Anthem of the Seas -Review
(Beware: 6,500 words. Jump to ‘The Review’ title, if you are in a hurry)
Royal Caribbean International are the second biggest cruise line in the world. Their 21 ships are arguably some of the most innovative afloat. In fact in the past couple of decades, each RCI newbuild has been more ground-breaking that the last. They have certainly set the bar very high.
RCI’s new cruise ship ‘Anthem of the Seas’ is the second of four new Quantum class ships. She entered service in May 2015.
The Quantum class ships are the second biggest cruise ships in the world based on gross tonnage (2015). They measure 167,800 gt and carry up to 4,905 Passengers. Yet they are still significantly smaller than RCI’s Oasis class at 220,000 gross tonnes.
The ‘Oasis’ class, which RCI introduced in 2010, is arguably the pinnacle of ‘floating resort’ design. The first of the class, ‘Oasis of the Seas’ was around 40% bigger than any other cruise ship at the time. They have a unique split-superstructure featuring a park, boardwalk and outdoor aqua-theatre. The industry had seen nothing like it before, or since.
The Oasis design evolved from RCI’s ‘Voyager’ and ‘Freedom’ class ships. RCI took the successful ideas form from these ships, incorporated them into Oasis, then added even more innovations.
RCI realised that they could not beat the Oasis design in terms of scale and facilities, so they did not even try. In addition ships that big are limited to where they can operate and dock, so smaller is more flexible.
RCI took a new direction when they designed the ‘Quantum’ class, and effectively torn up their rule book. It is a very brave design and DOES NOT incorporate many of RCI’s signature features such as a main dining room, the Royal Viking Crown Lounge, The Royal Promenade (as we know it), Studio B (ice skating rink) the Boardwalk or Central Park.
However RCI have not completely erased their past. Repeat passengers will see some familiar public rooms and cafes, including Boleros, Sorrento’s, Johnny Rockets, Chops Grille.
The Quantum class was born with different DNA to the Oasis class. Her origins lies in RCI’s ‘Radiance’ class, a ship designed for cooler climates with indoor pool. ‘Radiance’ was smaller than Voyager, their biggest ship at the time, as Anthem is smaller than Oasis.
Since RCI’s conception in 1968, they have always operated the traditional dining system. They had one large dining room, which can accommodate all of the passengers, in two fixed sittings (typically 6.00pm and 8.00pm). A formal night or two was included per cruise, where all passengers using the main dining room were expected to dress-up. Likewise a large Theatre could accommodate all the passengers over two show times (8.00pm and 10.00pm) tailored to match the two dining sittings.
The advantage of this traditional system is that you are often seated at a large table, where you can socialise with your fellow guests for the whole cruise. (However some passengers see this as a disadvantage). You can also develop a relationship with the waiter and they will get to know your preferences.
Some smaller alternative dining venues were later provided, often carrying a surcharge. Due to competition from the ‘Norwegian Cruise Line’ (NCL) who pioneered flexible dining, some aspects of flexible dining were offered. RCI called theirs ‘My Time Dining’. However a fully flexible system was never embraced.
The most significant change with the ‘Quantum’ class design is that they are the first RCI ships built specifically for their new innovation ‘Dynamic Dining’.
In maritime terms, this is a VERY Big change in direction. It’s the nautical equivalent to the fall of the Berlin wall. RCI have abandoned their traditional dining system after 47 years of operation.
Dynamic Dining is remarkably similar to the NCL’s ‘Freestyle’ dining system, with multiple restaurants (18 dining choices), multiple entertainment venues and greater flexibility and choice for the passengers. Each night, you can dine at whatever restaurant you want, during the opening times.
As they say: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” .
The difference is that NCL have had almost two decades to perfect ‘Freestyle’. NCL originally pioneered the concept on smaller ships and eventually incorporated it into their newer mega-ship. RCI have jumped straight into the deep end.
RCI’s big dilemma is that the new generation of cruise passengers do not want to be told when and where to dine or what to wear, which Dynamic Dining supports. However many of RCI’s existing fan-base, do enjoy the traditional dining system. If fact since the launch of ‘Dynamic’ and much criticism form the traditionalists, RCI have also introduced a ‘rotational’ dining option: “guests will dine at different complimentary restaurants each night of their cruise based on their rotational schedule. At each restaurant, guests will have the same wait staff and table mates each evening.”
Dining and entertainment can be booked in advance on-board, via App or even at home, pre cruise. In fact it is wise to book the shows, if you want to guarantee that you see them. Each venue only accommodates a moderate number of the passengers, so the shows are repeated over a number of days.
Of course advance booking defeats the concept of truly flexible dining and entertainment.
A percentage of seats are kept for drop-ins. Likewise it is possible to walk up to a restaurant and request a table.
Unfortunately, each time I visited a restaurant for an evening meal there was always an air of tension between the Maître d’ and some disgruntled guests in front of me.
The issue was often that they could not get a table, at the time that they wanted. This included some passengers who had booked a table in advance.
RCI do not have video screens like NCL showing which restaurants are the most busy. NCL will also give you a ‘pager’ if a dining room is full and suggest in the meantime that you get a drink. Then they page you as soon as a table becomes free.
Anthem has five complimentary main restaurants:
• American Icon Grill — American comfort food
• Chic — Contemporary cuisine
• The Grande Restaurant — Continental cuisine (Formal)
• Silk — Pan-Asian fusion
• Coastal Kitchen* — California Med. fusion (*Junior-suite-level guests & above only.)
There are seven additional fee restaurants:
• Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver
• Michael’s Genuine Pub — À la carte gastropub
• Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine
• Chef’s Table
• Chops Grille — Steakhouse
• Izumi Japanese Cuisine
• Johnny Rockets – burgers, hotdogs
Other smaller complimentary dining venues are:
The Café @ Two70°, Café Promenade, SeaPlex Dog House and Devinly Decadence at the Solarium.
The RCI ‘Wow’ Factor
The introduction of ‘flexible’ dining has an impact on many aspect of a ships design.
Originally RCI’s ships were famous for their ‘wow’ features. These included very tall atriums and the Royal Viking Lounge, peached up by the funnel, offering great views. Another example is the main Dining rooms on-board the Radiance, Voyager and Freedom class ship are spectacularly impressive, rooms.
Later the wow’s got even bigger with Oasis’s Royal Promenade, the Boardwalk, the Aqua-Theatre and Central Park. The original Oasis dining room must be able to accommodate nearly 3,000 guests at each sitting.
In contrast, Dynamic Dining requires multiple dining rooms and multiple entertainment venues. There means that there is no longer so much space available to accommodate big atriums or provide very many double or triple height rooms. (Truly impressive public rooms are rarely single height).
Instead a whole series of smaller public rooms, often single height, are created. Many of these spaces will be the required cafes and restaurants.
The dress code is now informal in all the restaurants apart from just one, ‘The Grande’, which is formal every night.
Quantum attempts to redefine RCI’s ‘wow’ factors, by emphasising ‘Technology’ and ‘Food’ choices, rather than the ‘physical’ spaces that their brand was originally known for. In fact the ship has so much ‘high-tech’ it has been labelled a ‘smart-ship’.
I had a number of questions that I wanted to find out the answers to:
Is all the Hi-Tech really Innovative or are they just gimmicks?
Does Dynamic Dining actually Work?
Kids look well served, but what does Anthem offer adults?
Have they retained their ‘wow’ factor?
How does Anthem compare to Oasis and the other megaships?
Does the ship feel like RCI or have they morphed into NCL?
Embarkation was surprisingly fast for Southampton’s City Cruise Terminal.
As I entered the terminal’s door, I was met by a very stern young lady with a tablet. She clicked the screen a few times and I was on my way. I did not even need to queue up at a desk. I guess the process form kerb to cabin took only 15 minutes, including the hand baggage scanning.
Part of the embarkations success was probably due to RCI’s online check-in, with passengers uploading their details and passports photographs at home. I may have also been lucky that I arrived at a less busy time? Never the less it was very impressive.
Anthem’s Basic Layout
Anthem’s basic design is fairly conventional for a mega-ship. There is no split-superstructure like Oasis has and no large exterior promenade, which has become fashionable.
RCI have located a new lounge/production space called the Two70 Degree Lounge, low at the stern, where some ships have a large restaurant located.
In keeping with many modern ships, Anthem has just two stair towers. This increases the legwork required to get around the ship, but give the designers more space for cabins, retail, bars and dining.
The passenger Decks are labelled 3-16. Most of the public rooms are on decks 4 and 5, with the Windjammer Marketplace (buffet) on deck 14. The solarium, spa, sports facilities and indoor pool, are located on the uppermost decks, 15/16.
Anthem has an indoor pool with a retractable roof, ideal for cold climate cruising.
Most of the restaurants are located on decks 3, 4 and 5, which is great for stability. Each offers a different style of cuisine, although some almost certainly share the same galleys.
The lifts (elevators) are large and effective. Each featured a rather strange artwork inside, depicting an animal wearing items of human clothing. There is a button marked “Gangway” inside, which will always take you to whatever deck the gangway is located on for port disembarkation.
Having multiple dining rooms and multiple entertainment venues does not leave too much room for the big ‘wow’ spaces. However there are two exceptions: the Two70 degree lounge and the Seaplex (sports complex) are both very big, impressive spaces. (The Seaplex’s floor space looks considerably bigger than Studio-B’s).
Cleverly, to save space many of the new innovations are located externally on the uppermost deck, such as the Seaplex, Ripcord (freefall simulator) and the North Star (observation pod). There are also the old favourites, a climbing wall and Flow-Rider (surf-simulator). There is no mini-golf.
The new NCL ships (Breakaway and Plus) have a ‘shopping mall’ look about them internally; but RCI have manage to avoid this with Anthem.
The ships décor is generally quite sophisticated. Gone is most of the gaudy Las Vegas ‘glitz’ of old. Some parts of the ship resemble the Celebrity ‘Solstice’ class, with touches of modern NCL. However there are a few rooms which are more over the top.
In fact some public spaces are quite understated (or bland) depending on your viewpoint. There are lots of beiges and browns: cappuccino lounge style.
The artwork cost $5 million and the theme is “what makes life worth living” although you would never know it. The art is very whimsical, often ‘strange’ and sometimes quite high-tech.
The biggest piece of art is a Gigi a giant Giraffe wearing a yellow Victorian bathing suit and pink inflatable rubber ring on deck 15. (Quantum has a Magenta Bear). Welcome to mass-market cruising!
I do not have time to describe every public room on-board, so I review selected ones.
The Royal Esplanade
The Royal promenade (Voyager, Freedom, and Oasis classes) is an internal street running along the length of the ship. Anthem has the ‘Royal Esplanade’, which is really a ‘Royal Promenade Light’. It serves the same function as the old ‘Royal Promenade’, but it doesn’t have quite the same ‘wow’ factor.
A short section of the ‘Royal Esplanade’ is double height ‘square’. It features a pub, cafes and shops on three sides. I do like the fact that RCI’s pubs are designed like separate buildings, not just a themed bar.
The ‘square’ is linked by a long double height corridor passing all the way to the 270 Degree lounge (aft). There is a shorter corridor traveling forward to the Royal Theatre. Once again they are lined with bars, shops, cafes and restaurants.
There is a large interactive-chandelier called ‘Pulse Spiral’ in the Esplanade, which has 220 lamps which flash on and off to match your pulse, when you touch a pad with your hands. (File under gimmick).
There is not a conventional atrium as such. Although there are some scenic glass-lifts giving internal views and a large artwork extending up eight decks following their path. Reception does not have a traditional long desk, but a series of smaller ‘islands’.
Walking from the Esplanade toward Two70, there is an oval shaped area is called ‘The Via’. It has a sculpture as a centrepiece, which looks like a giant distorted euphonium.
The ship has numerous grades of stateroom from ‘virtual balcony’ to ‘loft suites’ and many in-between. I only got to see a few grades.
I had a look at the virtual balcony cabins, which are inside cabins with floor to ceiling LCD screen showing a live outside view. I was quite disappointed with the quality of image. Instead of mimicking a real view, it clearly looked like a TV monitor to me. I had expected a little more realism. However I guess it’s still better than looking at a wall.
I stayed in cabin 3186, an Ocean View grade, on the third deck (the lowest passenger deck). I booked it because of the reasonable rate, an amidships position, on a low deck, creating maximum stability.
The cabin was quite spacious with it double bed near the window. The cabin next door had its bed nearer the door, so I assume the layout alternates. A sofa converted into another bed.
The bathroom was a little bigger than most standard ones on other ships and the shower was pretty spacious. It had a glass door which avoids having to wrestle with a shower curtain during your ablutions. RCI have done away with shampoo dispensers in the shower and now provide bottled products which is so much more up-market.
One neat feature is that the bathroom has a night light permanently on, inside. It is Ideal for those that need to make nocturnal visits.
A kettle was provided, which for Brits is arguably the most important innovation of them all. However only tea bags and milk were provided, there were no coffee sachets. Maybe the American’s have read that us Brits all drink tea?
Something which did amuse me on this ‘smart’ ship was the simple way to alert your cabin steward that your room needs cleaning. You simply stick a magnetic sign to the outside of the door. In contrast NCL have a system switches and lights on some of their ships, for this. RCI’s have chosen a low-tech solution.
The safe was quite small and is probably not big enough for large cameras or Laptops etc.
The interactive TV allows you to check your account etc. However my one had a mind of its own jumping between menu-screens, on occasions, all by itself.
Although it did display your on-board account and expenditure, in an itemised form, it did not display a total. Unless you are good at maths, you only find out the accurate total when a paper statement comes through your door on the final morning. How cunning of RCI.
There was a mini-bar fridge.
The wardrobe was quite small. Storing two people’s cloths for a two week cruise would be a challenge. It had an upper and lower rail to maximize space: however this was not a very useful feature when handing women’s long dresses or long coats. Just eight coat hangers were provided for two persons.
The cabin would have really benefited from a few coat hooks.
The cabin air conditioning was the most noisy that I have heard on a new ship. I had to turn it to low in the night, to reduce the noise which had been keeping me awake. Fortunately we were not cruising in a hot climate.
The standard balcony cabins look to be a similar size to my cabin, although the balconies looked quite compact, in keeping with other new mega-ships.
The ship is full of piped muzak, including the stateroom corridors, even at 1.00 am in the morning. How annoying.
The Chic Dining Room (Complimentary Dining)
Chic is one of the four complimentary dining rooms available to all passengers. The cuisine is described as ‘contemporary’.
The entrance to ‘Chic’ is pure bling. However once inside, the décor is understated, or very bland, depending on your viewpoint. The lighting was very low (or atmospheric).
The dining room is not divided up by screens, so it looks more like an open-plan works canteen than a venue for fine dining. In fact it is probably the least ‘chic’ dining room I have ever seen on-board a ship.
I had the surf & turf. The food and service were reasonably good, but not exceptional. Of course if the complimentary dining was too good, that would possibly impact on the profits of the surcharge dining – or am I being too cynical?
Only three courses are served in each of the complimentary dining rooms.
I did not have time to try all of the surcharge dining venues, although my ‘Wonderland’ experience is documented here. The feedback that I heard on-board, from the other passengers, was that the surcharge dining was generally much better. However it should be, the dining rooms are more intimate and service should be a little more personal.
Windjammer Market Place (Buffet)
The windjammer on-board Oasis was simply too small for the number of passengers. I suspect the theory was that not everyone would try to eat lunch there; they would use one of the alternative venues.
Unfortunately this was not always the case, making it very crowded at time.
I’m pleased to say that Anthem’s version is more adequate for the particular size of the ship, with wide aisles and multiple food islands. There is even a row of sinks at the entrance to the windjammer, to wash your hands.
Unlike Oasis, at the rear of the Windjammer, there is an open-air lido section with tables overlooking the ships wake.
The selection of food was excellent. Plastic plates and cups are used which are very light to carry, but look like porcelain. Trays are not provided.
Wonderland (Speciality Dining)
(Do not read if you have a weak stomach.)
Wonderland is an intimate dining room which carries a surcharge of £26.50 ($40 approx.) per person. The room has a charming whimsical design.
The food was created by chef is Cornelius Gallagher and the best way I can describe it, is it is Heston Blumenthal in style.
RCI say: “At Wonderland, our chefs twist their culinary kaleidoscopes to invent an elaborate dreamscape of never-before-seen fare”.
It was not some much a ‘dreamscape’ as a ‘nightmare’.
I should have realised that I was about to experience something scary, when I noticed that the muzak being played in the restaurant, was the theme tune to “Friday 13th”!
Wonderland should be renamed ‘Marmite’ as some passengers love it and others hate it.
Food is incredibly subjective and the internet is already full of some very positive reviews of wonderland, but this is NOT one of them. I consider myself to be quite adventurous with food, but Wonderland took me to uncharted territory, which I did not enjoy.
The culinary experience starts with a blank menu which you are required to paint with water to reveal the food. The menu contains little that one would recognise, which should all be part of the fun. In fact did not get to choose the dishes at all, the waitress just brought me a selection.
The presentation of the food was quite amazing, an art form in itself, however the flavours ranged from ‘bland’ to ‘unpleasant’, with a touch of ‘weird’ in between.
The multiple starters were served cold. There is a limit to how much cold food I like to eat for dinner and this experience exceeded it.
One of the early dishes was “baby vegetables in the garden”. It actually looked amazing, like vegetables growing in soil. However the vegetables were tasteless and the ‘soil’ component tasted like what I imagine soil might taste like – yuk! I did not finish it and very few of the other diners appeared to finish it either.
The ‘Slow cooked baby beetroots’, were tasteless. I’ve has better from a jar.
‘Buffalo Chicken Eggs’ were cold Boiled eggs, served in a cloud of nitrogen. They tasted like charcoal and made me gag.
The ‘crispy crab cones’ were also cold and tasted bitter. Although small, I could only eat one.
The ‘crispy tempura chee leaves’ were fried in a very greasy batter and made me feel nauseas.
I was beginning to dread the waitress bringing out each new course. I began fantasizing about pizza and was getting very close to walking out.
In a regular restaurant the staff will normally ask you once: “Is everything OK”. In wonderland they repeated asked me: “Are you enjoying the food”. I could see in the waitresses’ eyes that she was dreading my response. My reply was “well it’s very different and I would not call it enjoyment”.
Like myself, the diners on the three surrounding tables were very dissatisfied with the food quality.
One table of four actually walked out, the two other tables shared their complaints with each other, then the manager.
One dish saved the meal and was more conventional in style. The ‘Terroir Beef’ was a large portion of marinated beef on the bone. It was very tender and very tasty.
The ‘slow roasted chicken’ looked unconventional and tasted very bland, but at least it did not actually taste weird or bad.
Towards the end of the meal, the thought of a sweet began to fill me with dread.
I was actually allowed to choose a sweet. I choose the ‘Boston cream pie maz’. Once again it looked great on the plate, but was just four cubes of incredibly bland cake. I’ve had better cake for from a supermarket for £1.
The quantity (not quality) of food was good, but I did not eat very much, as I was simply not enjoying it. I’m sure that I could have had even more dishes, if I had wanted, but I could simply not stomach them.
In short, this was the worst meal that I have ever had afloat. In fact it is probably one of the worst meal that I have has anywhere. It was a total waste of £53.10p. If they had served me with KFC or McDonald’s, it would have been more preferable.
Wonderland’s food presentation is amazing, but the flavours were very poor. Maybe I’m just more into tradition ‘plain cooking’ than I ever thought possible?
The menu is far too ambitious for most people. A mass market ship is probably not the right vehicle for these avant-garde creations.
I’d be amazed if the menu is not revised or the restaurant completely re-branded.
Two robotic arms will prepare cocktails for you. Although I appreciate the technology, I found this only interesting to watch for about 60 seconds, than I moved on. I’d put this feature purely in the ‘gimmick’ category.
However the robots performance always drew a big crowd. What amused me most is that the drinks still include a 18% gratuity. Obviously robots like tips too.
270 Degree Lounge/ Spectres Cabaret
This is an impressive triple height room, with has been described as the ships ‘living room’. It has floor to ceiling windows, over-looking the ships stern. It would have made a great restaurant.
However it is a lounge, with bar and it is also an entertainment space. In fact it is one of the most high-tech production spaces in the world. It is full of technology and cost more than RCI’s first ship, alone.
The lounge has it’s own café nearby. The food is similar to Oasis’s excellent ‘Garden Café: Wraps, bagels, muffins, salads etc. You can purchased speciality coffees, but they are all effectively ruined by using UHT milk. Princess (Sapphire Princess) managed to use real milk. After all it has a shelf life of a week.
The show ‘Spectre Cabaret’ is surprisingly traditional in many aspects. Raven O is the Joel Grey type MC and heads the cast of singers, dancers and acrobats. Much of the music is pre-recorded, but there is a live saxophonist and drummer. The songs are regular pop, although quite eclectic including the Ian Dury, the Beatles, Sister Sledge, Kraftwork and others.
However what sets the show apart from conventional shows is the amazing multimedia technology within the room: Very elaborate ‘Vistaramas’ (backgrounds) are projected by 18 projectors onto screens covering the rooms windows. Six 7ft robo-screens descend from the ceiling and display graphics and almost dance to the music, at times.
There were even ‘virtual’ Guest dancers who appeared on the screens and some animated ‘heads’ who sang along.
The show actually broke-down on several nights, but was swiftly re-started. That’s the risk of using so much new technology.
The combination of multimedia and live performance took a good show to the next level. It really was quite a spectacle and very unique.
However I have seen great shows on other ships, using virtually no technology.
The world’s second biggest ship probably has one of the world’s smallest libraries. It looked like an afterthought in a corner of the Two70 degree lounge, with just a few book cases. You could not use it during a show, anyway.
We Will Rock You (Royal Theatre)
The Royal Theatre is not unlike those found on other mega-ship with a raked ‘stalls’ and a ‘balcony’. I did like the seat-backs that have air conditioning coming out of them.
I have seen so many cruise production shows and they nearly always feature a troupe of young performers, who are learning their craft. Although they always work very hard, many lack the experience and talent of the professional performers. I suppose that’s why they are on a cruise ship and not in the West End or on Broadway.
RCI take their entertainment very seriously. ‘We Will Rock You’ was an exhilarating, full length production show complete with excellent scenery and lighting.
The large cast of ‘We Will Rock You’ were very professional in terms of their singing, dancing and acting ability. The show included some more mature actors, who were a joy to watch. They brought a lot of character to the performance. The live band were behind glass, overlooking the audience form on high. They were also excellent. The guitarist ‘Bob’ mimicked Brian May with ease.
The Music Hall
This is a large room with a stage, a large dance floor and an upper level overlooking it. It is generally used for live bands. It is more like a music venue than a lounge.
This rooms name sounds like it might have retro-décor, but in fact it is very contemporary. The over-the-top décor, which included skulls and bizarre furniture, would not be out of place on an older Carnival ship, designed by Joe Farcus. The room is also reminiscent of NCL’s ‘Bliss Ultra lounge’. (Bolero’s also had some curious furniture).
I saw the ‘Wild Boys’ 80’s tribute band perform in the Music Hall. Not only were they talented musicians, with an excellent male and female singer, they were able to play at a volume that you would expect in a ‘real’ music venue.
They were one of the better live bands that I have ever seen on a cruise ship.
The drinks menus were cool. The covers looked like they were made out of LP’s. (kids ask you Mum or Dad).
Ripcord By I-Fly
This device is a vertical glass wind-tunnel which simulates a free-fall parachuting experience. Its inclusion on-board a ship is quite inspirational.
Ripcord is located aft on the ship top deck near the Flo-Rider (surf simulator). Both make excellent spectator sports, for the less adventurous.
I was rather sceptical about this ‘innovation’. However passengers are granted one free minute so I gave it a go. The process of watching an instructional video and putting on a flight-suit, crash helmet and googles, then awaiting your turn took an hour.
I can report that it is very good fun, relatively safe and not particularly strenuous. Although it is very difficult to master the body position/balance required properly, in such a short period of time.
The instructors give regular demonstrations where they soar up and down within the glass chamber like superman.
I have been converted.
The North Star (Observation Pod)
This is the observation Pod (based on the ‘London Eye’ pods), which is extended on an hydraulic arm some 300 feet above the ship to give you a view. Given the fact that mass market ships are increasingly becoming ‘fair grounds’ its inclusion is the natural evolution. (Will a roller-coaster be next?)
It’s complementary. There is generally no booking required, just queue up. On my cruise the queue was often an hour long, or more.
The ‘pod’ accommodates 14 passengers very comfortable with plenty of room to see out. The ride takes about 10 minutes.
I did consider it a gimmick until I tried it. We were in port at the time which may well be preferable as you get to see the ship and the local landmarks. The view is certainly impressive.
Although little consolation to those who suffer from vertigo, it was very smooth, and felt very safe and strong – even on a windy day. However ‘Flights’ were suspended in the morning due to excessive winds in the port.
Was the ride worth the hour queue? Probably!
The Seaplex (Activity Space)
This is essentially a large indoor sports court on the upper deck, with floor to ceiling windows.
It is used for roller skating, circus training, basketball, racket sports, table tennis and bumper cars (all complimentary). It will of course appeal to younger people although there were plenty of middle aged passengers, like me, riding the bumper cars.
I guess the bumper cars work by using rechargeable batteries as there is no overhead power.
There is no way that all of Anthem’s on-board technology would work properly from the outset. Only 6 of the 18 bumper cars were initially working.
The cars were quite fast, responsive and there were no restrictions on ‘bumping’ the other cars. The collisions could be surprisingly forceful, so passengers with neck or back problems should beware.
You only get a few minutes, but I loved it.
Even though there are big windows, I quickly forgot that I was on-board a ship. That’s what these mega-ships do to you.
These design of these mega-ships is based the theory that not everyone will want to do the same thing, in the same place, at the same time. This largely works.
Anthem can accommodate nearly 5,000 Passengers, so most of her public spaces were always busy. However she rarely felt overcrowded.
Vintages, towards the stern, deck 5, the Two70 Degrees lounge and its Café, tended to be a quieter part of the ship, when a show was not taking place.
I’ve done the maths and Anthem has about the same space-ratio (space per passenger) as Oasis does. There are considerably smaller ships which have less space.
The Pool deck has a 220-foot outdoor movie screen which can show a Facebook feed. I was not on-board in a hot climate, so I never saw the pool deck full to capacity. Just like any other mega-ship, I doubt if the pool deck could cope, if half of passenger’s decided to use it, all at once.
The Seaplex of course take up a large amount of upper deck space which could have been dedicated to another pool and sun lounger space, but this is a cool-climate ship after all.
Connection with the Sea
In my opinion the sea, the air and the ships interaction with land, should be an important part of any cruise experience. This equally applies to a megaship.
Originally the ‘Quantum’ class of ship was code named ‘Project Sunshine’. I’ve no idea why, as not too much sunshine actually permeates into most of the public rooms.
Like many Royal Caribbean ships, Anthem is internally focused and does not have a great connection with the sea. Big ships can still have this. The exception is RCI’s own ‘Radiance’ class, which has a generous number of windows, giving great sea views.
In complete contrast to Anthem, NCL’s ‘Breakaway/Plus’ classes, MSC’s ‘Seaside’ and Carnival’s ‘Vista’ class ships all have extensive external promenaded decks, lined with restaurants and bars.
The external promenade deck (5) is partial, running along the port and starboard sides, but does not wrap around the bow or stern. However it does have an outside glass shelter for smokers on the promenade deck.
The Royal Esplanade has no natural light. The Two70 degree lounge does offer a nice view of the ships wake, when a show is not taking place. Most of the restaurants have very small windows, which are nearly all obscured by very elaborate curtains.
The Windjammer Market Place (buffet) does have nice sea views from floor to ceiling windows and from its lido area. The sun deck is of course the other main vista point.
A wow band looks like a very cheap watch, but do not even tell the time. They can be worn on your wrist and replace your seapass card, if you wish. They can be used as room key and to make purchases.
Entertainment and dining bookings are also stored on them, as they are on your seapass. However they cannot be used to go ashore or disembark.
I don’t see the point of them at all, apart for kids, who might lose a seapass. I guess they are useful for swimming too.
The Photo gallery
Photos are selected using touch-monitors by the passengers and paid for using your seapass card. Staff do not need to be involved. RCI only print out the photos ordered and then you collect them some hours later from a real person, at a desk. As an alternative the images can be burned onto a disc.
This system will save a lot of wasted time, photographic paper and chemicals. It will also save the cruise line lot of money. However this saving did not appear to be passed onto the passengers as the price of the photographs were no cheaper than normal.
(I bet the norovirus loves touch-screens.)
The new crew looked a little overwhelmed with everything and smiles were not free flowing. Service was not too sharp either. However I’m sure that this will improve.
Most ship have a public room or a space or two which I fall in love with, for example: Brilliance of the seas – main dining room and indoor pool, Oasis- Central Park, Norwegian Epic – The Manhattan room, Queen Mary 2, the main dining room and the Queens room. I did not fall in love with any rooms on-board Anthem.
The Public toilets were quite difficult to find.
The ship has super-fact internet connectivity, at a price.
In keeping with modern mega-ship practice, the passenger lifeboat drill just requires passengers to watch a video in a public room. The wearing of life-jackets was not required. Names were checked against the inventory by scanning your seapass (or wow band).
Staff around the ships (reception, photo gallery, dining ans show reservations) often use ‘tablets’ rather than fixed PC’s. They often malfunctioned, to everyone’s frustration.
My deck was the last to disembark and I waited about 2.5 hours, which I though was reasonable give the passenger numbers. I waited longer on-board much smaller ships.
Anthem is a very big, very impressive floating resort, aimed at younger passengers, families and the young at heart. RCI offer a high energy experience. She will particularly appeal to the digital generation who may regard viewing a social network as being more important than viewing the sea.
She may make the traditionalist wonder what happened to ‘just cruising’?
However there are enough facilities on-board to keep all ages amused. However if you are looking for culture, enrichment and some relaxation, it’s probably the wrong ship/cruise line for you.
The Quantum class (inc. Anthem) are different to all the other RCI ship. If fact she did not feel like a RCI ship to me. This is because the ships basic design is not unlike NCL’s new ships, with multiple dining options and multiple entertainment venues. Interestingly the Meyer Werft shipyard, in Germany, built both the ‘Quantum’ and the ‘Breakaway’ class ships.
RCI have shifted their design focus from ‘wow’ spaces to ‘wow’ technology. Therefore Anthem has more technology than any other class of ship afloat. Some of the technology does represent genuine progress; other aspects could be considered to be sales gimmicks. Some of It is also a bit unreliable at present.
‘Dynamic Dining’ is very similar to NCL’s ‘Freestyle’ dining. It does offer more choice and flexibility than on-board any other class of RCI ship. However RCI still appear to be struggling to manage it effectively*.
Although I did have some nice meals on-board, the standard of complimentary food was no higher than any other mass market line.
Anthem has some unique features such as the Seaplex, Two70 Degree lounge, North Star and Ripcord which no other class of ship has. She excels in sporting activities which will particularly appeal to younger people. However I did miss some of their original signature spaces.
In terms of connection with the sea, Anthem falls short.
When ‘Oasis’ was born in 2009, her only real competition was from other RCI ships. In contrast, today Anthem is competing with many other cruise lines megaships over 140,000 gross tonnes, including NCL, MSC, Carnival and their brands. However, the Oasis class, with her many ground-breaking ‘wow’ spaces, is still the market leader, in my opinion.
I’m sure that Anthem (and her class) will be very successful. I’m also sure that some form of ‘Flexible Dining’ is the future of cruising. However I feel that RCI have sacrificed many their signature features for ‘Dynamic Dining’. It was these features, which differentiated the RCI brand from all the others. Now RCI are really not so different to NCL. I feel that ‘Dynamic Dining’ may be a major mistake for RCI.
If a Quantum class ship and one of NCL’s newer ship were offering the same itinerary, I would simply pick the line with the cheapest fare, the two products are that similar for me.
I wonder how long before Carnival and the other major lines introduce fully-flexible dinning?
Malcolm Oliver, May 2015
*STOP PRESS, Sept. 2016: RCI had planned to role out ‘Dynamic Dining’ to the rest of their fleet by adapting each ships existing dining rooms. However they have now abandoned ‘Dynamic Dining’. It was NOT popular with their guests – the experiment has failed.
I believe the next class of RCI ship will have a little more in common with RCI ships of the past, with some signature spaces returning, and less in common with NCL’s vessels.
Oasis of the Seas Review HERE
Norwegian Getaway Review HERE