Not all ‘progress’ is an improvement

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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.

Rough seas don’t phase restaurant and cooking teams

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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.

 

Rock and roll in theatre as ship does its own dance

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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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Crossing the Atlantic on world’s newest cruise ship

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Wow, our first full day at sea, on board Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas en route from the UK to USA. Launched earlier this year, Anthem is the newest and third largest cruise ship in the world It has been a hectic couple of days, even more so for my wife Lisa, as on Monday we moved out of our apartment in Wales and then yesterday we had to journey for more than seven hours to Southampton docks.

Actually, the journey was remarkably easy as, this time, we had chosen to go with Eavesway Travel, a company that has a service dedicated to cruise passengers. Once you join the coach, you can forget your luggage as the next time you will see it will be at your cabin door.

Lisa and I were the only passengers from North Wales and so were picked up by driver Paul at 6am and taken to meet up with a coach that had started in Blackpool. All went so smoothly, our second driver Peter (hmm, Peter, Paul but no Mary?) was friendly and chatty as he stashed away my wheelchair and we sat in the accessible seat area because the steps up to the main passenger compartment were too much for me.

Anyway, we enjoyed a good journey arriving very much as Peter had forecast. We arrived at Southampton at 1.32pm which was pretty good as he had earlier estimated a time of 1.30pm.

Boarding procedures were simple, straightforward and speedy. We were soon in our cabin, an accessible stateroom on deck 10. On this cruise we chose an inside cabin with a great view of the sea. Yeh, I know that sounds unlikely but it is just what we got. On the far side of our room from entrance is a floor to ceiling ‘virtual balcony’, see picture above. This a simply a superb idea; it gives the appearance of a balcony, complete with floor and rail, with live pictures from cameras mounted on the ship. Each stateroom’s virtual balcony is programmed to show a view that means that what you see and hear matches what you feel.

It is a tremendous innovation and makes life in an inside cabin really different and more pleasurable – and there is a remote control to change the sound volume or turn off the feature altogether.

We are trying various restaurants, using the Dynamic Dining options, and I will be blogging about those later in the week. A good start was made last night in Silk that specialises in Asian cuisine while Windjammer Market Place buffet did not disappoint at breakfast time.

Weatherwise, so far so good, we enjoyed some sun this morning with so far comfortable sea conditions; gentle movement but no more.

More soon from www.50shadesofsun.com aboard Anthem of the Seas.

Just two weeks until our next step

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While the timer on the right of this page is counting down the days until my beloved wife Lisa and I arrive in our new home in southern Spain, there is an important milestone date coming up before that.

In just two weeks, on Monday 26th October, we actually move out of our Colwyn Bay home (although, technically, we will be tenants until the end of the month). Then, after a one night stay, we will be boarding a coach taking us to Southampton where we will board a ship for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.

Lisa is a seasoned cruiser and this will be our fourth together but the earlier ones have all included stops along the way with shore excursions available. However, this time, once our ship sales from Southampton, the first time that we will be setting foot on land is after it docks in the USA. A week at sea should be a great adventure and we are so looking forward to it.

The ship is Anthem of the Seas, currently one of the largest cruise ships in the world, that belongs to the Royal Caribbean Cruise company. We will be going on board during the afternoon and she will be setting sail in the late afternoon/early evening.

On board, as multiple sclerosis causes my mobility to be extremely limited, the only way for me to get about will be by using my wheelchair. Because of needing extra room for the chair and my need for a level entry shower with a seat, we have booked an accessible cabin. From previous experience on other ships, this should be ideal for my needs.

On this trip, our stateroom (as cruise lines call passengers’ cabins) is an inside one; so we won’t have an outside view of any kind – or at least we wouldn’t on most ships. On Anthem, though, we will have a ‘virtual balcony’ which will let us see outside. In reality, it is a closed circuit television system giving live views from strategically placed cameras so that we will be seeing the view that corresponds with our position on board. So, if it all goes to plan, what we see should be exactly coordinated with the ship’s movements that we can feel. Very hi-tech and clever.

Of course, I can’t let this trip pass by without blogging. That is why we have prearranged unlimited internet access for the whole cruise. I don’t want to bore you all, so maybe not every day, but you can expect at least three if not four blogs direct from the ship.

On the night of Samhain, which you probably know as Hallowe’en, Lisa and I will be celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary and then, during our holiday in the USA, it will be my birthday. How old? Well, since you ask, 63 this year but age is only a number.

Oh well, back to giving Lisa what little help I can as she cleans our place prior to moving out in two weeks.