Ahead of Margaritaville at Sea's inaugural sailing on May 12, the brand distributed a leaflet to guests politely requesting they "pardon our sand" as the ship's team worked to put "the finishing touches on paradise."
Like many other cruise brands, Margaritaville at Sea had recently found itself at the mercy of a snarled global supply chain, which delayed the launch of its debut vessel, the Margaritaville at Sea Paradise. Originally set to embark on its first passenger sailing from Palm Beach, Fla., to Grand Bahama Island on April 30, the ship pushed back the ship's launch date to May 14.
The brand, which marks the Margaritaville franchise's first cruise line, is a rebranding of the former Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line.
During the May 12 "sneak peek" VIP, trade and media event, which I attended, it appeared that the 1,680-passenger Paradise had spaces that were indeed works in progress, including some cabins.
"There are things that need to be finalized and finessed," acknowledged Margaritaville at Sea's chief commercial officer, Francis Riley, during a May 17 interview, citing delayed deliveries of light fixtures, television brackets, mattresses and other cabin necessities. "But within the next five to 10 days, all the missing items that we've needed will be on the ship."
A seating area near the Margaritaville at Sea Paradise's Euphoria bar area. Photo Credit: TW photo by Christina Jelski
As a retrofit of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line's Grand Classica, the Paradise required extensive updates, added Riley.
"It's a 30-year-old ship, so as you can imagine, there are many things we replaced," Riley said. "We basically gutted and rebuilt every single cabin, and all public areas had some work done, some more than others. From an aesthetic [standpoint], there were a lot of things we did to bring in a new look and feel."
The Margaritaville brand's 5 o'Clock Somewhere Bar on the Paradise is outfitted from top to bottom with plenty of signature theming. Photo Credit: TW photo by Christina Jelski
Other highlights include new decking, upgraded dining areas, additional bar space and refreshed carpeting throughout, among other improvement efforts. The ship's 5 o'Clock Somewhere Bar was among the more standout spaces, outfitted from top to bottom with plenty of signature Margaritaville theming.
Despite those upgrades, Jeenea Innis, an independent travel specialist with Maryland-based Dare II Dream Excursions, took some issue with the level of renovation that had been completed at the time of the preview sailing.
"I think my biggest hang-up was the room not being fully prepared, and while there were some areas that had clearly been upgraded, there were other noticeable areas that they hadn't changed," Innis said.
In addition to missing a television, Innis also experienced a plumbing issue in her cabin, which resulted in a flooded bathroom. As a result, Innis said she will hold off on marketing Margaritaville at Sea to her clients for the time being.
"It's still in need of work, and part of my concern is, if it wasn't ready for me, how soon would it be ready for my client?" she said. "But once they get the kinks out, this will probably be something that can cater to clients looking for a fun, moderately priced, shorter type of trip."
An interior cabin on the Paradise. Photo Credit: TW photo by Christina Jelski
Cruise & Stay packages
The Paradise's standard two-day itinerary starts at around $169 per person for an inside cabin during midweek, but as demand picks up, pricing hits a high of around $369 per person for Memorial Day weekend, which, according to Margaritaville at Sea's Riley, is "close to selling out."
That said, Margaritaville at Sea's relatively affordable positioning marks a departure from Margaritaville's hotels and resorts, many of which skew higher-end.
"Margaritaville hotels, such as the resort on Hollywood Beach [in Florida], are more luxurious and newer in comparison to the ship experience," said Ewelina Cieslar, a Florida-based travel consultant and Independent by Liberty Travel member.
However, Cieslar added that Margaritaville at Sea offers an attractive option for those seeking "a quick and fun getaway to the Bahamas," with the brand's ability to offer cruises in tandem with a resort stay on Grand Bahama Island particularly unique.
Margaritaville at Sea is currently promoting Cruise & Stay packages, enabling passengers to extend their two-day itinerary with several nights at a resort, turning the trip into a four- or six-night, all-inclusive getaway. Current accommodation partners include Grand Bahama all-inclusives like the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach and Grand Lucayan.
"To combine a cruise and a resort stay in the Bahamas is very marketable," said Riley. "I think that equation, from a travel advisor perspective, is an earning opportunity. Upselling people from a two-day cruise to a four- or six-night cruise and stay gives potentially more benefits in terms of commission, and it's more rewarding for them as a result."