Chalkmarks Hell or high water: Atlantic crossing was my biggest test

Natalie sailed onboard the world’s eighth largest passenger liner, the Anthem of the Seas operated by Royal Caribbean. This was a one-way, non-stop Transatlantic Ocean repositioning from Southampton, England, to New Jersey, America.

Day One: Tuesday

Departure: 4.20pm from Southampton, England

My friend and I are among the last passengers to board the Anthem of the Seas cruise ship with only half an hour to go before muster and setting sail. 

There are clear signs it’s going to be a good trip: the bars are open. I can smell food. The sky’s blue and the sun is shining down on Southampton.

We head to our cabin, 11536 on Deck 11 and I unpack everything into the wardrobe. We’ve got a comfy double bed, a sofa, flat screen TV and a shower and loo. There’s also a balcony with a view of the bridge where we can just about make out the figures in command and below there’s the lifeboats. It’s everything we need.

Over the loudspeaker, we are told to muster at the Royal Theatre. This will be our assembly point during the voyage incase of emergencies. If anything happens, we’ll be whizzing down inflatable slides, which is something to look forward to. Another film shows someone washing their hands, reminding us how easy it is to get a tummy bug or worse the Norovirus on huge liners.

Chalkmarks Hell or high water: Atlantic crossing was my biggest test

There are clear signs it’s going to be a good trip: the bars are open. I can smell food.

Ten minutes later, Mike – my shipmate for the trip – and I explore the ship, mainly decks 3 and 4 where the shops and bars are. Up on Deck 16, we get our feet covered in ink and then make a foot-print stamp. We’re not sure why we’re doing this but it’s how the sports staff are enticing people in to show them around the fitness centre and the spa facilities available for the next eight-days. We put our names into the raffle to win a facial but it wasn’t meant to be.

Back in our cabin we open a bottle of red wine while discussing which is the best drinks package. We get ready for our first night on board. At 8pm we are booked to eat at Chic. I eat three courses starting with scallops then roasted salmon and end with New York cheesecake. We eat too much and drink a lot.

This is going to be a remarkable and memorable trip. 

Clocks don’t change (GMT)

Day Two: Wednesday

Nearest land: The UK

It’s a beautiful day and there’s sea all around us. I am the first up and into the gym and then, very possibly, I’m the first to throw up.

Was it something I drank? Perhaps it was the food? Did I wash my hands? All these questions in my head while the ship is rocking from side-to-side. I can’t think straight. By the time I reach the cabin, I vomit again.

I lie on the bed for a while but I’m so nauseous that I can’t even sit up, lying flat feels best.

Mike asks if I want him to bring me breakfast. Yes I do. He leaves me holding my stomach and I doze off.

An hour later he brings back a banana and two muffins. I eat them but still feel very ill.

He goes away again, this time to the shop to buy seasickness remedies. He comes back with a wrist band that’s to be placed on my pressure point and ointment. The instructions say three drops behind each ear. After five minutes, I’m not better.

Mike leaves me alone for the rest of the day. There’ll be no bumper cars, sky diving or dancing in the Music Hall for me.

Tonight is formal dress – a tradition on the first full day at sea. I almost chuck up getting ready. I can’t stand up long enough to choose what to wear so I go out with what I’ve got on.

I lie on the bed for a while but I’m sick again. I can’t even sit up, lying flat feels best

There’s a couple waiting at the lift: the woman’s wearing a long red evening gown and he a tuxedo. I’m in my black tracksuit so we have to dine in the all-you-can-eat buffet canteen Windjammer rather than in a fancy restaurant.

On the way, we stop at the pharmacy on Deck 3, which is shut but hanging from the door is a plastic envelope filled with free sickness pills. I take a sachet but I won’t take it until tomorrow, if I’m still this bad.

I eat two bites of chicken pie and take some bread for later on. I watch someone pick up five hot cookies straight from the oven but I can’t stomach them right now.

We stop for a drink in the Schooner Bar for an hour. After a good night’s sleep, this seasickness will be over. I know it will.

Credit: Royal Caribbean

Clocks don’t change (GMT)

Day Three: Thursday

Nearest land: The Azores, Portugal

We’re woken up by glass smashing on the floor. It came from the bathroom. 

The ship is listing, pitching and rolling. I hope it’s waterproof. Yesterday was just nursery waves compared to today. Now we’re in the underbelly of the ocean.

The sea is crashing against the side of the boat. It’s 4am. The bangs and cracks sound more like huge rocks hitting us not water. The wardrobe door flings open and bangs shut.

I take the travel sick tablet and wait for sunrise before standing up. I go to brush my teeth but this makes me feel sick. The electricity goes off and the toilet doesn’t flush. 

Desperation bobs to the surface. Then the thought – oh god – we’re gonna die. They said the Titanic was unsinkable. Big mistake making this booking.

A voice on the tannoy tells us that the ship will be slowed down as engineers fix the power.

Mike brings back food and tales from breakfast. His conversation starter is telling people how sick I am and he collects their advice. I’m to look ahead at the horizon while not focusing on the sea.

Drinking ginger ale is another tip. Plus, people say that after three days, I’ll get my sea legs. 

He reads from the timetable all the things he might do today – rock climbing, rollerskating and cocktails in Boleros.

I’m going to stay in bed. I open the curtains and stare out at sea. We’re told the average wave is 22 ft and more significantly, we’re 34 ft high on the large rollers.

Dodgems at Seaplex. Credit: Royal Caribbean
Rock Climbing Wall with Gigi in the background. Credit: Royal Caribbean

Another announcement comes: “Good morning ladies and gentleman, dear guests and dear crew. This is captain Claus. It’s going to be up and down and side to side but we will propel forward.”

He doesn’t care!

I go to lunch at Windjammer. An old couple on the next table are talking about cookies. The man says he’s just seen a fresh batch come out of the kitchen and he’ll grab some for later.  It turns out they both like them first thing in the morning with a cup of tea.

It’s empty outside on deck where staff are wrapped in coats while no one is watching the film by the pool.

Day four will be better. I beg the day to end.

Clocks go back one hour (GMT -1)

Day Four: Friday

Nearest land: The Azores, Portugal

Bang the waves crash against the ship. There’s fog outside and the sea is grey. There is no distant view. Not even a seagull.

I’m totally bored. My legs are stiff. My back aches. I’m so hot.

There’s a massive swell and the wind is worse than heading out to work on wet and windy Monday morning. It’s near hurricane levels.

Another unpleasant rising and my stomach turns upside down and drops. The swaying is unbearable. It never stops.

It’s the worst feeling in the world because essentially there is nothing wrong with me. I Googled it. It’s a battle between my senses. While my eyes don’t register the movement of the ship my other senses feel the rocking. My brain can’t figure it out. I tell it that everything is ok but it’s not listening. Not only am I sick, I’m stupid too. 

Apparently it’s not a life threatening condition but I genuinely think I might die. And worse still, I won’t even get to go down the inflatable slide while doing so. I’m fuming.

I need a change of scenery so I’m determined to get to breakfast. I eat an apple before leaving the cabin as my empty stomach is also making me feel sick. I stagger and wobble down the corridor. I bump into the walls but I make it to the lift.

Outside the swimming pools are now empty. Where did all the water go? 

I can’t think about that though. The morning air is mixed with salt and wind which means as soon as we reach the 14th floor, I paint the sink with apple. 

Travel isn’t just about heart, it’s about stomach too and mine is on the floor – again.

We find a seat in the Windjammer where Mike brings me toast and peanut butter. It takes me an hour to eat it while he tucks into a full English telling everyone around us how ill I am.

One woman offers me dried ginger pieces to eat. We swap notes on how sick we are. I win this one.

Another says she’s pregnant and so can’t even take sickness pills. I lose this one. She’s even in her pjs and we offer her three drops of ointment to dab behind her ears. I know it won’t help.

The Windjammer empties out as passengers head off to poker tournaments, lectures, dance rehearsals and snoozing around the pools.

Why aren’t they sick?

Captain Claus’ daily update describes the stomach-churning, see-sawing as merely “the motion of the ocean, so to say” – his favourite expression. He says the worst should be over but he’s lying.

I take bread and a banana for lunch and head back to the cabin.

I paint the sink with apple

Royal Esplanade. Credit: Royal Caribbean
Pool Deck at sunset. Credit: Royal Caribbean

I have an excellent plan for the day: I’m going to remain horizontal. To make up for it, I watch Jeremy Clarkson on the flat-screen TV driving across Vietnam.

I feel drowsy and dream about Ho Chi Minh City. I watch another episode of Top Gear when they’re in Uganda. The next episode is them in the Middle East and that takes me through to dinner.

The evening comes and I’m talking to Mike about Mustangs over ice cream followed by soup. There’s a long wait for hot cookies coming out the oven. They’d be wasted on me.

It’s black and wild outside – there’s no stars. I dream of concrete.

Clocks go back another hour (GMT – 2)

Day Five: Saturday

Nearest land: The Azores, Portugal

I’ve been on the boat for about 100 hours and I’ve been in bed for most them.

Why didn’t I fly to New York? I could have been shopping by now and eating pizza. It’s only eight hours in the air. People had said to me: “If you get the chance to cross the Atlantic on a ship take it. It’s a great opportunity when cruise ships reposition – it’ll be a trip of a lifetime.”

While I’ll agree this is unforgettable, this is eight days of hell.

There is no ballroom or swimming pool big enough to distract me from the storm in my stomach. It’s still winter outside. The noise when I open the balcony is deafening with waves as tall as buildings. Castles of spray and white foam rain down on us, 15 decks up.

I refuse to lose another day in the cabin so I make an early morning Stretch class at 7am on Deck 16 and then to breakfast. Afterwards I find a spot in the Solarium at the front of the ship. I lie down for a while then move to the Deck 5 where I watch a rehearsal for the Michael Jackson Flash Mob performance tonight. It feels good to get my muscles moving. 

We have lunch in the Windjammer surrounded by fresh food and cuisines from around the world but all I eat is plain rice.

We see dolphins outside but they soon disappear. Mike tells me we are 130 miles from where the Titanic went down. They were four days into crossing when they hit the iceberg. I’m going to hurl.

As we leave, I pick up a hot chocolate chip cookie. It’s so good and I keep it down. It’s now on the list of things I can eat.

Castles of spray and white foam rain down on us, 15 decks up

We book dinner at the top on board restaurant Wonderland. I arrive just in time to puke and we cancel the reservation.

Forced to be flat, I crawl to the cabin to find the cleaning guy in our room. I tell him that I’ll never cruise again. He says I’ll be missing out because it’s smoother when the ship is sailing in calmer waters around islands. I’m already missing out, I tell him.

There’s even more bad news though: We’ve lost the BBC Brit Channel, which was showing Top Gear. All that’s left is the entertainment director in an Andi Peters-like broom cupboard talking about events on the ship that I can’t take part in.

I’m definitely never sailing, ever again.

Clocks go back one hour (GMT-3)

North Star. Credit: Royal Caribbean

Day Six: Sunday

Nearest Land: Newfoundland, Canada

We are moving “closer and closer to America” Captain Claus tells us. We have come 2,400 miles with 1,300 to go and the Azores is no longer the closest land. It’s now Cape Pine in Newfoundland.

He says: “New York is dead ahead and we are travelling at 18 knots (21mph). The swell is expected to calm and the outer decks are open for the first time.”

He then tells another huge fib: “It’s a little windy but still nice”. I know he’s lying because when I go to breakfast there’s an Arctic gale blowing outside.

Cruising is supposed to be a paradise. This is rough. It’s way – way – beyond what I had expected. I’d been on Anthem before for its inaugural two-day sail around the Isle of Wight. I felt I knew what to expect. Now, I’m very not impressed.

It’s gloomy outside. I feel low on all levels. The novelty of being on board a billion-dollar ship has worn off. It beggars belief that I’m on one of the most technologically advanced ships in the world and if I can’t have high expectations here, then where can I? Why can’t they stop it feeling like a rollercoaster? We’re basically bouncing across the ocean.

Yes, I am having many lazy afternoons but I’m not relaxing. I’m not drinking cocktails, enjoying long suppers out on deck or experiencing West End entertainment yet this is all they advertise in the brochures. I’ve never seen them mention the actual design or engineering of these floating resorts. 

The novelty of being on board a billion dollar ship has worn off!

Silk Royal
Bionic Bar. Credit: Royal Caribbean

I don’t like to complain but this isn’t value for money.

We eat in celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant while crockery and glass smash to the floor. It’s my best meal yet though. The lemon meringue pie is to die for.

By evening, I’m feeling ropey and we cancel dinner at Wonderland again. I don’t want to go to my sick bed so I suggest a drink in the Schooner Bar but I don’t feel right. The Corona stays down though. It’s on the list.

Mike returns from his evening to tell me he lost a table tennis match to a 10-year-old girl but went on to win a bar quiz and $325 playing blackjack in the casino.

Clocks go back one hour (GMT -4)

Mike on Anthem of the Seas
RipCord by iFLY. Credit: Royal Caribbean

Day Seven: Monday

Nearest land: Newfoundland, Canada

It’d be nice to see another boat, a bird, something – anything will do – just not more water.

Whoever called the Atlantic a pond, has clearly never sailed across it. The waves are still high. Captain Claus admits, finally: “It’s quite a bit windy out there”.

The good news is that they won’t change the clocks tonight. He says it’s to give everyone and the crew an extra hour in bed before we arrive in New York.

I’m feeling slightly better but I still can’t eat properly. I make Stretch class and breakfast in the Windjammer. I don’t know how the crew get up in the mornings to cook and do their duties.

I have no appetite. There should be a buffet section just for sick people serving plain food. I try a salad at lunch. For dessert there’s pear tart, bread pudding, jelly, pavlova and chocolate mousse. I can barely look at it. I take cookies for later but I don’t eat them.

Mike watches the film, The Gift, on his own and plays basketball. I don’t know what time he comes in.

Clocks don’t change (GMT -4)

We Will Rock You. Credit: Royal Caribbean
The Theatre Royal, Spectra. Credit: Royal Caribbean

Day 8: Tuesday

Nearest land: Cape Cod, Massachusetts, America

We are finally across the other side of the world. The sun is shining. The sea is flat and it’s warm outside. 

Captain Claus tells us: “It’s smooth, smooth, nice, nice, nice all the way home, so to speak. We have 15 Celsius outside. What we have outside is what we will have all the way in, if not even better. Tomorrow in Bayonne, New Jersey, we will have 18 Celsius and a nice bright sunshine on the sky. Sunset today will be at 4.39 and tomorrow morning after we get alongside at 6.29, the sun will pop up on the horizon to give us another beautiful day.

“We have 60 metres of water under the keel. So we have left all the very deep waters and now to get into more shallow waters which means we are getting closer and closer to land.”

For the first time, he’s right. It’s gorgeous out there.

I’m in good spirits. I make Stretch class and eat my first egg for breakfast. We see another ship – some sort of cargo vessel.

From afar, I imagine Anthem must look like a tall, shimmering gentleman on the horizon. I sit out on deck for three hours watching the sunrise. 

It’s smooth, smooth, nice, nice, nice all the way home!

I eat pizza in Sorento’s and have a chocolate brownie in Cafe 270. I then have three meals for lunch but I need a lie down afterwards. 

Mike gets in at 2am. He’s won $200 in the casino.

Clocks go back one hour (GMT -5)

TWO70. Credit: Royal Caribbean
We Will Rock You. Credit: Royal Caribbean

Day Nine: Wednesday

Arrival 5am to New Jersey, USA

We set the alarm clock for 3am and throw open the balcony doors to watch our arrival into Cape Liberty, Bayonne, New Jersey, US.

The stars are out and the lights of Manhattan shine bright. The Anthem of the Seas picks up a pilot at Sandy Hook at 2am. We reach Verrazano Bridge at 3.30am

By 4am everyone on board is out on deck to see the Statue of Liberty just like the European migrants did more than one hundred years ago.

There’s a big celebration. An image of the Stars and Stripes is up on the big screen. The speakers are blaring out Living in America by James Brown, New York by Alicia Keys, Kids of America by Kim Wilde and New York, New York by Frank Sinatra.

This 350-metre giant ship with 18 passenger decks somehow pirouettes like a ballerina to give everyone on the ship the perfect shot of the Great Lady.

At 5am we anchor in Bayonne. There are helicopters flying overhead to mark the occasion and hundreds of people are standing on the dock waving flags.

Mike and I take a last walk around. We have our final breakfast in the Windjammer and just as we’re getting ready to leave at 6am, the sun pops up. I run back up to deck 15 to take a photo (below). It’s stunning out there. I don’t want to get off.

An hour later we step on to land. It’s the best feeling ever.

Clocks: GMT -5

Cape Liberty, Bayonne, New Jersey, US
Made it – got the sweatshirt to prove it!

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