Date of cruise: 2/11/12 to 2/13/12
Cabin category: 3, suite
Age of passengers: 53, 62
Rating: Based on the type of cruise and market it serves- 5 stars +
This was my 44th cruise, and my girlfriend's 1st; okay, 2nd, if you consider working aboard SS France for 2 weeks in 1973 to count.
I have cruised over a dozen times on Cunard (QE2 and QM2, including 3 trans-Atlantics), over a dozen times on Celebrity in the Caribbean and Europe, additional cruises ranging from the Costa Riviera, Home Lines Atlantic, Premier's Rembrandt (the former Rotterdam V) and, over a dozen cruises on
Celebration's (Imperial Majesty's) former ship the Regal Empress, when it was owned by Regal Cruise Lines. The "RE" remains one of my favorite ships,and it
saddened me to see this classic beauty scrapped at Alang a few years ago. I sailed on her from two to 11 nights back in the 1990's.
We were spending the week at my girlfriend's house in Boca Raton (we also live in New Jersey) and after almost 7 years of non-cruising, I decided to break things up with a short cruise, and Bahamas Celebration (BC) was a logical choice, as I knew she took the place of Regal Empress.
I did this on line via their web site, and it was easy. I chose our cabin, a category 3 "suite", and that was that. A few days before departure I printed out the forms, including the credit card form and filled that out. We were ready to go when we boarded.
Their online directions to the port were perfect, and we drove from Boca to the port in about 40 minutes. Valet parking was spot-on, and we knew it was $30 (cheaper than taking a limo or taxi!). We paid them in cash (didn't ask about credit card), we got our luggage out and went to check in. We arrived at about 11:40 AM.
You take your luggage from the car to a table just across from where the valet takes your car, which is right along side the terminal building, where a staff member has a list of all the passengers. Give your name, he checks the list, then additional staff members take your bags and tag them with your cabin number. He then tells you to wait to the right of the table as your bags are scanned (out of your sight). Once all checks out he gives you a "thumbs up". This took about a minute.
We then proceeded up stairs to the check in counter in the terminal and were quickly accommodated. Here you give them your credit card form, passports and credit card. Maybe 5 minutes there at best, then you get your room keys and off you go to board.
You then proceed to the obligatory ship's photographer for a non-mandatory photo (say "no thanks" or just let them take it, as we did, as purchase is not
obligatory). Next, there's a shore excursion desk, restaurant reservations desk, and another one for wines. We just went to make restaurant reservations.
Since we were boarding on a Saturday, I selected the Cove restaurant ($25 extra per person + tip and drinks) for Saturday and the Crystal room for Sunday.
OVERALL, THE FASTEST MOST EFFICIENT CHECK IN I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED!
Cabins are not available until 1:30 PM, and they literally have entrances to the passageways roped off until the cabins are ready. Thus, they tell you to go top side to the 9 deck Lido buffet for lunch, which we did. Having arrived at the ship at 11:40 AM, we were on the buffet line by 12:20 PM, not bad!
The Lido has a relatively nice buffet with a good assortment of hot and cold food, with burgers and hot dogs too. No complaints here. Waiters push the
"Bahama Mama" drinks, and just be polite and say no if you do not want one. There was a DJ with music also. It's a lovely area of the ship, and is located in the area of the above deck swimming pool.
The cabins were available promptly at 1:30, and aside from an issue with our keys not working (promptly handled by a member of staff nearby, without us
needing to go downstairs to sort it out) we were in cabin 7118, and our luggage arrived by 2PM.
7118 is a category 3 "suite", and is very spacious, especially for a two-night cruise. You enter into the "bedroom", with queen size bed and two night tables, each with a storage nook. There is a single light centered over the headboard (sorry, no individual reading lights). There is a partition separating the bedroom from living room. Opposite the bedroom is an open closet, and a console with a cabinet and stocked mini-bar. Atop the console are more goodies, including candy and the small bottles of alcohol. Otherwise, ample counter space here. After this console you enter the "living area", with a table with two, comfortable chairs, followed by a large sofa against the wall. A flat screen TV is mounted in the opposing corner to the sofa below the windows. Ample TV channels. There is also a small table with light mounted on the wall opposite the sofa.
The door to the bathroom is opposite the sofa, and the bathroom, while compact, serves its purpose. Water pressure / temperature were fine, and along with bar soap, there were dispensers on the wall for body/hair soap. Shampoo and conditioner and shower cap were provided. There is a wall mounted hair dryer also.
REMEMBER, electricity is 220 volts in the cabin, so either bring an adaptor, or pick one up from the concierge desk on 3 deck. We brought our own adaptor, but never needed it.
It's a 35,000+ ton former overnight ferry that entered service in 1981. Remember,"Titanic" was only 45,000 tons, and the great Cunard ocean liner
"Mauretania" was about the same size as BC- this is not a small ship. It was later stretched, and under Celebration cruises was further enhanced. When I
started crusing in 1985, a 35,000 ton ship was pretty darn large! This is an ideal ship for its purpose, and for many, far superior to its predecessor, the
Regal Empress. The ship appears very well-maintained and is in immaculate condition- very clean. Interior decor is very nice, and the 7-deck atrium with
glass-enclosed elevators is a real plus. If you are expecting 150,000 tons of size, and a balcony for every cabin, get real! It's a ship that just does two-
night cruises, and this mission it is well suited for. Trust me, this is not an "old" ship. Regal Empress was old, BC is not.
The ship has stabilizers, but make no mistake about it, when the waters get rough (and we experienced this) stabilizers only get you so far, and the ship
will "rock and roll".
Most activities are on 9 deck (outdoor pool, hot tubs, sunning lounges and lido buffet and DJ's ice cream bar, along with a pool and water slide for children), and 4 deck, with restaurants, casino, pub, entertainment, etc. 5 deck contains the Ocean Breeze lounge, which can be accessed from the "View" nightclub / showroom on 4 deck aft. It is just a higher part of the same venue. 3 deck is where you enter the ship and has the usual Information desks along with the spa, exercise room and shop.
All of the decor is very nice, but If you are expecting over the top "Joe Farcus" interiors from Carnival, then take Carnival from Palm Beach to Freeport for two nights. Then again...
Life Boat Drill:
There is none! Don't worry though. There is a briefing held via the PA system, sounding of the alarm signal, along with staff members in public areas demonstrating the donning of their very modern, safe life jackets. There is also the usual instructions on the back of your cabin door along with a pamphlet in the cabin. Muster stations are located in the same place on each passenger deck and, I believe this is a plus, life jackets are not in your cabin, but located near muster stations and life boats / rafts. I had no issue with this. Just know where your muster station is.
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE we encountered on the ship was courteous, cordial and professional. I could have been sailing on Cunard! As with most ships, the staff is multi-national, from probably over 30 countries, and while accents can be an issue as to understanding, we experienced none.
Special mention: Max, the Italian restaurant manager. He used to work for Princess among others, and is a real gentleman. We met him at Cove, where we had a nice chat, and at Crystal he took care of us as to giving us a nice table for two, and came back to chat and even sing for us! He has a good voice too. He was a highlight of the cruise.
Not obtrusive or pushy, but VERY good (I've spent many years behind a camera myself). They do some very nice portrait work with some very unique backgrounds using a "green screen" technique and appropriate software, and they aim to please. Our 8x10 portraits were outstanding!
* Lido Buffet (9 deck): Casual outside buffet for breakfast and lunch with hot and cold choices. No issues with the food.
* Rio buffet ( 4 deck): Didn't dine here, but open for lunch and dinner. Large, attractive room.
* Gerry's Italian Trattoria (4 deck): Buffet style with great pizza and other hot and cold choices and tempting desserts. Open for lunch and dinner. No issues here, but wish they had some pasta, which I thought they did.
* Crystal Room Restaurant: A semi formal venue, with lovely atmosphere, comfortable seating, and excellent service and cusine. If you don't expect a 3-deck high room overlooking the stern you'll be pleased with cuisine and service. Food and service equal to Celebrity. Read about Max above.
* The Cove: Their extra cost ($25 P/P), fine dining restaurant. Small and intimate (seats maybe 45?). Cuisine and service are well above par, and if you order one choice of all the courses on the menu, expect to spend 2 to 2.5 hours there. This IS fine dining. I'm not talking a Michelin star here, but not far off from deserving one!
All the usual ones you might expect from some of the major cruise lines, including bingo, horse racing, games, etc. along with children's activities with
ample facilities dedicated to them.
A singer / musician appears nightly at the pub, and there are the usual variety of shows in the View nightclub / show room, which is a beautiful venue for these. I considered all entertainment to be of above average quality.
No problem getting alcohol on the ship, but if you want to sit at a bar, it will be either the Pub bar (only 5 seats), or the Casino bar, where you can also have a smoke too.
The ship is mostly non-smoking, including all cabins. There are areas on 9 deck (outside) that permit smoking, and the casino permits smoking, with the exception of a dedicated non-smoking slot room. The casino bar is a great place for a drink and a smoke!
The cruise in general:
Departure is listed as 5:30 PM, I believe that means all should be on board by then, as we departed at around 6:30 PM.
The seas that night were "rough-ish", I guess, at least for some. For me they were normal for a ship this size under the sea conditions, but for those first
-timers, or those who have yet to develop their "sea legs" or "sea stomach", take a pill or wear a patch.
Our arrival at Freeport saw very high winds (gusts to almost 50 mph), and the port authorities would not allow us, or anyone else to dock. We hung outside of port biding time, and they soon announced a tour of the navigation bridge. I couldn't miss that!
We, and about 15 others were escorted to the bridge on 7 deck, just ahead of our cabin, where we found our host to be no other than captain George (Georgios) Pallas himself. Now, I've known some captains, who were friends, who have invited me to join them on the bridge during departures and arrivals, even drinks in their cabin, but never on a bridge tour on a ship new to me, whose captain I did not know, along with many other strangers, was the captain the host of the tour!
Captain Pallas was most gracious and unpretentious, in fact, at first I didn't even know he was the captain, as he was dressed in an orange jump (boiler) suit, with no rank insignias. At first I thought he was one who worked in the engine room! Despite our delay in getting into port (he had other staff on the bridge to assist him), we spent over 1/2 hour with him as he entertained our questions, and took photos with the ladies, all the while paying close attention to the ship, taking radio calls etc. He was no Schettino from the Costa Concordia, that's for sure! He was a great host, and I left feeling in good hands with him in command.
Captain Pallas got us into Freeport a bit after 1PM, and it was still, sadly, windy and cool. My girlfriend and others left the ship to shop, sight see and, for many, to spend several days at the "Our Lucaya" resort before taking the ship back at a later date. The ship would then depart for Palm Beach at 8:30 PM, which it did promptly.
That evening proved most enjoyable, with drinks at the Casino bar (we don't gamble), a lovely bar in its own right. I should add that it is an attractive, large, two-deck high casino too, but I cannot remark about the quality of "play". This was followed by the aforementioned dinner at the Crystal room.
We didn't take any, so I cannot comment. Otherwise, take a $5 taxi into town to shop, which is what my girlfriend did.
This is handled relatively well, and you can either put your bags out by 2AM or take them off yourself, which we did. BC would like everyone off the ship by 10:30. The only issue we experienced, and I was told by staff that this occurs often, was customs and immigration officials either showing up late and / or not sending enough agents. We hit the jack pot with both occurring. Typically, when they send 8 agents things move quickly, but this time they only sent 5 agents and they showed up late. Thus, it was 2.5 hours from the time we arrived at 3 deck with our luggage to the time we got in our car to head home.
A member of BC staff told me, "We aim to provide a pleasurable cruise experience, but this is often what people remember", in reference to the long delay through customs. Sadly, they have no control over this. Picking up the car from valet parking was fast and efficient. Valet parking is handled by the Port of Palm Beach
While a smaller ship by today's standards, BC proved to be essentially a "major" cruise line experience, and a quality one at that. In the context of the cruise's length and the niche that it fills in the market, you can't go wrong with this cruise, and I highly recommend it when one wants that quick getaway. They really try, and I found that they do deliver.
Hints / Tips:
Try to check in at 12 noon to maximize your time on the ship. Unless traveling solo, if you can, book a category 5 cabin or better. If you like to sit at a bar and have a drink and a smoke, head to the casino bar. It's perhaps the nicest bar on the ship. As to disembarkation, take your luggage off with you, and either try to be first off or last off. Your cabin steward won't mind if you leave the packed bags sitting in the cabin until 10:30. He'll work around them.
There is a beautiful cut-away model of the BC on 4 deck (actually, it's a model of the former ferry that she was, but way close enough.) They also had a beautiful model of their former ship, the Regal Empress, one of the longest serving passenger ships of all time. I wish they had the foresight to have taken that model off the RE and put it somewhere on the BC. Also, they named a lounge "Ocean Breeze", after their first ship, which was originally the Shaw Savill Lines "Southern Cross". It would have been cool to name the "Cove" restaurant "Empress" (or "Olympia", her first name under Greek lines) and put that model of the Regal Empress in there. Never forget your past!
Boca Raton, FL
The late, great Regal Empress. One of the
longest serving passenger ships of all time.
...............1953 to 2009.....................
On board QE2 for the last trans-Atlantic
of the 20th Century, December 1999 & 2000
On board QM2 for her maiden trans-Atlantic
to New York, April 2004
I love to cruise, but my flying comes first!
Cessna 210N Turbo Centurion.
44 cruises since 1985 and I am too lazy to mention them all! However, I do own the Builder's Certificate to the the RMS Queen Elizabeth. A lot of good that does me! Ships sailed on: Costa Riviera. Home Lines Atlantic. Cunard QE2 & QM2. Premier Cruise's Sea Breeze & Rembrandt. Celebrity Zenith, Century, Galaxy & Millennium. Bahamas Celebration, and my favorite ship of all, Regal Empress! Cunard Diamond, Celebrity Elite, RCI Diamond (and I've yet to sail on RCI!!)