Grand Classica

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, known for its affordable, two-night cruise runs to the Bahamas and back, did something almost unthinkable in the cruise industry last week -- it more than doubled its capacity, in a single day. With the arrival of Grand Classica, the line went from a single-ship fleet with room for 1,502 passengers per sailing to a two-ship fleet expected to carry a half million cruisers per year.

Most cruisers are expected to come from South Florida, the company's traditional source market -- the line runs out of Palm Beach -- but the line is pushing to expand its passenger based to all of Florida, and even beyond. For many cruisers, it's their first sailing and might even be their first time out of the country.

Cruise Critic hitched a ride on the ship's debut sailing, just four days after the ship was delivered to the cruise line. As with most shakedown cruises, there were several glitches that will be ironed out with a week or two, but overall, we were impressed. Considering how many new cruisers this ship will draw, we think it makes a great first impression for the industry.

Here are a few of our first impressions.

It's Affordable

Prices on Grand Classica can start as little as $170 per person for an inside cabin. That's quite a value for a two-night stay, with three meals, big-stage production shows, live music in the lounges and poolside fun all included. For anyone who's afraid to give even a three- or four-night cruise a chance, these two-night sailings are a great option. They don't cost much and they're over practically before they've even begun (kind of like a 45-minute flight that's already landing, just a few minutes after it's reached cruising altitude).

Oceanview cabin on Grand Classica

It's Comfortable

The former Costa neoClassica, Grand Classica was built in 1991, when ship design still prioritized space-per-passenger ratio. Lounges, of which there are two main ones, are huge; there's no knocking the knees of the people seated next to you and there's a sizeable dance floor for those inclined to kick up their heels. There's also plenty of plush seating in public spaces. Similarly, cabins don't feel cramped -- even the inside rooms, which are just 175 square feet, feel roomy. We think part of that comes from a slightly Spartan design ethic with just one painting on the wall and a small flatscreen TV placed on a counter, so there's no feeling of clutter.

It's Attractive

As one fellow journalist put it, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line got a Ferrari for the price of, well, we don't know how much they paid, but it wasn't that much. The ship is beautiful. Despite its age (27 years old) Costa kept the ship in tip-top shape and it was entirely refurbed with new carpeting and furniture in 2014. From velvety armchairs and love seats in the lounges to a beautiful Murano-glass comedia del arte mosaic in the main theater, it's a beauty. We especially loved all the terracing (in the theater, on the aft pool deck), as well as the preponderance of dark woods and brass.

The sun deck on Grand Classica

Plenty of Dining Options

Grand Classica has several dining options, although only two are included in the cruise fare. The main dining room menu offers a decent selection, with several appetizers, entrees (including three vegetarian choices every night) and desserts on offer. Plus, for those who want a small splurge, you can order select Steakhouse items for an extra fee (about $20, except for surf and turf, which is closer to $28). The buffet is a bit sparer, but, again, we were on the first sailing straight out of taking ownership of the ship and it had clearly not been fully provisioned (no limes from day one, several menu items not available, etc). Still, there were about five or six options available for lunch and dinner, as well as salad fixings, fruit and dessert.

For anyone willing to splurge on extra-fee dining, there are five options. Our favorites were the A Slice Above with $9.95 flatbreads, calzones and pizzas (including build-your-own) and the interactive Rock Grill ($28) at which you get to cook your own entrée (various meats) on a square lava stone heated to 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

All in all, it's plenty of choice for a two-night cruise!

Es Perfecto Para Hispanohablantes

With so many cruisers drawn from South Florida, it's not a wonder that many passengers are Spanish speaking. To match the demographic, the line has hired a lion's share of Spanish-speaking crew. You could get through an entire cruise without speaking any English if you want (except in the Bahamas!)  All written material is in both English and Spanish, and all announcements are made in both languages.

--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor