The Thug Boat - Dozens of passengers hauled off in handcuffs
Our "free" two-night cruise aboard the Bahamas Celebration took place May 6-8, 2009. We got the cruise "free" as part of a timeshare rip-off, but that's another story entirely. Port charges, taxes, upgrades, drinks (a couple fruity drinks, sodas, milk), excursion to Cable Beach, and our "free" trip was over $500.
We arrived at Port Everglades and found parking in the adjacent parking garage ($15/day) to be very close, convenient & safe. We were running kinda late after having to stop by the Welcome Center to get our cruise vouchers, and in the hurry we even forgot to lock our car doors. Fortunately, the garage was well patrolled and our vehicle was safe.
On to embarkation. We walked downstairs and across the street to the cruise terminal. We waited in line outside, where about 25 people were ahead of us. Someone came by and passed out several forms for us to fill out. No clipboards or pens, so after finding a pen in my purse I struggled to fill out the forms leaning on my suitcase. We made our way inside, where we passed through security scanners. All of our luggage was checked at this time.
After passing through security, we found a large open area with lots of tables and pens to fill out the forms. Too bad they didn't tell us this when we were outside. I still had more forms to fill out, so we stopped and completed them. I think there were 4 forms per person traveling (3 of us) so it took quite a little while. One of the forms was something to do with the recent swine flu outbreak.
Next we went to two more stations where we our forms & passports were checked. We were also given our room assignment and got our ship credit cards. This was relatively simple, and the staff were very friendly. After this, we proceeded on to another room, from where there was no direction where to go. We decided to take the escalator up to the next floor (with all of our luggage) where an older lady proceeded to yell at me for not holding my daughter's hand while on the escalator. I wanted to tell her that my hands were full with my luggage I was having to carry myself, but instead I just glared at her and walked on by.
After this, we stopped at a table to get our dining assignments. We were given the choice of early or late dinner, at a buffet or seated dining room. Since we would only be on the ship for two nights, and since we were traveling with a 3 1/2 year old, we chose the early buffet. We were given a business card type paper with our room number and dining assignment written on it and told keep it and we'd have to show it to get into dinner.
Next table was a wine table, which we weren't interested in, so we skipped it. After getting our souvenir photo taken, we proceeded to board the ship, where we were once again photographed for the ships record keeping system. All of this was relatively painless, and considering the paperwork and all that we had to do, took only a minimal amount of time. We were on board the ship in less than an hour from when we parked our vehicle.
Upon boarding the ship, a uniformed "bellhop" type man took our bags and escorted us to our cabin. I'm not sure what category of cabin we had, but I think it was probably one of the better categories. We were on Deck 8, and had a large window, a queen bed, and two pull down beds. The bathroom, although dated like the rest of the ship, was large, and the shower was the largest I've ever seen on a ship. Unfortunately, the water pressure was minimal, and alternated between scalding hot and freezing cold during every shower.
Our cabin was modest, but the window was very nice. I'd only ever had inside cabins, so I was happy to be able to look out the window. The size of the cabin was slightly smaller than that of an inside cabin on RCI or Carnival. The bedding and fixtures were dated, but it wasn't terrible. Everything was clean...much like that of a Motel 6.
We had three complaints about the room itself. The first, the air conditioning did not work. The first night was warm, but bearable. The second night was nearly unbearable. I threatened to sleep with the cabin door open just to have a little bit of cool air in the room. We complained, but were told nothing could be done. During disembarkation we heard from several other passengers that their rooms were very warm also.
The second complaint was more to do with room design. Our room had a queen sized bed which was placed with the head of the bed to the window, and one side of the bed against the wall. That in itself wouldn't have been a problem, but there were two pull down beds on the sides of the two side walls that stuck out about 8 inches when folded up, rendering 8 inches of the queen bed unusable unless you wanted to hit your head every time you wiggled. I would have hated to had the bed pulled down, for it was so low to the queen bed below it would have been nearly impossible to sleep underneath it.
Finally, as I mentioned above, that water pressure and temperature in the shower left a lot to be desired. Sometimes there was more than a trickle of water, but other times there was just enough flow to get wet. Not a great way to wash off the salt and sea water after a day at the beach. The temperature was the same, first hot, then cold. It seemed as though the water pressure and temperature was only consistent as long as nobody in a nearby cabin was using their water, much like in an older house.
After dropping off our luggage and changing into our swimsuits, we proceeded to go upstairs for some lunch and then some swimming. The lunch buffet was poolside and was good, even though there wasn't much selection. I had chicken and a beans/rice mixture. The brownies and cookies were good as well. Nothing to write home about, but good. About like going to Golden Corral the on the first of the month. There was no seating anywhere near the buffet so we ended up sitting in an exterior corridor on chaise lounge chairs with our plates on our laps.
This is probably a good place to mention that the Bahamas Celebration is an old ferry. For all the misinformed people out there who seem to think this is a brand new ship, please do your homework. The ship itself is in pretty good shape, but it's most definitely not new and most certainly wasn't designed for it's current purpose. The Bahamas Celebration was built for cold weather travel and was only refitted to serve the warm weather. That means there aren't a lot of outside spaces. It wasn't a big deal most of the time, since the ship wasn't full, but I can see where it could have been very crowded if more passengers were traveling.
We'd been promising our 3 1/2 year old daughter that she'd get to swim all day long, so after lunch we went to check out the pools and kids water area. Unfortunately, we were met with a sign that said that the pools were currently closed and would be opened when we were approximately 10 miles off shore. We thought that was pretty strange, but didn't think too much about it. My head was hurting from the loudness of the ship and the diesel fuel smell outside. (The Bahamas Celebration does not dock near the other cruise liners in Ft Lauderdale. We were parked near industrial type ships, which were VERY loud.) I decided to take our daughter to the cabin for a quick rest before what we'd hoped to be a fun evening.
By this time it was about 3:15 and I figured we could nap for 45 minutes or an hour before the lifeboat drill. I've been on other cruises and know the routine, so I knew we wouldn't get much rest. We'd only been in the room for about 15 minutes when a loud announement came over the speaker informing us of a "mandatory" meeting in The View (the 2 story entertainment area). I tried to ignore it, but they kept repeating it and saying how it was very important to attend and please make your way there now. Honestly, it sounded fishy...I'd never heard of a mandatory meeting other than the lifeboat drill, and I thought it was pretty weird how they said it was very important to attend (if it was truly mandatory, they wouldn't have to tell you how important it is) so I picked up my daughter and carried her to the meeting place. Almost immediately upon entering the room, I knew I'd been lured to a sales pitch. There were employees passing out info about shore excursions and onboard entertainment. I walked around the entire room, looking for my partner, and when I didn't find him, decided to head back to the room.
We got back to the room, and about two minutes later my partner showed up to check on us. By this point my daughter was awake, so we all proceeded to the deck to prepare for sail away. We got some great seats, right at the front of the ship where we sipped some fruity drinks and chatted with another couple. Soon, an announcement for the lifeboat drill came on, but no one seemed to care. Nobody got up, so we didn't either. I've been on RCI and Carnival, and I know there's no getting out of the lifeboat drill on those ships, but not a single ship employee came by to make us attend. I'm not sure whether it's possibly not required for short trips, or if they just didn't care, but we didn't attend and I'd say most of the ship didn't either.
It seemed as though every 10 minutes, an announcer made an announcement about shore excursions in the Bahamas. I know this is how they make a lot of money, and numerous announcements about it are standard, but this was rediculous. The announcements were several minutes long, and occured every few minutes. We had planned on just finding a beach to hang out on, but decided to go ahead and take the ship's excursion to Cable Beach. The price was $59 for adults and the kids was $19 (I believe). We also decided to add the buffet lunch at the resort for an extra $20 per person since we didn't know what would be nearby and figured a nice lunch in an airconditioned restaurant would be a good afternoon break.
After sail away, we went off to dinner. We weren't terribly hungry. That's a good thing, since dinner was a repeat of lunch. The exact same food, just presented a little nicer. While dining, waiters with meat on sticks came by pressuring us to try their foods. No thanks, didn't look that good to me, and certainly didn't look very sanitary. During dinner, the waiters did a pathetic little parade around the room with maracas. It was like somebody on staff had been on a big ship and seen the performances the dining room staff does and tried to mimic it, poorly.
We ate, and then headed back up to the pool area since my daughter was getting really impatient to swim and certainly we were 10 miles off shore by now. Imagine our disappointment when we found the children's water area to be closed! When we inquired, we were told that "Per coast guard regulation, the pools must be closed while at sea." No kidding...this is what the information desk told us. So now, it's pushing 7 o'clock and I've got a very upset three year old, and am wondering how I'm going to entertain her and keep her from having a meltdown. Not to mention, I'm pretty frustrated at the situation myself. The signs clearly said that the pools would open 10 miles out to sea, and now we're told they are closed when we're at sea. After a few minutes of my partner & I trying to figure out what was going on, and my daughter in near tears, Momma Bear broke loose and decided to find out what the *(!*# was going on. I grabbed my daughter and headed up to the adult pool area with my partner following me saying, "Don't yell at them!"
We got up to the adult pool area, the pools were now full of water, but an employee was roping them off just as we arrived. When I inquired as to what was going on, he informed me that the pools close at 7pm for maintenance. I looked around, to see that this was the first of the two pools (actually, one pool with a divider type thing) to be closed. My partner asked if the other one could be used, and was told no, he was going to close it also. Quickly, I made a dash for the other pool and got my daughter in it while he was still talking to my partner. Another family with a small boy did the same thing. When the pool attendant saw this, he made a disgusted face and walked off. The two kids were able to enjoy the icy cold water for about 15 minutes before he came back to close the other pool. My guess is he'd been through it before and knew all hell was going to brake loose if those two kids didn't get a little pool time. Fortunately, since the water was so cold, the kids didn't mind getting out after just a few minutes. We never did find out why the pools on Bahamas Celebration are only open for 1 hour per day. Seems to me if you're going to all the effort to fill them up, you'd want to let your passengers enjoy them at least a little bit.
After drying off and getting dressed, we decided to take our daughter to the kids play area to see if she would stay while we enjoyed a little adult time. Not a chance....it's not that she wouldn't stay, but that there was no way I was leaving my little girl in that room. The kids area was a room about 15x30 that had some computers and video games. I didn't see any other toys or recreation items. It was staffed by two girls in their early 20s who were chatting in the corner and not interacting with the kids at all. The kids, ranging from 3 -10 years old were all in the same room, and two boys, about 10 years old were wrestling on the ground and generally being obnoxious. The two girls on staff made no effort to make them stop, even when the noise level creeped higher and higher. We decided against leaving our little girl there.
My head was still hurting and our daughter hadn't had much of a nap, so I took her back to the cabin to go to bed, while my partner stayed up to explore the ship. The room was very warm, but we managed to fall asleep soon and get a relatively decent night's sleep. My partner wasn't much impressed with the entertainment onboard. Apparently the main act was an Elvis impersonnator, which could have been really good had SHE not been ASIAN. Kinda weird for an Elivs impersonnator.
Next morning, we woke up and got dressed for a day at the beach. We ate our breakfast (cereals, fruits, hot foods...pretty decent spread) and disembarked the ship. Disembarking in Nassua was kinda strange. We had to go down a very steep, narrow staircase into the ship's basement. I'm thinking this was a cargo/vehicle area when the ship was a ferry, because it felt like a large warehouse. We swiped our cards and walked off the ship where we made our way to the meeting point for the excursion.
The excursion was set to leave at 9:00am, but at 9:15 we were still standing around waiting for some more people to show up. I've been on many shore excursions before, but this was the first time we actually waited for people who couldn't be bothered to get there on time. Usually if you can't tell time and make it to the appointed place, you're out of luck. However, more upsetting than standing in the sun to wait for latecomers, was the ever increasing amount of people joining our line. Having paid $59 per person to visit a beach, and hearing numerous announcements about how limited the number of spaces on the excursions were, we were expecting a much smaller crowd. There were well over 100 people in the Cable Beach excursion line. Possibly closer to 200 before we finally boarded the busses to the beach.
Cable Beach was incredible. The whitest sand and clearest water I've ever seen. The pool at the Wyndham was great too. And the drinks in the coconuts (only $5 each) were yummy. It was pretty crowded, however, and definitely not worth $59 per person. Lunch at the Crystal Palace was excellent, however I'd not recommend paying the $20 to have it included with the excursion. You could pay the restraurant when you got there and it was only $14.
We were told when we left the bus that morning that there would be two departure times. One at 2:30 and one at 4pm. We didn't eat lunch until about 1:30 and after that our daughter was tired, and we were pretty beat from the heat ourselves, so we decided to head outside to wait for the 2:30 busses. This was at about 2:05. Only one other family was waiting, but by the time the first bus showed up at 2:30, there were over 100 people waiting to board the bus. Of course, everyone crowded around and we didn't make it onto the first two busses. I asked the driver if there were more busses coming, and he said yes, so we sat back down on the bench and waited.
Fifty minutes later, after nearly everyone waiting had either taken a taxi or gone back to the beach, we boarded a bus to go back to the ship. Back on the ship, we cleaned up from a day in the sand and sun and headed up on deck to watch sail away. Oddly enough, the pools and kids area were open, even though we weren't 10 miles off shore, so my daughter got suited up and got to play in the kids water area for a while while we watched the sail away. The kids water area was the most impressive area of the ship. It wasn't a pool, but rather a neat little area on the back of the ship with lots of sprinklers. Very awesome for a 3 1/2 year old. The only bad thing was the fact that the waterslide (also a big hit with my daughter) ended right in the kiddie area. This wouldn't have been a problem, except for the 4 drunken, middle-aged, thugs who were having a blast using the slide. The whales were obnoxious, wearing too skimpy of swimwear, smoking & drinking, and generally not the type of people families want to hang out with. Fortunately, an employee did tell them they couldn't smoke in that area, and that got rid of them.
We let our little girl play for a while, and then decided to go clean her up and head to dinner. It's a good thing we did this when we did, as we barely made it in time for dinner. On all the other cruises I've been on, if you are eating in the buffet, you don't have a set dining time. This is not so on the Bahamas Celebration. If you choose 6:15 dining, you better be there at 6:15. We arrived at 6:30, and barely made it through the serving line before they closed it down. My partner would have liked seconds, but that wasn't an option. Apparently, being such a low budget cruise line, as soon as everyone gets through the buffet they put it away to save money. At least the dessert line was open for a while longer, so we filled up on desserts.
After dinner, we walked around the ship for a while, but since the kids area wasn't somewhere we felt comfortable leaving our daughter, we were limited in what we could do. We decided to head back to our room to get her to sleep and then maybe my partner could go get us a couple of drinks and we could watch TV for a while. That would have been a great plan, had the room not been sweltering. It was so hot none of us could sleep. After numerous complaints, an engineer came to our room, put his hand up to the vent, and said, in broken English, "Not working. Nothing I can do tonight."
Morning finally came, and as we were getting dressed our cabin attendant knocked on our door. We had to be out of our rooms now. We gathered up our things and headed up to breakfast, which was a repeat of yesterday. Not a big shocker, considering dinner had been the same both nights, and the same as day one's lunch.
After we ate, we proceeded our our assigned departure lounge. Our cabin was on Deck 8, so we were to be the first to depart. Our departure lounge was also right near the ship's exit. When we arrived the lounge was full, so we stood in the hallway outside. As we stood, more people arrived and a ship employee kept telling us to stay against the wall. Apparently there would be some sort of walk through by customs and the hallways had to be clear.
We waited over an hour to disembark the ship. During that time, dozens of people were called by name to "Kindly proceed to the information desk immediately." I was getting kinda irritated, wondering why these people were getting priority disembarkment.....that is, until I looked out the window to the gangway. This is where I saw all the people getting hauled off the ship in handcuffs. Another family who was standing nearby us told us that short 2 night trips to the Bahamas are aways scrutinized by customs and immigration. Many people travel there to smuggle drugs, and many people try to dodge immigration by coming in on a cruise ship. And to think that a nice, law abiding family from the midwest just spent two days on The Thug Boat. Never, ever again.
So, we finally got to disembark the ship, where we were greeted by drug sniffing dogs. I've never had that happen before. Nor have I ever returned from a cruise to actually be thoroughly examined by a customs and immigration official. I felt like such a criminal and I hadn't even done anything wrong. A lot of times on RCI and Carnival, you just hand your customs form to somebody and walk off without anyone even looking at you. Definitely not so on the Thug Boat. The comic relief came when we finally made our way to the front of the immigration line. The immigration officer looked us up and down, and asked how our trip was. We must looked completely shell shocked by the whole experience. My partner replied, "Not bad for being on a ship full of criminals We saw all the people getting off in handcuffs." The immigration officer then told us that it happens a lot with this cruise line. Wonderful.
So, if you've made it this far in reading my review, you must be seriously considering taking a trip on the Bahamas Celebration. My adivice is, if you have kids, skip it. It's no place for children, even with the nice water area that's sometimes open. If you're just a couple looking for a cheap get-away, you might enjoy it. But remember, you get what you pay for, and if you're paying Kmart prices, you're probably going to get Kmart quality.