Cost: $59.99 per adult roundtrip, including three meals (breakfast and lunch to the Bahamas, dinner on the way back to Fort Lauderdale). Children cruise free. Cruise 'N Stay packages are $100-$200 a night. My family of four spent a total of $690 for the cruise and a two-night hotel stay.
What's on board: Casino, pool, video arcade, dance club, two lounges with entertainment, two dining rooms, gift shop, two bar-and-grills, staterooms, children's play zone, deck games and locker rooms.
Additional costs: A $10 per person port fee must be paid in cash at Port Everglades; parking at the port is $15 a day; locker rentals on the ship are $5 each way to store carry-on baggage; cabins start at $65; beach towels on the ship rent for $1.50 each; snack food ranges from $2.25 for fries to $4.75 for chicken wings; a can of beer was $4.39 and mixed drinks were $5-$7; a cab ride from Freeport harbor to hotel cost $5 per person.
Tipping: There's constant pressure on board to tip (there's even a tip cup in the kids zone); 15 percent tips are included in all bar and snack food tabs; tip suggestion cards sit on every dining table. We spent a total of $30 on tips round-trip.
Travel details: Fort Lauderdale to Freeport service every day except Wednesdays. Passengers have to be at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale by 6:30 a.m. The ship arrives in Freeport about 1 p.m. On the return, guests are due at the ship by 4 p.m. It arrives back in Fort Lauderdale about 10 p.m., but passengers aren't usually cleared to disembark until 11 p.m.
What to bring: Passports, sweatshirts (the morning deck air gets chilly), beach towels, plastic bag for wet swimsuits, sunscreen, dollar bills for tipping (the on-board ATM machine has an $8 service charge).
Info: 800-259-1579; www.discoverycruiseline.com.
What we liked: Flexibility of packages, friendly cruise staff, the novelty of swimming aboard a ship in the ocean, the water slide tower at the Sheraton Grand Bahama Our Lucaya Resort, white-sand beaches, fresh conch, the slow, laid-back attitude.
What we didn't like: Getting up at 4 a.m. to catch the ship, the late-night return to Fort Lauderdale, a tip-badgering atmosphere on the ship, pricey food and no night activities at the resort, the hour-long waits in port before disembarking, the slow, laid-back attitude.
WHERE TO STAY
Sheraton Grand Bahama Our Lucaya Resort, 242-373-1444; www.starwoodhotels.com. Part of a complex with a more upscale Westin, this is the best option for families because it has a sprawling pool and beach area, with a fun slide for kids, a casino, 11 restaurants, a children's camp, spa and shops. Rooms are small, but modern. Starting from $169.99.
Pelican Bay at Lucaya, 242-373-9550 or 800-852-3702; www.pelicanbayhotel.com. Steps from Port Lucaya Marketplace and a 15-minute walk to the beach, the hotel has a West Indian gingerbread exterior, with rooms overlooking a pool and marina. Starting from $149.99.
Port Lucaya Resort & Yacht Club, 242-373-6618 or 800-582-2921; www.portlucayaresort.com. An affordable option a short walk to the beach and next to the Port Lucaya Marina; has its own big pool, hot tub and restaurant. Starting from $90 plus $8 per person service charge.
WHAT TO DO
Port Lucaya Marketplace, www.portlucayamarketplace.com. Souvenir and clothing shops and stalls, restaurants and bars in pastel colonial buildings on the waterfront.
Snorkeling, kayaking, biking and eco-tours can be booked at the Port Lucaya Marina. A kid-friendly, two-hour Seaworld Explorer trip on a semi-submarine lets passengers view reef life from an underwater observatory and provides a snorkeling opportunity; $45 adult, $25 kids, ages 2-12.
Dolphin Experience, 242-373-1244 or 800-992-3483 or 561-472-1100; www.unexso.com. Encounters with bottlenose dolphin, ranging from touching the mammals on a partially submerged dock to scuba diving with them on a reef; $75-$199 per person. Tickets available at the Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) in Port Lucaya, but make reservations ahead of time.
WHERE TO EAT
The Sheraton resort's restaurants were expensive and disappointing. Venturing off property is worth the effort.
Billy Joe's on the Beach, on the edge of the Sheraton Grand Bahama Our Lucaya Resort's beach, 242-373-1333. Freshly-made conch salad, cracked conch, grilled conch steak and fried conch, with fries and mixed drinks. $8-$10 a plate.
Zorba's Greek Cuisine, at Port Lucaya Marketplace, 242-373-6137. The best breakfast we had, with hearty pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast and home fries. $5-8 breakfast entrees.
Simply Native Outback Restaurant, on East Beach Drive, just off East Sunrise Boulevard, Lucaya, 242-352-5003. No menu, no-frills local hangout with delicious barbecued ribs, baked lamb, and fresh conch and fish when available. Recommended by a hotel staffer and worth the cab ride. $10 entrees.