Introduction: This was my 34th cruise, and the first with Celebration Cruise Line. I'd been curious about trying a cruise on the Bahamas Celebration; I used to see her docked in Nassau from time to time before she started calling on Freeport. The same owners formerly operated the Regal Empress before her retirement. That former ocean liner had developed something of a cult following among locals and ship buffs. I figured that anyone who was willing to invest in one of those grand ladies and keep her from the breakers for a few extra years couldn't be all bad.
My wife found a Groupon deal for $200, which included the two-night cruise fare for two guests in an Ocean View stateroom. Along with two other couples, we bought the Groupons and set a date. Originally my wife bought two for us, but she got a refund on one of them. This was due to the cruise line giving her a hassle over when the Groupon could be redeemed. They didn't list any restrictions on when it could be used. But when she attempted to book a trip over the summer they refused to honor it because the ship was nearly full. I don't have an issue with them limiting the usage since it is a discount deal, but they should put that information on the Groupon listing.
We left home around 9 AM and made it to the pier around 12:30 PM. It was an easy ride down to the Port of Palm Beach. The Bahamas Celebration switched to Palm Beach from Port Everglades recently. Since she was the only ship there, the traffic was light. Valet is the only parking option available at the pier, and it costs $30 for the two-night cruise. After leaving the car with the valet we quickly got through security and check in. The next desk was to make dinner reservations. The two dinner options included in the fare are the Rio (a Brazilian steakhouse) and The Crystal Room (a standard cruise ship dining room). We decided to do Rio the first night, and The Crystal Room on the second. There is also a for-fee ($25 per person) steakhouse called The Cove, but we chose not to try it this time. After making our dining reservations we boarded the ship. The whole process took less than a half hour, very speedy.
The M/S Bahamas Celebration (BC for the sake of brevity) was originally built in 1981 as a cruise ferry called the MS Prinsesse Ragnhild. She is around 35,000 gross tons and carries approximately 1500 passengers. She was extensively rebuilt in 1992 and renovated before she started in the US cruise market, so most of the passenger areas seem modern. I found the ship to be in very nice shape, and kept spotlessly clean by her crew. Her interior spaces are adequately signed and easy to navigate.
Passengers enter the ship on deck 3 into the main lobby. The large atrium starts on this level and goes all the way up to the top of the ship. It's an impressive space for such an old ship, and even has the obligatory glass elevators. The ship's information and shore excursions desks are in the lobby, as is the Internet Cafe. The Fountain of Youth Spa is located on deck 3 immediately off the lobby. It has a gymnasium, massage/treatment rooms, a salon and showers. It looks to have been recently renovated. The ship's lone gift shop is next to the spa and offers souvenirs, liquor and sundry items.
Deck 4 is where most of the dining and entertainment venues are found. Starting at the front is the Wynmore Casino. Its tacky name belies the tasteful decor contained within. The casino is unusually cavernous, with its roof rising up two decks. The space appears to have been converted into a gaming venue from some other purpose when the ship started its new life. The Crystal Room and The Cove are also forward on deck 4. Pub 437 is aft of the Crystal Room. It serves as the ship's piano bar in the evenings. It is an inviting British-style pub with wood lined walls and low slung leather sofas. It was highly reminiscent of Royal Caribbean's Schooner Bar.
The first thing one comes to in the aft half of deck 4 is the casual dining venue Trattoria di Gerry. The Trattoria is counter service offering Italian comfort food during the day and continental breakfast in the mornings. It is very convenient to stop by and grab a quick slice of pizza or salad. Pastas and desserts are also available. Specialty coffees and pastries are sold for a surcharge.
Next to the Trattoria is the Rio restaurant. Rio is a hybrid buffet and Brazilian steakhouse. The atmosphere is more relaxed than The Crystal Room; guests serve themselves salads, soups and desserts from the buffet line. Servers then bring the main courses and various cuts of meat for the diners to sample. All the way aft on deck 4 is The View. This is a mixed-use venue that does double duty as the ship's theater for production shows, and its only disco at night. The lounge is very large and easily handles the crowds with floor and balcony seating.
Directly above The View is the Ocean Breeze Lounge. It serves as a nightly karaoke venue among other things. It also has an adjacent card room and Library. There is a large patio section aft of the Ocean Breeze Lounge with tables and loungers. The bar has a decently stocked humidor for anyone wanting to enjoy a cigar. The rest of the ship's interior is taken up with passenger cabins and crew areas.
Deck 9 is the highest guest accessible level of the ship. The lido area occupies the forward and middle sections. A fairly ingenious glass enclosed "above ground" pool has been constructed centrally. Since the ship originally plied much colder waters, she did not have a pool. There was also no space in the deck below to allow the install of one in the conventional fashion. The solution provides a unique experience that adds to the offbeat nature of this ferry-cum-cruise ship. In the same area are two pool bars, two hot tubs and the outdoor Lido Buffet. Lounge chairs and sofas surround the pool area with dining tables mixed in. There are also covered open-air dining areas on either side of the ship aft of the buffet.
Near the top of the atrium is the ice cream parlor. Cups of ice cream are included; waffle cones are available for an additional fee. Aft on deck 9 is the children's water park. It has a fairly large flume slide that ends in a shallow kiddy pool. A small video arcade has been installed on the aft starboard side of deck 9.
After the speedy embarkation process we stopped by our cabins to drop off our luggage. We were luckily able to get three cabins next to each other. My wife and I were assigned to #8336, an ocean view room on deck 8. It was comparable in size and appointments to an ocean view room on the Carnival Fantasy Class ships. I was happy to find that the shower had a sliding door enclosure, as opposed to the typical shower curtain. The room had ample storage for a short cruise with two small closets and a desk. There were two Pullman-type bunks, which we did not use. It should be noted that the bunks have a maximum weight limit of 200 lbs. This could be an issue for some families, especially now that the ship is based in the US.
We had our first meal at the lido buffet, and then went on a walk through the ship exploring its public areas. Later in the afternoon we all spent some time soaking in the hot tub. Prior to leaving the pool I asked one of the deck attendants for the operating hours of the hot tubs. He told me they were open 24 hours, more on that later.
We also stopped by the Trattoria di Gerry for a snack; it has some excellent Caesar salads and tasty pizza slices. My wife and I had a nap and unfortunately missed sail away. We were up in time for dinner though, and made our way down to the Rio. The food at the Rio was decent enough, but nothing to get excited over. It's odd that a Brazilian style steakhouse offers so few beef options, only prime rib is available to order. The servers come by the table with meats but offer only chicken, pork, sausage and roast beef. The apple crisp dessert was good, but the overall experience was only average.
In the evening we all went to The View for the nightly headliner show. The informational paper they left in the room listed the show starting 10:15. Luckily we went down a little early, because the show actually began at 10:00. This was the first of many instances of information being improperly relayed by the ship's staff. The program itself was pretty good; it was a three-act variety show. The first was a singer who did a variety of songs, the second was a cirque duo that did acrobatics, and the third was Steve Zimmerman (the Cruise Director) who did a tap dancing comedy bit.
After the show we wanted to do a late night hot tub visit so we headed up topside. Unfortunately we found the pool drained and the tubs closed. Apparently they aren't open 24 hours. Thanks a lot pool guy. That ended the night, and we turned in soon after. I found the bed to be a little uncomfortable; the mattress probably should have been changed out a while ago. You could feel the metal supports if you rolled over a certain way. Not a huge deal, but it was noticeable.
We arrived in Freeport early on Sunday morning. None of us had been there before, so it was something new for the entire group. After a good breakfast at the Lido Buffet we headed down the gangway. We spent a little time at the small shopping area at the cruise ship pier. There is not a lot there; just a few shops, small food stands and the obligatory Senor Frogs.
I did a bit of reading on Freeport prior to our cruise and I knew that the cruise ship pier is a good distance away from the attractions. We all decided to catch a taxi to Port Lucaya, which has a larger shopping area and a public beach. The taxi ride is $10 per person (round trip) and does not seem to be negotiable. After arriving at Port Lucaya we did more shopping and bar hopped for a while. We then went down to the beach and found it to be moderately populated. The beach there was a little rocky and not the prettiest I've seen, but it was far from the worst. I may be slightly spoiled since my last cruise called on Half Moon Cay.
We returned to the ship around 4 o'clock and decided to continue the festivities up on the pool deck. There was a great deck party going on as we prepared to sail for Palm Beach. There was dancing around the pool, and it was announced that all drinks were $3 for a short time. I promptly ordered a bucket of beer! The central location and above-deck design of the pool lends itself well to parties. Unlike pools that are set down into the deck, folks in the BC's pool are at the same level as the partiers. It makes you feel as if you're part of the merry making instead of looking up at it from below. It's different and fun, and I would actually like to see it used more often.
Later that evening we went to The Crystal Room for dinner. The food was an improvement from Rio's, next time we'll likely eat there both nights. I had the spicy shrimp cocktail appetizer, the Caribbean onion soup, and the Beef Wellington. All of it was pretty decent, and on par with the main dining room food of other lines. Our serving team was friendly, and tolerated our slightly inebriated group admirably.
We skipped dessert and stopped into the casino so our friends could play a few slots. I'm not a gambler, so I busied myself with a trip to the bar. We then spent some time singing along at the piano bar before heading to The Quest. For those that know what The Quest is, the version they play on BC will be familiar. It's held in The View and was pretty well attended. For those that haven't been to a Quest, go try it and you'll have a good time. It's an adult scavenger hunt, and always provides a good laugh. We were up late in the piano bar, dance club and pizzeria. We eventually went up to the pool deck in hopes that the hot tubs might be open. They were not. Thanks again pool guy.
Our second and last morning started at Rio's where we tried to get breakfast. We stopped by the Information Desk on the night before to find out the breakfast times. The lady at the desk said that it would be served at Rio's, the Trattoria and the Lido Buffet until 10 AM. We arrived at Rio around 9 AM and were told that breakfast was over. Another bit of bad information from a crewmember. Thankfully the Trattoria was still serving, so we ate there instead.
We were getting ready to leave the ship when a PA announcement was made informing us that the gangway line had been halted due to overcrowding in the Customs area. That was around 9:30 AM. I had read complaints about the long debarkation process from the BC, so I wasn't surprised. Several more announcements were made about the line being stopped, and warning guests not to come to deck 3. We obliged and stayed at the Trattoria enjoying pastries and hot beverages.
Somewhere around 10:45 the PA again came on, announcing the "last call for all guests still on board to please debark the ship". We apparently went from "don't come to deck 3, the line isn't moving" to "everyone better leave now!" in about a half second. It sounded very disorganized, but unfortunately par for the course.
We made our way off the ship and were greeted by a huge (and extremely slow moving) line for Customs. There were at least six agents screening passengers, so it was hard to figure out why it was going so slowly. We finally got to the front of the line around noon. The Customs officer took a lot of time asking us odd questions and checking our passports on his computer. Usually it's "hi, welcome back" and a brief glance at the passports.
After getting cleared I stopped and asked one of the agents why the process was so slow at Palm Beach. He explained that the BC drops off and picks up guests at Freeport as part of the line's cruise/land vacation packages. Most cruise ships don't do this, and it slows down the screening process considerably.
The BC is a nice, older ship with a friendly crew and bargain rates. The food is decent; the service is prompt and attentive. The fun pool deck and the relaxing beach day were the highlights. But the frequent misinformation and disorganization makes them seem rather bush league compared to the larger lines. They have also developed the nasty habit (along with many of the mainstream lines) of making far too many PA announcements. Nearly every one is some sort of sales pitch, and it really pollutes the ambiance of the vacation.
All in all it was an enjoyable time, albeit with a few issues that the crew needs to address. I would probably cruise on BC again if the price was right, and I would recommend it to anyone with realistic expectations looking for a budget friendly short cruise.