- Greta Smith
Cruise Ship Review: Anthem of the Seas
Last summer, I had the opportunity to spend nine days on the Anthem with about 120 friends (a trip with my daughter’s dance studio). I love cruising with a group- there’s always someone to do something with, we run into each other all over the ship, and the kids are never complaining about being bored because they are with friends. That said, this ship presented some challenges for us.
Things we liked:
Everyone enjoyed the IFly - definitely a ‘must’. Make your reservation as soon as you get onboard or you may not get in.
The theater tech - There are some very cool effects, especially in Two70. I had the advantage of traveling with a friend who is a theatrical lighting designer, which gave me an appropriate appreciation for exactly HOW cool that $37 million multi-purpose space really is.
Bumper Cars - Those who got to do it had fun, but the session my daughter went to was so packed that she didn’t get to try it. If you want to do it, go to the morning session.
Cabins - The cabins on Anthem are more spacious that those on the older Royal ships, and they have done away with the attacking shower curtain in favor of glass shower surrounds. There is also more shelf space- we used our over-door shoe holder for shoes instead of bathroom items this time.
Shows - there was something “trippy” about all three of the main shows, which made them very fun. The dancers are fantastic and the singers are all very skilled.
Things we didn’t like:
Most of our group are “classic cruisers”. We prefer grand dining rooms, cavernous promenades, and shows after dinner. For us, the separate dining rooms were underwhelming - there was no grand staircase or multiple levels and the ceiling felt closed in. The promenade was not an open center of the ship as we have become accustomed to on the Freedom class ships, and the organization of public spaces on decks 3, 4 and 5 was confusing - after nine days on board, I still couldn’t tell you which deck Two70 is on and I was there every dang night.
The show schedule and the need to reserve was another sticky wicket. For those who are accustomed to changing after dinner and heading out to the show, Anthem’s system is a bit of culture shock. You have to reserve your show times through your online cruise planner ahead of time, or use the RoyalIQ app or Guest Services kiosks on board. The reservations do “sell out”, so if you have a group who wants to sit together you all need to make your reservations for the same time or risk someone being excluded. Show schedules are all over the place- we saw We Will Rock You at 2:30pm on a sea day, for instance. We had friends who had originally made their Rock You reservation over our dinner hour (planning to eat elsewhere that night), only to find out later that it fell on one of the formal nights. The reservations for other show times were unavailable, so they took their chances and showed up fifteen minutes before a different performance to see if they could get in. Getting in was no problem, but getting more than two seats together is tricky at the last minute.
The only show that had problems with getting people in was the performance of “The Gift” that we had reserved. Our second night out was quite bumpy and both The Gift and Spectra’s Cabaret had to be cancelled. Another performance of Spectra was added later in the week for those who had reservations for the cancelled show, but folks who had reservations for The Gift were told to attend the scheduled performance the following evening. Apparently, no one did the math and figured out that this resulted in more reservations than seats in the theater. People ended up standing in the back of the theater to watch the show and God help you if your friends got up to go to the bathroom before the show- someone would threaten to take you down for saving seats!
Other events onboard were more difficult to squeeze into. We got into the habit of arriving a full hour early for things like karaoke, Battle of the Sexes, etc because it was the only way to ensure that at least some of us got seats. The worst was Quest- on Anthem, it is held in Two70 which has a little bit of stadium-style seating close to the front but is mostly arranged in conversational niches on various levels. Knowing Quest is popular, we tried to arrive very early. But there was a performance of Spectra’s Cabaret immediately before it, so most of the best seats went to the people who were there for the show and stayed. It was very difficult to participate from the back- not everything was put up on the screen, and there is absolutely no visibility of the floor if you are at the door level. There is a balcony area which offers a better view, but it would be impossible to participate at all from there.
The Music Hall doubles as the night club.
I have always been impressed with the food quality and variety on Royal’s ships, but scaling is an issue here and the food comes off like it’s been prepared en masse. On the whole, our group agreed that the food was disappointing. On other cruises, the menu has offered a choice of soups, a choice of salads, a choice of appetizers, four or five rotating entrees along with maybe three that are offered daily, and three or four rotating deserts along with a couple that are offered daily. On Anthem, there was a list of “starters” lumping together soups, salads and appetizers. Most were the same from day to day with two or three “features”. Shrimp cocktail was a daily offer, and several friends complained that they got shrimp that was still frozen. Only two or three entrees were rotated while rest were served daily. The best options were offered with a significant upcharge. One exception- friends we were seated with are gluten free. Almost anything on the menu can be made GF and they pre-ordered dinner the evening before so there would be time to make it. Our GF friends received much better service (the head waiter handled them) and seemed much more impressed with their meals than the rest of us. The ship has a separate GF kitchen where those meals are prepared, and I would expect that the smaller batch cooking and attention to individual plates leads to a better dining experience.
Disembarkation was a two-hour mess of a process. When I say there was a line to get in line, I am not being facetious. Our “lounge” was in Two70, the path to which criss-crossed the line to get off the ship. The crew was confused about which line people wanted to be in, they made us stand in the disembarkation line to get into Two70 while other people just walked by and nothing was said (even after I explained that we were trying to get to our lounge to get breakfast and tried to follow someone else who was allowed to go ahead). When we got off, there was not enough space allotted for luggage in the assigned areas- our four bags were finally located under three different numbers and the “lost luggage” wall (the tag had been ripped off one of my cases).
The group I was with will not be sailing a Quantum-class ship again. However, I have a friend who is a huge fan of the Anthem. Her experience did not mirror mine, but I think the difference is in the circumstances of our trips. She sailed in May with her husband. We sailed in mid-July with a group of 120. Her sailing was nowhere near capacity, while every cabin on our ship was taken. I think this is the crux of the problems we had- Anthem is not scaled well for her full capacity. Activities that would be split between the night club, Studio B, the Star Lounge and the Royal Theater on a Freedom Class ship are crammed into the Music Hall, Two70 and the Royal Theater with little expansion in seating capacity (and in some cases, it seems less seating than the Freedom Class venues).
A word of caution for those who are prone to motion sickness- the Anthem is tall (15 decks) and skinny (136 ft vs 185 ft for the Independence). This seems to lead to less stability than I’ve experienced on other Royal ships. On the Independence, for instance, we knew the seas were rough if we felt a little wobble now and then. The Anthem rocked constantly, even when the seas looked calm. I don’t get motion sick, but it took four days for me to stop feeling the floor moving when I got home (I’m usually fine the next day). Several friends had to break out the seasick patches, and guest services was handing out meclizine in bulk. Also, there was noticeable engine vibration when they would fire up the props to leave port.
Bottom line, Anthem is a beautiful ship that is probably very comfortable in the off-season. It would be great for small groups and adult vacations.