REVIEW: Wheelchair Accessibility on the Bahamas Paradise Cruises Grand Celebration

They say that you get what you pay for, and this is pretty much the case for these budget 2-night cruises that depart from the Port of Palm Beach for Freeport, Bahamas almost every day. I was hesitant to go on this cruise, especially since I had just disembarked from a Holland America cruise only two weeks prior. However, I realized that not all wheelchair users can afford a week long cruise on a luxury line. I wanted to find out what the less-expensive options were for wheelchair users who are on a tight budget, or just don’t have the time to go on a longer vacation. Here is my review of Bahamas Paradise Cruises (BPC), and one of their two ships, the Grand Celebration.

Check-In and Embarkation

Both ships for BPC depart from the Port of Palm Beach, a very small – and privately owned — cruise port in southeast Florida. This is important to know because the parking can be a huge hassle if you’re driving a wheelchair accessible van. Parking is valet only and there are no self-parking options anywhere close by. You will have to fight with the parking attendants to let you park your accessible vehicle in one of the handful of accessible parking spaces. Because it is a private lot, you will have to pay $20 per night to park there. When they told me that the accessible spaces were full, I told them I could just use two spaces to give me enough room to deploy my van ramp. That’s when one of the attendants told me he would have to charge me double, and things got ugly. Long story short, they allowed me to park in a van accessible space in their staff parking lot. Getting there early won’t help you, as the people parked in those spaces are probably still on the ship waiting to get off. Just be prepared for a fight.

Because this is such a small cruise line, you cannot print out luggage tags ahead of time. When you arrive at the terminal, you have to see one of the porters, who will handwrite your name and stateroom number on a luggage tag, attach it, then take your bag to the ship for you. If your suitcase is the size of a carry-on or smaller, you can take it with you. However, you will be able to get into your state room until after 3 PM, so you will have to lug it around with you until then.

There were a lot of people waiting at the check-in counter, and only two cruise line representatives working. There was an accessible needs check-in desk, but nobody was sitting there. It took me approximately 30 minutes to check in and get my boarding card. After that, it was easy to roll up the gangway and board the ship.

Accessible Staterooms

Before I go into detail about my accessible stateroom on the Grand Celebration, I should tell you more about the ship to provide you with some context. It was launched in 1987 as the Carnival Celebration, then sold to Bahamas paradise cruise line in 2014. In other words, it’s an old ship. There are no balcony staterooms, only oceanview and interior. There are a handful of accessible oceanview state rooms (I believe four in total), and they are in the very back of the ship. This means they are right above the propellers, And any time that the engines are running, it is very loud in the stateroom and everything vibrates and shakes. On one of these two night cruises, the engines will stop around 11 PM when the ship docks off the coast of Grand Bahama, then will start again around 5:30 AM to begin docking procedures. Unless you are a very deep sleeper, do not expect to get much sleep prior to 11 PM or after 5:30 AM during this brief cruise.

My state room was extremely basic and purely functional. However, it was clean and perfectly usable. The bed was the perfect height for me to transfer into, and there was at least 8 inches of space underneath for someone needing to use a Hoyer lift. That being said, the quarters were tight and it would be impossible for a wheelchair user to access the side of the bed closest to the window, let alone use a hoist. Each night when my cabin steward came in for turndown service, I would have to call someone to turn off the reading light on the other side of the bed since I couldn’t reach it. There is an outlet next to the bed, so I was able to charge my chair easily. However, I brought an extension cord with me, as that was the only outlet within my reach in the whole room. For those of you sensitive to temperature one way or another, there is no temperature control in the room. Whatever the temperature happens to be on the whole ship, that’s what you get. I’m sensitive to heat and have trouble sleeping if it’s warmer than 72°, and I think I got lucky because I believe that’s roughly what the temperature was in my cabin.

Although the sleeping area was cramped, I had no trouble maneuvering in the bathroom. There was a good-sized roll in shower with a wide wooden fold-down bench. The soap dish for the bar soap was easy to reach, although I did have to call my cabin steward to bring down the hand-held shower head for me. There is only a 1 inch high rubber barrier keeping the water in instead of a trench drain, so expect the floor to get pretty wet. There is almost no counter space, but I was able to roll under the sink without any issues.

Dining Options

There are two main dining rooms on the Grand Celebration, but you will only be able to use the Stellar dining room, as the Admiral’s dining room has steps to reach the tables. It is a tight fit between columns on either side of the entrance to get to where the tables are, but most standard width scooters and wheelchairs should be able to manage. I had no trouble reaching a table, and servers were more than happy to remove the chair for me to sit at one of the larger roundtables. You can also eat at the buffet on the Lido deck, or the grill by the pool, which serves food like hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries throughout the day. I ate at the formal dining room both nights, and while my food wasn’t particularly good the first night, it was much better the second night. Again, you get what you pay for. The hot dogs and hamburgers at the poolside grill were very popular, and I ate there for lunch twice. I only had one breakfast at the buffet, and it was adequate.

Entertainment Venues

The Grand Celebration has a large theater where they have one show each night at 9:30 PM. I did not go to either show because they were late and I was tired, but some of my fellow passengers said they weren’t very impressed with the quality. Unfortunately, I was not able to determine if there is dedicated seating for wheelchair users in the theater, but I did take a quick peek after I boarded and it seemed there was plenty of space to move unattached lounge chairs to make room for wheelchair users. I did see musicians and singers perform at the Commodore and Encore Live lounges, where a wonderful singer and saxophone player did a fantastic tribute to Tina Turner. There is also a sports bar and a nightclub, but never really saw anyone in the former and never made it to the DJ portion of the latter.

The Pools

There are two pools on the Grand Celebration — a rectangular one in the center of the ship and a much smaller circular one in the back of the ship. Neither one is accessible. There is plenty of space in between the rows of the lounge chairs for wheelchair users to maneuver between them and the regular seating, and since many activities take place by the pool, wheelchair users shouldn’t have any trouble finding a good spot to watch.

Ports of Call

The only port of call for this cruise line is Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. Please click here to read my accessibility review for Freeport.

Public Spaces

The public spaces on the Grand Celebration are a mixed bag for wheelchair accessibility. Elevators are tiny, and it’s a tight squeeze to get in. I’m in a very small power chair, and at most you could fit three regular sized adults in the elevator with me. I only had about 4 inches of space on either side of my wheelchair, which is only 24 inches wide. There are only steps to access some parts of the ship, and this includes a gelato/dessert Café and the Admiral’s dining room, as well as the uppermost sunbathing deck. Getting to the rear portion of deck 11, which is the deck above the swimming pool, is challenging as you have to go up a short steep ramp, through a heavy door, and make a very tight turn onto a narrow walkway. You will need help to do this.

The promenade-type spaces on deck eight and nine were very wide, and I never felt crowded. Parts of the casino can be difficult to get through because the chairs are not bolted to the ground, and there’s not much space in some areas between the chairs for the slot machines and the gaming tables. Chairs in the Encore Live lounge are also pushed together very closely, which can make for a very tight fit for wheelchair users. With the exception of getting out onto the deck 11, I never had any trouble with any thresholds on the ship.

General Observations

Despite the accessibility challenges I encountered, largely due to the age of the ship, I really had a fun time. I made some great new friends (including a fellow wheelie!), and my fellow passengers were all on this short cruise to have a great time. The crew, mostly Filipino and Indonesian, could not have been more courteous, friendly, or helpful. They really were fantastic. I had low expectations for Freeport, but I thoroughly enjoyed my three-hour tour and learned some more about the Bahamas.

This is not the type of cruise that I would recommend flying down to South Florida to take. This is better suited towards local Floridians who are on a tight budget. For example, BPC is currently having a sale for only $129 per person, which is cheaper than most beachfront hotels for one night. It’s really quite a deal if you’re looking for a brief tonight get away to the Bahamas.

In order to get the online discount, you need to call Bahamas Paradise Cruises directly to find out if one of the accessible staterooms is available for the date you’re interested in. They will then have you book a regular oceanview state room online, then call them back so they can transfer your stateroom number to one of the accessible staterooms. It was really easy to do this, and I ended up paying only $149 for my oceanview stateroom. For my sailing, they were having a sale where I did not have to pay the 200% solo supplement. This was a nice break, since usually I have to pay double to cruise by myself.

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