Hotel Director Gary Davis is proud of Anthem of the Seas. “The ship design-wise is marvelous. She offers a lot to the cruising public. [People] should come on Anthem of the Seas to experience the newest, most technologically innovative cruise ship out on the market.”
Still, Mr. Davis realizes that Anthem must continue to evolve. This is especially so now that she has moved her homeport from Southampton, England to Bayonne, New Jersey in New York harbor. Her new homeport is one that Mr. Davis knows well having been Hotel Director on Explorer of the Seas, Royal's long time New York ship.
When Anthem's sister ship, Quantum of the Seas, arrived in Bayonne towards the end of 2014, it did so with an innovative dining system that replaced the traditional two-seating cruise ship dining system with one which promised that guests would be able to dine in any of four complimentary themed-restaurants whenever the guest wanted. The idea was to give the guests more and better choices. However, in the beginning, Dynamic Dining was troubled with technological and operational problems that earned it much criticism. Furthermore, Royal found that many loyal customers were sad to see the traditional system go.
In response, on Anthem, “we have changed the dining. We did listen to the public. We [made] a section of each dining room the classic system. So the people who want to do first or second seating have the ability to do that.”
Royal calls this option “Dynamic Dining Classic.” The original Dynamic Dining system has been renamed “Dynamic Dining Choice.” Anthem, at the moment, offers both options.
“It is still evolving. We have recently had some people from the [head] office here to take a look at the model that we are running now. It is under review right now whether we will keep this or whether we will evolve it again.”
Dynamic Dining Classic “has proven a lot more popular in the U.S. market than it was in the British market. I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that the Bayonne market is a drive-able market similar to Baltimore. You carry a high amount of repeat guests. The seasoned cruiser is obviously used to the old style.”
“One of the things we find is that [Dynamic Dining Choice] does appeal to the new cruisers. It is more of the older, more seasoned cruisers [who] dislike the Dynamic Dining Choice.”
Guests who dislike Dynamic Dining Chice primarily say that they miss the rapport that develops between the guests and the staff that develops when you have the same waiter each night of the cruise.
The problem with the current model is that “only a small portion of each dining room [is dedicated to Dynamic Dining Classic] - - there are only 200 and some seats in each dining room [for Dynamic Dining Classic].” As a result, demand exceeds supply and not everyone who wants Dynamic Dining Classic can get it. “It is being reviewed.”
It should be noted that Royal did not introduce Dynamic Dining as a cost saving measure. Dynamic Dining is actually a more complex system than the traditional system.
“Just as an example, the galleys here when they go down and [take supplies] from the [ship's] stores, because of the operations that we have, the different menus, the guys here are operating and picking as much as the Oasis and the Allure even though we have slightly less dining areas. So it's a complex operation.”
Dining on Anthem is evolving in other ways as well. New menus are on the horizon. “Coastal Kitchen will be going to a seven night rotational menu rather than an A and a B menu. They've changed it so that there are no dishes repeated.”
New menus are being developed for the other dining venues. “There are lots of really good things coming down the line in Food and Beverage. Its really exciting.”
One change that has already taken place is that the Devonly Decadence restaurant has been replaced by the Solarium Bistro. When Quantum entered service, one of the dining venues was an extra-tariff specialty restaurant created by celebrity chef Devon Alexander that featured healthy dining. Due to tepid demand, it was made a complimentary restaurant a few months later on Quantum and Anthem entered service with Devonly Decadence as a complimentary venue.
“It didn't appeal to the market. What we were finding, especially once we had come across [the Atlantic], was that even though [Ms. Alexander] is a celebrity chef in America more so than in the UK through the Biggest Loser TV show in the States, there wasn't the draw. The people weren't particularly wowed by the menu. Just as an example, last night we had 323 people dine in that venue, on a good night in Devonly when we came here and first started cruising [out of Bayonne], we'd be lucky to get 120.”
“The way the ship's Food and Beverage operation works is that we have to have a percentage of people that want to use the specialty restaurants, we also have to have a percentage of people who want to use the Windjammer and the forward area to spread out the load off of the four main dining rooms.” Devonly Decadence “wasn't pulling the amounts of people that we wanted.”
In its place is the Solarium Bistro. “Our own corporate chefs designed the menu and the dishes. It is Greek/Mediterranean. It will evolve and will be themed. Its in its infancy right now. We just needed a product to keep the pressure off the main dining rooms. It will change more.”
Anthem of the Seas was designed to offer innovative entertainment. “There's literally something every night in all of the venues. You've got two [production shows in the theater] - - one that was a West End – Broadway show and one that is our own in-house production. Then you have 270, which is a spectacular entertainment venue. Apart from on Quantum and will be on Ovation and the next two [Quantum class ships], there isn't anything like that space anywhere in the world. Interestingly, that room cost more than our very first ship to build.”
“As far as we know, there are no plans to change the entertainment for the [American] market. The shows are very well attended and they have been very well rated. Normally, the Broadway shows run for five years. So I don't see any changes coming soon.”
This does not mean Royal Caribbean has ignored the fact that the audiences watching the shows on cruises out of Bayonne are different than those on cruises out of Southampton. For example, the West End – Broadway style show is We Will Rock You.
“We Will Rock You was on the West End for 11 years. So I would say that it is more well-known in the UK market. But its Queen's music so it is well-known music. They did modify the script slightly so that it is set in Vegas, they go to Graceland. In the original UK [stage] version, it is set in Wembley Stadium and it is more focused on the UK. So [before Anthem entered service] they did change that so that people can relate to the locations in the story. It has been rated good. There has been no drop - - they are enjoying the show over here.”
Anthem's other production show is evolving. “The Gift has been tweaked. There was feedback that we got from the market - - the guests couldn't understand it or they couldn't follow it, too complicated. So they have made some changes. But the actual music, the theme, is the ones that came out with the ship.”
Adapting to change
Going forward, Anthem faces both internal and external challenges. Mr. Davis is confident in Royal Caribbean's and Anthem's ability to handle these challenges.
In 2016, two new Royal Caribbean ships will enter service. Both will be giants - - Harmony of the Seas will be an Oasis class ship and Ovation of the Seas will be a sister ship to Anthem of the Seas. Both ships will have to be staffed, primarily with experienced Royal Caribbean personnel taken from its existing ships.
“Its a huge draw on the other ships in the fleet. Luckily, we have 23 ships to pull from now. Its big in a way but it is also manageable. There's a percentage [of the existing crews] that [the new ships] are allowed to take from each ship. Normally, people go off on vacation and [then to the new ships]. Their places are filled either with experienced people or new hire people in enough time so that you don't see a drop in the service, a drop in the standards or a drop in the product.”
It is estimated that Royal will have to hire some 7,500 new employees to staff the new vessels and back-fill the existing ships.
“The company has been having a huge recruitment drive but they have also been having it a year and a half in advance. Even as Quantum came out, they were planning 18 months ahead to make sure that we had enough people to backfill so that it would not have a bad impact.”
“We have actually built, funded and staffed three schools [in Asia]. They are manned by Royal Caribbean. They have classrooms where they bring in 20 students and put them through a curriculum to learn the Royal Caribbean way. The venues have Royal Caribbean tables and china. Everything that you have in the restaurants and the bars, you have there. They learn hands on so when they come to the ship, they have a good grounding.”
At the same time, Anthem faces formidable competition
Antehm is not the only ship sailing out of New York harbor on a year-round basis. Across the river in Manhattan is Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Breakaway. Both ships were built in the same shipyard, both are new ships and while Breakaway is not as big as Anthem, she is not much smaller.
“I do know that NCL is very much our competition now. It was Carnival [but] Carnival now is more in their own kind of area.”
This head-to-head competition creates a need for both lines to innovate and evolve. “Good options for the market.”
An RCI ship
Mr. Davis has a personal goal for Anthem. “Sometimes people turn around and say that she doesn't feel like a Royal Caribbean ship. I'd like us to prove that she is."
"She is based on [Celebrity Cruises'] Solstice class keel. She looks very much like [a Solstice class ship] when you put them next to each other. She was built in the Meyer Werft yard and that is where we built all of our Celebrity [Solstice class] ships.”
“But I think that we have enough of the Royal Caribbean [features] and the Royal Caribbean people to make it work as a Royal Caribbean product. If you have cruised before, you know our product. We have everything that we always offer. We have some nice new bells and whistles and some new toys to entertain along with the classic traditional style that Royal Caribbean is famous for.”
Cruise ship inside interviews - Royal Caribbean International - Anthem of the Seas - Hotel Director