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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Anthem: ‘Bad luck’ but not ‘cursed’ as media says

Anthem of the Seas safely in port. Picture: Daily Star, UK.

Anthem of the Seas safely in port. Picture: Daily Star, UK.

‘Storm-battered’, ‘bad luck’ and even ‘cursed’ are just three of the epithets applied by the media to Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas cruise ship after the early return to port after its latest voyage was curtailed.

And, although the shipping line said that the ship was turned around to avoid another storm, passengers have said that it was sickness, not weather, that forced this cruise to have an early finish.

According to reports from passengers, on Monday the captain informed them that 109 passengers were sick with norovirus but this figure was increased on Tuesday when the US Centers for Disease Control’s data line listed the ship. It said 125 passengers and 16 crew were infected at that stage. Although the CDC listed the cause as ‘unknown’, if it turns out to be norovirus, it would make Anthem the fourth America-based cruise ship to suffer that fate this year.

Of the descriptions given by the Press, the ship was certainly battered by the stronger than forecast storm that hit it last month. However, the damage seems to have been restricted to elements of the hotel aspects of the ship; the actual structure and sea-worthiness was unaffected.

That the ship has now run into another difficulty, a second cruise cut short, it certainly indicates that it has encountered some bad luck. But to go so far as to describe the vessel as cursed is a complete and unfair overreaction by journalists sensationalising their stories. The ‘cursed’ cruise ship theme made a great headline for the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper which asked “Is the Anthem of the Seas Cursed?” Meanwhile, in the US, news stories in the Inquisitr, Newsmax, and the Examiner all joined in by calling Anthem as ‘cursed’.

After a career in journalism, I feel qualified to agree that Anthem was storm-battered last month and this incident does point to some bad luck – but ‘cursed’? Really? Pure nonsense of course.

Now the ship is back in its home port of Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey, and undergoing a deep clean to rid it of the norovirus or anything else it may be. I say this because some passengers have claimed that CDC personnel boarded the ship in Puerto Rico to test for e-coli. In the days and weeks to come, we will all be told the findings of the CDC and any element of mystery regarding the infection will be dispelled.

One criticism that must be levelled at Royal Caribbean was that it was wrong to blame the early return to port as a precaution because of a storm threat. Even if that was true, the outbreak of illness should not have been ignored – some may say hidden. Passengers were correctly kept informed by the captain and it should have been the company who told the world at the same time – not leaving the story to leak out via passengers. On this occasion, RCI’s public relations team did themselves and the company no good at all.

One final point. As I am so confident that the ship is not ‘cursed’, would I sail on it again? Absolutely, I have every faith in the ship, its captain and crew.  I’d go on its next cruise, if I had the chance.

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Across the Atlantic on Anthem of the Seas

Anthem of the Seas.

Anthem of the Seas.

Many of you seem to have enjoyed reading my two recent blogs about sailing on a cruise to the Norwegian Fjords aboard Crown Princess back in 2013.

Well, that was my very first cruise, though not for my wife Lisa who had cruised before during her previous marriage.

new_york_statue_of_liberty_liberty_islandOur most recent cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, that has been in the news after recently having to curtail two cruises because of stormy weather. We weren’t involved then but we were aboard during her maiden Atlantic crossing that sailed from Southampton on October 27 and docked in Cape Liberty on November 4 last year.

I wrote seven blogs during the crossing and another after we disembarked but I was not a member of this group at the time so they were not posted here. If you’d like a taste of our transatlantic adventure – here are links to each of my blogs from that time.

http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=725  Crossing the Atlantic on world’s newest cruise ship   Oct 28

http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=730  Rock and roll in theatre as ship does its own dance   Oct 29

http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=734  Rough seas don’t phase restaurant and cooking teams   Oct 30

http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=737  Not all ‘progress’ is an improvement   Oct 31

http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=740  Weather calms with three days to go to USA   Nov 1

http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=740  Day of celebration for Halloween and anniversary   Nov 1

http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=745  Calmer weather is good news for all   Nov 3

http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=750  Customs cause disembarking madness as Anthem reaches USA   Nov 6

Enjoy.

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Nothing literal about seeing eye-to-eye

Captain Claus Andersen with me on board Anthem of the Seas while crossing the Atlantic last year.

Captain Claus Andersen with me on board Anthem of the Seas while crossing the Atlantic last year.

Amazed, bewildered and downright exasperated. Those are the feelings that dominate my thoughts as they prompt me to speak out through this blog. As regular readers know, I have severe mobility problems due to multiple sclerosis but this is about anyone who has to rely on a wheelchair.

Now, everyone who has a physical disability knows they can expect that some people they meet will speak to their attendant or carer rather than them. Some people do have that unfortunate tendency to not look down to the person in the wheelchair but, instead, talk to the standing assistant.

I have no idea how other people in my position choose to handle that but in my case it is quite easy. As my carer is also my wife, Lisa, we work as a team. If she asks a question, I expect her to receive the answer- no problem. But if the enquiry is made by me, the answer needs to be directed to me. To be fair, in my experience, this is how most people do react.

However, if someone does try to answer my question by directing his or her reply to Lisa, we let that person finish before I answer – probably adding that it would be polite if, in future, he or she could look at the person who had made the enquiry.

The feelings mentioned at the beginning of this post don’t come, however, from a person in a wheelchair thinking he is being not treated properly. Instead they come from my reaction to another person’s over sensitive view of a picture. Let me explain.

The other day I posted a blog (to read it, click this link http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=1554) about being aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas on its transatlantic voyage last October and November, and paid tribute to the captain, Claus Andersen, for his coolness in command during the storms we encountered.

Lisa and I happened to meet the captain one day and I took the opportunity to ask if he would pose for a picture with me. He readily agreed, suggested a location and wheeled me there himself. He then called over a crew member to take the picture with my camera.

There was NO problem. I was not ignored in any way. We had a good conversation.

BUT someone seeing the picture – the one above – said the captain had not learned how to treat people in wheelchairs. He maintained that the captain should have crouched down to bring our heads to the same level.

What utter balderdash. Do you see tall people crouch to the height of a shorter person? Of course not!

If anybody did that to me, I’d feel demeaned and patronised. Yes, I am in a wheelchair but, where possible, treat me as you would any other person; treat me as an equal. I might need a wheelchair space or to use a ramp but please don’t be condescending by crouching to my level.

The expression ‘seeing eye-to-eye’ does not mean literally.

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Royal Caribbean cruise ship Anthem caught in storm but don’t panic, Captain Claus is so cool in command

Captain Claus Andersen with me on board Anthem of the Seas while crossing the Atlantic last year.

Captain Claus Andersen with me on board Anthem of the Seas while crossing the Atlantic last year.

News that Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship Anthem of the Seas was hit by a bad storm with hurricane force winds and huge waves on its current trip took me back to Lisa’s and my time aboard that very ship last year.

We sailed from Southampton in late October and docked in Bayonne in early November, having just enjoyed a nine-day crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was the latest in a series of voyages that we have taken since the UK Multiple Sclerosis Society gave us a grant of £1200 to go on a two-week cruise in 2013.

Last year’s trip was the ship’s major relocation journey to its new home port in New Jersey.

That cruise experienced bad weather too. We went through two storms separated by some 100mph winds. There were huge waves too. At one point, while enjoying a meal in one of the ship’s many restaurants, we could see waves reaching the top of the windows.

Distances are so far on board a ship that they are well beyond my walking ability, so I have to rely on my wheelchair but, having a left-side weakness because of my MS, Lisa has to push me. Not that she minds, joking that she enjoys ‘pushing me about’.

Yes, it was a bit rocky for a couple or three days but nothing that the ship or its crew could not handle. However, for Lisa it was more difficult as normally level floorways could suddenly become uphill, downhill or even have a sideways slant. Still, we managed it without incident.

Throughout the rough seas, the calmness of all on board was personified by the ship’s master, Captain Claus Andersen, who exuded confidence and control.

Anthem of the Seas.

Anthem of the Seas.

At one point before encountering the first storm, he was addressing passengers assembled on the Esplanade. He asked if they thought the trip so far had been calm or rough. Having got a chorus of replies of ‘calm’, he said with a smile that, in that case, we could look forward to some variations of calm in the next few days.

Every day, Captain Claus (which he pronounces ‘Close’) went on the ship’s TV channel with the cruise director to look at the weather ahead. It was all explained easily and very clearly.

I had an opportunity to speak with the captain and asked him how much time he actually spent on the bridge, bearing in mind he has a team of experienced officers there. He explained that the job of captain was so demanding that, in fact, very little of his time was actually spent there. However, he agreed that during stormy weather, that was exactly where he was. That was where he needed to be, he explained.

During the storm that hit the ship this time, I am sure that Captain Claus remained as calm and in control as he was when crossing the Atlantic last year. He is a credit to not only himself but to Royal Caribbean too.

Also, in response to the captain’s decision to curtail the cruise and return to port, I have to commend the cruise line’s very speedy decision to refund all passengers 100% of the cruise ticket price plus give them 50% off the cost of their next cruise.

Well done, Royal Caribbean.

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Customs cause disembarking madness as Anthem reaches USA

new_york_statue_of_liberty_liberty_island

Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas arrived in New York on 4th November, passing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge before reaching the Statue of Liberty shortly after 3am. We finally docked at Cape Liberty, New Jersey, at about 5am.

Lisa and I enjoyed an early breakfast and by 7am we were ready to go ashore. US Customs and Border Protection, however, had other ideas. We never found out what their problem was but it caused absolute havoc as passengers queued to disembark.

Having been ready so early, it was extremely irritating that we did not manage to exit the cruise terminal until 10.30am and then find our pre-booked transport was not there. Lisa searched but found nothing, finally managing to contact the company that claimed that their driver had been there but they had recalled him as we were not there at the booked time of 9.45am. If he had been there, and we have reason to believe he wasn’t, many other drivers were waiting for their passengers because of the delays – but not ours.

Good news though, the office said that they might be able to send another driver. Bad news was that the company would treat it as a new booking and would require a second payment. We refused to buckle in the face of such awful treatment and made other arrangements. We will now be seeking a full refund from the company that failed to provide us with the service for which we had pre-paid. In the event that it does not happen, I am prepared to go public and both name and shame them in both the UK and USA. The company has offices in both countries.

After we finally arrived at Dollar rent-a-car, we found our pre-booked hire car waiting for us, a gleaming white 2015 Chrysler, and quickly completed the formalities, packed our luggage and my wheelchair, and set off on a long drive through northern New Jersey, New York state, Connecticut finally arriving in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, at 11.20pm. I should explain that we had made a couple of stops along the way and that, once again driving a left hand drive car, I was taking it easy and making sure to always remain within the speed limit.

By the time Lisa and I reached our motel in Sturbridge we were both absolutely shattered. We had been up since 2am to watch Anthem’s arrival in New York, had suffered so much frustration trying to get off the ship and through customs and border protection, then discovered our transport had failed us, causing us to arrive at the hire car outlet some three hours later than planned.

At midnight, having been up for 22 hours, we crashed into bed and were soon out for the count.

Thank goodness Lisa had planned a quieter day for today but more about that in my next post.

 

 

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Calmer weather is good news for all

the-gift-large

With better weather and much more settled sea conditions since reaching the western Atlantic, certain entertainments that had to be postponed have now all caught up, much to the delight of Anthem of the Seas cruise director Luke Aerosmith. His smile has changed from the fixed one he sported through the bad weather to a genuine one now.

In fact, it is a testament to the tenacity of the entertainment staff that none were actually cancelled, just rearranged.

Yesterday afternoon, Lisa and I saw The Gift in the ship’s Royal Theatre. This was the performance which was postponed from October 31 as the rolling of the ship had rendered making the pre-show safety checks impossible. But the show went ahead yesterday. The Gift is an original Royal Caribbean production created exclusively for Anthem of the Seas. Billed as a musical journey of fantasy and illusion that begins one stormy night with the arrival of a ‘magical gift’, it was very enjoyable to watch.

Good weather has also allowed the crew to open the pools, that had been blocked off, and outdoor activities headed by the RipCord freefall simulator by iFly and North Star which takes guests into the air above the ship, giving them 360 degree views of the world that they have not seen before. In the jewel-shaped capsule, passengers climb to more than 300 feet above sea level to see fantastic views of the ship and the ocean.

Actually, as the ship’s movements owing to the huge swells and high winds are now behind us, I do need to add a figurative footnote to my comments the other day. Praise is still due to the food and beverage staff for the way they continued to prepare, cook and serve our meals but there were some breakages. Most notable of these was the loss of 300 to 400 dishes in one go in the staff mess. Apparently everyone got stuck in to help clear it up. Similarly, the Music Hall bar suffered losses of bottles of drink and glasses while there was a tremendous crash of glasses that I heard in Two70.

On board, the retail teams started their sales two days ago as they strive to relieve guests of any spare cash. Well, that’s a bit unfair as the goods being sold are quite reasonably priced and represent very good offers.

Anthem’s maiden crossing of the Atlantic is coming to an end. Today, Tuesday, is the las full day left before we reach the Statue of Liberty early on Wednesday and dock shortly afterwards. Once we reach the United States, Lisa and I are spending another nine days on holiday in some of the north eastern states. This blog will continue to record our progress and bring you news about places of interest to tourists and anything else that takes my fancy.

Keep tuned to www.50shadesofsun.com to continue reading this blog.

 

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Day of celebration for Halloween and anniversary

grande-2

Day 6, November 1st.

Awoke this morning to find Anthem of the Seas has left low pressure, high pressure and hurricane force winds behind and moved into calmer seas and, wow, we saw the sun.

Just after lunch, ship’s time, we were really close to where the Titanic sank. It was strange to think of the horrors of 103 years ago while we sailed by in the sunshine. I never realised that the Titanic was only about 450 miles from its destination when it; struck the iceberg.

Ok, back to yesterday. It being Halloween, plenty of the passengers were in party mood last night and there were costumes absolutely everywhere.

For Lisa and I, the day was special as it was our wedding anniversary.

Strange to think that it was four years ago that we married on Fort Myers beach in south west Florida. It all took place at sunset (a glorious sunset as it turned out), in company with family and friends, while dolphins played just off the coast.

By ‘strange’, the ceremony could have been yesterday but it could also have taken place years ago. We love each other deeply, are more than comfortable together and are looking forward to very many happy years ahead.

Our celebration started early with a special breakfast served in our stateroom as part of a romance package bought when we booked. It was good but not great as not everything was provided as promised, so this was pointed out to Guest Services on deck 4. The result? We had the whole package given to us again. This started with another breakfast today. This time, it was perfect.

There should have been a performance of a play called The Gift last night but because of the sea conditions it had to be rescheduled for tomorrow afternoon. No complaints from us; safety has to come first. Good news, though, was that we were able to have our evening meal earlier than originally booked. So, we dressed up in style and header to Anthem’s quality free restaurant called The Grande.

Yesterday, this blog talked about the grandeur of the golden age of cruising with its ornate staircases, dining rooms and décor. Well, The Grande may only be on one deck, so no ornate staircase nor high ceilings with impressive lights, but it is Anthem’s attempt to keep alive part of the tradition of yesteryear.

Its menu is impressively exclusive, its food is superb, the service is perfect and guests are requested to dress formally – definitely how it used to be done. The décor of the restaurant is designed to portray it as a quality establishment, which is exactly what it really is.

My meal was escargots followed by roast tenderloin of beef while Lisa chose lobster bisque with pasta pescatore as her main course. We both chose one of our favourites, key lime tarte, for dessert. The whole meal was a culinary delight and we are both looking forward to enjoying the final evening meal of our cruise in The Grande, on Tuesday evening.

 

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Not all ‘progress’ is an improvement

MichaelsPub_0

Has the golden age of cruising gone forever? Undoubtedly, the answer has to be in the affirmative if you hanker after the grandeur for which the liners of years gone by were noted.

Being aboard the world’s newest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, you cannot help but acknowledge that it is a very fine vessel but, at the same time, it has to be realised that it has been built to meet the perceived demands of today’s passengers.

I say ‘perceived’ demands as that is what all companies do; they design new products that they believe will appeal to potential consumers. Unfortunately, they are not always successful.

In the case of Anthem, Royal Caribbean has done a good job – but not a great one. Not having sailed with RC before, much of my time has been spent listening to the views of other passengers and, although there is no guarantee of a good cross-section or a representative sample, views being expressed were strikingly similar:

“It’s a great ship but they could have done more”, “I loved the old promenade which made you feel like you were in a street. The new esplanade just doesn’t have it”, “Very disappointing, I would not cruise on this ship again”, “They have gone more for the impressive features such as the North Star and i-fly but really these are just gimmicks”, “Seaplex is just a waste of space”, “Boardwalk and Central Park are sadly missed”. It is interesting to note that these comments were heard in general conversations and were not the result of direct questioning. It may be thought strange that there are no positive comments but none have been omitted. Perhaps the reason for not hearing positive comments is that human nature means that people are more inclined to complain than give compliments. I am absolutely sure that some people would have given positive comments had they been asked for their views.

Some people do regret the passing of the former grandeur of the liners of yesteryear, with their grand staircases and stately restaurants often three decks high. Similar features do still exist on some vessels in use today but not in the very newest. Modern? Yes. Progress? Yes and no.

My wife Lisa has previously cruised with Royal Caribbean and has always held it up as the company that sets the standard for others to beat but some of those comments resonated with her. She expressed it this way: “I am sad to see that Royal Caribbean is no longer the leader of the pack. Anthem shows that for all its much-hyped improvements, the company is no longer outstanding; it now does everything the same as its competitors.”

Nothing in all this should detract in any way from the professionalism of the crew in providing everyone with a safe and, hopefully, enjoyable experience.

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Rough seas don’t phase restaurant and cooking teams

anthem-of-the-seas-aerial_0

Day 4 of our transatlantic crossing aboard Anthem of the Seas.

Sea conditions are now the roughest of the entire trip, according to our captain’s reading of the weather forecasts. Our speed has been reduced to minimise the side to side rolling motion and the course has been changed slightly for the same reason.

Talking of the captain, when he was mentioned in the last blog I used the phonetic spelling of the way he pronounces his own name when making PA announcements. His name is actually Claus Andersen, so perhaps jokes about ‘close’ are better than being nicknamed ‘santa’. Just saying, lol.

Anyway, a promise is a promise and the main subject of this blog are the dining facilities on the Anthem. It is necessary to say here and now that this only relates to the free restaurants, not the speciality ones which all make an additional charge.

There are four main restaurants, in addition to the buffet, that are freely available to all passengers and are part of what Royal Caribbean calls its Dynamic Dining experience.

Gone are the fixed meal times, always at the same time, in the same restaurant, at the same table and served by the same staff. The new idea is supposed to be better. It gives passengers the right to choose when and where to dine which will be perfect for some but not so for others. Some people really do prefer to eat at a set place at a set time. But there is not a main dining room, so that choice seems to be no longer available.

Windjammer Market Place is the impressive buffet restaurant with the self-service stations laid out just as the name indicates – including one with gluten-free food. It is very popular and seating is at a premium, which is why many couples first find a table at which one of them sits while the partner gets his or her food; then they change places but, by the time the second person get back with food, the first is already finishing. In our case, being that I am using my wheelchair, Lisa makes two trips and we still end up eating separately. So, good food, great layout but popularity makes for a less than comfortable meal.

Silk offers cuisine from Asia, including both oriental and Indian dishes. With wait staff dressed in style, it affords an enjoyable meal in convivial surroundings.

Chic is a modern restaurant where we ate last night. It served us delightful dishes with Lisa’s dessert being carrot cake with ice cream. She told our waiter that it’s the best carrot cake she had ever tasted. She also loved the ice cream and asked exactly what is was, to be told by the waiter that it was strawberry flavoured with carrot. Interesting and delicious.

Dinner at the American Icon Grill has attracted us back for breakfast and lunch too. I think that, so far, this restaurant has spoken to us more than either Silk or Chic but that is not to criticise them; equally great quality food and excellent service. It’s just personal preference.

I have not mentioned The Grande here because we eat there for the first time tomorrow when Halloween costumes are welcome alongside normal dress. We’ll look forward to that as it is also Lisa’s and my wedding anniversary.

So far, no dish has disappointed and service has been excellent with nothing being too much trouble.

Just how the catering staff are coping so well in such difficult weather conditions is totally beyond me. I’d have thought there would be spills and breakages everywhere but, so far, not so many.

 

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Rock and roll in theatre as ship does its own dance

we will rock you

Day two of Transatlantic crossing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, Weather is not so good today, winds got up to force nine on the Beaufort scale with the sea level varying by six metres causing the ship to perform its own dance as pitches and rolls – but it really is not too bad. In fact, given the weather conditions, I’d say that Anthem is a very stable ship.

We are about one-third of the way across and we are being kept well informed by the master Captain Close who makes regular and sometimes more frequent announcements over the public address system. Lisa now refers to these announcements as ‘Close calls’ and whenever the captain meets passengers as ‘Close encounters’.

Changing the subject, I am astounded! No, that’s not an exaggeration. Yesterday, we went to see two shows put on as part of the Anthem of the Seas entertainment for its thousands of passengers. And, yes, that word does accurately capture my feelings and please realise that I have spent time as a theatre columnist and critic during a long journalistic career.

First up was We Will Rock You, the smash-it musical show. My experience of travelling with other cruise lines in no way prepared me for this presentation. What the audience was given was not a show based on the famous West End production . We got the full two hours.

It was professional, slick, and used the Royal Theatre’s stage trap doors and rising sections to great effect. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that the audience was left wanting and we all seemed to leave with smiles on our faces.

Until I experienced this show, I would never have imagined entertainment of such high quality being available on a cruise ship. A huge ‘well done’ to Royal Caribbean and all those involved.

The second show was Spectre’s Cabaret which took to the stage in Two70, one of the ship’s new facilities. The production made the most use of the venue’s advanced computerised audio visual capabilities that combined with both on stage action and aerial gymnasts to provide a highly technical multi-media show.

It was brilliantly done but, although I appreciated the technical expertise and that of the artistes too, Spectre’s Cabaret was not to my taste. Another guest, with whom we shared a table, said that he ended up wondering what it was all about. He left Two70 confused.

So far, Lisa and I have eaten in the American Icon Grill and Silk, which serves Asian cuisine, for dinner; the Windjammer Market Place’s buffet and American Icon, again, for breakfast; and eaten hot dogs from the Seaplex Dog ‘van’ and pizza from Sorrento’s for lunch. More about dining on board in my next blog from Anthem of the Seas at www.50shadesofsun.com

 

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