The return of the ChartRoom
It has been some time since Charting Memories Travel posted an issue of the ChartRoom. The world was in a place where I did not want to make people feel pressured or uncomfortable about travel. Now we are returning to normality, the world is mostly open and welcoming to travelers so now is a great time for the ChartRoom to return to the world.
You will see a variety of different types of posts in future issues. There will be destination information, news updates, quick tips, rants and raves. If there is ever anything that you are interested in learning about let me know.
This return edition will be my review of the new Margaritaville at Sea Paradise.
Margaritaville at Sea Review
There is something new sailing to the Bahamas. Jimmy Buffett has teamed up with Bahamas Paradise cruise line to create the new Margaritaville at Sea. The ship sails from the Port of Palm Beach visiting Grand Bahama Island.
I was very fortunate to be invited to sail on the inaugural sailing, so I got to see the ship and experience the vibe before anyone else. Being among the first aboard was a great honor.
As with any major new launch there were highlights and hick-ups. This new product has great potential, and I am here to give an honest review of my time aboard. We were only aboard for one night, made no port stops and the daily schedule and service was altered so that we could experience as much of what future guests will get to enjoy. Future guests will have a similar but different experience.
Since this was an invitation only cruise, I will skip the registration process because my experience was completely different than a typical guest.
Pre-cruise prep and Boarding
This is the first line that I know of that is not currently requiring guess to be vaccinated, however, pre-boarding covid testing is required. Vaccinated guest had to show proof of a negative test taken no more than three days prior to boarding. Non-vaccinated guests needed a negative PCR test taken no more than two days before boarding as well as a rapid antigen test administrated right before boarding.
The port was easy to drive to and there were plenty of signs to guide drivers to the port parking. I did not see any off-site parking but there was valet parking at the ship. The advertised cost is just $22 per day. It is great to drive up to the pier, take a short walk into the port drop luggage and then head to check in. The facility was clean and spacious. I do have concerns about their ability to keep up when the ship is full of guests. With over 600 cabins, there could be high parking demand and staffing could be a concern. It could be especially challenging if people do not arrive at an assigned time. That said my experience was very good.
My check-on was quick and easy. It only took a couple of minutes to show my documents, set up my onboard, have my photo taken and be sent to the ship. This seemed to be the experience of a vast majority of the guests. The check in area had live music and stilt walkers available for photos. Once my check-in was complete, I was directed to the ship. This is where my first glitch happened. When I went to swipe my card to get on the ship, I was told that they did not have my picture and I was not checked-in, so I was sent back to a specific check-in line. There was only one person in front of me, but it ended up taking about 30 minutes before I was able to get to a service representative to resolve my issue. The rep fixed the issue with a simple click of a button on a tablet. They clicked green card rather than passport. She walked me to the ship to make sure that everything worked properly.
The ship has a long history, which we will not delve into now. It started out as the Costa Classica in 1991, was through different owners, multiple updates and currently looking very good for a ship that is over thirty years old. Most of the public areas have a fun beach/island vibe. After talking with people who had been on the ship in the past, it became apparent that a great deal of work as been done to upgrade the ship and the facilities. The entry statue is a giant flipflop and a pop top which makes for a great photo back drop.
It felt strange to get a paper copy of the daily schedule after being on so many ships lately who have started to use onboard apps very heavily. I liked the paper copy but will admit that I missed the electronic ones that I use to dislike. Strange how feelings change over time. Once schedule was in hand, I headed to the Port of Indecision Buffet. It was a traditional cruise ship buffet and you served yourself. It was small compared to most, but the ship is also smaller than modern ones. There was a good variety of food including Indian, sandwiches, soups, small bites and some wonderful desserts. I would have liked to see more theming in the area but at least the food was tasty and plentiful.
Food and Drink
As you would expect from a cruise, there are several different places to eat throughout the day beyond the buffet. The 5 o’clock Somewhere bar is on the aft of the ship and has great wraparound views of the ocean. It is well themed with its giant margarita blender and parrot signs. I did not personally eat here, but it smelled great, and the guests looked like they were enjoying themselves. It was actually one of the quieter places. My guess is that most people did not even see it since you had to go through the buffet to find the one door into the area. Frank and Lola’s served pizza by the slice and got rave reviews. Right next door was the Margaritaville Coffee Shop which was miking up a full line of caffeinated beverages along with a variety of gelato.
There are plenty of opportunities to find a drink. I found at least 9 different bars. In general, the service was quick, but the bartenders were busy and were struggling with the fun social interactions that I have come to expect when sailing. This was the first sailing in a long time, so I am sure that there is a lot of new staff, and I did learn that there was a company on board conducting bar training. They were also serving a lot of drinks since all the bars were serving free drinks for this event. The full shipment of alcohol had not yet arrived so the full assortment of drinks was not available. I have no doubt that the friendliness will come with time and practice.
For dinner there are two dining rooms. JWB at see is a specialty steak house that requires an extra fee and the Fins Dining Room is always complementary. For this special sailing a sampling buffet was set up instead of having guests order a single meal from the menu. This allowed us to sample a verity of items that will normally be available on the menus. There was a large selection of items including upscale items such as New York Strip Steak and Wagyu Ribs. Expected items such as shrimp and prime rib were available. I was surprised by the large selection of Indian dishes on board. The Jerk chicken was wonderful. The dessert bar had a selection of some of the best desserts that I have had at sea. I am not a big buffet fan. It is hard to keep food at temperature and looking good but I must admit that I enjoyed the food selection and thought the overall quality was rather high. I did not find items that I let that I must have but on the other hand I did not encounter items that were poorly prepared or that tasted bad. I think that once meals are served to order guests will be pleasantly surprised by the quality.
There was one large production number in the main theater. If you are a Jimmy Buffett fan you are going to love “Tales from Margaritaville, Jimmy’s Ship Show”. It featured familiar Buffett music along with songs written just for the show. The story is inspired by Jimmy’s book, “Tales from Margaritaville”. There is some audience participation so if you don’t want to be asked to dance then you probably do not want to sit at the tables on the main floor by the stage. The theater seating is shaped as a large U. There are no realy bad seats, but the best viewing will be in front of the stage rather than to the side. The show lasts about 45 minutes is well worth your time. Get there a little early and grab a drink at the bar beforehand. You will not want to leave in the middle and there were limited opportunities to get drinks once seated.
Throughout the ship there was almost constant entertainment. There were several different small singing groups, a piano player, some games, wine tasting, dancing, karaoke among other things. You will find all the things that you would find on a smaller ship from the traditional cruise lines.
Fitness and Spa
Even though you will not be on the ship for very long you may still want to get in some exercise of get some pampering. The fitness center is small but well equipped for a ship that only travels about 60 miles each cruise. You will find the usual treadmills and exercise bikes. There are some resistance training machines and a room for classes. The spa area is small but offers a selection of messages, facials, wraps, hair treatments and nail services.
There are only three types of rooms: interior, ocean view and suits. I only was able to get into the ocean view rooms. They were larger than expected. I had one king/queen bed and a murphy bed that folded into the wall. There was a small work area, television, mini fridge and plenty of closet and storage space for the length of the cruises. The condition of the rooms fluctuated greatly. Overall, my room was remodeled well and very comfortable, but the door lock never worked correctly so I was not able to close my door without having to get a technician to open the door. One of my traveling companions had exposed wiring behind her pillows in the headboard along with rot and sawdust around the very old fridge. I heard complaints room temperatures. One guest was complaining about her room being too cold while the person across the hall had one that was too hot. I don’t know how many of these items were reported or fixed but I do know that my lock was reported, and it was not repaired. I was told that I would get another room, but I got tired of waiting and just went to enjoy the cruise.
I believe that there is great potential for this product, but I don’t think they are quite ready to be sailing with regular customers. A couple more weeks devoted to theming and cleaning would have done wonders. Most of the Margaritaville brand is a high-end product. I fear that those who are accustomed to service and facilities of the resorts, restaurants and other products will be disappointed when they get aboard a 30-year-old ship. The remodeling is going very well but I hope that is still a work in progress.
There is still a need for service training. We were experiencing some rough seas and some of the passengers were not feeling well. I watched a guest ask for a Dramamine which she got. When she asked for two extra pills for her friends were also feeling well, she was told “no” because there was a limit of one per person. My door situation never got fixed even after spending a couple of hours waiting in the hall and lobby for assistance.
It is not very family friendly yet since there is so little for young people to do.
Some of the areas of the ship need to be deep cleaned. It has been sitting for some time and a lot of construction work was done.
The ship will never be modern and flashy but with a little more work it could be a very fun option for a quick get away or mini vacation. Parrot Heads are going to enjoy the experience as long as they understand that they will not be sailing in luxury and are content to sail in a fun and friendly way.
If you tend to sail the older and smaller ships from the other lines this could be an option for you. If you are just ready to sail and don’t want to get vaccinated, then this is your current option. If you are used to newer or larger ships and enjoy the flash and luxury, then this is not something that I would recommend.
I will sail again but I will give them some time to work out the bugs.
I hope you enjoyed the review. If you want to try this ship for yourself or are ready to do some exploring please reach out and let me know.
Until next time
Keep Charting Memories