Posted on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 by Peter Knego
Continue with Peter Knego aboard Celebration Cruise Line’s MV BAHAMAS CELEBRATION for a two night cruise from Palm Beach, Florida to Freeport, Bahamas. The recently renovated ship was originally the top notch Jahre Line ferry PRINSESSE RAGNHILD of 1981.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2010 unless otherwise noted. Please click on image to enlarge.
My first and only prior visit to the 35,855 gt, 1000 passenger BAHAMAS CELEBRATION was at Freeport in late 2008, while she was undergoing a major transformation from cold weather ferry to party-oriented Bahamas cruise ship. In my three hours aboard what was virtually a floating construction site, I was able to wander her upper decks, public rooms and accommodation. So much work lay ahead, it was hard to gauge what the outcome would be but certain spaces like the dual-level showroom, seven deck atrium and multiple restaurants held great promise.
Although the ship’s operator, Celebration Cruise Lines, was a start up company, it would be effectively replacing Imperial Majesty Cruises, which for over a decade provided two night cruises from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau on the venerable former liners OCEANBREEZE (ex SOUTHERN CROSS) and REGAL EMPRESS (ex OLYMPIA). Despite my adoration for those two grand old ladies, the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION would have much more to offer today’s cruising public in terms of comfortable accommodation, dining and entertainment options.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
A day after disembarking the magnificent CELEBRITY ECLIPSE in Miami, we were northbound on I-95 en route to Palm Beach (approximately 45 minutes north of Fort Lauderdale), where the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION has been based since this past March.
Friendly curbside porters transported our luggage directly onto the ship and directed us to an escalator that took us to the upper level of the terminal. We filled out the necessary paperwork, registered our credit cards, got our security photos taken and made our dinner reservations. The staff was courteous and welcoming (a pleasant contrast with recent cruise terminal experiences in both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale) and within minutes, we were crossing the gangway over the starboard sponson and into bright blue hull of the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION. We entered on the lowest passenger level, Deck 3 (Main), where the Reception area spans the width of the ship at the base of a circular, seven deck atrium traversed by twin glass elevators.
It was so nice to be greeted with a hug and warm smile by hotel manager Virginia Sy, whom I last saw on board the REGAL EMPRESS in early 2009, shortly before the ship sailed off to Alang for demolition. It’s no secret that the REGAL E was my favorite U.S.-based cruise ship but it wasn’t just for that lustrous wood paneling and ocean liner ambiance — I have very fond memories of her friendly and accommodating crew.
We documented several categories of newly refurbished cabins, then began our coverage of the public areas, all of which will appear in a forthcoming Decked! feature.
The Atrium is impressive for its scale, especially considering it dates from 1992, rivaling those aboard the latest cruise ships of that era.
The View show lounge is located at the stern on decks 4 (Restaurant) and 5 (Boat). It features a terraced dance floor and stage that is a far cry from the low ceiling and challenged sight lines of the REGAL EMPRESS’ Grand Lounge.
One of five dining venues on the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION, the Trattoria Di Gerry is an informal eatery serving pasta, pizza, desserts and coffee.
The Wynmore Casino is an impressive double level space that was built into the forward portion of Decks 4 and 5.
Pub 437 is a piano bar and pub accessed from the port side promenade that spans the length of Deck 4.
My home for the next two nights was spacious Category 1 suite 6142 on forward Deck 6 (Lower Bridge) with a view over the bow and to starboard via pairs of picture windows. It featured a queen sized bed, flat screen TV, an unfolding sofa, coffee table and mini bar. More than ample, I’d say!
The bathroom was laid out lengthwise with shower stall at the end.
Breck conditioning shampoo and Beach Mist soap were provided.
A lovely chilled bottle of champagne beckoned but appetites trumped bubbly so we headed up to the buffet on Deck 9 (Top).
There are three buffet stations in the nook just aft of the adult wading pool on Deck 9. The main buffet station has a selection of cheeses, fruit salad, fried chicken and pasta.
The salad bar has a trio of offerings, including an excellent Greek salad.
There is also a small dessert station with cakes and brownies.
After lunch, we went inside for a quick scoop of ice cream at DJ’s Ice Cream Parlor on the starboard Deck 9 terrace overlooking the atrium.
Afternoon activities included a guided ship tour, a liquor tasting and orientations for karaoke and the ship’s Caribbean Idol contest. As the sun began to set behind Palm Beach, there was a sailaway celebration and horse racing by the pool, hosted by veteran cruise director Jim Ward. Jim has worked with Holland America, Dolphin, Cape Canaveral Cruises, Premier and Imperial Majesty and I have sailed with him over the years on the OCEANIC, DOLPHIN IV, OCEANBREEZE and REGAL EMPRESS.
At twilight, the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION blew her whistle, cast her lines and with a puff of smoke and the aid of a tug, backed away from the terminal.
The wedge-like cruise terminal was soon in our wake as the ship turned about in the narrow basin and sailed past the brightly lit Palm Beach shoreline.
The BAHAMAS CELEBRATION has a gourmet dining venue called The Cove. For $25 per person (plus 15% service charge), it offers exemplary service and cuisine. Reservations are required.
Table settings include special chargers with the ship’s portrait.
Our waiter Kumar was a familiar face from the REGAL EMPRESS and OCEANBREEZE. A native of India, he is both friendly and very attentive to detail.
The five course meal begins with an amuse bouche and a choice of three appetizers: Warm Goat Cheese Pancakes with sweet bell peppers, garlic, chips and parsley paste; Gravlax Served with Mustard Sauce; Sauteed Escargot in herb butter with cognac and Pernod.
There is a choice of two soups: Fresh Water Crayfish with mussel bisque, fennel flan and chives; and Consomme Double Profiteroles. Salads include: Arugula with goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and fried onions; Phyllo-wrapped Baked Anjou Pear and Roquefort Cheese with lollo rosso lettuce, spicy pecans and port wine reduction; and Baby Spinach and Frisée with Porcini Vinaigrette.
For the Entrée, there is a choice between: Pan Seared Pacific Salmon with green lentils, buttered sautée of carrots, green and red peppers and creamy lobster sauce; Lobster Francaise in Saffron Beurre Blanc with glazed green asparagus, sautéed endive and pomme puree; Duo of Colorado Lamb Chop and Braised Shank of Marjoram Lamb Jus with peas puree and pinot noir sauce; and Pan Seared Fillet Mignon with pomme puree, wild mushrooms, haricots verts, cognac cream sauce and grain salad.
And for dessert: Viennese Apple Strudel With Warm Vanilla Sauce; Gran Marnier Creme Brulée; Crepes Suzette Prepared by the Maitre’D; or an International Selection of Cheeses.
We wined and dined until the wee hours and then decided to have a walk around the ship.
There was a welcome aboard show in the View, the Caribbean Idol Competition in the Ocean Breeze Lounge and a whole galaxy of stars to be enjoyed from the open decks.
The engines simmered to a barely audible hum as the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION slowed to a stop, a gentle trade wind coursing over her decks. The bright lights of what we guessed to be Grand Bahama island loomed off our port side.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
In recent years, Freeport has become one of the most interesting ship watching theaters in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION, there would be two other visiting cruise ships, possibly something in the Grand Bahamas Shipyard and at least two laid up veterans awaiting an uncertain future.
Awoken by the glow of morning outside my window, I threw on some clothes and ran up to the top deck with my cameras.
As our ship made her slow approach, the sun began to break through the clouds on the starboard horizon.
Off our stern, the incoming CARNIVAL CONQUEST hove to as an NCL Jewel class ship crossed in the distance.
After entering the harbor, the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION began to pivot in the turning basin, then aimed her nose into the outer berth, tying up at 07:30. Meanwhile, the CARNIVAL TRIUMPH revved up her engines and sauntered in behind us.
At the same time, the CARNIVAL FASCINATION backed into the innermost berth, her ungainly midships and aft “paste on” balconies glinting in the morning light.
Two of the more interesting, smaller ships in the basin adjacent to the cruise terminal included the laid up PALM BEACH PRINCESS (ex ILMATAR) and the SEA SPIRIT (ex RENAISSANCE FIVE), which was undergoing a refit and ice strengthening from her recently failed Cruise West incarnation as the SPIRIT OF OCEANUS.
The Spirit Class CARNIVAL PRIDE and the Triumph Class CARNIVAL VICTORY were side by side, stem to stern and high and dry in the Grand Bahamas shipyard. Hard to see in the distance across from them was the laid up and now very transient-looking ISLAND ADVENTURE (ex KAZAKHSTAN) from defunct Sea Escape Cruises.
Our view of Freeport was soon obscured by the massive CARNIVAL TRIUMPH, which took the center berth off our port stern.
Fellow passengers headed off on various excursions that included a day at Lucaya Beach Resort ($39 per person with lunch, $54 without), Glass Bottom Boat Tours ($54), City Tours ($40), Garden of the Groves ($48), Golf ($63 for nine holes and $93 for eighteen), Two Tank Scuba and Shark Dives ($139), Dolphin Encounters ($109), Dolphin Swims ($200), Snorkeling ($76) and Horse Back Riding ($139). I needed to catch up on sleep, so napped for a couple hours, then went back up to the top of the ship to finish documenting the outer decks before we headed ashore.
We were tempted to go to Lucaya for a nice afternoon on the beach but with two other ships in port, the crowds would have been a bit much. Also, I wanted to get what could be my last close up look at the historic PALM BEACH PRINCESS and then spend a bit more time on our own ship.
Although passengers used to disembark the car deck when the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION called at Nassau, they now exit the ship via a very tall gangway at Freeport. Nonetheless, the massive bow doors are opened when she is in port, presumably for the loading of stores.
Our first stop was the marketplace alongside the cruise terminal where we bought sun block. And then, because construction was blocking the most direct route to the PALM BEACH PRINCESS, we headed outside the port area.
Before long, the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION and her Carnival companions would disappear behind a canopy of palm trees.
It felt like eons before we reached the entrance to the quay where the PALM BEACH PRINCESS was tied up. Two years prior, the CASINO ROYALE (ex CASTALIA, etc.) lay at the same berth. Eight years before that, it was a silent pairing of the DOLPHIN IV (ex ZION) and TROPICANA (ex PRINSES PAOLA). All have since been demolished at Alang, precisely why I did not want to miss the PALM BEACH PRINCESS (which dates all the way back to 1964 as Finland Steamship Company’s ILMATAR, one of the first Baltic ferries adapted for a latter life in cruising). The non-SOLAS 2010 compliant vessel was withdrawn from her day cruise service last February, with a failed main engine and her owners on the verge of bankruptcy. After her arrival in Freeport, many of her crew members were stranded without pay and forced to live on board until they could make their way home.
From the outside, the ship actually looks in pretty good order but that’s about all I can say since her owners ignored my requests for a visit.
On our way back to the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION, we had a fleeting view of the 1991-built, 4,200 gt SEA SPIRIT in her new deep blue livery.
We made it back to the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION in time for buffet lunch in Rio, one of the ship’s two main, included in the fare, dining venues. Seating was a bit tight at the long banquet tables but the dining staff were efficient with frequent refills of iced tea and water and removal of “used” plates as we made several trips back to the 35 foot long buffet. The standout was an amazingly tender whole turkey that was cooked and carved to perfection. For dinner, Rio is informally themed as a Brazilian steakhouse with meats carved tableside, in addition to a large selection from the buffet.
From there, we were off to DJs for a scoop of ice cream, then repented with a quick workout in the gym.
We had dinner in the Crystal Dining Room, the second of the ship’s included dining venues, located just forward of Rio on Deck 4. Our busy waiters, Anna and Edwin were friendly and kept the courses coming quickly.
Appetizers include: Onion Zucchini Pakora with Spicy Shrimp with Chipotle Sauce and Fuji Apple or Vegetable Strudel with Tarragon Sauce. Soup choices were: Country Style Lentil Chowder with Apple Wood Bacon and Smoked Turkey Leg or Butternut Squash.
For salads, there was: Tomato Boccacini or Iceberg and Romaine Lettuce Tossed with Vinaigrette and Topped with An Abundance of Garden Vegetables.
Five entrées included: Red Snapper Francaise in saffron beurre blanc; Oven Roasted Duck with wild mushroom ravioli and port wine reduction; Mushroom Stroganoff with macaire potatoes, stemmed broccoli and almonds; Bahamas Celebration Chef’s Signature Spicy Rotisserie Chicken served over chickpea curry; Beef Wellington (fillet of beef tenderloin) with potatoes and mushrooms gratine served with winter root vegetables.
Dessert choices: Dulce de Leche Cheese Cake Sundae; Semi Bitter Chocolate Mousse Mini Cake with Fresh Raspberry Coulis; No Sugar Added Apple Strudel with Pineapple Soup and Pink Pepper Corn
We made it to the View just in time for the evening variety show. The first act was an incredibly talented and versatile chanteuse. She “out Celined” Dion with her powerful vocalizations and drew roars from the crowd.
The second act was an Argentinian gaucho style performer who kept the crowd fully engaged with his twirling ropes and drum solos. The third act was a comedian we had seen on prior cruises aboard the REGAL EMPRESS, so we headed up to the Oceanbreeze Lounge.
The Oceanbreeze Lounge is a glass skylight-topped, circular space at the aft end of Deck 6. It has a cabaret ambiance and is a perfect setting for those brave, talented or deluded enough to try karaoke. We enjoyed several performances, then walked outside for a view over the stern and a final romp under the Bahamian sky.
I’m not sure either of us was very hungry but we couldn’t resist one last bite at Trattoria di Gerry. Some wonderfully unnecessary pasta and pizza topped with oregano, parmesan and chili finished off our second evening on the BAHAMAS CELEBRATION.
We left our luggage outside our staterooms for collection (before 2:00 AM) and called it a night.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
After buffet breakfast in Rio, we disembarked. Palm Beach’s polite customs and security officers were not taken for granted after a long week of travel.
Keeping in mind Celebration Cruise Lines offers a mass market and not premium or luxury cruise product, our BAHAMAS CELEBRATION cruise lived up to the standards set by our prior sailings on the REGAL EMPRESS and OCEANBREEZE.
The ship offers a wide variety of dining and entertainment venues and has a pleasing ambiance, especially considering her market. Food, service and entertainment are every bit the equal of her mega cruise line competition on the short Bahamas cruise circuit.
End of Grand BAHAMAS CELEBRATION Sea Treks
Very Special Thanks: Martin Cox, Rob Di Stefano, Lis Kemp, Glenn Ryerson, Virginia Sy