Our family has been on 17 cruises with most of the major cruise lines. We have also sailed with the now defunct Cape Canaveral Cruise Line, an older ship similar to the Regal Empress that did 2 and 3 night Bahamas cruises, and enjoyed our experiences on that old tug immensely. It is with that background that we decided to book a 2 day cruise on the Bahamas Celebration in January, 2010 for me, my wife and our 15 year old daughter. We booked the cruise, even though we had mixed feelings about it from reading some of the reviews here. We have decided that many of the cruisers overly critical of the ship may have had too high expectations from cruising with the major cruise lines. Although, it should be noted that some of the criticism you will find about this cruise line on this site is justified. The most unjustified criticism I have read concerning the ship is the food. Also, some people have booked the timeshare promotion at the greatly reduced rate expecting to get a regular cruise ship cabin and were disappointed at their coach cabin accommodations. This criticism is also unfair. You get what you pay for. I have also read some reviews critical of the staff. We found no reason for complaint about any of the staff. Of course, we are all human, so there may be instances where an individual staff member provides less than perfect service, but we did not observe anything like that.
We found out about the Bahamas Celebration through TV advertising, with offers of a free cruise, which is used as an enticement to bring people into time share presentations. During the booking process we were told the cabins offered through the promotion are very small and were offered an upgrade to a larger cabin for an additional expense, which we readily agreed to do. The coach cabins are very small and most people would find them uncomfortable. I overhead one passenger speaking on his cell phone saying, "I'm sure there are larger prison cells" than the coach cabins. Our cabin, an oceanview category 4 on deck 7, was average size and comfortable for 3 people. Although it had a lower bed and 2 upper bunks, 4 people in the cabin may have been uncomfortable as one person in the lower would have had the upper berth just inches above them when folded down. The other berth folds out over an open space in the cabin, so does not cause a comfort issue. I think the lower bed could be moved to make it more comfortable for 4 people in the room, though. The air conditioning in our cabin worked perfectly, though we did hear one passenger say that theirs did not work properly. Some other reviewers here have complained about the a/c, so it could be a problem in some cabins.
The ship was originally built to be a ferry, transporting semi trucks and passengers for short duration trips in European waters. It wasn't built to be a multi-day cruise ship, so keep that in mind when you book. One of the ships major limitations is that it uses 220 volt electricity. Each cabin has a converter on board to power cell phone chargers. The cruise line will provide a hair dryer or curling iron that plugs into the 220 volt system on request. Do not attempt to use an iron with the converter. We did and the converter smoked.
We found the food in the Crystal Dining Room to be at least as good as offerings on the major cruise lines regular dining rooms, probably better, but limited in variety. They had about the usual number of entree's, but only two desserts were offered, but both looked to be excellent. You will find the same situation at the buffets in Rio or out on the pool deck. The food is at least the equivalent of what is offered on major cruise lines, but with fewer choices. We considered upgrading to The Cove for an additional $25, but found the dining in the Crystal Dining Room and Rio very enjoyable and satisfying. Our waiter in the Crystal Dining Room did a great job serving us. If your idea of a great cruise experience is to load up two or three plates full of many varieties of food in the buffet lines, this cruise is not for you. If you want a nice dining room experience that is at least the equivalent of dining rooms on the major lines (with fewer choices), you will find that here. My daughter ate pizza at the Trattoria Di Gerry both nights and liked it. The pizza/pasta restaurant is open from about 3pm to 3am. Some people ate their dinners there, others ate there as an extra meal or snack. They also have an ice cream parlor open several hours each day to satisfy your sweet tooth.
The shows both nights were very enjoyable with a singer and comedian the first night and a singing impressionist and a different comedian on the second night. This ship is not equipped for the Las Vegas style shows, but the singers and comedians were very entertaining.
My wife and I both liked the smaller size of the ship. It is very easy and convenient to get anywhere on the ship. My wife and daughter went to the spa and found it to be as nice as any other on any ship. I went to the Mussel Beach Gym and used the fitness equipment. They have towels, but do not provide water there, so be sure and bring some bottled water if you are going for a workout. We also liked the fact that you carry your own luggage on board and off the ship. When you walk on board, staff members are lined up to help you with your luggage to your cabin. You don't have to worry about lost luggage or items being taken from your luggage, which we had happen on another cruise.
Another major limitation of the ship is the pool area. Because it was designed as a ferry ship, the pool area is extremely small compared to ships designed for cruising. That was not an issue for us, but if your idea of a great cruise is to swim in the pool and lounge around on the sun deck, this is not the cruise for you. On the other hand, the ship has a beautiful kids area on the pool deck.
We booked a room on our own the night before sailing at the Ramada Plaza hotel. We would not stay at this hotel again. We got the 2 room suite and found it to be dated and in poor repair. The hotel dining room only offers a buffet, with no menu service.
Regarding the timeshare promotions, if you book directly with the cruise line, you do not get any pressure to do the timeshare presentation. Two presentations were offered to us, one on land and one onboard the ship as we were getting our cabin keys, and we did not attend either. I didn't hear any horror stories from anybody who attended, so I am assuming they don't put you through a high pressure one-on-one sales job. But this is only my assumption, I could be wrong.
As for the cruise, we will go on the Bahamas Celebration again. We are already planning to do the combination cruise/resort package at some future date. The ships limitations do not detract from having a great time if you go in with the proper expectations. Again, if you are expecting all of the comforts of the major cruise lines and endless choices in lavish buffets, you will be disappointed. If you prefer a dining room experience and the pool, electricity and cabin configurations are not major issues for you, you will probably have a great time onboard the Bahamas Celebration.