Premier finally gives pontoon owners the thing they really wanted all along on the 290 Grand Entertainer
Author: Alan Jones
At last year’s Miami Boat Show, there was one boat on the docks that caused more people to stop and stare with jaws dropped than any other boat I saw. A multimillion-dollar yacht? A 3,000 hp go-fast boat? Nope. It was a pontoon, and this one didn’t even have a scantily clad model on board. It was the Premier 290 Grand Entertainer. So why the attention? This one had a full tiki bar on board.
Ever since the first pontoon was built back in 1952 using 50-gallon steel drums as tubes, people immediately understood the wide-open layout was perfect for on-water get-togethers. Most pontoon boats offer “entertainment centers” that give you a rudimentary, often cramped place to practice your mixology skills, but the Grand Entertainer gives you a full-fledged curved Island Bar that wouldn’t look out of place poolside at a luxury resort. It’s equipped with lockable drawers with cutouts to hold bottles securely, pull-out containers for drink condiments, a refrigerator, a propane grill for conjuring up appetizers and a lighted cabana top for hanging wine-glasses. Ringing the bar are four stools that feature adjustable-height pedestals, and there are even hooks for hanging purses or European “man” bags.
What’s amazing is that it took more than 60 years for this feature to make its appearance, causing many to slap their forehead while channeling Homer Simpson. What’s not surprising is it was Premier that came up with this concept, since its designers often have “grand” visions that explore the outer boundaries of pontoondom. The boat builder in Wyoming, Minn., which, coincidentally, is less than 100 miles away from where the pontoon first premiered in the 1950s, also implements its 10’ Wide (builder name for it) mega-beam scheme on our test boat to great effect. Although you can get the Grand Entertainer in the standard 8-foot, 6-inch width and in a shorter 26-foot length, going super-size to the 29-foot, 5-inch LOA fully realizes the concept of the ultimate party pontoon.
Some folks might see this as a pleasure platform that needn’t be untethered from the dock, but that’s only a small part of the 290 Grand Entertainer’s mission. Our test boat features the triple-tube 36” PTX configuration, which uses a 36-inch U-shaped center tube with a 12-inch flat planing surface at the bottom to provide incredible lift out of the hole. Powered by a supercharged Mercury 300 Pro FourStroke, it behaved more like a sportboat than a floating night club. On plane in 3.6 seconds with little bowrise, the 290 GE reached 30 mph in 9.2 seconds, with a top speed of 40 mph.
The happiest cruise speed was with the Mercury quietly humming along (80 decibels) at 4000 rpm, which netted us 26.6 mph and, according to Mercury tests of the same boat, 2.2 mpg. To increase range, drop down to 3000 rpm and 19 mph, which increases fuel economy to nearly 3 mpg.
After telling everyone to hang onto their beverage and retire to one of the lounge seats, the designated driver can show them what the 290 Grand Entertainer is capable of doing. That giant center tube, working in concert with the 25-inch outer logs, acts as a pivot point and allows it to corner exactly like you think a nearly 30-foot-long, 10-foot, 2-inch-wide boat wouldn’t. It leans in like a sportboat and is far more nimble than expected. The outer tubes have lifting strakes on the inside only, which assist in pushing the 290 higher in the water while still allowing it to turn easily.
Premier fully explores the obvious mega-party capability with a standard sound system that features a subwoofer for plenty of thump. The 10’ Wide option creates enough dance-floor room for that guest who’s channeling John Travolta to swing his white jacket. The standard configuration gives you a giant U lounge in the forward half of the boat, which includes a bow filler couch to help foster guest interaction. The 18 people this boat is rated to carry have plenty of seating on the top-of-the-line Flexsteel 7-Star furniture group.
When properly powered with at least a 225 hp outboard, a ski party is liable to break out on the 290, thanks to its performance and watersports-ready capability — starting with the tall, stout ski tow bar that circles the Mercury 300. Premier offers the option of a spotter camera that allows the driver to monitor skiers from the well-appointed helm on a flush-mounted display screen. As you can imagine, the centerline ski locker set into the 36-inch U-shaped tube is huge. Since it sits in the middle on the dance floor, I would recommend installing some nonskid bathtub strips onto the fairly slick hatch cover.
Depending on the length of your Facebook friend list, you might be able to get by with the 26-foot version that gives you the same Island Bar as the stretch version and shorter couches up front. Although you could underpower this with as little as a 115 hp outboard, you would be limiting your opportunities, not to mention shrinking your effective range. With this boat, the party is wherever you are, but sometimes getting to the proper backdrop requires a little cruising, and once there you might have to boogie if weather pops up.
The list of standard features is impressive, with items such as the changing room, top-of-the-line Flexsteel 7-Star furniture and the Liberty helm station. Only a couple of options are needed to up the wow factor. Interior LED floor lighting comes standard, but Premier offers an underwater system that will ramp up the party ambiance on post-sunset cruises, which will be undertaken a lot. The Polk Audio upgrade is also a good party starter, and you are definitely going to want a Porta Potti, to avoid being tethered to land. Because there aren’t a lot of fixed cupholders up front, Premier relies on portable holders, but the addition of a cooler table gives guests more beverage-holding ability plus a place to display hors d’oeuvres.