In this segment of the blog I’ll cover some of the miscellaneous factors about the Anthem cruise.
Destinations? I knew from the outset that the weakest aspect of this cruise was fated to be the ports of call where we would be calling, and indeed they were truly weak. Because they don’t deserve a lot of time, I’ll briefly summarize:
- Port Canaveral, FL: A desolate place where I rented a Hertz car and drove to the Kennedy Space Center for the whole-enchilada tour…viewing historic launch pads, going inside the operations control center, watching dramatic film presentation about Apollo 1 (tragic fire) and moon landing, viewing of full-size Saturn rocket hung from the ceiling of gigantic hanger. Verdict: Tired old place in need of a makeover, special effects not very special. Recommendation: start over, keep the Saturn. My visit was spiced up by the fact that upon my return to Hertz, I found the office CLOSED, with a note on the window to call a guy named Jon Minor who picks up renters after hours. Sure enough, Jon came by and picked me up, but on the way back to the ship, we were sitting on a bridge-up drawbridge when his car conked out (“Durn,” he said, “that’s the second time this week.”) In panic I jumped out of his van and raced over to a taxi full of people waiting for the drawbridge to go down and begged for a ride, which was mercifully granted. Made it back in time.
- Nassau, Bahamas: Approaching the island, the turquoise water and white sand beaches were stunningly beautiful, but Nassau itself is just another beat-up town in the Caribbean filled with glitzy jewelry stores and straw markets and hawkers and crummy shops and bars, the premier venue being Senor Frog. I took a walk out of the tourist area into the center of the regular town to find once-classic colonial hotels with boarded-up windows, filthy alleys and beat-up cars and pick-up trucks. (Didn’t try to go “over the bridge” to the enormous Atlantis resort because all the word-of-mouth on Cruise Critic and on the ship was that the place is a waste of time.) Verdict: A dump.
- Coco Cay, Cayman Islands: One of those “private” islands the cruise lines have developed to give their passengers a chance to have a “day at the beach”. This one was horrible…a ratty, scraggly atoll jammed with the passengers from two of Royal Caribbean’s monster ships and accessible only by means of overcrowded tenders that resembled those migrant boats in the Mediterranean. Verdict: Godawful.
In each instance coming back to the Anthem was like going to heaven.
The food on the Anthem? Predictably, as a mass-feeding operation the food is essentially banquet quality in most of the restaurants, the only exceptions being (as you might expect) the ones that you pay $30-$40 extra for. Throughout the ship, soups and salads are pretty good; stir-fry is as good as you’ll find anywhere; the pizza is awful, breakfasts are weak, lunch ends up being the best food with delicious hand-carved roast beef sandwiches on salted Kaiser rolls (a Buffalo specialty called “Wecks”) and paninis and a wide variety of salads; at dinner, starters are surprisingly tasty, main courses almost universally blah.
I have scoped out the majority of the dining rooms and restaurants on board, with the main lessons being learned: (a) if you wait to eat late, be prepared to be served food that was prepared hours earlier and then zapped up to lukewarm, (b) DON’T ORDER THE LOBSTER, an item offered on virtually every menu as Surf & Turf or Broiled Lobster Tail, because it’s not like “lobster” as you know it , (c) don’t try to be sophisticated and order seafood; stick with chicken or pasta, (d) don’t even THINK about ordering the Huevos Rancheros at breakfast, (e) forget about steak unless you’re paying the additional $39 at Chops, (f) for God’s sake, if you like Chinese food, don’t eat at the Chinese restaurant, (g) order the escargot*, because you won’t find it on any menu printed after 1959.
*When I asked about the escargot at Grande, the “formal” restaurant, the waiter said, “It’s only good because of the garlic and butter. The snails aren’t from France…they’re from Indonesia….out of a can.” I ordered it anyway and the garlic and butter were delicious.
Theater entertainment? The featured musical was “We Will Rock You”, the Queen-inspired show that was pretty much of a flop in London a couple of decades ago, not improved since. “Spectra”, sort of a Cirque du Soleil knock-off that the Anthem theater-going audience (read aged) found a little too weird. “The Gift” a fantasy musical that was about…well, I never could figure out what it was about. I previously mentioned the wide variety of other Anthem performers who were invariably excellent. All group activities and theatrical performances on the ship were emcee’d by our Cruise Director Abe, a peripatetic showman—“hip” when he was with the young crowds, “distinguished” when addressing the age-olders– obviously auditioning for s job as a TV game show host.
Fitness Dept.: Spa looked okay, not spectacular…didn’t use it because (a) I hate spas, and (b) they charged a lot . Cardiologist Gary Conrad would have loved the 1/3-mile running track that circumnavigates the 15th deck featuring two “lanes”…one for running, one for walking, with spectacular views. I dutifully walked one lap a day, augmented by my hundreds of trips between ship events, restaurants, bars, theaters and the library, often taking the stairs for several floors because the elevators were usually crowded.
Activities…a brief rundown on what I did (and didn’t) do…
- FlowRide Surfing…didn’t do it…it looked entirely too hard…the only people who were able to stand or even kneel on the surfboards and boogie boards looked like they were lifelong residents of Huntington Beach.
- Casino…did it, and ending up donating 140 of my favorite dollars playing craps and Three Card Poker…not bad when you consider all the time (80% of it watching) that I spent in that smoky, smelly joint during the weeklong cruise.
- North Star capsule…didn’t do it…it involved a 2-1/2 hour wait and I overheard one guy saying “all you can see is more water”.
- Bingo…did it twice at $32 a session and won zilch. When I think of the drinks I could have bought with that $64, it makes me want to cry.
- Art lecture on “the masters of the art world”…did it…was surprised to learn that so many of them were exhibited right here on the Anthem.
- “Quest”…did it…a scavenger-hunt kind of group game for 300 where I won the affection of my team by coming up with a piece of currency with a picture of the White House on it ($50 bill). Other members of the team contributed far more, such as pants, bras and thongs. They were young, thank goodness.
- RipCord by IFLY…the simulated flying thing where you are suspended in a big tube of air…didn’t do it… the people who did it said it hurt.
- Bumper Cars…did it…as you might expect, emphasis is on safety, safety, safety…thus, cars are slow and ride is short…waste of time.
- Glow Party…did it…basically a disco party with everybody wearing flashing lights..eyeglasses, necklaces, etc. I’m too old for this stuff.
- And yes, TRIVIA! After a few instances of merely walking up to strangers and asking to join them, I happened to sit with a foursome at a shared table at breakfast and they asked me to join them at trivia and we’ve been a trivia team fivesome ever since. We’ve got Nevin and Heather from Canada, Mike and Audrey from New Jersey. (Nevin is a composer from Toronto and at one session was able to identify 17 out of 20 Elvis hits on the first or second note!) I held my own over numerous sessions (e.g., Hey, I was the only one in the room who knew the meaning of hippopotamus and could identify an obscure Jane Austen novel).
Flops? No. 1 on the list was the robotic Bionic Bar, basically a one-trick pony that people would watch for twenty minutes or so as it went through its herky-jerky snatch-and-go drink-mixing motions and which actual users complained made the drinks too sweet and/or spilled too much.
Conclusion at the end of the trip: This cruise left me with a little bit of a funny feeling…a feeling that I was a little disappointed at the fact that I’m NOT disappointed. I had signed on this cruise thinking it was going to be a hoot filled with a collection of wacky characters who would go on a cruise like this and hokey events. Yet in the end it turned out to be just a fairly pleasant trip on a beautiful well-designed, tastefully decorated vessel , crowds not too bad at all, weather very good, food okay, events sort of fun, My favorite moments: sleeping at night with my veranda door open, listening to the whoosh of the ocean rushing by and feeling the sway of the ship (even on a ship this big!). One night was had a major storm-at-sea and it reminded me of the stormy Midwestern nights when I was a little boy and felt warm and safe under the covers listening to the rolling thunder outside me window. Those were some of the best times of my life, but this night on the Anthem was close.
Until the next adventure…