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It sounds too good to be true. And maybe it is.
Margaritaville at Sea has unveiled a new “unlimited” pass that will let you cruise as much as you want in a year for just $899. But buyer beware: The offer comes with lots of fine print that may limit its value for some.
The new Ultimate Paradise Pass, as the Jimmy Buffett-themed cruise brand calls it, promises to have you nibblin’ on sponge cake and watchin’ the sun bake on “an unlimited number of non-consecutive two-night sailings to The Bahamas” through the end of the year.
The trips will take place on the company’s one ship, the 1,680-passenger Margaritaville at Sea Paradise.
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Such two-night sailings are all that the ship does. Margaritaville at Sea Paradise departs from the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, for Grand Bahama Island’s Freeport every two days on the quickie trips, which are meant as low-cost, fun-in-the-sun getaways.
“This is completely new to the cruise industry,” Margaritaville at Sea president and CEO Kevin Sheehan Jr. noted in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Now, passengers can buy a season pass to paradise and enjoy long walks on the beach throughout the year.”
If used to its maximum, the pass could, in theory, let you cruise more than 150 days a year for just a few dollars a day. However, that’s just for your base fare.
With every sailing you book, you’ll still pay for a long list of mandatory extra charges that add up to more than $150 per cruise.
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In addition, making bookings with the pass may not be as carefree and easy as you might think.
The fine print is ‘a real beauty’
At $899, the pass sounds like a bargain. However, before you get too excited, note some of the fine print, which is “a real beauty,” to steal a phrase from the Buffett song that gives Margaritaville at Sea its name.
- You can’t book a cruise with the pass until 72 hours before departure. In other words, you can’t do any advance planning for cruises with the pass.
- The pass doesn’t guarantee a cabin on a sailing. You’ll only get one if there is last-minute space available.
- You can’t book a cruise around several major holidays, including the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.
- You can’t choose a cabin type or location with the pass. You will be assigned a cabin from whatever is available before departure.
- The pass only is good for windowless interior cabins and ocean-view cabins. You can’t use it for a suite.
- The cruise may be free, but you’ll still pay $94.40 per sailing for taxes, fees and port expenses.
- You’ll also pay a $19.99 booking fee, $12 fuel surcharge fee and $29.90 in gratuity fees every time you book a sailing.
- You cannot sail solo in a cabin. You must bring a guest, who will also be responsible for many of the fees. If you don’t bring a guest, you will face an additional $159 charge.
In addition, the passes cannot be used for one-way sailings between Florida and the Bahamas or for the “Cruise & Stay” vacations that Margaritaville at Sea offers. Cruise & Stay vacations combine a sailing from Florida to the Bahamas with a stay in the Bahamas followed by a voyage back to Florida.
As for the companion you must bring on the trips, the good news is that you don’t have to bring the same person on every cruise. Be warned, though: Your traveling companion must show up, or you’ll face the extra charge.
In addition to unlimited sailings, the Ultimate Paradise Pass comes with welcome amenities when you sail, exclusive sneak peeks of new onboard activities and behind-the-scenes access on certain sailings.
Passholders also get a 10% discount when adding upgrades, packages and onshore excursions at the time of booking.
Is the Ultimate Paradise Pass a good deal?
Is Margaritaville at Sea’s new Ultimate Paradise Pass worth the cost? In short, that will depend on how much you use it.
Given that the pass can’t be used to book sailings more than 72 hours in advance, it makes the most sense for people who live close to the Port of Palm Beach and can sneak away for two-day escapes on very short notice.
It makes less sense if you live far from the port and would need to book flights to reach the port or commit to a long car trip to the port in advance.
Also, it only makes sense for those who know that they will use it frequently. If you’re not pretty sure you’ll be able to take four or five short getaways on Margaritaville at Sea Paradise between now and the end of the year, it’s probably not for you. Just book individual sailings with the line.
Fares for two-night voyages with Margaritaville at Sea often are available at very low rates, under $150 per person. So, you’ll have to sail several times before you start breaking even on the annual pass.
As of Tuesday, for instance, you could book quite a few Margaritaville at Sea sailings for later this year, starting at $101.40 per person. That pricing is “based on double occupancy” — that is, it requires two people to book in a cabin — so the total cost for a cabin would be $202.80.
Given the annual pass costs $899, you’d need to book four such sailings at $202.80 before you got close to breaking even.
Note that the least expensive Margaritaville at Sea sailings typically are midweek. There are no Saturday departures of Margaritaville at Sea Paradise currently available for less than $119 per person for the rest of the year. Additionally, some Saturday departures on prime weekends currently cost $299 per person or more.
As a result, if you will be using the pass mostly for weekend getaways, its value may add up more quickly. That is assuming you can get last-minute space on the weekend departures.
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