For most cruise ships, the first year in service is one in which some tinkering is done in order to get the ship working on a par with the rest of that cruise line's fleet. However, Anthem of the Seas in not like most cruise ships. Bigger than almost all other cruise ships and radically innovate, Anthem's first year was eventful.
“I think overall if you look at the Anthem a year in basically, I can see how we have become a lot smarter, how we have learned a lot about things and also how our guests have gotten used to this way of cruising. That's quite satisfying,” observed Captain Henrick Sorensen.
A matter of expectations
Perhaps the biggest challenge Anthem faced in her first year was one of perception. The Quantum class cruise ships were designed to introduce a new way of cruising that is much different than conventional cruising. As a result, when Anthem's nearly identical sister Quantum of the Seas came to Bayonne in late 2014, guests who were used to conventional cruising were taken aback. Quantum only spent a brief season in Bayonne and so the challenge of persuading guests that the new way was good fell to Anthem.
“I think most [guests] were coming on board with the expectation that we can have everything we had [on the previous ships] and all the new, which is not possible the way the ship was designed and constructed. So it took some time to go through the learning, adjust the expectations and the process as well.”
“When you are an innovator and start something new you have to be prepared to go through the phase of learning and adjusting. So we have come a far way and with Anthem. We have learned a lot from those things and what we need to do to make it a good, smooth experience for the guests.”
At the same time, some of the new technology that premiered on Quantum did not function as planned, which adversely affected public opinion. Adjustments and improvements were made on Anthem. In talking with guests, “I hear quite a bit that they feel that the challenges in the beginning [no longer exist and are] not impacting their experience aboard.”
“I was actually here with Quantum and quite a lot of things have changed since then.”
Adjusting the ports
Because Anthem is so different than previous cruise ships, the ports she visits have had to make adjustments.
“The places we are visiting are becoming more used to us. For example, in the beginning, we had to struggle a lot to get permission to operate our North Star, that is a new thing with the ports, There are [also] some infrastructure things that need an extra set of attention because we carry significantly more people than our smaller sisters.”
One port that had to make a significant adjustment was Bermuda. That island is surrounded by a reef and so ships seeking to visit the island have to navigate through a long, narrow channel in order to reach the docking area. In order to accommodate the Quantum class ships, the channel had to be widened.
“That took about three years of preparation by the port and a lot of engineers to widen the channel and prepare for the ship to arrive, by far the biggest ship that has been there. They just weren't ready for that. They were probably a bit surprised by the scope of work that was needed. Also, they had to learn because Bermuda has not done anything like this for hundreds of years. You have to get all the permissions and all the right people in place to get it done the right way.”
“It is a bit of a squeeze getting the ship in there but that is something that we have to get used to on a global level. Bermuda is like most of the other ports. There are other tight spots. For example, there is not a lot of room in San Juan, there is not a lot of room particularly in Barbados. It is far more tight going into Barbados than Bermuda, going into the port basin.”
Not only the ports of call but the port of embarkation/debarkation had to adjust to handle the Quantum class ships. “Bayonne has come a long way. Not too many years back, we were embarking and disembarking people in a tent. If you have a bad experience joining the ship or leaving the ship, that affects the overall mood of your vacation. With the new terminal, it is quite amazing how we can turn a ship this size around in the relative few hours that we are using to do that in addition to provisioning the entire ship, the whole entire luggage operation and refueling the ship as well.“
The demands of new ships
During the last year, Royal Caribbean has brought two more very large cruise ships into service, Ovation of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas. It would have been impractical to staff those ships entirely with new hires so every ship in the fleet including Anthem had to relinquish some of its experienced personnel.
“We have learned from the past that it is not a good idea to take everybody from one ship. When [a new ship enters service], we know in advance so it is not something that happens overnight. Then we make sure that we replenish those resources in advance as much as possible. It is a challenge, not only due to our bringing out new ships but also because of the turnover in the industry and our competitors building equally as many ships require many people. That is just reality.”
One challenge Anthem faced during her first year was a force of nature. Bound for the Caribbean, Anthem was caught in a storm that was much more severe than predicted. The ship turned back to Cape Liberty and much was made of the event in the media. Captain Henrick was not in command during that voyage but he observed “it could have happened to anyone” - - a view unanimously shared by the mariners I have spoken with about the incident including those who work for competing lines.
“The fact that nobody got injured is a commonly overlooked fact in terms of how effective the captain and his team managed the situation at the time.”
Contrary to the sensationalized media reports, Anthem was in no danger of sinking during this incident. “The ship was never close to that. These ships are built within an amazing regulatory framework, redundancy and the watertight integrity is supreme.”
Still, Royal Caribbean seeks to avoid such situations. “A cruise ship is not built to be in rough conditions. The interior, the chairs, the things you see around are prone to move and fly and that is why we are not going to be in [such] areas We are basically making decisions in terms of [passenger] comfort - - we don't want people to fall down stairs or get hit by objects, not because we are concerned that the ships are going to flip upside down.”
Nonetheless, it is understandable that some guests would be concerned when a cruise ship is pitching and rolling. “Those who have been on ships in rough weather wouldn't think much of it but when you go on a cruise you are traditionally used to having nice weather so if it is very rough you can get scared or concerned I learned quite awhile back that it doesn't matter whether I think it is going to be good or rough, or what the facts say. I just take a look at the [passengers] and see what they consider good. Lack of understanding I think is our biggest challenge.”
“Things happen and you try and learn from them. We are more sensitive to that in terms of where we go and how we look at the weather forecast. We have educated ourselves a bit more.”
A bright future
Looking at Anthem today, there is much to be pleased with. “We are sailing at good, full capacity. So for sure there is a demand.”
But Anthem has not maximized her potential. “The ship provides a lot of opportunities for different types of entertainment and even to do traditional things in a non-traditional innovative way in terms of the hardware we have in the entertainment venues. We are learning to benefit more from [thi technology] as time goes by.”
Along the same lines, “with this class of ship, we have taken a quantum leap towards being environmentally friendly in terms of the emissions that we leave, our advanced scrubber systems. It is a nice feeling to know that you are playing a huge part in preserving the environment with all these systems and it gives you the boost to go the extra mile and make sure that they are developed and run properly.”
“As the systems are operating, we become more efficient in how we run them. One way of operating it is as per the manual, another way is to make it work smoothly, get to know all the secrets of how you operate it most efficiently. We want to become more and more efficient. We have a lot of energy efficient systems aboard in terms of fuel savings. Even though fuel prices re lower, it does not mean that we are not paying .very close attention to that as well.”
Above top to bottom: Anthem in Bermuda, Boston and Cape Liberty.
Cruise ship inside interviews - Royal Caribbean International - Anthem of the Seas - Captain