The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line offers a unique, low-priced cruise that could be a nice gateway to traditional cruising for anyone who hasn't cruised and doesn't want to make a big commitment.
Almost by definition, a two-day cruise isn't going to be a big moneymaker for agents. But management has hopes that, as the name gets established, its cruise-and-stay resort product in the Bahamas will lead to higher-priced vacations.
Right now, the cruise, which operates from the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach, Fla., to Freeport, Bahamas, can be had for around $129 plus port fees and taxes.
At the end of July, I booked a Monday departure on the line's latest and second ship, the Grand Classica.
I had been on the ship before and knew I would like its modern European design. It was originally Costa Cruises' Costa Classica, and as the saying goes, they don't make them like this anymore.
Although 25 years old, the ship has been well maintained. It does not smell musty or look dated. The main dining room, now called the Yellow Elder, is particularly handsome. Signage makes it easy to find your way around, even to the Deck 10 buffet restaurant, which can only be accessed from Deck 11.
My fellow travelers were a mix of families, couples and groups, with adults generally between ages 20 and 60. They were well dressed and well behaved.
Meals at the buffet and the Yellow Elder are complimentary, and the food in some cases was more flavorful than that of some contemporary cruise lines, although not as fancy in presentation. The country omelette at breakfast was a standout.
Neither was the entertainment lacking. I enjoyed a jazz duo, Sax and Songs, from Knoxville, Tenn., and a Tina Turner tribute act.
The cruise from Riviera Beach to Freeport is less than 90 miles, so the ship actually anchors for part of the night before arriving just after sunrise.
I opted for an excursion ($81) that turned out to be quite popular: a day at the all-inclusive Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach, one of several resorts that the line hopes to sell as part of a cruise/stay package. An online search turns up a rack rate of $256 a night.
Oneil Khosa, CEO of Bahamas Paradise, said the cruise-and-stay option is one of the unique aspects of the line.
Another is its departure from the Port of Palm Beach. Khosa said he also decided to eliminate single supplements, giving solo travelers a price break that few cruise lines regularly do.
Since adding the second ship in May, the line is averaging occupancy of around 75%, Khosa said. In response to the perception there's not much doing in Freeport, Khosa cites 15 shore excursions -- plenty for a two-night cruise, he said.
Travel agents, especially in Palm Beach County, are hearing about the line from clients because of its low prices.
"I'm seeing them more than I did three months ago," said Christina Pinto of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Boca Raton, Fla. "Definitely being in the public eye, people are more interested than before."
Jody Abrams, a hairdresser from Lake Worth, Fla., said she and her husband both own businesses, so two days is as long as they feel comfortable being away. She said the cruise restores her serenity and that she might step up to a longer Alaska cruise someday in the future.
She used iCruise, an OTA based in Delray Beach, Fla., to buy the cruise, although she's used Groupon in the past. "I don't want to come back [home]," she sighed as the ship eased toward the pier at the end of the cruise.