My wife is quite severely disabled and consequently we have come to appreciate that cruising has proven to be a perfect holiday for us both. With accessible cabins, all facilities on board accessible, easy access to lifts (elevators) and spoiled rotten by the amazing staff, a perfect holiday was almost guaranteed. We have only ever cruised with Royal Caribbean and in May this year we cruised on their new ship, Anthem Of The Seas expecting similar experiences to previous cruises. Regrettably, this was a completely different experience and I have to say, we were very disappointed and were really glad to get home. I want this review to be constructive but also informative not only to guests, but hopefully the hierarchy in Royal Caribbean will take note of my negative comments while also appreciating the positive aspects to our trip.
We had pre-booked our disabled parking at Southampton so when we arrived, there was absolutely no problem with parking, luggage collection and getting to the check-in Reception area. The entire check-in process went without any problems. It was conducted by keen, efficient and pleasant staff who did everything to ensure that we were able to board with the minimum of fuss and disruption. Once on board, we had to wait until 1:00 pm (couple of hours) for our balcony room to be ready for us to occupy. This gave us a chance to have a quick look around the ship and get our bearings. The Windjammer restaurant was open as usual and we were able to have a meal and refreshments so the waiting around was not an issue.
Balcony Accessible Room
Access to our room was by means of a smart card or a smart watch. The card has always been used on other ships but the watches I believe are a new idea. We were told the watch could be used on all facilities that were accessible by the card. Not so - we were not able to use it to purchase any items and scanning it across the door entry sensor rarely worked first time. This was not a beneficial item in my view and our watches soon found the bottom draw until the end of our cruise.
On the way to our room we noticed immediately there was considerably more room down the corridors and room doors had been recessed which made manoeuvring a wheelchair a great deal easier than on other ships. The room doors on this ship are automatic and opened with our sea pass cards. Automatic doors really did make accessibility simple and completely hassle free.
Once inside, the room was spacious, spotlessly clean and looked quite luxurious. Access onto our balcony was the best yet with wide door and a ramp from the room to the balcony. There was a surprisingly large amount of storage space available - we need to take a lot of extras when we go away and we had plenty of available storage after all our luggage had been stowed.
I regret to say however, the accessible wet-room was a bit of a disaster and in my view the design had really not been given enough thought to enable or even assist a disabled guest. To start, the door was incredibly heavy and opened outwards. This would not have been an issue had the bed not been so close to the door. This resulted in my wife being unable to transit from the bed to the wet-room without having to difficultly negotiate a door which was in the way. This caused us some quite severe problems in accessing the wet-room. It is also a problem that in my view could have easily been overcome in the design stage if more attention had been given to the actual needs of a disabled person. Once inside the wet-room, there was plenty of room however, although there were sufficient grab rails, there was not a “drop-down” bar next to the toilet which I have to say is generally a standard fit in most accessible bathrooms and toilets. This caused my wife (and I) extreme difficulty in accessing the toilet and resulting in my wife suffering a lot of quite extreme discomfort both during and after the cruise. Again, more thought in the design stage and consultation with disabled people could have resulted with a much more ‘disabled friendly’ facility.
Gone have the days of simple to operate air conditioning! On previous cruises, a simple dial on the wall indicated “Cooler” or “Warmer”. Not on the Anthem - electronically controlled by thermostat which was set at a minimum temperature of 68 deg ‘F’ (20 deg ‘C’). This was a little too warm for my wife and me and consequently we were not completely comfortable throughout. I believe guests should be given the choice at what temperatures they are comfortable and perhaps a minimum of 64 deg ‘F’ would be more reasonable. Additionally, the air conditioning and heating system did not operate unless the balcony door was locked shut hence separating my wife and I if we chose to be in different locations within our room.
Our room was equipped with a mini bar which on previous cruises was a great facility. However on this ship, we were not visited once to have the bar replenished and on every occasion we had to request our room steward to arrange replenishment. He did so willingly and with enthusiasm but he did have enough to do without taking on a barman’s role.
This is the first ship we have been on which enabled internet access in every room. A fantastic facility but I think it was extortionately expensive. Not everyone is dependant on this technology 24/7 and we only wanted occasional access which made the internet a luxury item on this cruise.
Lifeboat Safety Drill
As on all cruises, before departing Southampton, the Captain calls for a life boat drill, I believe to ensure that all guests and crew are completely familiar with evacuation procedures. On other cruises, this has proven to be extremely beneficial. Regrettably this time, I found the entire process to be unclear, confusing and disorganised. The crew seemed to know what they were doing but did not relay this to quests. We ended up herded into one large area unable to identify our team leader or even know where our lifeboat was located. We were asked to watch a video on a domestic size monitor which was located 50 or 60 feet away. Our view was obscured by other passengers and we could not hear the audio track at all due to the noise of other people. Personally, my wife and I felt less confident about a safe evacuation after the drill than we did before it took place. We were advised in the event of an emergency not to use the lifts but there was nobody available to explain to us how we could get to our evacuation point with a wheelchair bound guest.
As expected, there was a great choice of restaurants on the ship, but a new style of dining has been introduced on the Anthem Of The Seas. It is called dynamic dining and generally we found this meant that each ‘main’ restaurant had the same menu for 4 days. There were also only 2 menus available in each of the main dining rooms which meant for our 16 day cruise, the same menu was available for 8 days - not a good choice. We found the food was not up to the same very high standards as on other Royal Caribbean ships. The portions were generous and it was always fresh and well presented. My wife is a vegetarian and she found the vegetarian options were very limited and in one restaurant when ordering a ‘vegetarian samosa’ she was advised that it contained chicken. We complained about this but the menu did not change and the chicken remained in the vegetarian samosa for the entire cruise.
We also noticed the waiting staff were rotated on an almost daily basis. This meant we were unable to build a good relationship and rapport with the same waiters, waitresses and supervisors. This is really unfortunate as this was an important part of our dining experience in the past. We also noticed that 2 of the other main ‘complimentary’ dining rooms were for the exclusive use of those who wanted to dress formally or those who had purchased suites and were ‘pinnacle’ graded guests. These were complimentary restaurants and this seemed very unfair to anyone else in fact, it could be classed as discriminatory.
The staff were exceptional. Without exception, they could not do enough for us. They were helpful courteous, professional and a real credit to Royal Caribbean. There did seem to be a lot of supervising staff in the restaurants which I felt was not really necessary. On one occasion while dining, we were approached 6 times by different staff see if everything was good with our meal.
All in all a disappointing experience. Everything was completely different from what we have come to expect from Royal Caribbean. Changes to the dining experience, in our view have resulted in a major drop in quality of food throughout the ship (exceptionally the Windjammer). Staff were great as usual but even the more ‘formal’ style of uniform made the whole experience feel less relaxed. Very disappointed with the general accessibility within our stateroom which was the major factor for us not enjoying this cruise. We will cruise with Royal Caribbean again, but not on this ship. At the end of the day the new ‘outlook’ by Royal Caribbean has resulted in the company trying to fix something that isn’t broken.