This is a review of three Caribbean cruises on Royal Caribbean International's Anthem of the Seas. One was a 12-day cruise while the other two were 11 day cruises - - in all a month of cruising. In part 1 of this review, I discuss the pre-cruise experience for each voyage while in Part Two, I talk about the onboard experience.
Since entering service in 2015, Anthem has become one of my favorite ships. She is a very big ship with lots of exciting features but is designed so that you can get away and be by yourself. Part of her original design team came over to Royal from sister line Celebrity Cruises for the project and not surprisingly, Anthem has more of a sophisticated feel than most of her Royal Caribbean fleetmates.
Like the rest of the cruise industry, Anthem paused passenger service in March 2020 due to COVID 19. She resumed service last summer sailing out of England and in November she came over to the United States to sail out of Bayonne, New Jersey (New York harbor).
Anthem was not idle in the interim. Due to COVID restrictions, it was often very difficult for the crews of the various Royal Caribbean ships to get home. Anthem came to the rescue, meeting five other Royal ships at the line's private island of Coco Cay and taking their Indian crew members aboard. Anthem then sailed to India, bringing the crew members home.
Also during the pause, Anthem underwent a session in a dry dock. By law, all cruise ships are required to be taken out of the water periodically for inspection. Anthem's time came up during the pause and she went into dry dock in France. Among other things, Royal used this session to install Heffa filters in Anthem's air circulation system, which help to weed out pathogens.
The first of my three cruises was in December 2021. As part of Royal's COVID protocols, guests had to present a negative COVID test at embarkation. The boarding material sent to guests said that this could be either an antigen test or a PAR test. (Because PAR is written in capital letters and antigen is not, on a quick read one may see only PAR and conclude that only a Par test will suffice. However, an antigen test was also acceptable. PAR is in caps because it is an abbreviation).
The test had to be conducted not more than two days before boarding. However, the testing period was measured in days not hours. Thus, you could be tested anytime either on the day before embarkation or anytime on the day before the day before. You were not required to have the test conducted less than 48 hours before your boarding time. In other words, if your boarding time was noon, you were not required to wait until noon two days before embarkation to take the test. You could do it anytime that day. For those who like to leave things to the last minute, a test could also have been done on embarkation day prior to boarding provided you can get the test results back in time.
I satisfied this requirement by using an Abbott COVID-19 test kit which I obtained from the Royal Caribbean website. I ordered it a few weeks before the cruise in order to be sure I had it on hand at the required time. These test kits have an expiration date so you have to be careful not to order them too far in advance.
In order for the home test to be acceptable, it must be supervised by an outside party. Accordingly, two days before embarkation, I went to Abbott's eMed website to do the test. After signing in, the site checked the camera, audio and microphone on my PC. I was then quickly connected to a person who guided me through the test. With the guide watching, I opened the box and followed his instructions on what to do with the small bottle of liquid, the test card and nasal swab that were in the box. Once the swabbing was complete and the swab inserted into the test card, I waited for 15 minutes while the test card reacted. At the end of that time, another guide came on and interpreted the result as negative. The results of the test were sent to me by email.
In addition to testing, Royal Caribbean required that guests submit proof of vaccination as part of the pre-cruise check-in process. While this implied that guests had to be vaccinated, it was implied elsewhere in the protocols that vaccination was not an absolute requirement. For example, the protocols indicated that there would be separate areas in the theater for guests who were vaccinated and for guests who were not.
In order to facilitate social distancing at the cruise terminal, each guest was required to select an arrival time at the cruise port. Various cruise lines experimented with such an approach to boarding even prior to the pandemic in order to reduce congestion at their cruise terminals on embarkation day and in my experience it is always a failure. Fluctuations in traffic patterns and the uncertainties of public transportation, make it impossible for a guest to predict with any accuracy when they will arrive at the cruise terminal. Furthermore, many cruise terminals are in isolated locations so you can not simply hang out in a nearby bar or restaurant if you arrive early even assuming that you have some way of dealing with your luggage.
This cruise proved to be no different. When I arrived at the terminal there was a sizeable line waiting to enter the terminal. No social distancing. However, the line moved quickly as the cruise terminal staff summoned guests with each boarding time to enter the terminal. Once inside, the processing went quickly and I was soon aboard the ship.
Between my first cruise and my second cruise, Anthem did a Christmas cruise and a New Year's cruise. The character of most cruise ships changes during holiday cruises and so I decided to return home and re-join Anthem in January.
Although the Omicron variant was already spreading when I took the first cruise, its penetration rate in the United States grew wildly during the last few weeks of December. The Center for Disease Control responded by issuing a warning that even people who were vaccinated should avoid cruising. The cruise industry responded with statistics showing that the incidence of COVID aboard cruise ships was less than in major cities. Still, guests cancelled the second cruise in droves, from over 3,000 bookings for the cruise, the ship ended up sailing with 1,600 passengers.
When I was an undergraduate, I had the privilege of studying with Dr. Carl Sagan who taught us not to simply accept a proposition just because a scientist says it. Rather, one should question the evidence and reasoning supporting the proposition. Here, despite the cruise lines' presentation of evidence to the contrary, CDC seemed unwilling to present evidence justifying its warning. Also, why weren't there similar warnings about sporting events, theaters, airliners, hotels or other places where people come in close contact? Then, not long after issuing its warning, CDC announced that it was making voluntary cruise line compliance with its previously mandatory requirements. If cruise ships were so dangerous, why was CDC easing control?
In addition, I had just spent 12 days on a cruise ship. While there had been the occasional rumor that a crew member had tested positive, I did not see any passengers become sick. While COVID is everywhere, with all the measures Royal Caribbean was taking, I felt safer there than I did going to my local supermarket.
Royal announced that it would be tightening its protocols. For example, whereas previously vaccinated guests were able to remove their masks in certain designated areas, masks would now be required for everyone in all public areas unless one was actively drinking or eating.
Two days before the second cruise, I again used an an Abbott COVID-19 test kit to satisfy the pre-cruise COVID test requirement. Again, the test was negative.
The day before embarkation, Royal notified passengers that Anthem would be late in arriving at Cape Liberty due to a mechanical problem with one of its propulsion pods. It asked guests to delay their arrival at the terminal. It also offered guests the option of cancelling the cruise.
I arrived at Cape Liberty early in the afternoon. Guests from the New Year's cruise were still disembarking. At the same time, a large number of passengers for the upcoming cruise had assembled on the sidewalk going around the cruise terminal. This was because a ship must disembark all of the guests from the previous cruise before allowing passengers for the next cruise to board. (This is known as the “zero count” point). Thus, even one dawdler trying to get a few last moments on the ship can inconvenience thousands of people. Here, the cruise terminal could have done a better job of providing information to those waiting outside and of organizing them so that there was at least some social distancing. However, inasmuch as there were relatively few people taking the upcoming cruise, boarding went quickly once it opened.
Because the second cruise was going so well, I decided to see if I could book the following cruise. I went to the Next Cruise office on Deck 5 and expressed my interest. However, the rep explained that Royal Caribbean headquarters had sent them an email instructing them not to sell the following cruise in order to keep capacity low. Disappointed, I returned to my stateroom but it occurred to me that this did not make sense. The CDC warning had probably had had a similar impact on the next cruise as it had had on the one I was now on. Surely, the problem now was finding passengers to sail, not keeping down the capacity. Therefore, I emailed my travel agent and within five minutes she had me booked on the next cruise in the same cabin at a very good price. Apparently, no one had remembered to tell the Next Cruise office that the priority had changed.
In order to sail on the next cruise, I was required to have a new antigen test. This was done the day before the second cruise ended. One of Anthem's four main dining rooms was temporarily turned into a testing center with three medics administering the tests. There were quite a few passengers continuing on but it went quickly.
I have done several back-to-back cruises on Anthem. This time, those guests who were continuing on assembled in the Royal Theater. A crew member came around to each guest and asked the questions found on the pre-cruise health form. When all of the other passengers had left the ship, we were escorted to the gangway where we were checked out and then into the cruise terminal where we passed through immigration and passport control. We then went into the main room of the terminal where we checked in for the upcoming cruise.
Cruise ship review - - Royal Caribbean International - - Anthem of the Seas - - Restart Caribbean 2021 and 2022