(9:45 a.m. EST) — When we learned we’d be sailing aboard Bahamas Paradise’s Grand Celebration, we weren’t just skeptical; we were downright hesitant. The ship, formerly Carnival Celebration, changed hands when Carnival Corp. reallocated it from Carnival Cruise Line to sister brand Costa. By the time Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line purchased the vessel in 2015, it was already 29 years old.
Thanks to a rather extensive (and expensive) refurbishment by Costa prior to the ship’s sale, our qualms were unfounded. Yes, Grand Celebration — carrying just 1,500 passengers — is smaller than many modern mega-ships, and it has fewer decks and amenities, but it’s big on character. It’s an excellent example of vintage cruise ship design, and elements of bygone days of cruising — beanbag toss, midnight buffets — will make old salts nostalgic.
This is also a great ship if all you want is some casino play or time in the sun with a beer or a fruity drink. Its Bahamas itineraries are only two days (with an entire day of that time spent in Freeport), so even though activities are slightly limited, passengers likely won’t be bored. Read on for our take on the best of what Grand Celebration has to offer and what could use a little improvement.
Service throughout the ship is attentive and friendly; we attribute that, in part, to the general no-pretense attitude of the passengers the ship serves. There’s no pressure to dress up, there are no exclusive restaurants or lounges, and everyone is just there to have a fun, relaxing time. There’s no entitlement, and because the passengers are at ease, so are the crew.
Grand Celebration offers rock-bottom pricing for what we’d consider a decent vacation. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the majority of the line’s revenue is generated from alcohol sales. We found no pressure to drink at dinnertime, but during our first day onboard, we were approached seven times by seven different crew members during the 20 minutes we took to eat our buffet lunch by the pool. That’s the only time we think service crossed the line between attentive and aggressive.
One of the biggest and best surprises for us was the outdoor barbecue offered on days when the ship is docked in Freeport. On the menu were several types of meat, including pulled pork and chicken, which were complemented by coleslaw, potato salad and a selection of add-ons like lettuce, tomatoes and barbecue sauce. Call us easy to please, but it was exquisite. (As a side note, we also were impressed with the indoor buffet’s rather extensive salad bar, particularly given the buffet’s small size.)
We found onboard announcements to be excessive. It felt as though every item from the daily schedule — from first-day orientation talks to bingo — was announced. It was tolerable for two days, but on a longer sailing, it might have driven us batty.
Although most Grand Celebration passengers opt for just a two-day cruise, others choose to extend their vacations with the line’s cruise-and-stay packages. In addition to the two-night sailings, cruisers can stay in Freeport for two nights, four nights or six nights through the line’s partnership with Grand Lucayan resort before sailing back to West Palm Beach. The cost for a two-night cruise and two-night resort stay starts from less than $280 per person. Plus, discounts can be found during the off-season, making it an even better value.
Because Grand Celebration was previously used as a Mediterranean ship, there’s a shortage of U.S. outlets in the cabins onboard. In our suite, we had five U.K. outlets but just one U.S. outlet (two if you count the “shavers only” one in the bathroom).
Onboard decor, in our opinion, is one of the most interesting aspects of a Grand Celebration cruise, largely due to its split personality. Dining rooms are elegant, boasting brass and rich wood, and staterooms are surprisingly modern with refreshed furnishings in a palette of brown, burnt orange and blue. Public rooms like the Legends Grand Theater and Encore Lounge make the transition from elegant to what we’ll refer to as “retro glam” — think old Las Vegas. The buffet and outdoor decks, though — especially the area around the pool — don’t quite mesh with the indoor atmosphere, taking on a “cheesy but cheerful” vibe with brightly colored plastic chairs.