCL acquired it in 2014 from Costa. First impressions are she wears her age well. The public areas sparkle and the ship itself has been well maintained.
Where she does show age is in the stateroom options. The majority of the staterooms are oceanview. Apparently in the Eighties, balconies were not in the plans. While can upgrade to one of the dozen or so suites that do have a balcony and additional amenities, on a two-night cruise, you’ll probably find the oceanview rooms more than adequate.
The ships cruise to Freeport, Grand Bahama, and between the two, expect to carry 500,000 passengers a year. Capacity on Grand Celebration is around 1,500 guests and 670 crew. We cruised midweek, and the passenger count was around 1,000.
While you won’t get the the glitz and glamour the newer ships offer, you can get something else just as good: Relaxation. This is more like old school cruising, with plenty of activities to choose from, or just taking it easy for a few days at sea.
We were joined on the cruise by our 5-year-old granddaughter, Cate (currently BPCL has a “Kids Sail Free” promotion going on this summer), so we paid extra attention to what was available for the younger guests. Here are some observations:
- OUR STATEROOM: We had an oceanview stateroom with storage and space more than adequate for a two-day cruise, including a roll away bed for Cate. As always on any cruise, you should throw in a six-power strip or extension cord. Between the phones, portable media players and other devices, you can never have enough outlets. Your room key is a hotel-style punch card, reinforcing the “old school” flavor of the cruise.
- THE STAFF: Start to finish, Grand Celebration crew and staff were among the most friendly we have encountered. In the restaurants, they went out of their way to make Cate feel special, including making her a rabbit from a napkin. Actually, they made all three of us feel like rock stars.
- DINING: The main dining room is Stellar Prime, offering open seating for breakfast and dinner. Other venues included with your cruise are the Ocean View Buffet on Deck 10, the Plunge Bar and Grill, poolside, room service and for snacks, a pizzeria. The Admiralty Club is a specialty restaurant offering upscale steaks and seafood, for an extra charge ($30) and a Champagne Breakfast ($16). Other extra cost venues include The Bull for burgers, Lattetude for coffee and Grand Cafe. We found the food overall to be above average and the service very good.
- ENTERTAINMENT: There is a nightly Vegas-style show in the multi-story Legends Grand Theatre featuring the Grand Celebration singers and dancers, as well as a magician and a comedian. Our cruise also included a Tina Turner Tribute show and a steel drum musician. We liked the vibe in the Regal Room, where you can enjoy late night jazz and a martini.
- FOR KIDS: Grand Celebration has several programs in place for younger guests: The Kruzers Club (ages 3-6); Club Chill (7-12) and Vibe (13-17). Cate attended Kruzers on day two. Under the watchful eyes of supervisors, she did drawings, decorated cookies, got her face painted and came away with some balloon animals. Under the rules, parents must check in hourly on their child. Did she like it? Every time we checked, she didn’t want to leave. In fact, we had to make her leave and get ready for dinner.
- ACTIVITIES: The ship offered a full slate of things to do, from dance classes and vegetable carving to BINGO and male sexy legs competition (no, I didn’t compete). There’s a Spa and Fitness Room onboard, as well as a casino and shopping. We enjoyed spending time at The Helm on Deck 8, a library and game room where you can also use the Internet.
While Freeport is more industrial than other ports in the Bahamas, it is also located on one of the largest islands, Grand Bahama. There are numerous shore excursions available, including a trip to the Grand Lucayan, one of four resorts BPCL partners with to offer cruise-and-stay packages. For nature lovers, I recommend Garden of the Groves, a botanical garden that includes dining by a scenic, man-made waterfall.
BOTTOM LINE: Whether you are a first-timer or veteran cruiser, BPCL over delivers for the cost. Check their website for the latest promotional pricing – cruises can start as low as $129, plus taxes and fees. They also recently became the first cruise line to eliminate extra fees for solo travelers. With singles comprising a growing segment of cruise travelers, that’s a smart move.