This review and ratings are based on my experience on the inaugural sailing of the Classica. I fully understand that this was an inaugural sailing, this is a lower priced cruise line, and thing will happen that need to be ironed out with better processes moving forward – no one should expect a perfect trip on the inaugural sailing, in my opinion.
I received an invitation to be a guest aboard the inaugural sailing of the Bahamas Paradise (BP) Grand Classica sailing to Freeport on 13APRIL2018 thru 15APRIL2018 from an Association of which I am a member of. No one asked me to write a review nor provide any feedback, and this invitation did not influence my review. This ship was formally the Costa neoClassica. The invitation was for travel industry professionals to experience the product, visit the resorts that BP partners with, and the company personnel. For those who have read any of my reviews here on Cruise Critic (CC) or other sites, you know that the review can sometimes be longer then the sailing. With this being the first sailing of this ship, I EXPECTED vast amounts of technical difficulties, process issues, confused staff, shortage of supplies and so forth – you go on an inaugural sailing, it should be expected.
Confirmation of my reservation came a couple of weeks before the sailing, and about a week after accepting the invitation to join the festivities. It was an email with basic information including my ocean view room on deck 6 (6105), arrival time and links. I called the cruise line, waited 45 minutes on hold to talk to an operator, as I wanted to inquire about online registration – there is none – show up with passport, fill out one form when you get there.
Made a mini-vacation out of this trip and headed down from North Carolina with my 75yo father in law who loves cruising almost as much as myself. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Palm Beach Airport Conference Center. Hotel was great – I stay at a lot of IHG hotels and get some good perks and great rates. We went to the port after dinner to see if the ship was in – still not in. I would not recommend staying right near the port itself. This was a quick 15 minute ride, just off 95.
Early morning breakfast followed by a short ride to the port. We were told to arrive at 1000 but ended up pulling in shortly after 915. We were anxious, what can I say. Port was easy to navigate and small, but plenty of signs. There is only one terminal, easy to find where you are going. Pulled up to the front door, valet took the car, we took our backpacks and walked in the door 10 feet away. Right thru security, up the stairs and into the lobby that had only a hand full of people in it. We had a backpack, which they would not accept at the baggage area (“we don’t take backpacks”), and one small bag that they did take. It ended up in the hallway outside our door after lunch. There were many staff members present, and senior personnel giving direction, but still, much confusion. The band came in and played as I filled out the one form – my credit card information – and waited. And waited.. and waited. The staff stated we would line up at 10. 1030 came and went and some started to enter the queue. It was around 11 and the lines started to process. Immediately there were two issues – 1. The computer systems were not ready for guests. The frantic IT guy worked hard to get the up and running one at a time, did a great job. Should have been tested days before, but roll with it. 2. EVERYONE was a “VIP” it seemed. Since so many were invited guests and the paperwork stated to enter the VIP line, there were a few offended that they were not given the royal treatment. I was one of the first in line, ushered up to the window in about 5 minutes, and on my way a few minutes later. Once the window opened and we proceeded, my stint was about 10 minutes. Others were longer, especially those who waited to get in the lines.
From the counter to the ship was an easy walk. Upon entering the ship, we were ushered from the deck 5 lobby to deck 8, Encore Lounge, for a cocktail reception. Industry guests were identified throughout the week with blue wristbands and nametags. About an hour after some cocktails and hors d'oeuvre, the festivities moved to the Legends Grand Theater where there was GB staff, politicians, and Bahamas reps talked about the new ship, economic impact, etc. Cut the ribbon and off to lunch in the Yellow Elder dining room. I then did a tour of the ship, so lets break that down.
Muster – this was a CHARLIE FOXTROT – if you know what I mean. Direction was minimal at best. You report to your muster station (deck 9) but there was mass confusion here. I saw one person with the counter at a random spot in the hallway, but there is no way the count was accurate. The USCG was on board and even asked about the technique and method. There was no order going on and the staff, some oblivious to what they were doing, tried to get people to line up behind lifeboat numbers and stated that this was where they should go in an emergency. The room key states only which of the three muster stations to go to – they need to add in what lifeboat! In an emergency, this is a critical point of failure. I had little confidence in their muster process. Many people had no idea what was going on, and if this were their first cruise, a guest would be baffled.
Deck 5 – Reception area was very basic – one statue in the middle and a cube like feel going straight up a few decks. One staircase twines suspended a few decks above. The ship was immaculately clean – no guests for a couple of weeks gave them time to ensure this. Throughout the 2 days, I saw a few people cleaning some elevators, banisters, and carpets. Late night on each night I did notice bottles and glasses “placed” in various spots throughout the ship (stairs, hallways, random spots). I attribute this to guests not putting things where they should (hold onto your glass or bottle, don’t just leave it on the stairs!) But the staff moved through and cleaned often. Shore Excursions and Guest Services were located here in the deck 5 lobby. This is where you can grab your daily planner of events going on. The day in the Bahamas, we never saw nor were we able to get one of these planners, they were all out of them by the time we went down to get them. They do not put one on your bed in the evening for the next day. Staff was friendly, lines moved quickly. The only hold ups I saw at the Guest Services related to people questioning charges on their accounts, all related to alcohol.
Decks 4,6,7 are rooms only. There is zero advantage to pay and upgrade to be on any of them. With elevator banks in forward and aft section, the ship layout plays nicely. 4 elevators in each bank, and 2 sets of stairs to go up / down. Navigating the ship up and down as well as forward aft is relatively easy. Only one “cant get there from here” on deck ten where the 10 suites are located and you need to go to deck 11 to get to the buffet. My OV room was a good size. Large porthole window, air conditioner was freezing. Closet, section of draws, small safe, small refrigerator (seemed cold, I never used). No couch, 2 chairs. 1 US outlet was under the desk along the floor – it took me talking to someone about this to find out where it was, as I had only seen the European outlet. One plug. That’s it. Bathroom was clean, functional, good water pressure, lots of hot water (could not get a cup of cold water to drink). Overall, the room was a really good size.
Deck 8 – LOTS of public space, more so then on many ships I have been on, if not all ships. Card rooms located off the halls, library, a non-working computer lounge (a work in progress, was not working yet) along with many seating areas. The Encore Lounge was huge, and offered many seats to watch the band that played nightly. Music I heard had mostly a Latin flare. Large bar offered many drinks, including the $5 large bottles of water. Bars accepted the drink coupons for drinks $12 and below. To the front of the ship was the first deck of Legends Grand Theater. A piano on the way in was played one time that I saw, as we walked into the welcome ceremony. The Theater was comfortable, but had some flaws that I could see. First, the floor seats are low compared to the stage. Offer a great head on view, but they are low. I preferred the side seats, around half way around and front row. Could see the stage great from here. Some seats higher up and especially those on the turns had poles. The theater was not crowded at any of the shows I attended. Lights all worked, acoustics were good for the shows. The theater was accessible from 8 and 9. Handicapped accessible through deck 8, but arrive early as you will want to move some of the chairs. The isles can get tight and would be best navigated with less people in them.
Next on deck 8 was the conference center. While used only by staff on this cruise, I see this as a great place for groups to get together. Along with the card rooms off to the side, I envision this ship will be ideal for class reunions and other groups who want a quick getaway from this port area and to have some meeting space onboard. It was an excellent meeting place.
The Admirals Steak House was the specialty restaurant. It was accessible from the starboard side of the ship – simply put, it is the seating area on the right hand side of the dining room and not a separate venue. This was not “open” on this sailing, per say. The dining room, named after the Bahamas national flower, is the Yellow Elder. Located in the aft of deck 8. The dress code is listed as NO shorts, no flip flops, etc. This was the furthest thing from the truth as people walked in with basketball shorts, Bermuda shorts, T-shirts and flip flops on both nights, and staff did not blink. No one told us to use hand sanitizer at any point of sailing on this ship to include boarding, dining, or buffet. Food is subjective, so I don’t go into great detail about it.
First night service was comical, and I felt bad for the staff. It was like throwing them to the wolves to fend for themselves. No processes were in place, my waiter had tables on both sides of the vast dining room, they were looking for common items all over the place (no steak sauce yet, sorry). The menu looked good, but the food was warm, at best, for both meals. Looking at the menu, the left side is the dining room menu, and the right side was the Admirals Steak House upsell items. Lobster, filet mignon, etc. There were listed vegetarian options and the usual note about allergies. I did okay with my allergy to nuts. They have you order your appetizer, meal, and dessert all at once. I talked to a lot of people who sailed on the sister ship many times, and they all said that the food was better on the other ship – I attribute some of this to it being new. The highlight was when I asked for coffee after dinner. Took forever and the waiter brought it to me. He explained that the coffee machine in the dining room was not onboard yet and he had to run to grab it. I asked for creamer and he explained it would be a few minutes; he had to go back to deck 10 for it. I told him to not worry about it and attend to other guests. As for the service, all of it was because they were new – they were trying. The wait staff was friendly, and one or two were very personable. Want a seat along the windows, better get there early for one of the two dining times. It appeared as though everyone sat only with those they knew, lots of tables for 2,4,6. Overall, food was okay and the biggest issue with is was the temperature. Service, well, lets just say they really tried and were not set up for success and they were understaffed. The second night’s service was much better then the first night. All of this was expected (well, not the coffee location, that was new).
Deck 9 –Memories is where you can buy the overpriced photos (want to say that it was $20 for the picture and you got a keychain and some wallets or something like that. “Special price”. The Lucaya plaza (another tip to the Bahamas here) was appealing and spacious. The stores were empty when we first boarded – and I mean empty – no product! The staff spent the first few hours loading the shelves, making displays, etc. Liquor store had a special that basically enticed you to buy three bottles to get 30% off. They had no cigars but hoped to get them. The apparel store had good prices on hats. There were no designer sunglasses around, and the other stuff was basic beachwear style. Jewelry store had a limited stock. The small candy shop seemed to have the most business and was priced to sell, only $1.50 for a candy bar and other snacks were not overpriced. Grand Café are 2 for-fee venues. A Slice Above was a pizza and calzone restaurant in they open plaza where you could pay $9.50 for your choice. On the other side was a coffee bar with limited selections for our sailing, but the prices were excellent - $4.50 was most expensive basic drink. There was often a sales pedestal here offering $13 tickets to the comedian show for night 2. While all shows are free, the comedy show is an up-sell. Not sure how many people went to see him, but based on the attendance of the free shows, I don’t know how many actually paid to go – did not meet anyone who did. I did not have anything from either of these two shops as an upsell, but they did look and smell good. Plenty of open seating areas.
Moving down deck 9 aft, you come across the Par-A-Dice casino. Finally! A SMOKE FREE casino (aside from Celebrity and the Divina). Very basic table games with a roulette table and some blackjack. Did not see the craps table opened, but then again the ATM did not have any money in it from what people were saying. Slot machines of various types. Not a lot of people in here at first, picked up the first evening. Second night, same thing. Never overcrowded. The best part was the smoke free environment. Beyond this was a wonderful aft panoramic lounge called the Regal Room. Live music included the sax player, a Tina Turner impersonator act? And a piano singer. The best part was the sax player and the endless views. Again, LOTS of seating and a good size floor. If I drank, this is the lounge I would hang out it.
Deck 10 – the Suites are located in the mid and forward areas of this deck. There are 10 of them in total. I took a tour of one and will say they were nice size. Large semi-circle balcony, a seating room with couch, desk and TV (TV service was not available on our sailing, still said Costa neoCLassica on the menu). Bedroom was a nice size bed and big tv. Bathroom was a deep-jetted marble tub, a shower and marble vanity area. Very nice. Not worth the upcharge IMO for a 2 night cruise though. I would see no advantage to any traditional ship perks on this getaway – there is no need for priority boarding, priority seating on sun decks, or at the shows.
The Ocean View Buffet was extremely weird. The green block walls and other yellowish paint schemes made if feel unique at best – and the appeal was not good. Two ways to get into the buffet area and neither entrance had staff – this was a huge miss. No one used the hand sanitizers, and no staff were around to tell you to wash! The worst aspect was the second day when many (non-Americans) were coming into here in bathing suits and flip flops – no shirts, dripping wet – and staff said nothing to them. The buffet was okay at best for breakfast (there was a made to order grill on the left), and terrible at other times (late lunch / dinner). Limited options for food, the layout is difficult. Very basic selections. Day 2, they ran out of orange juice and it didn’t come back. Coffee was good! Same staff that is in the dining room for dinner was running around here. Again, processes not in place, confusion, and understaffed. Lets chalk it up to the first sailing. The health concerns with those in bathing suites and flip flops though, that could be addressed. Just beyond the buffet was an outdoor seating area that was really nice. I enjoyed dining out here for daily breakfast and a snack on day 2. Plenty of tables, great views (especially as we sailed into West Palm). Downfall, the Rock Grill was an evening restaurant that was selling burgers at dinner time (lunch was free burgers and dogs – huge difference in quality). The problem – there is NO FREE FOOD after the buffet closes around 10PM. So, late night munchies, you must pay. Went to Guest Services, and they told me to call room service (limited menu which was no where to be found, and still at a small fee).
Deck 11 – the Adults only aft pool was filled one day. No one was ever back here, except some kids in the Jacuzzis. LOTS of deck chairs, like everyone could have 2 or 3 without issue. The main pool area on the port side was the only smoking area on the ship. Some were smoking day one right near the pool and the staff went over to them and talked to them. Pool was there, kids, some adults. Standard pool deck entertainment like DJs and pool side games over the course of 2 days.
Kids Clubs – they were on the smaller size, but then again, there was only a handful of kids on the ship. Kruzers was for ages 3-6, open 3-430 and 6pm-1am on day 1, and from 3pm-1am on day 2. Free of charge. Movies, activities, toys. The 7-12 age group was in a different area, had some games, movie, and some activities, but was very basic. Coming from RCCL and NCL kids clubs my kids would be a little disappointed in this one, but then again, it is only for a short time and only 1-2 days at best. I did not see Xbox or anything, so not sure if they had them – I don’t think so. If your kids will only be there for an hour or two each day, this will work. I heard there was a club for 13-17, but never saw it and not sure it really existed.
Spa – The spa area was doing a soft opening. I signed up for an 8pm, day 2, message. All services were ½ price for this sailing (limited menu). I usually do a message per sailing. The exercise area was nice, all the facilities clean. About 7 or 8 loungers in the “relaxation” area, but this was comical – the section is right off the main area of the gym, and open to the sounds of the gym as a whole. The entire time I was sitting there before my service the lockers were beeping – lots of beeping – and the doors to the spa area were opened to the pool deck, complete with dance music. The others waiting were laughing as well. The desk staff was doing their best with no computers, and a limited staffing. Went in, had my message and mentioned this, and the masseuse told me they had been beeping for weeks. For the first time, they did not try to sell me a bunch of useless crap! They were in the case for sale, but not one person even made mention of it. This is great. But what is NOT COOL AT ALL was that there is a sign, and it is on the receipt, and the disclosure form, that states there is an 18% SERVICE CHARGE for ALL SERVICES. That’s okay, this is the tip, I get it. WRONG! This does NOT go to the staff. I confirmed this with the front desk girl, the manager, and my masseuse. They tried to tell me that this is a tax that they have to charge, and were uncomfortable with it. I made a slight stink about how the girls would be loosing out on tips day after day since people will think that is the gratuity. They agreed but seemed hesitant to talk about it. This is a very misleading practice and I will be putting this as my biggest negative of their operation. I have called Bahamas Paradise, and messaged them but get run-arounds on an answer for this for a week now. If this is true, I dislike the practice. Overall, props to the staff, they did a great job. Excellent message, very nice facilities. The “quiet room” and “wall of beeps” are the only negatives, and trivial at that.
Deck 12 – Jogging track – artificial grass, and lots of deck chairs. Rows of empty deck chairs. If you’re a sun seeker, look no further. There were foosball tables around the decks, along with some ping pong. No chair hogs on this sun deck – you could have your own row.
Deck 13 – wait, what? No deck 13? Ship has an inaugural sailing on Friday the 13th, and the first return to port day is April 15th (Titanic Anniversary), and they don’t have a deck 13? Props to NCL as being the only cruise line I know that keeps it real.
Deck 14 – Crows Nest Sports Bar – they were installing the pool table and air hockey tables, vast bar with great views – empty both times I came in here, but think that at night it is crowded. Lots of seating, and a DJ booth. At night, they tried to build a party atmosphere up here, not sure how it worked out, not my scene.
Shows – I saw a good sax player, some snippets of the Tina Turner singer, a latin band with lots of dancing by the crowd, and the two production shows. The shows had 6 dancers and 4 singes along with a magician incorporated into the acts. Night 1 was billed as a Havana Nights themed show. Started off with some Latin style dancing, but before long Guns-N-Roses was being sung so don’t take names litteraly. Performers did a great job. Better then some shows I have seen on Carnival, not as good as say, Chicago on Allure or Brat Pack on Escape. Have seen lots of shows on ships over the years, this one was not that bad. The singers were passionate; the dancers were slightly exaggerated at times but worked hard. Not really sure how a magician came into the mix, but they did a good job at incorporating him, while using the dancers as his assistants. Some basic illusion tricks that amazed some and entertained others, the delivery needs to be worked a little more on some of them and props tweaked on the “spin me around” box night 2. The show was about an hour of non-stop dancing and singing. On the second night, same group, different theme. This time, it was a VooDoo theme, with many songs related to magic, voodoo, spells, etc. Again, great energy and performance with high energy and many outfits. I will say, the shows were better then I envisioned for a lower budget cruise line. Overall, this group did a great job and I am glad I saw both shows. There was a great selection of recognizable songs, and talented singers – no lip-synching. Other entertainment included a glow party, which I did not attend.
Freeport Bahamas – Ships dock miles from anything to do, in the middle of the shipping yard. There is nothing more then a few junk stands at the port. All the tour busses are lined up. The cruise line offered us an opportunity to go see three resorts they use as part of their cruise – resort package, and I took them up on it. First stop was my favorite, the all-inclusive or al-a-carte option at the Lighthouse Point Grand Lacayan. Beautiful waterfront resort, infinity pool with lifeguards, lap pools, great spa and exercise room. We ended up having a luncheon here and walked to the marketplace for shopping afterwards. Market place was empty. Lots of shops, no people. Other options we visited were Pelican Bay, which was my least favorite. Some okay pools and dining, but no beach – you have to pay to go to the aforementioned Lacayan, or take a quick ferry to another resort, Flamingo Bay Resort and Marina. Depends where your room is, you may be near the beach or a quick walk away. Awesome pool with grotto swim up bar and waterslide. If I was taking my family, I would opt for the Grand Lacayan because of the location, beach, and amenities. The spa and exercise area was great, and the proximity to the beach put it above all others I visited.
Disembarking – Extremely easy. We lined up, they opened the doors, and off we went. Heading into the customs area, passport holders to the left, others to the right. In a matter of minutes, I was at the curb. Handed the valet ticket to the attendant, and in about 2 minutes, my car was there and I was gone. From ship to drive off, under 15 minutes. They didn’t force people off the ship in a hurry, and offered people to go to eat so the rooms could be cleaned after a certain hour (was late if I remember correctly.) Since almost all do a carry off, not sure if people would put luggage out at night. Perhaps if you did a week on the island you may.
The ship is in great condition for a 27 year old ship. The staff is ready to learn, but needs more processes in place and support from the experienced staff. The technical difficulties are expected on a first cruise. This ship is ideal for those who live in the Florida area, or are looking for a quick getaway. I would probably opt for a 3 day on another line if I were driving to Florida just to cruise, and visit a better island. While I am certain there are fun things to do on this island, it is a tough sell.
This is also a good option for groups, as there are lots of public space on this ship and a small conference center where events could occur. It is an okay option for a first time cruiser who wants to see what a cruise is like, but not be gone for a week on a mainstream line. The good option for this would be to couple it with a few days on the island, which is something unique to this cruise line (cruise, hotel, cruise). I fully expect that they will move forward and bring those things that made people fall in love with the Celebration over to this ship. Many people I talked to went on that 4 or 5 times, and say they liked the ship and staff and were disappointed with this sailing and ship – again, I think a lot of it is because the ship is new.
Since this is a first sailing, one has to expect challenges. It is how they deal with those issues moving forward that will dictate how good this cruise is. The public space is unmatched, seriously. Seats and lounge chairs everywhere. Classic smaller cruise ship feel. Some international clients. Since it only travels 58 miles, the ship moves slow and steady – it was amazingly smooth sailing (perfect weather and calm seas). Would I sail it again? Perhaps if it was on sale, AND I was in Florida for some reason. If I were driving down to vacation, I would opt for a 3+ day sailing elsewhere. I would consider it for the hotel stay option, but need to compare it to the overall cost of other resorts on more desirable islands where I could fly.
1. Cleanliness of the ship
2. Amazing Public space
3. Ease of embarkation / debarkation (aside from CPU issues here on day 1)
4. Smoke free casino
5. Production shows
Misses (except for new ship / staff related factors):
1. The spa 18% Service Fee that does not go to staff
2. No free food options after 10PM
3. Buffet was terrible aside from breakfast
4. Dining room issues with the cold food and availability of basic items
5. No enforcement of dining room and buffet dress codes or hand sanitizer
6. No life guards
7. Fine print says fuel surcharge of $12/day if fuel is above $40 (Rarely below $40 - RCCL @ $60, NCL @ $65); not sure if they ever implement this. I contacted the line to ask them and have not heard back after multiple attempts. No other line has implemented in nearly 10 years.
Overall, I would recommend giving this cruise a try for a quick getaway from the local area, but not as an option for someone making a trip to Florida specifically to experience a cruise. Read Less