My friend Claudine is a 40-something New York yoga teacher who’s lived in three countries and spent six months trekking solo around Southeast Asia. She’s stayed in hotels, ashrams, campgrounds and hostels, but she’s never been on a cruise. So when I invited her to join me on a two-night jaunt to nowhere on Royal Caribbean’s new Anthem of the Seas, she was eager.
However, as a traveler whose only cruising reference was The Love Boat, she was also skeptical. But she hadn’t even been on board for two hours when she texted me: “I think I like this cruising thing!” Here, in Claudine’s words, is why:
Anthem of the Seas was, frankly, nicer than any hotel I’ve stayed in! I was pleasantly surprised by how large the cabins were (almost as big as my New York City studio) and by the amount of storage space. I loved having a balcony, but I could have been happy in one of those “virtual balcony” inside cabins, where, instead of a window, there’s an LED screen on the wall that broadcasts images of outside.
I also appreciated all the contemporary art and techy novelties like the robotic bartenders at Bionic Bar. And Spectra, an ’80s-themed dance and music revue, was the furthest from a cruise-ship show I could have imagined.
Usually I have to leave my hotel to have fun, but on Anthem, the fun came to me! It’s as if the ship is the destination itself (it’s really more of a hotel than simply a mode of transport) and all the sights are on the other side of your cabin door.
I was expecting little more than shuffleboard and card games, but there were bumper cars, skydiving, surfing and the North Star observation capsule – things I’d probably never try on a traditional vacation if I had to plan and pay for them individually. On Anthem, I didn’t have to do either.
Honestly, I’d been expecting a nondescript dining room and a tired buffet with bad-for-you food. Instead, there were more than a dozen beautifully decorated restaurants that could hold their own against any in New York (I loved Silk and Wonderland).
And as a vegetarian, I was pleased to see delicious non-meat options at all the places I tried. But I think the biggest surprise was the Windjammer Marketplace buffet, which was not only huge but had an abundance of healthy choices.
Contrary to what I’d heard, you don’t have to gain weight on a cruise!
When I learned that the ship could carry more than 4,000 passengers and was bigger than the Waldorf Astoria, I imagined myself waiting in line for everything and being constantly lost. Neither fear turned out to be true.
We made reservations for dinner and for popular activities like the RipCord by iFly simulated skydiving, and we were always accommodated on time. Even for the buffet or service at Michael’s Genuine Pub, I waited no longer than I would have in any bar or restaurant in the city. I think it’s because there are so many choices on board that no single place ever gets overcrowded.
And as for getting lost, I never was! Each deck is so unique it’s like being in a different neighborhood. The Royal Esplanade on deck 5, with its shops and bars, reminded me of Midtown, while deck 3 felt a bit like Times Square with the glitzy Casino Royal, Music Hall and The Royal Theater. Despite its size, I found the ship really easy to navigate (the touchscreen directional displays and plentiful signage helped). Now, if I can only learn which way’s port and which way’s starboard, I’ll be golden!