A ticket aboard Margaritaville's new cruise line can run as low as $100 a person for a 2-night stay. Here's what it's like to set sail on island time.
My friends and I immediately relaxed when we dropped our luggage off in our rooms and headed to the pool bar for margaritas.
In the weeks leading up to my first voyage aboard the Margaritaville at Sea cruise line, I was lost in research. Unlike its competitors, sailing on the Margaritaville Paradise seems downright cheap. Many sailings on the line's booking calendar start at around $100 per guest, leaving this frequent cruiser questioning what I was getting myself into.
I joined private Facebook groups filled with fans of the line, watched hours of YouTube videos from past sailings and talked to friends who'd already sailed aboard the Paradise. Everywhere I turned, people were saying Margaritaville at Sea was just plain fun. Sure, there was the odd complaint about extra charges (port taxes and fees exist on any cruise line) or the occasional person who didn't find drinking margaritas from a blender souvenir cup to be their scene, but overall, the fans of Margaritaville at Sea seemed to outweigh the naysayers.
And so, I packed my flip-flops while dreaming about cheeseburgers in paradise. Two of my best girlfriends and I were headed on a two-night sailing aboard the ship and we could not wait to experience the newest edition to Margaritaville's growing travel empire.
What is the Margaritaville Paradise?
Formerly Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line's flagship vessel, the Margaritaville Paradise is an older ship, built in 1991. The ship received major updates during the takeover, including a full Jimmy Buffett-style makeover. A giant flip-flop statue greets guests in the ship's atrium, restaurants are Margaritaville-themed and each stateroom is decorated in the easy breezy style the Buffett empire is known for.
A smaller cruise ship, the Paradise has 10 passenger decks with 658 staterooms, including suites with portal views or balconies. From the Port of Indecision buffet to the License to Chill pool bar, the small but mighty vessel abounds with dining options. There's also a spa, kids club and tons of nightly entertainment, including a piano bar and a musical, Tales from Margaritaville: Jimmy's Ship Show.
The ship leaves and returns to Port of Palm Beach, a small cruise port in Riviera Beach, Fla.
Where does a Margaritaville at Sea sailing go?
During a three-day, two-night sailing, the Paradise docks in Freeport, a city on Grand Bahama island in the Bahamas. Day one of the itinerary includes activities like lunch, exploring the ship, sipping margaritas on the pool deck, a sail-away party, dinner at one of several restaurants and a night of entertainment options.
On the second day, guests hop off the ship and enjoy Freeport. Margaritaville at Sea offers excursions ranging from snorkeling to swimming with pigs. At the end of the day, guests return to the ship for another evening of dining and fun. Day three brings the saddest part of any cruise, debarkation.
How much does Margaritaville at Sea cost?
There's truly a price point for everyone aboard the Paradise. On some dates, interior cabins start at just $100 per person. While suites and rooms with an exterior view cost more, the prices are lower than any cruise line I've experienced. Yes, there are port taxes and fees and a parking charge of $22 per day, but taking the time to review those added charges in advance is a great way to know what you're getting yourself into.
As with any cruise, there are upgrades available for purchase. A 10-drink drink package is available for $99 per person, guests can opt to dine at the JWB Prime Steakhouse for an additional $55 per person instead of eating at one of the included restaurants and there are "License to Chill" packages available for purchase, which guarantee quicker boarding and other benefits. Excursions are an extra charge, as are spa treatments.
What's it like to sail aboard the Margaritaville Paradise?
While we had no idea what to expect, my friends and I immediately relaxed when we dropped our luggage in our rooms and headed to the License to Chill pool bar for margaritas ... in a blender cup, of course. We spent our first hours on board chatting with other cruisers and people-watching by the pool, then dressed up for the sail-away party and dinner.
We chose to dine at the steakhouse (an up-charge) and were thrilled with our meals of filet mignon, creamed spinach and mashed potatoes. After dinner, we visited both the piano bar, where we sang along with hit music, and the dance nightclub located on deck 14 of the ship. IT felt like one big girl's night out, and we fell asleep excited for our day in the Bahamas.
Day two brought us to Freeport, where we chose both a pig-swimming and snorkeling excursion. The day was relaxed, and the excursions ran smoothly. Our second night on the ship was much like the first: We returned to the steakhouse a second time because our dinner was so delicious the night before — something I've never said before about a cruise dining experience. We also saw the Jimmy Buffett-themed musical, where we sang along to hits like "Margaritaville" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise" before repeating our visits to the piano bar and dance club.
Debarkation on day three was simple. Because we had the License to Chill package, we were off the ship within minutes and headed to our car. One complaint I've seen routinely in Facebook groups and on social media, however, is that without the accelerated package, wait times both to board and leave the ship can be extreme. For that reason, it may be worth it to purchase a License to Chill package and save your group some valuable time — it is only a two-night cruise after all.
Throughout my girls weekend aboard Margaritaville at Sea, I texted with my husband at home, telling him we had to return to the ship and sail together. He's not a fan of cruising, but the laid back, party boat vibe of this ship made me think he'd like it more than other lines. One friend already booked a return visit for this fall with her boyfriend: The pair paid around $600 total for a higher-level room, drink packages, fees and that License to Chill package. As a frequent cruiser, the Paradise feels like a perfect two-night getaway on a fun ship at a really unbeatable price.
The ship is not without its cons — it's an older ship, which shows in things like slow elevators and deck layout. The electrical work is subpar and, despite bringing power strips and plug adapters as had been suggested on social media, there were plugs in my stateroom that just wouldn't work. But overall, the experience felt like a steal for the cost.
I'd be remiss not to mention: Margaritaville at Sea's staff was also top-notch. In the more than 10 cruises I've taken, I've never interacted with a happier group of people, from the sommelier who brought us amazing wines each night at dinner to the bartenders at the pool bar, who learned our names and greeted us with our go-to drink orders each time we approached. Smiles were on every face, and because of their kindness, we could not stop smiling either.
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