I love transatlantic crossings. It’s a gentler, easier, less hectic, more delicious and entertaining way of traveling across an ocean from one continent to another while never feeling the effects of time change. Wanting a new experience, I booked a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas.
Departing from Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, I invited my friend Bud along for this 11-day journey which comprised 7 days to cross the Atlantic and shore excursions stopping in Ponta Delgada, (the Azores), Portugal, Cherbourg, France, Le Havre, France, and finally ending up in Southampton, England. This was to be my first voyage both from Cape Liberty and on Royal Caribbean.
Cape Liberty was an easy cab ride from where I live in Manhattan. I was given a very specific window of time to arrive and check-in and to my delight, when we were dropped off, there were no lines of people or luggage or anything. What I had done was chosen one of the last boarding times, thinking everyone else wants to get on the ship as soon as possible, especially those from out of town who had already checked out of their hotels. Spacious and well organized, we passed all check points quickly. We then looked up and up, the 18 decks, to the top of this behemoth. It was larger than my apartment building.
Like all major cruise lines, there’s every type of cabin onboard depending on how much money you’re happy to spend. Most rooms repeat a similar design and color format. On the Anthem it’s a calming and very neutral royal navy, beige and white décor with wood tones. If you don’t mind spending a lot of money, or you’ve just racked up your 52nd cruise with the line and they’re gifting the trip to you, you can start at the top with the most expensive cabin, the Royal Loft Suite, offering a separate master bedroom, two full baths, a dining room, two balconies, plus an oversized deck facing out the back of the ship.
Then they have the Loft Suites, the Balcony Cabins, the Ocean Views, and last but certainly not least, my favorite and the coolest…the Inside Cabin. Why the coolest? Because it has everything a normal cabin has except for a window. However, to solve this problem RCL has created an 80-inch high-definition screen. Flanked by curtains, the brain is tricked into thinking you are looking directly outside, and you are. Closed-captioned cameras are running all the time so you can see where the ship is day and night. There’s even a volume control if you want to listen to the waves or you can turn it off for silence.
I invited my friend Bud along for this 11-day journey, including 7 nights sailing across the Atlantic and excursion stops in the Azores, Cherbourg and Le Havre, France, and Southampton, England.
It makes the room feel amazingly larger. I’ve traveled in an inside cabin before and I always found it disconcerting that I couldn’t look out a window to see if it was light or dark out, or what the weather was, or the beautiful view I was missing. Problem solved! Most have nicknamed this cabin the Virtual Balcony. I call it, brilliant.
The layout of the Anthem of the Seas is very easy to navigate, and one of the qualities you’ll notice right off the bat on Anthem is the whimsical and often quite beautiful artwork throughout the ship. In each elevator, artist Deming Harriman has created large portraits of a different animal dressed up in human clothing. In stairwells you’ll find artwork as well as inspirational messages.
Early into the cruise we were walking down the main Royal Esplanade located in the center of the ship and I noticed a podium erected in the middle of the walkway. Going over to it I noticed the image of handprints on the podium. I pressed my hand onto the imprint and suddenly lights, 200 of them, started blinking above my head. It was the rhythm of my heartbeat. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer created the light installation and it was fascinating.
Up a spiral staircase we came across a giant super polished metal art piece created by Richard Hudson called Eve. Why in the world it’s called Eve I have no idea, but it is appropriately nicknamed “The Tuba” because that’s exactly what it looks like. But, it perfectly fits in with the scheme of the ship’s décor which feels current, unexpected, and playful.
Next to the Tuba we walked by Vintages, A Wine Bar. I stopped Bud and declared, “This is it,” He looked around. “This is what?” During each voyage I try to find the bar/lounge which will be my “go to hangout” and Vintages had that feel. Clubby décor, great layout, and lots of space. Ironically and unbeknownst to me, this was the designated bar for nightly single and solo travelers to meet up at as well the get togethers for the LGBTQIA+ guests. This was one happening cocktail lounge.
Prior to the trip I joined a Facebook group of fellow travelers, booked on this cruise. I also reconnected with a friend of mine, Andrew D. from upstate New York, whom I’ve been internet friends with for over 20 years! Finally, we would meet in person. From that same Facebook page we befriended a group of travelers from Staten Island; Craig and Liz R., Orelbi V. and Tony R. Almost every night we all met up at Vintages for cocktails.
I have to share that this cruise on Royal Caribbean was the friendliest of all cruises I’ve sailed on. Not only the travelers we met, but also all levels of crew and staff were exceptionally polite, friendly, and often very funny.
Towards the back of the ship we discovered a stunning geode mobile hanging above a staircase leading to what is called TWO70. This unique space is expansive and diverse in what it has to offer. It derives its name from the fact that the space is 270 degrees of windows two stories high.
One day we enjoyed a lecture series on Female Superstars of Hollywood’s Golden Era. And at night the multimedia theater comes alive with robotic dancing screens and aerialists with a live musical production called Spectra’s Cabaret. They also offer virtual concerts which are live symphony concerts prerecorded and played back on 8-foot-tall screens with the use of state-of-the-art sound systems. When no shows are performing in TWO70 it’s just a great space to chill out in as it offers a nice café, gorgeous bar, and amazing views out the back of the ship.
Exploring more of the vessel, we took a glass bottom elevator up to the 14th deck and walked past the outdoor pools and multiple hot tubs until we came upon what’s called The Solarium. It’s an adults-only hang-out where guests can relax in Jacuzzis and cascading lagoons.
One afternoon at sea, the whole NY gang met up at the seaplex. Billed as the largest indoor active space at sea, this two-story play area transitions from roller skating to a circus school with a flying trapeze to the first-at-sea bumper cars. And that’s what we did: bumper cars! It was hysterical and for me and brought back such fond memories of carnival days as a kid. Warning: I wasn’t the only one who emerged from my bumper car bruised, but it was worth it.
At one point I asked Olrelbi how he was enjoying the cruise. “What a great trip, and amazing people. I love the gathering together every day at the bar.
Also, outside on deck 15 you’ll find the ship’s mascot Gigi by Jean Francois Fourtou, the oversized ship’s giraffe standing guard over the rock-climbing wall located next to her. And around to the back of the ship you have both the IFly by RipCord sky diving simulator and the FlowRider surf board simulator. IFly is a thrilling simulation of a sky dive. It’s great for someone like myself because I am never going to jump out of a plane, intentionally. It’s an exhilarating experience, but being a man with no sense of balance I had to pass on the surfing and leave it up to what looked like super professional surfers.
With all these activities, you’re sure to work up an appetite, and on the Anthem you have a plethora of places from which to choose. In the Food Hall, stations of many different cuisines offer up endless amounts of delicious delicacies such as: Indian, French, Italian, Classic American, Chinese, and Japanese to mention a few. There are even “Food Theme Nights,” and the majority of dishes are served up for you.
Besides the complimentary main restaurants, specialty eateries on the ship are a must try. Jamie’s on the Anthem is one of your options. Created by British Chef Jamie Oliver, just like his television show, the décor is rustic chic with lots of wooden bowls and platters along with mis-matched chairs and beautiful chipped speckled enamelware. I really enjoy Jamie’s cooking show and have made several of his recipes, so I’m not surprised that our dinner here was terrific.
We started out with a gigantic charcuterie board overflowing with San Daniele prosciutto, Tuscan fennel salami, ’Nduja Artisans coppa piccante and pistachio mortadella with tomato crostini, bocconcini mozzarella, pecorino Sardo and chilli jam, focaccia, and olives and pickles.
For our entrées Bud had an eggplant parmigiana, which he really loved, and I had the lamb chops scottadito: four juicy chops grilled under a brick, served with agrodolce peppers and salsa verde. They were beautifully seasoned and perfectly cooked chops.
Another specialty restaurant worth exploring is Wonderland. This is truly a trip down the rabbit hole of molecular gastronomy. When you sit before your menus at your table you wave a paintbrush over them and a description of items magically appear before you. You can choose from Earth, Sea, Fire, Ice, and Sun. Items are very imaginative. One of the wildest offerings is the liquid lobster served with bone marrow and caviar. If you want something smoky try the Buffalo chicken eggs. It’s definitely fascinating and entertaining dining.
For your entertainment pleasure after dinner, head to the Royal Theatre, home to Royal Caribbean’s two main shows. We Will Rock You, written by British comedian Ben Elton, is the award winning West End hit show that is structured around 24 of the greatest hits of the rock group, Queen.
The other main theatre show is an original production called The Gift. It’s a musical journey of fantasy and illusion that begins one stormy night with the arrival of a “Magical Gift.” It has the feel of the Oscar winning movie The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both shows are cast with Broadway caliber actors, dancers and singers.
Also, in the main theatre you can see Frankie and & The Dreamers which is somewhat similar to Broadway’s Jersey Boys. If you’re a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and you love their music, you won’t be disappointed. The vocal qualities are superb.
Also on board is the Royal magician, Ed Alonzo. The best part of his act is when he pulls audience members up onto the stage. It’s amazing how naturally funny most guests are. And then there is Jim David, the resident comedian. He has a family show and a late night 18+ act. His set is a bit dated, but I confess I was laughing.
Honestly, there are so many things to do on board, from Bingo to a multitude of games offering big prizes, even with a trip this long, there wasn’t enough time to do everything. But we did participate in an attempt at the Guinness World Book record as the Longest Line Dance on a cruise ship. Yup, like herding cats, they got enough of us up onto the running track circling all the way around the ship and kind of taught us what was supposed to be a simple line dance. Watching oneself on a jumbo screen desperately trying not to trip over one’s feet is a humbling experience. I need to contact Royal Caribbean to see if we beat the record.
Our first port of call after being at sea for 7 consecutive days, was Ponta Delgada, the capital city on São Miguel Island which is part of the Azores archipelago of Portugal. There’s enough to explore on your own in the city proper, and not to be missed is the gorgeous Portuguese pottery which most shops are happy to have shipped back to wherever you live.
Bud and I opted for an excursion to the parish called Sete Cidades which translates to the Island of Seven Cities. It was a quick and enjoyable bus ride up through the lush and massive groves of pine and cedar trees. At the top of our climb we stopped at a magnificent overlook, gazing out over the city which is located on the edge of a volcanic crater. A combination of the rich soil coupled with the mild and rainy climate creates breathtaking flora. Once we arrived at Vista do Rei, we could see that Sete Cidades hugs the coast of Blue Lake. And right next to Blue Lake is Green Lake. They’re twin volcanic lakes.
Riding down into the parish we had a chance to visit the Church of São Nicolau. A beautiful row of Japanese cedar trees welcomes you to the front door of this breathtakingly simple place of worship built in a neo-Gothic style in the 1800s. Notable is the Azorean dedication to keeping its Islands, lakes, and mountains naturally pristine. For the second year in a row, the European Coastal and Marine Union has named the Azores as the Top European ‘green’ destination. And surprising to me, the Azores is renowned for their pineapples!
The next day we stopped in Cherbourg, France and I was able to cross off yet another item on my bucket list…Mont-Saint-Michel. With less than 50 full-time residents, Mont-Saint-Michel attracts over 2.5 million tourists, plus a steady flow of pilgrims, every year. I’m not a religious person, but I am spiritual and bow down to Mother Earth. I felt a sense of awe when approaching this religious island. I kid you not, when I first saw her from a distance, the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
In the early 700s, Aubert, a bishop of the nearby town of Avranches, claimed that the Archangel Michael himself had encouraged him to have a church built atop the island just out to sea. From 966 onwards, the French kings supported the development of a major Benedictine abbey on the top of Mont-Saint-Michel, and eventually the Abbey became a renowned center for learning.
Still supporting the base, medieval walls and towers give way to clusters of ancient buildings now used as restaurants, shops, museums, and cafes. The Abbey (often called The Wonder) on the summit of the island is like a magnificent topper on wedding cake. This holy island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
After you make it through the throngs of people along Le Grande Rue, the main cobbled lane, you’ll reach the staircase to the entrance of the abbey. It’s here where I watched scores of people strain to look up at the extremely steep staircase, and then turn away, including Bud. Many felt the excitement of just being on the island was enough, but not me. I took a deep breath and started to ascend.
Once I entered the abbey, it’s as if all other tourists disappeared. In fact, during the entire exploration of the monastery, I was for the most part eerily by myself. I stopped to catch my breath at one open outlook facing the town 100s of feet below, but as the wind whipped up into a frenzy, I lost my balance and grasped onto the cold, ancient stone wall to steady myself. All I could think about was the movie Black Narcissus, with Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron and the character Sister Ruth (aka Ms. Byron) and her fateful fall from the stone window atop their convent.
Still alone, I followed arrows to navigate my way through the sanctuary. What felt like two hours and was probably just 45 minutes, but all in all it was a thrilling experience. I’ve been told, it’s best to experience Mont-Saint-Michel after hours when all the day trippers leave, and if possible stay overnight in one of the hotels.
When Bud and I were leaving we stopped at a shop and picked up something to eat. As we were walking back to the causeway to reach the mainland, and while I was talking a mile a minute in my excitement, I was hit on the head by something very hard. I instinctively ducked, and then noticed a pair of talons on the wrist of my hand which was holding a sandwich. Suddenly, it was ripped out of my hand by an alarmingly aggressive seagull.
The third excursion stop was Le Havre. The previous year I stopped here and visited Claude Monet’s Home, art studio, and gardens in Giverny, and the city of Rouen (Giverny/Le Havre). On this trip we opted to take advantage of a nearly empty ship, due to the fact that this was a port day and most of the passengers had gone off on excursions. With no lines of people ahead of us onboard, we hopped onto the North Star, winner of the Guinness World Record for tallest viewing deck on a cruise ship.
Unique to Royal Caribbean, and similar to a gondola you’d ride up a sky lift at a mountain resort, the North Star is a glass pod that extends 300 feet above sea level via a mechanical arm. It’s a gentle and easy 20-minute glide up to the full height. The views were spectacular, allowing us to see for miles and enjoy the panorama of the port and the surrounding area. The pod holds 14 people and one operator, plus it’s free. I don’t suffer from any height issues, but if you do it’s probably best you have lunch after the ride.
Our final night on the ship we sipped cocktails while watching a magnificent sunset. After savoring an early dinner at the American Icon Grill we watched the James Bond Film No Time To Die on gigantic digital screens at TWO70, as we gracefully sailed to England.
The next morning, we arrived in Southampton and jumped onto a Royal Caribbean shuttle bus into London and we were off to explore and enjoy another exciting European adventure refreshed, rejuvenated, and free of jet-lag. In today’s hectic and unpredictable world of air travel, if you have the time and the patience to search for the best bargains, transatlantic cruising can be a more soothing and less expensive way to cross an ocean and reach your final destination.
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