Some of you may know the backstory, but we had talked about doing a cruise for a while as we hadn’t ever done one. We ended up booking in Feb 2020 for an Aug 2020 cruise to the Caribbean. Great timing, huh? Of course that one got canceled and we used our credit to book a Baltic Sea cruise for Aug 2021. That one got canceled but we were able to use Royal Caribbean’s “Lift & Shift” program to shift it to Aug 2022. That’s still on and we’re really hoping it goes off. This past July, things were looking better and while we had booked our trip to Maine and the Adirondacks for August, we wanted a “real” vacation for something different for Christmas. (We were in Rome for Christmas in 2016 and in Germany for Christmas in 2002 when we lived there so being away isn’t totally unknown.) We considered a Caribbean resort but flights were over $1000 each. Instead, we found a seven-day cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas that left Christmas Eve out of Bayonne, NJ, which is only about a 35 minute drive from our house. While the cruise was a bit pricey, there was no airfare involved. Not needing to fly also minimized any weather or Covid risks. This seemed like a great plan.
Planned Cruise Itinerary
- Day 1 – Fri 12/24 – Boarding, Bayonne, NJ (“Cape Liberty”)
- Day 2 – Sat 12/25 – At Sea
- Day 3 – Sun 12/26 – Port Canaveral, Florida (more on this below)
- Day 4 – Mon 12/27 – Nassau, Bahamas
- Day 5 – Tue 12/28 – Coco Cay, Bahamas (Royal Caribbean’s private island)
- Day 6 – Wed 12/29 – At Sea
- Day 7 – Thu 12/30 – At Sea
- Day 8 – Fri 12/31 – Back to Bayonne and home
Fri 12/24 – Embarkation Day
As our boarding time was 11:00 AM and, as I said, it’s only 35 minutes, I got up for a morning run before doing our last minute packing and loading up for the drive. We did have quite a bit of luggage for this trip, especially given how light we normally travel, but we didn’t have to fly and we wanted a mix of dressy and casual clothes. Getting to port was easy as I’ve been out in general area a few times before. We arrived around 10:30 and the line was already kind of long. They weren’t enforcing boarding times in the least. The actual process was smooth. You drop your bags with the porter where they’re checked through to your room, park the car, go through security, check in, and walk on to the ship. All told, it took around a hour, putting us on the ship right around 11:30.
This being our first cruise, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We had watched tons of videos and read quite a bit. Overall, the ship has a feel like a resort hotel. Our first stop was our muster station in the Grand Theater. (We had watched the safety video beforehand.) We then headed up to the Windjammer buffet restaurant for lunch. This was a very extensive buffet with tons of options including salads, breads, sandwiches, made-to-order pasta, burgers, and so much more. There were also some great desserts as well as both a coffee bar and a regular bar, where I got my first drink of the cruise, a BBC (Banana Baileys Coconut frozen drink). We ended up here for lunch on all our sea days. While having lunch, we also booked shows and a few activities for the week.
After lunch, we wandered the upper decks, including some foosball in the Sportsplex. The weather was quite dreary in the morning but started to clear up and it was reasonably warm. After a bit, we wandered down to our cabin which was ready early. (We had actually just wanted to get a sense of where it was and it was unexpectedly ready.) Our cabin was a balcony cabin, pretty far forward on deck 9. We loved having the balcony and used it a bunch. It was great to have the fresh air and swishing of the sea. For our cruise, it was warm enough to sit out there for most of the days.
After settling in a bit (no unpacking as our bags weren’t there yet – pretty common for them not to show up until early evening), we did some more wandering on the lower decks, including a stop for a drink at the Two70 bar and some pool in the Music Hall. Kyle has played a few times before and we played a few times during the week. After some more late afternoon sun photos on the upper decks, we headed back to the cabin to unpack, our bags had showed up in the meantime, and to get ready for our 6:30 dinner reservation. There are three options for times in the Main Dining Room, early at 5:30, late at 8:00, or “My Time” which is anytime 5:30-9:00. You don’t really need reservations but may have to wait so I made them beforehand for the whole week. As we were at reduced capacity, ~2600 passengers with a double-occupancy max of 4200, things weren’t busy most of the time. I don’t think we saw a line getting into the MDR any evening. Having reservations for each night was nice though in that we had a fixed table and fixed waiters (aside from the first night) that we got to know well.
Our first cruise dinner was quite good. I had a nice mojo-crusted pork chop and Suzanne had some fried seafood. (Kyle had pasta of course.) During dinner, we got to see us sail under the Verrazano bridge which was cool. Back at the room we got a wonderful surprise of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries from our travel agent, Nish Verma at Let’s Globetrot/CruisePlanners.com. I can’t recommend him enough. He’s been so helpful with all the twists and turns of our first cruise. My mom is also using him for her river cruise in June, also rescheduled from 2020, and we’re almost certain to use him to book an Alaska cruise for summer 2023 in the next few weeks.
After dinner, we saw the special Christmas show put on by the performers in the multiple headlining shows on board. It was a great show, though I was very surprised they did a whole bit with the “Baby, it’s cold outside” song given it’s implications and recent controversy. The singer from Spectra’s Cabaret (more on that below), Terry LaVell, did an amazing rendition of O Holy Night.
After the show, we joined a meet up of our cruise’s Facebook group. Many cruises have these and we found it a great way to get some connections beforehand. It was great to talk to a few folks, including some from Michigan which was cool for us. It had been a great, long, first cruise day, so we headed back to bed.
Sat 12/25 – Sea Day
I was up early, as normal, so I actually went up to the gym for a morning run. (Sadly, the only time I managed this all week.) It was great to watch the sun rise over the ocean though I forgot how much I prefer to run outside versus a treadmill.
Breakfast was back to the Windjammer. You can eat breakfast in the Main Dining Room but given Kyle’s eating habits, this just worked better for us. During breakfast, we learned that as we had left late and the weather was quite poor with a strong headwind, we had to skip Port Canaveral. This wasn’t a big loss to us especially as it meant arriving in Nassau at at 7:00 AM instead of 2:00 PM on Monday. The weather was quite bad today with winds over 50 mph and significant seas. In fact, they had to close the outside decks. We could definitely feel the ship moving quite a bit. Other, much more experienced, cruisers announced it was the worst they had experienced. We had taken Bonine (well … the generic meclizine) as a precaution against sea-sickness and were glad we did. There were a number of posts on the FB group of folks not doing so well. Suzanne will tell you that walking in heals for Christmas evening was also “interesting”.
Following breakfast, we headed back to the cabin for a small Christmas morning and then trivia in the Music Hall (was okay) and bumper cars (yes … bumper cars) in the Sportsplex. The latter was great fun but we could only do it once during the week. We stopped for a couple of drinks in the Schooner Bar to get our “Search for Nations” scavenger hunt sheet but we didn’t end up doing this during the week.
After lunch in the Windjammer, Suzanne and I hung out for a couple of hours in the adults-only Solarium while Kyle relaxed in the room. (Kyle was just short of being allowed in the Solarium as you have to be 16.) We hung out through sunset which was amazing to see over the bow of the ship. After a quick stop at the robotic Bionic bar, dinner was a 7:00, now at our regular table with our great waiter Bharat. This was formal night, which was only loosely enforced, but it being Christmas I actually wore a suit. Next up was Spectra’s Cabaret which is an interesting mix of music and electronic effects and then back to the cabin.
Sun 12/26 – Sea Day
As I said above, this was supposed to a day in Port Canaveral, Florida but we had to skip due to weather. This wasn’t a big loss for us as there’s not a ton there. I got up early in the morning to take some photos without too many crowds and got some good shots on the upper decks. It was finally nice and warm which was great. After breakfast at the Windjammer, where we sat outside at the very aft of the ship, we played some more foosball in the Seaplex before heading to the Mystery Game in Two70. This was a game where you have to solve clues to determine who stole a painting. It was actually quite fun and even Kyle enjoyed it. We didn’t come close to solving the mystery though. After lunch, the Windjammer again, Suzanne and I hung out by the pool soaking up the sun for a couple of hours. While on the pool deck, one of the waiters, Ashton, insisted on getting Suzanne a special drink which was great. He also worked near our section in the Main Dining Room and he got some great drinks for us at dinner a bunch of times. He was a real highlight of the trip. I also had my first Lava Flow which is a Pina Colada laced with strawberry syrup and tasted wonderful. It was great to just be able to relax in the warm sun.
After watching the sun set over the ocean from our balcony, we stopped at the wine bar, Vintages, for some sparkling wine (Suzanne and me) and garlic bread (Kyle) before our dinner in the MDR. Suzanne got another special drink from Ashton, I had some escargots, which I had eaten in Paris in 2019, and had some great cheesecake for dessert. Following dinner we headed to the Beatles Celebration show which was really good. Kyle was supposed to join us but ended up staying back in the room. Post-show, we met up with the Facebook group to join the ongoing pub crawl. This was a Christmas Jammies crawl, which we didn’t wear, but it was great to have some drinks and talk with some great folks.
Mon 12/27 – Nassau, Bahamas
Originally, we weren’t suppose to arrive in Nassau until 2pm but due to skipping Florida, we arrived right around 7am. This was great as it gave us the entire day. I was up early and got some great photos of our arrival into Nassau right at sunrise. It was cool to see two other ships in port, the Celebrity Reflection and, appropriately, the Carnival Sunrise.
After getting ready and breakfast in the Windjammer, we disembarked around 10am. It was really cool to be so close to the ship and realize it’s size. We walked around downtown Nassau which is okay. A fair number of things were closed though it wasn’t clear if that was due to Covid or to the fact that it was the observance of Boxing Day. We walked up to Fort Fincastle, but it was closed, and then onto the Queen’s Staircase which was pretty cool. Back in town, we wandered down past Junkanoo Beach to Fish Fry. We had some great conch fritters and fried conch sandwiches for lunch at Curly’s. On the way back to town, we stopped to wade and hang out at the beach for a good 30 minutes. The water was nice but wasn’t that warm. Back in town, we wandered up to the John Waitling distillery, which is supposed to have a great tour, but it was closed. More wandering and we were back near the port. I stopped for a beer at the Bearded Clam while Suzanne and Kyle headed back to the ship. I followed a half hour or so later, getting back on board just after 3pm. All in all it was a nice day. Nassau is so-so and a bit rough around the edges. If we were to return, we’d try and do a visit to a beach or one of the other islands.
We again watched sunset from the balcony before grabbing pre-dinner drinks at the Latin themed Boleros. At dinner there were more drinks from Ashton. Following dinner, Kyle got a milkshake from Johnny Rocket’s and we hung out on the pool deck for a while until sail away.
Tue 12/28 – Coco Cay
This was a day we were very much looking forward to. Coco Cay, in the Bahamas, is Royal Caribbean’s private island. This was our day to hang out at a tropical beach. I got up early again, took some photos as the sun rose over the island. (We had docked around 2am the night before.) I had breakfast on my own at the Windjammer before disembarking just past 8am, basically as soon as we could. I headed over to Chill Island, taking photos on the way of course, to check into our private cabana. You certainly don’t need to do this, especially as we were the only ship there and at reduced capacity, but I got a good deal on Black Friday so decided to splurge a bit. It was wonderful to have a home for the day right on the beach. We also had a great cabana attendant, Caroline, who kept us in drinks throughout the day. After checking in, I dropped some stuff (the cabana had a safe but there are also free lockers on the island), and walked all over the island to get some photos. Kyle and Suzanne had gotten up and had breakfast before heading out and meeting me at the cabana around 10:00.
We did do a bit of swimming though the water was on the cool side. After hanging out for a while, we headed over the zipline which I had reserved to do. (I got another good deal during Black Friday.) This was great, doing three stretches over the parts of the island and the cove. Suzanne watched. On the way back to the cabana, we stopped at the included Chill Grill for lunch of burgers and tacos and some cookies for dessert.
The afternoon was more relaxing and swimming (and a few more pina coladas and Coco Locos). At one point I had a school of Sergeant Major fish swimming around me for a good 30 mins and got some cool underwater shots with my new phone. We ended up back at the ship around 4:20 for the 4:30 embarkation time. We had an absolutely wonderful time, especially having the cabana.
After dinner in the MDR, Suzanne got to have lamb and we had some more special drinks, Suzanne and I saw the violist David Klinkenberg. He was okay but not really my thing (and named dropped an awful lot).
Wed 12/29 – Sea Day
It was another warm and sunny day. I had an early breakfast in the Windjammer before heading up to the North Star. This is a big pod on a hydraulic arm that extends a couple of hundred feet above the ship’s deck. It was really cool to see the ship from so high and to go over the side and worth the modest extra charge. (It’s free on port days when it just goes up and down and not over the side.) While I was doing this, Suzanne and Kyle had breakfast in the Windjammer. We then met up for and hung out on the pool deck for a while, soaking up the hot sun.
Following lunch, the Windjammer again, we all headed to the Royal Theater to see the Broadway show We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen. This was really excellent and we all really enjoyed it. It’s great to be able to see such a show while on a cruise and for no additional cost. We then stopped at the Brass and Bock pub for some pretzel bites and pre-dinner beer.
For a special night, Suzanne and I had booked the on-board steakhouse, Chops Grille, for dinner. (This is an up-charge, “specialty dining”, restaurant.) We had heard good things are weren’t disappointed. The crab cake and grilled black pepper bacon appetizers were great, especially the bacon. Suzanne loved her wild mushroom soup and my goat cheese salad was quite good. Suzanne’s filet and my ribeye were wonderful as were the desserts. It was a great meal and a great way to spend a special night. Kyle had dinner at the Windjammer, more pasta of course.
After dinner, we met up the FB group for a second pub crawl, this time joining in for most of it. We ended up hitting five of the bars on board before heading back to our cabin.
Thu 12/30 – Sea Day/Last Day
You could definitely tell we were making our way north (we were off the North Carolina coast in the morning) as the weather had turned cool and foggy. After breakfast at the Windjammer again, I took some photos around the ship and then we all met up for some pool in the Music Hall. We did hang out on the pool deck for a bit but it was cool and breezy, even under the overhang and with sweatshirts on. We had another lunch at the Windjammer before doing part of the augmented reality came in Two70. This was okay but kind of complicated and didn’t work all that well.
We headed back to the cabin to start packing for our disembarkation the next day. After yet another session of pool in the Music Hall, including a nice chat with a couple from the Facebook group, it was more packing, our final dinner in the MDR at 7:30, yummy duck a l’orange and seafood linguine, and back to the room for more final packing so we could leave our bags out by the 11pm deadline.
Fri 12/31 – Disembarkation Day
We had gotten a very late disembarkation slot, estimated at 9:00, which was perfect. (They did ask us our preferred time earlier in the week.) We didn’t have anything to hurry for so why get up early? Suzanne and I headed up to the Windjammer for one last breakfast, bringing some stuff back for Kyle to let him sleep some more. After some final packing and waiting, they called our group around 8:40.
Disembarking was simple. We headed down to deck 5, waited in a short line, walked to the immigration kiosk (we had traveled outside the country) which worked with facial recognition, and grabbed our bags from those in our group. Suzanne and Kyle waited at the parking garage loading area while I grabbed the car. All told, we pulled out of the garage right at 9:00, getting home around 9:40. It was so nice not to have a lengthy drive or a flight to get home.
For our first cruise, we had a great time. We weren’t sure it was something we’d like but we did. It was more relaxing than our typical trip where we see a lot which was perfect for the end of the year. I don’t think every trip will be a cruise but it’s definitely something to add to the mix. This coming summer’s cruise will be very different as it’s very port intensive, having seven port days out of 11. We’re also almost certain to cruise to Alaska next year but that is really a unique experience and not just a cruise.
In terms of the ship, we found the service to be outstanding. Our cruise was running about 60% capacity. There were a few times it felt busy, for example getting a chair on the pool deck or in the solarium a couple of times, but it mostly felt pretty empty. I don’t know what it would have been like to cruise at full capacity though. A modern cruise ship is really quite impressive. It definitely seemed like a floating hotel and not a ship. We did feel motion, especially during the rough seas on Christmas Day, but even later on. I was glad we had taken seasickness medication just in case. While our cabin was small, we felt we had enough room. There was lots of storage so unpacking and keeping organized helped. Putting four people, especially two adults and two not-young kids, in the room would have made things tighter as well. (We didn’t pull out the sleep sofa as Kyle was fine sleeping on it as a couch.) Having the balcony was great and we really liked it. I don’t know that we’d go without on any future cruises.
Food & Drink
The food ranged from very good to excellent (aside from really bad taco’s in the Windjammer one day). The buffet did get a little redundant, especially for breakfast, but I think there are more nightly changes for dinner. We loved going to the Main Dining Room and having “our” table and waiters. Chops Grille was good but kind of pricey. While it was worth it, I don’t know we’d do it again but might as a special night. While we did get a slice of pizza at the pizzeria, Sorrento’s, one night, I wished we had hit some of the other restaurants as we never sampled Cafe Two70, Cafe Promenade, the Solarium Bistro or the Dog House. I would have also liked to try breakfast at the MDR but given Kyle’s eating habits, the buffet was just much easier.
We did pay for the Deluxe Drink Package which wasn’t cheap at $53/person/day (total of $875 including the added 18% gratuity for the two of us). The pricing can be different for each cruise and changes almost day-to-day. You can book and then cancel and rebook if it drops in price. (We did this for drinks as well as for the internet package.) This covers all soda, non-alcoholic drinks (e.g., coffee drinks and mocktails), and nearly all alcoholic drinks. There is a limit of $13 but aside from a few glasses of wine, we didn’t see anything above this and all of our cocktails were included. It also works on their private islands (Coco Cay for our trip, Labadee, Haiti for some cruises). I actually kept track through the week. Having the package saved me a ton of money and Suzanne broke even, maybe saved a bit (as I know I missed some sodas). Of course, we would almost assuredly not have had so many drinks if they weren’t included but it was great to be able to try something when we wanted. We also had the advantage of having five full days included (sea days + Coco Cay). We even made good use of it on embarkation day and our day in Nassau as we were back on the ship mid-afternoon. It was also great to just hand over the card and get a drink without worrying about signing anything or having to track purchases closely. All that said, we are not planning on getting it this summer as we’ll be in port so many days (and it’s more per day and it’s a longer cruise). There is also a Refreshment Package, everything but alcohol, and a soda package, fountain soda. Kyle had the latter and it worked well for him. For the Deluxe package, normally all adult passengers in the stateroom have to get it if any do but I’ve heard lots of people say you can call and have the other person/people get the Refreshment package instead.