Today is the first day of my very first European cruise! Over the next week I will be aboard Anthem of the Seas for a 7 night cruise, visiting four ports in northern Spain and France. Next week should lead to fun adventures in La Rochelle, Bilbao, La Coruña and Le Havre, so be sure to follow this blog live!
I arrived in London yesterday having spent the previous days with friends in Edinburgh and Manchester. Upon arrival, I checked into my city center hotel, the Hilton London Bankside.
Stay the night in London
When checking in, I was pleasantly surprised with a free upgrade to a suite! We were placed in the hotel’s Vegan Suite, a room made with 100% vegan materials. With a bedroom, a living room, a complete bathroom and a shower room, it was very comfortable and spacious!
I ended up spending most of the evening relaxing in the suite, as I will be returning to London for sightseeing the weekend after my cruise. I realized it was a good idea that I was never booked into a suite on a cruise ship. If the time I spent in my hotel suite is any indication of the time I would spend in a cruise ship suite…I would probably never leave my cabin!
Hilton London Bankside suites also have complimentary access to the Executive Lounge, similar to the Diamond Lounge on Royal Caribbean ships. Soft drinks, coffee and snacks are available throughout the day and a happy hour is served from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. with alcoholic drinks and a selection of hot dishes.
The hotel also offered an impressive breakfast selection, with cold and hot items served buffet style and cooked to order.
I liked the location of the hotel near the river. The sights and many restaurants and bars were within walking distance and the hotel was well located for public transport. Glad I spent the night in London instead of Southampton as it was extremely easy to get to the port the next day!
Getting to Southampton Cruise Port
Southampton is approximately 75 miles from London and easily accessible by train. I booked round trip train tickets on the Trainline app for $70. I booked the ‘Off-Peak Return’ ticket, which meant I could take any train during off-peak hours. I liked the flexibility of this ticket as I didn’t have to rush to the station and can return to London on any D-Day train.
My friend Samantha and I walked about 15 minutes from the London Hilton Bankside to London Waterloo station. Boarding the train is extremely simple, as there is no security and all you need to do is scan your e-ticket at the appropriate platform. The train was comfortable and air conditioned and it was a brief 80 minute journey through the English countryside to Southampton.
When we arrived we took an Uber to the port. It would have been about a 20 minute walk, but with luggage we thought it was worth the $6 Uber.
My arrival time was scheduled for 12:30 p.m., but when we got to the terminal, no one was checking arrival times. In fact, there was hardly anyone at the terminal when we arrived at 11am! After the quickest check-in process I’ve ever had, we were on board and ready to explore the ship.
First impressions of Anthem of the Seas
Anthem of the Seas is a Quantum class cruise ship and was launched in 2015. The ship is in excellent condition and is basically identical to Ovation of the Seas, which I sailed on in Alaska last year.
In an effort to avoid the crowds at the Windjammer, we had lunch at Cafe @ Two70, one of my favorite places for a quick lunch on any Quantum class ship. Two70 is an amazing place, both for entertaining and lounging during the day, and it’s my favorite place to hang out so far on Anthem of the Seas.
After lunch, we opened the Royal Caribbean app to make show reservations for the week. Surprisingly, the only show requiring reservations was Spectra’s Cabaret in Two70. I also made a reservation for the North Star which is free on port days and $19.99 on sea days.
Our North Star reservation was for 2pm so we headed out to the pool deck after lunch to board the 360 degree viewing module which would take us 300 feet above sea level! The weather was perfect in the afternoon, providing clear skies and excellent views of the ship from above.
The cabins were ready at 2pm so I checked my cabin right after finishing the North Star. I booked a guaranteed inside cabin for this cruise and was placed in a front room on deck 9.
As Anthem of the Seas is a relatively new cruise ship, the cabins have plenty of storage and power outlets. The decor is modern compared to older ships like Freedom of the Seas, and the room has a virtual balcony, allowing us to see “outside” even from our interior room!
We were able to separate our bed into two twins which made the room feel bigger due to the extra walking space between the two beds.
Robes, fruit plate and San Benedetto water were in the room as a perk of Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society. A kettle was also provided for tea and coffee.
Cruise and dinner
We spent about an hour relaxing in the bedroom to unpack and relax before a busy evening on board.
Sailaway was at 5pm, so we headed to the wings of the Solarium deck to watch Anthem of the Seas leave Southampton and begin its journey to La Rochelle, France.
After sailing we headed to the main dining room for our traditional restaurant reservation at 5.30pm. We were originally going to be seated at a table for 8-10 people so I asked if we could have a small table instead. To my surprise, we were brought to a table for 2 right next to the window! Couldn’t have asked for a better table location and we spent the meal taking in the views of the Isle of Wight and the English Channel.
Tonight’s meal in the main dining room was really tasty and the service was quick. I noticed the menu in the main dining room had an Indian curry option and a more traditional British option available, with Chicken Saag and Guinness Pie. This is just one of the many differences I have noticed so far on a UK sail from the USA!
We finished dinner around 7pm and spent some time in the Solarium hot tubs. I love the Solarium on the Quantum class ships; the area is spacious, air-conditioned and has many swimming pools and whirlpools.
We then spent about an hour in the pub listening to the guitarist live before heading to Two70 for the venue’s signature show, Spectra’s Cabaret.
The show was extremely similar to Pixel’s Cabaret, which I saw on Ovation of the Seas last year. Combining electronic effects, robotic TV screens, projection mapping, dancing and voice acting, the show was entertaining…even though I couldn’t make out any type of story.
I feel like the Two70 room has such impressive and immersive technology that a show with a better script would be absolutely amazing to watch. Cabaret shows don’t mean much to me, although I enjoyed the performance overall and the crew member who played Spectra was excellent!
As the show ended around 11pm, we headed to bed. Tomorrow is a day at sea as we cross the Bay of Biscay to France!
There are occasional rail strikes scheduled throughout the year in the UK. Be sure to keep an eye out for any strikes when you plan to go to port so you can plan a backup option for your arrival in Southampton.
Although I frequently come across small businesses that don’t accept card payments in mainland Europe, paying with contactless debit or credit cards is the norm everywhere I’ve been in the UK. Therefore, it is not necessary to withdraw cash in pounds when leaving England.
From my initial observations, I would say the guest mix is at least 80% UK guests. I didn’t see any outlets in the UK, so make sure you pack a European or American style converter if you’re coming from the UK.