The Grand Tour
There’s much to celebrate now that the Bahamas just got a little easier to experience.
By Rico Bronte
The ports of Fort Lauderdale and Miami have long been the gateways to cruising the Caribbean, but with the recent inaugural sailing of Grand Celebration out of nearby Port of Palm Beach, the path to paradise just got a little shorter.
Sailing a straight shot from Florida to Freeport, Bahamas, every other day, this 47,262-ton ship — the first (and, for now, only) ship in Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s fleet — is no stranger to making Caribbean magic. It got its (un)humble beginnings as Celebration, one of the first SuperLiners for Carnival Cruise Line when it debuted back in 1987. (You’ll no doubt recognize the telltale tail when you first lay eyes on the ship and its funnel from port.) While no one would confuse those ships with the at-sea behemoths being created today, overall offerings one might consider “intimate” by comparison are, on Grand Celebration, still plenty charming and exceedingly fun. Kathie Lee Gifford was the godmother of Celebration almost 30 years ago, and, just like the beloved queen of daytime television, this ship is going just as strong today!
Behind Closed Doors
More than 60 percent of Grand Celebration’s 751 guest cabins have an ocean view, giving most of the ship’s 1,800 potential passengers a loving look of the Atlantic from the comfort of their own room. Staterooms that start at 172-square-feet and include a private bathroom, television, hair dryer, and turndown service make up the bulk of Decks 4 though 7 (whose halls, it should be noted, are lined with hundreds of unique framed art pieces, representing everything from Victorian to modern styles). But it’s the suites on Deck 11 where you imagine past godmothers retiring for the evening. Each has a large terrace, a living room space with a couch and cushy chairs, and a mini bar. The suite Porthole experienced had a gorgeous frosted divider partially/artfully separating our living- and bedrooms, and a whirlpool jet–equipped bathtub that paired well with chocolate strawberries.
Stellar Prime serves as Grand Celebration’s main dining room, with entrée choices including teriyaki glazed Atlantic salmon filet or sirloin steak and succulent Chateaubriand or Jamaican jerk marinated pork loin, depending on which evening you dine. But for an additional $13, the Admiralty Club specialty restaurant boasts an Italian-founded intimacy unlike anywhere else on the ship, with a five-course menu that includes Peruvian sea bass, maple leaf duck, osso bucco Milanese, veal scaloppini, New York strip steak, and more as entrée options. There is perhaps no bigger bang for your extra buck than a dinner here.
The 850-seat multilevel Legends Grand Theater hosts a different show each night. The choreographed dancing, magical disappearing and person-sawing acts, and thrilling acrobatics in just one variety show were individually worthy of their own headlining performance. The entertainment doesn’t end when the curtain comes down, however. Head down the Isles of Paradise promenade to watch bands perform in the Encore Lounge or be part of the casino action at any of the 10 tables dealing blackjack, Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em, craps, and more. (We found a particularly favorable nook at the port side of the Par-a-dice casino, where a glass divider separating parts of the casino and lounge limits the foot traffic yet still allows the satisfying duet of live music and triumphant slot machines to thrive.) Further down the promenade, one can cut a rug — or, more appropriately, a large, inspiring wooden dance floor — at Voltage Night Club; watch live music in the more subdued, lounge-like Regal Room; and you can’t have an area called “Dancing Martian” if you didn’t have a DJ playing the best music, right there under the stars and behind the funnel on Deck 11. (Did it earn its Martian moniker because the ground is a gorgeous electric green, or because the lovely bartender who served me while I contemplated this question happened to be named Marvin?)
At the aft end of the Paradise Deck (Deck 9), there’s the Indulgence Spa & Salon, which offers treatments like aromatherapy, body scrubs, and massages as well as services for hair, nails, teeth, and waxable areas. And while no escape can compare to one of proactive relaxation, the Sun Deck at the other end of the ship comes close. Here, comfy deck chairs and larger, private pods surround a large, elevated 10-person hot tub. Serene music sets the perfect mood, with a magical design that somehow keeps the steel-drum liveliness of the nearby La Piscina pool from colliding with the tranquil.
You wouldn’t call something as conspicuous as a hippopotamus a “secret,” but the uniquely designed kid’s slide just outside the Kruzers children’s area is an unexpected, almost hilarious sight to behold should you, say, emerge from the aft pool or hot tubs and want a look at the ocean wake below. Harder to see are some of the maritime touches and memorabilia in what looks, at first glance anyway, like a Deck 8 library with a few card tables. The room is actually called The Helm, and it boasts some of the same memorabilia that Celebration had when its collection was valued at north of $100,000. Ship models, oil paintings, collecting cards, plates, and pins line the walls, along with the bell from Caronia (which enjoyed its maiden voyage with Cunard in 1949); a china beer mug featuring Hamburg Amerika Line’s S.S. Amerika from 1905; and even a sailing wheel circa 1920s. A prominent brass binnacle inclinometer separates (in spirit, anyway) The Helm from the Commodore Martini Bar, but it’s only when standing outside The Helm did we notice its finest detail: The Helm’s stained glass ceiling actually features ships as well, which upon closer inspection turn out to be none other than Normandie and Queen Mary.
Shore excursions in Freeport include adventure, beach, and family options from dolphin swims and Jeep tours to snorkeling, scuba diving, and beach days. We opted for the Grand Lucayan Beach & Golf Resort, where gorgeous Caribbean waters and soft white sands meet luxurious lounge chairs and pools with winding pathways (and, in one pool’s case, a swim-up bar). While we only had the day to experience the infinity pool/strawberry daiquiri action, a number of fellow cruisers coming off the ship were booked to stay at the expansive resort, as overnight packages are available that allow guests to stay there and return back to Florida on Grand Celebration at a future date. Just as we were beginning to sulk about having to belly-back from the swim-up bar and get back on the bus, we heard some fellow bus-passengers/party-revelers singing Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.” There was still another night of Caribbean-cruise celebrating to enjoy, and all indications were pointing to this celebration being a grand one.
Choose from a 2-night Bahamas cruise or a 4- to 6-night Bahamas cruise and resort stay. For more information on Grand Celebration and what a Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line experience includes, visit bahamasparadisecruise.com.
Photo: Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line