I knew we were on to a winner when my 15-year-old son (who is at that age when holidaying with his parents is a real chore) immediately said 'yes' AND 'please' to a trip aboard the spanking new Royal Caribbean cruise liner with us for the weekend.
He'd read about Anthem of the Seas' size (enormous) and the futuristic super-tech on board (more of which later) so his interest – along with my other half's and younger son's – was more than piqued. Let's be honest – we were all madly excited and could hardly wait to step aboard.
We'd been lucky enough to get invited to be amongst the first passengers to sample the new mammoth ship (the third largest cruiseliner in the world) on a pre-inaugural two-night sailing from Southampton around UK waters.
Whilst we knew we were going to be wowed by its sheer size, it wasn't until we got our first glimpse of the ship in its docking bay – from the window of our room in the Travelodge we'd booked for the night before the sailing – that we could really appreciate its splendour.
With a staggering 18 decks, it towered over port buildings and dwarfed all other ships looking up to it. At 1,141 foot long and with 2090 staterooms (space for 4,905 guests) it was an awe-inspiring feat of engineering. Not a little mind-blowing, too. Like, how does this thing float? And just how big an engine does it need to get going?
What awaited us onboard was gloriously impressive.
Walking aboard you're immediately ensconced by a five-star hotel type atmosphere with smiling staff, twinkling chandeliers, glass fronted lifts rising and falling over numerous floors and the sound of music and happy chatter all around.
Our lovely adjoining staterooms looked out onto private balconies with loungers and were equipped with large tvs offering countless movies. But there'd be no time to lounge about watching the telly. We had deck after deck of ship to explore.
Eight themed bars and lounges waited to welcome us with drinks. And there's a different experience to be had in all. How about a cocktail in the Latin-inspired Salsa bar Boleros, or wines from around the world at Vintages? Or maybe you're more in the mood for an ice-cold beer at one of the pool bars?
There are also 19 restaurants and cafes onboard. Complimentary lunch can be anything from buffets at the Windjammer Marketplace to gourmet grab'n' go sandwiches for lunch at The Café@Two70. And complimentary Dynamic Dining onboard gives you the choice of four top-notch restaurants and the chance to dress-up to the nines if you want to.
Chic offers contemporary cuisine, American Icon Grill dishes up classic US dishes with style, Silk serves a fusion of pan-Asian flavours and The Grande, a stylish old-fashioned dining experience will appeal to experienced cruisers. There is also 'speciality dining' onboard including the wonderful Jamie's Italian, and plenty of casual options such as kids' favourite burger-joint Johnny Rockets. We dined at Jamie's and Chic and were wowed not only by the dishes, but by the attentive and friendly service by our waiters.
So much for the copious amounts of food and drink on board. But Anthem offers so much more – check out duty-free shops, a theatre and music hall, a spa, pools (including a heated indoor pool), a teen-only lounge, games' arcade, kids' splash pool, casino, gym, Xbox game area...the list goes on.
Royal Caribbean are constantly striving to bring new technology onboard and to come up with 'experiences at sea' you can't get on any other cruise liner. Step up the amazing North Star – a London-Eye type viewing capsule that rises to 300 feet above sea level to provide a bird's eye view of the ship and the ocean around. Sadly it was out of order when our booking time arrived, but it looked mighty impressive when we did see it in action.
Also a great draw is the super Bionic Bar. Place your cocktail order via one of the ipads at the bar (kids can mix up their own non-alcoholic drinks too) and watch the adorable 'robot bartenders' hit the optics, and shake up your chosen concoction.
Anthem also offers the taste of an'adventure holiday' afloat. We enjoyed throwing some spray at the surf machine FlowRider, scaling the heights of a climbing wall (don't look down because the sea looks a long way away!) and my boys' breath was taken away when they enjoyed the fantastic experience of skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel in Ripcord by iFLY.
They also spent a lot of time in The SeaPlex Indoor Sports zone which features the usual table tennis, football and ice-hockey tables, but also houses a full-size basketball court, which ingeniously transforms into a roller-skating disco in the evening (complete with suspended, 'floating' DJ booth) and – a first at sea – a dodgem rink! It also reinvents itself into 'circus school' at various times during a sailing – and my boys enjoyed learning how to trapeze at a great height.
I was lucky enough to bliss-out in the ship's spa with an Elemis Hot Stones massage (one of the first times I almost fell asleep during a treatment) and we all enjoyed partying to the musical We Will Rock You. Set aside your preconceptions about cruise ship entertainment if you have any – the standard of the stage production and cast was just as good as anything you'll see in the West End.
We crammed so much into our cruising weekend and loved every moment. As I scanned through the list to see if we'd missed anything I was sneakily pleased to see the boys hadn't even bothered with the Xbox area. There was simply so much else to be wowed by.
Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas is sailing from Southampton through the summer season, from April to October , around Europe, the Mediterranean and Canaries. Prices start from £399 pp for a 3-night Royal Experience to Paris and Bruges.
For more information visit Royalcaribbean.co.uk/our-ships/anthem-of-the-seas.
We stayed at Travelodge's new hotel - Southampton West Quay – for the night before our sailing, just 0.5 miles from port. £59 for a family room. Travelodge.co.uk.