As far as holiday plans go, a cruise has never been at the top of my wish list. The thought of being stuck with the same people over a few days, with limited space to explore my surroundings, is definitely not my idea of fun.
But on my first cruise earlier this year, I learnt how wrong I was - especially as I was travelling on a ship as massive as Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas.
There are 18 decks - 14 of which are accessible to passengers (the rest are used by staff) - with a height of 96m, almost as tall as Big Ben in London. Each deck is 41m wide and 348m long or the length of 31/2 football fields.
The ship is United States-based Royal Caribbean's newest addition to its Quantum class of cruiseliners and the world's third-largest cruise ship, along with its sister ship, Quantum of the Seas, which was launched last year.
While most cruises are associated with an older crowd such as retirees, the Quantum class has features that would appeal to the young and young-at-heart.
Activities onboard include the first skydiving simulator at sea, surfing and SeaPlex, touted as the "largest indoor active space at sea", featuring basketball courts, a trapeze school and a skating rink.
Before its maiden voyage around the Mediterranean in April, media representatives and travel agents were invited for a two-night cruise from Southampton's cruise terminal - about a two-hour drive from London - to the Isle of Wight and back. From the moment we board the vessel, which can hold 4,900 people, there is a non-stop schedule of activities planned for us.
Playground for adults
After checking into my 17 sq m room, which has a balcony and free Wi-Fi, I have a go at "skydiving" at RipCord by iFly on the ship's top deck. After watching a five-minute video presentation and spending a few minutes with our instructor, we are suited up in oversized jumpsuits, helmets, goggles and earplugs.
The wind tunnel blows air at about 160kmh and while each turn is only about a minute long, it is an adrenaline rush as you contort your body to stay afloat while taking in the seaview. One go at the simulator really is not enough.
One deck below is a simulated surf pool called the FlowRider, which is about 3m by 6m. Here, we try our hand at surfing within the safe confines of a pool while imagining we are riding the ocean's waves as we look out to sea.
If you prefer a more straightforward dip in a pool, there are three to choose from, one of which is for adults only.
After 30 minutes, we head to the ship's SeaPlex for a trapeze class, rollerskating and bumper car rides. The indoor activity space, which takes up one-third of a deck, is multi-functional. It can be used as basketball courts, football pitches, volleyball courts and a trapeze school. At night, the space can be used to ride bumper cars or roller skate.
What the space is used for depends on the ship's schedule of activities for the day. Activities, which are free, run at different times from 8am to 10pm.
The mezzanine level of this space has foosball tables, video-game consoles and ping-pong tables. There is also a rock-climbing wall outside the SeaPlex, with a running track surrounding it.
If you prefer doing something physically less demanding, there are also puzzle or escape rooms to keep you occupied.
While the mornings and afternoons are packed with activities, there is significantly less buzz at about 4pm, when everyone seems to wind down to catch their breath. Activities are still ongoing, though.
I use this time to head to the North Star. The glass capsule, which can hold 14 people, slowly rises about 90m above sea level - from the middle of the top deck of the ship - to give you an all-round view and an opportunity to take photographs.
If there is still time before dinner - which starts from 5.30pm, you can go to the Vitality Spa, which is run by Royal Caribbean, for a massage (starting from US$133 or S$188) or facial (starting from US$125). You could also go to the salon for a hair-treatment session (starting from US$149).
Dining at sea
Every evening, when it is time for dinner at 7.30pm, I take a slow walk down the corridors from my room. The walls are lined with some of the 3,000 pieces of art specially commissioned for the vessel, including paintings, sculptures and modern prints with inspirational quotes.
Most impressive is the 3m-wide chandelier that hangs near the entrance of the ship, over the atrium of shops and restaurants. The light installation by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano Hemmer is made up of 200 light bulbs which pulsate in time to an individual's heartbeat. Passengers can put their hand on a receptacle and watch as the bulbs flash.
The ship cost about $1 billion to build and six million man hours to complete. It is apparent in its finishings and interiors, as well as in the use of technology throughout the ship. Passengers are each given a radio frequency identification device wristband called a SeaPass, which they use as their room keys and for purchases made onboard.
On the first night, as I am going for dinner, I get stuck in the elevator - intentionally. There is a pianist seated diagonally inside one of the elevators. This is a feat, given that the piano is 1.2m by 0.5m, while the lift is slightly bigger at 2m by 1.3m.
He gamely takes requests from slightly surprised passengers. I cannot resist requesting Billy Joel's Piano Man and am running late for dinner as I ride the elevator up and down while he finishes playing the tune.
An announcement by the ship's captain informs us that the pianist is a "stowaway" and may "pop up" unexpectedly throughout our trip. His is one of the many free performances throughout the day - from jazz musicians playing in the atrium to musicals to stand-up comedy.
For meals, diners can take their pick from 18 restaurants, cafes and bars.
There is the Windjammer Marketplace, the equivalent of the ship's main dining hall, which seats more than 800 passengers and serves every cuisine imaginable - from Greek salad to North Indian mains. Meals here are complimentary.
There are also seven speciality restaurants with a cover charge of US$45 for unlimited dishes.
On the first night, I dine at fusion restaurant Wonderland, named after the fairy tale, Alice In Wonderland.
It is a whimsical experience from start to end. Our waitress is dressed in a purple velvet waistcoat and gives us a blank piece of paper and a paintbrush to start. We dip our paintbrushes in water and brush over the paper to reveal the menu.
A favourite at the table, such that we order a second portion, is the buffalo chicken eggs. Before being smoked, the yolks are seasoned with buffalo cheese and spices.
Also interesting and tasty are the olives, which are baubles of reconstituted liquid goodness, and the beef rib on the bone, served with potatoes coloured to look like rocks, as well as beetroot chips and bread crumbs resembling soil.
Dinner on the second night is at another speciality dining restaurant, Jamie's Italian Kitchen by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. The restaurant chain is on all Quantum-class ships.
The dining experience here is hearty and homely. There is plenty of after-dinner entertainment.
At the Bionic Bar, two robots shake up cocktail orders. There is also the musical, We Will Rock You, at the 1,300-capacity Royal Theatre, where we sing along to songs by legendary British rock band Queen.
On both nights, we go to the Music Hall to enjoy a live band playing popular songs from the 1980s. The bar with a dance floor had most of us dancing into the wee hours.
I was a little tired and, sometimes, out of breath from the number of activities I took part in.
However, I realised what I've been missing out on my previous holidays - good fun all in one place.
After my first cruise, I am certain it will not be my last.
The writer was hosted by Royal Caribbean International.
The Anthem of the Seas will travel to the Caribbean and the Bahamas for the upcoming cruise season from the end of the month.
It will offer eight- to 12-night trips, ranging from US$1,618 (S$2,283) for an eight-night cruise to US$2,338 for a 12-night cruise. Ports of call include Labadee (Royal Caribbean's private island), Honduras and Puerto Rico.
The Anthem's sister ship, the Quantum, will be travelling closer to Singapore.
There will be a four-day cruise from Shanghai, China, to Hong Kong on Dec 12 via Okinawa, Japan. Prices start from US$1,138.
The third ship of the Quantum class, the Ovation, will come to Asia in June next year.
It will set sail on a three-night cruise from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. Prices start from US$750.
For more information, go to www.royalcaribbean.com.sg
This article was first published on Nov 22, 2015.
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