Without doubt Anthem of the Seas is the most innovative ship afloat but I had concerns that it was really just a load of gimmicks. Was it really for me?
From our arrival at the Southampton cruise terminal, Anthem worked hard at assuring me this was not the case. Its much heralded technology is used to enhance the guest experience as much as to entertain and amaze.
No more queuing for check-in desks; staff with computer tablets checked us in just inside the main entrance. A small green stamp on our boarding documentation and a scan of the bar-code was all we needed to board the ship where officers and crew welcomed us aboard.
First impressions were that this ship is beautifully designed. Whilst one of the largest cruise ships afloat it is laid out in smaller areas so, whilst spacious, the space does not overwhelm. Wherever you go you can’t help noticing the striking decor and design, it really is something special.
Our balcony cabin was spacious with loads of hanging and storage space, a hospitality tray, flat screen TV, a hugely comfortable bed and pillows I would happily have brought home.
Technology is also apparent in the accommodation. Cruisers on a budget book inside cabins. However, in Anthem’s case the blank walls in the cabins are replaced by a huge screens linked to cameras on the outside of the ship which displays the outside view on the screens, thus creating a virtually balcony cabin. Clever stuff! There is even an option to have a wrist band instead of the usual key card, allowing entry to your cabin as well as making on-board purchases.
Fancy a cocktail? Then try the Bionic Bar. Log on to one of the tablets with your card or wrist band, choose your cocktail or design your own, then a robot will grab some ice in its cocktail mixer, add the ingredients from the huge range of optics, give it a shake, and pour it into a glass which then slides towards you on . It probably attracts more sightseers than customers as the robots have an almost human quality and, if not busy, will dance to the background music.
Another innovation is Seaplex, a multi-activity area. On our first visit it was dodgem cars and we had great fun whizzing round and bumping into fellow guests. At least I will have something to say the next time I get one of those annoying phone calls from the Accident Advisory Help Line! On our next visit, it was in part a basketball court and in part a circus where guests could have a go on a flying trapeze. This one I declined.
Out on deck there were the old favourites, a rock climbing wall and the flow rider, a surfing simulator, along with a new addition, Ripcord. This is essentially a large tube in which an up-draft of around 120 mph is generated, allowing guests to experience the feeling of sky-diving. There is always an instructor on hand to help and again it proved highly popular with both participants and spectators.
Last but by no means least, is North Star, a pod similar to that on the London Eye which is raised to over 100 ft above the deck. It can be used for sight-seeing or booked for special events such as weddings.
Of course, none of this is compulsory and there are plenty of places to chill out, both inside and out.
On deck there are pools and jacuzzis plus a lovely pool with a sliding glass roof in case the weather turns against you. For sheer peace and relaxation, try the two-deck high adults-only solarium with cascading pools and palm trees. For younger ones there are kids clubs and a teens-only area which is supervised until the early hours of the morning. Parents may have problems persuading their kids to spend time with them.
There are a number of stunning entertainment options, the main one being the Royal Theatre. We saw “We Will Rock You” and it was one of the best shows we have ever seen in any theatre on land or sea.
Feeling hungry? There are eighteen places to eat of which the buffet, three cafes, a pizzeria and six restaurants are included in the fare. Amongst the speciality restaurants, there’s Jamie’s Italian, from our own Jamie Oliver, Izumi’s Japanese restaurant, Michael’s Pub, and Wonderland. OK, this you have to see and experience but if I tell you that the menu is blank until you brush water on it and when you lift a glass it may whisper to you, perhaps you will begin to see what I mean. The food follows this vein.
Of course, with all this going on you may forget you are on a cruise, but there are also the ports of call to explore. Fitting in shore visits and all that the ship has to offer may take some planning, but it’s fun trying.
Anthem of the Seas really is like no other cruise ship. It will dispel all the myths for those trying out cruising for the first time and even hardened regulars can admire the marvellous layout, the stunning design, the choice of food and the great entertainment.
Is there anything to add? Yes, as Captain Claus Andersen said, you can build the best ship in the world but ultimately what matters most is the crew. Clearly they also love the ship and this reflected in the excellence of the service in all areas.
Anthem is like no other ship, and Royal Caribbean’s view is that the experience is well worth it. Britannia will, no doubt continue to have a strong following to the more traditional cruise market. Anthem’s sister ships, Quantum and Ovation are also well worth a look in, continuing the theme of technological innovation while cruising!
For more information, including up-to-date pricing and cruise schedules go to www.royalcaribbean.co.uk or call 0844 493 4005