In April, Travel Agent boarded Grand Classica, the second ship of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, for a look at the ship and its two-night cruise product to Grand Bahama Island. Given the hiccups on the original sailing, we wanted to go back and see how things we're going two months later.
In our first story, we found the product running much more smoothly and discussed the boarding process, onboard processes, crew staffing, our accommodations and dining experiences. Here is our look at the onboard activities, entertainment, overall impressions and parting thoughts.
Guests will find jewelry, tee shirts, gifts, sundries and other treasures at the Lucaya Plaza shops. Gaming enthusiasts can play in the large Par-A-Dice Casino. The Indulgence Spa is the spot for facials and massages, with daily specials.
Other activities included bingo, "The Perfect Couple" game show, a Corn Toss competition, an Adult Scavenger Hunt, a photo gallery for green screen portraits with 32 different backgrounds, a circus workshop (learn how to juggle), bar mixology lessons and wine tastings. Guests also listened to a DJ poolside, enjoyed Olympic pool games with the cruise staff, and participated in a Merengue dance class, hoola hoop contest and a "Mr. Sexy Belly Contest."
While it rocks and pulsates at night, the Crow's Nest Bar, perched on Deck 14, forward, provides great panoramic views during the daytime. We observed two mature couples -- the wives just relaxing and chatting, while the husbands played pool; they had the entire place to themselves.
Grand Classica's entertainment offerings "blew me away" so to speak. One simply doesn't expect much on a two-night product.
But this former Costa ship has a robust theater and professional stage. Two creative production shows -- each presented once nightly -- feature talented singers, dancers and an excellent magician with a few tricks here and there to make things interesting.
The first show, South Beach Nights, begins with a Latin flair and sultry tunes but then morphs into pop hits through the decades. It was highly entertaining for people of all ages. The second night's show, Superstition, is more modern and edgy, taking guests through New Orleans' nightlife in what's described as "a mystical and magical way." Costuming was darker, and the performances were well-executed.
Before the two shows, a comedian warms up the crowd. On our cruise it was Keon Polee, who's been seen/heard on Siruis/SM and Laughs on Fox. He's personable but the whole warm-up -- consisting primarily of asking people "where are you from" -- was way, way too repetitive and could have been shorter. Polee also headlined an adult comedy show (offered for an added fee), but we weren't able to attend.
Onboard, guests could listen to live piano music, jazz and country rock music. While we didn't stay long due to a dining reservation, the C5 band was excellent, and we also liked Sax and Songs, a husband-wife-duo; he played, she sang.
Other musical entertainment included an island sounds band with a steel drummer, Azucar (a Latin band) and a Retro Party that features dancing through the decades, starting at 11 p.m. Together, it was a nice mix of entertainment.
But hands-down, our vote for the "best of the best" entertainment was Sharon Johnson, a "Tina Turner" or "Donna Summer" tribute artist (shown below) who performed twice each evening. She brought dynamite, strong vocals, perfect costuming and a "can't stop watching" stage presence that got people moving. (Johnson is shown during the Donna Summer tribute below.)
Her true gift? It's her audience interaction and adeptly knowing exactly whom to engage with (or not) during her performances. I normally hate audience participation, but I never feared she'd grab me. She knew exactly who wanted that and who didn't.
The entire audience erupted in laughter and claps when she danced and sang with one older man who really had "the moves" on Proud Mary. He finally had to stop and wipe his brow -- as he was exhausted -- and another family member from his traveling group helped him, both of them laughing, before he finished the number with her.
Everyone else in the lounge was laughing. We all had a ball. Let's just say, after seeing Johnson once, my friend and I couldn't miss the second night. I'd definitely go back to this ship simply for her performances.
One small nit? The line needs to adjust how guests line up for Yellow Elder's second seating. They were permitted to line up and stretch across the dance floor where "Tina" or "Sharon" was performing. It was distracting during the show. It would be a simple fix to have a crew member positioned to move the line around one side of the Encore Lounge (the side nearest the restaurant) rather than across the middle of the dance floor.
Overall Impressions for Agents
Overall, this new cruise operation hummed along smoothly. I'd give it a B+/A- rating. It was definitely a huge improvement process-wise from two months ago. Onboard processes and service flowed smoothly. Crew members seemed comfortable and confident in their roles.
Grand Classica (as with sister Grand Celebration) is a year-round, two-night cruise product can be sold either cruise only or combined with a stay at a Grand Bahama Island resort (one of those, the Taino Resort & Club, is shown in the photo below).
The concept isn't new, but the company operating this product is less than two years old and brings a professional cruise industry approach, as Kevin Sheehan Sr.'s family owns it. In the past, similar two-day Bahamas products were operated, but the quality of the tonnage wasn't there. Grand Classica is a cruise ship that was totally updated by Costa less than three years ago, and Bahamas Paradise also made their own updates prior to putting it into service.
While price points are low, the earnings opportunities are there -- just perhaps in a bit different, more long-term way. Top opportunity? Several guests specifically told me they had never cruised before and had been afraid to spend a lot of money on a cruise. Many are working class folks who work hard for their money, and so they were skeptical, but thought they'd try this.
"I didn't think I'd like a cruise," I overheard one guy tell his brother-in-law, "but I'm really liking this. I could get into this." Guests who try Grand Classica as a "starter cruise" product may later upgrade to a longer cruise as their pocketbook and life evolves.
Grand Classica attracts a broad audience. We met ladies traveling on girlfriend getaways, a family of mature couples sailing with their even more mature father, families on "reunion" trips and Gen X, Boomer and Millennial couples seeking a romantic weekend or getaway for dining, the beach and entertainment.
We also observed a number of families with both young kids and teens. I peeked into Club Krusers (ages 3 to 6), a small space with simple, but fun, entertainment and two counselors. Seven kids seemed to be having a great time.
Club Vibe (for teens 13 to 17) consisted of two rooms equipped as a "hang-out" space with a large screen TV, video games and so on; two teens and an on-duty club staffer were there during my visit. I didn't get a chance to see Club Chill (for kids 8 to 12). These are complimentary supervised programs.
One way this cruise is totally different than a longer cruise on another line? Hotel Director Ludwig Lozano told us the ship is popular for those solely seeking late-night entertainment as their prime pursuit.The Crow's Nest Bar is open until 1 a.m; that club had more "toys" including an air hockey table since our last visit. The Rock Bar is open until 2 a.m.
Cruisers can enjoy the entertainment, have two nights of good food and enjoy cocktails, wine or beer, often in the company of friends, without having to worry about driving home. We only heard one loud group outside in our stateroom corridor for a few minutes at 2 a.m. one night, but that ended quickly when they got to their staterooms.
Other than that, it was a calm ship -- with only the welcome sounds of laughter and people having fun throughout the two days. At times, I noticed uniformed security guards calmly and unobtrusively walking through the ship's spaces. From my end, that provided a good feeling of order -- so everyone could have good time.
What do I like about Grand Classica? It's more the "feeling" one gets on this ship; I disembarked and my only thought was that it was the best time I've had in a long time.
The ship oozes good old-fashioned fun, a throw-back of sorts to "the Love Boat" era, yet at the same time, it's modern in many ways. I also liked that guests seemed to appreciate the joy of ocean cruising the way it was so many years ago before all the corporate branding and one upsmanship between lines about being the biggest and best at this and that.
What was touching? Guests, particularly teens and Millennials, seemed to love getting all decked out in gowns for what they perceived as a special night. Others had a total lack of fashion sense but were determined to have a good time. And others showing up for dinner were quite casually dressed.
No one seemed to care what the other guests were wearing in the dining room. Certainly, this isn't a line for those who wish for structure and rules about dressing up or down. That said, the line prohibits flip flops, baseball hats and shorts at night in the dining room.
We liked the crowd because people talked in the elevators, strangers asked how our day was going, elderly people danced with toddlers, couples seemed "in love" and several groups wore tee-shirts identifying themselves as belonging to the XYZ family.
Passengers were of many ages, races, languages (English and Spanish, in particular) and geographic origins, although many were from Florida. Others hailed from Alabama, Georgia and Michigan. One couple was visiting from New Zealand.
One thing that struck me. To me, it was a weekend getaway, but to many of these folks (either with small businesses, family responsibilities or budget concerns for a longer voyage) it was a whole different mindset -- it was their vacation, despite being only two nights.
As the excellent Tina Turner tribute program concluded, one female guest traveling with a friend, whom we also talked with at the previous night's Donna Summer tribute, turned to me and eagerly asked, "Are you going to come back? We think we're going to come back in a few months."
Perhaps that says it all about the experience -- a fun time, easygoing cruise, good getaway, something a bit different. No, it doesn't have everything you'd find on a bigger ship or a longer voyage, but I loved the simple fun on all levels.