Travel Agent is just back from a pre-inaugural sailing aboard Anthem of the Seas. Royal Caribbean International’s second Quantum-class vessel will sail from Southampton, England, for its inaugural summer season. A contingent of about 1,000 agents from the UK, Latin America and Europe were aboard for the shakedown cruise.
The sister ship to Quantum of the Seas bears all of her signature features. All of them except a bear, that is. The whimsical blue bear sculpture adorning Quantum’s top deck is replaced on Anthem by Gigi the Giraffe.
Otherwise, the attractions that made waves on Quantum, such as bumper cars and flying trapeze lessons in the SeaPlex entertainment complex; a skydive simulator; and the soaring, panoramic views from North Star, are back in full force.
“I can’t remember a ship where we felt as little needed changing substantively as Quantum. In terms of fundamental structure, we found very little we could think of as an enhancement,” Royal Caribbean Cruises President and CEO Richard Fain said during a press briefing.
Fain credited an excellent relationship with shipbuilder Meyer Werft for the airtight product.
The company in fact is building in Germany, France and Finland at the moment.
“As you go around, look at the quality of workmanship and skill with which it is done. The fact that it was delivered five days early is an extraordinary event. It takes both a great yard and a great client to make a great vessel. The results speak for themselves,” added Fain.
Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley noted that while Quantum, Anthem and the upcoming Ovation of the Seas are very similar, each has its own personality.
And there’ve been a few tweaks since Quantum debuted last winter. For one thing, the much-heralded Dynamic Dining concept has been dialed down a bit.
It turns out there’s still a significant portion (nearly 40 percent) of Royal Caribbean cruisers who liked things the old way. That is, set early or late dining times, the same waiters and tablemates. So, a new Classic option will let them enjoy all of that while dining at the complimentary venues on a rotational basis.
“One of the reasons we introduced Dynamic Dining on Quantum was for the new-to-cruise segment. We need to continue to attract new people to cruising. One of the things we thought was an obstacle was the traditional dining experience. We think we’ve got the right mix now,” said Bayley.
For the summer, “the right mix” will be adjusted in favor of British palates.
Passengers will find roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in the gastropub; mushy peas and English bacon in the Windjammer Marketplace and tea kettles (with Tetley tea) in staterooms. Of course, afternoon tea is on the menu as well.
Once the ship heads back to the New York area in November, tea time will continue.
“We will change it slightly. The UK market is very interested in cake and what they call biscuits. Americans want small sandwiches and croissants,” said Anthem of the Seas Cruise Director Darren Budden.
Art and entertainment are two other areas in which Anthem expresses its own personality.
The enormous Two70 living room/cocktail lounge/entertainment venue features a new high-tech nighttime spectacular. “Specra’s Cabaret” is a multi-media sound, light, dance and acrobatic show utilizing the dancing Roboscreens introduced on Quantum.
Also new aboard Anthem is “We Will Rock You,” a 90-minute version of the West End production featuring the music of Queen.
Like Quantum, Anthem features its own share of “smart art.” Interactive pieces throughout the ship amuse and engage. Among them: a pulsating chandelier that syncs to guests’ heartbeats.
During dinner with a small group of U.S. media, Fain shed some light on the art selection process for a new ship.
It can be a quirky process. Materials, stability and durability are much more important than they would otherwise be. And not every piece works out as planned. Nonetheless, “art is probably our most significant investment,” said Fain.
Technology aboard the Quantum class is also a big investment. It plays a part in the entire cruise experience, from boarding to dining. Smartphone apps can track luggage and wristbands can open staterooms.
“The maritime industry tends to lag behind land-based business when it comes to technology. We need to stay in the forefront,” said Fain.
Using technology, he added, produces a more streamlined experience for passengers (i.e., it gets them from curb to cabin within ten minutes.)
Technological enhancements, such as the super-fast Royal Wi-Fi, helps the crew as well. They all receive tablets for personal use. The ability to Skype or FaceTime with family back home is a welcomed perk.
“If you look around, the most important feature of the vessel is the crew. We may be here to show off Anthem, but where we’re really strutting our stuff is with the men and women who provide the most amazing vacations day in and day out,” said Fain.
Not that he advocates resting on one’s laurels.
“Our mantra is continuous improvement. Whenever you do something new you always need to evolve. We’re constantly looking for improvement. Part of what distinguishes us is that we’re always looking to get better,” said Fain.