Up until now to experience 18 restaurants at sea, you had to head to the Caribbean or the Far East. Not anymore because the new Royal Caribbean ship Anthem of the Seas will be sailing the route from Southampton to Europe. I boarded for a trial run
Eager to catch my first glimpse of this brand new big beast from Royal Caribbean I was driving somewhat erratically down the dock road at Southampton, constantly glancing sideways out the window until I saw it. Fifteen stories at least in height it was easily the biggest thing around, the sun dazzling back off its myriad glass balconies and glazed stern.
Parking in its shadow was like parking next to a block of flats but getting in is easy. Royal Caribbean staff armed with wireless tablets scan your downloaded barcode which shows them the selfie you uploaded earlier and you’re on and ready to be impressed.
Glass lifts rise and fall in a giant atrium next to a mall that could grace a small town and which is packed with designer goods shops. Time to quickly grab a fortifying snack from Michael’s Genuine Pub, an American idea of what a pub should be from James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartzthat dominates the area. Craft own-label bottled beer, as cold as only Americans seem to know how to serve it, and a bite from his menu of a perfect Scotch egg – warm and with the egg slightly runny – a slippery pork slider and a crunchy falafel and then off down miles of corridors to find my cabin and get settled in.
Most if not all cruise ships use ID cards so you can charge items on board, open your cabin door and generally be identified. Royal Caribbean use the WOWband. These watch-like rubber devices manage room access, on board purchases, dining and tour reservations and never demagnetize, unlike the usual smart cards which can sometimes leave you the wrong side of your cabin door at 2 am with the depressing prospect of a few mile hike back to customer services.
With just under two days on board on this demo sailing there’s no time to lose and so it’s down to the creative restaurant Wonderland for lunch one of the nine speciality restaurants on board. It’s a small, at least for this ship, restaurant that serves what might be called El Bulli lite type food.
Just as the outrageous catwalk fashions eventually filter down to the High Street so Ferran Adria’s outrageous cuisine has filtered down to the masses. And it’s very well done; lots of surprises smoke and mirrors and the main point is achieved – diners start to laugh and talk and have fun. Oh and the food’s tasty too, so it’s definitely one to visit when sailing.
More conventional food can be found all over the ship, from the self-serve global cuisine immensity of Windjammer Marketplace, where you can eat until you burst, to pizza restaurants, burger places, hot dog food trucks and a smart deli/cafe. And then there are the speciality restaurants
I loved Izumi where star chef Travis Kamiyama demonstrated his impressive knife skills and served up stunning sushi that was the equal of any I’ve had on dry land and also Devinly Decadence where a healthy menu of favourites under 500 calories, from bestselling author and chef Devin Alexander was served high up on a deck which is open to the air on the warm evenings.
Our very own Jamie is adding to his vast personal wealth with a Jamie’s Italian on board, but I knew what to expect there so instead I tried Chops Grille where you can eat the first dry-aged steaks at sea, each aged for nearly four weeks, as well as Maine lobster, veal parmesan, grilled branzino and other classic dishes.
The dining on board Anthem is called Dynamic Dining and, as far as could comprehend, it works thusly:
Dynamic Dining Choice gives you the freedom to pick and choose your restaurants and dining times each day and night. The venues’ menus change throughout the cruise, with guest favorites and new specialty dishes.
Dynamic Dining Classic is the option for those who prefer the traditional main dining style with the same dining time each night, with the same wait staff and dining companions throughout the cruise and is available on a first come, first serve basis.
48 hours is not long enough to really get to grips with the food choice on offer, not when there is so much else to do on this floating city including stunning shows, solariums, dodgem cars, Flowrider surfing, a sky diving simulator and North Star, a giant pod on an arm that swings you vertiginously out and above the ship.
The brand new Anthem, so new it was still awaiting its official naming ceremony when we were aboard, will be cruising the routes around the Mediterranean and Canary Islands out of Southampton until October before moving to farther- flung places so this is a rare chance to get aboard and get into those restaurants.