This is Part Two of my review of three cruises that I took on Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas in December 2021 and January 2022. In Part One, I discussed the pre-cruise experience. In this part, I shall focus on the cruises post check-in.
There were only about 2,400 passengers on the December voyage - - about half Anthem's normal capacity. Following a Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) warning that people - - regardless of their vaccination status - - should avoid cruising, the passenger count on the second cruise dropped to 1,600. It recovered slightly to 1,800 for the third cruise.
As a result of the low number of passengers, there was lots of space, essentially no waiting for elevators and no standing on line. While it was a great onboard experience, I had to wonder how long the cruise lines could go with such few customers and such little revenue. Indeed, while we were aboard, the news came that one of the smaller lines, Crystal Cruises, had filed for bankruptcy.
Most of the passengers were middle-aged or mature couples. Although Anthem is a family-friendly ship, there were only a few children. This could have been due to the fact that longer cruises such as these, even in normal times, do not attract families with children. Also, the cruises were during periods when school was in session in the United States. Of course, parental concern about the COVID virus could also have kept some from bringing kids onto the ship.
The crew, some of whom had not worked in two years, were friendly and eager to help. Several came up during the voyages to say how much they appreciated me as a customer being on the ship. The service was excellent throughout the voyages.
For the December cruise, Royal had in place a set of protocols that it had developed during the long pause in operations. Although there was no explicitly-stated vaccination requirement, guests had to present proof of vaccination during the check-in process. Apparently, however, it was possible to come aboard without being vaccinated because Royal's protocols had requirements for guests who were vaccinated and requirements for guests who were not.
As a general rule, guests were supposed to wear masks in public areas unless actively eating or drinking. However, there were certain designated public areas where vaccinated guests did not have to wear a mask or social distance. To facilitate this system, vaccinated guests were given a wristband during check-in that was to make it easier for the crew to tell who was who. The crew did make an effort to enforce this system. I was stopped going into the vaccinated-only area of the theater before one show when my sleeve covered my wristband.
The mask requirement was not rigorously enforced on the December cruise although most guests complied with the requirement while in public areas.
In the theater and in the 270 lounge, certain seats were marked as reserved for social distancing. Along the same lines, in the bars, the tables were frequently cleaned and sanitized and following such a cleaning, a card was left saying that the table was now ready for use.
By January, the omncron surge had brought on stricter protocols. For example, there were no longer any mask-free areas for vaccinated guests. Also, there was stricter enforcement of the mask requirement. If a guest was walking around in a public area without a mask, a crew member would politely hand him or her a mask.
In addition, Royal was testing crew members regularly during the course of these voyages. During the January voyages, Jewel of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas - - both of which were not providing passenger service at the time - - met Anthem in St. Maarten and in St. Kitts to take off crew who had tested positive.
There was a noticeable change in the weather between the first cruise, which was in December, and the two January cruises. In December, the weather became warm and Spring-like by the second day of the voyage. In January, the weather did not become warm until the third day on both cruises.
Sea conditions also changed. The sea was calm throughout the voyage in December although headwinds resulted in Anthem arriving late in San Juan. In January, there was some movement of the ship going down the coast on both voyages. Returning home on the third cruise, Anthem was affected by a severe winter storm that was pummeling the Northeast. Winds of 85 knots were clocked as hitting the ship. The storm caused considerable movement of the ship. However, it was not enough to empty the public areas or the dining rooms, which is an informal barometer I use in assessing the weather at sea.
Above: Some of the food served aboard Anthem.
Below: The Beatles Celebration performinh in 270.
For the most part, I had my meals in Coastal Kitchen, the excellent restaurant for guests staying in certain suites and for guests who are Pinnacle members of Royal's loyalty program, the Crown and Anchor Society. (See separate review) However, I did have some meals in the main dining rooms and in all but one of Anthem's specialty restaurants.
I have always liked the food on Anthem. However, perhaps because the kitchens were cooking for fewer passengers than normal, the food seemed even tastier. Along the same lines, the service seemed even better than usual.
Chops Grille (the steakhouse) and Jamie's Italian were much the same as on my previous cruises on Anthem except that it was easier to make a reservation and there were fewer guests in the restaurants. Indeed, during the second cruise, there were staff roaming the public areas offering discounted meals in the specialty restaurants.
Izumi, which began life as a pan-Asian restaurant, now features Japanese cuisine with an emphasis on sushi. I was impressed by the size of the portions - - when the menu says large plate, it means large. I also enjoyed the teriyaki steak. Again, the service was very good.
Anthem normally features three-production shows: “We Will Rock You” and “The Gift” in the theater and “Spectra's Cabaret” in the 270 lounge. On these voyages, “The Gift” was dropped in favor of having more visiting performers, mostly stand-up comedians and magicians. This was not a problem for me as I have never been a fan of “The Gift,” which I find depressing. The comedians and magicians were more entertaining. “Spectra's Cabaret” was modified so as to reduce contact between performers and guests. There also were no aerialists performing over the heads of the audience.
Of the visiting performers, the Beatles tribute band, the Beatles Celebration, was the most memorable. The band successfully evokes the spirit of the Beatles' era. They were aboard for all three voyages, performing in the theater and in 270, and the shows were always well-attended.
All three cruises were Eastern Caribbean cruises that were scheduled to visit a similar list of islands. However, because of changes in the various islands' COVID-19 requirements, the itinerary changed each time. We visited: (St. Maarten (3 times); Antigua (3); Barbados (twice); St. Kitts (twice); St. Lucia (1); San Juan (1); and St. Thomas (1).
Anthem advised its guests that they would have to obey the local COVID protocols while in port. In all of the ports, guests were required to wear masks when out and about. Some ports such as Barbados, mandated that guests could only leave the cruise port on an excursion booked through the ship or with a government-approved independent operator. No exploring on your own. Guests going ashore in Antigua were required to stop by a tent on the pier next to the ship and have their temperatures taken.
As mentioned above, some ports changed their protocols during my voyages. Between my first and second cruises, San Juan, I am told, added a requirement that visitors had to have a PAR test two days before arrival. Since that would have required Anthem to administer PAR tests of both its passengers and crew while at sea, San Juan was dropped from the itinerary for cruises two and three. When we arrived in St Lucia, a very annoyed sounding captain came on the public address system to say that clearance for passengers to go ashore was being delayed because local officials were now trying to impose additional requirements. Not long thereafter, he came back on and announced that it had been agreed that passengers could now go ashore.
The common factor among all the ports we visited was the absence of people. Indeed, during one of the calls in St. Maarten, there were five other ships with us. While in normal times such a gathering of ships would result in hordes of people in the shops and on the beaches, the number of visitors was like a normal day when just one ship is in port There were only a few people on most of the other ships. Even at peak times such as sail away, there were only one or two people on the open decks or on the balconies.
Many of the guests on Anthem were experienced cruisers who had been to these islands before. As a result, many stayed aboard when the ship was in the various ports enjoying Anthem's facilities.
These cruises were not the same as cruising pre-COVID. There were additional requirements to comply with and there was always some anxiety about COVID in the back of ones mind. However, the additional requirements were not difficult to live with and contrary to the impression created by the media, this was not a plague ship with people falling ill at every turn. Indeed, it was a safer place to be than back on land.
Anthem remains one of my favorite ships. As mentioned in Part One, Anthem is well-designed, you can use its wide range of facilities or be by yourself. I also like the additional sophistication that the original project team - - several of whom came over from sister-line Celebrity Cruises - - gave to the Quantum class. These cruises also highlighted the spirit and ability of the crew to provide good service even during trying times.
Below: Hotel Director Angel Dimitrov and Captain Sprecko Ban field questions at a Captain's Corner presentation.
Cruise ship review - - Royal Caribbean International - - Anthem of the Seas - - Restart Caribbean 2021 and 2022 (Part Two)