These were two back-to-back cruises from Bayonne, New Jersey to the Caribbean. The itinerary for the first cruise included Labadee, San Juan, St. Maarten, Martinique, Barbados, and St. Kitts. The second went to San Juan, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and St. Kitts.
Anthem of the Seas is one of my favorite ships. She takes the Royal Caribbean experience in a new direction with her elegant and upmarket atmosphere. I also like the quality with which she was built and is maintained.
Although Anthem is, at the time of this writing, the third largest cruise ship in the world, she does not feel like a large ship to me. Perhaps this is because I only go on a regular basis to the parts of the ship that interest me. As a result, I routinely run into people who have the same interests as me and friendships form like they do on smaller ships. It is also because Royal Caribbean manages the passenger flow around the ship so that it rarely gets crowded.
Anthem homeported out of Bayonne is somewhat different than Anthem homeported out of Southampton, England. (See my earlier review of Anthem). Most of the passengers are American instead of British and Royal fine tunes the experience towards American tastes.
Still, some passengers who are used to Royal's previous Bayonne-based ships - - Explorer of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas - - may find Anthem surprising. But keep in mind that there are several versions of Royal Caribbean. There is the intimate somewhat more traditional Vison/Radiance classes version; the active, Vegas-like glamor of the Voyager/Freedom ships; the unique city-at-sea Oasis class; and now the more subdued sophistication of the Quantum class. This is not a cookie-cutter cruise line.
At the same time, people who are interested in sophisticated cruising should not be turned off to Anthem by the publicity about the bumper cars and the sky-diving simulator. These amusement park items are a small corner at the back of the ship. The rest of the ship is hallmarked by pleasing contemporary design, interesting art, upscale shops, innovative entertainment venues and a variety of dining choices.
I was very pleased with the service on Anthem. Overall, I would rate it very good. Occasionally, you would meet a new hire who was not quite sure of the correct procedure. But I was impressed by how quickly the mid-level supervisors would swoop in and take charge.
Along the same lines, I was impressed by the friendliness of the crew. No one was surly and no one acted like “it's not my problem.” Rather, the crew seemed genuinely interested in making the experience pleasant for the passengers.
As mentioned earlier, most of the passengers were from the United States, many from the New Jersey area. However, especially on the longer cruise, there were people from all over the world including Australia, Russia and China.
The passengers spanned the generations including young couples, families with children and retirees.
For these cruises, I had a “superior oceanview with balcony” cabin. As on Norwegian's Breakaway class ships, the room was long rather than wide. However, I found it quite spacious.
The décor was contemporary using elements of both light and dark wood. Most of the walls were a beige but the wall behind the large round mirror was teal blue.
Furniture included a large bed, a sofa and a desk with chair. The mini-bar is part of the cabinet next to the desk. A large flat panel television hung on the wall opposite the bed. Outside on the balcony, there were two chairs and a small table.
Storage included matching cabinets on both sides of the large bed, On one side, the cabinet was full length while on the other it was half closet and half shelves with two drawers at the bottom. There was also storage over the bed and in a chest of draws by the window.
The bathroom had a large shower enclosed in a clear curving door as well as the usual facilities. A nightlight remained on all the time, making it easier to find your way in the middle of the night.
Outside, the balcony was a good size. You could sit on one of the chairs looking out to sea with plenty of room to put your feet up on the footstools.
The door between the room and the balcony was full-length glass as were the windows on either side of the door. It could be slid open to allow in the fresh air. (The room air conditioning turns off when the door is open).
In short, I enjoyed this cabin. It was comfortable, spacious and everything worked well. The stateroom attendant was friendly and efficient.
There is always something going on on Anthem. Daytime activities include zumba, enrichment lectures, bingo, trivia quizzes and various other contests that you usually find on cruise ships. However, there are also things that are out of the ordinary such as the observation capsule North Star, the sky diving simulator, the surfing simulator, and the rock climbing wall for those seeking a more active adventure.
Along the same lines, in the evenings, there are such cruise ship staples as karaoke, various forms of live music in the lounges, films on the LED screen by the outdoor pool and theme parties in various venues. However, Anthem seeks to take its entertainment offerings to a level beyond that usually found at sea.
I applaud attempts by cruise lines at serious entertainment. It is bold and takes the cruise experience to a higher level. At the same time, such attempts at art warrant more exacting criticism.
At the outset, all of Anthems more serious offerings were well-performed with good staging and production values. Thus, whether you enjoy them is something of a matter of personal taste.
Anthem offers two production shows in the Royal Theater. The first show is a full-length version of the London West End musical “We Will Rock You” featuring the music of Queen. Set in Las Vegas (a change from the London version) the plot presents a dark view of the future. I did not find it very satisfying as the plot is thin and serves only as a vehicle for stringing together a number of unrelated songs that were not written to support this plot.
The Gift is a production developed by Royal Caribbean. It is set in Victorian England and is as jolly as a Charles Dickens novel. It has something to do with a tug boat captain who is haunted by various ghosts including his deceased wife. At one point, a dragon appears on the stage, at another a locomotive and there is a flying grandfather clock. Aerialists drop down and do some acrobatics, the singers sing a combination of popular songs and less familiar tunes. Apparently, the main character becomes enlightened and everyone lives happily ever after. In short, the plot is rather baffling.
Much more pleasing were the shows in the theater by the visiting entertainers. The Beatlemaniacs, a Beatles tribute band, performed a concert in the theater that was very well received by the audience. Perhaps more surprising, violinist Gary Lovini received a standing ovation from a mostly American audience playing a lively version of British patriotic music (i.e., Last Night of the Proms). The Horizons performed a high-energy Motown show.
Royal Caribbean has purchased rights to have a sea-going version of the popular television show “Name That Tune.” The line has transformed the concept so that in addition to passenger contestants, the ship's singers and dancers are on stage along with the ship's orchestra. Hosted by the cruise director on an elaborate set, the contestants compete not just in the original game but also in several modified versions. It is not intellectual entertainment but it is good fun.
The theater was also used for a showing of the motion picture “The Martian” in 3-D. This worked very well. Indeed, the theater also did well as a cinema during an evening when the seas were too rough for the production cast to perform. The theater was full on both occasions.
Anthem also has a unique entertainment venue called 270. Located at the back of the ship, this is a multi-deck high room that has been equipped with state-of-the-art entertainment technology. The aft wall is covered by windows. These can be covered by screens to become the Vistarama. In addition, in the center of the room, six large LED screens on robot arms can be configured into a variety of positions. Risers allow the topography of the performance area to shift and hatches allow performers to appear among the audience or to drop down from the ceiling.
The main show in 270 is Spectra's Cabaret. Hosted by a mysterious Bowie-esque figure, this is not a traditional cabaret but rather a combination of expressionism and the surreal. Its meaning is not clear, leaving some guests wondering what it is all about.
I have now seen Spectra's Cabaret several times and while I prefer the show that Royal produced for the 270 on Quantum of the Seas (i.e. Starwater), I have come to appreciate Spectra's. It does not really matter what it is about. The lighting and the performances are lively and interesting. It is important, however, to sit as close to the front as possible so that the show is happening all around you. Sitting in the back or the balcony, you lose much of the experience.
270 is also used for virtual concerts. These are musical performances that have been videoed and which are projected on the Vistarama. For example, the American Philharmonic Orchestra played a medley of film themes written by John Williams. Somewhat surprisingly considering the capabilities of this venue, the camera did not move in this show. Perhaps this was to make the experience more akin to that of watching an orchestra in a concert hall. However, without shifting perspectives and other cinematic techniques, I soon tired of the film.
A series of short films, including one inspired by the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, displayed 270s to much better advantage. These were lively, creative and visually impressive.
270 was also hosted various other activities including The Quest adult game show, the senior officers question and answer session and a "Silent Disco" where the music is transmitted to the dancers over individual headphones.
Because of its technological abilities, 270 has great potential. On Anthem, 270 has not yet fully realized that potential but it is nonetheless an exciting venue.
Royal Caribbean developed a new dining system for the Quantum class ships called Dynamic Dining. Instead of having dinner night after night in the same place, guests would be able to choose to dine in any one of four different restaurants. Each restaurant would have a different theme. Thus, the new system offered variety and because guests could select what time they wanted to eat, the concept also offered flexibility.
Unfortunately, technological failures plagued Dynamic Dining when it was first implemented on Quantum of the Seas. In addition, a number of rather vocal guests said that they missed the old traditional system of dining in the same place each night with the same people and the same waiters. This was surprising because throughout the cruise industry, guests have been opting for flexible dining rather than the traditional system.
By the time Anthem of the Seas entered service, the technological problems had been ironed out. In addition, Royal had revised the concept so that there was an alternative for guests who prefer traditional cruise ship dining. As I indicated in my earlier review of Anthem, this system worked well when the ship was based in England.
Upon coming to North America, the modified Dynamic Dining system received a barrage of criticism. How well-founded this criticism was is somewhat moot as Royal has gone back to the drawing board to develop a further evolution of the system.
Dynamic Dining may not be a perfect system but it is so much more interesting not to have to dine in the same place every night at the same time. One can only hope that Royal will not drop the concept altogether.
Of the four main restaurants, I came to like Silk and Chic the best. Since American Icon is the only one of the restaurants open for breakfast and lunch (sea days), I did not go there in the evenings. The Grande, which is supposed to have the ambiance of restaurants on the old ocean liners, I felt, was not sufficiently elegant or traditional.
The most outstanding dishes were the Hibachi Steak and the Asian Duck in Silk and Chic's Beef Wellington. I had each of these more than once and was not disappointed.
My favorite venue on Anthem when it entered service was Devonly Decadence. This venue was originally to be an extra-tariff specialty restaurant but was made a complimentary restaurant shortly after Quantum entered service. It featured recipes developed by celebrity chef Devon Alexander. Each dish was not only healthy and low calorie but tasty as well.
Owing to lack of demand after Anthem arrived in America, Devonly Decadence has been replaced by the Solarium Bistro. I have enjoyed the Solarium Bistro on Oasis of the Seas. However, the version on Anthem needs further development. For dinner, the restaurant offers a combination of buffet items and menu items. It is primarily Greek-Mediterranean cuisine. However, the interesting array of buffet items lose their flavor in the warming trays. Similarly, the attractive items on the menu (lobster, salmon) are presented too plainly. The genius of Chef Alexander's recipes was the use of spices and contrasting ingredients to bring out the flavor of the main dish.
The Cafe@270 is similar to the Park Cafes on some of the other RCI ships. Open for breakfast and lunch, the seating area extends out into the 270 entertainment area. It has something of the feel of eating in a giant living room with its large window and cushioned furniture. The sandwiches, salads and pastries for lunch are fresh, good quality and taste.
(See separate reviews of the Chops Grille and Jamie's Italian specailty restaurants).
The weather throughout the first cruise was fine and did not test Anthem's seakeeping qualities. However, on the way south from Bayonne on the second cruise, Anthem ran into a small storm that included 30 foot waves. The captain slowed down to make a more comfortable ride for the passengers. Nonetheless, Anthem was able to make it to her first port of call on time.
On both cruises, the weather in the Caribbean was fine for the most part. There was some rain in Martinique and some in St. Thomas.
On the return leg from St. Kitts to Bayonne on the second cruise, Anthem found her course blocked by Winter Storm Jonas, one of the most powerful winter storms on record. To continue on and punch through the storm would have meant an uncomfortable ride and possible injury to the passengers and the ship. Therefore, the captain in conjunction with Royal Caribbean's headquarters decided to try and skirt around the storm and then follow it up the East Coast. This diversion, however, meant adding an extra day to the cruise.
This was a commendable decision as it put passenger safety and comfort first. The internet and ship to shore telephone became free of charge so that passengers could change travel arrangements and contact families. Of course, there were the extra costs of adding a day to a cruise for which Royal was to receive no compensation from the passengers. Furthermore, this decision affected the cruise that had been scheduled to begin when Anthem returned to Bayonne and the cost and disruption of re-scheduling a cruise at the last moment is considerable.
A powerful storm can affect the sea for a considerable distance and so there was considerable movement on Anthem even with this change in course. Some shows had to be re-scheduled because of concern for the safety of the dancers and aerialists. However, most passengers were out and about enjoying the ship throughout the journey.
Cruise ship review - - Royal Caribbean International - - Anthem of the Seas