Sunday, 17 May 2015

Anthem of the Seas

Now I know I have repeatedly said I am not a fan of big ships - and you won't get a lot bigger than the sparkling new Anthem of the Seas, but I wanted to explore the interesting use of technology on board, and at least give it a go! So the following weekend after Saga Pearl II found my friend and I driving up to the City Terminal in Southampton to board this monster vessel!

We had pre-booked our embarkation time as 11.15 – 11.45. We drove up to the terminal at about 11am and parked the car as directed. A van was slowly driving along the line of cars collecting luggage. As we got the cases out of the car and before they were put into the van a RFID sticker was attached to them and a corresponding one stuck onto our Seapasses. Once we were on the ship we could track our luggage via the RFID and an app I had pre-loaded onto my smartphone! In fact our cases arrived before I had a chance to try it out but I guess with a ship of over 4000 passengers and potentially 8000 pieces of luggage this could prove very useful!


 As we approached the terminal itself, check-in staff were outside with iPads. We had done all our pre-embarkation check-in online so it was a simple task to scan our Seapasses and stamp them "Checked CCT Southampton". This, it appeared, gave us permission to just proceed on board without further delay.  I did wonder why we were being directed straight through the priority routes to security while others had to sit and wait in the lounges. I later discovered that it was because we had done everything prior to arrival, including uploading our photos for ID, AND had arrived within our pre-chosen window. The upshot was that we were on board within about 20 minutes of arrival. Impressive!

Not so impressive was the fact that our cabins would not be ready until 1pm – fine, that is normal - BUT I had expected to be able to drop off my cabin case first, even it the cabin was not ready. This was when we found the fire doors shut on every deck, preventing entry to cabin areas until they were completed. So, first stop – the Windjammer buffet – not easy when trailing a case and camera bag around, but we found a shared table and got up to browse the very varied selections of food.  Once refuelled we set off to photograph the ship from top to bottom – now this is when I really discovered just how big a ship Anthem is! I mean seriously big with a capital B and of course, throughout the cruise, everywhere we needed to be was almost always at the furthest end from where we were.


So – on our initial brief tour –

Likes:- Décor, the fact that all rides etc were free (included), entertainment, Bionic Bar, cabin décor and bathroom with glass door to shower. Interesting and often interactive artwork although some was rather surreal and could even be frightening to children I suspect.

Dislikes:- Marble flooring everywhere makes it feel like a shopping mall, not a ship.  Comparatively small atrium, lots of self-service cafes so little feeling of being looked after or pampered, too many tables for two in restaurants so had to eat alone one night. Dynamic dining a nightmare to book.

Finally it was time to go to the cabin. This was an obstructed view balcony twin. In fact the view was just fine and the tender/lifeboat no higher than the balcony rail anyway. The balcony was glass-fronted and deep enough for the reclining chairs with separate footstools to  be arranged side by side.




Unfortunately – despite checking twice – the bed was set up as a double and in fact, even when changed at our request to two singles, were very close together!  The bathroom was lovely with a large shower with opening curved glass door – the best I have ever had on a ship in fact. Otherwise it was pretty standard with open shelves for storage and large complimentary toiletries.  I was thrown by a security coded lock on a cupboard – until I realised it was the fridge with minibar and had a childproof locking system! The real safe was very small and only suitable for jewellery and documents – not a laptop or even a full-size iPad I suspect.  Entry to the cabin by the way was with proximity cruise cards – one left in a sealed envelope outside the door on arrival, and the second on the bed, together with two WOW wristbands which had the same function as a cruise card and would be great for the spa or swimming as you just put them on in the morning and left them on all day.  The lighting did require a card to be put in a slot so the wristbands were even better if you forgot and left the card there - yes I found out the hard way!!
There was a kettle and mugs and tea bags but we were not allowed coffee apparently.  As my case had arrived I began to unpack. This was when I discovered that RCI passengers do not seem to wear full-length dresses, even in the Grande on a formal night. There was one small section of almost full-length hanging but not enough for an evening dress. Lots of drawers and shelves otherwise. The bedside tables too were just very small open shelves like Fred Olsen’s.  Very long and comfy sofa – to the extent that the first night, when I found the mattress on the bed really uncomfortable, I contemplated moving to the sofa!

Muster drill for us was in the Music  Hall – a double height venue for cabaret etc like an old-time music hall. Life jackets were not required but you were checked in via your card to ensure attendance.  Then it was time to grab a jacket and head up to the top deck (no.16) to watch the sailaway.  The view over Mayflower Park from such a height was amazing and it was lovely to see sightseeing boats escort us down the water.  Going to the North Star bar for a glass of sailaway wine – I discovered what I probably knew but had forgotten – that we were on an all-inclusive package! Great. Just past Calshot, we checked and the queue for the North Star was not so long so we joined it. We had to wait about half an hour in the queue but it was worth it for the amazing ride up in the capsule high over the ship looking down on the pilot boat like a bath toy!


By then it was time to change for dinner. Now – the saga of our Dynamic Dining! As preferred we had gone online to pre-book this. There are four complimentary restaurants – Silk, Grande, American Icon and Chic.  The Grande is the only formal restaurant. And as we were only on for three nights wanted to try three different venues. However, trying to co-ordinate our show bookings with dining was a nightmare especially as only one person can log into the system at a time.  Eventually we got sorted but initially couldn’t book the Grande. Then, a day or two before sailing a slot became available so my friend booked it, cancelling one of our other restaurants. It is also confusing because other eating places such as Divinly Decadent came up with a $0 charge but we later discovered they were a la carte and charged per dish!  The times we had booked were by no means ideal but we lived with it – until we discovered our dinner at The Grande clashed with the captain’s welcome party with free champagne! So off we went to change it yet again – eventually our account on the cabin TV showed us having booked for dinner pretty much twice every night! Like I said – a nightmare!

Before dinner we were booked for Spectra’s Cabaret performed in Two70 – a large daytime seating area, which transformed at night by huge screens into a rain forest or aquarium etc. Suddenly the planters around the seating disappeared and they became stages that rose and sank as required.

The show was amazing, using the full height of the venue with acrobatic dance routines and music.  It felt happening all around you. It was mesmerising!  Then off to dinner at Chic.

Because you can only prebook eating and not a table – we asked for a shared table but were taken to an empty one for six had had to hope others would join us. Eventually two ladies joined the table, followed by a third on her own.  The latter was on classic dining but none of her companions had turned up so she had gone over to dynamic. The food was delicious and the venue delightful but the service on this first night was very slow indeed – so much so that they apologised to us and blamed it on queues in the galley. Still, with our all-inclusive package I took to starting with a glass of Prosecco followed by a New Zealand white so was quite content. The Select Package we were on included soft drinks, wines and beers up to $9 per glass. There was also a more expensive package which included spirits and more expensive wines. After dinner we sat and watched the mesmerising Bionic Bar tenders!  Gimmicky they may be but they were fun to watch.  By then it was time for bed.  This was when I found out that I didn’t like RCI mattresses. Now admittedly I have a problem with my shoulder at present but the mattress seemed to have hard bits digging into me. By the third night Caryll was agreeing with me so it wasn’t just me!
Tomorrow - Zeebrugge! 

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