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Cruise Vacations

Review:  The “FREE” Bahamas Celebration Cruise

Trip Dates: Dec 22 – 29, 2009

Why here? It was advertised on TV as a Free Cruise – so we thought we’d check it out! Ah Hah! A Time-share tour was required, but they seem to offer a lot to get you to take a tour – so here it is –

Air on Southwest; Phila to Fort Lauderdale: Tip – take carry-on baggage ONLY! At Christmas time you’ll save lots of time in line NOT checking in a bag and printing out your boarding pass. We spent TWO HOURS in an OUTDOOR line in 18 degree weather at the Phila airport – shame on you Southwest! Talk about a stressful way to start a vacation! Also, no assigned seating – not sure where you’ll endup on the plane – didn’t like the not knowing!n However, if you check online 24 hours early, you are assured a seat of Choice (Section A).

Here is what was included in the trip:

1) Free Rental car/Alamo – they offered a 2-door econoomy car – ask for an upgrade to 4-door for the same price! No hassle, no lines, and we DID get to pick out our own car – that was cool. Fast, courteous service, only cost us $67 in taxes – until the return! They failed to mention because we had an extra 6 hours longer in the return, we got charged the FULL RATE of $47 for an extra day – that was dissappointing.Make sure pick up and drop off times are within 24 hours. Total coast $124,67.

2) Ramada Inn Welcome Center – Wow – what a disappointment! This is the FIRST experience you really want to give your guests? Bad location – west of Hwy 95. Marta at check-in was fine, and she got us all our promised materials. At the front desk was Hugh – he offered us a “great room upgrade to a suite” but it was very far from the working elevators, on the 4th floor, no view, NO HOT WATER! It needed new paint, rugs, wall art, and a blanket would have been nice to add to the cheap sheets on the bed – ughhh! Dirty, Dirty! Room rate – a D- (for worse then disgusting). Hugh tried though – upgrade Hugh to a better Hotel!

Lunch at the Ramada, a B- “free” but tips and taxes costs $5 for 2. Breakfast — who knows? A two-hour wait, a full lobby of pissed off people waiting to get in – rated an F – for Failure to have enough Food and seating! We left and got breakfast at McDonalds – $8.50 for 2 – can always count on Miki D’s in a pinch!

I suggest to this travel plan they get a whole NEW Welcome Center – and make it welcoming!! It tainted the entire trip experience and had us a nervous wreck for what was to come!

3) The Bahama’s Celebration Cruise Ship: Get there 1.5 – 2 hours early for the boarding process. Be prepared with passport and don’t try to take alcohol with you.  There is 5 steps to get through before boarding at 1 pm. You have to present a credit card to get a ship pass, which everything wil get charged to – or leave a $200 cash deposit. Queen sized bed – but we paid $50 for an upgraded cabin – it was worth it not to be stuck with bunk beds or a lower deck – we had 2 windows and room to move. No balcony, and it wasn’t the ritz, no safe in the room which surprised us – but rates a B-. Excellent maid service – honest.

Pool deck: lunch buffet was good, nice loungers poolside, but the pool was small, raised and split in half – rates a D. Two hot tubs – mostly filled with kids the whole time. They should make at least one for adults only!

Drink servers a real pain in the “you know what!”. Asking you to buy drinks every 30 seconds; the only way to handle them was to be rude and ignore them – period. Order your drinks at the bar so they are fresh and you see what they are pouring. Top shelf liquor available, $6.50/drink for a Meyers dark rum and coke – not bad.

Dinner: Fist night in the formal dining room – we went early and scored a private table for two. Waiters and food were good, B+. The second night we paid $25 each for a dinner upgrade to The Cove – a private, formal dining room for our Christmas Eve dinner – it was worth it! I had the escargot appetizer and pear w/cheese filo puffed pastry; and they were done perfectly. We each ordered the Lamb shank and it was some of the best lamb I ever had. Desert was a crème brulee – rated an A+ experience. Dress in cocktail wear, and plan 2 hours.

Breakfast buffet: A – complete with lots of choices, done very well.

Lunch buffet – 2nd day by the pool: rated a C – Simply hot dogs and hamburgers, pizza; boring choices

Entertainment: Night one was wonderful, a young female singer who sang amazingly like Beyonce and Tina Turner was awesome, and a great comedian named Carloid performed and we loved him – both rated an A+

Night Two – the singer was an older man, past his prime. Sang “old favorites” of mostly deceased artists like Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra – A for effort, D for quality of show. The comedian after was funny, also tapped danced – rates an A. Overall shows quality – A-, B+

On Nassau island – we chose to shop in town. Prices still high at most stores, but I found a great ring (4.20 blue topaz and diamond ring for only $450) at the Crown Jewelry Outlet store, on Bay Street – about triple less then the other stores were charging. The island tours the cruise ship sold were way over-priced, we chose none. After a few hours of shopping, we opted for some sun by the pool – our first chance to relax and catch rays since arriving!

Disbarkment: We had to be up at 7 am to get breakfast by 8am – don’t put your luggage out at the door, too much hassle to find it later. Eat then return to your room to get out by 9 am. They mae you leave your room to sit in the large ballrooms with everyone else until you are called – NOT a pleasant experience. We were finally called by 10:30 am to leave the ship – an exhausting hassle. However, customs was fast and smooth – but they gave away our bottle of Kendal Jackson we were forced to check upon boarding (bummer!)

3) Marriott North Fort Lauderdale, Andrews Road off I-95: This was our hotel from Friday night until Tuesday checkout. They wanted us to go to Orlando when we booked this trip, and we refused – too much moving in one week; so they let us stay here the rest of the trip.  The hotel is in the business section of Fort Lauderdale, which means no water views and not close to the ocean – about a 20 minute drive to the beach. That was the worst part of it – there was also no lounge or entertainment – just hotel. But a nice one. The manager Alex was very accomodating and pleasant upon checkin and upgraded our room to Consierge level – a beautiful King-sized bed on the 14th floor. Soft linens (yeah!) clean fresh smell, wall art, safe, marbled floors – a much better experience then the Ramada. Only down side – our toilet broke one morning but they were quick to repair.

Pool and gym on the 4th floor: nice, spacious deck, large hot tub – but the first day the water was low and a bit cold – they fixed it the second day. Nice relaxing music by pool, towels and loungers. A tiki bar and food service is highly recommended though!

Meals: This trip also had the option to upgrade to get 3 meals a day for two people for another $50. We took it. Although we got ripped off of our breakfast at Ramada, the Marriot’s food was excellent. Jeffrey in the Dining area attended to our needs, and the breakfast buffet had great choices on Sunday, it was a bit more sparse during the week. You had to use two coupons to buy one meal here (a total of 4 meal coupons) and you have to pay extra for tips and taxes – $11 total was paid for breakfast. Once Monday came though, we ate in the Conseirge suite, and breakfast there was just as good, less people, and NO tips or taxes – excellent! There is free parking at the hotel – a bonus. Although a bit boring, this Marriott rates an A for service and very good management – Thanks Alex!

The Time Share Experience: We were to drive to West Palm Beach – Singer Island to take a “2-hour tour” of the Palm Beach Resort. Cheryle was our tour salesperson, and freaked when she found out we both sold timeshares at one time, and I already owned one. She was cool – a fellow Phila person – and it made the tour bearable. The first price offered was $22,000 for a one-bedroom, they came down to $10k – but we weren’t buying – plain and simple – we want a condo in Florida, not another time share! However, it could be a good deal if you have young kids.

We checked out on Tuesday night, after a day at the beach. Return home – no line or hassle on Southwest – Thank God! This was the day after the dude tried to blow himself up in a plane over Chicago with a bomb in his underwear. Came home to 22 degree weather — we were ready to go back!

Overall “FREE” Bahama Cuise experience: Well, Romantic Destinations at Reasonable rates?? The FREE Bahama Cruise with an upgraded cabin (for 3 days and 2 nights); and upgraded hotel for 5 days/4 nights, The Welcome Center at Ramada Inn for 2 days/1 night, Meal cvouchers for 5 days (breakfast, lunch & dinner), 7 days rental car – Total cost of our trip $735 (excluding air tickets). Adding in other costs of taxes, tips, drinks, eatras, modest shopping – brings an extra $1000 for expenses. Was it worth it?? We say YES! Where else can you go in priome Florida locations for less then $735? Adding meals, rental car, and a cruise for a week could easily be $3500 for two!

Here are our final grades:

1) Romance: C +     Too many kids on the curise and in hotels – no adult space in hot tubs – ugh!!

2) Value for the Money: B-    Lots for the money, but poor quality in some important areas

3) Welcome Center/Ramada: F      The staff tried, but tear it down and start over!

4) Marriott Hotel: A +    Great staff, super clean, great food and service; not much of a view though

5) Alamo Rental car: A +   No hassle, great service – we’re fans for life!

6) Over all:  B –      The staff was friendly and helpful in most all areas, however, too many lines, too scheduled, too many time schedules to keep, not able to sleep in (Early morning announcements on cruise PA system)  – felt too harried on a vacation. Takes away the Romance Factor! We would rather “free fly it” next time!