I had gone over 30 years with only one cruise under my vacation belt. It was on the Doric out of New York and the destination was Bermuda. What I remember most about it was the gobs of attention the Italian crew heaped on my friend and me—the flirting was superb and the island picture-postcard perfect. Over the years whenever asked if I liked cruising, I would respond that the New York / Bermuda itinerary suited me best because it’s a nice balance of a total four-ish days at sea and three in port. Not that I had plans to do it again; my preferred modes of leisure travel since that first cruise have been car, airplane, and bicycle.
Now, after this long hiatus, I’ve returned to the ocean liner. Over the past 14 months I’ve sailed on three ships: Carnival Splendor to New Brunswick in October 2014, Norwegian Breakaway to Nassau in November 2014, and the $1+ billion Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas® to CocoCay® in the Bahamas in December 2015.
Why cruising, why now? At a family barbeque in 2014 a cousin talked about her upcoming cruise in the Mediterranean and how much she enjoyed travel by ship. Out of curiosity I began looking at sailings from New York and found what seemed like an ideal (i.e., five-day) itinerary to St. John and Halifax, Canada. I went. To my surprise, I liked it and wondered why I’d stayed away so long! It was an ultra-convenient, inexpensive escape with plentiful food and ocean panoramas as prime attractions, similar to the Club Med® experiences I’d enjoyed in Mexico, Spain, and Florida.
I chose the Anthem because it sails from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey, and because I was curious to see what the current iteration of a state-of-the-art mini-city-at-sea looked like. As it happens, $1+ billion buys quite a lot: lots of smart tech that really does enhance the customer experience; jaw-dropping multimedia performance spaces; and skydiving and surfing simulators that rival any theme park on land or at sea. Turns out this brand-new ship was the main attraction for numerous other guests: When I asked a Mexican dad why his family chose this itinerary over all the interesting ports of call in the Caribbean and Central and South America, he said it was the lure of the Anthem’s bells and whistles.
In years past whenever I was in the market for a resort vacation, Club Med had always been my first choice for two reasons and two only: The properties seemed eco-friendly before eco-friendliness was a thing and you could dine at group tables if you chose to in different restaurants featuring varied cuisine. Translation: I’m generally not interested in group activities and the hubbub that goes with them—I’m happy to fly solo all day in more of a meditative state. But at mealtime I appreciate company and the pleasantries of chit-chat with fellow guests from near and far.
Of course, whether it’s Club Med or a cruise, the quantity of food on offer is legendary. Quality, however, is another story. Food and beverage execs have done a great job of trying to replicate the fine dining experience found in major cities, sometimes including menus designed by celebrity chefs. On my three recent cruises, I found the food in the complimentary restaurants to be average, at best, and the specialty venues with an upcharge were hit or miss. In my opinion, Carnival’s Splendor had the best food; I met a few folks on the Anthem who agreed with me. Carnival also gets the highest marks for assembling groups of the solos, friends, and couples who want to dine with new companions at each meal. I do, though, applaud all three lines for service that put a smile on my face many a time.