Grand Celebration: July 3rd, 2015
My wife and I booked this cruise about month ago and got one of the last rooms for the sailing. We had a free night at the PGA National Resort to use, so it helped make the three hour drive to ... Read More
Grand Celebration: July 3rd, 2015
My wife and I booked this cruise about month ago and got one of the last rooms for the sailing. We had a free night at the PGA National Resort to use, so it helped make the three hour drive to West Palm worth it. I've been on many cruises, mostly with Carnival and Royal Caribbean, with a few other lines mixed in over the years.
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line has been around for awhile now under different names. They used to operate the old Imperial Majesty, and after her retirement they bought the Bahamas Celebration. Bahamas Celebration was damaged last year and subsequently sold. They started sailing the Grand Celebration earlier this year. It seems that they change their company name each time they change ships.
As a long time Carnival customer, I knew a bit about what to expect coming onto the GC. She's a former Carnival ship (then known as just “Celebration”) and was last sailing for them out of Jacksonville. After leaving the Carnival fleet she underwent some extensive renovations and updating for her stint with Ibero and then (very briefly) Costa. I never had a cruise on any of the old Holiday Class ships, so I was happy to find out that one was coming back home to Florida.
I think the ship looks excellent overall. The cabins look better than some of the newer Fantasy and Destiny class (also Carnival) ships I've been on. The public areas are also very modern. The layout will feel very familiar to anyone who frequents Carnival. The ship even smells cleaner since they have a strict policy against any indoor smoking (even in the casino). It is only allowed on the port side of the exterior decks.
We made it to the port without any problems. The mandatory valet parking slows down the process quite a bit. The line of cars stretched out to the main road shortly after we arrived. Luckily we got in just before the traffic jam and only waited a few minutes. Embarkation went quickly once we were in the terminal. They start their beverage and premium dining sales pitches immediately, and it continues throughout the cruise. You can simply bypass them and make regular dining reservations, which is what we did.
Guests enter the ship into the main lobby on Mercury Deck (old Main Deck), as was the case on the older Carnival Ships. Carnival oddly kept the deck name system on the newer Fantasy Class ships, even though their lobbies and main entrances are on Empress Deck. The Grand Celebration's decks have since been renamed, but still start with same first letters.
Our cabin was R-17, which is forward on Regulus Deck. It had a single porthole view. It has been updated and looked modern. Certainly a huge improvement over the room we had on the old Bahamas Celebration. The door locks still use the old hole-punched "Ving Card" system. I haven't seen them in a very long time. Our room steward Donnie did an excellent job throughout the cruise keeping our room spotless.
Lunch in the buffet was typical cruise fare, not amazing but not bad either. In addition to the salad and entrees there is also a hot bar on the side that usually has special dishes. At one point it was fresh pasta and carved roast beef. At night it becomes the pizzeria.The crew does an admirable job at keeping the chaos cleaned up.
The pool areas are still mostly in their Carnival era configurations, with a new sunning area added to the top-forward deck. That area also has its own hot tub now, but no pool. I never saw many people up there, since its out of the normal guest flow. It's all a huge improvement over the old Bahamas Celebration. That ill-fated ship was a converted European car ferry. Her lido deck was very oddly laid out. The pools, hot tubs and dining areas were all added later. The Grand Celebration was created just for Caribbean cruises, so everything up top flows and works much better.
A new bar area has been added above the aft pool called the Dancing Martian. They refer to it as a "beer garden". It has artificial grass, bean bag toss games, a band shell and daily drink specials. At night they have a DJ up there and dancing under the stars. The band shell has a new speaker and lighting system that works well during the dance parties.
The promenade is the heart of every former and current Carnival ship, and Grand Celebration is no different. Her Promenade Deck (now called Paradise Deck) has most of the attractions of the ship. The ship's casino and nightclubs are on that deck. There is also a live music lounge called Encore next to the casino. The live singers and bands were excellent each night. The Latin music club in the Regal Room was frequently full with a packed dance floor.
She's got an all new spa and gym area built at the aft end of the promenade deck. This area was a show lounge in her former life. The gym isn't huge, but it is well equipped with newer machines and weights. She's also got a Turkish bath and sauna area, but I believe it costs extra.
The main theater at the front of the ship appears unmodified, although the furnishings looked to be new. The two main dining rooms are also on Aries Deck. The forward dining room is called The Admiralty Club. It costs extra, $20 per person plus a 15% gratuity. The aft dining room is called Stellar Prime and is included in the cruise fare.
Just forward of The Admiralty Club is the Commodore Martini Bar. Along with specialty martinis, this lounge also has a live piano bar sing along in the evenings. The Helm library is right next to the martini bar. It's a very nice place to sit and relax. It's also where the internet cafe is located. The room has lots of cool ship memorabilia and models. Stuff I just eat up.
After the relatively brief embarkation, we dropped the bags in our cabin and explored the ship. The muster drill went as scheduled and sail away was right about on time. After watching sail away we got ready for the evening.
First stop for the night was the show in the main theater. There really isn't a way to compare their current show with what they had on the old Bahamas Celebration. That ship didn't have a true theater, so the show was limited to what they could put on in a lounge. The shows are now much improved and on par with others in the short cruise market. Both the first and second night's show followed the same formula of dancers, a comedian (Brian Bradley who was very funny), an acrobatic act, a magician and a dance finale. I would have liked to attend Bradley’s adult comedy show on the second night, but they charge $11 per person for tickets. I’m not sure if that is their usual practice now, but I don’t recall paying anything for the comedy show on their old ship.
After the show it was time for our late-seating dinner in the Stellar Prime dining room. The food was good and service was very fast. Kamel and his assistant Shuhada were very friendly and did a great job. I think this ship not having the disruptive "anytime dining" option helps keep service fast. It's been my experience that ships not originally designed for that system don't work very well when it's added later.
Late in the evening we spent time in the various bars and lounges. They had country line dancing led by some of the dancers from the show in Encore. The Regal Room got packed once the live Latin band started playing.
The only oddity was how empty the Voltage nightclub was. It's a really nice place. It's got a great sound system, new furniture and a ton of modern disco lighting. I later figured out once we went topside that the disco suffers from too many competing options. The Dancing Martian's outdoor club and karaoke next to main pool drew many would be patrons.
We had breakfast in the Stellar Prime dining room which was included in the fare. Food quality and service speed were again very good. We were lucky to have the same table and wait team from dinner. They also offer a premium breakfast in The Admiralty Club, but we never tried it. The buffet has breakfast each day for a casual experience. After breakfast we made a trip up to the gym for a workout.
We had already decided to stay on board and skip Freeport. While the beaches there are nice, you have to take a taxi twenty minutes into town to get to them. The port only has a small shopping area with no beaches. Even that small shopping area is currently shut down though due to construction on the two main cruise ship docks.
As the ship emptied out for day we headed up to the aft pool area. The aft pool has always been a favorite spot of mine on the Fantasy Class ships, and it was the same on the GC. It gets more breeze than the sheltered main pool and having its own bar, plus the nearby Dancing Martian, is convenient. The aft pool also had two hot tubs, whereas the main pool has none.
In the afternoon they put on a Fourth of July barbecue by the aft pool and a craft beer fest as well. Beer pong and bean bag toss competitions were also held in the beer garden during our day in Freeport. The pool attendants were constantly coming around cleaning up empty drinks, plates and replenishing the towel supply.
While I’m on the topic of drinks, the GC has some decent drink specials for a cruise ship. They have a buy five, get one free bucket of beers. They also have many BOGO and discount specials at various bars throughout the cruise. Guests can also buy booklets of discounted drink coupons. The only thing the cruise line needs to add is unlimited packages.
The second evening went much the same as the first. I spent more time in the piano bar, the player did a good job keeping the audience participating. Broslyn the bartender was friendly and entertaining with his flair-tender skills. The second night's show was also good, maybe a bit better than the show on the first night.
We had the same table and staff for dinner, but new table-mates. The Grand Celebration picks up and drops off passengers at Freeport, so you might see different faces on the second night on board if you don't do the resort package.
The disco was dead again, so we spent quite a bit of time enjoying the Latin music in The Regal Room. The bartender in there, Dean, was a really nice guy. Later that night we stopped by the Dancing Martian, but it too wasn’t very active. On the way down to the room we walked through the buffet. They do a nice late night meal spread in there. I saw gyro pitas, pizza, buffalo wings, onion rings and more. They know how to feed late night boozers, Royal Caribbean could take a lesson from them.
We learned the hard way that debarkation from the old Bahamas Celebration was a nightmare.The problem is mostly with the customs check. The GC, like the BC before her, doesn’t come back with the same passengers that she leaves with. She drops off and picks up guests at Freeport. On BC we waited until later in the morning to debark and the line for customs took over an hour to get through. We decided not to make the same mistake on Grand Celebration.
On the last morning we got up early and got in line around 7:15 am. They had just started letting guests off, and we were off the ship in minutes. They have also set up a new line just for American citizens with passports. We got in that line and were through customs very quickly. The entire process took less than 15 minutes. Unfortunately, as with arrival, the valet parking held up departure while they brought the car around.
Conclusion (or TL;DR version):
For a two night cruise at generally low prices you really can't go wrong here. Food and service were great, in some ways better than what I’ve had on the big cruise lines.
Their entertainment, especially the live music around the ship, is excellent. And of course the ship itself has been well taken care of. For the most part, she doesn’t look her nearly 30 years of age. Hopefully they get a past guest program in place at some point, because I’m looking forward to many more trips on GC!
This review plus pictures can be found on the Cruise Critic message boards by following this link:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?p=47034904 Read Less