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RIVIERA BEACH — The cruise to the Bahamas is back.
The Margaritaville Paradise embarked Saturday, May 14, on its inaugural sail from the Port of Palm Beach to Grand Bahama Island. Last week, travel agents and media representatives toured the vessel that underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation.
The Paradise is the first cruise ship from the brand-new line, Margaritaville at Sea, a partnership with the owners of the former Bahamas Cruise Paradise Line and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. It sails twice a week from the Port of Palm Beach. The ship used to be called the Grand Classica.
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Buffett, promoting the venture, said “the only thing better than being on a beach by the ocean is to be on the ocean. Now you can follow in our wake.”
The Paradise has 10 passenger decks and 658 cabins in various stateroom categories. The ship’s cabins and common spaces feature Margaritaville’s signature casual-luxe design with subtle nautical details and colors influenced by the surrounding sea, sand and sky.
"This has been totally redone," said hotel director Luis Leite, who also served in the same capacity when it was the Grand Classica. "The rooms have been gutted, new televisions are in each room, the carpeting throughout the ship has been replaced, the outside has been painted, a restaurant has been added and the menus have been revised. You won't recognize it."
The cruise ship is the only one to operate out of Port of Palm Beach. Patrons can use a car valet service at the port. It features, as the Grand Classica did, two-day trips between West Palm Beach and Freeport. A Cruise and Stay program is offered that allows cruisers to stay at one of two resorts on Grand Bahama Island for two nights.
A Margaritaville at Sea beach club is expected to be built on Grand Bahama Island for the exclusive use of cruise passengers. Both the West Palm Beach and Freeport terminals have Margaritaville at Sea signage.
“Margaritaville at Sea will be a new, exciting, and fun way for guests to escape and vacation in Margaritaville,” said John Cohlan, the chief executive of Margaritaville, in a statement. “From oceans to lakes, Margaritaville has an organic tie to the water and with Margaritaville at Sea, we’re able to put our iconic lifestyle, resort experiences and elevated service directly on the sea. We look forward to seeing guests on, and in, Paradise.”
The ship has a JWB Prime Steak & Seafood, Frank and Lola’s Pizzeria, Port of Indecision Buffet, LandShark Sports Bar and Margaritaville Coffee & Pastry Shop as well as the Euphoria Lounge, Sunset Bar, and 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar.
Onboard leisure activities and entertainment include the Par-A-Dice Casino, a Stars on the Water Theater, St. Somewhere Spa, Fins Up! Fitness Center, pools and a retail shop.
Travel agents liked what they saw Thursday.
Beatrice Davis, an Orlando-based agent, said the new company is offering something that is not readily available – a quick two-day getaway with the option of extending it by staying at resorts in Freeport.
"The Cruise and Stay option is very appealing," she said. None of her clients have yet booked a cruise, but she noted that several of them are waiting for her reviews before deciding. "There are a lot of people that love the Buffett brand. I think it is going to be very successful."
Another agent, Tara Lennox, based in Iowa, said she was pleased to see the upgrades that had been made but thought that "things were a little tight," in that the ship was not large enough to handle all the passengers.
But she, too, said the Buffett brand will attract plenty of customers.
Leite said bookings are significantly ahead of what they were under the Bahamas Cruise Line brand. The inaugural cruise Saturday is expected to be 80% to 90% booked, he added.
As for COVID protocols, the cruise line is one of the few that allows unvaccinated passengers on board. But such passengers must show a negative test within 72 hours of boarding and will also be tested before going on the ship. Anyone who tests positive will not be allowed on the ship.
Davis said the protocol may have mixed results. It may discourage some travelers from going on the trip, but it gives unvaccinated people an option to travel that has not been available to them in the past.
Davis noted, though, that unless the Bahamas changes its policy, unvaccinated people will not be able to leave the ship. While there is no mask requirement, the 420 crew members are tested every two weeks and are isolated if they test positive.
Mike Diamond covers Palm Beach County government and transportation. If you have a tip, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @michael06339386.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Jimmy Buffett performs on new Margaritaville at Sea cruise ship