My wife and I went into this cruise with such excitement - our first completely solo cruise without our (now adult) children who have accompanied us on every one of our past cruises. A new class of ship (and just plain a NEW ship) that we were looking forward to sailing on. And a visit to a port we hadn't actually been to before and had high expectations of enjoying - CoCoCay.
I'll preface this review by saying that in the grand scheme, we did have periods of enjoyment during this particular cruise, however, it was not the overwhelmingly exciting or positive experience that we've experienced with every other cruise we've ever been on, with both RCI and Carnival. We are the last ones to complain while on a cruise (having dealt with others who did so in the past), but now having returned home with the experience complete, I'm compelled to write about the experience as a whole, including it's "Misses", of which on this particular cruise, there were many.
This is a long review. It is unabashedly mostly focused on the negatives because, well, there were more of then versus positives for both of us - take of that as you will, but we are not beginner cruisers, and frankly, we would simply *never* book another cruise on Anthem (or any Quantum class ship) ever again. For that matter, the whole experience with this ship, and Royal Caribbeans latest tactics to monetize seemingly everything physically possible has given us pause about even continuing to cruise with them despite being nearly Diamond status.
Our check in / embarkation experience was spectacular - the new "pre approval" process (where you can do a lot of the check-in yourself at home) was a massive success, saving us time standing in lines as would otherwise be normal. From the time we walked into the terminal to the time we were headed towards the gangway was literally under 15 minutes, and we were aboard inside 20 minutes after stepping out of our Uber. If they're getting things ready to deal with the huge crowds of Oasis arriving soon, they've nailed it.
The ship itself is indeed new(er) and (mostly) in excellent repair. After sailing on Explorer, Grandeur, and Enchantment (all older ships in the RCI fleet) Anthem seemed new and fresh in comparison - we were excited to be aboard! I didn't expect it to live up to our experience of the Oasis class, but being one of RCI's new flagships, I had expected it to be close.
We got checked into our stateroom and met our ever-smiling stateroom attendant who was extremely friendly and anxious to help - he turned out to be of the bright spots on our cruise - a shining star - thank you Frederick!
Day 1 at sea was soon upon us and we headed for the solarium to enjoy our first day after breakfast in the windjammer. It's design was much better than the typical RCI buffet setup so we were off to a good start, but after actually getting our first breakfast, we were a little underwhelmed - the much touted "new and improved" windjammer seemed understaffed, and a lot of food that should have been served hot...was, quite simply, not. But hey, we're on a cruise, relax...enjoy! It was just a one off I'm sure. Sadly, it was not. More on this later.
After breakfast we headed towards our favourite place on all RCI ships - the solarium. My first impression of the solarium was that it was pleasant, if not noisy - unfortunately the makeup of the passenger load on this trip seemed to include a lot of volume challenged individuals and the usual serenity of the Solarium was often difficult to find. Not RCI's fault, but this was indeed a very packed cruise with a noisy group it seemed. It is what it is - enjoy the cruise I kept remembering - little things don't wreck the overall experience.
Although my wife loves to sit and relax in a chair, read a book, and stare at the ocean, I often gravitate towards the pool and spas in the solarium. I was soon wondering who made the design choices of both - the spas were so incredibly shallow that when sitting on the seats the water was only 1/3 of the way up my chest - *many* others were commenting the same, especially those who were not first time cruisers like ourselves and had other ships to compare with. The only way I could actually get underwater up to my neck was to lay awkwardly with my knee jammed up against the hand rail to avoid sliding underwater, or to stretch out across the entire spa...and nobody wants someone else's feet that close to them. Sadly, the pool was not much more enjoyable - all 3 segments in the Solarium were only a few feet deep at most, and a new addition of a lifeguard who just stood there and persistently stared at passengers in the pool felt...odd. Others were clearly uncomfortable about it, and many commented that the clear glass at the edge of the different levels of the pools presented highly unflattering views of what few swimmers were actually in the pool to those in the pools below them, as well as other passengers walking by. Accordingly, I noticed that the "pools" (using the term loosely) were under utilized - empty or nearly empty most of the time, for that matter. Add into this whole situation the fact that the spas were so incredibly over chlorinated that it literally burned my noise when I was in them (and others were also commenting), by the end of the cruise I had only "Enjoyed" the spas three times for about 15 minutes each time. Usually I'd spend at least an hour or two a day relaxing in them. Disappointed.
However, the solarium became one of our Go-To places (as always) even though the towel-on-chair reservation brigade were in full force (as usual) with seemingly no crew enforcement of the issue. But when we found a chair we enjoyed it there.
Elsewhere on the ship I was left wondering about the design choices of various venues and common areas. The "Esplanade" as it's now called (Previously referred to as the Promenade on most other RCI ships with similar setups) was extremely crowded - especially so when the "Junk sales" (as much wife and I jokingly refer to them) were on in the middle of the space...which on Anthem, was basically ALWAYS. These sales have always frustrated me on every ship when they take place in an area of the ship that should be available for passenger enjoyment and free-flow of passengers from one venue to another, but on Anthem it was particularly annoying as it was seemingly non-stop, complete with the loud annoying announcements about "limited edition!!" or "one time sale!" this, that, and everything else. Want to get to the Patisserie for a coffee or a snack? Sorrentos for a slice of pizza? Or just want to actually get through the area from one end of the ship to the other to head to the Music Hall or another venue like the Schooner bar? Get ready to bump and grind shoulder to shoulder with others - I felt bad for anyone who was in a wheelchair or a scooter - it was simply unnavigable almost all waking hours and we soon started avoiding it like the plague, instead of enjoying it as another common area that should have been enjoyable. At least on other ships they pack up the sales during certain hours and the area is quiet, open, and enjoyable to sit and unwind for a few - on Anthem, it was a constant cacophony. Another public area turned into what was effectively a big retail store.
The "British pub" that is common aboard RCI ships was at one end of the Esplanade, but again, the design choice of installing "grids" instead of windows meant that sound bled both ways to and from the pub. When there was a crooner or some activity going on it bled annoyingly into the Esplanade and Sorrentos. When you were in the pub trying to enjoy yourself, the annoying junk sale announcements (or just the high-volume crowds) bled over into the pub. You couldn't win in either venue.
Speaking of venues, we enjoyed most of them, but unfortunately getting to and from often required running a gamut of photographers that were frankly, by the end of the week, incredibly annoying. On one walk from 270 to the Esplanade we were approached not less than THREE times - once by the "tuba" art installation exiting 270, once more in the area between the elevators (where they had the customary "Fake sunset" photos backgrounds out in full force) and once more on our way down the staircase headed to the Esplanade for a slice of pizza after a show. Honestly, is RCI not able to pay the fuel bill unless they sell enough photos every cruise? That's what it started to feel like. Worse yet, while docked in Bermuda, whilst walking down the pier we were yelled at by another Royal Caribbean photographer after (unknowingly) standing in her shot while trying to get a similar one of our own. I'm usually the last person to get into a verbal altercation with anyone, but I must admit that I had a few polite yet firm words directed at the photographer about the situation about how it was both an accident that were were there to begin with (we genuinely did not see her standing there before apparently walking into her shot), and also reminding her that we are as entitled as anyone else to take a picture with us and the ship in the background even if we weren't paying RCI for the results. This REALLY bothered me for hours afterwards, way more than it should have, but the photographer barking "Sir please move you are in my photo, I'm just doing my job, please move, I need to take this photo, please move, I'm just doing my job" is stuck in my head still as I sit and type this.
So, the new "270" venue - RCI does have a hit on their hands with this style of venue close to the waterline on the stern, and with lots of glass - it reminded me of the Centrum on the vision class ships, but far better. The shows hosted there were hit and miss however - "Spectras Cabaret" left us scratching our heads a little as it was, frankly, just weird - no other way to explain it. We stayed up late one night specifically to attend the "Vistarama" which I mistakenly thought would include the use of the robotic television screens, something I had wanted to see in action. We were soon disappointed to learn that it was literally just 4 or 5 "vistas" projected onto the 270 windows, a few of which (IE, the "Waterfalls") that were just cut and paste repeated/duplicated images across the windows. It was cool to see, sure, but after about 15 minutes, particularly when the images started repeating, the venue emptied out, complete with groans from others who also expected more. And why did they want until 10:30PM to start this when 270 had sat empty for hours before? Other shows in 270 were better, but none "blew us away" as has been common on other RCI ships. I did finally get to see the robotics in action during another show - impressive. Lastly, the AV crew on Anthem have to be deaf - I was left with no other explanation on why the volume levels of every single show we attended were set at ear-piercing levels that crossed the line so badly during one show that I had to literally change seats to get further away from the speakers. We're talking eardrum damaging levels, easily. Elderly people sitting near the speakers had their hands over their ears.
During downtimes between shows 270 was a serene and enjoyable venue to just sit and relax in one of the many comfortable chairs whilst watching the ships wake behind us. Until once again, as seemed to happen everywhere, the salespeople showed up (Diamonds, art, blah blah blah) and started barking on about their special deals over the PA system - serenity gone. Argh. All the passengers who were sitting and enjoying the amazing views and the quiet serenity packed up and left.
Being interested to check out the non-traditional dining venues on Anthem (a result of RCI's failed "Dynamic Dining" legacy that is no longer) we attended dinner in the MDR all but 2 nights of the cruise. Our experience ranged from "What we expected" to "What the heck is going on here". On the high side, after requesting a new table in a new area our last dinner was great, albeit still not at the level we've experienced on other RCI ships. At the lowest spot, we were freshly seated at a table that was only partially set (half our utensils were missing), with no bread basket (which nobody even noticed until we asked for bread 15 minutes after being seated without anyone even acknowledging us up until that point) and the crew in the adjacent prep area seemed oblivious to the fact passengers were sitting nearby trying to enjoy an supposedly upscale dining experience, whilst they clanged and smashed plates, cutlery, and talked loudly. The assistant waiter was great. The main waiter, just passable, but not exceptional honestly. Others experienced cruisers sitting at tables nearby who we chatted up also expressed disappointment in the MDR whole experience thus far. Clearly the legacy dynamic-dining venue is not ideal for the now traditional dining service, and honestly, the small venues themselves left us yearning for the traditional MDR of other more traditional ships. I was not impressed in the whole setup honestly, although I can see how others who were on their first cruise and knew nothing else could find it quasi-upscale.
We attended dinner in the Windjammer for 2 nights, and breakfast every morning. The one trend that become evident was universal in short order was that food was NOT being held at appropriate temperatures. At several points I bit into food that was basically lukewarm (after supposedly being a hot item) that I worried about basic food-safety - how much longer would this food be able to sit at this temperature before someone might get sick? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner...it was a constant trend - at least 1 or 2 items that I'd have on my plate were NOT hot when I got to our table a short time later. Food temperatures aside, I was once again reasonably disappointed in the Windjammer despite the "new and improved" promises that the Quantum Class ships boasted - it seemed to be mostly the "same old same old" for most meals short of dinner in which there was some minor rotation of new items. Lunch was equally underwhelming, although we typically ended up eating at other venues for lunch after the first few days aboard. Don't even get me started on the hockey-pucks that RCI tries to pass off as hamburgers across the ship - want an actually good burger? Get ready to shell out some money at Johnny Rockets. Speaking of which, Johnny Rockets seemed like a ghost-town most of the cruise - when will RCI drop the upcharge on this venue and make it a place that passengers can enjoy like Carnival does with "Guys Burgers", one of the more memorable (and ultra tasty!) memories our our past Carnival cruises. It seems silly that they continue to try to upcharge for a good hamburger on a cruise ship. Lobster or a premium steak in a specialty restaurant or upcharge in the MDR? Sure. A hamburger and fries? Honestly?
What's next for upcharge restaurants - the hotdog stand in the SeaPlex onboard? I've always felt like being upcharged for a hamburger, despite the fact the surcharge is reasonably small, was nickle and diming passengers. It's a *hamburger*, not a steak.
On the topic of food, we were once again mostly disappointed in the coffee aboard. We are admittedly both coffee snobs - a good cup of coffee in the AM is essential, and once again, it seems that RCI can't manage to brew a consistent pot of coffee aboard any of their ships - some carafes had adequate strength coffee with a passable flavour, whilst others had what could only be described as "slightly browned water" with no taste. How it is that on one of the most technologically advanced ships afloat that they can't seem to make a consistent pot of coffee dumbfounds me - we were left wondering once again if this is just another tactic to get people to spend money for the upscale coffee offerings while onboard to get a few more dollars out of our pockets? For us, it worked - the onboard Starbucks was a bastion of actually enjoyable coffee. Another score for our experience with Carnival however - their standard coffee aboard was not only fairly consistently enjoyable, but actually consistent around the entire ship from pot to pot.
Our port days were a mix of mediocrity despite our excitement for CocoCay - given as how Labadee has always been one of our hands-down past favourites, we were both excited to see what CocoCay was all about.
Port Canaveral is far from a particularly desired port for us, especially when it's a truncated day to begin with since we didn't arrive until lunch. I opted to do the Kennedy Space Centre excursion which was actually fairly priced and well run. The excursion was excellent aside from the reality that we were only given basically 4-ish hours at KSU itself before the busses were departing back to the ship - not even remotely close to adequate, but I did manage to squeeze in a ton of things in that time window.
Nassau was, well....Nassau. It seems like the city has really cleaned itself up to some extent after the hurricane. We walked to and from the Queens Staircase from the ship, stopped in at McDonalds to have a drink and use the WiFi for a bit, and then returned to the ship. We had considered not even getting off the ship as we sometimes do in Nassau, but we wanted some exercise and amazingly enough hadn't actually seen the Queens Staircase during one of our many previous visits to the island, so it gave us something new to do.
CocoCay, well....I wanted so badly to enjoy it. The actual island is incredible - for anyone who's been to Labadee, it was similar, yet different - the inland beaches and fresh water pool was great, albeit COLD, which probably explained why there wasn't that many people in it. TONS of beach chairs and umbrellas setup when we arrived, and big cozy comfy hammocks squirrelled away here and there. We got off the ship, found the nearest beach, got a hammock and a chair, and started relaxing. It was awesome! Until it wasn't - about an hour later the winds shifted and the exhaust from the ship started to blow down onto the beach area - for anyone who's ever smelled the exhaust from a ships engine, it's rather acrid because of the heavy bunker oil the engines burn, coupled with it's sulphur content. I roused my wife and said we had to move as the smell was giving me a headache and irritating my throat and sinuses - she agreed it wasn't exactly pleasant either. We moved to a different part of the island outside the area the exhaust was fouling, found two idyllic hammocks under some palm trees, climbed in, and promptly went back to relaxing again. Until the winds shifted again an hour or two later, and you guessed it....ship exhaust blowing back at us again. My wife was sleeping, but I got up and boarded the tram and toured the entire facility hoping to find another place to escape the fumes, but had no luck. I returned to my wife, said that the stink was really bothering me again, and about an hour later (after grabbing some food) we were headed back to the ship, having spent maybe a total of 4 or 5 hours ashore. I'm left wondering if our experience was one of two things - an unfortunate day during which the prevailing winds were abnormal, resulting in the exhaust blowing a direction it wouldn't normally go...or an epic lack of planning on behalf of RCI not taking prevailing winds into consideration. But it would certainly weigh heavily on any willingness to visit CocoCay again. I was so incredibly bummed after this being the one port I was so excited to visit - our previous trips to Labadee have been amongst the most amazing times we've had on cruises.
Back on the topic of the ship.
Out stateroom was excellent - we really enjoyed the new look of the Quantum class ships, and the bathroom and shower setup were both nice. As we had a "Guarantee" balcony stateroom we ended up being directly below the pool deck, however either the engineering of this modern ship, or the layout of the deck above meant that we heard virtually nothing at all above us, which was great, and rather unexpected - I had packaged earplugs just in case, but never needed them. Some noise was evident from the overhang above our balcony, but it wasn't terrible. As mentioned earlier, our stateroom attendant was most excellent - the *only* crew member we ended up tipping extra to. On the downside, RCI decided to not clean the balconies until well into our cruise (in the latter half of our second port day) meaning that almost every hour we were actually able to enjoy sitting on our balcony (which wasn't many as the temperatures weren't exactly spectacular for much of the cruise) left us staring through a thick crust of salt. I was glad we ended up only paying $100 over and above our previously booked interior for our balcony guarantee, as otherwise I would have struggled to feel like we would have got our moneys worth, but no complaints in the grand scheme.
On the topic of the crew, we were again underwhelmed. Most food venues seemed chronically understaffed, particularly the windjammer - food stations were left unattended for periods of time (my wife was left standing for 4-5 minutes waiting for someone to cut some chicken for her at the carving table in the Windjammer during dinner one evening before eventually giving up), during some meal services food trays were empty in some areas (Breakfast was problematic in that regard), and tables were left dirty for extended periods of time - to the point where many passengers ended up stacking other peoples dirty dishes and such simply to get a place to sit. Many food venues had only 1 or 2 crew staffing large areas, leading to lineups. Again, we are not new cruisers, and this was *not* our experience on any other cruise with both RCI and Carnival - there was something seriously wrong on this particular cruise.
The crew themselves also seemed tired and disengaged. I get it, working on a cruise ship is far from easy. Passengers can be, and often are, jerks at worst, or sometimes needy and cantankerous at their best. The hours are long. But once again, we are not new cruisers, and the crew on Anthem in particular seemed just indifferent in many areas. It wasn't the rule (many were friendly, smiling, and enjoyable to engage with), but many others were, well...not so much.
We both try exceedingly hard while cruising to be the "non jerk" type of passengers when we vacation anywhere, cruising included - we go out of our way to be polite and pleasant to crew, staying patient and friendly, smiling, saying thanks whenever it's even slightly due, saying "Hello!" with a smile in the stateroom corridors and public places, and generally trying to avoid being a pain in the bum that the crew so often deals with, so honestly, it wasn't anything we were doing. But is this crew just burned out? Or is there poor management? Who knows. It did not live up to ANY of our previous experiences with Royal Caribbean, not even close.
Entertainment? Mixed feelings. My wife loved 2 of the broadway shows she attended. Spectras Cabaret was just bizarre however - some cool effects and such, but the whole underlying premise was tough to digest. The new "Crazy Quest" (replacing "The Quest" as it was called previously) was pretty much standard fare for RCI, nothing particularly new and exciting for anyone who's attended it 4 or 5 (or a million) times, aside from a new name.
I was left wondering what the heck was going on with the scheduling of many activities however, with long gaps in the evenings with little doing, only to have several activities squished so close together that passengers were left feeling that they could attend one or the other, but probably not both...if the wanted to get seats, anyways. Unlike many other ships were shows and such would be setup so that both early and late dining room seatings would have an opportunity to attend different shows at different times, on Anthem many shows were one time only, or worse yet, nearly overlapping.
Drink pricing? It's a good thing neither my wife nor I are big drinkers - the unlimited alcohol package has zero appeal to us, but on the one evening during a show in 270 when we each decided to enjoy a beverage, one beer for myself and a strawberry daiquiri for my wife was $27!? The Daquiri was of course little more than the standard fare premix blended with ice and the rum just poured over the top of it in a big pool. No effort to blend or mix it. Not even a tiny piece of fruit or anything to dress it up. The bartender seemed put out that he was being asked to even make it. Had to ask for a straw. I got back to my chair only to find out that the beer was mostly warm...but the show had started and I wasn't about to make 20 people in our aisle move twice for me to trudge back and exchange it.
Again, just more disappointment.
And lastly, the monetization has reached insane levels it seems.
Photographers...everywhere, and not all would take "No thanks" for an answer. Junk constantly on sale in the promenade plugging up foot traffic with it's customary loud annoying announcements. The broad selection of desert and snack items that you used to be able to enjoy as complementary in various venues across the ship are now gone, replaced by either cookies (oh, yay), or a small selection of slices of what were very clearly previously frozen cakes and such. But you can still buy some of the premium desert options at the Patisserie in the Promenade if you want, but be prepared to stand in a long line, and pay up for the privilege. We were hassled to book up-sell dining options during dinner in the Windjammer. The galley tour that was often free in the past on many other RCI ships was now an additional cost item for which we were also hassled to book during another meal.
It just seemed to go on and on. We tired of it. Seriously. It was ANNOYING.
On a positive note, the new Royal Caribbean app is excellent - we found it a useful tool for everything we could possibly need whilst on the ship, from booking dinner reservations to seeing the lineup of activities and such on the ship that day. It seemingly completely replaced the need for the printed "Cruise Compass" that is customarily delivered to you stateroom every night, but that still arrived regardless - it seemed like a waste of paper as we just tossed it most nights. I just wish that RCI would institute a messaging option through the app so that people could stay in touch with each other - I'd gladly have paid a few dollars for the privilege.
The disembarkation process at the conclusion of our cruise was quick and fast - we opted for the 7AM self-disembark which helped I'm sure. Lets not get started on the disaster that was our Uber trip back to our hotel (to retrieve our car), but that's another story, and certainly not RCI's fault. I'm seriously losing faith in Uber here. ;)
In the end, as my title suggests, we were quite frankly left completely underwhelmed with our cruise. I sit back now and ask myself if our expectations were just too high, or perhaps we were just so excited that even an average cruise would have seemed mediocre, but I genuinely feel that neither of those things came into play - it really just WAS an underwhelming cruise. Our excitement about the Quantum class ships is gone, and frankly, if this experience of ultra-monetization of everything possible points towards the future of what RCI is going to offer across their fleet, they will be seeing less of us, or we will simply go elsewhere completely - we are not the sort of cruisers who feel obligated to any sort of brand loyalty, and no, even the perks of our increasing Crown and Anchor status don't mater that much to us - Being able to sit in the Diamond Lounge or having reserved seats at a show in a special aisle doesn't cut it for us if - we are looking for an enjoyable overall experience.
Sadly, Anthem did not deliver. Read Less