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Article from BTNews 8 NOVEMBER 2021


RCCL Anthem of the Seas and Regal Princess

BTN's Editor-in-Chief Malcolm Ginsberg and Chris Tarry, our aviation analyst, have both been to sea in recent times.  Each had reservations regarding the trips and each came away very satisfied.  What was obvious with both ships was the obvious pleasure of the crew in welcoming back passengers and looking after them in a very positive way.  Well done Royal Caribbean and Princess.  

In pre-pandemic times, BTN’s Editor-in-Chief, an experienced cruiser (since 1951), was less than enthusiastic of the giant megaships that are all the rage.  Better for him Silversea (around 500 cabins) and Celebrity (1,000 plus cabins).  Five nights at sea in British waters, late October, has changed his mind. This is his report on a ship two-thirds full due to Covid-19 restrictions.  A day at sea, then Liverpool followed by Belfast with another seaday and back to Southampton.  BTN will follow with an ON TOUR of each city. See also Ocean and River Cruise Companies in this issue of BTN.

Malcolm Ginsberg on Anthem of the Seas

“RCCL’s Anthem of the Seas is really very good and Douglas Ward’s Berlitz Cruise Guide, 4-star 1494 rating, is vindicated with all sorts of innovations on what is a glorious floating resort. It is a proper family ship with plenty of what can be only termed water activities, including indoor and outdoor pools and numerous whirlpools and in the splash zone a weird circular pool to walk around in waist high.  At night the ship comes to life with all manner of entertainment.

With wife Linda I took a brief two-night maiden trip on Anthem back in 2015.  Not a lot has changed. We were impressed then, a little concerned with the large numbers, but largely awe struck with the sheer size of the ship and what she offers.  The previous review is worth reading The Billion Dollar Cruise Ship.  Even the big show is the same, 90 minutes of “We Will Rock You” in the Royal Theatre, at least equal to the West End production and in a more comfortable theatre.

This trip was with the wife, daughter and one grandson.

They say that first impressions count. The ship looked smart, no rust marks on the hull, and it was spotlessly clean and in fact for the most part looked brand new. She is now at sea whilst this is being written on her way to the US for the winter season.  The dining room carpets are being replaced. We know not why.  They looked perfect.  

With the required two vaccinations and booster, we took locally the RCCL organised PCR test two days before departure.  The boarding could not be easier and the Port of Southampton parking arrangements very good.  We were in our cabin within 45 minutes of arrival with most of the check-in procedures made on the RCCL App.  

Youngsters under 18 have to partake in a dockside antigen test, all very well organised with a 30-minute sit whilst the result is analysed.  Anthem operates under the rules of the US which are different to those of England where young people (under 18 again) are currently not offered a second vaccination. The US says two are needed.  This made life complicated at the two ports where our grandson could only get off with a group-escorted tour and not with the family. Thankfully he was happy to stay on board.

Covid-19 has caused problems (and much additional expense for the cruise lines) with mask wearing compulsory indoors except for actual eating/drinking.  The staff wear the Dick Turpin get-up all the time with RCCL issuing small badges to all crew members showing their actual faces. They could be bigger.  RCCL has restaurant entrance wash hand basins on its later ships and in fairness to all operators the cruise industry has over decades been very health conscious.

The two-deck Adventure Ocean children’s paradise was closed but that did not seem to worry children and parents with more than enough activities and entertainment to keep all happy.

A longer stay on the ship allows one to sample the small things not noticed on a quick press visit.  It also gives you time to learn the Anthem’s App which takes in just about everything you need to know including booking for the shows and checking in for the same.  For the more senior passengers it is still something of a struggle but the crew are in abundance and only too happy to help.  This problem will not arise with the younger generation coming through.

On the face of it there are only two sets of elevators, but 14 of them, the glass enclosures giving an internal view of the ship as one went up and down.  The day of the week on the floor changed at midnight just in case you had a problem in the morning knowing what day it was.

The standard cabins are amongst the largest in their class and very well thought out with two separate wardrobes. No bunk beds but convertible couches for those travelling up to four people together.  A well laid out small bathroom with the shower door tough perplex, not a plastic screen or curtain.  Best of all the dressing table is free standing, does its normal job very well, but can be pulled out allowing two people to sit opposite each other to have a proper English hot breakfast from the complimentary menu, or dine during the day.

You don’t have to spend a penny extra on board assuming the staff service charge has been paid with the invoice.  Anthem has courtesy tea and coffee making facilities in every room and Café Promenade on Deck 4 offers the same plus cakes until 03:00. Nearby is Sorrento’s Pizzeria, open until the same time and during the day the ice cream stall offers a selection, likewise the SeaPlex (hot) Dog House. Called VOOM, RCCL claims it offers the fastest wi-fi at sea and works all over the ship living up to the boast. It is chargeable.  

When it comes to dining one is spoilt for choice with at least 16 outlets starting with the Windjammer Market Place on Deck 14. Here there are a number of stations catering for traditional, ethnic, vegetarian and gluten requirements, patrons served, or the food can be chosen and taken to your table.

With most ships the main restaurant sits at the back over the stern and can be noisy due to propulsion vibrations.  With Anthem she has four main dining venues amidships on two decks serving the same four-course menus.  Two are for those who prefer a set dining time and the same waiter, and the other pair are anytime in the evening between 18:45 and 21:00. The clever touch is the decor.  Each one is different.  Just one is open for breakfast and lunch, but no kippers on Anthem. It’s American after all.

For alternative dining the stipend required by the Chops Grille was well worth the fee and others told us that Jamie’s Italian was very good (his mainland financial troubles do not affect shipborne dining); Izumi, which is Japanese.

Suite guests have also Coastal Kitchen, high up on deck 14, for all meals, very pleasant and beefburgers offered to the youngsters at lunchtime if that is what they want.

If you are looking for a quiet place for breakfast or luncheon two venues stand out.  The café@Two70 at the back of the ship has a large selection of mostly cold items and a wonderful view through the high tech Two70 showplace over the stern.  At the front of Anthem, is the Solarium Bistro, open for breakfast, lunch and early supper.  There is plenty of variety of hot and cold dishes and the Solarium water complex offers fine views over the bows.  Children under 16 are excluded except early evening which makes it a pleasant place to sit and relax during the day.

Ours was to be the last sailing of the season before she crossed the Atlantic, bereft of passengers, ready for a winter season working out of RCCL’s Port Liberty New Jersey New York base with its closeness to Newark Airport. Sad to say the change of US entry rules came too late for RCCL to sell the trip.   

For 2022 RCCL has an extensive European programme:

Anthem (Southampton 2,090 cabins), is joined by the brand new, even larger Wonder of the Seas (Barcelona 2,862 cabins), Odyssey of the Seas (Rome 2,100 cabins), Jewel of the Seas (Athens and Tarragona 1,056 cabins), and Vision of the Seas (Barcelona 1,025 cabins).

One thing to note. RCCL does not offer an ex-UK flycruise programme.  You have to make your own arrangements.  Hopefully by next summer the Covid-19 crisis will be over but the company does have insurance arrangements in place for clients who have to cancel last minute for medical reasons.  


Chris Tarry updates on Regal Princess

Chris Tarry is a very experienced cruiser, regular Grill Class customer on the Queens, but the price offering on Regal Princess was too tempting to turn down on a trip at the same time as the Editor-in-Chief.  See BTN 4 October.

“We had been advised a few months earlier that the ship would not be calling at Guernsey on the way back to Southampton, which was a bit of a disappointment but understandable in the circumstances. The other change in the original itinerary was made a few weeks before sailing when Bordeaux was substituted for La Rochelle and a range of excursions were quickly offered for Bordeaux.  Taking a leaf from the Michael O’Leary broadsheet Bordeaux is actually the container port at Verdon 60 miles through chateaux country and tastings. In the free time we had in the city we had a most enjoyable and traditional lunch at a restaurant we had visited in the past.

After that (and the delay resulting from a missing passenger) we sailed overnight to Bilbao where we took the shuttle bus and spent the morning walking around the city taking in the Guggenheim from the outside (It was a Sunday and didn’t open until 11:00) and after a trip on the funicular, to view the city, it was the bus back to the ship. The final port of call, the next day, was A Coruña, where the ship was tied up in the middle of the city and we joined the walking tours. We then had two sea days in generally good weather and calm seas at a speed of c 11kts back to Southampton.  

Whilst we have been on a reasonable number of different ships, and where on Cunard, on which we have travelled most, you tend to eat in the dining room which goes with your cabin, with Princess we gave the main restaurant a miss after the first day, our experience in the main dining room ensured that on most other evenings we ate in the specialist restaurants, Sabatinis and the Crown Grill, where in both cases the food and service was good and the cover charge, for what you got, seemed reasonable – indeed as part of benefits of our “suite fare” we had a complementary dinner in Sabatinis on the day of embarkation.  

Our dinner experience in the main dining room, which was a rather dark and dull venue, was on what was billed as a gala evening, where there was a wide interpretation of what was meant by the dress code “Formal” and the maître d asked what we thought of the food we had just had. This might have been a bad move on his part as we told him of the considerable gap that there was between expectation and reality!

We also ate in Alfredos, the pizza restaurant, where there was an outstanding manager, excellent pizzas and no cover charge. Whilst our nominated breakfast restaurant was Sabatinis, we had breakfast and also lunch a couple of times in the Horizon Court on Deck 16 which was always busy, bright, at least during the day with floor to ceiling windows, and also gave an indication how “self-service” worked under the new conditions. On reflection it was good to have the choice.

We may return to Princess in the future for a multigenerational trip.”


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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Malcolm Ginsberg, London

John, We have given much coverage to river cruising in the past, and hope to in the future. Please do a search in BTN or go to this site. https://www.btnews.co.uk/article/16162

John Davidson, Paris

Thank you for the ocean cruises, but please give a thought to your readers in France (and elsewhere) eager for a river cruise such as on the Seine. A particularly nice one, about 10 years ago, with...hmm, Ama? Perhaps you could find one for next spring -- May or June, to give us a review.