This is a review of two cruises. The first was a short three day cruise to Northern Europe. The second was a 16 night cruise to the Mediterranean. They were Anthem of the Seas' third and fourth cruises since entering regular service.
Anthem of the Seas is a cutting-edge modern cruise ship. There are presently only a handful of ships in the same league as Anthem in terms of the alternatives it presents in dining, entertainment and facilities.
Contrary to what you may have heard, Anthem is not about bumper cars and the sky diving simulator. Yes, the ship does have those features but the amusement park area of this ship is confined to a relatively small portion of the aft end of the top decks.
The rest of the ship is a much different story. Anthem of the Seas is a sophisticated, elegant ship. It is more upscale than anything Royal Caribbean has done before with the exception of sister ship Quantum of the Seas. If you are looking for ships with a similar style, think of Celebrity Cruises' Solstice class ships or Princess Cruises' Royal Princess.
There is nothing flashy or Las Vegas-like about this ship. The interior is for discerning adults. It has a high quality collection of contemporary art set in a décor resembling a top of the line contemporary hotel.
On top of this, the ship is quite innovative in its entertainment and in its dining. In both areas, Anthem offers variety and quality.
Although Anthem is a very big ship, it offers so many good quality alternatives, that you end up taking what you like and weaving them together to create your own cruise ship. The parts of the ship that don't interest you become irrelevant. As a result, Anthem offers a surprisingly intimate experience. This is facilated by good management of the passenger flow, which renders the ship less prone to crowding and lines than on many smaller ships.
The Quantum class ships were conceived of as all-weather cruise ships for operating out of home ports where the weather can be challenging such as the port of New York/New Jersey and Southampton, England. As a result, Anthem has more enclosed space then previous ships. Spaces such as the Solarium and the enclosed pool area are not only practical but also aesthically pleasing. Furthermore, the ship has very good seakeeping qualities.
More good news - - the technological problems that plagued the early cruises of Quantum have been largely resolved with Anthem. Furthermore, Royal Caribbean listened to the concerns expressed by some of the guests who sailed on Quantum and has acted to address those concerns, especially in the area of dining.
In many ways, Anthem fulfills the promise of Quantum as an advanced 21st century cruise ship. As above, the teething problems that marred her predecessor's reputation are gone and the ship operates well with a friendly crew. Thus, all of the features of this beautiful ship can be brought to bear for an outstanding cruise experience.
Anthem offers guests a wide assortment of dining options. Indeed, there are over 20 dining outlets aboard the ship.
There is no large main dining room as on most cruise ships. Instead, Anthem has four complimentary dining rooms that are open to all guests and the Coastal Kitchen restaurant, which is open to guests staying in the suites.
Each of the four complimentary dining rooms has a different theme and, as a general rule, presents a different style of cooking. The exceptions to the general rule are that all of the restaurants use the same menu the first night (“Taste of Anthem menu”) and, on other nights, the menus in each of the restaurants contains a number of “classic” items, which are the same in each restaurant.
On Quantum, some guests complained that the menu for each of the four restaurants remained the same throughout the cruise. To address this concern, Royal Caribbean now has two menus for each restaurant. On some nights, there is the menu A and on other nights there is menu B. Consequently, a guest who goes to all four complimentary dining rooms during a voyage may see eight different menus plus the Taste of Anthem menu.
Royal Caribbean has also changed the reservation system for the four complimentary restaurants. Under the Dynamic Dining system on Quantum, guests could choose which of the four restaurants they wanted to eat in each night of the cruise and what time they wanted to dine. However, guests were strongly encouraged to make reservations online prior to the cruise. The technology let Royal down. Reservations mysteriously disappeared into the ether and there were lines for the restaurants. In addition, some guests complained that they missed the traditional way of having the same waiter and table companions each night.
To address these concerns, Royal Caribbean instituted a new version of Dynamic Dining on Anthem. About a month before these cruises, the line announced that guests could select Dynamic Dining Choice or Dynamic Dining Classic. (Clinging on to the name Dynamic Dining caused much confusion onboard as guests tried to comprehend which of these two similar sounding but quite different systems was which).
Dynamic Dining Choice is similar to the original Dynamic Dining concept. Each guest can decide which restaurant he or she wants to eat in at what time on a given night. While reservations are again encouarged there are more options for making reservations and the restaurants make an effort to accommodate guests who just walk up to the door.
With Dynamic Dining Classic, a guest dines at the same time each night, is seated with the same table companions and is served by the same waiters. However, like the system used on some of the Disney ships, the guests and their waiters rotate through the four complimentary restaurants during the course of the cruise. Thus, one night, you and your companions dine in the Grande Restaurant, the next night you all dine in Chic, the next night in Silk, the next night in American Icon. In each restaurant, the same waiters serve you, albeit in different uniforms.
We tried both systems during these cruises. When we were in Dynamic Dining Choice, we had no problem getting a table in the various restaurants even without a reservation. (Note: we do usually eat late rather than at the most popular times). With Dynamic Dining Classic, there were some instances where the reservation had been erased but in those instances the restaurant staff immediately provided a suitable substitute table.
In addition to the main dining rooms, Anthem has several alternative dining venues. These range from complimentary casual venues to extra-tariff specialty restaurants.
In the former category, we liked Devinly Decadence in particular. Originally slated as an extra-tariff specialty restaurant, this venue is now complimentary. It offers healthy food designed by celebrity chef Devin Alexander. The surf and turf combines a salmon fillet with fillet mignon and is very flavorful. We also enjoyed the chicken flatbread pizza, the Little Dev hamburgers, and the refried bean enchilada. Word about this venue spread during the course of the voyage so that as the cruise progressed it became increasingly difficult to get a seat at breakfast and lunch (sea days only).
We also liked the salad bar at Cafe 270. In contrast to Quantum where you told the server which of the many ingredients you wanted in your salad, the bar on Anthem offers a variety of prepared salads. However, these can be mixed together to create custom-made salads. (Speaking of salads, at lunch time on sea days, we were pleased to find that the main restaurants have the Tuti Salad bar. These have always been very popular on Royal Caribbean ships but were inexplicably absent from Quantum).
Of the extra-tariff specialty restaurants, Wonderland presents a unique experience that is part culinary and part entertainment.
Overall, the quality of the food in the various dining venues was quite good. Some meals can only be described as excellent.
Anthem has four main entertainment venues.
There is, of course, a main theater. Quantum had two signature shows in its theater. Anthem, however, offered only one - - a full length version of the West End musical “We Will Rock You.” Based on the music of the band Queen, the show was performed up to the standards of a professional touring company.
Because building and dismantling the scenery is such a time-consuming job, the performances of We Will Rock You were grouped together on successive nights. After that, the theater became the domain of various visiting artists.
Anthem's second entertainment venue is the high tech living room at the aft end of the ship - - the Two 70 lounge. It has robotic LED panels and screens that cover the windows that wrap around the back of the ship. There are also means for aerialists to descend from the ceiling and for performers to rise up from below in the midst of the audience. This room cost more to build than Royal Caribbean's first ship Song of Norway.
The signature show in Two 70 was Sebastian's Cabaret. Hosted by a dapper figure, this show has a lot of energy but no discernible plot. Instead, it is a loosely connected series of visually impressive performances with singers, dancers, acrobats, aerialists and digital performers. Entertaining, but for us, the Starwater show on Quantum produced a more captivating atmosphere.
Two 70 was also used for stand-up comedy performances and some shows by visiting artists.
Anthem's third main entertainment venue is the two deck Music Hall. With a large dance floor next to the stage, guests do not have to just sit and watch. This arrangement was put to good use during several performances by tribute bands including the Beatles Celebration. The Music Hall was also used for theme night parties such as the 70s Groovy Town and Anthem Rocks.
The Seaplex can be used as a large disco/nightclub. However, on these voyages it remained primarily a sports complex - - home to the ship's bumper cars.
In addition to the main entertainment venues, Anthem had live music in several of the bars.
Overall, the entertainment was good but there is room to grow here.
Day time activities were the standard activities on Royal Caribbean ships including trivia contests, scrapbooking, napkin folding, Sudoku, bingo, dance lessons, and art auctions. However, during the longer cruise, astronomer Mark Thompson gave a series of talks in Two70 using Two70s robotic screens. These presentations were very good and were well-attended. We hope this will encourage Royal to do more enrichment programming such as presentations about the history and culture of the ports the ship is visiting.
Both of these cruises were out of Southampton. Not surprisingly, therefore, most of the guests were from the U.K. In fact, on the short cruise, almost all of the guests were from Britain. On the longer cruise, there was more of an international mix with substantial numbers of North American and Asian guests.
Because of this demographic mix, the cruise experience was tailored to the U.K. market. For example, whereas the cookies on Quantum when she was sailing out of New Jersey were the soft variety popular in North America, the cookies on Anthem were the hard variety better suited for dipping into a cup of tea. Such nuances will change when Anthem comes to America in Fall 2015.
On both cruises, most of the passengers were mature with relatively few children. School was still in session and the general rule in the cruise industry is that longer cruises tend to attract adults without young children. Also, while Anthem has significant children and teen facilities, overall we would view it as a ship that is more appealing to adults than to children.
The longer cruise had a very high number of guests who had sailed on Royal Caribbean before. Many of these were fans of Independence of the Seas, which was based in Southampton for several years. Several of these guests confided that they were surprised at how different Anthem is to Independence. However, they usually went on to say that Anthem grew on them and that they had come to like the ship. Guests who were fans of Celebrity Eclipse (Celebrity Cruise's Southampton-based ship) needed no such adjustment period.
Anthem carries over 4,000 passengers. However, as on Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, the passenger flow is managed very well. there were very few lines or crowding. There are so many good quality dining, entertainment and sports alternatives that people spread out throughout the ship.
Along the same lines, getting on and off the ship in the various ports was quicker than on many smaller ships. To eliminate a bottleneck that often causes long lines when guests return to a ship, Anthem made use of the security facilities in the cruise terminals at each of the ports rather than using machines located inside the ship.
In Villefranche, Anthem tendered passengers ashore, thus becoming the largest cruise ship to have tendered passengers up to that date. The tender operation ran smoothly and efficiently.
Regardless of how much money a cruise line invests in a ship, the cruise experience is not going to be good if the crew is not happy in its work. An unhappy crew makes for poor customer service.
On Anthem, the crew seemed quite happy and the service was very good. The creew were interested in whether the passengers were enjoying themselves and acted to solve issues rather than avoid them. Indeed, officers repeatedly asked guests for suggestions on “how can we do better?”
Of course, in any large group of people, you are always going to run across someone who is having a bad day or does not know what he or she is doing. However, on Anthem, such people were few and far between.
Anthem performed well during the voyage. She encountered some very high winds during the voyage, which caused some minor motion. However, at no point was the ship uncomfortable.
These were outstanding cruises. It was exciting to be part of something on the cutting edge that operated so well. Furthermore, it is exciting to think of Anthem's potential as the ship goes forward since Anthem has the capacity to develop even further such as in the areas of enrichment and entertainment. Finally, we look forward to seeing how the other cruise lines respond.
Cruise ship review - - Royal Caribbean International - - Anthem of the Seas