Before we get going, I want to start things off by introducing myself...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I always cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little beach town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We've been cruising since 1996, and this was our 35th cruise overall... but only our fourth with Royal Caribbean. It was a funny coincidence that during our 35th cruise, we celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary!
Most of our previous cruises have been with Carnival Cruise Lines. We did over 20 Carnival cruises, and we were quite happy with them. But a few years ago we decided to branch out and give some of the other cruise lines a try, just to see if we were missing out on anything... and it really opened our eyes! We found things about Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Norwegian Cruise Line that we really enjoyed. So, I don't consider myself locked in to cruising with any one particular cruise line anymore. Mostly I'm interested in cruising on the newest ships in order to experience the current state-of-the-art in the cruise industry.
An Introduction To Anthem Of The Seas
Anthem Of The Seas is the second ship in Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class, and was (at the time we sailed on her during March/April 2016) the newest ship in the fleet. Royal Caribbean takes great pride in designing their ships with what they call a "wow" factor... and this ship was certainly full of unusual and innovative features that you won't find on most other cruise ships.
The most iconic feature of Anthem Of The Seas (and her sister ship, Quantum Of The Seas) is the aerial viewing pod known as "NorthStar"...
NorthStar takes about a dozen passengers up in the air
for a spectacular view about 300 feet above the water line
A still picture doesn't completely give you the full idea of how NorthStar works.
A time-lapse video of NorthStar does a better job of showing what NorthStar does:
Here's a photo I snapped during a ride in NorthStar:
Reflections off the glass make photos taken from within NorthStar less-than-perfect.
My advice is to not focus your energy on shooting photos up there... just enjoy the view with your eyes.
Most of the time, a ride on NorthStar is fairly quick... about 10 minutes, featuring just a trip up, a quick swivel left and right, and then back down you go. But on the second sea day at the beginning of the cruise, and the second sea day at the end of the cruise, they offered extended rides in NorthStar... where they would take it through its full range of motion all the way over each side of the ship. These extended rides can not be reserved... they are on a first-come first-served basis... so just get in line if you're interested.
While NorthStar is really just a gimmick that adds a brief moment of fun to your cruise, the one feature on Anthem Of The Seas that I found most enjoyable and hugely better than anything competing cruise lines offer is The Solarium.
The Solarium is an adults-only area at the front of the ship, which is wind-protected and stays delightfully warm even on the coolest sea day. It features lots of loungers, daybeds, and comfortable chairs, as well as two huge Jacuzzi whirlpool tubs, and a tiered series of pools that you can relax in. It also offers a spectacular view forward.
My favorite part of the ship, the adults-only Solarium
A view of the Solarium at night
The pools are about three feet deep... perfect for sitting and relaxing and socializing.
There are three pools, stacked one above the other, and each one spills over in to the next lower one
Still pictures truly don't do the Solarium justice!
Please let me lead you on a tour of the Solarium in this video:
If you're interested in videography, you might be wondering what camera I used to shoot that video. That was shot with a DJI Osmo... a motion-stabilized video camera that's kind of like a GoPro mounted on a mini-steadicam. It's great for walking around and shooting video in motion... as you get a fairly smooth result, rather than the shaky video you would get with a regular handheld camera.
In the Solarium tour video, I showed you one of the Solarium's secret little features: the viewing platform, directly above the bridge, with spectacular views. This is a fantastic place to go for a great view when the ship is leaving or entering a port. It's basically the same view that the Captain has.
As you saw if you watched the video, not only does the secret viewing platform have an amazing view ahead of the ship, but also a view looking all the way along the side of the ship to the back. Therefore, if you value your privacy, I'd recommend against booking one of the balcony cabins that's right up there at the front of the ship. People standing out on the viewing platform have a pretty good view on to the balconies of at least the first six cabins on each deck of the ship. If you're the kind of person that likes to go out on your cabin in your bathrobe, and you don't want people looking back at you, check the deck plans and book a cabin more towards the center or aft end of the ship.
There's some nice patio furniture within the Solarium, with big soft cushions...
There are also some very comfortable day-beds in the Solarium, although I failed to get a picture of any of them.
The Solarium is one of the best examples of where Royal Caribbean totally out-shines Carnival Cruise Line. Carnival has an adults-only area of their ships called the Serenity Retreat, but it pales in comparison to the Solarium. On most Carnival ships, their Serenity Retreat is located up on the top deck at the front of the ship... very similar to the location of the Solarium. But Carnival didn't bother to build in any effective method of wind protection... so when the ship is in motion, their Serenity retreat gets horribly windy and uncomfortable. Royal Caribbean was very smart to completely surround their solariums in glass on their Quantum-class and Oasis-class ships.
Another big difference between Anthem Of The Sea's Solarium and Carnival's Serenity Retreat is the water feature. Carnival doesn't have anything but a couple of Jacuzzis in most of their Serenity Retreats. The 3-level water feature in the center of the solarium is spectacular and really beats the heck out of what Carnival offers in this area.
The one area of comparison where Carnival wins in a solarium versus serenity battle is in the quality of the loungers. Loungers in the Carnival serenity retreats have super-comfortable thick cushions, similar to the chairs you see in the previous photo. If you look in the upper right corner of that photo, you can see that Royal Caribbean's loungers don't have any cushions at all. This would be one thing that Royal Caribbean might want to address.
Earlier this year, I did a much more expensive cruise in The Haven on the Norwegian Escape. I have to say that I actually prefer the situation in The Solarium on Anthem Of The Seas to the situation in The Haven Courtyard on the Norwegian Escape. Sure, the Solarium is more crowded... but I really like the cascading pools, the view forward, and the larger Jacuzzis. Honestly, if I had to choose between a 7-day cruise in The Haven or a 12-day cruise in a regular balcony cabin on Anthem Of The Seas... I'd take Anthem. (And I'd save a significant chunk of money versus The Haven, too.)
The outdoor swimming pool at the center of deck 14 is "party central"... this is the place to be if you like to be where the action is. You'll have a hard time finding an available lounger here after about 8 AM on a sea day. There's a big video screen next to the pool, and there's usually either a band playing or some pre-recorded party music.
On the first day of the cruise, it was quite cool outside, so there was hardly anyone at the outdoor pool
On a normal day in the Caribbean, this is what you can expect out at the main pool:
When you're relaxing out at the outdoor pool, it's fun to see NorthStar in action above you...
A children's water play area is located next to the outdoor pool...
The children's water play area has a really smart design with a nice gentle slope and is only about one foot deep at the deepest end. This is perfect for even the youngest toddlers.
Because Anthem Of The Seas sails out of New Jersey, the designers knew that an outdoor pool would be unusable on certain days. So, they put a second swimming pool on deck 14, and they enclosed this one in glass, similar to what they did with the Solarium. But while the Solarium is an adults-only area, this indoor pool is open to all ages.
The pool situation basically boils down to this:
Outdoor pool: Loud and fun, mostly filled with kids, adults sunbathing all around.
Indoor pool: A little more quiet, but still mostly filled with kids except at the beginning and end of the day.
Solarium: Adults only. Pool is less than 3 feet deep. Good pool for chatting with your fellow passengers, or for relaxing.
On deck 14, not far from the indoor pool, there's a towel station where you can checkout towels using your seapass card.
Personally, I like Carnival's towel system a little better. On Carnival, you'll find two pool towels in your stateroom on embarkation day. Your stateroom steward will change them out as necessary, or you can exchange them for dry ones as needed, up on Lido deck.
One of the most innovative features on Anthem Of The Seas is the aft theater, which is known as Two70. The name comes from the 270 degree view out the huge picture windows at the back of the ship... but the fun starts when they lower the screens over those big picture windows, and the entire wall of windows becomes a giant projection screen.
Then, as if having a gigantic projection screen didn't open up enough interesting possibilities, there are six big high-definition video screens mounted on to robotic arms. The robotic arms let those video screens dance to the music and move around in all sorts of creative ways. It's really hard to describe the creative stuff they do in the shows in Two70... you just really need to experience it for yourself!
Because there is no "backstage" in this theater, performers tend to pop up from below,
thanks to several big elevators built in to the stage.
Or, they drop down from up above...
Those six video screens mounted on robotic arms can be configured in all sorts of creative ways...
In this next photo, shot from the reverse angle from all the others, they were using Two70 as a disco...
It's amazing how during the day, Two70 is a lounge with big picture windows that look out the back of the ship... but at night they drop down screens over each of the windows and it becomes one gigantic projection video screen.
In this next photo, the dark glass area you see is the gigantic row of picture windows that gives Two70 the spectacular view during the day... and then at night they lower the screens and they can turn it in to anything they want.
Besides featuring big production shows like Spectra's Cabaret, Two70 can
be used for all sorts of other things.
One performance I really enjoyed was something they call a "Virtual Symphony".
I have a soft spot in my heart for United Airlines... so I got a little tear in my eye when the Virtual Symphony orchestra played "Rhapsody In Blue", which is the song that United uses as their theme song. Sitting in Two70 and watching the virtual symphony made me really want to try harder to do one of the items on my bucket list: to see a live performance of Camille Saint-Saëns symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, the "organ symphony". My brother introduced me to it when I was just a kid, and it's still my favorite piece of classical music. I have just GOT to see that performed live some time!
Speaking of classical music and orchestras and things like that...
There's an odd and interesting piece of art on deck 5, not far from the entrance to Two70...
When you're standing near the entrance to Two70, if you make a left turn and go out the door to the outer deck,
you'll find the nicest smoker's lounge I've ever seen on a cruise ship...
Also on deck five, there's some interesting indoor furniture you can relax in...
(The smoker's lounge is just on the other side of those windows)
This has somehow turned in to a tour of the ship's interior spaces.
So, let me show you the Royal Esplanade,
an area that will look very familiar to you if you've sailed on other Royal Caribbean ships.
I've only sailed on Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class, Oasis-class, and Quantum-class ships... but they've all had something similar to this onboard. None of the other cruise lines have anything like this, as far as I know. It's basically an indoor area that feels very much like a big-city shopping mall. On the Freedom-class, they throw some big parties in here at night... but they did not do that on Anthem Of The Seas.
One weird thing about the Royal Esplanade on Anthem Of The Seas is that the shops are super high-end luxury shops... the kind of things you might expect to see on some cruise line for the ultra-rich, not on a mass-market cruise line. They had one conventional cruise ship gift shop, but it was about the smallest cruise ship gift shop I had ever seen, with the most limited selection.
Back to the tour of some of the public spaces onboard...
They were smart to build a dedicated space for musical performances on Anthem Of The Seas. They call it "Music Hall"... and it features a perfect stage for music, a bar, a dance floor, seating on two levels. While sitting here listening to a rock band play, I couldn't help but think of some of the cruises I've done on the Carnival Breeze... where they have this awkward setup for music in a place they call "Ocean Plaza". It's right in the center of the ship where there is a constant traffic flow, so you literally have a stream of people walking through the space as the band is playing... and there's no real place for people to sit down directly in front of the band to watch and listen. The band has to play to an audience seated to the left, and an audience seated to the right. The whole thing is just FUBAR. Anyway, that was the silly design of the Carnival Breeze I was speaking of. The design of the Music Hall on Anthem Of The Seas is much better... although perhaps on the next generation of ships they might be smart to squeeze in even more seating.
Here's another photo I shot in the Music Hall one night.
I call this photo "what happens on a cruise ship, stays on the cruise ship"!
Finally, before we move on from our general tour of the ship...
One of the passengers was blind and had a service dog with her to help her get around.
If you've ever wondered where a dog goes potty on a cruise ship,
this next photo, taken on deck five near the lifeboats, solves the mystery.
Our Cabin: 12182
We've stayed in all sorts of different cabins during our 35 cruises... everything from the cheapest interior cabins to some very expensive suites. Royal Caribbean suites are VERY pricey, so for this cruise we elected to stay in a standard balcony cabin, category D5. Our cabin number was 12182, if you have any interest in looking it up on the deck plans.
I chose this particular cabin because:
It is near the forward elevators, but not so close that we would hear noises from it.
The deck above is passengers cabins, as is the deck below. Therefore, it isn't a very noisy location.
It is an easy walk to the Solarium and the indoor pool.
Using the forward elevators, you can quickly get to and from the Royal Theater and the Music Hall.
It's a fairly easy walk down the hallway and up two sets of stairs to get to the Windjammer restaurant.
Once we got onboard, we discovered that the cabins on Anthem Of The Seas have some very cool design features that I hadn't heard about. So I put together a video that clearly shows some of the smart design choices that Royal Caribbean made in designing these cabins. Please take a look at this video tour of our cabin:
One thing I forgot to show in the video is that the desk is not anchored to the wall,
it can be pulled out and used in whatever configuration you like.
Rotate it 90 degrees and use it like this, if you'd like...
Or pull it all the way over to the couch and use it as a coffee table...
Over by the door to the hallway, you'll find these two things mounted on the wall:
The top unit is controls for the heating and cooling system. It is very responsive and works extremely well. In the picture, the display is showing that we asked the system to keep the room at 73 degrees, and in the upper left it is confirming that the temperature in the room is indeed actually 73 degrees.
The idea for the bottom unit is that you would stick your room keycard in
the slot when you're in the room, and take the card out to keep it with you when you leave the room. The power to
the cabin shuts off a few minutes after the card is removed. We find that a little inconvenient, so we just bring
a spare keycard with us from a previous cruise
and leave it in the slot at all times. That way my actual room keycard stays in my pocket at all times, and I won't tend to leave the room without it.
As you saw in the room tour video, we were travelling with "Tramp" from the Disney movie, Lady & The Tramp...
The full story is that I've been in to Cocker Spaniels since I was a little kid. In fact, from 1995 through 2010, our hobby was breeding American Cocker Spaniel puppies. (Now it's cruising!) We've got a thing for the Disney movie "Lady and the Tramp" because the central character is a cartoon version of a Cocker Spaniel. On a previous cruise vacation, Kellyn bought a stuffed animal version of "Lady" at the Disney Store in Miami... but they didn't have "Tramp" in stock.
The day before our cruise on Anthem Of The Seas, we stumbled on to a Disney Outlet store in the big shopping mall in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As luck would have it, they had "Tramp" in stock... so we grabbed one, and brought him along on the cruise with us. During our cruise, our cabin steward had a lot of fun pairing Tramp up with various towel animals.
In the hallways outside the passenger cabins, there are pieces of framed art placed at random intervals. I liked that this particular item was in the hallway, directly opposite our cabin door. It made it easy to find our room without having to look at the stateroom numbers. Plus, I liked the vacation message it offered...
Down the hall from us, another cabin had something similar, but with a less vacation-oriented message. We jokingly referred to the cabin across the hall from these posters as "the low self-esteem" cabin.
There was one day during our cruise where our ship hit some rough seas. (More about that later.) It was interesting to walk down the hallway that day... there were certain sections where you could hear creaking noises caused by the motion of the ship. I imagine the creaking noises would have been kind of annoying inside the cabins. Once you walked a little further down the hallway, you'd get in to a section where there weren't any creaking noises at all. It was weird! I was really glad that our cabin was located in one of the sections that did not creak even when the ship encountered rough seas.
While we're on the subject of cabins...
Our cabin was an actual balcony cabin, but on the other side of the hall
there were some interior cabins with "virtual balconies".
One day, when the cabin steward was cleaning one of them and had the door propped open, I snapped a picture of the fake balcony.
It's looks fairly real in the photo, but the truth is that in person it looked totally fake.
I do think it's cool that all 500+ interior cabins on Anthem Of The Seas have this feature, though.
One negative thing I should probably mention about the cabins on Anthem Of The Seas is that the televisions do not receive programming from NBC, CBS, ABC, or FOX. So, if you're hoping to keep an eye on your favorite network TV show during your cruise vacation... you're out of luck. Set your DVR accordingly!
Food & Dining
On our very first night onboard, we had dinner at the "American Icon Grill". This is very similar to what would be known as "the main dining room" on most cruise ships, except that advanced reservations are required, and it had a menu that was less international and more American-focused than you'd typically find in a cruise ship dining room.
Here's the oven-roasted salmon entrée that Kellyn ordered:
I ordered the Pork Chop:
OK, I have to give you fair warning and let you know that I'm about to begin a rant:
That photo of the pork chop dinner from the American Icon Grill is a perfect example of everything I hate about fine dining and "foodie" food... and perfectly illustrates why Kellyn and I eat almost all of our cruise ship meals in the buffet, rather than in the conventional restaurants.
I've got no problem with that pork chop. The pork chop was fine. But I've got a BIG problem with that TINY portion of potatoes and vegetables served along with it. Do you even see the potatoes in that picture? They're located between the five green beans (wow, how generous!) and the three carrot slices. That is, at most, two bites of potatoes. And that's why I prefer to eat in the buffet, where I can control the portion sizes.
To see how it should be done, let's look at this next photo, of my dinner from Chops Grille... the steakhouse on Anthem Of The Seas:
Notice the gigantic baked potato served with the generous portion of steak.
In my opinion, that's the proper portion of potatoes to serve with a meat entrée.
So, we never went back to the American Icon Grill after that first night.
I'm a fan of the buffet, where I can control the portion sizes.
The buffet on Anthem Of The Seas is pretty amazing!
They incorporated a very important feature
that I've never seen in any other cruise ship buffet before.
Take a look at this next video, where I explain it to you...
We cruised on Independence of the Seas last year, and they had a pretty darned good buffet at lunch and dinner , but breakfast needed some improvement. I was delighted to discover that the breakfast situation had improved on Anthem Of The Seas. For starters, they had added quite a few more omelet stations, making it much easier to get a freshly cooked omelet just the way you like it.
At breakfast on the first day, Kellyn and I each had omelettes... but we got them from different omelet chefs. I got mine from Ari, who you see in this next picture. He cooked my omelet absolutely perfectly.
Kellyn got her omelet from a different guy, and he burned it. Really, it had black marks! So every morning from then on, I went back to Ari for my morning omelet. Every day, for the rest of our 12-day cruise, I had an excellent breakfast to start the day:
Notice the Lawry's seasoned salt. I bring that from home. It makes the eggs and the potatoes taste better than regular salt does. And contrary to a common misperception, it contains no MSG.
I used to always use Carnival's breakfast buffet as the gold standard that I compared all other cruise ship breakfasts to... but I was very impressed with breakfast in the Windjammer on Anthem Of The Seas. For me, this is the new cruise ship breakfast standard that all others will be judged against. Here's an example of one little thing I noticed they did...
A lot of the hot food that is served in any breakfast buffet is cooked way in advance and then kept in a warming tray. Let's use breakfast sausage as an example. If they cook up a big tray of sausage at 6:30 AM, stick it in a warming tray, and I eventually pull a couple of links of sausage out of it at 7:15 AM... that sausage that was cooked 45 minutes ago is still OK. No problem. But some things are best when they're really hot, right off the griddle. Pancakes are one of those things. On Carnival, and probably on most cruise ships, really... they cook up big trays of pancakes and then they sit for a long time in a warming tray. On Anthem Of The Seas, I was really impressed to see that they had a big griddle right there in the Windjammer, with a cook grilling up small amounts of several different types of pancakes. He wasn't in some big kitchen downstairs, grilling up 100 at a time and sending them up to the buffet... he was right there, grilling up about 8 or 12 at a time. You could actually get a fresh, hot pancake. It was impressive that someone had examined the buffet process and thought about how it could be made better and had actually realized that they had a pancake problem in their other ships and that for this ship they needed to add a pancake grill right there in the restaurant!
One other thing I noticed about the Windjammer was that the background music they play in there was better than what I heard on Carnival and Norwegian. I was a radio station program director and music director in the 1970s and 80s and it has always amazed me that they play such odd music on Carnival and NCL. Whoever picks their background music must not be an American... because it simply wasn't the right music for an American audience of diverse ages. I wish I was in charge of cruise ship background music! It would be so easy to come up with a playlist of a couple hundred songs that are widely recognizable. Really, you start by looking at the top-20 songs from the Billboard charts from each year from about 1970 onward. Those are some pretty solid songs right there! Anyway, my point is that while I still heard a few strange songs in the background mix on Anthem Of The Seas, I heard a lot more strange songs on NCL and Carnival. So, there's one more nice thing about Royal Caribbean for you.
While we're on the subject of the Windjammer buffet restaurant, let me clue you in on a somewhat hidden outdoor eating area at the far back end of the Windjammer. I bet a lot of people who sail on Anthem Of The Seas never even discover it. When the weather is nice outside, this is a fantastic place to eat your meal...
Because it's at the back of the ship, it's wind protected, too.
Another interesting Carnival versus Royal Caribbean comparison is with the cookies. I don't know how Carnival manages to make such horrible cookies, but they do. They taste like something you'd find in a bag on a grocery store shelf... like something cooked weeks ago. These chocolate chip cookies from the Anthem Of The Seas buffet were delicious, and were right up there with fresh-out-of-the-oven made-by-Mom cookies from your own kitchen. Sometimes they were actually warm, but that's hard to do when you're feeding 4500 passengers. A good trick to use if you grab some cruise ship cookies and they're not warm: put them on a plate and let them sit in the sun for a few minutes. The Caribbean sun does a good job of warming up and softening cookies!
So far in the Carnival versus Anthem Of The Seas food comparison, Anthem Of The Seas has done VERY well. A winning streak like that never lasts, though! Now it's time to talk about burger joints, and I'm afraid that on this matchup Royal Caribbean not only loses, but it's a double fail. I am talking, of course, about RCI's "Johnny Rockets" restaurants versus Carnival's "Guy's Burger Joint".
When Carnival teamed up with Guy Fieri and started adding "Guy's Burger Joint" to their fleet, it was the most genius cruise ship improvement I have ever seen. Those burgers are SO good. Johnny Rockets just does not compare well to Guy's Burger Joint at all. To add insult to injury, it's a double-fail on Anthem Of The Seas, because for some reason that I can't figure out, they cut way back on the seating for Johnny Rockets, compared to the ones on the two other Royal Caribbean ships I've sailed on. During a busy lunch rush, there is simply nowhere near enough seating at the Johnny Rockets restaurant on Anthem Of The Seas.
Now that I think about it, it's actually a triple fail. Not only is the food better at Guy's Burger Joint, and there's lots more seating, but it's FREE, too. They serve thousands of Guy Burgers each day on a Carnival ship... and there's a reason!
The best burger on the high seas: a Guy Fieri Burger
Even the fries are superior to all others!
Carnival also has a better setup for their soft-serve frozen desert served up on the Lido deck.
They offer both soft-serve ice cream, and soft-serve frozen yogurt, and it's available 24/7.
Royal Caribbean operates theirs during much more limited hours,
and there's no sign indicating what it actually is.
It didn't taste like either ice cream or frozen yogurt to me. I don't know what it was!
While I've got a rant going here, let's talk about drink prices.
My wife and I did very little drinking on Anthem Of The Seas because the prices were just sky high.
Including mandatory gratuity, these two mixed drinks set us back $22.36
And look at the size of those drinks... those are tiny!
Speaking of drinks, I'm sure you've heard about Anthem Of The Seas' high-tech robo-bar... where you put your drink order in on a little tablet computer, and a robotic bartender mixes up your drink for you. It's fun to watch! Here's a video...
The robo-bar is VERY crowded the first couple of days. My advice is... if you want to try it out, wait until the crowds thin out a little later in the cruise. We didn't actually order a drink at the robo-bar... Royal Caribbean's sky-high drink prices and tiny serving sizes pretty well turned me off to drinking... so I can't speak to the quality of the drinks that the robotic bartenders served. But I did notice an awful lot of people abandoned their drinks at the robo bar after taking a few sips. You don't normally see a bar with nearly-full drinks abandoned on the tables... but we did notice that more than a few times at the robo bar.
I feel like this section of the story has turned a little more negative than I wanted! This would probably be a good time for me to reiterate that we had a FANTASTIC cruise on Anthem Of The Seas and that it is now my favorite cruise ship and that this was one of the best cruises we have ever taken. Just because I pointed out a few things, I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression! Great ship, great cruise. Bravo, Royal Caribbean. I see you improving with each new ship. I can't wait to see what you come up with next! I am far more likely to cruise with Royal Caribbean in the coming years than with any other cruise line.
SeaPlex & Sports
The SeaPlex is a very interesting multi-purpose sports facility located on decks 15 & 16, aft. (Directly above the Windjammer restaurant.) It can be configured as a basketball court, a soccer court, a roller skating rink, a circus-style trapeze training facility, or as a bumper-car track. I think the bumper cars are the coolest use of this space, so let's start with that.
The first thing to point out about the bumper cars is that they're battery operated. So, unlike a traditional bumper car setup you'd find at an amusement park, you don't have a pole sticking up from the back of each car to make an electrical connection with a metal grid on the ceiling. So, these cars can't go all day long in continuous operation... they occasionally need to recharge. That's why you only see the bumper cars running for about two hours at a time, and then they configure the SeaPlex for some other event.
Notice that huge crowd lined up all the way around the lower level of the facility. Those people weren't just standing there watching... that was the line to ride the bumper cars! At the beginning of the cruise, the lines are crazy-long. In the photo, you're actually only seeing about half of the line that day! Just wait a few days and come to the bumper cars a little later in the week, and you'll find much shorter lines. We were walking through the SeaPlex one night about half-way through the cruise and there was almost no line. We rode the bumper cars, and got right back in line to ride them again after that.
Another fun activity in the SeaPlex is roller skating. I'm horrible at roller skating and ice skating, so I didn't try it. But there were some good people-watching opportunities! This little girl was cute...
Some people found the roller skating experience more terrifying than others...
On one of our shore excursions, we met a really nice family from Pennsylvania. A few days later, I was walking through the SeaPlex and saw the mother and daughter standing in line to participate in the flying trapeze activity. So, I set up my camera and shot this video of them giving it a try. The daughter was a natural athlete!
In my pre-cruise research, I had noticed something about Anthem Of The Seas that I couldn't figure out. You can see it in this next photo. Take a look at the top of the ship, to the right of the big yellow giraffe... and see if you can guess what those two rectangular blue structures are.
The answer to the mystery is that those two blue thingies, awkwardly sticking out at the top of the ship, are just little game rooms that are part of the second floor of the SeaPlex. There are two on each side of the ship, and they contain things like ping-pong tables, air hockey tables, and a nice little game room full of X-Box consoles.
Perhaps you're wondering about that big giraffe in that picture earlier.
Her name is Gigi, and she lives next to the rock-climbing wall.
Here's a better picture of Gigi...
I was impressed that Gigi survived that big storm back in February without getting blown overboard. She must REALLY be anchored down well! However, she did sustain some damage. See that red scarf she's wearing on her neck? That wasn't there originally. That was added after the storm to cover up some visible damage.
Before we move on from SeaPlex-related things,
I should mention that while you're in the SeaPlex, you can grab a hot dog here:
Not far from the SeaPlex, at the far aft end of deck 16, you'll find the FlowRider surf simulator...
It's fun to watch the people try this,
especially at the beginning of the cruise when they tend to wipe out more spectacularly!
There's a not-very-well-known sun deck at the back of deck 15.
It can be a little windy back here, at times,
but it's worth checking out if you can't find any available loungers by the pools.
Also back at the aft end of the ship in the same general area as the Flowrider and Gigi, the giraffe,
you'll find Anthem Of The Seas' other big "wow" feature...
one of those things you just don't find on other cruise lines...
a skydiving simulator known as "RipCord by iFLY"
In case you don't already get the concept, there's a big propeller down under that screen at the bottom of the tube. It sends a constant stream of air up the tube, and if you orient your body in there just right, you can have that stream of air hold you up. It's a little like skydiving, without the sensation of falling. I didn't try it myself, but it was fun to watch... especially in between sessions, when the instructors were practicing by themselves.
When passengers are participating, the instructors keep a pretty close grip on the person in the tube, to help keep their body oriented properly to ride the stream of air. It's kind of like watching someone ride a bike with training wheels on. The real fun comes in watching the instructors goof around in between passenger flying sessions.
A Spectacular Start To Our Cruise
Anthem Of The Seas is based in Bayonne, New Jersey, at the Cape Liberty cruise terminal. They call the cruise terminal Cape Liberty because right from the deck of a cruise ship that's docked there, you have a SPECTACULAR view of the Statue Of Liberty as well as Manhattan.
I shot this picture from an open window in the Solarium
(Full disclosure: 400mm zoom lens required to make it look this close)
In my pre-cruise research, I had seen this next photo quite a bit.
It's Anthem's sister ship, Quantum Of The Seas.
Based on that photo, when I booked this cruise I was thinking we'd have an experience similar to that... sailing right in front of the Statue Of Liberty, beautifully lit up, at night.
However, after looking at Google Maps, I came to realize that the ship was unlikely to pass directly in front of the Statue Of Liberty, since the statue sits in the opposite direction from the path a cruise ship would take to go from the Cape Liberty cruise terminal out to open water. Once I thought about it, I realized that the fantastic photo of Quantum Of The Seas directly in front of Lady Liberty was probably shot during a one-time-only photo opportunity when Quantum made her very first visit to New York harbor. Also, when I looked at my cruise documents, I noticed our sailaway time was scheduled for 3:00 PM... so it certainly wasn't going to be nighttime conditions like in that famous photo.
Nonetheless, we truly did have a spectacular view of the Statue Of Liberty from the minute we got onboard the ship in Bayonne. It was really great to have that first lunch in the Windjammer restaurant and to look out the window at that spectacular view. The big 400mm zoom lens on my camera makes it look even more spectacular than it really was, but it was still pretty spectacular!
As we set sail, I also shot a little video of the view of the Statue Of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline:
Sailing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was pretty cool, too!
I captured that in a time-lapse video from our balcony...
We were sailing from New York harbor in March. It was cold!
Once we got past the bridge and out in to open water,
I looked at the indoor/outdoor thermometer I had set up
and this is what I saw...
The bad news is that with the wind chill, it felt MUCH colder than that!
The good news is that when we woke up the next morning, it was 63 degrees outside.
And by the next morning after that, off the coast of Florida, it was in the 70s.
I should mention that there were 4,390 passengers on Anthem Of The Seas for our cruise. It was a unusual mix of people... a different demographic than a lot of the other cruises I had been on. There were a lot more international passengers than I had seen on most of my cruises. Only 2440 of the 4390 passengers were from the USA. Surprisingly, the folks from the U.K. outnumbered the folks from Canada. There were 969 Brits and only 454 Canadians. I totally loved listening to all the folks with British accents during this cruise! To this American, a classy British accent sounds pretty darned good to me.
Anthem Of The Seas docked in Labadee
After two full days at sea, we finally reached our first port of call: Royal Caribbean's private retreat in Labadee, Haiti. Kellyn and I have been to Labadee several times before, and we've always enjoyed it. A day in Labadee is basically a free beach day... and spending time at a warm Caribbean beach is one of the main reasons we go on cruises.
A few years ago, on our very first visit to Labadee, a crew member gave us some excellent advice. She told us that when we get to Labadee, there would be a choice of several different beaches to spend the day at... and that the best one of all, and the one we should go to, is the one known as Columbus cove. Her advice was absolutely right on target, and we've spent the day at Columbus Cove during every one of our Labadee visits since then.
Columbus Cove is the furthest beach from the ship, which makes it the least crowded... because most people settle down somewhere before they ever get all the way out to Columbus Cove. There is also excellent shade available at Columbus Cove, and a fantastic beach with soft sand and no surf at all. Bathrooms, drinks, and food are easily available.
It's not a difficult walk to get to Columbus cove... we've walked to it the last several times we've visited. Just follow the signs, or use the map, below.
Here's a map of Labadee:
If you click on the map, a more detailed copy will open up in a new browser tab
If you're not up to walking to the furthest beach from the ship, there's an easier way: just take the free tram.
If you're interested in a more luxurious day at the beach, consider renting one of these cabanas:
Be aware that there are cabanas at Barefoot Beach and at Nellie's Beach... but Barefoot Beach (and the cabanas there) are only for suite guests. So, if you're not staying in a suite but you'd like to rent a cabana for the day while you're visiting Labadee, you'll want to reserve one of the ones at Nellie's Beach. The over-the-water cabanas like you see in the photo rent for a whopping $495. You are allowed to have up to six people in the cabana. There is a less expensive version down on the beach itself (rather than perched up on the rocks) that rents for $395. All cabanas include a cooler filled with bottled water, two floating beach mats, snorkeling gear, and towels.
We were plenty happy to spend our day on a standard lounger under the shade of the trees in Columbus Cove. The only negative thing I can say is that this time around, the water was just a little cooler than it was on our three previous visits. We were here about a month earlier this year than we were on our previous visit last year... and weather conditions had just not warmed up enough to heat the water to the 80+ degree point that I enjoy so much during many of our Caribbean cruises. This was the most northern port of call we would be visiting on our cruise, so I was fairly confident that things would warm up more the further south we got this week. Don't get me wrong, though... the water certainly was not cold! As you can see from the previous photo, there were plenty of people enjoying the day in the water. It just wasn't as warm as it gets during a summer or fall cruise to the Caribbean.
While we were lounging around at the beach at Columbus Cove, we had a special visitor:
Here's another photo from Columbus Cove.
In the distance, you can see the "aqua park", a collection of water toys...
A close-up view of people having fun at the Aqua Park:
On just about every cruise we've taken, there has been some kind of incident. Some memorable ones were the time I left my wallet at home, the time I got clumsy walking in flip-flops and scraped off the end of one toe, several times when I got sick during a cruise, and several times when I broke a pair of glasses or sunglasses. You'd think I would learn to be more careful with glasses! The root of the problem is that I'm nearsighted, so I need glasses to see things that are more than a few feet away... but I have to take the glasses off to see things that are within a few feet. When I use a camera, or a pair of binoculars, or a cell phone, or a computer... the glasses have to come off... and that's when the incidents occur! During one cruise, I had to wear prescription sunglasses everywhere because I managed to break my regular prescription glasses during the cruise. Believe me when I say it's weird to be sitting in the buffet eating dinner and wearing a pair of sunglasses... and even weirder to be sitting in the theater watching a show, wearing a pair of sunglasses!
This time around, I had the reverse version of that incident. I sat on (and broke) my prescription sunglasses while we were lounging around at Columbus Cove. Back in our cabin at the end of the afternoon, I snapped this photo of them:
But the good news, as you can see on the indoor/outdoor thermometer that I always bring along on a cruise, was that it had been a nice warm 82 degree day at Columbus Cove... and that the air conditioning in our cabin was working very well, keeping our little part of the ship at a pleasant 71 degrees.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
We've been to San Juan many times before. The thing that's really cool about cruising in to San Juan is the beautiful view as the ship enters the harbor. If I were to put together a list of the ports with the most interesting views as you arrive, San Juan would be right up there at the top of the list along with places like San Francisco and Acapulco. If you book a cabin on the left side of the ship, you'll have a fantastic view from your balcony as the ship pulls in to San Juan.
I'm such a fan of the whole sailing-in-to-San-Juan-Bay experience that I put together a little video about it, and narrated it with a little history lesson, and a few tips. Please take a look at the video:
When I go to the Caribbean, what I really like to do is swim and snorkel at a nice beach... and there aren't any that you can get to very easily from the cruise ship dock in the old downtown of San Juan. As I mentioned in the video, the cool thing to do in San Juan is to visit the beautiful old stone fort they call El Morro... but we did that less than a year ago, and didn't feel the need for another visit this time around. So, we took it pretty easy during this visit to San Juan.
We made a brief trip ashore for lunch at Señor Frogs restaurant, and then walked just a few more steps over to the CVS pharmacy to pick up a few supplies... and then we got right back onboard the ship. Total time ashore: about an hour and a half. Remember, Puerto Rico is a territory of the USA, so don't be surprised by American-style conveniences like having a CVS store right across the street from the ship. I picked up a new pair of flip-flops there, plus a six-pack of Diet Pepsi... at substantially lower than cruise ship gift shop prices.
Once we got back onboard the ship, it was nice to enjoy some of the ship's more popular features without having quite so many passengers around.
Later this year, we'll be back in San Juan once again... but instead of arriving by cruise ship, we'll be arriving by airplane. We're very excited about a cruise this Fall on the Viking Star cruise ship... and that cruise begins and ends in San Juan. So, flying in and then beginning our cruise in San Juan will be an interesting new experience for us. Plus, Viking Ocean cruises offers a very different cruise experience than you get on a mass-market line like Royal Caribbean, Norewegian, or Carnival. The minimum age to sail on the Viking Star is 16 years old. Every cabin on the Viking Star has a balcony... they don't even offer "inside" cabins or "ocean view" cabins at all. There are no restrictions on bringing your own booze aboard... so for the first time ever, I'll be able to legally carry aboard some Malibu rum and some diet Pepsi in order to avoid paying sky-high ship cruise ship prices for my vacation beverage of choice. Also, the Viking Star has a really nice indoor spa thermal suite that is available to all passengers at no additional charge. We're looking forward to that, as the spa thermal suite on Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Getaway were right up there at the top of my list of favorite features I've experienced in my previous cruises.
St. Maarten is one of my favorite places in the Caribbean. I've been there two times before, and I hope to be back many, many more times. One of the things I like about St. Maarten is that there are things you can do there that don't require booking an expensive shore excursion through the ship. On one previous visit there, we took a taxi over to the world-famous Maho Beach... which is located right at the end of the runway for the island's big international airport. You can sit under an umbrella on the beach, and every once in a while a big airplane will come right over your head and land at the runway just behind you. It's fun! It also happens to be a really nice beach with a restaurant and bar (and restrooms) just a few steps away.
For this visit to St. Maarten, however, we elected to visit a different beach. We had been there last year and had a really nice time, so we decided to just do the exact same thing again. It's fairly simple to get to... once you get off the cruise ship, you just walk over to a fairly well-marked pier where you get on a small ferry that takes you over to the beach. It's just a short and inexpensive ferry ride to the other side of the bay from where the cruise ships are.
The ferry drops you off at a little pier in downtown Philipsburg. There's a fantastic beach right there, as well as many shops, restaurants, and bars. You can rent loungers and umbrellas from any one of dozens of places along the beach. Just find a spot you like. We like to make a left as we come off the pier, and walk down to a little restaurant called Lizzy's.
On the beach, right in front of Lizzy's, is the place we like to settle in for the day. We rent a pair of loungers and an umbrella, and then spend the day at the beach there.
This is one of my favorite beaches out of all the ones I've been to in my exploration of the Caribbean. Perfect sand, gentle surf, food/drink/bathrooms just a few steps away, and during most of the year the water is wonderfully warm. I didn't spend as much time in the water during this particular visit as I did the last time I was here, as it was just a little cooler at the end of March than it was when we were here towards the end of April last year. The warmest water temperatures, of course, will be found during hurricane season... August and September. The whole reason that hurricanes form at that time of the year is because of the warm tropical ocean water conditions that are common at that time of the year.
I mentioned earlier in the story that I had broken my glasses two days earlier at the beach in Labadee. Kellyn had a spare pair of sunglasses with her, and she let me borrow them for the rest of the cruise. They weren't prescription sunglasses like I normally wear, but they worked out fine for sitting on the beach and relaxing.
I was having a good hair day that day, and between that and the new sunglasses,
I kind of like the way this photo turned out. Thanks to Kellyn for snapping it!
With each day of our cruise, the ship headed further south and got in to warmer waters. While the water was a little cooler than I would have liked in Labadee and in St Maarten, by the time we got to Martinique it had warmed up to a very comfortable temperature that allowed me to spend hours in the water without being cold at all.
We had never been to Martinique in any of our previous cruises... so I didn't know what there was to do there, and I was kind of excited to explore somewhere new. The safest move when visiting a port you don't know is to book a shore excursion through the ship, and that's exactly what we did. We booked an excursion that was simply known as the "beach and snorkeling" excursion.
This was one of the better snorkeling excursions I've been on. There were thousands of small fish. Unfortunately, I didn't see any big fish, but that was fine. There was LOTS of underwater plant life... more than I had seen on almost every previous snorkeling excursion. Take a look at this video I shot with my underwater camera while snorkeling in Martinique:
There were actually two stops during this excursion. The first was at the area known as the bat cave. That's where the video was shot... and no, I didn't see any bats in the cave, because they were sleeping at that time of the day. But the snorkeling was certainly good.
Our second stop was at Anse DuFour Beach, which is home to a small traditional fishing village. There was some nice snorkeling there, too. I especially liked that the tour guides didn't require us to all stick together in a big group. I hate it when they do that on a snorkeling excursion, because you end up running in to all your fellow snorkelers and getting kicked a lot. They didn't seem to care if we all snorkeled off on our own, so I headed over to an area of the cove where I noticed a lot of the local folks were hanging out. The snorkeling was good, but I missed out on seeing a pair of sea turtles that some of the other people in our excursion group saw on the other side of the cove. Little did I know that the very next day, I would have a VERY close encounter with a sea turtle on another snorkeling excursion!
Kellyn shot this photo of me snorkeling in Martinique
My only complaint about this shore excursion in Martinique is that it was really difficult to understand instructions given by the crew. Creole was their native language, then French. English was spoken with a very strong accent, making it difficult to understand at times. I wish these tour companies would hire one crew member with perfect English skills and make him the one to give instructions to the passengers.
All things considered, we had a real nice day in Martinique, and I hope to get back there someday.
Docking in Bridgetown, Barbados, meant we had reached the most southern point of our 12-day cruise. It wasn't our final port-of-call, but it was the one that was deepest in to the Caribbean and closest to South America. Because of being so far south at this point, we also hit the best weather and the warmest ocean water of the entire cruise.
Barbados is another place that we had never been to during our previous Caribbean cruises... so that was another great thing it had going for it. Since the thing I love most about a Caribbean cruise is spending time in and on the water, we booked another snorkeling excursion through the ship. It was known as the "Tiami Five Star Catamaran and Turtles" excursion. Tiami is the name of the company that provided the excursion, through Royal Caribbean.
While snorkeling during this excursion, I had a close encounter with a sea turtle
and I managed to catch it with my underwater camera. Take a look at the video...
There was also a funny incident during this excursion! The catamaran featured an open bar on the way back to the ship, after we had finished snorkeling. I noticed that they had my rum of choice, Malibu coconut rum, which I like mixed with diet Coke or Pepsi.
So, I stepped up to the bar and ordered a Malibu and diet Coke. The bartender was what the British would call a "cheeky sod", and he said to me that diet Coke and Malibu is a "girlie drink", and that he suggested a different drink made with a local rum. I agreed to try it, and it was total crap! I drank Malibu and diet Cokes for the rest of the trip back to the cruise ship. But I will never forget that manly man that told me my favorite drink was a "girlie drink"! And no, I was not offended... I thought the whole thing was hilarious!
It was a beautiful day in the southern Caribbean and I think you can see from this next picture that sailing around Barbados on a catamaran on a day like this is a pretty great way to spend a vacation day... especially when they're pouring unlimited Malibu and Cokes!
Bridgetown is a busier cruise port than I realized. There were four cruise ships in port that day, three of which you can see in this next picture...
That's the "Serenade Of The Seas" on the left, the "Costa Favolosa" in the center, and "Anthem Of The Seas" on the right. Upon seeing the Costa Favolosa, I made a witty remark to Kellyn that it was good to see a Costa ship that was not lying on her side, run aground! That was, of course, a reference to the Costa Concordia incident which turned a $570 million cruise ship in to a pile of scrap metal after about a $2 billion salvage operation. Costa Concordia references are a staple for me when cruising. I especially like it when I walk in to an elevator on a cruise ship and some passenger says to me "going down!" My standard reply is "like an Italian cruise liner"!
I mentioned there were four cruise ships in port that day, but you could only see three of them in that picture. That's because Anthem Of The Seas is so gigantic, and the ship that was behind her was so tiny by comparison. Here's the "Thomson Celebration" which was totally hidden by Anthem Of The Seas in the previous photo.
Notice at the very top of the picture that there was a regatta going on that day just off the coast of Bridgetown
I was kind of amused by the fact that the Thomson Celebration was docked right next to Anthem Of The Seas. Talk about a study in contrasts! You had 32 year old cruise ship made up of mostly interior and porthole-view cabins docked right next to one of the newest cruise ships in the world, featuring just about every possible cruising innovation you could cram in to a ship. Thomson Celebration started out as a Holland America ship and is actually still owned by Holland America and the Carnival corporation. They lease her under a long-term charter to UK-based Thomson cruises. Why anyone would sail on an old dinosaur like the Thomson Discovery when there are so many great newer cruise ships to choose from is beyond me!
Our final port-of-call was the city of Basseterre on the island of St Kitts. We had been to St Kitts one time before, and weren't that impressed with it. It's a very rocky island without a whole bunch of nice beaches, so that's not normally the kind of place we like to hang out on vacation. We decided that for this visit, we would take an excursion over to Nevis, a neighboring island. I had read about a Catamaran excursion that stopped at a nice beach in the neighboring island of Nevis for a barbecue and a chance to swim in the warm water. It was called the "St. Kitts Catamaran Sail and Nevis Beach Getaway" excursion.
This was about a four-and-a-half hour excursion. About an hour and a half of that was sailing on the catamaran from St. Kitts to Nevis, and another hour-and-a-half was sailing back. So that's three hours of sailing right there. If you like just hanging out on a catamaran and enjoying the views, this may be the shore excursion for you!
Once we finally reached Nevis island, they had a barbecue lunch waiting for us...
However, the real fun at Nevis came after lunch, when most of us went swimming and playing in the water next to the catamaran...
The beach had nice sand, gentle surf, and the water was nice and warm. I totally loved just swimming through the water, or standing around listening to the other passengers chat. A lot of them were British, and I sure love hearing those beautiful accents! The water was so warm and I was having such a nice time that I was just about the last guy back on the boat when it was time to leave.
Everyone was feeling good during the sail back to St Kitts.
These ladies even danced the Macarena for us!
It seems odd to spend three hours sailing back and forth just to spend 90
minutes on a beach that doesn't really have a lot going for it. It was a pretty desolate stretch of beach compared
to other beaches in the Caribbean. There were no loungers or chairs or umbrellas... just some picnic tables back
under the trees at the lunch spot.
Rum punch, beer, and soft drinks were included. The beer drinkers seemed to like this excursion a LOT more than I did. If they had offered some rum to mix in with the Coca-Cola they served, it probably would have changed the entire tone of the long catamaran ride for me. As it was, I found this to be the least enjoyable excursion of our 12-day cruise. The 60-90 minutes we actually spent at Nevis was enjoyable, because I love to swim, but all the sailing time getting there and back was way too long for me.
As St Kitts was our last port-of-call for this cruise, once we got back onboard Anthem Of The Seas, the ship headed north for three straight days of sailing to get back to our home port of Bayonne, New Jersey.
On our way back to New Jersey, Anthem Of The Seas hit some rough weather off the coast of the Carolinas. This was something I expected, as that stretch of the Atlantic is known to be a bit nasty. About 7 weeks before our cruise, Anthem Of The Seas made national news when her Captain, Claus Andersen, made a bad decision to sail directly in to a storm that was much stronger than he realized. The ship encountered 30 foot waves and winds over 100 miles per hour. Four passengers suffered minor injuries, as the rocking of the ship overturned furniture and caused damage in public areas and cabins, as well as rendering one of the ship's two Azipod propulsion units inoperable. They had to cancel the rest of the cruise, and limp back to New Jersey with just one operable Azipod.
With that earlier incident very much in my mind, I started noticing deteriorating ocean conditions on the morning of the second of our three sea days heading back to New Jersey. It was tricky just walking down the hallway on the way to breakfast, the ship was rocking so much... and then I noticed that the crew had placed barf bags near all the stairwells. Later in the morning, I decided to spend some time in one of the ship's swimming pools. I had wanted to find a place to relax in the Solarium, but I got there too late and it was completely packed and there wasn't an available lounger anywhere. So, I moved over to the indoor pool... which for some reason was not at all crowded that day. In fact, about 75% of the loungers were empty. I jumped in to the pool, and that's when the fun really began!
There's something about the design of the indoor pool that seems to amplify the waves in the water. While the water in the Solarium pool and the outdoor pool wasn't moving much, the water in the indoor pool was something like a wave pool at a water park on land. It was sloshing back and forth from one end of the pool to the other, with enough force to create kind of a fun ride for the 4 or 5 of us who were in the pool at the time. I was actually surprised that there weren't any kids in the pool at that point, because it was the kind of thing that any 10-year-old boy would have loved. The 10-year-old boy inside of me sure did! I enjoyed getting tossed back and forth in that pool for a good half hour or so before I finally decided I had enough. I figured it was just a matter of time before they closed the pool, since it was getting close to being dangerous in there.
I went back to the cabin to dry off, change clothes, and grab my camera. I wanted to shoot some video of the water sloshing around in the pool. By the time I got back to the pool with my camera, conditions had gotten quite a bit worse! Here's a video of what I saw...
The truth is that I wish I had been on that February cruise that ran in to those 30 foot waves and 100+ mph winds. Think of the money I could have made off YouTube videos shot in those hurricane-like conditions! The video I captured of the water sloshing out of the pool has only had a few thousand views on YouTube. I bet if I could have shot video during those horrible conditions in February, I would have had millions of views, and generated an awful lot of ad revenue! I'll just keep going on cruises and shooting lots of video. Eventually I'll be in the right place at the right time to get another viral video for my YouTube channel.
You may be wondering if the same Captain was at the helm of our cruise as was responsible for sailing in to that big storm in February. No, after the February incident, Captain Claus Andersen was called back to Royal Caribbean's headquarters to discuss the lessons-learned with RCI's management team. As of our sailing date, he had not yet returned to Anthem Of The Seas. The Captain for our cruise was Henrik Soerensen. He seemed like an excellent Captain to me... briefing the passengers at noon each day over the public address system, posting video updates on the ship's TV system, and answering questions at a Q&A session.
I didn't get a picture of Captain Soerensen, but I do want to share this photo of the Cruise Director, Abe Hughes...
I started off this section of the story by talking about the one day of rough seas we encountered during our cruise, and about that incident 7 weeks prior where the ship hit some of the worst conditions a cruise ship would ever encounter. While we were impressed that they had done such a great job of getting Anthem Of The Seas back in to near-perfect condition in the 7 weeks following the incident, we did spot what we think was one remaining bit of damage that they hadn't gotten around to repairing. On deck 13, in the aft stairwells, there was a large shattered section of glass that was never replaced during our 12-day cruise. My guess is that it was damaged during the February incident, and they've been having trouble finding an exact replacement. Here's a photo:
Sunrise and Sunset
As a serious-amateur photographer who had just picked up a brand new camera two days before flying to New Jersey for this cruise, it should probably come as no surprise that I got some nice photos of the sunrises and sunsets during our cruise. Here are a few of my favorites...
Here's a time-lapse video I shot of one of the sunrises...
Speaking of sunsets, I snapped this photo of Kellyn one night at sunset...
Then we traded places for this photo...
Anyone who is serious about photography will recognize that those last two pictures were a little tricky to get. Shooting someone's face with a very strong light behind them (in this case, the sun) usually doesn't work out too well. I was testing out a new accessory I recently bought, which should help me solve some of the lighting problems I run in to when shooting both still photos and videos. I think it worked quite well in this tricky lighting situation.
Much earlier in this story, I mentioned how great the entertainment was in Two70... the high-tech theater at the back of the ship. Two70 is just one of two theaters onboard the ship, though. There's also a traditional theater up at the front of the ship, which is known as the Royal Theater.
One of the shows we saw featured juggler/comedian Mike Price. (I think the blurb in the Cruise Compass actually referred to him as "Rock Star Juggler Mike Price".)
That still photo does absolutely nothing in the way of communicating how funny his act was. To get a sense of what this guy brings to the stage, you have to see a short video:
Another act in the Royal Theater that we liked a lot was a Motown show by a 3-man singing group called "Horizon"...
Here's a funny video clip of a magician who performed for us...
There was also a late-night adults-only comedy performance in the Royal Theater by comedian Steve Caouette:
Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line have completely different philosophies about comedy. Carnival prefers to present comedy in a small intimate setting. Many of their ships have dedicated comedy clubs, and their other ships host their comedy shows in small lounges. This creates an intimate vibe like you'd typically have in a comedy club on land. Only the world's most successful comedians would typically do a show in a big theater on land. Most comedy shows are done in small clubs... and that creates an environment where almost every seat in the house is filled, and where the comedian can easily include audience members in their act and improvise material depending on what happens with that particular audience. The downside to doing cruise ship comedy in a small comedy club or lounge is that there's not a lot of seating, and sometimes it's hard for the passengers to get in to see one of the shows. So, they usually have a whole bunch of shows each night, and all throughout the cruise, so that everybody can eventually attend a few. In fact, on a typical 7-day Carnival cruise, there are usually FOUR different comedians that perform multiple shows all throughout the cruise. If you love stand-up comedy, Carnival is the cruise line for you.
Royal Caribbean goes completely the other way. The comedian did his act in the 1300-seat Royal Theater. I think he only performed two shows the entire time he was onboard: the late-night show we saw, and the "welcome aboard" show on the very first night of the cruise. Instead of focusing on stand-up comedy, Royal Caribbean seemed to prefer to offer a wide variety of entertainment acts throughout the week. A little something for everyone.
The least interesting show I saw in the Royal Theater was a big musical production show called "The Gift"...
The story basically revolved around the older man you see in the photo. His wife passed away, and at first he only saw the tragedy of it all. Eventually, however, he came to understand "the gift", which was all the love that he had to share with his children. Frankly, I was kind of bored by most of it, but I did enjoy the excellent lighting and stage production effects that Royal Caribbean stage productions always feature.
During the Welcome Aboard show in the Royal Theater on the very first night of the cruise, we saw a little preview of the next night's musical entertainment. It was a Led Zeppelin tribute band called "Led Zepagain"...
Honestly, I didn't like Led Zeppelin enough back in the 70s to have any interest in hearing a tribute. The two or three songs they did during the welcome aboard show convinced me not to go to their full show the next night! But if you're a Led Zeppelin fan, you probably would have LOVED these guys!
One thing I should point out about the Royal Theater... watch out for the poles. Make sure you don't sit in one of the seats directly behind them. It was kind of funny to watch people come in late to the theater, see a packed house, and then finally spot a couple of empty seats. They'd work their way over to them, sit down, and then be right back up again within a minute or two! People watching is fun on a cruise ship.
The Daily Planner
And Other Interesting Things to Download
Anthem of the Seas' daily newsletter, delivered to your cabin each evening, is called the "cruise compass". Inside each edition of the cruise compass is a one-page summary of everything happening on the ship, which Royal Caribbean calls the "daily planner". Kellyn and I don't think that's a catchy enough name, so we came up with our own name for it. Since that's where you get the scoop on everything happening throughout the ship, Kellyn and I call it "The Scooper"... a joking reference to a pooper scooper from two former Cocker Spaniel breeders.
I saved all the Scoopers from each day of the cruise, and scanned them in to one big PDF file for anyone interested in taking a look at them. It gives you a pretty good idea of exactly what happens throughout the week, when and where it happens, and it also shows all the operating hours for the various dining options. I also scanned three other documents that I thought might interest people. Click these links to view or download them:
Daily Planner (a.k.a. "the scooper") 10.7 megabytes
Anthem Of The Seas deck plans 7 megabytes
Disembarkation information .4 megabytes
Fun Facts about Anthem Of The Seas .7 megabytes
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with any cruise line... please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher. She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising. Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, or contact her using the information below.
Before The Cruise
We flew to Newark airport on a United Airlines Boeing 757 jetliner. Those United 757's are pretty cool! They have a nice seatback entertainment system with a lot of great free programming. On the eastbound trip, I watched the movie "Bridge Of Spies" starring Tom Hanks. We were on a 757 on the return trip, too, and I watched the Academy Award winning best picture of 2015, "Spotlight". Watching a great movie with a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones really makes a long coast-to-coast flight go by quicker!
Whenever we fly to get on a cruise ship, we always like to get there a day or two in advance of the cruise... just to leave some wiggle room in the travel schedule in the event of any kind of delays or snafus. This is especially critical when flying during months when the weather can be stormy. For a cruise out of New Jersey in the month of March, we figured that there was a definite possibility of travel delays due to bad weather... so we flew in two days prior to our cruise. If everything went according to plan, we would have plenty of time to relax in New Jersey and would be rested and refreshed when we boarded the ship.
My pre-cruise research led me to book us in the Embassy Suites in Elizabeth, New Jersey... just across the freeway from Newark International Airport. According to my research, there was a free shuttle bus from the airport, the hotel was just a few years old, they served a free breakfast in the hotel, they served free cocktails during happy hour, and there were several restaurants plus a gigantic shopping mall within easy walking distance. This all turned out to be true, although some of those things turned out to be even better than I expected, and some turned out to be relatively unimportant in the end.
I worried that being so close to the Newark airport would create some noise problems. What actually happened was that it ended up being quite entertaining! I really like airplanes and airports, and our room was high enough and facing the right direction that we had a fantastic view of the airport if we used a pair of binoculars (which we always take with us on a cruise vacation) or if I put a big zoom lens on my camera. Using my biggest zoom lens, and shooting right out our hotel window, this next photo makes it look like we were REALLY CLOSE to the Newark airport. We really weren't.
We got very lucky and during our first night at the Embassy Suites, the winds were blowing in such a direction that had the planes landing in our direction and taking off in the other direction. This kept things nice and quiet on the first night, when we were the most tired and needed a good night's sleep. Sometime during the second night, however, the winds shifted and they had to reverse the landing and takeoff pattern. This caused the airplanes to take off in the direction of our hotel, which made things a little noisier as the airplanes applied full power as they flew past us, or in some cases directly over us. There really weren't a whole lot of planes overnight, so it didn't really bother us... and once we woke up, it was fun to see the planes take off right past our hotel.
Here's a video I shot of a United Airlines plane taking off towards us...
And here's a time-lapse video of the action at Newark airport...
For someone who gets a kick out of flying and even just watching airplanes, it was a pretty cool view out our window!
Another cool thing about the Embassy suites was that from our bedroom on the top floor of the hotel, we could actually see (way off in the distance) the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and (also very far off in the distance) the Statue Of Liberty! I should also mention that the bed in our room was fantastic... maybe even more comfortable than the one we have at home. The only negative thing I noticed -- and this really surprised me -- was that there wasn't a safe in the room. I can't recall staying in any other hotel in recent years that did not have a safe in the room somewhere.
It was pretty darned cold in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in March! We're California coastal people... where a normal day in our backyard is 70 degrees, and where a normal overnight low might be 50. So when we stepped outside our hotel and it was in the 40s with a pretty stiff wind chill making it feel more like the 30s... it was a bit of a shock! But we had come pretty well prepared with winter clothing... an odd thing to pack for a Caribbean vacation!
We didn't use the swimming pool at the Embassy Suites, but I snapped a photo of it just in case anyone reads this page and might be interested.
We had two nights at the Embassy suites prior to our cruise. The first morning we tried the free breakfast in the restaurant within the hotel. It was OK, and if nothing else had been available, it would have been fine for even a longer stay. They had made-to-order omelettes, as well as all sorts of other normal breakfast stuff like scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, cereal, and pancakes. It wasn't a fantastic breakfast, but the price was right.
But what really got this breakfast lover excited was that right next door to the Embassy Suites, there was an International House Of Pancakes. So, on our second morning in Elizabeth, New Jersey, just a few hours before heading over to the cruise ship port in Bayonne, we had an incredibly great breakfast at IHOP. Man, I miss IHOP! They used to have one two blocks from our house, but it went out of business a couple of years ago. I guess I should have eaten there a little more often! Anyway, even though I would be on a cruise ship for the next 12 days... where food is far from scarce and "diet" is a word we never speak... I had the most delicious breakfast at IHOP just a few hours before we got onboard Anthem Of The Seas. I should have taken a picture of it, but I didn't carry my camera with me to that particular meal.
IHOP wasn't the only restaurant next to the hotel, either. There was also a Ruby Tuesday, and we had a pretty nice dinner there the night before the cruise. Kellyn was very excited about their salad bar, so I snapped a picture of it.
I'm not a salad lover, so I had some nice spare ribs that night. After dinner at Ruby Tuesday, we headed back to the hotel for free drinks at their happy hour. We got there right when it started, which was lucky... because at that point, we had no problem finding a place at the bar and ordering a drink. But not surprisingly, when free drinks are advertised, EVERYBODY in the hotel shows up... and by the time we were ready for a second drink (which was about two minutes later, because they were so small) there was absolutely no chance of getting the bartender's attention due to the large crowd that had showed up. So that turned out to be a less-than-great perk of staying at the Embassy Suites.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay there very much and would not hesitate to stay there again if our travels bring us to Newark airport. If you're super sensitive to noise at night, though, you might want to look for a hotel a little further away from the airport.
One Final Video
To summarize this great cruise on Anthem Of The Seas, I put together a little highlights reel... just some short little clips of memorable moments from the cruise, stitched together to form a little video that summarizes some things I'll always remember about the experience.
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. I was very fortunate that just two days prior to heading out on this vacation, I was able to pick up a brand new camera: the Canon EOS 80D.
All the still photos you saw on this page were shot with that new Canon EOS 80D. For videos, I had three cameras with me that I used for various different situations. Any video that involved walking around and shooting with the camera in motion was shot with a DJI Osmo motion-stabilized video camera. Any underwater video was shot with an Olympus TG-830. That's a slightly older model now... so if you're in the market for a waterproof camera for snorkeling, you should get the new version which is the Olympus TG-850. All the other videos were shot with my new Canon EOS 80D.
If you're in the market for a high quality digital SLR camera, the truth is that the Canon EOS 80D is probably too much camera for most amateur photographers... so the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T6i. If you get one, make sure you get the T6i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also like to have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, inside a cruise ship cabin) or when shooting something very large (like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.)
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
One important technique that I use, since I'm looking to getting the highest quality photos possible, is to shoot in RAW format rather than JPG. This preserves the photos with the highest possible quality, and gives me the greatest ability to tweak them after shooting them. However, it does require a lot of extra work. Any photos which I want to share (via email, Facebook, or on this web site, for example) have to be converted from RAW to JPG. This takes some time and effort, but it's worth it to me in order to get the best end results. Just about all the photos you see on this page have been tweaked to some extent to give them the best finished look. For most photos, I do some sharpening and color correction. On some photos, I have to do even more tweaking than that to get them to look just right.
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