–By Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor
Cruisers have two shiny new cruise ships on the East Coast to consider. Norwegian Cruise Line has unveiled its biggest cruise ship yet, Norwegian Escape, which will sail from Miami come early November. Making its U.S. debut around the same, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas arrives in Bayonne’s Cape Liberty in NJ after a stint sailing from Southampton, U.K. Both cruise ships are packed with concept restaurants, brand partnerships, innovative entertainment options and an abundance of activities that encompass running, jumping, climbing and even flying. So how do you know which is right for you? We break down each aspect of these modern mega-ships to help you decide on which you might like to book your next cruise vacation.
Capacity: 4,248 passengers
Itineraries: Eastern Caribbean
Room categories across the ship’s 2,175 cabins include studio, interior, porthole/ocean-view, balcony, family, spa, mini-suite and suite. The Haven suite enclave on Escape will be the largest in the line’s fleet, with 55 suites, an outdoor terrace, private restaurant, courtyard with retractable roof, pool, two whirlpools, a sauna, spa treatment rooms and a secluded sun deck. Special suite amenities include Bulgari toiletries. Escape will also feature an expanded Studio cabin area — encompassing rooms for solo travelers along with a lounge/gathering space — with about 23 more rooms than on any other ship in the fleet. Family cabin options feature connecting staterooms for plenty of space and are conveniently located near youth activity areas. Decor is sleek and modern with a lot of white walls and bedding, brown fabric headboards and pops of color in muted jewel tones.
There will be 15 restaurants onboard Escape, including the buffet. New to Norwegian is its partnership with Iron Chef Jose Garces, who will debut two Latin-inspired eateries — one featuring sit-down seafood and the other a casual venue with traditional Spanish tapas. Jimmy Buffett, musician and “laid-back lifestyle” icon, also makes his at-sea debut with the complimentary Margaritaville restaurant. (Yes, there’s Cheeseburgers in Paradise, among other signature menu items.) A brand new affiliation with the Pubbelly Boys, South Beach restauranteurs and aficionados of international small plates, brings tastes of international cuisine to Escape with the Food Republic marketplace. The line’s popular alternative for-fee (a la carte pricing) restaurants include a steakhouse, French restaurant, Brazilian churrascaria and Italian eatery. Teppanyaki, a hibachi-style venue, carries a cover charge. O’Sheehan’s — Norwegian’s no-fee, pub-style restaurant — will also be onboard. The Haven includes a restaurant for suite passengers only, and there are three main dining room options for all passengers. The ship will also feature a dining venue, called the Private Room at Taste, for private parties or large groups. It will be found on Deck 5 and will have a 100-person capacity.
Two Broadway shows — “After Midnight,” about the Cotton Club-era Harlem jazz scene, and “Million Dollar Quartet,” documenting the history-making recording session between Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins — come alive on Escape. A brand new concept for the line, “For the Record: The Brat Pack Live at the Supper Club” is a (for-fee) supper club musical highlighting the scenes and soundtracks of cult favorite movies from the ’80s. Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano sing-along, and Headliner’s Comedy Club stir up laughs on Escape. The largest casino in the fleet will span 19,000 square feet of the ship.
Choose from 10 bars and lounges on Escape, including venues on The Waterfront, the line’s alfresco dining and drinking promenade. Find your lost shaker of salt at the Jimmy Buffett-inspired 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar, which will occasionally offer live island-style music to go with your margaritas. Getting your glow on at the neon deck party at Spice H2O? A bar there will provide tropical tipples. Drink in the history of Miami’s oldest bar at Tobacco Road, an at-sea version of the once-famous landmark, or take in the digital views at the LED screen-lined Skyline Bar, a glossy meeting place within the Escape Casino (where Bliss nightclub is located on other ships), offering live entertainment and video poker. The Sugarcane Mojito Bar makes the perfect concoction. If you prefer to trade in a swanky cocktail for a glass of wine or a brew, you’re in luck. Escape features the line’s first wine bar — The Cellars, A Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar — along with another first for the line: a craft beer hall. Chug from your choice of 24 different beers on tap, as well as 50 bottles and pub-style munchies (from Food Republic across the hall) at District Brew House, created in association with Miami’s own Wynwood Brewing. Swish and swirl with expert wine tasting courses, or simply sip your vino over tapas with friends at Cellars. Mixx and Prime Meridian are great places for pre-dinner cocktails, and O’Sheehan’s pub is a sure win to close out the night.
Shoppers can stock up on designer goods from Lacoste, Carolina Herrera, Hublot, Bulgari, Tissot, Uno de 50 and Ulysse Nardin watches. You’ll also find a handpicked collection of Columbian emeralds.
Boasting the largest ropes course at sea, Escape will feature three stories that include sky rails that mimic ziplining and two planks that hang over the side of the ship. A separate kids-only course will also be onboard. The adjacent water park is set to be the largest for the fleet, with a Free Fall water slide, a family-friendly slide and tandem racing slides, along with a splash section for kids. Two pools are located within the aqua park, in addition to four hot tubs. Mini-golf, bocce and a full sports court can also be found on the top deck.
The Mandara Spa will span two decks and include 24 treatment rooms. Escape’s thermal suite will contain 17 heated loungers, a hydrotherapy pool, whirlpools, a steam room, a dry sauna, a sanarium and a salt room. It will also have a snow room, a first for the line, kept at freezing temperatures meant to promote circulation. The salon will offer hair, nails, waxing and kid-friendly services, along with a men’s barber shop.
The fitness center onboard Escape will have Technogym weight training and cardio equipment, which can sync with Apple devices. Classes (for a fee) will include Pilates, body sculpting boot camp, yoga, Zumba and TRX, while boxing buffs can participate in the Norwegian Fight Klub, a high-intensity cardio boxing class.
A first for the line, Escape will offer childcare services for children ages 6 months to 3 years in the Norwegian nursery as part of the Guppies program. As on other Norwegian ships, there will be an area for parents and babies to play together, featuring age-appropriate games and activities hosted by a dedicated staff member. Splash Academy, the line’s kids club, is divided into three groups: Turtles are ages 3 to 5, Seals are 6 to 9, and Dolphins are 10 to 12. Facilities will be located on Deck 5. Splash Academy will feature a Circus program with skill classes (by age) that culminate in a special grand finale, performed by the kids in the club. (Think: plate spinning, juggling and feather balancing.) Children will also have an opportunity to participate in an Officer Snook Theme Day, which focuses on environmental-themed games and activities. There is no individual or in-cabin babysitting. Entourage is the teen club onboard (ages 13 through 17) and features movies, art, music, video games and dance parties just for teens.
Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas
Capacity: 4,180 passengers
Homeport: Bayonne, NJ
Categories include studio, interior, ocean-view, balcony, family, mini-suite and suite. All inside cabins feature virtual balconies, floor-to-ceiling flat-screen HDTVs with real-time views of the ocean (or port) outside. Space is the name of the game on Anthem, and with seven suite categories, there’s plenty of it up for grabs. A dozen studios (rooms for solo travelers) feature balconies, which is rare in the cruise industry. Decor consists of brown and navy with touches of geometric patterns, creating a modern and polished look. Room amenities include two USB ports for additional device charging — a nice touch for connected travelers.
Anthem features 14 sit-down eateries with options from low-cal to Wonderland. Celebrity chef partnerships with Devin Alexander of “Biggest Loser” and Food Network star Jamie Oliver offer healthy (and complimentary) cuisine at Devinly Decadence at Solarium Bistro, along with rustic meals for a cover at Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver. Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine fuses magic and molecular gastronomy for a dining experience that describes its dishes according to the five elements. The Cafe @ Two70 offers quick bites in a bistro-like atmosphere. Coastal Kitchen offers suite passengers a private dining room with an exclusive menu. Signature restaurants for the line — including a steakhouse, sushi and Japanese restaurant, pizzeria, buffet and the ’50s-style hamburger joint Johnny Rockets — can also be found onboard. The four main dining restaurants are divided into unique settings: Chic (new American), Silk (pan-Asian), American Icon (comfort food) and The Grande (formal night, every night).
“We Will Rock You” is the main theater show, set to Queen’s greatest hits and made famous in London’s West End. Not much compares to the spectacular visual effects you’ll find in the state-of-the-art Two70, with its huge robotic HD screens, live acrobats, lasers and music, which combine to create a stunning show. Puzzle Break is a hands-on challenge to escape a room rigged with puzzles using clues, cooperation and teamwork. In need of more amusement? There’s also the SeaPlex, a sports and entertainment arena featuring bumper cars, roller skating and even a circus school. Casino Royal sprawls across Deck 3.
Anthem features seven bars and lounges, ranging from traditional to techie. The Bionic Bar draws thirsty patrons and onlookers alike as robotic arms prepare drinks while dancing to the DJ’d music. North Star Bar is also a popular venue, offering a view at the base of the onboard gondola. Sky Bar has you covered at the pool, and Vintages serves as an upscale wine bar with a la carte appetizers. Fans of traditional cruise decor will admire the dark wood and marble in Schooner Bar, which also doubles as the ship’s piano bar. Our vote for a pre-dinner drink is at nearby steakhouse Chops Grille. Boleros is mood-lit and invites dancing and drinking with a Latin flair. Music Hall is Anthem’s two-deck live music venue, perfect for late-night drinks, dancing, karaoke or a game of pool; it’s also where you can listen to live tribute bands.
The Via is a hub of Anthem activity and houses the ship’s high-end shops. Regalia features the timepieces of Cartier and a special edition Royal Caribbean watch by TAG Heuer. Also onboard are Hublot, Bulgari, Tom Ford and Bobbi Brown skincare and cosmetics.
Take in the ultimate view from North Star, a glass-enclosed capsule attached to a mechanical arm that rises 300 feet above sea level. Or take to new heights with the RipCord by iFly skydiving simulator. Royal’s signature FlowRider surf simulator is easily a spectator sport, with passengers doing their best not to wipe out. Anthem has three main pools and a giant movie screen. The H2O Zone is a dedicated water play space for families with young children. On one side, there’s a splash pool for toddlers, and on the other, there’s a “lazy river” pool.
The Vitality Spa is located at the top of the ship and has 19 treatment rooms. Muted decor creates an air of calm, but it could use some more natural light. The spa contains a thermal suite, which includes six heated tile loungers, a sauna and a steam room — but no pool. A hair and nail salon is also located there.
The fitness facility on Anthem of the Seas is huge and well equipped. Its multi-tiered design provides great views from all vantage points. You’ll find treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers, as well as a variety of free weights (up to 90 pounds) and a large number of weight machines. A spacious aerobics studio hosts classes, including TRX and Body Sculpt, while a cycling studio is designed for spinning. Note that most classes carry an additional fee.
Anthem offers everything from kid-sized deck chairs and three family pools to a wide choice of family cabins and even public-space family toilets. Kids can hang out with Kung Fu Panda, Shrek and other DreamWorks characters at special breakfasts or during photo ops. Royal Caribbean’s youth program, Adventure Ocean, is a huge kids club, spread across two decks at the front of the ship and is open to kids aged 6 months to 11 years. Kids can also go upstairs to the Science Room, where they can do cool (but educational) supervised experiments. The Royal Babies & Tots Nursery is open to kids from 6 months to 3 years. Opposite the nursery is Aquanauts, for potty trained 3- to 5-year-olds. From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., Adventure Ocean offers late-night babysitting for children between ages 3 and 11, for a fee. There is no individual or in-cabin babysitting. Teens (ages 12 to 17) are given space at the other end of the ship so they don’t have to interact with the younger kids. During the day, they have access to The Living Room hangout and, at night, the teens-only disco Fuel.