Having enjoyed a number of previous RCI cruises I was anxious to try Anthem of the Seas. Previous reviews had been mixed so I was not quite sure what to expect. I am pleased to say that there are a lot of great things to report but also some serious flaws that you might like to be aware of. I have divided this review into two parts, a summary for those who are interested in the headlines and a detailed review for those interested in more detailed analysis.
In summary I think Anthem is a wonderful ship with a good number of wows and innovative features but there are a number of significant issues that mean I would not want to sail on a Quantum class ship again unless they are fixed.
• Passenger flows around the ship are very good and queues are only experienced for major theatre shows and for dynamic dining.
• Disembarkation and embarking at ports of call is usually very easy using one of four gangways each with two or three security lines.
• The cabins are excellent with good bathrooms and balconies.
• The Windjammer is a great improvement over previous RCI ships.
• The pool and solarium areas are all very good.
• The Royal Boulevard is much nicer than the dark promenades on older ships but sound can carry and affect the ambiance of some areas.
• Devinly Decadence restaurant is a real treat with some of the most-tasty food on board.
• Wonderland is very different and an interesting experience but some of the menu items are more style than substance.
• The Bionic bar is fascinating to watch and the cocktails are pretty good as well.
• North Star is something really different and provides some very unusual views of a cruise ship.
• The Seaplex is a wonderfully versatile space which includes the dodgem cars for a couple of hours a day.
• Two70 is an incredible entertainment venue and the virtual concerts are stunning.
• Shore excursion organization was very slick.
• When I travelled there was a large Canadian group of nearly 1,000 passengers who took over large areas of different venues which had an adverse impact on individual passengers, particularly in restaurants.
• There can be long waits for a lift at peak times. The lifts are large but this means they tend to stop at more decks.
• The RCI marketing hype builds some expectations that are not delivered on board.
• Dynamic dining does not work – too many long queues in the complimentary restaurants.
• Drinks prices are very high and the drinks packages can be a serious rip off.
• The menus are limited and they do not change during the cruise which means you get much less choice and variety in many of the main restaurants, for example The American Icon Grill offers the same deserts at lunchtime and dinner every day.
• Jamie’s Italian is not in the same league as Giovanni’s table.
• Many staff did not have the usual RCI flair and friendliness and some bars looked to be under staffed which led to long wait times.
• Some shore excursion content was very poor and not what was advertised.
• Some of the technology does not work well e.g. check in, luggage tracking did not work at all, restaurant bookings in the four free restaurants.
• The headline shows were OK but nothing special
If you would like the details please read on but in summary I would not come back to a Quantum class ship until the dining arrangements are changed. It is a lovely ship spoiled by seriously flawed dynamic dining.
I was advised to arrive early so I did, I arrived at the car park at 09.45 and was asked to wait in a queue until the car park opened at 10.00. Parking and bag drop was very easy and the car was very close to the terminal. The staff added the RFD luggage tags so I could track the bags but I could not get that system to work despite assistance from staff.
Check in was total chaos it took 7 people and 20 min because of technology failings and staff incompetence. The first person could not see their iPad, the passport reader did not work for the second person, the third person then ticked “Yes” to all the health questions for my Wife despite receiving “No” answers to all the questions. This meant she was denied boarding on medical grounds. The supervisor pre security could not resolve this so we had to go through security, explaining why we did not have a green sticker at every boarding pass check, so that we could go to a traditional check in desk. We queued for a check in desk but they were not authorized to sort this problem out and their supervisor was also unable to help so we got taken to a desk manned by staff from the ship who did, finally, overrule the system and correct the problem. Why not just go to the check in desk that has worked so well for so long? This felt like technology for technology’s sake. The only positive was that the supervisor then took us to the front of the queue and we were first to board the ship at 10.30.
I found some nice seats at North Star bar with a great barman and very bright sunshine. It was all very pleasant with relaxed back ground music until someone put the Sea Screen on with very noisy and not very funny comedy. That killed the tranquility of the bar so it was off to explore the ship.
I usually avoid the buffet for lunch on the first day as they can be a real zoo, but thought I might as well see what the new Windjammer Market Place was like. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is a great improvement on the other RCI ships, had a very good choice and was very well laid out with a good number of seats. I found seats at 12.00 on the first day! At peak times on sea days you do have to search out a table but at all other times seating was readily available and staff cleared them very quickly. Staff were also very keen to get drinks for you (tea and coffee as well paid for drinks) which was very helpful.
I was to visit the Windjammer for dinner on a number of occasions when the bookings I had made for Dynamic Dining were not available without lengthy queues. I found a number of the cook to order stations offered a nice range of really fresh food that was always served piping hot. One disappointment is the use of melamine tableware.
Cabins were ready at 13.00 and my luggage arrived shortly afterwards so everything was packed away in good time for the safety drill.
Around the ship
Anthem as a ship has some really stunning areas and facilities but I felt that some areas were a retrograde step. The Royal Boulevard is great improvement on the promenade on Independence. Much more light and airy and with 2 decks of shops, bars, restaurants and the usual services winding along the heart of the ship. There is however a down side, music and sound pollution can spoil the ambiance, especially if there is sport on in the pub.
The Bionic Bar is crazy, it’s fun and it works. Entertainment and bar service rolled into one and great alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to choose from. This must be one of the most photographed areas of the ship as people are mesmerized by the robotic movements as Makr and Shakr mix and pour the drinks. If you manage to be there at a quiet time you just might catch on of their very entertaining robotic dance routines, whatever next!
Two70 is a very sophisticated entertainment venue with stunning views over the ships wake during the day. The virtual concerts that are played here are truly amazing.
SeaPlex is a very versatile sports and entertainment venue which hosts a wide range of different activities during the day including the dodgem cars.
Whilst I did not participate, the Ripcord iFly freefall simulator and the Flow Rider surf simulator provided great entertainment for spectators.
North Star is without doubt the new feature that stood out for me. This provides some amazing views of the ship and, when in port, the area around the ship. On sea days the North Star swings out over the side of the ship and soars up to great heights, when in port it just soars high into the air over the ship. Both experiences provide fantastic photo opportunities.
There are three pool areas, a large open air lido pool including the H2O Zone for children, a smaller covered pool and the solarium. All three are very well presented areas with Jacuzzi pools but the solarium is the most spectacular with its cascading pools and all round views over the front of the ship.
Lounging space around the pools was at a premium on sea days but there are many loungers along both sides of the ship and at the stern. You will want to be towards the stern of the ship if you are looking for restful relaxation as the Sea Screen is used a number of times during the day and the soundtrack from that can be very intrusive around the pool.
I had booked a superior balcony cabin on deck 8 towards the front of the ship to avoid the overhang and to have a good view down to the sea. The Cabin is a good size and is well equipped but the bed position alternate between the balcony end and the bathroom end. My bed was by the balcony end which put is very close to the curtains at night. This made getting up at night something of a challenge as you fight your way past the curtain. The cabin was very quiet and there is very good lighting. There are four plugs, three American and one European so British guests will need to take adapters. There is a kettle and mugs but only tea is provided. If coffee is your preferred drink you will need to take some with you or go to Café Promenade or the Windjammer to get coffee.
There is good wardrobe storage but not many hangers, I brought some wire ones and used them all. The wardrobe hanging rail height is not good, none were high enough for long dresses and one had double hanging rails but neither of them was high enough as shirts and blouses caught on the rail below or trail on the floor. One of the wardrobes houses a small personal safe. Additional storage is available in two large storage boxed over the bed and there are drawers in the dresser unit.
The bathroom is very well laid out but all storages is on open shelves, there are no cupboards to hide away all your gear. Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion and soap are provided but ladies should be aware that there’s no shower cap, cotton wool or cotton buds.
The large balcony has plenty of room for 2 comfortable reclining chairs and foot stools and a small table. There are large glass screens giving a very good view but the traditional teak rail has given way to white metal rails.
Our attendants were excellent and maintained our cabin very well. Some novel new towel animals greeted our return at night.
As previously mentioned, the Windjammer market place is a great improvement on earlier RCI buffets and it provided a very good range of different foods at all three main meals.
The big noise about the Quantum class ships was what RCI call Dynamic Dining. When these ships were introduced dinner was intended to be all dynamic dining i.e. you book a time in any one of nine different restaurants, four of which are at no extra charge (American Icons, Chic, Silk and Grande) and others carry a supplement of up to $39. However, since its introduction on Quantum RCI have responded to negative feedback by introducing “Classis” dining as an alternative. Classic dining provides you with a seat at the same time each evening in one of the four complementary restaurants. You then rotate around the four restaurants each night with the same table companions and waiters. This means that these four restaurants are trying to combine both dynamic dining and classic dining which, based on my experience, does not work.
In response to email reminders from RCI, I made reservations for every night of the cruise many months ahead of time. I had booked a table for 2 each night at 20.00 and had confirmation of them all so I thought I was going to enjoy a good variety of dining experiences. There was no problem with any of the restaurants that carry a supplement but there were long queues for those on dynamic dining at the four complementary restaurants. 35 minutes wait at American Icon Grill, 30 minutes at Chic, I left the queue for Grande after 20 minutes and went to the Windjammer. Silk was the only night that I had a table at about the time I booked but that was a table in what turned out to be the Classic dining area. When I sat down the folks on the adjacent table greeted me with “you know another couple usually sit there, they may be coming soon” and the waiter was clearly only interested in his regular classic dining guests. This made you feel as if you were an intruder. After this I gave up on the four free restaurants and used the Windjammer and Divinly Decadence instead.
Dynamic dining therefore did not work as priority seemed to be given to classic diners with those who booked dynamic dining filling up empty tables. To add insult to injury one head waiter said that queues were not unusual because people were turning up without reservations and they had to seat them, why? Where else would this happen?
The menu is the same every night in all the restaurants and the four free restaurants have a number of classic dishes that are available in all 4 restaurants. Whilst it did not affect me, the limited choice which does not change would lead to menu fatigue if you were on classic dining every night of the 13 night cruise when you would visit the same restaurant 3 or more times.
Chops grill was good but even with a $39 cover charge there were still big supplements for some steaks and lobster. The service and menu range here does not compare with other steak houses afloat.
Wonderland is very different and is an interesting meal experience but some of the menu items are more style than substance. It is a great one off experience but not the sort of restaurant that you would return to too often as your meal experience includes small amounts of most of the items on the menu.
I did not try Izumi Japanese restaurant as I do not eat fish and all the main courses contain fish. It did however look to be very popular.
Jamie’s Italian is, in my opinion, not worth the supplement and it is nothing like as good at Giovanni’s table on Independence. Bring back Giovanni!
Devinly Decadence otherwise known as the Solarium Bistro is one of the best kept secrets on Anthem being tucked away next to the Solarium on deck 14. This very friendly and informal restaurant provided some of the most tasty and well prepared food on the ship. The atmosphere is welcoming, the tables are well spaced out and the service was the best we experienced in any restaurant on Anthem.
Sorrento’s provides a range of pre-prepared pizza slices as well as the opportunity to construct your own pizza. It shares a seating area with the Café Promenade which is the coffee and pastry stop on the Royal Boulevard.
La Patisserie is the premium (charged for) coffee and pastry café but the service and the use of paper plates and cups makes it anything but premium.
Café Two70 is a small self service area that serves a range of sandwiches, salads and desserts using seating at the back of Two70.
Johnny Rockets on Anthem is adjacent to the main pool and is, in effect, the pool grill as there is no other food outlet near the pool. I have enjoyed the overall experience in Johnny Rockets on other RCI ships particularly because of the interaction with the staff who have usually been great characters and from time to time broke into song and dance. It is now self-service no more singing and dancing just a vibrating pager to tell you to go and pick up your food. The standard cover charge has been replaced with a price per item so it is now about 50% more. The location is not great as you get screaming children in the adjacent pool and loud movie sound track from the sea screen. The enjoyable meal experience of other Johnny Rockets has been lost and the food itself is not good enough to justify the extra cost.
Vintages wine bar was a disappointment, a fairly dull environment with a limited and not very imaginative wine list did nothing to attract me and I enjoy wine bars on other ships.
RCI make a big thing of their entertainment and the headline shows but I have to say that I was underwhelmed. The musicians were excellent and the female lead singer has a tremendous voice but the shows did not seem to make the best of them. We saw We Will Rock You and The Gift but for me, the orchestra and singers “In Concert” was a much more enjoyable experience.
Two70 is an incredible entertainment venue and in particular the projection technology, sound and light works very well. The virtual concerts that I experienced were excellent.
Much has been said about the technological advancements on Anthem of the Seas. Some is very good but other aspects of it seem to be technology for the sake of it or to simplify processes for RCI rather than enhance the guest experience. The Royal iQ App seemed to work quite well for most things but as mentioned before, the luggage tracking did not work and the restaurant reservations that were made quite easily were not available when you turn up. This may of course be poor human interface rather than technology.
The interactive Way Finder screens that are dotted about the ship are very helpful and well positioned so as to be accessible yet not dominate the ship.
I am not a fan of the WoW bands. I do not normally wear a watch so why would I wear a band on board. I have found the card system works well for me and I continued to use that. To be fair a good number of other guests did seem to be using the bands and I can see the benefit if you are swimming etc.
The interactive TV system seemed to work well but can be very slow at times.
In the past I have always found Royal Caribbean staff to be amongst the most friendly and efficient at sea but I have to say that this was not the case on Anthem. As always there were some excellent individuals who were both friendly and efficient and courteous at all times but they were the exception rather than the rule. The nationality mix seems to have changed and some of the waiters in particular were noticeably surly and passing greetings were few and far between.
Crown and Anchor Club
In common with other cruise lines, the benefits of loyalty seem to be fading away and are nowhere near as generous as some other loyalty programs such as Celebrity’s Captains club. There is a small Diamond lounge which worked OK given the number of Diamond members on this cruise but the next cruise was going to have three times as many at nearly 900, I am not sure how that will work?
The continental breakfast in the diamond lounge was very good but the host spent all his time hunched over his computer and did not even look up when you enter, some host! Other hosts have helped with restaurant and entertainment bookings etc. but not this one.
Beware, when is inclusive not inclusive? When you have a Royal Caribbean drinks package. The advertisement and the invoice said inclusive but what is included is the “standard” drinks package which only includes some beer, some wine and soda fountain drinks. No waters, no spirits, no cocktails, no tea and coffee and no canned soft drinks with very few beers and wines. To have any realistic choice you have to upgrade to either the “premium” or the “ultimate” package and even with the ultimate package ($67 a day) you cannot get a can of coke or a quality mineral water. There are separate packages for non-alcoholic drinks and for Evian water.
Without a package drinks are very expensive, $11 plus gratuity and plus VAT (when in Spanish waters) for a small glass of cheap Chilean Sauvignon Blanc equates to about £10!
I therefore upgraded the package that came with the cruise to the Ultimate Package which cost $350 per person for the cruise and made good use of it!