The new Balearia Ferry feels more like a cruise ship, thanks to its pool, casino and dining options. // © 2015 Balearia
Feature image (above): The voyage from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Grand Bahama Island takes approximately three hours. // © 2015 Balearia
If you’re going to be sailing across the Atlantic Ocean for three hours, then why not do so amidst deluxe dining, cocktails and even a little gambling? That’s what the folks at Balearia Ferry Express thought when they conceived the brand-new Bahama Mama, a 1,000-passenger cruise ferry that provides nonstop service between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Grand Bahama Island.
As I stepped onto the eight-deck ferry ahead of its maiden voyage, I couldn’t help but feel this vessel more resembled a standard cruise ship than a ferry. Replacing Balearia’s older Pinar del Rio, which topped out at a capacity of 463 and provided little in the form of entertainment, the Bahama Mama is a welcomed newcomer to Bahamian officials. The nearly daily ferry service’s effect on both the Bahamian and U.S. economies signifies never-before-seen tourism opportunities.
“The new ferry service represents a bridge to our nations,” said Joy Jibrilu, director of investments at Bahamas Investment Authority. “Paradise is closer now than ever.”
On the consumer side, the thought behind the Bahama Mama is simple: provide comfortable, entertaining accommodations for those looking to ferry from Port Everglades to Freeport Harbour. That comes in the form of first-class seating, 48 cabins, an outdoor swimming pool, lounges, a casino, entertainment, an a la carte restaurant, bars and cafes, and — a personal favorite — duty-free shopping.
As my first experience on a ferry cruise, I couldn’t imagine two more picturesque destinations to depart from and arrive in. The bookends to my trip, Fort Lauderdale and the Grand Bahamas, arguably rival each other in natural beauty — so I needed the middle to be just as grand.
The dining options — serve-yourself dining with a casual menu or a la carte service with fresh seafood as the recommended dish — are plentiful enough for the quick trip. If you choose the a la carte restaurant, L’Almadrava, be sure to sit outside to enjoy some rays. L’Almadrava’s options vary from roasted duck and tuna to a four-course tasting menu.
When conceptualizing Bahama Mama, it became obvious that high-end accommodations weren’t lost on the design team. The straightforward cabins even include two suites toward the bow of the ship. First-class passengers are even treated to plush, leather reclined seating — in which I may or may not have fallen asleep briefly.
Despite the short trip, lounging on the pool deck was in the cards. There’s even a full liquor bar steps away, serving — you guessed it — Bahama Mamas.