By Eileen Ogintz

Bumper cars, roller skating,  ping pong,  indoor and outdoor pools hot tubs, a surf simulator  all the burgers and tacos you can eat… even RipCord by IFLY, a simulated sky diving experience that is complimentary and the fastest internet at sea.

View of Anthem of the Seas from the North Star
View of Anthem of the Seas from the North Star

Let’s not forget the first Food Truck at Sea— the complimentary SeaPlex Doghouse serving hotdogs, brats and sausages and plenty of Broadway-style entertainment complete with a multi-dimensional cabaret.

No wonder

(There’s nothing better than starting off a cruise by sailing by Lady Liberty.)  Quantum of the Seas is now home-ported in China.  Here’s what I said about it last year.

That there is so much to do around the ship may be why fewer kids are opting into the cruise line’s popular Adventure Ocean program, says manager Christian Franco, a 12-year Royal Caribbean veteran.

Captain Claus Andersen said that when his two daughters aged six and nine were on board this summer, “I didn’t see them for five weeks…and they cried when it was time to leave.  That’s a testament to how much there is for kids and families to do.”

Supervised activities and child care certainly is there when parents want and need it.  Parents with infants will be glad to know they can get a break on board thanks to the Royal Tots Nursery, though there is an upcharge (starting at $6 an hour).  That means a parent can go to the spa, to dinner—there are after all 18 restaurants to choose from—even on a shore excursion knowing their baby is in excellent trained hands.

That’s also true for children with special challenges, including those on the Autism Spectrum.  Not only does Royal Caribbean host sailings with the nonprofit organization Autism on the Seas, which brings its own staff aboard, but all of the youth staff fleet wide are trained so that children with all sorts of special challenges can be included in the youth activities, said Franco.  His one tip:  If traveling with children who have special challenges, cruise, if possible when it isn’t a peak family vacation week (like Christmas or the middle of the summer) when there may be 1,000 kids on board so the Adventure Ocean staff will have more time to devote to your child.

There’s a lot to like about Anthem, a veritable  floating city (4,905 guests and 1664 crew) that is longer than five Boeing 747s and 2.5 times taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza.  She has wonderful spaces like the indoor Solarium and the Two70 degree lounge and café with floor to ceiling views and lots of comfy lounges to just look out at the sea. (Families cruising from New Jersey in the winter will be happy with the indoor pool!)

Spacious area for bumper cars aboard Anthem of the Seas
Spacious area for bumper cars aboard Anthem of the Seas

Everyone is raving about the super fast internet—“the fastest internet at sea,” Royal Caribbean president and CEO Michael Bayley bragged. “This one ship has bandwidth greater than the rest of the cruise industry.” He has reason to brag. Anyone who has ever cruised knows how slow internet can be on board and expensive. The only downside: It still is expensive — $15 per day for the first device, $10 for each one afterward. Anyone who has ever vacationed with kids and grandkids and their many devices knows at a minimum that will cost upwards of $50 a day. Royal is experimenting with free internet on Majesty of the Seas. Let’s hope they expand that program—soon!

Captain Andersen, a 17-year veteran of the country, noted on a tour of the Bridge that the technology is a “game changer” for the crew too—from being able to connect with family and friends whenever they like as opposed to weekly phone calls, to the way the ship is run on a daily basis. The internet on board, he said, even when not at full strength is faster than what most homes have. “We who have been in this business for so many years appreciate how this has changed the industry” he said, pointing out that the safety system is so sophisticated that there are 347 different emergency scenarios that the staff trains for every week.

There’s no worry about lost keys with the WOW wristbands  that are attached to your onboard account. You can do everything from open your cabin door to book dinner reservations, shore excursions, even pay for a drink at the Bionic Bar, at which —you guessed it—robots mix your drinks that you’ve ordered via  tablet.

Many grandparents now are opting for the Suite Class accommodations, said Royal Caribbean’s senior sales vice president Vicki Freed. They have a private restaurant for breakfast lunch and dinner, a concierge lounge with a knowledgeable concierge who can arrange everything their family needs.  Starting this spring, those who book the top level suites  on Quantum and Oasis class ships will be assigned a “royal genie” who in effect is charged with making their every wish come true—within reason,  I’m assuming.  Multigenerational groups,  Freed said, “are the biggest group we have,” adding that on holiday sailings, they constitute more than half the passengers. But the grandparents, who often are paying for the trip, don’t want to give up the luxury they are accustomed to—or the peace and quiet and thus opt for huge two-story suites. Still, she said, “they may think they want a quiet experience,” and are booking royal Caribbean with all its activities for “the grandkids.” But then once they are aboard, they are drawn into all of the fun much more than they expected.  Ping pong anyone?

For those on a budget, however, you need to watch out for the upcharges. Every time the kids want a Johnny Rocket’s burger it’s $2.50;  a specialty coffee around $5. There are upcharges for the arcade, for fitness classes, the specialty restaurants, serving everything from sushi to steak to celebrity chef Jaime Oliver’s  restaurant, Jamie’s Italian with fresh pasta made daily, the patisserie, liquor and the casino as well as shore excursions and of course internet.  If you are on a budget, make sure the kids are clear on what they may spend. You don’t want sticker shock when you get the final bill.

There are five main “dynamic dining” options, plus Coastal Kitchen for suite guests each with a different vibe and different food and you can choose when and where to go whether you prefer Asian, American, or “Divinely Decadence “ that is designed for those determined to eat the most healthy—even on board  ship. I found the food uneven—from excellent (at Jamie’s Italian) to very good (the Windjammer Marketplace buffet on Deck 14 ) to overcooked and pedestrian in the American Icon dining room at breakfast. One plus: If you don’t want to, you can pick and choose your restaurants each day on a first-come first-served basis or you can opt for the same dining time each night with the same wait staff.

Especially if you plan to sample the specialty restaurants, book reservations ahead of your cruise.  Ditto for the popular complimentary activities like RipCord by IFLY   and North Star that gives you a view from 300 feet above sea level.

You can always switch the times—and do what you like again…and again.

More bumper cars for me!