Although this winter was relatively mild in the northeastern United States, the cold and the grey skies make people long for the sun and warmth. One can fly south but flying is no longer fun. Therefore, more and more cruise lines are offering cruises to the Caribbean from the port of New York.
The two cruise lines that have been offering regularly-scheduled cruises from New York to the Caribbean the longest are Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International. This winter, I sailed with both lines - - a 12-day cruise on Norwegian Getaway and two 11-day cruises on Anthem of the Seas.
Anthem is the second ship built in Royal's Quantum class. At nearly 169,000 gross tons, Anthem is a big ship capable of accommodating just under 5,000 guests at full capacity.
People unfamiliar with this class often assume that Anthem is like Royal's huge Oasis class ships. However, the two classes are quite different. Built by Germany's Meyer Werft, the Quantum class ships were designed to be all weather cruise ships. The much larger Oasis class ships, built in Finland and in France, were designed as floating destinations rather than conventional cruise ships.
In addition, several of the key executives who were responsible for Celebrity Cruises' Solstice class were involved in bringing out the Quantum class. Not surprisingly, the Quantum ships have something of a Celebrity feel – more sophistication, a little more up-market than one would expect on a mass market ship. This is not to say that the Quantums do not have an array of “Wow” features such as a sky diving simulator and bumper cars. However, such amusement park items are in their own area and can be easily ignored by those passengers not interested in using them.
Although there are a large number of people on Anthem, the ship is spacious and there is good passenger flow.
Norwegian Getaway is a few months older than Anthem. Also built by Meyer Werft, she too is a good quality ship.
Getaway was the second ship built in Norwegian's Breakaway class. Whereas the first ship in the class – Norwegian Breakaway - was built to be Norwegian's New York ship, Getaway was to be Norwegian's primary Miami ship. At the time she was built, Norwegian's management believed that customers in a given market develop loyalty to a given ship and so it was envisioned that these two ships would spend their lives serving their respective cities. Accordingly, each ship had a theme befitting their city that manifested itself in not only the art work on the hull but in the venues aboard the ship.
Following a change in management, Norwegian changed its philosophy reasoning that the customers in each market prefer variety. Now Norwegian shuffles its fleet so that a ship may operate in a number of markets each year. For Getaway, this not only meant sailing from ports other than Miami but also a toning down of the Miami theme over the years so that now one has to look hard to find the remnants of it.
Getaway is slightly smaller than Anthem. Still, she typically carries more than 4,000 guests. Consequently, she does not feel as spacious. However, she does have a wrap-around promenade, which not only provides good views of the sea but also a convenient means of getting outdoors and away from people.
Since the re-start of cruising following the height of the pandemic, the cruise lines have struggled with the embarkation process. Various ideas have been tried to make the process efficient and safe.
For example, in order to avoid having crowds of people waiting close together in a confined space, essentially all of the lines have begun to require passengers to arrive at the cruise terminal at a designated time. The idea is that by dividing the passengers into group to spred out the check-in process.
While this sounds good in theroy, it rarely works in practice. Due to traffic congestion and the uncertainties of public transporation, it is hard for people to get to a cruise terminal within a specified half hour window. Furthermore, some people are just going to come when they want to come. As a result, there are often crowds of people waiting to board.
On my voyage on Norwegian Getaway, I had to wait over an hour just to go through the security search due to the crowd. Few people had respected their designated arrival time. Once through security, the check-in process went quite quickly as much of what used to be done with paper is now done online prior to embarkation day.
The embarkation process for Anthem went quite quickly. In contrast to the narrow Manhattan Cruise Terminal, the cruise terminal at Bayonne is quite spacious. Consequently, there are more security stations in operation and so the line moves faster. Royal has also converted most of the check-in process to online. I was on the ship within a half hour of arriving.
As required by law, both cruise lines required passengers to attend a “safety briefing” (formerly known as a “lifeboat drill”) before the ships sailed. Passengers on Anthem were able to do this by watching a video either on their stateroom television or on an app and then checking in at their muster stations. It was all quite painless.
Norwegian had decided to abandon virtual safety briefings in favor of the traditional drill where all of the passengers have to sit in their muster stations while the cruise director and the captain read speeches over the public address system.
Considering that cases of the flu and of Covid were spiking at the time in the New York area, getting close together with large numbers of people in a confined space was not appealing.
Speaking of Covid, most of the more visible protocols that the cruise lines implemented after the re-start of cruising were no longer being observed during my voyages. No pre-cruise testing was required. Masks were optional and most people did not wear them. Social distancing was not required.
I did not get ill during my 22 days on Anthem. I did get the cold that was circulating on Getaway. My understanding is that the incidence of Covid on either ship was quite small and considerably less than in the general population ashore.
Above: Getaway in Antigua.
Before a ship sailing from New York can get to the sunny Caribbean, it has to sail down the East Coast of the United States. This passage during the winter can affect the cruise experience in two ways. First, the weather can be too cold to use the ship's outdoor facilities. Second, a winter storm can make the passage unconfortable for those prone to seasickness.
As noted earlier, this was a relatively mild winter in the northeast. Consequently, both ships encountered mild autumn-like temperatures by the morning of the first day at sea. People were outside and using the facilities.
It should be noted that cold weather is not a big issue on Anthem. Much of the upper deck area is enclosed including a large swimming pool, the large solarium area which includes hot tubs as well as sun loungers and the sports court.
On one of the passages south, Anthem encountered a winter storm. However, there was only slight movement. A testament to the ship's ability to master the weather came as Anthem passed a cargo ship that was heaved to in the storm.
Getaway did not meet any storms. However, she did sail through an area where there was a low swell. This caused the ship to roll slowly back and forth. I have sailed on Getaway several times including on a transatlantic crossing and had never experienced such rolling. Still, no one seemed discomforted and the public areas were as active as usual.
I had a balcony cabin on both Anthem and on Getaway. Since the two ships were built at the same shipyard within a year of each other, the staterooms were quite similar. I prefer the blue color scheme on Anthem over the greys of Getaway but that is just a matter of personal taste.
The crews on both ships seemed happy. Memories of the hardships during long layoff when the cruise industry was on pause are still fresh in many minds. Whatever, the reason, the service was good on both ships.
Both cruise lines had recently raised the amount of the gratuity automatically charged to each guest's account daily. On Norwegian, the amount charged had gone up to $20 a day for most cabins.
At the same time, Norwegian announced that cabin attendants would only be servicing most staterooms once a day. Although this new regime was supposed to be in effect during my cruise, the attendants serving my cabin and the attendants serving my friends' cabins still serviced them twice a day as on past voyages. I suppose they realized that passengers are not going to be happy living in a messy environment rvrn one of their own making.
I have always found the main dining rooms on Anthem to be strong. Guests staying in certain suites and guests who are Pinnacle level in Royal's loyalty program can dine in the Coastal Kitchen restaurant. Coastal is quite simply an excellent restaurant both in terms of the food and the service.
On both Anthem voyages, I had a lunch at Jamie's Italian specialty restaurant. This venue was created in cooperation with British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Service and food were good.
A part of the cruise experience that I particularly like on Getaway is sampling the various specialty restaurants. This is not because the main dining rooms are bad - - in fact, the main dining rooms were quite good on this cruise. Rather, it is to sample a variety of experiences and cuisines. My friends and I visited Getaway's specialty rstaurants eight times. For this cruise, Norwegian had included a two-night specialty restaurant dining package as an incentive to book the cruise. This combined with the complimentary dining coupons received through Norwegian's Latitudes loyalty program covered most of our specialty restaurant visits. I purchased an additional two-night package to cover the remainder.
On this cruise, I particularly liked La Cucina, the Italian-themed venue both because of the cooking and the service. I did not care for Ocean Blue (seafood) because of the cooking and the service.
The entertainment on both ships was similar to pre-pandemic. The main shows were the same and they were supplemented by a number of visiting performers.
Anthem's main shows in the theater were “We Will Rock You,” which was inspired by the music of Queen and “The Gift,” a rather depressing homegrown effort. In the high-tech 270 Lounge, Anthem presented “Spectra's Cabaret.” Utilizing 270's technical capabilities, this show is a loosely connected set of performances from another dimension. It has no conventional plot, just psychedelic experiences.
The main offering in Getaway's theater was “Million Dollar Quartet”. This is a what-if version of a night when Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash came together in a studio.
Both ships visited the Eastern Caribbean. They both called at San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, Antigua and St. Lucia. Getaway visited St. Thomas USVI while Anthem called at the equally popular St. Maarten. With the extra day on its itinerary, Getaway went the furthest south to Barbados. (Prior to sailing, Getaway cancelled a call at Puerto Platta in the Dominican Republic for undisclosed reasons).
The Caribbean ports were still in the process of recovering from the pandemic. For the most part, the beaches and major tourist attractions were open. However, quite a few shops were closed or vacant. Thus, the Caribbean was still attractive as a vacation venue but it was not quite up to pre-pandemic leve l.
Above: Anthem in San Juan.
Cruise ship review - - Royal Caribbean International - Norwegian Cruise Line - Anthem of the Seas - Norwegian Getaway - New York to the Caribbean 2023