Review : Anthem of The Seas May 2015

Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of The Seas marked our ninth cruise, and we were excited to be taking this particular voyage for two reasons;  firstly, we were accompanied for the first time by some good friends, a lovely couple who share our love for cruising, and secondly we were travelling on the newly launched mega-ship Anthem of The Seas, on her third voyage since leaving the shipyard.

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Ok, so let’s get the statistics out of the way, but pay attention, as there may be a test later.

The second ship in RCI’s new Quantum class, built in Germany at a mere cost of $940,000,000, Anthem of The Seas was christened in April 2015 and put straight into service in the Mediterranean out of Southampton.

With 20 passenger accessible decks, ‘Anthem’ boasts 2090 cabins (sorry, “Staterooms”) with over 1,500 of them balcony rooms, making balconies an affordable option.

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Activities include the familiar flowrider surfing simulator and the climbing wall, with the new addition of Ripcord – a skydiving simulator at the aft of the ship, and unique to Quantum class, the amazing “NorthStar” observation capsule that carries passengers 90m above the sea and swings out over the side to give a unique and amazing view of the ship in motion.  On board facilities include the three deck high Royal Theater, a spa and fitness centre,  indoor, outdoor and kids pools, a solarium, sports deck, dodgem cars, circus school and the amazing ‘Two70’ lounge/theatre at the rear of the ship with a 270 degree huge wall of glass giving stunning views out to sea.

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There are multiple entertainment venues on board including the impressive two storey “Music Hall” which features live music every night.

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Checking in
Sailing from our favourite port, Southampton, I have to say the check in at the City Terminal was a dream (although they could make the drop off point and procedure a little clearer).  As much of the check-in process is conducted online (including ID photos) before you arrive, a quick verification of ID is all that’s needed before you are boarding the ship.  A fantastic start to the holiday.

Staterooms
Staterooms vary in type and size – We opted for a balcony stateroom, but there are cheaper interior staterooms with the new virtual balcony – A 80″ tall video window on the wall, complete with curtains, simulating the view from your balcony – and the view actually comes from cameras mounted on the side of the ship, so you do actually see the same view as you would from a real balcony!

Further up market there are junior suites, family suites with interconnecting rooms and one large (huge) balcony area, and for the very affluent (i.e. rich and loaded) there are the huge suites with butler service, and the two story “loft” suites – a small two storey apartment of your own at the front of the ship.   Perfect for that once in a lifetime world cruise (9.5 years away at the time of writing).

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Our balcony stateroom was fitted to a very high standard, and featured all the usual amenities – and the beauty of being on a huge mega liner is that rather than cram additional cabins into the vast space, RCI have chosen to make cabins even more spacious and attractive to be in.   Which I guess is one of the reasons there sometimes appears to be nobody on board – many people prefer the seclusion and privacy of their own room and balcony space.   And with 24 hr free room service easily ordered from your interactive TV, this lifestyle is hard to beat.

Bars

Our booking had included the all inclusive drinks option, an option which sadly (annoyingly) wasn’t available when we booked our latest 2017 cruise – more of that in a future review.  There are many places on the ship where you can avail yourself of drinks, from bar side pools, to the nightclub venues, promenade bars and pubs, theatres, ‘Two70’ and the casino / music hall.   Sometimes finding a seat was a task in itself, and we tended to either head for ‘Two70’ or the music hall for pre-dinner drinksdsc_0212

One of the most talked about venues was the “Bionic Bar” with two huge robotic waiters.  Well, that’s how it appeared in the pre-launch hype videos.  Actually they are two rather unimpressively small robot arms that are quite slow in delivering drinks, and after a couple of times the novelty wears off.  The best feature is the two “Star Trek” like displays showing what the robots are currently concocting, and the most fun thing is designing your own cocktails on the adjacent tablets and saving them so that you can recall your own bespoke cocktail when you next pass.   Not that we did.  Oddly positioned in one of the main thoroughfares in the upper esplanade, you either found the bionic bar jammed packed with people waiting for their turn to have a drink, and blocking access across the deck in the process, or ghostly empty – and normally at these times inactive through being in port or being maintained.

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I have to say that the human drinks service was even more disappointing.   The service was slow.  I mean, VERY slow.  You would often find the whole upper floor of the music hall being served by just one or two waiters, who would take table after table of orders, before passing them back to the bartender, who would very leisurely prepare the drinks, and then they would be delivered in the same tortoise like manner, ensuring that you could never abuse your all inclusive allowance.   Being frustrated with this, we would rarely have more than one drink in the bar.

The pool bars were equally slow.   The roaming waiter service was often non existent requiring you to get off your bed and trek to the bar yourself, only to find the bar staff virtually comatose and needing a decidedly large rocket up their (deleted).

Imagine if you WEREN’T on all inclusive – they add 18% service charge for this appalling level of service!

Drinks by the way on the American RCI are considerably more expensive than on (for example) the UK based P & O, so if you can wangle the all-inclusive deal, it is well worth sticking out for.  In fact, from my latest experience, I would suggest you do hold off booking until it IS available, even if you are reliably informed by the travel agent that they are NOT offering all inclusive this season.  You may well find after you have booked that it is suddenly reintroduced.  That was our unfortunate experience when booking our 2017 cruise with RCI – more on that later.

Dining

I have to say that dining on our previous RCI Cruise on Independence Of The Seas had been a special experience.   Unfortunately I couldn’t say the same about Anthem.

Firstly, instead of the awesome three storey restaurant on Independence, they have split the main dining area into six separate restaurants, which must be reserved via the “Royal IQ” tablet system.   We managed to sort this out eventually – I understand it was only third voyage out so may have been still suffering from teething troubles – but many times the pads dotted around the decks would not connect, or it would not accept the reservation.

On one occasion we went straight to the restaurant desk and asked them to book it manually for us, but they declined, saying they weren’t allowed to.  This inflexibility may have changed now with more customer feedback, but at that time we felt this had become a very impersonal and negative experience, and really spoiled our holiday – more so as I had been raving about the excellent dining experience to the couple who had joined us on the cruise.   I have to say that the whole restaurant experience really felt short for me – the layout in the venues were not brilliant at times, it often felt somewhat cramped and crowded by comparison with some previous cruises, and while staff were doing their best to retain the level of quality, the whole thing came across more “Frankie and Benny” than 5 star cruise.  And that’s probably being unkind to Frankie and Benny, who we happen to like a great deal!

There are some good speciality restaurants on board, where you pay a little extra for – Jamie Oliver’s was exceptional and worth the additional cost.  The Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant looked fantastic but we weren’t overly keen on the menu so didn’t partake.

You can book restaurants on the Royal IQ system before you board, and I would whole heartedly recommend you book one for each night before you arrive.  You can cancel / amend your bookings once on board, but sometimes the venues are full at the times you might prefer, so at least you have one option on the system.

This is also goes for some of the entertainment in the Two70 venue, which has to be booked via the IQ system.  Get it booked in advance – they don’t have a lot of availability once you are on board.

Shows
This review seems a little negative so far, but there were some good points.  The shows were broadway quality and featured some West End classics like “We will rock you”; and in Two70 they displayed their 8x 4K projector system and dancing TV screens to perfection with their “Spectra cabaret”.

There were some fabulous acts on in the bars and music hall throughout the cruise, and there really is no shortage of things to do.

The one thing I was really looking forward to was the progressive quiz that is run during days at sea.  We had experienced this on independence with the truly entertaining Joff Eaton, the cruise director, and when I found out he was onboard this cruise, I almost forced our friends to sit through the quiz on the first day at sea – I got the impression they were not big quizzers, but Joff is SO entertaining it was a must.

But Joff!  What a let down!   You were indeed as funny and as entertaining as ever, but they where the IDENTICAL questions to the ones on the Independence!  Same questions, same jokes!  How truly disappointing, and I have to say we didn’t turn up for day two.  I hope if you are on Independence again next year you don’t make the same mistake.

North Star
I couldn’t review the Anthem of The Seas without mentioning the North Star.   Gimmick? Definitely.  Entertaining?  Absolutely.  The view from below on deck is good, but the view on the capsule is Awesome.    I actually went on it twice, once at sea, which was something else, and once while in port at Lisbon, and believe me, the port views give you a perspective of the city you would struggle to get elsewhere – other than a helicopter ride maybe.    Not for those with a fear of heights!

Summary
It’s huge.  And being huge it is impossible in one post to write about every aspect, every venue and every experience you will get while on board.

Did we enjoy our holiday?  Hell yes, the basics were all there – good quality accommodation, good ports of call, good company.  Great times, brilliant memories.

Was it the best yet?  No.  The ship was awesome, it was vast, exotic, weird at times, but the hi-tech aspect is vastly overplayed to the detriment of the fundamental cruise experience. While trying to cater for the IT savvy, it verges on gimmicky and soon becomes tired. Especially when the IT doesn’t actually work.  There’s a bit too much wasted space given over to weird and wonderful displays, the whole thing is a bit disjointed at times, and it reminds me a bit of Epcot in Disney world – A vision of the “City Of Tomorrow” but with little practical purpose to many of the aspects.  And while Epcot is an experience not to be missed, its not somewhere you would want to stay for fourteen days unless you are a Sci-Fi buff.  We love glitz, but this lacked a little bit of elegance for me.

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Will we book with Royal Caribbean again?  Already have – but with the equally awesome but vastly superior Independence of the Seas.  Although dated, I will prepare a review of our last visit for comparison, and of course will be giving our return opinion next year when we board her once more with the majority of our family in tow.

I’ve probably missed some important aspects of this cruise – if you have any specific questions, drop me a line at robert@worldtraveller.me.uk and I’ll be glad to answer if I can.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my review – I hope to see you again soon at Rob and Sue’s World Traveller!

Regards

Robert and Sue

 

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