BACKGROUND: We were given Suite 7212 for the 02/07 -- 02/09 cruise to Grand Bahama Island. Now I've been on the ferry rides to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, and I've also been on the great ferries from Great Britain to Ireland and Ireland to France -- but this was nothing like that. I've never been on a Celebrity, Norwegian Caribbean Line or Royal Caribbean behemoth, but based on what happened with the Carnival Triumph, I can't believe that bigger or newer hardware equates with better anything in any way -- not in safety, comfort, entertainment, nor service.
SHIP: I've read that this ship was originally built in 1981 in Germany, and was nearly completely overhauled in Spain in the early 90's. Like you might notice at Disney, the crew is in constant motion polishing wood, brass and chrome, scrubbing WCs and decks, touching up paint, and disinfecting surfaces and it really shows. Despite the volume of foot traffic, the carpets look new, and the handrails gleam. I noticed the pools were completely emptied upon our return, and to be re-filled for the next voyage. The showers were hot, the mini fridge was cold, and our room was comfortable and spotless. Whimsical towel-animals greeted us from the down duvet on the bed. We commented to each other that based on our observations on the guest decks, it is very likely that equal attention is devoted to the engines and mechanical systems, which is a great comfort.
ACTIVITIES: Activities offered the first day included a Bacardi tasting, Welcome Aboard Pool Party, Latin Mojito Party, a Wine tasting indoors, a Create Your Own Cocktail Competition, Sunset Deck Party, Live entertainment at the pub by the Casino, Texas Hold Em poker in the Casino, a nightly variety show, dancing, and karaoke. The little gym was open all day until late at night, the gift shop and portrait studio opened around 6. Our 6 year old splashed in the kids' pool a while, and also visited the Club Coconuts where he watched an age-appropriate movie while we were in the beautiful spa getting a couples' massage.
We thought the shows were great -- and so did all the people we met on this trip. There were two nightly shows, with three acts to each, with a focus on comedy. There was a wide range of ages and ethnicities in attendance, and the variety of the performances appealed to most everyone. There were singers, magicians, acrobats, and stand up comedians; all in good taste and highly entertaining.
SERVICE: Service was unsurpassed. It is not easy traveling with a medically fragile person who requires a wheel chair. Passing through airport security is an onerous task, but even navigating unfamiliar doorways, negotiating stairs, and maneuvering through crowds can be nearly overwhelming. The Celebration staff recognized this, and made every aspect of our trip manageable and enjoyable. Once through the tight doorway, the cabin we were assigned was large enough to easily accommodate the wheelchair, and we were shown several different elevators to use during peak use of the large glass cylinder elevators in the central lobby. The Concierge gave us an adapter/converter to use to plug in our medical equipment because the power in the outlets is incompatible with standard US appliances; other people picked these up for their hair curling and blow dryers, etc. It seemed like the crew worked about 18 hours a day, but still greeted every request with smile and nod. Many of them speak two, three, four and even more languages, and come from all over the planet.
EXCURSIONS: There were a variety of excursions offered, but due to the high winds, several of them -- like snorkeling and the glass bottom boat - had to be cancelled. Natacha quickly aided those whose first choice trips ashore had been cancelled with new selections, and efficiently rescheduled and organized the necessary ticketing and transportation. We spent the day at the Our Lucaya Resort, and enjoyed the wild surf and walk to the straw market immensely. When we were ready to go, the motor coach was waiting, and Natacha greeted us with a smile.
FOOD: Max, the Restaurant manager made reservations for us at The Cove on our first night, and inquired after the special dietary requirements in our party. We greatly enjoyed a leisurely romantic meal at a table by the window, replete with pureed chicken and sweet potato, lobster and avocado cocktail, escargot, goat cheese-dotted arugula, filet mignon, and lamb chops accompanied by a lovely pinot noir, and followed by Grand Marnier glazed crÃ¨me Brule. We took a buffet breakfast at Rio, complete with yogurt, ripe fruit, made-to-order omelets, an assortment of breads, pancakes, and waffles, and heaps of bacon and sausage. The next night we had reservations at the Crystal Dining room where we enjoyed spicy fresh pineapple salad, beef Wellington and salmon with mango salsa. After our entrees, the waiter Ricardo twisted a poodle out of balloons for our son, and brought a rich dark chocolate cake with mocha cream frosting with "Welcome Aboard!" written in white chocolate on top. Our dining experiences were first rate.
DRINKS: We ordered celebratory Bahamas Mamas in souvenir plastic glasses from the beverage service waiter on the upper deck by the pools once we had settled in. He explained how to order alcohol-containing drinks at the best overall value-- either by buying an entire bottle with a half dozen or so cans of soda to share, or by ordering the ice buckets full of beer specials. As with airline travel, ship passengers are not allowed to bring liquor aboard with them, but they may order it once aboard. Perhaps this allows the crew some modicum of control over unpleasant alcohol-related incidents, and truthfully, it did not seem like anyone regretfully over-indulged, so maybe this system is effective. Once the ship is out on the water and in the Bahamas, the drinking age is 18 years old.
POOLS: The kid's pool is only about 12" deep, but it has a long tubular water slide and the kids loved it. Everything, including the deck looked freshly painted and bright. There was some grit to the deck surface, but we walked our son along very carefully where it was wet. The aquarium-looking adult pool was a popular gathering spot, with DJ spinning dance music up above for the legion of bikini-clad passengers dancing, and a bank of cushions for the less-energetic guests to lounge on in the sun.
EMBARKATION & DISEMBARKATION: Finding the Port of West Palm in Riviera Beach was simple: follow the signs off the highway and aim for the big cranes by the water. Passing through security, checking in, and boarding was easy and fast too. There is a convenient and secure parking lot to leave your vehicle for a nominal charge while you are away, and also an easy drop-off near the door.
We took breakfast on the upper deck and watched the activity on the docks below, enjoying the fresh air and sun instead of rushing to line up to disembark. There were several announcements suggesting that people take their time and relax on board because the lines at US Immigration and Customs were starting to back up, and we were happy to do just that. By the time we wandered down to Level 3, we discovered there were still quite a few people waiting to be processed. Because of our wheelchair, Steve, the Cruise Director cleared a path for us to access the elevator into the terminal, and so our wait was minimal.
SUMMARY: Bahamas Celebration is an incredible value. One couple that we made friends with had gotten their cruise for free after attending a time-share presentation in Fort Lauderdale. An elderly dad and his son who we sat with at the show confided that they enjoyed this cruise so much, and that it was so affordable that they tried to sail every other month or so! Where else are you going to get impeccable service, three square meals, a spotless room with a private bath, and nightly entertainment, paired with a trip to a Caribbean island with an incredibly friendly and diverse crowd of fellow passengers for as little as $150 a day?
Admittedly, our special needs situation allowed us to skip some lines and to stay in one of the larger cabins, and we were blessed by blue skies and lots of warm sun while a blizzard dumped 3' of snow on our hometown - so our perspective may be slightly different that some others! I don't fully understand why some folks who left reviews wrote about hidden fees or unscrupulous up charges, because the Bahamas Celebration website has comprehensive list of rates corresponding to the ship layout map so you can determine where the cabin you have selected will be located, the added gratuity and charges for secured parking near the ship are clearly stated also, but perhaps this is the fault of the time-share sales people for not reiterating these details when they gave out their "free cruise" tickets. Anyway, we feel that the 2-Day Bahamas Celebration cruise makes for fabulous mini-vacation, with something for everyone at an unbeatable price, and we hope to return soon.