The Anthem of the Seas will sail its inaugural spring and summer season from its home port of Southampton, U.K. (Photo via Royal Caribbean International)
When we heard that Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s dazzling new ship, was moving to Shanghai this spring to serve the Chinese market, we were disappointed. Wait — wasn’t this the best new ship in the world, with the coolest new features, when it launched just five months ago? And now we have to travel halfway around the world to sail on it? Fortunately, identical sister ship Anthem of the Seas debuts today just weeks before Quantum starts making her way toward Asia. We got onboard in Southampton, England, to check Anthem out just before the christening. And the good news is — she’s pretty amazing, too.
1. Superfast Wi-Fi
A 23-year-old first-time cruiser asked me, “What’s so special about the technology on this ship? Everyone keeps talking about it!” To which I replied, “Have you had any problems using the Internet?” And there you have it: For people who haven’t suffered through the exorbitantly expensive and shockingly slow Wi-Fi service that was standard at sea before the Quantum class, it’s hard to imagine just how much better this is, but the truth is that it’s life-changing. Now, you can upload photos, post to Facebook and Instagram, Skype, use Google Hangout, and stream movies and TV shows.
Spectra’s Cabaret (Photo via Royal Caribbean International)
This is the most expensive lounge on any cruise ship. In fact, CEO Richard Fain said that it was more expensive to design this space than the line’s first ship, the $13.5 million Song of Norway. So what makes it so special? The lounge sits on the aft end of Deck 5, facing out toward the sea through floor-to-ceiling, two-story windows with views that are not obstructed by the usual columns. In front of the windows, six projection screens are hung, waiting to be called into service during the shows. A system of lifts and swings allows acrobats to come down from the ceiling and rise up from the floor. Of course, there’s a bar and a café (with some of the best lunch fare onboard, incidentally), but the best time to see the space at its most dramatic is during the stage show, Spectra’s Cabaret.
3. RipCord by iFLY
RipCord by iFLY is the first skydiving experience at sea. (Photo via Royal Caribbean International)
Skydiving classes at sea? Yes, it’s just as cool as it sounds! After you sign up for a class, you suit up, take lessons, and then wait for your turn in the wind tunnel. Don’t let the demo by the instructor deceive you, though: You will not be doing cool flips your first time. Still, the image of your cheeks blown back like a pooch who stuck his head out a car window may just be the best Facebook profile pic of all time.
Lots of ships have an adults-only lounge, but this one doesn’t come with a charge. Better still, it has a hot tub, a pool designed with waterfall-like tiers, a juice bar with healthy cocktails, and a specialty restaurant (also complimentary) that serves breakfast and lunch buffets and a la carte dinners. (On Quantum of the Seas, all of the meals were made-to-order and plated, but the demand was too high.) Everything is low-fat and low-calorie, and a shocking number of the dishes are gluten-free. If that’s a diet you follow, there’s no better place to eat on the high seas. And even if it isn’t, you won’t want to miss the decadently fudgy dark chocolate cake with whipped cream and smashed raspberries.
5. Robotic bartenders
Do you have to tip the bartender if it’s a robot? (Photo via Royal Caribbean International)
Again, this bar is just like the one on Quantum of the Seas — and still as cool as ever. Walk up to the bar, place your order on a tablet, and watch the robots pull the bottles from the ceiling to mix your drink. Best of all, the robots have been fine-tuned, so they now move a bit faster (and are, therefore, “out of service” less often) than on Quantum of the Seas.
It has been years since Spanish chef Ferran Adrià wowed the world with his imaginative cooking techniques, which transform familiar ingredients into as-yet-unseen dishes, but molecular gastronomy is still just as much fun today. Sign up for the tasting menu at this whimsical, Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurant, and you can taste noodles that melt in your mouth, “olives” that are actually spheres full of liquid, deep-fried balls of chicken liver mousse that dissolve immediately, and vegetables plated on a bed of what looks like dirt but is actually rye breadcrumbs. The best news we heard onboard: The cruise line is considering launching a playful but luxe Mad Hatter afternoon tea service on sea days. Sounds just about brilliant.
7. Michael’s Genuine Pub
Michael’s Genuine Pub (Photo via Royal Caribbean International)
We love every last comforting thing that comes out of Michael Schwartz’s kitchens, from the short-rib pizza to wood-oven-roasted cauliflower to his famous Peanuts and Popcorn dessert. The menu has been tweaked a bit on Anthem to remove less popular dishes (such as the Greek faro salad) and to add iconic British favorites (such as fish and chips and Yorkshire pudding). Still, we’d come just for the bar snacks, which include deviled eggs, pork sliders, crispy pig’s ear scratchings, polenta fries, and Scotch eggs, as well as the craft beers.
8. Jamie’s Italian
You want to come here hungry. Appetizers include fried calamari with aioli and wooden boards of house-made charcuterie and roasted vegetables, served elevated, propped up on rows of canned tomatoes. All the pastas — from truffle-laced tagliatelle to spaghetti carbonara — are made in-house, and the roasted porchetta is rich and satisfying. Just save room for dessert: tiramisu that’s so good it occasionally runs out, and Jamie’s light and lemony take on cheesecake, which is topped with a thick layer of sweet meringue.
9. North Star
North Star provides guests breathtaking, panoramic views from 300 feet above sea level. (Photo via Royal Caribbean International)
Picture a giant mechanical arm that extends up into the sky 300 feet above sea level, with a pod full of people instead of a fist, and you pretty much get the North Star. Part amusement park ride (though it moves way too slow to really count as that) part photo op, this 20-minute gimmick offers the best snapshots on the ship.
10. Contemporary art
Art on the Anthem of the Seas. (Photo: Photo via Sherri Eisenberg)
The art collection, much of which is custom and some of which is also interactive, pops up everywhere, and it’s even more fun and colorful than on Quantum. The line takes art seriously; it once brought in teams of engineers for weeks to help configure an installation. Just how seriously did they take these pieces? There’s a giant, 32-foot, 4-ton giraffe on deck.
WATCH: Go Aboard the Quantum of the Seas North Star