Two nights aboard Ba­hamas Par­adise just grand

Montreal Gazette - - TRAVEL - AARON SAUN­DERS

I’ve been fol­low­ing a small cruise line op­er­at­ing out of West Palm Beach, Fla., for some time now. Ba­hamas Par­adise Cruise Line (ba­hamas­par­adis­e­cruise.com) spe­cial­izes in quick and af­ford­able two-night trips be­tween Florida and Freeport, Ba­hamas. The line has grown steadily and quickly, and a few weeks ago I had the op­por­tu­nity to check out the line for my­self for the first time. Quick his­tory les­son: once upon a time, there was a line called Im­pe­rial Majesty Cruise Line. They op­er­ated quick two-night cruises from Port Ever­glades to the Ba­hamas aboard a clas­sic old ocean liner called Re­gal Em­press, which was ab­so­lutely beloved by guests but had its fate sealed by mod­ern mar­itime reg­u­la­tions. It was sold for scrap in 2009, and Im­pe­rial Majesty be­came Cel­e­bra­tion Cruise Line, switch­ing its em­barka­tion port to West Palm Beach. Cel­e­bra­tion Cruise Line never re­ally kicked off, and the com­pany folded in 2015. En­ter Ba­hamas Par­adise Cruise Line. Launched in 2015, it has man­aged to con­jure up the suc­cess (and loyal fol­low­ing) of the old Im­pe­rial Majesty Cruise Line, but with a more ro­bust prod­uct. It started out with Grand Cel­e­bra­tion, which be­gan life as Car­ni­val Cruise Line’s Cel­e­bra­tion in 1987. Then, just this spring, it ac­quired even newer ton­nage, snap­ping up Costa Cruises’ pretty Costa neo­Clas­sica and re­nam­ing it Grand Clas­sica. With its new two-ship fleet, Ba­hamas Par­adise of­fers twonight cruises to Freeport op­er­at­ing each and ev­ery day out of Palm Beach. These can be taken as a cruise-only op­tion, or a cruise-and-stay pack­age that adds a few nights on land in the Ba­hamas. And while you prob­a­bly won’t fly to Florida just for a two-night cruise, there are plenty of good rea­sons why Ba­hamas Par­adise should be on your radar if you’re plan­ning an ex­tended trip to Florida. I boarded Grand Clas­sica in Palm Beach just in time for the U.S. Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day and em­barked to a ship sail­ing en­tirely full. But un­like mod­ern me­ga­lin­ers, this 1991-built beauty felt spa­cious and un­crowded, with a max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of 1,680. You won’t find a lot of bal­cony cab­ins aboard; most folks stay in ocean­view and in­te­rior rooms. But with only two days on this voy­age to Freeport, who needs that kind of lux­ury? Ba­hamas Par­adise is all about value. My sail­ing cost less than a cou­ple nights in a Hol­i­day Inn, but it de­liv­ered a ton of value. Drinks on board are rea­son­ably priced (coupon and bev­er­age pack­ages are avail­able), and shore ex­cur­sions of­fered in Freeport were var­ied and equally easy on the wal­let. I chose to spend the day at the Grand Lu­cayan Re­sort, with its pools and sandy beach just steps away. Ba­hamas Par­adise even pro­vides a shut­tle ser­vice on this ex­cur­sion, al­low­ing you to choose when you want to head back to the ship. While on board, Grand Clas­sica’s crew were un­fail­ingly friendly and up­beat. That’s im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing they wel­come 1,000 or so new guests ev­ery other day. My Ocean­view cabin was spot­less and com­fort­able, with plenty of at­trac­tive wood ac­cents and a large cir­cu­lar pic­ture win­dow that let in the Ba­hamian sun­shine. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with the high-qual­ity of on-board en­ter­tain­ment. Evening pro­duc­tion shows were elab­o­rate and well done, and the live mu­sic of­fer­ings ri­valled cruises cost­ing thou­sands of dol­lars above what a quick trip on Grand Clas­sica runs. Food on board is de­cent, but ex­pe­ri­enced cruis­ers will want to make reser­va­tions for one of the ship’s spe­cialty din­ing venues, which of­fer higher qual­ity fare than the main din­ing room or the buf­fet. Ba­hamas Par­adise isn’t fancy, but it is im­mensely en­joy­able — and ex­tremely af­ford­able. Happy cruis­ing. Visit port­sand­bows.com, spon­sored by Ex­pe­dia Cruise­Ship­Cen­ters, 1-800-707-7327, www.cruise­ship­cen­ters.com, for daily up­dates on the lat­est cruise news, best deals and be­hind-the-scenes sto­ries from the in­dus­try. You can also sign up for an email news­let­ter on the site for even more cruise in­for­ma­tion. Aaron Saun­ders may be con­tacted di­rectly at port­sand­[email protected]

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