A family cruise might sound like fun, but is it a vacation that fits in the family budget? The 2-night Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line from the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, to Grand Bahama Island could. For about the same amount of money it would cost to take the kids to an indoor waterpark for the weekend, you could be on a family cruise to the Bahamas.
Disclosure: I was hosted on this cruise by Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. All opinions, however, are my own. A TravelingMom cannot be bought.
Cruising to the Bahamas
Traditionally, taking a cruise vacation was a way to feel young, thanks to all of those canes, walkers and wheelchairs lined up on the pool deck. But increasingly, cruise line companies are aiming at the family market. Companies like Disney Cruise Line and the mega ships from Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line are all about family vacations. But some of those ships are big enough to feel like floating citiies – Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas can hold more than 6,600 passengers. Even the smaller Disney Fantasy can carry 4,000 passengers.
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By comparison, the mid-size Grand Celebration ship owned by Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line is a midget. Its passenger capacity is just 1,900. But there was nothing small about the service, the food, the entertainment, the stateroom or the shore excursion offerings. For the price, it may be the best cruise to the Bahamas.
And, while there were a few canes and at least one wheelchair aboard, the weekend Bahamas cruise my husband and I took over Presidents Day weekend was, without a doubt, the most multi-cultural, multigenerational cruise we have ever experienced.
2 Night Bahamas Paradise Cruise
This cruise line does one thing: It runs 2-night cruises from the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, to Grand Bahamas Island in the Bahamas. (Palm Beach is about an hour north of Fort Lauderdale and two hours south of Port Canaveral.) There’s a ship leaving every day of the week.
Every passenger we met during our cruise lives within an hour or two of Palm Beach. One couple said they decided the day before to “do something this weekend,” so they booked the 2-day cruise.
The best deal I found for a Bahamas Paradise 2-night cruise was $149 for each adult and $112 per child. But there seem to be last minute deals available and the prices include on board credits for drinks and the casino.
Best of all: There is no single supplement. So you can bring grandma along and she can have her own cabin.
Read More: Why Disney’s Smallest Ship is the Best
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line Review
Frankly, I was expecting this to be something of a party boat. It’s affordable, there is no single supplement and a 2-day cruise is easy to fit into a busy work schedule. So it was a pleasant surprise to see so many kids, parents and grandparents cruising together.
While you won’t find a water slide or rock climbing wall on the ship and the stops won’t include a private island, like they do on a Disney cruise to the Bahamas, the Grand Celebration has plenty to keep kids happy. There are two pools, plenty of deck chairs, and food available whenever you want it.
The ship also has three kids’ clubs: KRUZERS for ages 3-6, Club Chill for ages 7-12 (including a kids pool) and Vibe for ages 13-17. The kids clubs are free for one hour on embarkation day and 3 hours on the second day. If you want to keep the kids there after 6 p.m., the charge is $8 per hour.
A family we met who was traveling with three kids ages 8, 10 and 12 bought the cruise package for each kid: $59 that gave the kids unlimited access to the kids’ clubs, a bridge tour, wifi and soft drinks. The wifi would have cost $25 per device and the soft drinks another $21.
Bahamas Paradise Cabins
The cruise line says its 172-foot oceanview cabins can sleep 4. We had just two adults – hubby and me – and it was cozy. The cruiseline advertises that a cabin can sleep four, but I can’t imagine that unless the kids are very little. The oceanview cabins have a window, but no balcony. The only rooms on the Grand Celebration with a balcony are the suites on deck 11 and those are considerably more expensive.
The biggest surprise in the small cabin: the large bathroom! Most cruise ships have tiny bathrooms with tinier showers. But the bathrooms onboard the Grand Celebration are spacious and the shower was bigger than the one in my bathroom at home.
Here’s a quick video look at the cabin:
Bahamas Paradise Food
Like most cruise ships these days, the Grand Celebration has four types of dining: the buffet line, the main restaurant, specialty restaurants (eating there is an up-charge) and all-day snacks.
We stuck with the restaurants included in the cruise price and were not disappointed. The wait staff was attentive (although it took a few requests before we got the wine steward over to take our wine order) and quality, presentation and taste of the food was top-notch. On our second night, a dining partner who ordered his steak medium rare was unhappy to find it had been overcooked. He sent it back and had another, cooked exactly the way he wanted it, in just a few minutes’ time.
There are two dinner seatings in the main restaurant. We chose the 6 p.m. seating to ensure we would have time to eat and catch the evening entertainment. Expect to sit with strangers unless you specifically ask for your own table.
High Quality Entertainment
This was another big surprise. Let’s face it – no ship entertainment can compare with the extravaganzas onboard a Disney ship, and I have seen some pretty lame shipboard entertainment. Frankly, it’s what I was expecting onboard the Grand Celebration.
Was I wrong! The singers and dancers are talented, the shows tightly choreographed and performed and the theater comfortable. The magician was entertaining and the acrobats impressive. The only bit that was slightly off was a creepy juggler routine on the second night that scared a young girl sitting near us.
If you’re a Tina Turner fan, don’t miss the Tina Turner impersonator who does a couple of shows each night in the smaller clubs and bars around the ship.
Interesting Shore Excursion Choices
Another surprise was the number of excursion choices: 17. They range from booking a private tour of the island with a Bahamian cab driver, to a shark-infested glass bottom boat ride to a boozy beach day. But none of those compared with our choice: swimming with pigs.
Watch this and I dare you not to smile:
These are not the famous swimming pigs of the Bahamas. Those live on Exuma Island, about 80 miles south of Nassau. These are the not-quite-so-famous but still really amusing swimming pigs of Grand Bahama island. The day trip cost $65 per person, which included the narrated bus tour across the island from the port to the beach where Missy, Mya, Pinky, Pepper and Wilbur live.
The trip does not include lunch, which is available at inflated prices at the beach. Hubby and I split a yummy grouper sandwich for $13. I brought my own water bottle, but when I asked for a couple of ice cubes to cool it off, I was told it would cost $1. I drank the tepid water instead.
Despite the claim that we would swim with the pigs, it was actually more of a petting zoo experience. We stood in ankle-deep water and offered them chunks of apple on a stick. After they ate their fill (or at least they ate all of the apples we had to offer), we moved into waist deep water. The pigs swam around us for a few minutes, circling our group on their way to their pen across the inlet.
In case you’re wondering (as a friend of mine did), yes, the pigs sometimes poop while swimming. Luckily, the clear Caribbean waters make it easy to see – and dodge – the floating poop.
They left us all smiling at the sheer weirdness of it all as we settled in for a few hours of relaxation on the white sand beach before heading back to the ship.
7 Things to Know Before You Book
- Taxes, fees and port charges will bump up the per-person charge for boarding the ship by $88.
- Plan to arrive at the Port of Palm Beach by noon on embarkation day. You can get on the ship by 1 p.m. and spent time learning your way around before the ship weighs anchor around 5 p.m.
- Pack light. It’s only a 2-night cruise after all. And it isn’t fancy, so you can leave your ball gown at home.
- Packing light means you can carry your bag onboard with you and use one of the public baths to change into your bathing suit. (Cabins may not be ready until 3 p.m. or later.) That way, you can spend the afternoon soaking up the sun by the pool while your fellow passengers wait for their bags to arrive.
- Some parts of this cruise experience are annoying old school. For example, we bought a drink package. In return, we got a packet of 10 drink tickets, which we had to remember to carry with us. It would be much easier if those ten drinks were stored on our ship cards electronically.
- Expect to pay another $20/night for valet parking at the port. We waited less than 5 minutes to get our car when we disembarked.
- The company offers an option to cruise over to the Bahamas, stay a few nights at a resort on the island, then cruise back.
How to Keep a Bahamas Paradise Cruise Affordable
The admission price might be low, but the add-ons can add up quickly. Here’s how to keep the price affordable:
- Send the kids to the kids’ club for the free hours, but reclaim them before the $8/hour/kid charges start after 6 p.m.
- Bring a refillable water bottle. The cabin steward recommended that we not drink the water from the tap in our bathroom, but we could fill our water bottles at a drink station near the pool. Bottled water is for sale, but it’s pricey.
- Drink the free stuff. Alcoholic drinks are expensive and sodas aren’t free. Stick with the unlimited iced tea (sweet and unsweetened), water and juice that are included in the cruise price. We bought the 10 alcoholic drink plan, only to find out that it really didn’t save us that much and we ended up drinking more than we would have just to use up the last two drink tickets.
- Bring your own sunscreen and other beach supplies. They’re for sale onboard, but expensive. We paid $13 for a bottle of after sun lotion when hubby got fried at the beach.
- The ship will give you towels to take to the beach. They’re free, as long as you return them at the end of the day.