Two of the industry’s largest cruise ships made their debuts in 2015: Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Escape. Let's take a look and see how these two megaships stack up.
Anthem of the Seas and Norwegian Escape are big and beautiful with an abundance of offerings and things to see while exploring the ships. Anthem of the Seas touts its technology with a futuristic design and robotic bartenders at the Bionic Bar. The Royal Esplanade and The Via are the main areas of activity for dining and entertainment, and the 200-bulb Pulse chandelier in the Royal Esplanade pulses to the recorded heartbeats of passengers who have placed their palms on the monitor below.
Contemporary art can be found throughout the ship and when you walk into the elevators on Anthem of the Seas, you’ve got something to talk about with fellow passengers when faced with the fun and light-hearted images of animals dressed in wigs and accessories.
Your first look at Norwegian Escape will be the hull artwork by famed marine wildlife artist and ocean conservationist Guy Harvey. Inside, the curated artwork complements a pleasing design. The ship’s hub is the three-deck 678 Ocean Place where you will not only find dining venues, lounges and shopping, but a flowing glass staircase topped by a multi-story LED chandelier that changes colors throughout the day and night. The Waterfront, a deck of outdoor dining and bars, uses the ocean itself as the ultimate design and backdrop.
How to Choose: Despite their large sizes, both ships succeed in segmenting dining, entertainment, and activity areas so that they are easy to navigate. Anthem of the Seas and Norwegian Escape balance the “something to talk about” decor points with chic and contemporary designs.
Our Pick: Anthem of the Seas. Royal Caribbean's design is more innovative, but the Waterfront is definitely a step in the right direction in reorienting the mega-ships toward the sea.
There are 2,090 cabins on Anthem of the Seas, of which 1,571 are balcony staterooms. Suite guests and Pinnacle members have exclusive access to their own restaurant. Anthem's Royal Suite Class features other added amenities including complimentary specialty dining, ultimate beverage packages, and inclusive gratuities. Guests in the Star Class also have a “Royal Genie” or personal concierge.
Norwegian Escape has 2,175 cabins including 1,130 balcony staterooms. Spa Mini-Suite/Spa Balcony staterooms offer the added bonus of complimentary access to the Thermal Spa Suite.
Guests staying in the 95 suites in The Haven by Norwegian (accessible only by special keycard) enjoy a luxury experience. In addition to upgraded amenities, guests have exclusive access to a private two-story courtyard area with a retractable roof, swimming pool, two whirlpools, private sundeck, private spa treatment rooms, and private sauna. Exclusive concierge and restaurant are also available for The Haven guests.
How to Choose: It’s pretty much a draw in terms of standard staterooms on both ships, but if luxury is what you’re after then The Haven by Norwegian offers a true ship-within-a-ship exclusivity to it. Kudos to Norwegian Escape’s Studios that make the single traveler comfortable, and Anthem of the Sea’s Virtual Balcony staterooms that give guests in indoor staterooms a special perk.
Our Pick: Norwegian Escape. Cruisers who sail in standard cabins won't notice a difference, but big spenders and solo travellers will be won over by The Haven and Escape's studio cabins.
Anthem of the Seas has 18 restaurants with five complimentary main dining restaurants (including one only accessible to suite and Pinnacle guests) and a traditional buffet. The ship’s specialty dining restaurants feature such celebrity chefs as Jamie Oliver and Michael Schwartz.
Norwegian Escape's restaurants include 16 restaurants including two smaller main dining rooms, and one large dining room with a dance floor, a traditional buffet, and a selection of specialty restaurants. Celebrity chefs include Jose Garces, plus the ship has the Margaritaville restaurant at sea.
How to Choose: Both ships give cruisers a lot of choice and flexibility so you can eat where you want when you want, whether in the main dining rooms or at a specialty restaurant. Anthem of the Seas also offers the traditional cruise dining experience of set seatings with the same wait staff but rotated at different main dining rooms. The Waterfront wraparound oceanfront promenade on Norwegian Escape allows many of the specialty restaurants outdoor dining options, which is a nice touch.
Our Pick: Anthem of the Seas. Escape's restaurants are good but feel largely like a rerun of Breakaway and Getaway while Anthem has more contemporary options.
Where megaships truly shine is in the “bells and whistles” that can set them apart. Anthem of the Seas' activities include many of what they call the “First at Sea Activities” like Ripcord by iFly, the first sky-diving experience at sea; North Star, a glass observation capsule that takes guests more than 300 feet above the ocean for a 360-degree view; and SeaPlex, a massive indoor sports plex with bumper cars, roller skating and flying trapeze area surrounding a second story with Xbox consoles, ping pong, air hockey, foosball and other interactive games. It also has the FlowRider surf simulator, a classic on Royal Caribbean ships. Anthem of the Seas has two indoor pools, as well as two outdoor pools.
Touting its Aqua Park as “the largest at sea,” Norwegian Escapehas four multi-story water slides, a dedicated Kids’ Aqua Park, two pools and four hot tubs. Norwegian's sports offerings include a complex with basketball, volleyball and soccer, along with a the three-story Ropes Course with five sky rails and two planks that reach out over the side of the ship.
How to Choose: Each ship shines in its own way with fun activities, but Anthem's chance to “fly” is something special. The SeaPlex in general is a terrific area offering plenty of space and play options for families to enjoy together. The two indoor pools on Anthem of the Seas are another plus, especially when sailing from New York City in the winter months. “Walking the Plank” on the Norwegian Escape is also something guests are surely never going to forget, and water park fans will be thrilled by the ship’s offerings.
Our Pick: Anthem of the Seas. Royal Carribean still leads in the industry in keeping their guests entertained on board.
Live performers and cutting-edge technology in the form of moving LCD screens create a multidimensional show in the Two70 Lounge on Anthem of the Seas. Anthem's entertainment also has two main shows: “We Will Rock You” based on the music of the rock band Queen and “The Gift.” The Music Hall is where live performances and DJ music keeps the party going into the night.
Norwegian Escape's entertainment includes has two main shows, the Broadway musical “After Midnight” and “For the Record: The Brat Pack Live” featuring music of the 1980s. It also has a comedy club, and an extra fee show, “Wine Lovers The Musical” that pairs sampling wines with comedy over lunch.
How to Choose: There are plenty of entertainment options—including small to large lounges as well as the big shows—on each ship making it easy for guests with different types of tastes to find their own ideal nighttime spot.
Our Pick: Tie. Both have excellent options, so it really comes down to your personal taste.
Anthem of the Seas and Norwegian Escape offer programming for ages six months through to teens with dedicated areas divided by age groups. Anthem of the Seas also has the added bonus of DreamWorks characters onboard, while kids on Norwegian Escape love has the Splash Academy along with the Entourage Teen Lounge that enforces a strict "no parents allowed" policy.
How to Choose: Both ships succeed in children’s programs as well as a selection of family-friendly activities, but if your kids are fascinated by Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar, seeing characters from the films on board could make the whole cruise.
Our Pick: Anthem of the Seas. The Aqua Park is fantastic, but the Dreamworks partnership wins hands down.
Anthem of the Seas cruises sail out of Cape Liberty Cruise Port in New York Harbor to Bermuda, the Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean, Southern Caribbean, Canada & New England, and Western Caribbean, depending on the time of the year. Cruises on Norwegian Escape depart from Miami to Eastern Caribbean destinations.
How to Choose: Location, location, location. Choose to leave out of New Jersey or Miami on either ship for the Eastern Caribbean, or one of Anthem of the Seas' other itineraries if that’s where you want to sail.
Our Pick: Norwegian Escape. Anthem's New Jersey departure is convenient for those of us in the northeast, but you can see more of the Caribbean when you sail out of Miami.
How to Choose: Anthem of the Seas and Norwegian Escape feature everything you would expect from a mega-ship experience, especially an abundance of choice. If your motto is bigger is better you won't be disappointed on either ship, so deciding between the two will come down to which cool features, activities, and shows interest you most.
Our Pick: Anthem of the Seas. Innovation is the name of the game when it comes to megaships, so we think Anthem comes out on top with a narrow victory.