Recently, Royal Caribbean International celebrated the launch of its newest cruise ship, Anthem of the Seas, and I was invited to come aboard for the pre-inaugural voyage around the channel.
The Anthem of the Seas is unlike any ship I've seen before. It stands at 348 metres tall, is the width of three basketball courts and has an incredible 2,090 state rooms. When you go on a cruise, the ports of call are, of course, a crucial part of the holiday, but you also spend a lot of time onboard, so it's crucial there's plenty to keep you busy.
Anthem of the Seas is more than just a floating hotel. It offers all sorts of entertainment and activities for its passengers, from an iFly indoor skydiving experience, to the North Star glass observation capsule on a huge arm that lifts you more than 300 feet above the ocean.
There are bars and clubs, a spectacular cabaret with incredible multimedia effects, loads of different dining experiences, a full Broadway-style show, lightning fast wifi and more. As you can probably guess, I loved it.
I travelled down to Southhampton with my lovely friend, H. Actually getting on to the ship was a faff as we hadn't managed to check in online (highly recommended!) and the systems were down, so we had to queue for a couple of hours to get through. But all that was forgotten when we finally stepped on board.
A very cool feature on this ship is the RFID wristbands, which allow you to open your cabin door, register for experiences and even pay with just a tap. It saves you having to continually dig around in your purse for your boarding pass or credit card, so was a big plus for me.
By the time we got settled in, it was time to get lunch. There are an eye-popping 18 restaurants to choose from onboard, with five that are included in the package you get as part of your trip. Pretty much every taste is catered for, and we grabbed lunch at the buffet style Windjammer Marketplace.
We loved Windjammer because it's really clearly laid out and offers a top notch selection of pretty much everything you could possibly want from a buffet, from grills, to stews, to pizza, to salad, to puddings and gluten free breads.
After eating well and exploring the ship on day one, we started to relax into cruise life. There's a gorgeous solarium on the ship, so even if it's a bit blustery outside, you can grab a cocktail (there are LOADS of bars) and sit on a lounger, soaking up the warmth and watching the waves roll by.
And if you fancy being more active, there's plenty to keep you busy, including a running track that runs all the way round the open deck of the ship.
After an exciting day, we had dinner with great company but sadly not great food. The menu was supposed to give you a taste of what you could enjoy from around the ship, but I think they'd forgotten to put a proper veggie option on the menu.
I chose the only one - a plate of vegetables - and out came a small plate of limp, greasy veg. The bread was good, though, and the dessert was a soft, warm chocolate chip skillet cookie with vanilla ice cream that was really very delicious indeed.
After a day full of adventure, we were ready for some sleep, but if we'd wanted, we could have hit the dance floor, seen a show or even gone to the casino.
Our room was gorgeous - not cramped at all, with a fabulous balcony so we asked for extra blankets and relaxed outside for a while so that we could make the most of our time at sea.
We ate breakfast back at the Windjammer, where they was a brilliant, fresh selection. I put this plate of peach halves, pancakes, berry sauce and peach smoothie together as I strolled round and as it was so lovely to sit and look out over the sea as we ate.
Having found her sea-legs, H was in her element on day two, giving the trapeze lesson at Circus School and the rock climbing wall a go, so when it came time to go up in the North Star, despite it being almost as high as Big Ben, how could I say no?
And actually, it was amazing. This is the view from inside the capsule. Admittedly, when you're in the middle of the ocean, there's not much to see, but imagine waking up in a new port and going in the North Star to get a view over a city you've yet to discover. That would be pretty magical.
Now...a confession. I had my name down to do iFly indoor skydiving from the start, but when I learned they only had room for one person per party on our press trip, I was secretly relieved to hand the spot over to H.
The time came and there was, in fact a space for me. Eek! We had some training, then put on jumpsuits, earplugs, goggles and helmets and one at a time, jumped into a perspex tube and let ourselves be lifted into the air. To be honest, I was pretty rubbish at it, but it was so much fun and I'm really glad I did it. (Thanks Rainy Day Mum for the pic)
We spent the afternoon soaking up more sun (and drinking more cocktails) before heading to see a full 100 minute performance of We Will Rock You. I'd never seen the musical before and my goodness, the plot is ridiculous, but the performance was amazing, complete with a full live band and impressive multimedia effects. I couldn't help but tap my foot, then dance in my seat and by the end I was even singing along.
That evening, we took in a show at Two70, a state of the art venue that combines live performers with a complex display of sound, lights and dramatic, moving screens on robotic arms. It's something you've got to see for yourself to really appreciate, but it really is not to be missed if you find yourselves on board.
Changing for dinner, we dined from another menu that amalgamated different choices from around the ship and this time it was excellent. I had a slightly curried mushroom ravioli on a bed of spinach, followed by a goats cheese and mushroom tart with nicely crumbly pastry, finishing with a stunning chocolate pudding that was delicate in texture and intense in flavour. Wonderful. Sadly no photos for this as it was very dark.
There's so much more I could tell you. I could tell you about the robotic bartender who takes your order via iPad. Or I could tell you about the live musicians dotted around the ship, who make it feel like you're at a round the clock hour party.
I could tell you about the American hotdog and fries place, where you can pick up a milkshake to drink by the pool. I could tell you about the FlowRider wave machine that lets you practice surfing on board. Or the roller disco. Or the bumper cars. Or the games rooms. Gah, I could tell you so much more!
If you've got a taste for the seas, head over to the Anthem of the Seas web pages now, and learn more about this incredible ship's 2015 destinations.
We boarded Anthem of the Seas on a press trip.