We’re a couple in our mid to late 30ies and this is only our 2nd cruise ever. We went on the Allure last year for a Eastern Caribbean cruise last year and while service and food quality were similarly bad, we weren’t put off enough to give it a second go on this brand new ship. Unfortunately, the ‘down size’ meant that even the few good features were gone and RCC showed it full ugly face- service quality close to zero but hands in your pockets wherever you go.
We boarded in Southampton which is the usual ugly British town with the usual British traffic from hell. Luckily, we’re already used to this so we left in time and the pre-booked parking was conveniently located just next to the check in terminal. With only 3 days on this special cruise, we wanted to make the most of it so we had picked the very first boarding slot just at noon. The boarding was one of the few things which actually went much MUCH better than last year in Fort Lauderdale where we had to queue for ages until getting onto the ship. Here on the Anthem, the boarding process benefits greatly from the updated technology and hence we were checked in by some ladies standing around the entrance hall of the terminal building with Ipads. They scanned the barcodes of our checkin tickets which we had printed off the internet days before, even managed to read in both of our passports (one German and one Aussie) on their Ipad and off we went through security and onto our ship. We wondered whether it would all go so smoothly if you boarded later and there were a few more people as I could well imagine that ladies-standing-around scenario to end up in utter chaos but I can’t judge on it as it was all fine when we boarded amongst the first people on the ship (‘utter chaos’ was more the rule than the exception throughout the entire cruise so I’m quite happy to not even find out in this instance!).
What we did not receive immediately was our cruise passes which we were told would be found in our stateroom. Too bad that the staterooms were still locked for service so over the first hour or so we had to fiddle around with our two loose drink stickers and the original booking slip (we later found out that various oh-so ‘polite’ Brits simply ignored the signs on the doors to the hallways and snuck into their rooms early to get the card which is was an early indicator for what lovely crowd we’d be spending the next couple of days with, but more on that later).
After upgrading our included base drinks package to the premium deal (which was well worth for us as we easily down enough drinks over the cause of the day), we went to Boleros for a first welcome drink. Soon we realised that things were not up to scratch here as you had to queue up at the bar for ages rather than getting served by a waiter. This bar offered no proper champagne at all but the menu at least had Chandon listed so we ordered that. The waiter replied ‘Champagne?’ and I nodded hoping I might be in luck. But oh no, it was not even Chandon, let alone champagne, but rather one of those cheap and nasty headache inducing Italian Proseccos which we usually avoid altogether. We later found out that you can get proper champagne at the North star bar which unfortunately is outside so not the best place for a cosy drink if you’re cruising from grim and cold England (FYI - champagne is also in some of the restaurants).
Soon it was 1pm and we headed to our stateroom. Having been on the Allure last year, everything looked very familiar in style albeit a slight bit more modern given the ship was built so recently. We had a balcony stateroom on deck 10 and the room itself was actually one of the highlights- it felt much, much more up to date than on the Allure with a rather modern pick of colours and interior materials. The bathroom was almost exactly identical, nothing special but good enough for being on a ship. Unfortunately, our room attendant was the slackest you could imagine and seemed to have been straight out of RCC state room attendants school 1.01 (and she certainly wasn’t an A grade student, believe me!) so we were welcomed to instant drama by having our beds apart rather than together even though this was clearly requested in our booking. She told us she would fix this soon but in the end it took until after dinner for this to be sorted.
One gripe on this cruise was that it had been sold as a ‘proper’ trip but then we had to live with several shortcuts which had not been communicated up front: There was no room service at all, even the menu card had been removed from the room. Worse even: One of the great new concepts which had been heavily advertised and was one of the main reasons for us to go and give this ship a go was the new dining arrangement. We were really looking forward to four uniquely different venues instead of this awful generic main dining room which we found absolutely horrid on our first cruise last year. Unfortunately, once on board we had to find out that you were being served the same meal in all four dining venues which totally defied to the purpose of the new concept! The interior design of the four venues was really nice and we imagine this to be a real advantage over the older ships once it is put in place properly with the individual menus.
However, in general, don’t expect too much form the food on Royal Caribbean which is something we learnt last year already: They clearly downgrade the food in the free restaurants purposely to ensure you spend some extra money in the specialty restaurants which is just a nasty way to make a few more bucks (RCC is great at that, I guarantee you!). Worse however, again, was the service: What a disaster! RCC tend to employ staff only from the poorest of poor countries and as with everything, you get what you pay for. Especially in the main dining venues, staff seemed generally not knowledgeable, badly trained or sometimes outright lazy and rude. We had experienced exactly the same issues last year and nothing has changed: They put some poor untrained Eastern Europeans in the role of the wine server which means you simply wait for ages for your next drink rather than just having your main waiter serving it when you need it.
Once you sit down, there seems to be a clock ticking somewhere and the sole objective of the wait staff is to get you out of there in as little time as possible so it never feels like a nice relaxed dinner. The food is mediocre at best and always tastes much worse than it sounds on the menu. On the first night we went to Silk which was very forgettable though the décor in the restaurant looks pretty impressive. On the second night we gave in and had dinner at Chop’s Grille which was absolutely excellent in terms of food. However, even here service was at best so so and we had to wait for ages to get our table even though we had booked well in advance- it was the usual RCC chaos and inefficiency which you could feel throughout the entire ship.
On the last night we ate at the ‘Grande’ for which we dragged along formal clothes which was a total waste of time given that in the end the menu was the same in all four venues! Actually- the experience there was the worst on the entire ship so we weren’t happy at all. It all went straight to customer service hell when the useless waiter we had been assigned to was too dumb to find our table and we had to trot for ages behind her trying to find the correct table number. Once she finally had found it after an endless zig zag through the restaurant (we were amongst the first guests that evening and the restaurant was almost empty though we still ended up with the worst possible dark in the corner table you can imagine), instead of apologising she dumped the menus on our table without a word and went off. She obviously also missed the handover to the actual food waiter as no one arrived. We ended up sitting there at our table for about ten minutes with dozens of staff members (who had nothing to do in the almost empty restaurant) clearly seeing us waiting and not a single one bothering to even come over and see if they could do something for us. This experience showed us what happens if something goes wrong in their ‘system’ as obviously none of those underpaid puppets would do anything until a boss gives them an order. One can only imagine how useful this crew would be if, science forbid, ever anything happened to this ship in terms of an emergency. We quickly made the decision between us to NOT listen to any member of this useless crew if something was to happen and rather fight for the quickest way to a lifeboat ourselves which I think is a very good idea given the training levels of the crew.
The one main downer for us on this cruise was the entertainment and bars. On the Allure, you had a real mix of people on board and therefore a plethora of different drink and nightlife venues which suited to different tastes. Here on the Anthem, some of our favourites (like the Martini bar) were missing and most of the new venues were just awful. This might have a good fit to the crowd which turned out to be much older on average and more what we always feared would be on such a ship- 50+ couples, multi-generational families (our worst nightmare to be stuck with our awful relatives on a cruise ship!) and the occasional booze group from Northern England. In line with the ‘older’ theme was the music and entertainment - it was mostly the kind of stuff our parents would enjoy. The main musical on board is “We will rock you” and while I don’t mind the music of Queen itself, most rock music is poison for our ears and that theme just went through the entire ship. The musical itself was the usual failed attempt to squeeze some popular music into an idiotic storyline which, in this case, was pretty much the ‘Everything used to be better in the past’ kind of theme that would have been a delight for those oldies around us.
Strangely, the ship is otherwise relying heavily on technology everywhere which did strike us as kind of odd. The best about the musical were the three ‘technical issues’ right in the middle of it causing unexpected breaks and re-starts which was funny to watch. However, because of these ‘technical issues’ the musical ran overtime and we ran out of time to make it to our restaurant appointment so we left right at that spot in the story where they made some really awful old men’s jokes that were so lame, I couldn’t believe they’d include this in a musical. The other venues also mainly catered for the retiree crowd, the worst being a music hall which didn’t exist on the Allure which was playing nothing but the worst kind of rock music from either the tape (notice I said ‘tape’ rather than computer or music file) or some wannabe rock band- the entire place was a huge waste of space and full of old drunk people.
What else was there? Not a single bar playing some sort of decent electronica (besides the hilarious ‘DJ’ at the gimmicky Bionic robot bar on night 1) or at least some chill out kinda lounge music, let alone some decent house or dance. Nothing, only Rock, Rock and more Rock. Or some pseudo-samba at Boleros where you could see our parents’ generation on the dance floor which is pretty much the last thing I want to endure on my hard earned holiday. The schooner bar was also pretty awful with either bad live music or as bad quiz shows and the likes so we ended up mostly between the “Authentic” British Pub (no pub could ever be less authentic than the pub on a cruise ship but that’s a similar marketing nonsense as the “Food truck at sea” which is just a Hot Dog stall with a truck painted on it that certainly ain’t trucking anywhere ever) and Sorrento’s Pizza where at least you didn’t have to hurt your ears listening to rock music. Speaking of Sorrento’s, I don’t want to miss mentioning that besides all the awfulness, some of our favourites were still there: Sorrento’s, the BEST pizza place ever which always saves you if you leave hungry from the dining room (which is pretty much always the case unless you pay extra for specialty dining), the Windjammer which is always chaos and trashy but at least it doesn’t try to hide the crappiness of it all and the jogging track going all around the upper deck.
Some of the ‘new’ additions however felt rather boring and unnecessary: That strange North Star glass capsule which could be fun if it went fast and preferably upside down but the way it is with the over an hour queue to get on, it’s just a redundancy for the wheelchair brigade. We also tried the air cannel which looked so cool on the pictures but unfortunately also has an awfully slow people throughput resulting in long waits and, more so than the surf simulator, actually requires some skills to use so all you are allowed to do as a guest is floating around a bit while being held firmly by the instructor. Going all the way up ‘flying’ in that tube- don’t even dream of it, very misleading and disappointing we both found.
So all in all, we weren’t even that unhappy to get off the ship after those three days. Going on it for a ‘proper’ longer cruise? Definitely not for us if they don’t make serious changes to the entertainment schedule. We also found last year on the Allure even that the pools get very overcrowded very quickly and that the adult only ‘Solarium’ area badly lacks exactly that- a pool. Those tiny hot tubs just don’t do it for us. Now here on the anthem, the pool deck is even smaller and though we couldn’t really use them at all due to the weather, it became very clear to us that it would be quite a nasty experience on here and once again, the adult only area only has tiny tubs rather than a proper pool. We’ve made the decision to not give up on cruising altogether but might try Celebrity next time hoping for a slightly more fitting crowd and atmosphere on board.
Summary of Good Bits:
• Chops Grille – super yummy food, not too expensive either!
• Bionic Bar – a fun gimmick
• The general décor and furnishings – especially in the guest rooms
• Dodgem Cars
• The Champagne bar – if it wasn’t so crowded during the day and so cold at night!
• TIP: the fantastic Kuemmelweck roast beef sandwiches are available at the Deli on Level 5, near the back of the ship.
Summary of Bad bits:
• Service and Staff – just really bad, you pay too much to receive such crap service.
• Most of the food (plenty of options, it’s quality that is lacking here)
• Entertainment options – unless you absolutely LOVE rock music, are an old person, or both.
• We are NOT fans of children theme parades etc but we did notice that parades, main deck parties, activities and dancing for children was completely missing on this cruise, a little bit disappointing if you’re a 5 year old kid hoping for a hug and a photo with Shrek or whatevs.
• The non-genuine genuine pub
• Restricted service on the shorter cruises, which we were not warned about – no room service, short generic menus which are the same in all 4 restaurants. Why bother to theme them all differently?!
• Wonderland restaurant – this would be on our ‘Good’ list if we could get a table! All booked out, weeks in advance! The restaurant looks fantastic, as does the food, but such a small footprint. RC could consider making bigger versions of this restaurant theme on their future ships and they will have happier cruise guests and full cash registers.
• Jamie’s Italian – it’s already everywhere across the UK, do we really need it on a ship as well? Guess which restaurant was completely empty for the whole 3 days? Yep, you guessed it!
The cabin itself was pretty good like most of the 'hard product' on this ship. Albeit not of the same standard as a hotel room (I wouldn't expect this on a ship!) it was big enough for two and the bathroom was small but functional. It was very obvious that the design was up to date and felt much more modern than on the older RC ships. We'd never go for an inside cabin so balcony is an absolute must!