Hotel Director Darren Budden is an experienced hotel
manager and has shaped the cruise experience on several Royal Caribbean ships as they entered service. Most recently, he brought Anthem of the Seas into service. We asked him to talk about the cruise experience on Anthem.
Much of the publicity about the Quantum class ships, including Anthem, has focused on features such as the bumper cars and the sky diving simulator. As a result, some people have come to think that Anthem is a frivolous ship. However, in reality Anthem presents a sophisticated cruise experience.
“I would say, first and foremost, the Quantum class are refined and elegant vacation experiences. The stateroom experience is really very nice. The entertainment offerings are very strong, spectacular items onto themselves. The vast variety of dining options, some of which are truly unique - - Devinly Decadence is one, Wonderland is another - - really special dining experiences. I think that those really are the core of the product items. Then layered on top of that we have amusement park of rides like North Star, Rip Cord by Ifly, Flowrider, everything that happens in Seaplex from roller skating to bumper cars to the sports activities. I think all of those things are really gravy.”
Focusing first on entertainment, in its theater Anthem offers a full Broadway/West End show “We Will Rock You” based on the music of Queen. “The strength of the music is just so global. Everyone knows Queen. We had Brian May aboard and he was blown away by the caliber of that performance. He himself says that it is as good as anything that was produced in the West End. To have entertainment at that level is really something else.”
In addition to the main theater, Anthem has a large entertainment venue at the stern. However, Two70 is unlike any show lounge outside of the Quantum class. Several decks high and with windows covering the stern and much of the sides, it is an impressive space to begin with. However, Royal Caribbean has added robot LED screens, which move, as well as screens which can cover the windows and have programs projected upon them. Lifts bring performers up into the audience and apparatus bring them down from the ceiling.
“The Two70 lounge is the most expensive room that we have ever built. The cost associated with Two70 is greater than the cost associated with the first ship that we ever commissioned. It is a great venue to sit in and relax during the day or to go see a show in the evening or watch the Vistarama and programmed content that we have. Its also a great place to listen to a band.”
“I have a friend who was a long time Hollywood producer. He came and sailed and was completely blown away by Two70. He was saying 'what you are doing here is breaking the dimensions of entertainment. There is no backstage, there is no above stage and below stage and having the screens themselves move is really forward thinking. The challenge in the movie industry is that people can replicate the experience in their homes with big screens, surround sound. But then you go and introduce elements of Vistarama, live performance and moving robotic screens, you can't replicate that. It is exciting stuff.”
The lead show in Two70 is a multi-media and live performance show called Spectra's Cabaret but it is not all that Two70 is used for.. “Spectra's Cabaret is a very fun show. Then we have added some things that you can only have in Two70 like a new vignette which is called Da Vinici's Dream. Basically, it takes the flying machine that Leonardo Da Vinci had always dreamed of and brings it to life and you fly through Rome in our Two70 lounge.”
Anthem has other entertainment venues including the Music Hall, where top quality tribute bands play, and the Seaplex, which can become a disco or venue for dance parties. “We have introduced a Stowaway Piano Player, he moves his piano around - - it was in the elevators last night. The whole premise behind that is that I'm not supposed to know that he is here. We catch him on the second to last day and he agrees to play a concert for our guests for his passage.”
A new approach to dining
Turning to dining, Anthem has an array of specialty restaurants as well as four main dining rooms, each of which has a different theme. When Anthem's sister ship Quantum of the Seas entered service, she offered a new concept called Dynamic Dining in which guests could dine in any of the ship's restaurants at a time of their own choosing. In response to criticism that Dynamic Dining lacked the virtues of the traditional cruise ship dining system, Anthem offers both Dynamic Dining and an alternative system.
“We have introduced the Classic Dining option, which takes up to 50 percent of our main dining room space. It allows people to have a first and second seating if that is their preference over doing the Dynamic Dining option. Some of our more traditional guests said 'We make a lot of new friends when we go cruising and Dynamic Dining doesn't allow us that option'. So now we have a section where people will rotate through each of the four main dining rooms with the same tablemates and the same wait staff to simulate what we had before. For those who like the new idea, the new concept of being able to do what you want when you want, they have those options available to them [with Dynamic Dining].”
As on Quantum of the Seas, the cover charge has been eliminated at one of the restaurants that was originally planned as a specialty restaurant. “We have changed Devinly Decadence to become a complimentary restaurant now. It is such a great food offering that we wanted more people to try it. We found that the cover charge that we had introduced there was enough to prevent people from choosing to go there often. So we said for that service fee it is not worth taking that experience away from our guests so we made that complimentary now. We are seeing a lot more people go through and it definitely reflects the trend that people have toward healthier eating.”
Big does not mean crowded
Anthem of the Seas entered service as the third largest cruise ship in the world. However, Royal Caribbean did not build her just to have another big ship. “I am not aware of any instance yet where a guest has come forward and said can you put me on a bigger ship. What they generally tend to talk about is new amenities and new experiences. [In order to deliver] those new experiences, you tend to need to build very big ships. The Quantum class are the second largest class of ships in the world. You have to go to that scale to deliver amenities like the Two70 lounge or North Star.”
While Anthem is very big, there is less crowding and less lines than on more traditional cruise ships. This is because Royal Caribbean has re-thought the low of passengers through the ship.
“The traditional model really is built around you have two dining seatings and you have two show times which line up with those dining times. So people have their dinner and they go see the show that is associated with that seating. [In essence, you have] one big room at one end of the ship and a big room at the other end of the ship and then half way through the evening everyone gets up and changes places.”
“With the Oasis class and with the Quantum class, we now have more things going on, more shows happening, more amenities for guests to enjoy. “ As a result, the guests are more dispersed throughout the ship. In addition, there are multiple performances of each of the main shows so that everyone does not feel that they have to be at a certain place at a certain day and time. “We put a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of technology into managing things so people can do what they want when they want to do it.”
Cruise ship inside interviews - Royal Caribbean International - Anthem of the Seas - Hotel Director