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Anthem of the Seas is new, fun and could be the future

May 21, 2015

It used to be big ships were not considered cool or classy.
Then designers began to add restaurants, theatres and gadgets like waving-making machines to swimming pools.
Heads were turned, often by families who want something for everyone.
And that’s just what I have seen in an inaugural preview of the newest cruise ship afloat, the 4000-passenger Anthem of the Seas, and a $1 billion baby that is a game-changer.
This one, like its slightly older sister, Quantum of the Seas, is a triumph for Royal Caribbean International, masters of the sea when it comes to big ships full of fun and innovation.
I mean, where else can you find two robotic barmen? You choose your drink, they mix it, pour it, serve it, and add the bill to your onboard account. With a tip, mind you. In cruising, some things never change.
Go to deck 15, and the North Star capsule takes 14 passengers for a ride 300 ft above the sea, or step into a chamber and float like an astronaut in space.
There’s dogem cars and roller skating and goodness knows what else, but the beauty of it all is that that the basics, such as ship design, and food, have been done so well.
Take the corridors, which on many ships are drab and boring. Not on the Anthem. My deck, by no means one of the pricier sections, had insets and pillars with a handsome colour scheme.
The main public spaces are delightful – spacious, bright and a pleasure to stroll and explore. There are cafes like La Patisserie, where you can sit and watch the world go by, bars and pubs, shops that would not be out of place in Knightsbridge, and a front desk set that is contemporary and welcoming.
There are 18 restaurants, including a star turn by Jamie Oliver. We had a sea view, excellent house wines, and a waiter who knew his job and how to smile. The former is key for when it comes to multiple restaurants, small ships cannot compete, and as for the smiles, Royal Caribbean has great staff who understand that a smile might be a small thing, but it is everything.
Jamie’s also has an enclosed restaurant on the deck, while I particularly enjoyed Windjammer’s outdoor area right at the stern on deck 14, something lost on many big ships which have completely built up sterns with aft-facing cabins.
“Meet me there for lunch” could be a popular request on Anthem, perhaps second though to “make me late for breakfast,” because this ship has amazing beds, certainly the most comfortable and made up properly with sheets and blankets as opposed to duvet disasters where I’ve had the misfortune to encounter double beds with two single duvets.
There’s innovation here too, as every cabin comes with Wow watches that open cabin doors at a touch, avoiding the pain of being locked outside your cabin because you left the key card inside. The watches can also be used for charging purchases to shipboard accounts, so no need to fumble in your bag for your key card at the Bionic Bar, where the robots do their stuff with a flash of your watch.
Maybe the biggest surprise was the quality of the onboard WIFI, normally frustratingly slow at sea. Royal Caribbean has taken an industry lead here and given passengers what they want – service as good as they get at home. It works everywhere on the ship, and delivers quick email and downloads, such as the complete Aberdeen Press & Journal web edition. Cost is $15 a day for one device and $20 for two, a bargain when you consider that on most cruise ships you pay through the nose for shabby service.
Big ships have something else to offer – entertainment, and lots of it, starting with the sparkling Royal Theatre, where we were treated to the West End hit We Will Rock You. What a room it is, spread over three decks but quite intimate, with a talented cast, live musicians and a sound system that would impress Dr Bose.
Afterwards passengers can drift into the Music Hall for more live entertainment, there’s the inevitable casino, while the stern is dominated by Two70, a masterpiece that will blow you away. So named because the view around it takes in most of the compass, this room has more gadgets, gizmos, flying jugglers and sound and lighting tricks than the Las Vegas strip. Two70, unbelievably, cost more than Royal Caribbean’s first ship.

Spontaneity happens too — such as stepping into a lift, where you might find a bloke playing a piano. He is one of the entertainers and is called the Stowaway Pianist — see picture.

Anthem is new, fun and exciting, but the high-tech is not overwhelming. When the ship, all 168,000 tons of it, leaves dock, with the help of enough thrusters to enable it to pirouette in the smallest harbour, it still feels like a shippy ship with a happy crew and a Norwegian captain who has a sense of humour, a vessel with many good itineraries from its Southampton base.
So if you’re on board and young at heart, check out the extras on the Anthem. And one day you might be tempted to have a go on the dogems. You know, for old times sake.

ANTHEM is sailing now to the end of summer from Southampton on mostly Mediterranean cruises, with prices of around 1600 pounds per person for 14 nights.
For more information call 0844 493 4005.

The stowaway is a pianist

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