In 2014, the Hazelton family spent 7 nights aboard the Disney Fantasy during TouringPlans #Everywhere tour. This year the five of us boarded Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas for a 8-night Bahamas Cruise. Here is our comparison of the two.
First, some background. We have cruised with Disney Cruise Line five times and this was our first cruise with Royal Caribbean. We are Fred (44), Chantale (censored by the editor), Bram (17), Alec (15) and Matice (12) so we booked two inside staterooms just like we did in 2014. The Anthem of the Seas was fully booked on our cruise which left Cape Liberty on December 30. Much of the criticism that I have for the Anthem stems from the fact that the ship was full and the operations on board could not handle it. More on that later.
Two cruises within 4 years allowed us to do a thorough comparison of the kids areas on the ships. In 2014, on the Disney Fantasy our kids were 8, 11 and 14 so they checked out the Oceaneer Lab, Edge and Vibe, respectively. I say “checked out” because the vast majority of their time was spent in other areas of the ship. However, they each participated in more than one activity in the kids area. On the Disney ships the kids areas are remarkable in scope, design and function. The Vibe on the Fantasy is outright the coolest place on the ship, in my opinion. Our oldest, Bram, shocked us on the second night by returning to the stateroom after 1:00 am. The kids at the Vibe filmed a zombie movie throughout the week that was presented on the Buena Vista Theatre’s big screen on the final day. Bram was quite proud for us to see his on-screen debut. Alec spent a little bit of time at the Edge, said he had a great time, then rarely went back. No doubt, the Edge is the weakest of the kids areas but still very nice. Matice took a while to warm up to the Oceaneer Lab but ended spending a lot of time there near the end of the cruise. All three boys relished the independence that came from exploring the ship. The ability to check out the kids club, go to the top deck for an ice cream, then see a movie in the theatre – all without having to check-in with parents – was the real treat.
Fast-forward four years and our family boards Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas with Matice (12), Alec (15) and Bram (17). All three were now too old for Anthem’s Adventure Ocean (11 and under) but we checked it out anyway. We even went to a Family Trivia event there on day 3. The Adventure Ocean clubs are colourful, full of activities and sufficient to entertain most kids. There are no windows or outside areas however which makes it feel a little claustrophobic. We noticed that a lot of the activities scheduled for these ages include scavenger hunts and trips to the snack bar to counter-act the lack of sunlight, we think. Which begs the question, why build an activity area for kids from which they need to escape?
The Living Room for ages 12 to 17 occupied a very nice corner of Deck 15, with a full port side view. The Living Room is well-named. It is a total hang-out spot for chill teens that want to gab, read or play games (video and board). We are talking beanbag chairs, chess tournaments, X-box challenges and ice-breaker games. Our favourites were the contoured lounge chairs with a TV mounted at the perfect angle. These are similar to those on the Fantasy but with a much better view. All-in-all the Anthem of the Seas kids areas were sufficient but not impressive. This is especially the case if your kids are the active type. Give me a contoured lounger with an ocean view any day but try to get any of my three boys to sit still for 5 minutes and enjoy the view? Forget it. Where Anthem of the Seas really shines is the SeaPlex.
Bumper Cars, Roller Skating, Circus School, Volleyball, Basketball, Dodgeball, Table Tennis, Foosball and Air Hockey (extra charge) to name a few. Unlike the Fantasy where these sporty activities are outside on the top deck, SeaPlex is completely indoors. Controlling the climate for these activities on Anthem of the Seas makes them much more pleasant. Plus, Anthem offers one-of-a-kind thrills like RipCord by iFly and Flowrider surf simulator which definitely appealed to our boys.
So let’s get to it – how do these two ships compare?
Children’s Area for under 11 years old
It shouldn’t be surprising that Disney excels at designing play areas for kids. The Fantasy’s Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab are excellent and easily get the nod here. Anthem of the Seas dedicates a sufficient amount of space to entertain this age group with its Adventure Ocean clubs but it just feels too much like an afterthought to have a closed-in area without a single window.
We like Anthem’s Living Room Area more than the Adventure Ocean but once again Disney’s Edge and Vibe are just too good, especially with Vibe’s huge indoor/outdoor uber-chic club. If you are a teen or tween on Anthem of the Seas that would rather read a book than shoot hoops The Living Room may be your fav hang out spot on the ship. We tried to imagine what a teenage girl would do aboard Anthem if she didn’t enjoy the sporty stuff. The Living Room is pretty much it. If you have cruised this ship with a teenage girl, I would be curious to hear your comments – leave them below.
Anthem of the Seas takes the prize in this category thanks to the impressive SeaPlex. Our kids spent most of their free time at SeaPlex playing table tennis, shooting hoops, playing soccer or just watching others do the same. Even mom and dad got in on the action schooling the kids on proper ping pong backhand form. I should have retired after beating Bram in the first game because he beat me three straight after that. The problem with the SeaPlex is that it is too popular. With a full ship and cold weather outside the SeaPlex area was routinely packed with long lines for even the least popular activities. The surf simulator Flowrider and skydiving simulator Ripcord by iFly were just as cool as they sound and since they were on the outside decks they were much less busy than the other activities.
Once again, we were shocked how much the kids enjoyed the dining experiences on board. The ability to try new (to them) dishes like duck, lamb, beef wellington and escargot was a real treat. Both Anthem of the Seas and Disney Fantasy exceeded our expectations with the quality and service of evening dining.
It is hard to say that one ship’s staterooms were better than the other, they were both excellent. Clean, functional and well-designed, we never had a complaint on either ship about the staterooms. The full length virtual balcony screens on the Anthem of the Seas take the Fantasy’s virtual portholes to a new level but like the Fantasy, the novelty wears off fairly soon and we stopped noticing.
This is tricky. Disney Cruise Line is expensive but includes more than what you get on Royal. Because we experienced Disney first we found the ‘nickel and diming’ on Anthem to be frustrating. We didn’t appreciate what was included on the Fantasy like self-serve soft drinks and chat feature on the on-board app until we had to pay for it on Anthem of the Seas. So yes, getting onboard Anthem was cheaper but we spent a lot more once we embarked compared to the Fantasy. Since the Anthem of the Seas base price was lower than the Disney Fantasy let’s give them a slight nod on cost. I also hear that it is much easier to find a deep discount on a Royal Caribbean Cruise than a Disney Cruise.
The more I study the art and science of travelling the more I realize that the satisfaction of the traveler is as much about the ‘way’ they experience things as it is about what they experience. Disney is a master at this. They may not have the highest roller coasters or the best restaurants but they continue to attract more loyal customers to their entertainment brand than any other. The real genius of Disney is the thought and effort they put in to serving their entertainment to their customers. Royal Caribbean could learn a lot from Disney in this regard. Sure, I am a Disney fan and perhaps I have been spoiled after years of Disney trips but I am not speaking about a lack of ‘Disney magic’. I’m talking about a buffet that runs out of plates and a one-hour line for a turn at table tennis. Anthem of the Seas is a beautiful ship, a miracle of modern design and aesthetics. They have no idea how to serve guests in an efficient way. For example, Flowrider and North Star have a simple reservation system that allow guests to book a time for their experience yet bumper cars have an hour long wait because it is first-come first-served. Why not allow guests to reserve a time? I could continue to make a list of ways that the ship surprised me in its lack of thought for efficient operations but I won’t here. Add a comment below if you want more details. All this to say Disney deserves a huge gold star in the Ship Operations category and Anthem of the Seas deserves a big fat “F”.
Despite some categories where we felt Anthem of the Seas was a better experience than Disney’s Fantasy we find it difficult to recommend Royal Caribbean to friends and family. If you have kids under the age of 18 I am confident you will have fun on a Disney cruise. On a Royal Caribbean cruise, I can’t be sure. We did have an enjoyable vacation and were very impressed with the facilities on Anthem. For us, a great family vacation is about more than the stuff that you see and do, it is about the experience as a family while you are doing it. In this regard, Royal Caribbean fell short of Disney Cruise Line.