Port Everglades, FL – Nassau Paradise Island, Bahamas
BAHAMAS CELEBRATION departing Port Everglades
Let’s say you’re a woman of a “certain age”. You’ve spent your entire life selflessly looking after others, carrying their considerable burdens, trekking back and forth across a northern sea. After almost three decades of such drudgery, it’s time for a change and a new, warmer climate. You’ve been upstaged by newer, flashier types. What’s a PRINSESSE to do? You tart yourself up and adapt to the fashions of a new generation. And you move to Florida, naturally, that preferred venue for new beginnings.
We’re talking of course, about BAHAMAS CELEBRATION, the latest entrant into the south Florida short-cruise market. Formerly the Color Line ferry PRINSESSE RAGNHILD, a fixture mostly on the Oslo – Kiel circuit, the ship was purchased by Fort Lauderdale-based Celebration Cruise Holdings for 23 million Euros (about US $33 million) in fall 2008. Color Line’s aggressive newbuilding program, which resulted in the groundbreaking COLOR MAGIC and COLOR FANTASY, rendered PRINSESSE RAGNHILD surplus. She began her metamorphosis shortly thereafter, in a Freeport shipyard. If her 2 and 3 night Nassau itineraries sound familiar, it’s probably because she follows in the wake of REGAL EMPRESS. That beloved classic, the former Greek Line flagship OLYMPIA, is now beached at Alang, India, awaiting her destruction after 56 years of service for a variety of operators. Although REGAL EMPRESS was operated by Imperial Majesty Cruise Line, Celebration Cruise Lines shares a commonality in ownership.
It may sound an unlikely combination, but the cold-water Scandinavian ferry and the tropical cruise ship are in fact an old formula, dating from the mid-1960s. At that time, south Florida’s cruise industry was in its infancy and relied upon some truly aging rust buckets, one of which, the 1927-built YARMOUTH CASTLE, caught fire. Her demise ushered in new safety standards and sealed the fates of her aging consorts. Soon, a new flotilla of sparkling white ships arrived on scene: the SUNWARD, STARWARD, BOHEME, FREEPORT, and NILI, were all European cruise ferries. BAHAMAS CELEBRATION continues this tradition, although today’s Caribbean cruise ships are almost all purpose-built.
This is not the first radical transformation of PRINSESSE RAGNHILD. Originally built in Germany in 1981, she later had an additional deck of cabins added topside. In 1992, she was substantially rebuilt at Astilleros Españoles in Cadiz, Spain. Initially a 15,000 ton ship, she emerged from her latest refit at 35,855 tons. She was lengthened by almost 116 feet, her superstructure was “bulked up substantially, and to compensate for the additional height and weight, sponsons were added to her hull. Her current guest capacity is 1,500; she carries 360 crew and has the capacity for 650 cars, although her car decks are not currently in use.
By today’s cruise standards, BAHAMAS CELEBRATION is a smaller ship, half the tonnage of competitors like MAJESTY OF THE SEAS, CARNIVAL IMAGINATION, and NORWEGIAN SKY. She is the only ship offering regularly-scheduled 2 night Bahamian sailings, and also the only vessel offering 2 and 3 night cruises from Port Everglades.
On a rainy Monday afternoon this July, I left my home in Fort Lauderdale for the short drive to Port Everglades to embark on a 2-night sailing and see BAHAMAS CELEBRATION for myself. “Carnival-esque” ads featuring Daisy Fuentes (“it’s not just a cruise…it’s a Celebration!”) have been running in the local media since soon after the March start-up. These clever ads and the “Kids Sail Free” promotions have obviously done their work: various reports have the vessel sailing at near-capacity. Clever, too, in my opinion, is the name itself, recalling the Carnival cruise ship CELEBRATION, which called south Florida home for many years.
Celebrating a new identity
You won’t mistake BAHAMAS CELEBRATION for any other cruise vessel, with its vibrant blue hull and a logo highly reminiscent of the one employed by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Her ferry origins are readily apparent in both her ro/ro (roll-on, roll-off) design with bow and stern doors, and her portly sponsons.
Starting at the Top Deck 9, here’s an overview of BAHAMAS CELEBRATION:
The most radical (and inspired) aspect of the ships’ transformation to a warm weather cruiser is without a doubt its clever pool deck. Since below-deck space didn’t exist for a pool tank, Cannatelli Builders of Pompano Beach, Florida installed what is surely the industry’s only “above-ground” pool, basically a crescent-shaped, glass-walled, 4′ deep splasher, divided into two halves. Accessed by stairs, and flanked by two whirlpools, it is an ingenious solution, providing (unintended?) entertainment for onlookers with its “see-all” sides.
Anchoring the pool area is an alfresco buffet. Since the dining area between the pool and buffet is quite limited, additional seating is available fore and aft. A combination of fixed seating, “South Beach-style” loungers, and weather-resistant chaises round out the relaxation options. That increasingly rare cruise ship amenity, shuffleboard, is also available both port and starboard.
Builder’s plate at the base of the mast
Cannatelli also constructed the Kids Of The Caribbean water park aft, a shallow basin with water features and a sinuous 180-foot slide.
Aft of the pool area, you enter the vessel’s interior at the summit of the skylit atrium. DJ’s Ice Cream parlor anchors the adjacent area and is also a convenient overflow option for the buffet area outside. On PRINSESSE RAGNHILD this was the Sky Bar.
Moving down, Decks 8 and 7 are comprised primarily of passenger cabins. Here are most of the top-category cabins, including 8 of the 12 Deluxe Suites. Four of these suites face forward over the bow; the remaining four face aft above the skylit top of the Ocean Breeze Lounge below. Interestingly, the four aft suites feature enclosed balconies with sliding windows, no doubt a nod to the vessels less-than-tropical past.
More typical of the accommodations onboard are the Category 4 Oceanview Cabins. 223 of these staterooms are located on Decks 8, 7, 6, and 5. Although they are similar in size, the primary difference is whether they offer one window or two. Fans of REGAL EMPRESS will no doubt recognize the bedspreads in many of the cabins onboard. It should be noted that all cabins onboard, with the exception of those on Deck 3, feature new flat-screen TVs.
Category 5 cabins are inside “versions” of the outside, and are the second most prevalent cabin type onboard; 119 of them are spread throughout Decks 8, 7, 6, and 5.
Deck 6 resumes the social life of the ship with the elegant and understated Ocean Breeze Lounge. No doubt named in homage to Imperial Majesty’s late and lamented OCEANBREEZE (the former Shaw Savill Albion liner SOUTHERN CROSS of 1955), which was retired and sold for scrap in 2004. With its octagonal shape and chandeliered center, this quiet venue was PRINSESSE RAGNHILD’s Princess Lounge. Additionally, it offers access to the generously-sized Aft Patio.
Flanking the Ocean Breeze Lounge are the Card Room to starboard and the Library to port. These lovely rooms are under-utilized on such a high-energy, short-cruise itinerary.
Directly below the Ocean Breeze Lounge, the upper level of the 630-seat The View Nightclub on Deck 5 offers a view over the stern through an oversized wall of windows. This is the largest public room onboard and as thus the site for production shows, shore excursion talks, and the like. Formerly the Starlight Lounge on PRINSESSE RAGNHILD.
Forward on Deck 5 are two age-appropriate kids facilities: the Island Coconuts Club is for children 4-10; the Club Wave for those 11-14. Both spaces were formerly meeting facilities on PRINSESSE RAGNHILD.
Deck 4 is the centerpiece of the ship, entirely devoted to passenger dining, imbibing, and entertainment options. From the lower level of The View Nightclub forward is the Open Water club for teens 15-17. To the port, an interior promenade (reminiscent of Carnival’s HOLIDAY-class vessels) stretches forward, passing the Island Memories Photo Gallery.
Just past the Photo Gallery is the entrance to the Rio Restaurant, one of the ship’s two main dining options.
Rio operates in Brazilian Rodizio style, with waiters circulating at dinner with carved meats; other items are procured from a buffet line. To accommodate the passenger capacity of the vessel, Rio operates 3 seatings each evening, while its counterpart, The Crystal Room, offers 2. Guests are assigned either The Crystal Room or Rio on a space-available basis. Just outside Rio is additional seating, either serving Rio or the cheerful Trattoria di Gerry depending on need. The inviting Trattoria is one of the most upbeat areas onboard. Featuring pastas, pizzas, and salad, the Italian eatery is a casual alternative to either main restaurant. It also offers coffee concoctions and items such as Parma Ham and caviar available for purchase.
Forward of Trattoria di Gerry is one of the most photographed backdrops onboard: a scale model of PRINSESSE RAGNHILD (with BAHAMAS CELEBRATION on her bow). Adjacent to the atrium elevators, passengers pose for photos and study the cutaway model in detail, its car and trailer decks filled with vehicles. From the model one can also note the changes made in the conversion to BAHAMAS CELEBRATION.
Her past revealed
Next on our teeming Promenade is Pub 437, formerly the Lord Nelson Pub. In contrast to the sunny orange disposition of the Trattoria, Pub 437 apes an English club ambience with comfy leather chairs, and plenty of warm woods and brass. Seating spills out onto the pedestrian walkway, offering contrasting views of the languid Atlantic on one side, the joys of people-watching on the other.
Fronted by a glistening parquet floor, the entrance to The Crystal Room beckons. Onboard signage designates this as either The Crystal Room and The Crystal Restaurant. Decorated in royal blue, chrome, and mirrors, this is the primary dining venue onboard. This space offers a more traditional dining style than Rio, with waiter service and a Continental menu. Stylistically, this is probably the most original of the public spaces onboard, with its early 90s color palette.
Bridging the gap between the Crystal Restaurant and the cavernous Wynmore Casino is The Cove Restaurant, an intimate, extra-tariff option open for dinner at a $25 upcharge per guest. Because of its size, the best option for those wanting to dine here is to make a reservation during the embarkation process.
Now we reach the entrance to The Wynmore Casino. Surely this name was chosen without the slightest hint of irony. The tone is set by the hip color scheme and “wow-factor” oversized sofa, and is somewhat reminiscent of NCL’s newbuilds.
Lush Life: Entrance to The Wynmore Casino
The grand scale of the Casino is meant to impress, with its double-height ceiling, Craftsman style details, and drooping chandeliers. Although strangely over-illuminated at night, the Casino manages to be intimate and impressive at the same time. Forward of the Casino are two additional meeting rooms.
Returning to midships, one quick flight down to Deck 3 brings us to base of the atrium which is anchored with a marble bench and greenery. Bracketing this area are the Information Desk and Shore Excursion Desk. Also vying for attention are the Fountain Of Youth Spa with its adjacent Mussel Beach Gym, and the Treasure Chest Gift Shop.
The remainder of Deck 3 contains passenger cabins in Categories 6, 7, 8, and 9. All are referred to as “coach” cabins given their “sitting room by day, bedroom by night” configuration. They either feature one double bed and one upper berth, or one lower and one upper. To call them modestly-sized would be an understatement, but for one or two (very close) friends they offer an excellent value. Since I was traveling alone, I elected to try a Category 8 for curiosity’s sake.
It should be noted that these cabins have open closets, no television, and very limited seating space. In addition, the upper berths carry a weight limit of 200 lbs; obviously our increasingly obese North American population was not envisioned as ferry passengers. In fact, these cabins were primarily envisioned as accommodations for truckers accompanying their vehicles, given their small size and access to the trailer deck of the vessel. A Truckers Club used to exist on Deck 3 as a social gathering-spot for drivers.
An important aside regarding the electrical service on the vessel: either bring an appropriate voltage converter/plug adapter kit (230-50hz) or ask to borrow one at the Information Desk. Without one, you will not be able to charge the electrical geegaws so necessary to modern life.
A wide corridor connects the aft and center stairwells of the vessel. As elsewhere on the ship, it is decorated with crisp white walls and royal blue carpeting entwined with the Color Line logo. A steep, two-deck high stairway to the Trailer Deck’s gangway is utilized for Nassau egress.
Peter Knego-esque not-so-random carpet shot
Trailer Deck signage
As we step off ship into the Nassau sunlight, we conclude our tour of BAHAMAS CELEBRATION
Parting Thoughts: BAHAMAS CELEBRATION has made an ingenious transition from a Nordic workhorse to a Caribbean party girl. She offers a budget-minded entrée for new cruisers. Her convenient schedules and location make her ideal for a no-fuss getaway for South Florida locals. For those wanting a longer vacation, 2 and 3 night hotel stays at Atlantis or the Comfort Suites on Paradise Island are also available. The intimate size of the vessel makes her easy to navigate on such a short jaunt, and her children’s facilities and Kids Of The Caribbean water “park” are powerful draws for families. Compared to REGAL EMPRESS, she offers a more contemporary cruise experience with more of the “bells and whistles” that consumers have come to expect. That being said, she has some limitations, most notably in her dearth of outdoor space. The dining situation, while novel, is not an ideal solution but clearly the only one available. However, BAHAMAS CELEBRATION is staffed with a hard-working crew, many of whom were long-term REGAL EMPRESS employees. They seem dedicated to their new “home” and will no doubt play a major role in the success of Celebration Cruise Line.
MARTIN COX - Founder and publisher of MaritimeMatters, inspired by maritime culture and technology growing up in the port of Southampton. He works as a photographer in Los Angeles, and his works has been exhibited in LA, San Francisco, New York, London and Iceland. Martin is the co-writer of the book “Hollywood to Honolulu; the story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company” published by the Steam Ship Historical Society of America. The Los Angeles Maritime Museum has commissioned artworks and collected his photographs.