(10:30 a.m. EDT) -- Born two years ago from the ashes of now-defunct Celebration Cruise Line, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line has found its footing with a strong business model and new leaders who plan to grow the company, both in terms of fleet size and brand recognition.
Amid rumors that the one-vessel line will double its number of ships by acquiring Costa's neo-Classica next year, Cruise Critic caught up with Bahamas Paradise president Kevin Sheehan Jr. and CEO Oneil Khosa to talk about their plans for expansion. Although neither would confirm the acquisition, Sheehan and Khosa did express a desire to grow the product.
"We've been working on a strategy to build this business since we took ownership," said Sheehan, whose family purchased a majority stake in the line in late 2016. Khosa serves as a minority stakeholder.
Sheehan said he hopes to acquire not just one more ship, but possibly several. However, he stresses that if the line were to expand, it would first have to find ships that fit the brand. "We're not adding luxury ships," Sheehan said. "That's not who we are."
With its regular schedule of inexpensive two-night sailings between the Port of Palm Beach and Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas Paradise attracts many travelers with limited vacation time and funds, as well as those who haven't necessarily cruised before.
"We generate a lot of first-time cruisers, and that trend most likely will continue," Khosa said, explaining that the short voyages are ideal for people who are more restricted and just want a weekend getaway. Cruisers leaving on Friday can be back by Sunday. "You can't do that with other lines," Khosa noted.
If the line does expand to a second ship, Sheehan said the schedule will only become more flexible for passengers. "The idea would be, instead of having a ship depart Palm Beach every-other day, we'd have a ship departing every day" to sail the two-night route to Freeport.
That would mean travelers booking one of the line's land-based Freeport resort packages -- a one-night sailing and a resort stay for two, four or six days, followed by another one-night sailing -- could instead opt for a resort stay of any length.
"The cruise-and-stay is unique, and it really differentiates us from the rest of the industry because nobody else is doing it," Khosa said.
Khosa also noted that the line "brings a lot of prosperity to the island" because of the short itineraries, frequent calls and land-based offerings. The line's only ship, Grand Celebration, will carry about 250,000 passengers to Grand Bahama Island this year. "It benefits more than just the homeport," which Khosa said isn't the case with most ships because they sail to a more varied list of destinations.
When asked if expanding will mean going up against some of the larger players in the cruise market, Sheehan reiterated that the line draws a specific type of cruiser and said he has no intention of changing that.
"For those customers who've sailed with us before, there is an expectation," Sheehan said. "We are going to continue to cater to the [type of] customer [who's] brought us here. We are a short-itinerary business, and we have no intention of going head-to-head with the bigger lines."
But, in an industry where new hardware is key and alternative restaurants and onboard gimmicks -- skydiving, bumper cars, ropes courses, IMAX theaters -- are the norm, that doesn't mean Bahamas Paradise is standing still.
Several upgrades have been made to Grand Celebration, including the conversion of the ship's former Admiralty Club alternative restaurant to a steakhouse and seafood venue called Admiral's Steak and Seafood, which carries a $29 per-person charge. Spaces for kids have also been completely renovated to include new toys and decor, as well as a redone children's pool area.
Upcoming additions will feature a new extra-fee gelato, pastry and specialty coffee bar -- The Grand Cafe and Gelateria -- launching in mid-October and the transformation of the ship's current forward pool and hot tub into an adults-only area for passengers 21 and older. (A bar will be added to the area before its unveiling in mid-September.)
The line has also been busy upgrading its technology, which includes the automation of the check-in process at Palm Beach -- something that wasn't in place in the company's early days.
So what do all of these upgrades and potential for expansion mean for the pricing that Bahamas Paradise cruisers have come to expect? Sheehan said it's too early to know the specifics, but he stressed that he sees the line as "an affordable cruise option that provides a great vacation experience for everyone."
--By Ashley Kosciolek, Editor