Grand Lucayan Pool
 

In 2009, a victim of impending SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations, the stately 56-year-old MV Regal Empress (ex Olympia, Caribe) sailed off to an Indian scrapyard, ending one of the longest and most successful careers of any passenger ship in history. The retirement of the Regal Empress also brought down the curtains on Imperial Majesty Cruise Line, a Fort Lauderdale based company that began budget cruise service to Nassau in 1998 with the 1955-built SS OceanBreeze (ex Southern Cross, Calypso, Azure Seas) before that venerable ship was replaced with the Regal Empress in 2003.

Immediately filling Imperial Majesty's void in the marketplace, the newly formed Celebration Cruise Line introduced its 1,008 passenger/5,855 gross ton Bahamas Celebration in March of 2009. The dark blue hulled vessel was built in 1981 as the trendsetting Jahre Line car ferry Prinsesse Ragnhild for Oslo to Kiel service in Northern Europe.

After a successful career that included several refits, the addition of a 110-foot midsection and two decks, the Prinsesse Ragnhild was retired by her last owners, Color Line, in 2008. The well-equipped, once iceplying vessel was soon purchased by Celebration and sent to Freeport for a multi-million dollar makeover into a tropical cruise ship. A new lido deck, waterpark, and a state-of-the-art casino were fitted, and a complete upgrading was given to most of the public areas and accommodations. At first, the newer ship operated the same two and (occasionally) three-night cruises as the Regal Empress. But in early 2010, the Bahamas Celebration was switched to her new homeport in
Celebration Cruise Line Dining

 

West Palm Beach to offer two-night sailings to Freeport.

While classic ship lovers will surely lament the Regal Empress's teak decks, nickel fixtures, and polished hardwoods, in al­most every aspect the Bahamas Celebration offers more and improved choices for the modern cruiser. The difference is evident the moment embarking guests step into a dazzling, cylindrical steel and glass atrium that soars seven levels from the entrance lobby and purser's square on Main Deck to the outdoor pursuits on Top Deck. Five lifts (including twin glass panoramic elevators) and three stairtowers provide vertical ac­cess, linking the lion's share of the public rooms and dining venues in the heart of the ship to the open-air attractions up on the topmost deck.

The appropriately named Top Deck is fronted by a glass screened observation platform and stepped down sunning areas inboard of walkways that lead to a pair of newly added whirlpools, an adult splash pool, an al fresco tiki bar, and a buffet terrace. Overlooking the atrium, there is the indoor/outdoor DJs Ice Cream Parlor, while open promenades continue aft to the Kids Of The Caribbean waterpark with its 180-foot waterslide and wading/splash pools.

The next levels down—Upper Bridge Deck, Bridge Deck, and the main portion of Lower Bridge Deck—are devoted to accommodations.

At the bottom of the passenger spaces on Main Deck,there is a combination of cabins and public venues that include the spa, gym, internet cafe, duty-free shops, tour office, and reception.

An hour's drive north of bustling Port Everglades, West Palm Beach has a pleasant, modern cruise terminal with valet parking ($15 per-day). On our sailing last winter, it took a breezy 15 minutes to check our luggage with a porter, ride the escalator up to the main lobby to fill out paperwork, get credit cards registered, have security photos taken, and reserve our dining table.
Guests can embark as early as noon to enjoy extra time aboard before the ship's 5:30 p.m. departure for Freeport.

Instead, emergency instructions are posted in staterooms and detailed safety announcements are broadcast over the loudspeakers prior to sailing. Once the ship is out to sea, the duty-free shop opens and the Wynmore Casino springs to life with an array of gaming machines plus blackjack, poker, and roulette tables. Evening diversions can range from a pianist in the clubby, 70-seat 437 Pub to bingo and main-stage entertainment in the 250-seat The View. Karaoke fans have a dedicated 100-seat venue in the circular, terraced Ocean Breeze Lounge. Well into the wee hours, The View carries on as a nightclub with a live DJ.

Celebration Cruise Line Casino
  Celebration Cruise Line Kids Pool

Three separate, age specific facilities (Club Coconuts for kids ages 3 to 9; Club Wave for ages 10 to 14; and Open Water for ages 15 to 17) cater to the younger crowd, which also has access to the waterpark and a video arcade on Top Deck.

The Fountain Of Youth Spa beckons with adult indulgences, from teeth whitening and manicures to hair styling and an array of massages, facials and scrubs or a quick workout in the Muscle Beach Gym. For those seeking a quiet corner, there is the Card Room and Library, or, weather permitting, a deck chair stationed under the sky to enjoy balmy trade winds.
In addition to the Top Deck buffet, which is open for breakfast and lunch, there are three included in the fare restaurants to choose from.

The slightly more formal, 160-seat Crystal Dining Room is a full service, five course dinner venue in a pleasant, blue and ochre toned setting under a galaxy of frosted glass fixtures. The 300 seat Rio's, which is open for breakfast (on the second and third days) and for lunch (second day) as well as for dinner, features an extensive buffet and table side drink service.

 

At the aft end of Lower Bridge Deck, there is a trio of public rooms, including the Library and Card Room as well as the skylight-topped Ocean Breeze karaoke and cabaret lounge that adjoins an open terrace called the Aft Patio. On Boat Deck, an­other level down, a large block of accommodations is sandwiched between two playrooms and the balcony section of the The View showroom/nightclub.

Restaurant Deck, down one level, begins with the Wynmore Casino and The Cove a la carte dining room, then continues aft via a wide portside promenade that provides access to the Crystal Restaurant, Pub 437, Trattoria Di Gerry, Rio Restaurant, the photo gallery, a teen center, and the lower level of The View.

A welcome buffet featuring salads, chicken, pasta, and desserts is served on Top Deck. Typical first afternoon activities include a shore-excursion talk, guided ship tours, a liquor tasting, karaoke orientation, and just relaxing on deck. Festivities kick into full gear at sail-away with a spirited round of "horse" racing at the poolside deck party.
Since many passengers debark in the Bahamas, the cruise is technically considered two short segments, eliminating the requirement of mustering for a traditional boat drill.


  Celebration Cruise Line Rios

In port, excursions range from roundtrip shuttle service to the beach at Port Lucaya to snorkeling, glass bottom boat tours, jeep and bike rides, dolphin encounters, kayaking, golf, sailing, and fishing. For those venturing out on their own, there is a shopping center adjacent to the cruise terminal, but beaches and attractions are miles—and a potentially expensive cab ride—away.

 

During dinner in Rio's, Brazilian gaucho-style carvers bring select entree cuts to the table. The casual Trattoria Di Gerry seats 120 and serves salads, pasta, and pizza. Additional, extra charge items such as specialty coffees and desserts are also available here.

On the first night, we dined in the intimate 40-seat The Cove restaurant, which commands a $25 tariff for its enhanced menu choices and top notch service. Kumar, our attentive, efficient waiter, was a familiar face from past cruises aboard the OceanBreeze and Regal Empress. Selections ranged from warm goat-cheese pancakes with sweet bell pepper, garlic chips, and parsley pesto to an arugula salad with goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and fried onions; sauteed escargot; crayfish soup; Lobster Francaise; a duo of Colorado lamb chop and braised lamb shank; and pan seared Pacific salmon. Dessert choices included creme brulee, crepes suzettes, and an apple strudel with warm vanilla sauce.

With non-stop dining and activities on either side of a long port day, staterooms on such a short cruise might seem an afterthought, but the Bahamas Celebration has fewer than nine categories of suites and cabins to accommodate every budget. At the lower end of the tier are compact 86-square-foot Coach Upper/Lowers. Clean and with private facilities, they are best suited for single travelers.

Celebration Cruise Line Pub

Substantially larger interior and oceanview (with picture-windows) staterooms boast new soft fittings, beds configured as twins or queen-size, and bathrooms with a vanity area. At the top end are the spacious Suites, two of which feature enclosed balconies with sliding windows and a view over the stern. All Suites have a queen-size bed, sofa, coffee table, vanity area, flat-screen TV, mini-bar, and safe. Outlets are European style, and adaptors for charging batteries, running hair dryers, etc. are available from reception for a $5 deposit. With Grand Bahama a mere 70 miles away, the sailing time is short, so the Bahamas Celebration anchors off Freeport in the wee hours, then motors into port at dawn.

Guests can extend their vacation with a two-or four-night stay at the four-star Port Lucaya resort and catch the homebound ship on a subsequent voyage.
Like her predecessors in the market, albeit with a few more bells and whistles, the Bahamas Celebration provides a friendly, affordable vacation getaway for first time and veteran cruisers alike (those who are seeking an alternative to modern megaship cruising).

For more information or reservations, contact your travel agent or
Celebration Cruise Line;
call: 800-314-7735
or log on to
www.bahamascelebration.com

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  Celebration Cruise Line Suite
   
  Reprinted with permission, Cruise Travel, September/October 2011 issue; ©2011 Lakeside Publishing Company, LLC, Evanston, Illinois; all rights reserved.