If you’ve ever seen an ad for a 2 night Bahamas Cruise for $99, then you might be familiar with Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. As a travel advisor living in Florida, I had seen it many times and always thought it would be a nice quick getaway for when you don’t have much time for a longer cruise.
In December 2021, Margaritaville announced they would be getting into the cruise business with a launch date of April 30, 2022. That made this sound even more exciting. If you’ve ever cruised, you have more than likely stopped at a Margaritaville in the Caribbean. Whenever someone is indulging in day drinking, you may even hear them say the famous Jimmy Buffett line that it’s 5’oclock somewhere.
Margaritaville and cruising just sounds like a perfect match. As Margaritaville’s CEO, John Cohlan said, Margaritaville has destination resorts in many locations that pose great potential for the cruise-and-stay program through this partnership. To say that I was optimistic as well is an understatement.
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History of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line
We rarely look at the owners of the places we visit but knowing the history can really help shape the expectations. When you go to a job interview, they want you to detail your experience so they know if you can do the job. We should start doing the same with every company we give our money to. They wouldn’t hire us without experience, why are we hiring them without it? Does this mean I’m going to look up every owner of every hotel and restaurant that I frequent? Of course not, but there’s only so many cruise lines so we can do this.
Who owns Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line (BPCL)
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line was started in 2016 by the family of a former CEO of Norwegian Cruise lIne, Kevin Sheehan and a partner, Oneil Khosa. According to his LinkedIn profile, Oneil Khosa currently serves as the CEO of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line since its opening in 2016 and as CEO of Margaritaville at Sea since December 2021.
How many ships does Bahamas paradise have?
It currently has 1 ship, the Grand Classica. This ship was built in 1991 as the Costa Classica and renamed to the Costa NeoCLassica after a refit in 2014. It was sold to BPCL in March 2018. It set sail as the Grand Classica on April 13, 2018.
Is Margaritaville at Sea a new ship?
No. It is the 31 year old Grand Classica rebranded and renovated to give the essence you expect from the Margaritaville brand and experience.
John Cohlan, CEO of Margaritaville, has expressed a vision and plans to expand dramatically once they have set sail successfully. For now, expect the brand to still operate as Bahamas Paradise did with an elevated experience that begins in the terminals at Palm Beach and Freeport. It should be clear that Margaritaville did not purchase Bahamas Paradise and the ownership is still the exact same moving forward. They simply have a possibly lucrative partnership.
The Last Sailing on the Grand Classica Review
Life works out in weird ways. To be honest, I had no idea that this was the last sailing under the Bahamas Paradise brand and I was not even supposed to be on this sailing. I was under the impression (possibly by my own assumptions rather than anything else) that I was taking a preview of the new Margaritaville, maybe a soft opening or something like that. The company had been offering travel advisors a free cruise so I booked to sail April 4 – 6, 2022 but woke up with sick children that day.
They graciously allowed me to reschedule to April 16 – 18, 2022 ( a common practice with most cruises these days due to COVID issues). I realized it would be Easter weekend, which we’ve never spent more than one night away from the children so 2 nights and during a Holiday is truly unheard of for us. Yet, I was excited!
I hadn’t received any documents for my first sailing but since I had actually spoken with a rep for the reschedule, I immediately received an email and she confirmed that I did not need anything other than my ID when I arrived at the port. COVID testing would be at the port as well.
The Warning Signs
- Not receiving any kind of documentation after you pay for something is a BIG NO-NO. Wait 24 hours but then immediately start calling. After 15 cruises, this is the only time I never received a confirmation that I paid. I simply knew my reservation number because of the link for making payment and I saw the charge on my card.
- Another advisor in my agency went on a rant about the problems she had on our FB group the day I was sitting at home taking care of my sweeties. She also never received a confirmation after booking. Her problems included a flooded cabin, needing to switch cabins, and dilapidated surroundings. I knew at this point, it was either lose the money I paid for upgrade to Oceanview, and port taxes/fees or set the bar down low to avoid disappointment. I was still feeling slightly optimistic that it couldn’t be that bad, right?
I didn’t learn that it was the last sailing before dry dock until after I rescheduled it. That definitely changed the expectations a bit.
There is only valet parking at the port which sounds amazing for arrival and less amazing when I’m ready to depart and get on the road. There are no other options for self parking.
You are instructed to arrive between 12 – 3 PM, so we arrived at 12:56 PM to see a long line of cars waiting to be parked and a longer line of people that showed no movement. The valet process was simple and we were given a ticket, then got in line with everyone else.
The line was outdoors and in the shade, luckily, it was a very pleasant day so heat was not an issue. There were 4 outdoor stations for a nurse to conduct your testing. During our wait, we realized there were many unvaccinated passengers and their procedure was to bring a test done within 72 hours and then also test again. For those that were vaccinated, you could’ve brought a test done within the last 72 hours and avoided the line for testing at the port.
The nurse stuck the swab up your nose instead of allowing you to do it yourself but then also just set the test to the side, did not give you a copy of anything, and told you to go ahead and go inside before the test results had even completed. We were done with testing at 2:12 PM.
Inside the Port of Palm Beach
The next step was to show your documents (Passport or Birth certificate) and receive your sailing card. This could’ve gone much smoother but just when I was next in line the system went down and we were at a stand still for another 45 minutes. When things resumed, Andrew, an IT person and a female Chief Financial Account Officer were the ones to process ours as they helped deal with the backup. They asked for my pink copy from testing which I wasn’t given and even asked about. Then they looked at each other and shrugged at their own disbelief in how things were being run. We finally made it on board at 3:45 PM.
Finally On Board But Should We Turn Around and Run?
As I entered the ship and saw what I would consider not clean enough, I was still somewhat optimistic but had lowered the bar to the ground at this point thinking it can only go up now, right?
Wrong. They dug beneath my already ground level bar. Our cabin #6095 at first glance seemed okay, nothing to write home about but might not catch a disease in it either. I thought we’d drop our bags, go to the restroom, and head out to tour the ship. Then I saw my restroom floor. Bare wood boards that were wet. At first, I thought I could survive this for 2 nights until I stepped on it and they oozed and bubbled watery liquid that smelled.
With photos in hand, I ran to reception. Kristina in guest services advised to return after 6 PM to see if they can change the cabin. No promises were made. Do I stay and possibly be stuck here or do I try to get out of this trap before the boat sails away? My husband said you love adventure, if you leave, that’s the end of the story. Ah, I do love a good story.
After I accepted the risks and released all expectations, we decided to head to the buffet. More on that later.
At 6 PM, I returned to guest service and our cabin was switched to #6069. Thank them for that, the bathroom floor did at least have a clean vinyl covering but I assure you it only covers up the same problems. As I stepped onto it, I could feel the similar dip and softness and pictured the same damaged floorboards underneath. You could even feel a similar soft spot when in the shower. At the time, I didn’t know the ship was 31 years old and hadn’t been remodeled since 2014. But, I do now and so do you.
How to Starve on a Cruise
In fairness, in February, I sailed the Disney Fantasy and in December, I was on the MSC Meraviglia. Both are absolutely beautiful ships with immaculate rooms and dining choices galore. I did not set that expectation when sailing that cruise, I knew better than to make such an assumption.
What I did expect though was some sort of post pandemic COVID standards that seemed acceptable or in the realm of at least avoiding gastro-intestinal issues. What I saw was the opposite. There were 2 washing stations at the entrance which I watched no one use at any point. There were bottles of hand sanitizer placed by a few food stations and people were randomly serving themselves.
On both previous cruises, masks were required indoors, handwashing was mandatory as you entered, sometimes even temperature checks were done, and staff served all food at each station. There was no staff to enforce any of this in the buffet area, just a couple of people cleaning tables here and there. Honestly, I’ve never walked into a cruise buffet area without someone armed to spray your hands singing “washy, washy”.
And so I walked right back out, being the only one in a mask anywhere and knowing that “washy washy” was probably not a concern of any of the patrons I saw there. I looked to see where else I could get something to eat.
The only other option at the time was to grab a drink from the main bar and head to the pizzeria. Typically, pizza is a mainstay on a cruise, you can get it into the wee hours by the slice or order whole ones but one thing that has been standard in my experience is that I have NEVER had to pay for one on a cruise. I paid $14.15 for a pizza as that was my only sanitary eating option at 5 PM on Day 1. The highlight was that they had a robot deliver your pizza, go figure, of all the things, they invested in a pizza delivering robot (facepalm).
We went to the 8:30 PM seating for dinner. This went way better than expected because by this point, I figured this would be the first cruise that I ever lost weight on. Dinner was somewhat enjoyable, the food was fine, the service was at times surprising though. Our server didn’t introduce himself so I couldn’t tell you his name and he had an aura about him like his contract hadn’t been renewed on maybe Royal Caribbean or similar so he was pretty disgusted with himself, his current position on this boat, and us.
I told my husband, “we probably won’t get a fork & knife change when he brings the entree so don’t leave it on the salad plate, put it on your bread plate”. I was wrong and blown away when not only did he collect them and give us dinner flatware but he also pulled out the table crumber. I almost exclaimed “no way, look at them getting all fancy on us!” I mean, I did say it, whether or not anyone else heard me, I don’t know.
Let’s talk about the table crumber for a second. If you’ve never experienced this, it is when you know you are experiencing fine dining (well, sometimes). This tool is used to sweep those pesky little crumbs and food bits that didn’t make it to your mouth off the tabletop. Some servers dance it around in front of you as if to music before setting your next course down. For some dining experiences, it signifies a tradition of high-quality service steps. A good server that has been well trained may even take the “table zamboni” and with a twist of their wrist scoop and hold in one hand. If you’ve been almost elbowed in the face before, your server needs more practice.
The next day, I looked forward to returning to the dining room for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in order to avoid the buffet situation only to find that it would only be open for dinner. I posted my misery to social media as I ate leftover chocolates and drank up some of my 10 drink tickets in the form of Captain Morgan’s Rum and Diet Coke (Skinny pirate) for Easter breakfast/brunch.
Again I headed to the pizzeria once it opened around 3 PM for another pizza which somehow cost me $15.33 this time. The cafe was finally open so I also grabbed an affogato, a Stella Artois, and 2 slices of cake for $19.35.
Dinner got much better as I finished the last of my drink tickets on more Skinny Pirates and we managed to get a much more pleasant server. When I didn’t order anything for dessert, he said why not, you’re sweet enough? He really brought a smile to my face using one of my favorite lines.
The Switch to Margaritaville at Sea
At the time of writing this post, Margaritaville at Sea has already announced that the April 30 sailing date is being moved to May 14, 2022 and canceled those scheduled cruises. They cited supply chain issues as the cause but I suspect it may have come to light just how much repair is necessary in order to make the rebranding efforts fall in line with the “Essence of Margaritaville”.
Travel is my passion but I also continue to maintain a real estate license for over 20 years and love home renovating. I can spot a good or bad renovation a mile away and there was no way 12 days would’ve given them enough time to fix what I saw.
Half of one of the pool decks was completely roped off with caution tape and the part you could walk on had dips and weak spots hidden underneath badly worn synthetic grass. Deck areas that were bare, were exactly that, bare wood, no protective finishing could be seen, just weathered and damaged.
We tend to use humor to cope with bad situations so we survived off non-stop jokes during this adventure. At one point, we mused, was this the Costa boat that capsized in the Mediterranean that time the captain wasn’t even on the ship? No worries, that ship was scrapped but some of the doors on here look like they were under water with water damage visibly seen all down the door. Particularly in the hallway on deck 8 with the peculiar art.
The game room above the roped off area of the pool deck also had its own roped off area and half of the games had “needs repair” signs on them. The main dining room seating was pretty worn and visibly discolored. Some of the porcelain tiles in front of the elevators had mismatched replacements that were nowhere near the original color/type of stone. Many of the tiles throughout every tiled area had visible cracks and shatters.
Yet, there are people that actually enjoy and recommend this cruise so there’s definitely a market for what they have been offering, I’m just not that market and you might not be either.
My Personal Assumptions of the Intended Repairs
I watched them start wrapping the columns throughout the ship with sisal ropes, definitely the beginning of the transition to the look of the pictures we’ve seen for the ship’s future facelift. But, it worried me knowing that some of the floors have major problems. Would they just try to cover them rather than gut them? You wouldn’t wrap columns on floors you’re going to take out.
Let’s assume that the current owners are generally interested in their own success but simply have lacked capital to do what was necessary. Without knowing how much or where they are actually getting the capital to create “Margaritaville at Sea”, I can only estimate minimal changes but based on the delay announced, it is possible that they will invest in much needed updates.
While paint and fixtures can instantly give a new vibe, core issues of flooring structure and rotting wood with leaks can not be masked for long. Even on a cheap cruise, one wouldn’t want to worry about whether they are safe and safety has many forms from the kitchen to the environment, not even considering the issues and constraints of COVID safety the last 2 years.
I took a long look at the proposed photos of what the Oceanview cabin will look like as opposed to what I was in. Cosmetically speaking, I’m sure they will paint, add wallpaper, new lighting, new TV, hopefully a new fridge (that one was ancient, I think I used it in my college dorm room 30 years ago). When I put the photos side by side,
- I know they will add 2 cute cozy chairs and a table under the window (this is a PLUS!).
- They will slide the bed over, maybe remove the additional murphy bed in the room.
- They are keeping the rounded side table and desk/vanity it seems.
- Please replace the carpet, put a new subfloor down in the bath after securing any plumbing issues, a new toilet and shower stall, new bathroom flooring would be a PLUS PLUS PLUS.
- They may even do some sort of modern updating to the hooks, door latches, door entry, and or lighting system but I doubt it would be close to what you can expect on newer cruises.
In the common areas, there’s a clear scheme to bring it in line with Margaritaville name and vision which surely includes fixtures, furnishings, and signage. I wonder about what lies beneath those flares of visual touches though. There is probably some plan to address the main broken things, I can not imagine that Margaritaville wants its name attached to decks roped off for safety and broken bits all over.
Either way, there is definitely a good amount of work to do. I’ll keep watching because I hope they manage to turn it into what I thought I was getting a preview of.
The Parts Bahamas Paradise Did Well
They can keep all of these elements because they are actually the better parts of the experience that they offer.
Staff – The majority of the staff on the ship were the only redeeming feature. I’ve seen crappier staff on better ships. Besides the 1st server in the dining room and the wholly unpleasant woman running the pizza shop, everyone else was amazing. They were pleasant, gracious, and tried their hardest to do their job as best they could with the tools they had. My cabin steward, Wuawahn (hope I spelled that right), took the time to make a good towel animal, completely unexpected given the circumstances.
The Valet Parking – I thought I would hate it but they brought us our car within 5 minutes.
The Dinner – it was tasty enough. I felt transported away from the rest of the ship’s environment when we went to dinner and I needed that.
The Announcements – some of the clearest announcements I’ve ever heard on a cruise.
The Drink Package – typically not something I would use but it was convenient and the pricing was not horrible. Being able to purchase a 10 drink ticket package for $75 feels very fair for a couple where one might not drink more than 1 or 2 drinks. Some cruises force you to buy a package for every adult in the room which can be costly and unnecessary.
The internet Package – was reasonably priced at $25 for the 2 day trip and worked well enough.
- If the only thing to eat for free is going to be the buffet and the dining room is only open for dinner, I’ll pass.
- If room service is not free, advise that room service has fees before people get on board. It is marketed as free room service when in fact, nothing on the room service menu is free or included.
- If you sell a drink package, actually have a drink menu that is available. There was one drink of yellow frozen mix available and then they would just pour a flavored rum over it. Which is why I resorted to Skinny Pirates.
- Drink service at dinner was spotty, I had to request someone take my drink order several times and the person that finally came mistakenly suggested Kahlua and pineapple juice when I asked for a menu. She later admitted that she meant Malibu after I told her never mind, just water.
- Speaking of the water, it brought back those times in the summer as a child, when I drank out of the garden hose. So, if the intent there was to keep me buying the bottled waters, then please keep those at $1 a bottle.
- Definitely fix the floors throughout the ship.
- Inspect each and every cabin to be brought up to a good standard.
What You Should Expect on a Cruise
If you have never cruised, there are some things you can reasonably expect on Carnival, Norwegian, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, MSC, and Disney. Having been on all 7, I would expect a certain process at the port and to be well documented with a list of rules and expectations that many guests don’t even bother reading before I head to the port.
- When you board, the only place to eat is usually the main pool deck area or main buffet dining room or both. This depends on what’s available on that cruise.
- The main buffet is typically pretty vast with lots of choices available to satisfy many different dietary needs.
- Washy, washy is and always has been a mainstay on a cruise. I expect to be greeted with hand sanitizer or to be told to wash my hands nearby, not because I don’t, but because I want to make sure others are also. This is how people get sick from the buffet. All of those times you’ve heard there was an outbreak of gastro-intestinal issues on a cruise it was from food handling. I’d rather avoid the whole darn thing so I only go there upon boarding and then I never look at it again.
- Main dining room is usually free, it may be assigned or unassigned, late or early, and should have set dining times that don’t suddenly change.
- There’s less paper nowadays, which is a good thing though and most of us have that little portable computer in our hands or pocket anyway so expect QR codes for menus instead of paper menus. It’s a thing and it’s in restaurants, at hotels, resorts, they may still have a paper menu but they might not.
- As we’re coming to a return to more normal times, expect no masks or less restrictions but don’t sacrifice food safety and use your own judgment. I do not care to spend a vacation sick so I always carry hand sanitizer anyway.
- Everything is not included (but PIZZA should be!). Every cruise has an upsell, whether it’s the drink package, suites with concierge, specialty restaurants, or coffee shops (those are never free).
- A clean room. Yes, I expect a clean place to sleep and shower. My shower head should not spray in 4 different directions because of buildup on it. The floor shouldn’t ooze nor smell.
- Some form of free entertainment other than a piano and someone crooning.
- Safe and sanitary environment. (Seriously!)
Average Cruise Cost
Obviously, I did not enjoy this cruise. It was not anything close to what I would’ve expected and I would be horrified if I sent a client, a friend, a family member, or even an enemy on this.
I love cruising, it’s one of the best ways to vacation on a budget despite the many environmental issues that it causes. I look forward to the new standards some cruise lines are setting with addressing environmental concerns. There is something to be said for keeping older vessels floating and the harm they could be causing in that regard as well.
From a general, cheap getaway vantage, there are plenty to choose from leaving from Florida’s ports daily. It may be hard to line up some for a quick weekend getaway as timing can limit your choices but you certainly don’t have to sacrifice safety, sanitary conditions, nor comforts.
When Margaritaville relaunches, keep in mind, it is the same ownership running it.
How Much Does a Bahamas Cruise Cost?
Currently, on the website for Margaritaville at Sea the rates are as low as $169 per person for some dates. An oceanview cabin begins at $184 per person. Packages are offered that range from specialty dining or drinks included to VIP seating and express check-in. You can add an express pass for your luggage to be brought to your room and express check-in/disembarkation for $49, otherwise you’ll need to transport it yourself.
Do the Math!
So, for 2 people to go away on the lowest priced 2 night getaway adding only internet ($25) and a 10 drink package ($99), expect to pay $492 before taxes and the only thing included is tap water, your room, dining in the main dining room when open, and the buffet area. Soft drinks are additional and you can purchase an unlimited soda package for $25. Bookings taxes, fees and port expenses are $88.44 per person and gratuities are $14.95 per person per night for interior and ocean view staterooms. Bringing your total to at least $698.78.
BUT WAIT, there’s more: Don’t forget your valet parking fee of $22 per night, as well. And there’s that Fuel surcharge of $24 per person. GRAND TOTAL $790.78
And I didn’t even tell you yet that when you get to the Bahamas, there’s nothing there unless you buy an excursion to a resort or to swim with pigs. There’s plans to develop a Margaritaville Beach Club but it’s not there yet.
See more of What’s Not Included in their FAQ’s.
Can we do better than that? Yes, we can.
5 ALTERNATIVE CRUISES YOU CAN BOOK RIGHT NOW
3 nights to Nassau from Miami. From $149 for an inside cabin.
Florida residents can enjoy an Oceanview stateroom for 2 for about $632 after taxes which will include fresh made tacos and burritos from the BlueIguana Cantina, Guy’s Burger Joint, free pizza 24 hours a day, special diet options, Punchliner’s comedy club shows, and tons more to enjoy.
3 nights to Nassau from Orlando (Port Canaveral).
2 people can enjoy the same Carnival benefits as on the Conquest in a Guarantee Stateroom with the possibility of a cool upgrade for just under $630. No need to be a Florida resident for that great rate.
3 Nights to Nassau and Ocean Cay from Orlando (Port Canaveral).
You may not be familiar with this cruise line but I promise a day on Ocean Cay is going to be amazing. You’ll find plenty to eat before you have to cough up any extra in the specialty restaurants (they all have them) but you find suitable accommodations in an Oceanview guaranteed stateroom for 2 for just under $700. You may even be able to take advantage of their free balcony upgrade specials or free wifi and drinks packages if you time your booking right.
3 Nights to Great Stirrup Cay and Nassau from Miami
This one will put you over $800 in a guaranteed oceanview cabin for 2 but you also won’t have to purchase a single excursion, get an extra day, and plenty of free dining options to suit most dietary needs.
3 Nights to Nassau and a Perfect Day at COcoCay from Miami
Well known for its complimentary culinary options, white nights party on the pool deck, and tons of activities, this one is proven to be worth the higher cost. This one won’t cost much more at about $747 after taxes.
If May or June is too soon, try looking for August dates as the prices start to go back down near the end of summer. That also gives you more time to possibly pay on a payment plan if you need to. Always investigate all of your options so that your dollars take you as far as you want to go.
After taxes the average Bahamas cruise from Florida in an Ocean view cabin during off peak times should cost you $600 – 900 for 2 people. The point here is that most are typically 3 nights for that price and include a host of amenities and standard pleasures before you have to start adding on extras. Parking will be additional and any specialty restaurants on board but you will be entertained and pretty well fed on most cruise lines.
While there will always be something else optional to buy, each cruise line offers distinct opportunities that may make you choose one over the other like their private island access or scheduling, or even good sales. Hopefully, as Margaritaville at Sea continues working on its new look, it will also come up with ways to offer a competitive and unique opportunity that fits for your next getaway also.