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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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Getting the Royal Treatment

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Floating somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, probably halfway to the Caribbean right now, is a self-contained city. It is so long that you have to use a panoramic mode on your phone to capture it, and it is filled with people who have accents and wide grins. This small floating paradise goes by the name of Anthem of the Seas, and it is one of the newest ships from Royal Caribbean.

Tampa is famous for many things, a few of which are cruise ships, snowbirds, and travelers. While dozens of cruises come and in and out of Tampa’s port, however, Anthem of the Seas offers something for the nomad or snowbird in all of us.

The ship leaves from Bayonne, New Jersey, at a port called Cape Liberty that overlooks New York City. If you crave the adventure of wandering the streets of Manhattan, or have to go visit family in the region, Anthem offers the perfect way to end (or begin) a trip north. It is one of the few cruises that is worth the travel time.  

When you first step on board the ship, sweet smells mingle in your nose.

Coffee. Sugar. Hot pastries.

The lights are just right, your eyes don’t need to take time to adjust. The chandelier hanging from the ceiling resembles water dripping from the roof of a cave and pulses to the beat of cruise-goers hands placed on the metal plates below it.

The crew greets you with wide grins and far-off accents, handing you bubbling glasses of sweet champaign and offering rolls of sushi or small hamburgers.

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The Floating City

The 1,141 foot long ship was built in Germany and features 18 decks, and 1500 crew members. It can hold nearly 5000 guests, has 2090 staterooms, and cruises to the Bahamas for excursions and adventures. Filled to the brim with amenities, it is easy to see the amount of work and planning that went into a ship like this.

The main atrium is filled with shops and restaurants and people snapping cellphone photos of the Bionic Bar. The robot bartender doesn’t seem to notice as it makes drink after drink without an error. A man in a suit tickles the keys of a cherry wood baby grand piano, and women at the bar sway to the music.

Inside one of the 16 of the elevators that take you to your stateroom are pictures of an ostrich in gardening hats, a tiger in sunglasses and leather jacket, a dog that looks like Ms. Daisy. The elevators on the opposite end of the ship that take you to the casino, theatres, and high end restaurant are glass and remind you of something from a movie.

The staterooms are large, many with a private balcony and view of the ocean. As you stand next to the fresh fruit that the housekeeper supplies the rooms with and stare at the Statue of Liberty from your balcony, the world becomes still. You don’t feel the ship moving under you, you don’t feel a sway or motion sick. You don’t feel anything but peace.

Quiet. Calm.

As parents, quiet, still, and calm are not often words you would choose to describe your life. Chaotic, messy, loud– those are your default at home. But not here in this room with the cleanest bathroom you’ve ever seen and bottles of Evian on the desk. Here it is serene. You can’t imagine that there are bigger, better rooms on this same ship but somehow you know that there are suites and rooms the size of your entire house.

Captain Klaus breaks the silence on the ship with his Norwegian accent periodically.

“Dear guests, dear crew. Thank you for joining us aboard Anthem of the Seas. We will be taking you around the statue for some spectacular views at 5. Hope to see you there.”

Another voice greets you as you pry yourself from your view. Her name is Vergie and she is the housekeeper assigned to your room. She knows all of her guests names and has a laugh that is as long as her dark tresses.

“Have fun at the party! Please tell me if you need anything!” she encourages.

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The Crew that Makes it Happen and Family Fun

With crew from around the world, the ship originated in Germany, spent time in England, and sailed all the way to America after a successful cruise season abroad. Everyone has a smile and an accent, these adventurers at sea stand ready to give you a taste of the good life. They make you contemplate quitting your job to work on a cruise ship as they tell you a joke in an Irish accent or spout colloquialisms from Australia. They have a passion for their jobs that makes you feel like they are here because they love it, not because they have bills to pay.

As the ship sails around the Statue of Liberty before leaving for the ocean, you are handed tasty drinks and more tales from far off places. One of the best places to view the statue, and, I imagine, the islands you are traveling to as well, is the Seaplex.

Seaplex is the part of the ship that keeps your entire family entertained for days on end as you sail away to somewhere warmer. Complete with an arcade, giant XBox area (complete with several XBox One consoles, televisions, and cozy chairs), ping pong and air hockey tables, and a basketball court that triples as a roller rink and bumper car arena, the Seaplex is a wonderland for the kids (and the kids in us).

Above the basketball court area is a floating DJ booth so that at night, kids can have their own party.

Roller skating on a ship on the sea seems like something from a dream, and it is. But even more fun? Bumper cars. You can spend time bumping your kids, your friends, or even the strangers you are bonding with because you are all kids at heart.

The ship is equipped with 20 bumper cars and offers various activities inside of the Seaplex  throughout the day. The ship also has a youth staff that hangs out with your kids and teens and has fun with them so that you don’t have to worry about what trouble they might be getting into.

All throughout the ship, there is a feeling of community. You know that people are watching out for you and your family, and the youth staff is just one of the ways that community feeling happens.

Taking a Dip

After you pry yourself from the Seaplex, the pools are an excellent way to unwind. Five or six indoor and outdoor pools, and more jacuzzis than you can count sprawl across the top deck. But the most romantic and relaxing pool deck of them all is in the top front of the ship.

As you walk into the sliding glass doors, your bare feet on the wood, you are greeted with purple and blue lights and palm trees. A restaurant and bar sit in the center, and the edge has big comfy chairs and couches. Pools with clear edges sit like steps leading to the jacuzzis. The view is spectacular. In the center of it all sits a large, tiled swing that hangs from the high ceiling. The place screams “ROMANCE!” and you can almost imagine the love song from Lady and the Tramp playing.

As you sit in a jacuzzi, bubbles tickling your toes, you can’t remember the last time you just sat without having something important to do. This is the most important thing you can do, you think, and while the kids are roller skating and probably trying to do something dangerous, you are finally getting to just relax in a jacuzzi with a fruity drink in your hand.

The next day, you wake up and realize it was the most quiet sleep you have ever gotten. Staring at the ocean with a cup of coffee, you can’t imagine that the day will bring you anything better than this. But then it does.

On top of the ship is a glass bubble that looks as though it is suspended by a crane. This is called the “North Star”, and it takes you 300 feet into the air. Whether you are at sea or at a port in the islands, the views can’t be beat.

Lights, Camera, ACTION!

The back end of the ship is the part that is not for the faint of heart. Literally. You have to sign a waiver to do some of the things back there.

You watch people wipe out in the wave runner, the fast flowing water simulating waves as they try to surf. Then, you notice the tall glass tube with people floating inside. Intrigued, you walk up the steps to observe and realize that this is the Ripcord by iFly that everyone has been buzzing about on the ship.

You take a swig of something to give you courage, and after signing a waiver and suiting up are almost ready to go into the tube. The instructors, a range of Irish, English, and Norwegian laugh with you as you try to figure out your helmet and make you realize that people from around the world are all the same. We all just want a little adventure and fun.

Wearing the blue flight suit, goggles, earplugs, and helmet you begin to wonder what you have gotten yourself into. The instructor teaches you the hand signals to watch for.

“Tewww fingars straight means straiggghten yer legs. Tewww bent fingers means bend yerrr knees. Fist with thumb and pinky out means relax.”

Everyone looks at each other with fear in their eyes. As you enter the tube, you can see a photographer, fan operator, instructor, and fellow flyers smiling at you. The large fan below a metal grate blows so hard that your cheeks fly up. Your legs are suddenly in the air and the instructors finger are in front of your face.

Two fingers. Straight. What was that? Am I going to die? Oh right now I need to straighten my legs. Oh wow, hey whoa I am flying. Is anyone seeing this? Relax? This is a perfect time to panic. Oh great a camera hope my cheeks don’t look too crazy. Thank God the instructor is holding me or I might fly too high and die. Nope, don’t think about death. 20 more seconds? Already? This is awesome!

Then, your turn is over and as you lunge yourself out of the glass tube you realize that you just did something you never thought you could do. You were graceful and flew! The kids didn’t even see you!

Only when you go to show off the free photo they took of you inside the tubes do you realize that your face looked scared and your body was more falling than flying. But, today, you skydived!

The rock wall is another challenge that few can rise to, but it is just another means of adventure as  you sail to more adventurous places.

On your way to dinner after flying and climbing, you stop at the chandelier to show your pulse. The lights pound with your heart and it looks like a strobe light in a rave for a moment. The excitement has your body on alert.

The evenings are filled with shows like Spectra’s Cabaret or We Will Rock You, and delicious food that is so fancy they give you more than one fork. But all you can think of is how you did the iFly and the rock wall, and how relaxed you are.

Whether you are going to the Caribbean, on your way to off shore excursions and adventures, or just floating around for a few days, you can’t help but feel that you have never had a better vacation.

When it is time to return to reality, the crew seems genuinely sad to see you go. You take a last long look at the floating city on the sea and pray that you will be able to come again.

When you get into the taxi or on the train to go back to the airport or back home, the kids will have exciting things to tell you about too, the noise will return, someone will inevitably spill something on themselves. But just for a little while, you got to feel like royalty.

To read more about Anthem of the Seas, visit RoyalCaribbean.com.

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