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Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 7 - Le Havre (Paris), France

In:
24 Jun 2022

Every cruise must come to an end, and today is the last day of our 7-night Spain & France cruise on Anthem of the Seas. The adventure is not yet over, though, and we docked in Le Havre, France this morning for another day full of local food, history, and culture!

Le Havre, France is known as the "Paris" cruise port, although Paris is not exactly near Le Havre at all. Reaching the city center of Paris from Le Havre's port will take around 2.5 to 3.5 hours each way. Because of this, port stops in Le Havre tend to be very long. We were docked today from 8AM to 10PM!

I chose not to go to Paris today for several reasons:

  •  5-6 hours of transport via train or coach bus did not seem worth it to spend only 4-5 hours in Paris.
  • The excursions were all quite expensive. I wasn't comfortable traveling so far independently without the security of knowing the ship would wait for me to return.
  • I would rather visit Paris at a later time when I can dedicate several days to the city.

Le Havre sells a shuttle bus for €5 roundtrip from the port to the city center. You can also choose to walk, which will take 20-30 minutes.

There was also a list of taxi tours with fixed pricing available. The prices on the board were very reasonable compared to many of Royal Caribbean's excursions, and the set price for 1-4 passengers means you can split the cost better if you're traveling with a larger group. Taxi destinations included Mont Saint Michel, D-Day landing beaches, and Paris.

First impressions of Le Havre

Le Havre is not your typical French city. Much of the city was destroyed in World War II, and it was rebuilt with a more modern style of architecture than you'll see in most of France.

With the cloudy morning weather and eclectic architecture, it felt a bit... otherworldly this morning. We took a few photos at the most bizarre (yet intriguing) library I've ever seen.

Samantha and I stopped in a small cafe for a cappuccino and pain au chocolat before continuing our day. Oh how I will miss French pastries!

We also stopped by a monument for victims of World War I and World War II from the Le Havre area as well as soldiers from North Africa. For those interested in World War II history, Le Havre and the surrounding areas make for an interesting port option.

Lunch in Le Havre

After my life-changing crêpe experience a few days ago in La Rochelle, I knew I needed to try another crêpe today, so we found a local crêperie in Le Havre for lunch. It seems to be common in France for crêperies to offer a lunch menu with a drink, savory crêpe, and sweet crêpe for a set price. Yes, two crêpes for one person!

For €14, I enjoyed rosé, a buckwheat cheese crêpe, and a dessert crêpe topped with crème de marron (chestnut cream). Just like in La Rochelle, the meal was unbelievably good. Everything I've eaten in France has been so delicious; I can't wait to come back!

An afternoon at the beach

Samantha called it a day a few hours earlier than I did, so I went on a solo adventure to Le Havre's local beach. My timing was perfect as the sun finally came out and the city came to life! While Le Havre may not be quintessentially French, I found the town quite beautiful in its own way as I walked along the waterfront.

I was also able to rent a bicycle for free to ride along the coast! The city of Le Havre offers free bicycle rentals (with a deposit to be refunded upon return of the bike). I rode a couple miles along the coast, which transformed from the city center to gorgeous cliffside views.

Back onboard

I headed back to the ship around dinnertime, where we enjoyed our last meal in the Main Dining Room. Tonight's menu was by far my favorite of the week.

I decided to try the "mango mint spring rolls" off the vegan menu just for fun, and they were amazing! Served with peanut sauce, they reminded me of a vegetable spring roll you'd find in a Vietnamese or Thai restaurant.

Samantha loved her cheese tortellini while I, still a bit full from my crêpe extravaganza earlier in the day, enjoyed a small cup of lentil soup as my main.

The entertainment has been so great on Anthem of the Seas that we decided to watch the Farewell Variety Show in the Royal Theater tonight.

The show started with a few jazz songs by the Anthem of the Seas orchestra, including vocals from a cast member of We Will Rock You.

The second half of the performance was a magic show. I think the last time I saw a magic show was in elementary school, so I had no idea what to expect. From card tricks to illusions, the show was impressive, mind-blowing, and hilarious!

We watched sailaway from the Solarium as we began the journey back to Southampton. While I'm sad to see this cruise end, I'm extremely excited to head to Greece this weekend for my next cruise on Rhapsody of the Seas!

Stray observations:

I had fairly low expectations for Le Havre after doing a bit of research about the port, but I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would! Everyone in town was extremely nice to me even though I cannot speak much French. From a man offering to help us read the menu at lunch to the bicycle rental employees, I felt extremely welcome in the city.

I originally planned to try to travel to Honfleur, a smaller town with typical French architecture, but I decided against it when I realized the local bus schedule to Honfleur is extremely limited depending on the day. Taxis and a few bus tours are available though.

I feel like it would be a nice option to be able to choose to end the cruise in Le Havre as opposed to Southampton. I wouldn't have minded getting off the ship today and traveling to Paris for a few days, but I know this is difficult with logistics, customs, etc., so I understand why it isn't possible.

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 6 - Sea Day

In:
23 Jun 2022

Today is the sixth day of my first European cruise and we are at sea after 3 busy days in port. Luckily, Anthem of the Seas provides endless activities to enjoy during a sea day, and I had a relaxing yet fun-filled time onboard while on route to France.

I started my day with breakfast (dessert?) at the Windjammer, with french toast topped with whipped cream and chocolate chips.

Next up was something new for me: a massage! I've actually never had a professional massage before, so I couldn't wait to experience what all the hype is about. I booked the 50-minute Aroma Stone Therapy massage ahead of time in the Cruise Planner. Since I've never had a massage before, I had no idea what to expect when I entered the Vitality Spa this morning.

I first filled out a short questionnaire where I could rank my fitness and stress levels as well as write any ailments or areas I wanted the masseuse to focus on. My masseuse, Ni from Indonesia, brought me to the treatment room where she reviewed my questionnaire with me prior to beginning the treatment. I was a bit nervous as I did not know what to do or expect, but she made me feel very comfortable.

The Aroma Stone Therapy massage is a hot stone massage, so it includes a massage with both hands and warm stones. While hot, the stones were not uncomfortable, and they resulted in feeling extremely relaxed.

The massage was definitely worth every penny! I was initially worried 50 minutes would feel too short, but it was perfect for a first massage. I'm also glad I chose the hot stone option instead of a standard massage as the hot stones felt absolutely delightful!

I had heard that spa treatments tend to end with an annoying sales pitch, but the sales pitch I received (for the cream used in the massage) was very short and non bothersome. Overall, it was the best start to the day I could have asked for!

I caught up on some work after my trip to the spa. My favorite place to work or relax onboard is in Two70 due to the beautiful ocean views surrounding the venue.

After a quick lunch at the Windjammer, I headed to the pool deck for my new favorite drink: a frozen mojito. Extremely refreshing and not too sweet, the frozen mojito has proven to be a dangerous discovery onboard!

The sun finally emerged (a bit) in the afternoon, although the temperature was still quite chilly. I took a walk around the pool and sports deck to take in the ocean views. I noticed there were two types of passengers onboard: those sunbathing in swimsuits and those in winter jackets!

Being a Quantum Class ship, Anthem of the Seas has plenty of indoor spaces to enjoy, which is beneficial on cruises to colder destinations like Alaska, Norway, etc. With an indoor pool, climate-controlled Solarium, and the SeaPlex, weather does not have as much of an effect on activities like it can have on Oasis or Voyager Class ships, as an example.

Until this point, I’ve always said the Voyager Class is my favorite class of Royal Caribbean ships, but I think the Quantum Class might be my favorite now! While there are certain things I don’t love (the lack of a promenade deck as the lifeboats block the view), I love the indoor spaces with ocean views like Two70 and the Solarium. They also have interesting itineraries around the world that you can’t always find with other ships.

Next it was time for one of my favorite onboard activities: the International Belly Flop Competition. While I did not participate, it was undeniably entertaining to watch as the participants tried to make the most impressive belly flop possible.

Tonight was formal night, and while I often skip formal night in exchange for a dinner elsewhere onboard, Samantha and I decided to dress up and head to the Main Dining Room. I enjoyed French onion soup, carbonara pasta, and the molten chocolate cake, which was my favorite dessert I've had on this sailing so far!

Yesterday I wrote about how much I loved We Will Rock You in the Royal Theater, so I decided to watch it again tonight! Our seats weren't too great yesterday, so we went to the theater early to get some of the best seats in the house.

Just like yesterday, the performance was spectacular and it made for the perfect way to end the night. I’m already looking forward to watching Broadway shows on ships I have not yet sailed on in the fleet (Hairspray on Symphony, Mamma Mia on Allure, and Saturday Night Fever on Liberty of the Seas).

This cruise has gone by so quickly! Tomorrow is already the last day, but I’m excited to be back in France tomorrow when we dock in Le Havre.

More Anthem of the Seas Live Blogs:

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 5 - La Coruña, Spain

In:
22 Jun 2022

I cannot believe today is already the fifth day of my cruise on Anthem of the Seas! Today we docked in La Coruña, Spain, a medium-sized city in Spain’s Galicia region, located directly above Portugal. With green hills, dramatic ocean cliffs, and small beaches dotted throughout coves in the landscape, La Coruña was a gorgeous place to spend the day.

The cruise port is conveniently located in the center of town, so we were able to walk off the ship and immediately start exploring.

One trend I've noticed on this cruise is that while ships dock at 8AM, the ports are very sleepy until at least 9 or 10. When we got off the ship around 8:45, cafes were only starting to open and the town was really quiet.

Breakfast and ocean views

I decided to skip breakfast on the ship today in favor of dining at a local cafe in Spain. While I go on cruises fairly often, it's not everyday I can enjoy breakfast in Spain!

Samantha and I stumbled upon the Praza de María Pita, a large public square lined with historic buildings, restaurants, and cafes. Here we enjoyed pastries, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a cafe con leche.

Like every port we've been to so far, we arrived with no plan of how to spend the day. What's great about cruising to European ports is that the infrastructure caters to pedestrians, meaning you can explore most ports without worrying about needing buses, taxis, or boats to get around.

We came across a beautiful waterfront pathway which first led us to a small beach. After relaxing at the beach, we continued along the path. This turned into one of the most beautiful coastal walking trails I’ve ever explored.

Located at the very northwest corner of Spain, La Coruña’s landscape and rocky, treacherous coastline is breathtaking. One of the city’s most iconic landmarks is the Tower of Hercules, the oldest surviving lighthouse in the world. With a height of around 180 feet, the lighthouse towers over the coast and was quite impressive to see.

The walking trail was the perfect place to spend a sunny morning in Spain, but all the walking quickly made us hungry!

Lunchtime in the city

Because La Coruña is a quiet town, we decided to have a relaxing, long lunch in port. We stumbled upon a local restaurant with a menu del día (menu of the day). For €10.60 each, we enjoyed two glasses of tinto de verano (a sweet wine drink), a pasta and egg appetizer, bread, a Thai rice dish, chocolate pudding, and coffee. It was an amazing deal and the food was delightful!

We sat outdoors for around 2 hours, taking in the culture and views of La Coruña. One fascinating fact about Galicia is that the native language of the region is Galician, which is actually more closely related to Portuguese than Spanish. Around 2.5 million people speak Galician, and you’ll hear both languages when visiting La Coruña.

Our day in port finished with a brief stroll back to the ship along La Coruña's waterfront. I relaxed on one of the city's park benches in front of the harbor for a bit before getting back onboard.

La Coruña impressions

La Coruña is definitely the sleepiest town we have visited so far on this itinerary, but I loved the relaxed vibe of the city. I’m honestly not sure where most passengers from the ship went today because everywhere we visited was uncrowded.

If you’re happy to wander through beautiful walking trails, visit the Tower of Hercules, and indulge in Galician cuisine, La Coruña makes for a tranquil port day. While it may not offer as many tourist attractions and activities as a city like Valencia or Barcelona, I loved being able to walk around and learn more about Galicia’s culture and landscapes.

After three port days in a row, I would say that this itinerary works best for those who are more interested in visiting small towns over Europe’s biggest, most touristy cities. If it’s your first time visiting Europe, you may prefer an itinerary to cities like Rome, Nice, and Naples to see attractions such as the Colosseum, Pompeii, etc.

If you’ve already seen those places, though, venturing to smaller, lesser-known towns will offer the opportunity to see these countries from a new perspective and connect more with local culture rather than quickly hopping from attraction to attraction.

Because I’ve already visited many of western Europe’s big cities, this cruise itinerary is exactly what I was hoping for! I probably never would have thought about visiting Galicia, for example, and now I am already itching to go back.

Back onboard

I was back onboard around 3:30 and took around two hours to relax in my stateroom before heading to dinner.

We enjoyed another dinner in the Main Dining Room tonight. I think this is the most I have ever eaten in the Main Dining Room on a cruise! While I often opt for a quick dinner at the buffet after port or the occasional specialty restaurant, it’s been nice to feel “spoiled” every night in the dining room.

After ten cruises, I still can’t believe how fancy it feels when the waiter brings out the scraper to clean crumbs off the table before dessert. I ordered pesto tagliatelle and cherries jubilee for dinner tonight and they were both delicious!

A well-anticipated event was scheduled after dinner: my first Broadway production on a Royal Caribbean cruise!

So far, I’ve been on three other Royal Caribbean ships with Broadway shows (Oasis, Harmony, and Independence of the Seas). Each time, the Broadway show was canceled due to omicron or crew injury. Because of this, I was super excited to watch We Will Rock You in the Royal Theater on Anthem of the Seas.

We Will Rock You tells the story of the battle between the Bohemians and an oppressive establishment. While the Bohemians want to uncover the freedom of rock n’ roll, the futuristic establishment tries to oppress anyone from playing and discovering history’s greatest music.

Let’s just say my mind was blown by the incredible performance; it is by far the best show I’ve seen on any ship yet! I now understand why everyone raves about Royal Caribbean’s Broadway shows. The 2-hour production was extremely high-energy, with classic rock n’ roll tunes that turned the theater into a giant party.

The cast was beyond talented as well, with the best vocals I’ve ever heard on a cruise ship! I usually find it difficult to understand Royal Caribbean’s more abstract entertainment shows, so I loved having an easy-to-follow storyline mixed with wonderful live music. Samantha and I might see the show again tomorrow because we enjoyed it so much.

Tomorrow is a much-needed sea day after three busy port days in a row!

More Anthem of the Seas Live Blogs:

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Sea Day

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - La Rochelle, France

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Bilbao, Spain

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Bilbao, Spain

In:
21 Jun 2022

Today is the fourth day of my 7-night Spain & France cruise on Anthem of the Seas. We docked in Bilbao, Spain this morning and I woke up eager to explore the largest city in the Basque Country.

What is Bilbao?

Bilbao is the most populous city in Spain’s Biscay province, located in the north-central part of the country. Bilbao is located in the Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain and southern France (near the Pyrenees), and is one of the oldest ethnic groups in all of Europe.

It’s said the Basque people arrived in Europe around 5,000 years ago, and they have maintained strong cultural identity and culture despite countless invasions and outside influences over the years.

In fact, Basque language (called Euskara) is a language isolate, meaning it has no relation to any other known languages spoken around the globe today!

While technically the Bilbao cruise port, cruise ships actually dock in Getxo, a city on the coast just eight miles from downtown Bilbao.

Surrounded by lush green mountains, my first glimpse of Getxo made me even more excited to see what northern Spain has to offer.

First impressions of Bilbao

I disembarked the ship around 8:45AM and boarded a shuttle bus that would bring passengers to Bilbao’s city center. The shuttle bus was €10 for roundtrip transportation (payable in cash) and left directly from Bilbao’s cruise terminal. While it’s possible to reach Bilbao via metro from Getxo, the shuttle bus was very convenient and took around 25 minutes to reach the city.

Upon arrival in Bilbao, I walked a few minutes to the Estuary of Bilbao, a waterway flowing through the city center.

The first thing I noticed was the Guggenheim Museum, a contemporary art museum known for its otherworldly architecture, which is one of the main tourist attractions in Bilbao. While I did not go into the museum, I was certainly impressed by the look of the outside!

The pathway along the Estuary of Bilbao is really nice, with wide walkways, cycle paths, and plenty of spots to sit and enjoy the view. I walked along the path until I arrived in Casco Viejo, Bilbao's historic old town.

Casco Viejo adventures

Quite different from the modern architecture found at the Guggenheim museum just a short distance away, Casco Viejo was lined with narrow streets packed with restaurants, shops, and bars.

I stumbled across Mercado de la Ribera, a two-story food hall and market in Bilbao. While I wasn't feeling particularly hungry, the local dishes looked too amazing to pass up.

Spain is known for tapas, but in the Basque Country these small plates are known as pintxos. Pintxos are traditionally designed to be eaten with one hand, with a toothpick placed in the center of each pintxo. As opposed to tapas, which are generally part of a larger dish, pintxos are a miniature dish of their own.

All the pintxos looked divine, but I ordered the classic tortilla de patatas (potato omelette) and gratinado de cuatro quesos (4 cheese bake). The cheese pintxo was my favorite of the two, and it had such a robust and unique flavor that I wished I had been hungry enough to order another!

I enjoyed the pintxos with a glass of fresh squeezed zumo de naranja (orange juice).

I also walked around the market, which is set up with plenty of stalls selling produce, meat, breads, and pastries. As someone with a huge sweet tooth, I could not pass up the dessert stall.

After walking around Casco Viejo for another hour or so, I decided to head back to Getxo.

Discovering Getxo

Bilbao's city center is connected to Getxo via a direct metro line, so I decided to take the metro back instead of the shuttle bus. While I had already paid for the shuttle, I did not want to wait around for the bus to return. The metro would also drop me off directly in Getxo’s city center as opposed to the ship.

After a 25-minute metro ride (€1.90), I arrived in Getxo for the second half of my day exploring northern Spain.

Getxo is known for the Bizkaia (Vizkaya) Bridge, a 148 ft. transporter bridge and UNESCO world heritage site. Built in 1893, it is the world’s oldest transporter bridge, which connects the towns of Getxo and Portugalete without disrupting ship traffic.

You can cross the bridge two ways: through a large moving platform (for pedestrians, cars, bikes, etc.) or through a pedestrian walkway at the top of the bridge. For €10, I purchased a ticket to visit the top of the bridge for a scenic walk across the water.

The tickets are roundtrip, but are just one-way for the upper walkway. Therefore, I first traveled on the bridge from Getxo to Portugalete via the larger platform. Upon arrival, I enjoyed a tasty snack of churros con chocolate.

My return journey was nothing short of exciting. After an elevator ride up the bridge, I admired the views, architecture, and history of the structure, which is unlike any bridge I’ve seen before. The views of Getxo and Portugalete were amazing from up high, and I even caught a few nice views of Anthem of the Seas.

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in Getxo's harbor enjoying the comfortable (while slightly chilly) weather. Walking back to the ship from downtown Getxo was a breeze, with a pedestrian pathway along the coastline.

I also got to chat with an Anthem of the Seas crew member, Fernando from the Philippines, on my walk back! He was filming a video for his YouTube channel.

An evening onboard

Having multiple port days in a row is definitely tiring, so I took a short rest in my stateroom once I got back before getting ready for dinner.

Samantha and I enjoyed another meal in the Main Dining Room tonight and the quality and service were up to par. My one "complaint" with the Main Dining Room is that I have absolutely no self control over the bread basket and tend to get full before my main course even arrives!

I was feeling super tired from my day walking around Bilbao and Getxo, so I spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the Solarium and catching up on Royal Caribbean Blog work at Vintages (yes, a wine bar makes for a great office) before heading to bed.

Tomorrow we are in La Coruña, another Spanish port, which is located in the country's Galicia region! I am loving this itinerary so far, so I can't wait to see what the other ports have in store.

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - La Rochelle, France

In:
20 Jun 2022

My first day in France was everything I could have dreamed of and more! I try not to have expectations when I cruise, but I'm sure if I did have expectations, they would have been blown away today.

As I walked to the Windjammer for breakfast this morning, Anthem of the Seas was arriving in La Rochelle, a small coastal city in southwestern France around two hours from Bordeaux. I've never been to France before, so I couldn't wait to get off the ship and experience the country's culture, history, and cuisine.

Part of the reason I picked this cruise itinerary was to visit lesser-known ports in Spain and France. While I'm sure I would have had an amazing day if visiting somewhere like Barcelona or Nice, the idea of visiting towns I had never heard of before was intriguing.

Samantha and I got off the ship around 8:30 and boarded a 15-minute shuttle bus from the industrial port to La Rochelle's city center.

I immediately found myself in awe of the quaint cobblestone streets of La Rochelle. The town is undeniably cute, and while I've visited plenty of seaside towns before, wandering through La Rochelle almost felt like a fairytale! It was a lovely first impression of France.

My first stop was a local bakery for a pain au chocolat. Not much makes me happier than chocolate, and enjoying a chocolate croissant in a charming French town? Yes, please!

Fueled on sugar, it was time to get active and see more of this picturesque port.

Cycling La Rochelle

I'm a big fan of renting a bicycle while in port as it allows you to see so much more than you can see on foot. La Rochelle is extremely bike friendly, with car-free paths throughout the city and along the coast.

There were two options for renting a bicycle. The first was through the town's public bicycle transport system. Dotted around La Rochelle are bicycle stations where you can rent a bicycle and pay as you go. I initially tried to reserve this option, but had trouble receiving the SMS verification code to my American phone number.

Therefore I went with the second option, a bicycle rental from Greenbike, a local shop. For €11, I rented a beach cruiser for 4 hours, and Samantha and I took off on our bicycles.

The cycling was gorgeous and brought us on fully car-free cycle paths around the coastline just south of La Rochelle's historic center. We stopped along the way for photos and to enjoy the sunny beach views.

After around two hours of leisurely cycling and stopping at nearby beaches, we made our way back to downtown La Rochelle for lunch. The town was more lively in the afternoon than it had been when we first arrived.

An ode to crepes

Having never traveled to France, I was looking forward to tasting local cuisine beyond the delicious pain au chocolat I enjoyed earlier in the day.

When walking around town, we came across a cute alleyway lined with shops and restaurants. The incredible smell of savory crêpes caught our attention when strolling the alleyway, so we immediately decided to dine at Crêperie L’epi de Blé.

I ordered the set meal, which came with a savory crepe, beer, and chocolate dessert crepe for €14. I settled on the ratatouille crepe, which is a buckwheat crepe with a cheese and vegetable filling and topped with a fried egg.

I've never tasted anything quite like this crêpe. In fact, after years of travel through Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia, this is undoubtedly on my list of the best meals I've ever had. I cannot stop thinking about how delicious it was, and I've opened my phone to look at the picture I took of my crêpe at least 20 times today. 

Strolling around La Rochelle

While Samantha stayed at the crêperie for an iconic afternoon of reading and sipping local rosé, I decided to explore more of La Rochelle on foot.

I walked in the opposite direction of the harbor to see what local life is like in town. We were in port on Sunday, so it was noticeably quiet with most shops closed, but plenty of locals were dining outdoors and shopping at the local produce market.

My impression of La Rochelle is that it is a port where tourism has not overtaken local life. It felt quaint and authentic even with the influx of passengers from Anthem of the Seas. I enjoyed the local feel of the town as opposed to a huge city, especially when visiting for only a few hours.

I spent the last hour or so in town sitting by the harbor, enjoying the sunshine, and watching life go by in downtown La Rochelle.

Back onboard

Not much is better than spending time in your stateroom after a busy day in port, so we relaxed for an hour or so before dinner. We had dinner in the Main Dining Room tonight, with the warm bananas foster a highlight of our meal.

After a terribly cloudy day yesterday, I took advantage of today's sunshine with a post-dinner walk around the pool deck. The primary reason I'm onboard is to film a full ship tour of Anthem of the Seas for the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel, so I spent a while collecting footage of the ship.

La Rochelle is the first of three port days in a row, so Samantha and I took it easy tonight with a frozen mojito in the Solarium followed by a game of cards in our stateroom.

Tomorrow we arrive in Bilbao, Spain!

La Rochelle: Overall thoughts

I had a wonderful day in La Rochelle and it got me even more excited for the next three ports on this itinerary.

Everyone in town was extremely friendly and welcoming. While I do not speak much French, every local I encountered in the historic center spoke some English. I think I'll have to start studying French to experience the country more in-depth!

France had never been on the top of my travel bucket list, and I often find myself traveling to other European countries like Italy and Spain. After today, though, I cannot believe I waited so long to experience small-town France.

Shore excursions are definitely not needed in La Rochelle as the town is extremely walkable and plenty of tourist sites (museums, a castle, etc ) are found right in the city center. There were also plenty of activities for kids to enjoy, from a carousel to a playground, merry-go-round, bungee trampoline, and nearby beaches.

More Anthem of the Seas Live Blogs

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Sea day

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Sea Day

In:
19 Jun 2022

Today is the second day of my cruise on Anthem of the Seas, and it is a sea day as we make our way to La Rochelle, France.

We are sailing through the Bay of Biscay today, a patch of sea that has been feared by sailors for hundreds of years. Due to its exposure to the open Atlantic waters, the bay often encounters treacherous weather conditions and swells making ports inaccessible.

While we did not encounter treacherous seas like many unlucky sailors in the past, the sea was far from calm and the weather was quite dreary throughout the day. There was no rain, but was quite cloudy and chilly outside. I'm hoping we encounter more sunlight later on in this cruise!

Despite traveling west, the ship's time shifted one hour forward today to match with Spain and France's time zone. I took it easy this morning with a small breakfast at Cafe @ Two70 while catching up on blogging.

I had reserved a 12PM lunch at Jamie's Italian on this cruise, so I was looking forward to a delicious Italian meal! While I plan to eat primarily at complimentary dining venues on this cruise, I did treat myself and my friend Samantha to lunch at Jamie's with onboard credit I received when booking the sailing.

Jamie's Italian is my favorite Royal Caribbean specialty restaurant, and we ordered quite a few dishes to try. Starting our meal was the black truffle arancini, ultimate garlic bread, and burrata.

For the main course, I ordered my go-to dish of eggplant parmagiana and penne pomodoro. Samantha loved her baked lasagne and truffle tagliatelle.

I was far too full, so I took my dessert (Amalfi lemon cheesecake) to go!

The meal was fairly quick, with us in and out in a little over an hour. The food was up to par (and maybe even a bit better) with Jamie's Italian on other ships, and our server Ronald was fantastic!

Funny enough, Jamie Oliver himself was onboard Anthem of the Seas for the day yesterday to work with the staff on training and quality! It definitely paid off as the meal was delightful.

After lunch I decided to test my luck with my Crown & Anchor Society free play money at the casino. I quickly turned $8 into $30, but I am not much of a gambler, so I decided to cash out my winnings instead of losing it all.

Following today's (extra large) winnings, I took a walk around the pool deck to get some air. I fully expected the pool deck to be nearly empty, so I was extremely surprised to see a ton of guests "sunbathing" under the cloudy skies!

I've never seen so many guests on the pool deck during a dreary weather day in the Caribbean, so it was fun to see the cultural differences in attitude toward far from ideal weather.

After a few rounds of cards in the Solarium, we attended an afternoon "Where in the World?" trivia session at Schooner Bar. We were given a series of clues in order to guess where in the world the trivia host was describing. To my surprise, we did pretty well!

After such a large lunch at Jamie's Italian, we decided to skip the Main Dining Room in favor of a lighter meal at Solarium Bistro.

Solarium Bistro is a Mediterranean-inspired complimentary restaurant served buffet style (with main dishes ordered via a menu). From hummus to falafel, grilled vegetables, and salmon, it hit the spot for a quick dinner. Not many people even know this restaurant exists, so it was relatively empty.

This evening's festivities first brought us to karaoke in Boleros followed by tonight's big band jazz performance in Two70. I love jazz music, and Royal Caribbean always has amazing big band jazz performances, so I was excited to check it out.

Tonight's performance definitely did not disappoint and it has been my favorite entertainment thus far onboard. Samantha and I were both in jazz band throughout high school, so we are total geeks when it comes to jazz music! From the musicians' excellent improvising skills to watching guests dance to the tunes, it was a wonderful way to end our second day on Anthem of the Seas.

Tomorrow we are docked in La Rochelle, France!

Stray observations:

There was a Titanic staircase backdrop for formal night photos tonight.

There are no chairs on the promenade deck aside from the smoking area. Usually there are chairs to sit and watch the view, but I haven't seen any on this ship.

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation

In:
18 Jun 2022

Today is the first day of my first ever European cruise! Over the next week, I'll be onboard Anthem of the Seas for a 7-night cruise, visiting four ports in northern Spain and France. The next week should lead to some fun adventures in La Rochelle, Bilbao, La Coruña, and Le Havre, so be sure to follow along on this live blog!

I arrived in London yesterday after spending the previous few days visiting friends in Edinburgh and Manchester. Upon arrival, I checked into my hotel in the city center, the Hilton London Bankside.

Staying the night in London

When checking in, I was pleasantly surprised with a complimentary upgrade to a suite! We were placed in the hotel's Vegan Suite, a room made with 100% vegan materials. With one bedroom, a living room, full bathroom, and half bath, 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's a good idea that I'm never booked in a suite on a cruise ship. If how much time I spent in my hotel suite is any indication of how much time I would spend in a cruise ship suite... I would probably never leave my stateroom!

Suites at the Hilton London Bankside also come with complimentary access to the Executive Lounge, similar to the Diamond Lounge on Royal Caribbean ships. Complimentary soft drinks, coffee, and snacks are available throughout the day and a happy hour is served from 6-8PM with alcoholic beverages and a hot food selection.

The hotel had an impressive breakfast selection as well, with both cold and hot foods served buffet style and cooked to order.

I enjoyed the hotel's location near the river. Tourist sites and plenty of restaurants and bars were just a short walk away, and the hotel was well located for public transit. I’m 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 the Southampton cruise port

Southampton is around 75 miles from London and is easily accessed via train. I booked roundtrip train tickets on the app Trainline 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 did not have to rush to the station and I can return to London on any train of disembarkation day.

My friend Samantha and I walked around 15 minutes from the London Hilton Bankside to London Waterloo station. Boarding the train is extremely simple, as there is no security and you simply scan your e-ticket at the appropriate platform. The train was comfortable and air conditioned and it was a brief 80 minute ride 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 figured it was worth the $6 Uber.

My arrival time was slated for 12:30, 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 had yet, we were onboard 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 to Alaska last year.

In an effort to skip the crowds at the Windjammer, we ate lunch at Cafe @ Two70, one of my favorite quick lunch spots on any Quantum Class ship. Two70 is an amazing venue, both for entertainment and lounging during the day, and it’s my favorite place to relax 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 complimentary on port days and $19.99 on sea days.

Our North Star reservation was for 2PM, so we headed to the pool deck after lunch to board the 360 degree observation pod that would take us 300 feet above sea level! The weather was perfect in the afternoon, leading to clear skies and excellent views of the ship from above.

Stateroom impressions

Staterooms were ready at 2PM, so I checked out my stateroom right after finishing the North Star. I booked an interior guarantee stateroom for this cruise and was placed into a deck 9 forward room.

Because Anthem of the Seas is a relatively new cruise ship, the staterooms have plenty of storage and outlets. The decor is modern compared to older ships like Freedom of the Seas, and the room features a virtual balcony, allowing us to see “outside” even from our interior room!

We were able to get our bed separated into two twin beds, which made the room feel bigger due to the extra walking space between the two beds.

Robes, a 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.

Sailaway and dinner

We spent an hour or so relaxing in the room to unpack and chill before a busy evening onboard.

Sailaway was at 5PM, so we headed to the Solarium bridge wings to watch Anthem of the Seas depart Southampton and begin her journey to La Rochelle, France.

After sailaway, we made our way to the Main Dining Room for our 5:30PM traditional dining reservation. Initially we were going to be seated at a table for 8-10 guests, so I asked if we could have a small table instead. To my surprise, we were brought to a 2-person table right by the window! I couldn’t have asked for a better table location, and we spent the meal enjoying views of the Isle of Wight and English Channel.

Tonight’s meal in the Main Dining Room was really tasty and the service was prompt. I noticed the Main Dining Room menu had an Indian curry option and a more traditional UK option available, with Chicken Saag and Guinness Pie. This is just one of many differences I’ve noticed on a UK sailing from the US so far!

Evening activities

We finished dinner around 7PM and spent some time in the Solarium hot tubs. I love the Solarium on Quantum Class ships; the area is spacious, climate-controlled, and has plenty of pool areas and hot tubs to enjoy.

We then spent an hour or so in the pub listening to the live guitarist 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 television screens, projection mapping, dance, and vocals, the show was entertaining… although I could not make out any type of storyline at all.

I feel like the Two70 venue has such impressive, immersive technology that a show with a better storyline would be absolutely incredible to watch. The cabaret shows don’t make much sense to me, although I did enjoy 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 sea day as we make our way through the Bay of Biscay to France!

Stray observations

There are occasionally rail strikes scheduled throughout the year in the UK. Be sure to keep an eye on if there will be any strikes when you plan to travel to port so you can schedule a backup option for arrival to Southampton.

While I frequently encounter small businesses that do not take 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 take cash out in pounds when cruising out of England.

From my initial observations, I would say the guest makeup is at least 80% guests from the United Kingdom. I didn't see any UK outlets, so be sure to pack either a mainland European or American-style converter if you're coming from the UK.

Live Blogging from Europe - Preamble

In:
15 Jun 2022

 Greetings from Scotland! I’m currently in Edinburgh after spending the past two weeks vacationing in Spain and Portugal, and later this week I’ll be boarding my first of two European cruises this summer. I'll be live blogging my experiences to share with all of you here, offering recaps and insights of what it's like to cruise in Europe!

Anthem of the Seas aerial

After 7 cruises in the Caribbean, 1 to Alaska, and 1 to Baja California, it was time to head across the pond to discover all that a European cruise has to offer. Of all the cruises I’ve done so far, I’ve been looking forward to these two cruises the most. While I’ve been to Europe several times before, I’ve never experienced a European cruise, and I’m excited to visit multiple cities and countries in just one week that I may have otherwise never visited.

Cruise 1: Anthem of the Seas

The first cruise I’ll be sailing on is a 7-night Spain & France cruise on Anthem of the Seas. Over the course of the week, this cruise will bring me to the following ports:

  • La Rochelle (Bordeaux), France
  • Bilbao, Spain
  • A Coruña, Spain
  • Le Havre (Paris), France

This cruise is a roundtrip sailing departing from Southampton, England.

These ports are located in northern Spain and France, so the culture and lifestyle will be quite different than what you may experience in ports like Valencia, Nice, and Palermo. While I’ve visited southern Spain before, I’ve never been to France or northern Spain. Therefore, every day should bring new experiences and cultural insights to discover.

My friend Samantha will be joining me on Anthem of the Seas! We’ve been friends since the 5th grade but have barely seen each other since she moved to England in 2018, so I am excited for a much-needed reunion while traveling around Spain and France.

Why I chose this cruise

Every time I visit Europe, I tend to travel to Italy. While I absolutely love visiting Italy as I can learn more about my heritage, practice Italian, visit my Italian family, and eat out-of-this-world food, I figured it was time to try something new.

My cruise on Anthem of the Seas will visit less common cruise ports in Europe. While I’ve heard a lot about popular ports like Barcelona, Civitavecchia (Rome), and Marseille, I do not know much about any of the ports I’ll be visiting on my Anthem of the Seas cruise.

In addition, Northern Nevada, where I live, has quite a bit of Basque influence, with several restaurants, festivals, bars, and museums dedicated to Basque history and culture. I’m excited to learn more about the Basque country while visiting Bilbao.

My plans in port

I haven’t booked any excursions and I don’t plan to do so for this cruise. I generally prefer to explore on my own, especially in Europe where most towns tend to be walkable and offer plenty to see without needing a tour guide.

Plus, Samantha and I are quite happy to simply walk around, hang out by the waterfront, and taste local cuisine and wine in our free time, so there was no need to spend extra on excursions!

The last day of our cruise visits Le Havre, France, otherwise known as the “Paris” cruise port. I find this to be a slightly misleading title due to the fact that Paris is around 2.5 hours away from Le Havre, but that’s fairly common for cruises to Europe.

While I haven’t been to Paris before, I do not think just a few hours will do the city justice, so I do not have plans to travel into the city. Instead I’ll just plan to visit at a later time when I can dedicate several days to exploring Paris.

Instead of Paris, my current idea is to visit the small town of Honfleur located around 30 minutes away from the port of Le Havre. It seems like a small, quaint port city that should make for a relaxing day where I can spend more time exploring as opposed to sitting on a bus for many hours.

My plans onboard

I haven’t sailed on a Quantum Class ship in a while, so I’m excited to get onboard Anthem of the Seas.

I would really like to do the North Star at some point on the cruise as well as RipCord by iFLY. Because these activities are only offered on Quantum Class ships, it’s definitely worth trying them out on each Quantum Class ship!

I also have plans for my first spa treatment onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise and a delicious lunch at my favorite specialty restaurant, Jamie’s Italian. In addition, I am looking forward to seeing Anthem’s Broadway show, We Will Rock You.

Outside of these activities, I plan to spend quite a bit of time hanging out in the Two70 venue, which is one of my favorite places to sit back and relax on any Royal Caribbean ship.

Cruise 2: Rhapsody of the Seas

My second cruise is on one of Royal Caribbean's smallest cruise ships, Rhapsody of the Seas. Departing from Athens, Greece and ending in Ravenna, Italy, Rhapsody of the Seas will visit the following ports on our 7-night cruise:

  • Mykonos, Greece
  • Chania, Crete (Greece)
  • Zakynthos, Greece
  • Kotor, Montenegro
  • Split, Croatia

My sister Lauren and brother Dominic will be joining me on Rhapsody of the Seas. Lauren and I have talked about visiting Greece together for years, and we are finally getting a chance to island hop the country together!

Why I chose this cruise

My top priority for a European cruise was to book a port-intensive itinerary so I could experience as much as possible in a single week. While I don’t mind sea days, if I am traveling all the way to Europe I prefer to visit as many ports as possible as opposed to spending several days at sea. With five port days and one sea day, this cruise should offer exactly what I am looking for.

I was also interested in visiting not only Greece, but other countries as well. Being able to visit Greece, Montenegro, and Croatia and end the cruise in Italy was simply too amazing of an itinerary to pass up!

I’m also really interested in visiting Croatia. My childhood best friend was from Croatia, so I spent a lot of time hearing Croatian at her house and learning about Croatian culture. I’m excited to finally see the country in person!

I also wanted to end the cruise in Italy to allow for a few nice days of traveling in the country before flying back to the US.

My plans in port

Just like my cruise on Anthem of the Seas, I do not have any plans on shore and did not book any shore excursions. From what I’ve read, most of the ports we’ll be visiting should be easy to explore on foot. We’re also open to take taxis to beaches or wineries, but will likely make decisions on the fly.

I am most excited to visit Kotor, Montenegro. The port looks absolutely stunning, and it’s a country I never thought I would visit before. Sailing into the port should offer fantastic views of the “fjord”, and I’m hoping to do a short hike while in port to see the city from above.

Read more: 15 countries you didn't know you could cruise to on Royal Caribbean

I expect Mykonos will be the port most overrun with tourists, both from cruise ships and land-based travel. I will have to do a bit of research to see which areas to avoid on the island, as this is one of the most visited islands in Greece.

Lauren, Dominic, and I are pretty big foodies when we travel to Europe, so trying local cuisine and pastries will definitely be on the table.

After the cruise, we’ll be spending three nights in Italy before flying back to the United States.

My plans onboard

Because this is my first cruise on a Vision Class ship, I have no idea what to expect! While there may be fewer activities and amenities onboard compared to larger Royal Caribbean ships, I’m excited for the laid-back atmosphere I’m expecting to find onboard.

We do not have any plans to dine at specialty restaurants, so we will have dinner in either the Main Dining Room or Windjammer. Instead of spending money on specialty restaurants or a dining package onboard, we plan to enjoy a nice sit-down lunch every day in port.

I expect we will spend most of the time onboard tired from long days in port, so we’ll likely hang out at a bar or lounge, listen to music, or play cards to pass the time.

I’m looking forward to sharing my experience on Anthem of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas with all of you over the next couple of weeks! We will also be creating full ship tours of both ships for the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube channel.

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 9 - Sea Day

In:
13 Jul 2019

Our final day is here, and we are finishing our nine-night cruise with a sea day. The final sea day is that last opportunity to revisit a favorite activity, or finally get around to that one thing you have been meaning to do.

We started off with an exclusive roller skating event in the SeaPlex. Just like the bumper cars earlier in the cruise, we rented out the SeaPlex for a private roller skating session for those that booked with our travel agency partner on this sailing.

This was my first time roller skating, and I think I got the hang of it pretty well.  It helped that I had ice skated quite a few times on other Royal Caribbean ships.

Roller skating worked up quite an appetite, so I took the family up to the Windjammer for breakfast.

After breakfast, there were a series of trivia events in the Schooner Bar. I lost track of how many we did, but it was at least three.

The rest of my afternoon was spent with our friends onboard the cruise.  I think we all took this time to hang out and enjoy each other's company.  We even tried out a new (to me) card game, Moniker.

Later in the day, we got together to record an episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast.  That episode will be available to download next week, but it highlights what we did onboard and talked about our cruise in general terms.

Dinner this evening was in the Windjammer because we wanted to have time to see one of our favorite hidden gem events, where the cast of "We Will Rock You" perform their favorite songs live.

It was held in the Schooner Bar and I broadcast the entire event on Periscope for you to enjoy at home. It is an incredible display of how talented the cast is, and I would love for this event to be held more regularly. 

As a final send off, we headed down to the pub for a final evening of singalongs.

That wraps up our Anthem of the Seas cruise adventure. It was a fantastic vacation, and I am so happy that I got to experience this ship and itinerary with so many other RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com readers.

Thank you to everyone who followed along with this live blog. It was a real treat for me.  Our next live blog kicks off next month for a quick Labor Day Weekend sailing on Mariner of the Seas.

Anthem of the Seas Live Blog - Day 8 - Sea Day

In:
12 Jul 2019

Second to last day on Anthem of the Seas and it is a sea day.  We are making our way back to Bayonne, and it is hot, hot, hot.

Our first stop is breakfast at Cafe @ Two70, which coincided with a NextCruise presentation and raffle giveaway.

One of my favorite sea day activities is trivia, and we did general trivia as well as cartoon dog trivia. Sadly, no wins to report.

For lunch, we had some of the food at the pub.  There is food available at the pub for an extra cost that is pretty darn tasty.

After lunch, we headed up to the SeaPlex for essentially part two of our lunch at the Doghouse. Their hot dogs are really, really good!

Our next stop was the Royal Theater for a performance of the West End hit "We Will Rock You".

The cast is incredibly talented, and I guess the entire ship knew it because seats filled up so incredibly quickly. 

After the show, I was overdue for a nap and headed back to the room to enjoy a mid-afternoon slumber.

This was our second formal night, and some of us gathered to take a formal photo together.

Dinner tonight brought us to Wonderland. I have been to Wonderland a few times, but this was my parents' first visit and I think we all really enjoyed it.  Service was fantastic and the food had some really good flavor.

Following dinner, I started out in the pub, but opted to call it an early night and grab some extra sleep.

Tomorrow is another sea day.

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