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She's big, she's beautiful - cruising's latest lady
Royal Caribbean International
Member Name: logberg
Royal Caribbean International
Date: 01/06/08, updated on 23/06/08 (919 review reads)
Advantages: Floating village - relaxing or formal, it's up to you.
Disadvantages: gratuiy scheme - edict
She's ''the biggest passenger cruise ship in the world'', according to her owners Royal Caribbean Cruises. Independence of the Seas is here and she is magnificent.
I read up all the advertising hype on the Royal Caribbean internet site before we arrived at Southampton, for the inaugural Independence of the Seas, Canary Island/Lisbon/Vigo 12-day cruise in early May, and I was expecting a really huge ship. Nothing could have prepared me for the size of this lady. As we drove into sight we could not believe our eyes. It was massive, HUGE!
Brand new, only launched a few days before, this absolutely fabulous marine monster totally dominated the port and there were plenty of onlookers capturing it all on film. As well, 3300 passengers were making an orderly and well orchestrated embarkation for the 5pm sailing.
Cruise ships use the advertising blurb - ''floating hotel''. All 15 public decks of this 158,000 ton cruise ship truly are opulent and luxurious, with a good balance of formal and informal areas to suit the most discerning cruisers as well as those who want to relax or make the best of the energetic type recreation areas.
My travel companion was an 83-year-'young' lady- friend on her first ever cruise and fate determined we were in for a luxurious cruise experience. She spent every minute of every day absolutely reveling in our surroundings. To say we were overawed is an understatement. I was wrapt. Such beauty and style proves to me that it is okay to refer to ships as ''female''!
To be honest, I've been days thinking about writing this..... I don't know where to start - my mind is all over the place as I try to put into order the best things first. I suppose after my initial reaction of extremely prolific oohs and aahs my next impressions were centered around the exceptionally excellent food. The entire formal dining experiences were discerning - both in the decor of the dining areas and the quality of the food, matched with top service. Then my next ''best'' has to be the vast and varied entertainment and activities programme, but let's start with the food.
The meals were definitely diverse:
* Formal dining in the 3-tier Shakespeare themed dining rooms which share a huge, fabulous crystal chandelier: on the ground floor the Romeo and Juliet, mid is Macbeth and on the top King Lear - each one differently presented in decor.
These are used for two set times of formal evening dining, 6.30pm and 8.30pm. The Romeo and Juliet opens some days for superb a-la-carte dining.
* The Windjammer high up on the 11th deck is huge, think of a football field and add some more yards on - set up with so many food choices I had no way of adding them up to report here but it was open long hours offering buffet/smorgasbord choice. Superb food in sterile clean serveries, for hot and cold collation.
* Café Promenade.
* Sorrento's Pizza.
* Johnny Rockets ($3.95 cover charge per person)
* Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream (nominal fee)
* Sprinkles Ice Cream (Self Service) free.
* Chops Grille (USA$25 dining fee per person)
* Portofino (USA$20 dining fee per person)
No matter where you dined the service was reliably superb. Nothing was a bother to the dining-waiting staff and if you needed anything not on offer they encouraged passengers to ask for it and they would see what they could do. Our waiter saw me enjoying my escargot entree and offered another before my main course. Of course I answered ''yes'' devouring my second platter with as much enthusiasm as I had the first. (Later you will read an important point I found out about the service, but this is not the right place for it!)
New for me, and most appreciated, was the fact that I could buy a bottle of wine at the table and it was stored away for further nights, therefore releasing me from having to pay by the glass every night, which would have been far more expensive.
When you book you choose if you want to sit at a table for a few diners or a larger number for evening dining. We chose early sitting, we sat with two other couples and this proved to be a pleasant way to dine and to meet new friends. We scored a table by the huge window so looked out to sea or to the scenery at the ports as we dined.
SO WHY IS THIS SHIP DIFFERENT?
So, I hear you say, ''a cruise is a cruise so what made this one different?'' So many features were forever memorable. It's sheer size is a major difference, with every public area well designed and working well for its purpose. The Royal Promenade is a bright, bustling shopping complex in the middle of the ship and it serves as a popular meeting place, entertainment 'stage' and of course a variety of shops.
The amount of quality artwork on walls, in hallways, in the restaurants, bars, reception, in your stateroom and on the escalator area is definitely impressive. There was apparently a Pablo Picasso onboard and at the champagne art auction I went to there were paintings by Van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Thomas Kinkade. Believe it or not some were sold in the many thousands of US dollars. I sat with my hands firmly under my ample posterior!!
While the decor is quite stunning throughout it's the SERVICE that stands out on Independence of the Seas. Our passenger number reached 3300 with 1400 staff and crew who came from all over the world. Night or day you could not fault the service. We needed assistance with our wheelchair as it let us down twice. Both times a man came and worked on it and had us back in action in no time at all. The lifts were extremely unsatisfactory for wheelchair users. We told a smartly dressed uniformed man we met in the lift that they closed too quickly, hitting the wheelchair legs. He stopped in the hallway when we walked out, he took out his little communication computer ''thingy'' and entered my observation, saying he could not fix it on the spot but would have it attended to as soon as possible.
Independence of the Seas is generally wheelchair-friendly and on our cruise there were many wheelchairs and mobility scooters, most seemed to be moving around okay and when we went onshore there was crew on-hand to push my friend on and off the boat. You can take your own wheelchair or use one belonging to the ship.
While everywhere you look you see opulence and style it is the staff and crew who set the Independence of the Seas on a pedestal for me, they involved themselves with us at all levels; chatting to us in the corridors, at the table, in shops, around the pool - it seemed that they really were interested in how we were enjoying the cruise. This communication continued in daily chats from the cruise director, some of the entertainment staff and of course the Croation captain with his information on our position, weather and other relevant information. As with other cruise ships there was the daily ''newspaper'' on the bed at night providing plenty of information for the day ahead and some forward information for other forthcoming days.
WHAT TO DO ALL DAY AND NIGHT?
The entertainment schedule would take you six months if you decided to do it all. Seminars, competitions, exhibitions, Bingo, art auctions, boxing, towel-folding, food and vegetable carving and a show, over two sessions, every night. Visiting international standard entertainers and the ship's entertainment troupe present some marvellous one-hour shows. The two Ice Skating extravaganzas included Olympic standard skaters as well as others from all over the world. The ice skating show programmes ran three times each and attracted full houses each time... magnificent standard of dance, music and unbelievable costumes.
Just a sample of some activities organised to fill the day: Male Sexiest Knees!, Belly Flop Contest, Connoisseur Wine Tasting, Stretch and Meditation, makeup demonstrations, karaoke and boogie bodies, Line Dancing, cards, Cigar Aficionados in the Connoisseur Club, movies, jewellery making, Picasso and Friends exhibition and hundreds more things which will appeal to people of all ages.
The H2o area on deck 11 is massive with several pools, whirlpools and lots of deck space to lie out on the plentiful deck-beds and deck-chairs. Music played and outdoor shows were enjoyed my hundreds and you could even get free ice-creams and fruit juices here. You used your plastic card to obtain a towel and when you returned it this was recorded. If you don't return it there's a hefty charge put on your account.
Imagine me reclining in the hot-pool as we arrived at Madiera, our first port of call, to a huge welcome as it was the first time Independence of the Seas had arrived there. Many thousands lined the foreshore and tugs spurted huge plumes of water, high into the air, as our ship fog-horned its way into the port. All this observed by me, soaking in the hot pool, cantilevered out over the ship, hanging there in space - what a memory. The two 16-people whirlpools are cantilevered 12 feet (3.7metres) over the sides of the ships.
The top deck is for the energetic with the main feature being the climbing rock wall where there were plenty of cruisers making it to the top and exultant as they rang the bell. Also up there is the mini-golf course, a basketball court and the popular FlowRider (surfing) and a bar to cool off after the fun filled activities which cruisers of all ages enjoyed. I did explore up here but NO I did not pit my most sedentary body against any of the thrills on this recreational deck
Other things to keep you busy onboard are the casino, extremely well presented gym with a boxing ring, library, internet suite, art gallery, movies, a beauty spa with a vast range of services and even a tv/radio-room as well as ice skating if you feel like emulating the excellent performers after the shows! Independence of the Seas is a floating village - you wake up to a new ''life'' every day.
Consider this - you decide to have the cocktail of the day - well you can do so in any of the 22 bars, cafés or the two theatres, including the Dog and Badger Pub.... or enjoy a dining experience in the formal dining rooms or one of the other foodies experiences, and take in music and dance all over the ship, day and night as per the daily programme you get in your state-room each night.
Most things don't cost a penny but if you decide to have a beauty treatment you pay and of course if you want to do an onshore excursion these cost varying amounts of American dollars too. You pay for any photographs you order as well as alcoholic drinks but all over the ship you can call in for 'free' pizza, ice-cream, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, fruit juices etc at the cafe/bars anytime of day. We took some time to get used to being able to pop in to the café and get the most delightful pattissierre cakes, bagels, and sandwiches and not have to dip into the purse to pay for it.
PERSONAL CARD- Seapass
As with other cruise ships you have a personal credit-card size plastic card with your name and other information on it. This serves as your ''passport'' on and off the ship and you use it for all purchases onboard. As you first go on the ship they put it in a machine and take your photo so for all movement on and off the ship they check your photo, good security. On the television in your stateroom you can call up your account and see what you owe every night, then at the end of the cruise you get an account, if it is okay you do nothing, it just comes off your real credit card or you go to Customer Relations and pay cash.
INAUGURAL CANARY ISLAND CRUISE
So, my Independence of the Seas really was the most fabulous holiday I could have shared with my dear lady friend. There was so much good feeling about it being the inaugural cruise to the Canary Islands, both on the ship and when we went ashore. Most places did official welcomes and we got hats, brochures, music and generally a cheerful welcome for the new ship.
A LITTLE COMMENT.......
I have to say there was a matter I would report as more of a comment than a complaint - we had the most stunning stateroom, with a huge, round window - it was so beautiful, a good size with two beautifully presented twin beds, huge wardrobe and free digital safe, a sofa and four tasteful pieces of artwork on the walls, a hollywood style make-up mirror with feature lights, a long mirror, fridge, hairdryer and a flat-screen tv with over 40 channels, electric jug for making your own tea and coffee. Amidst all this style and comfort and they put 2 plastic/paper type mugs for drinking your beverage from. I thought it let the room down a little; porcelain cups and saucers would have been more fitting.
MY ONLY COMPLAINT.... for me it's a 'biggy'
I do have a real disappointment and it bugged be before we boarded and during the cruise. It was the tipping/gratuity edict. I'd read in the pre-sail information the amounts we were supposed to give to the Head Waiter, waiter and assistant to the waiter and our house-cleaning lady. I thought the ''recommendation'' really high and it was simmering in the back of my mind quite a bit.
As the cruise progressed I was sitting next to a fellow cruiser on a shuttle bus and he said that the mentioned crew members do not get a salary but rely on our tips. I told him that I did not believe that for a minute. Upon my return to the ship I mentioned it to our fellow dining-room table guests and they too thought it would not work that way. I undertook to find out the next day. I went to the ship's booking office and asked a congenial Welshman if it was true. To my horror he said it was. It seems these crew members get a US$50 sort of retainer per month and the rest of their wages is from the guests tips/gratuities.
This actually annoyed me and I told the young man that it really meant we were paying their wages and I didn't think we should have to do that and also it sort of took the shine off the excellent service they were proffering to us. I sort of felt it was a bit false - they were being so good just to get a payment from us. He said ''It is the American way, I know you Brits are having a little difficulty with it but it is accepted by the Americans and this is an American ship''. Well that may be so but it still stuck in my craw. He added, ''just look at the service they give you and you will think it is worthwhile''. If my friend and I had agreed to the gratuities level presented in the ships letter to us we would have paid USA$111 each - when you add it on to the price we paid for the fare - GBP844 it actually means the cruise cost us over GBP900.00.
Well it is my opinion that a person should be paid by the ship's owners/operators and the level of service should be because they like and want us to enjoy our meal or be in pleasant, clean staterooms. What we pay for ''service'' should be what we feel we want to ''reward'' them with. Some of you may not agree with me but this is my opinion and I feel comfortable with it. Anyway, those at our dining table decided on one figure in British Pounds and that we would pool it into one envelope and the head waiter could share it out. I do not know if they were appreciative of that or not. I guess I will know if a curse descends upon me in coming weeks!
So, my only complaint is one of administration and not anything to do with the presentation of the Independence of the Seas.
Another thing which may be a little negative was that I thought the beauty treatments were highly priced so here are some prices for your consideration as to whether I am being fair or not - Swedish Massage (50 minutes) USA$119; Lime and Ginger Exfoliation (50 mins) USA$155, Couples Massage (50 mins) USA269. Aromaspa Seaweed Massage (85mins) USA$195, and Elemis Absolute Spa Ritual (100 mins) USA$264. You could go on a cheaper package on Ladies Day - we went for a USA$120 50 minute back massage, facial, foot massage and a little scalp finish off.
Not sure if you want to know all this but it may be of interest to those who want to cruise on the largest passenger ship in world (at least until late 2009 when Royal Caribbean launches another ship it is having built right now - Oasis of the Seas - which will take 5000 passengers and have a New York-style park onboard!).
LENGTH: 1112.2 feet, 339.0 metre. BEAM: 184.0 feet, 56.0 metres.
ORIGINAL COST: $590 million
BUILT IN: Finland by Kvaerner Masa-Yards.
LAUNCHED: in Southampton late April 2008.
PASSENGERS: (Lower beds/all berths: 3600-depending on configuration, can be up to 4370.
STATE-ROOMS: 1800 (Including: Presidential family suite with 5 rooms, Royal suite, Superior Oceanview, Deluxe Oceanview with a balcony, Interior promenade view, and the interior (no view) - just to name a few.
SHOW LOUNGE: Alhambra Theatre, over 5 decks, hydraulic orchestra pit, sonic boom loud sound, superb lighting.
Now you really do need to know this - it will tip your cruise buying decision - they use 75,000 eggs in one week! That did it for you - I am sure!.
Southampton, Madiera, Teneriffe, Gran Canaria, Lazarote, Lisbon and Vigo with 4 sea-days... eleven nights, 12 days.
These vary on what grade accommodation you prefer and and it does pay to shop around - the cruise booking companies do offer good early-booking discounts but if you buy onboard Royal Caribbean does discount and offer a USA$200 onboard spend.
Our GBP844 will not be offered again as it was an extra cruise put on because the ship was finished early and we were assured onboard that price will not be available again. Indeed, I have booked for next year in October and the lowest price I could get for interior stateroom was GBP1095 per person and that includes an early booking fee.
Sorry this is SO long, I have tried to abridge it - failed miserably I am afraid. Hope you enjoyed this review and aren't too tired out reading it.!!!
Independence of the Seas is huge on quality, service and facilities - you can luxuriate while enjoying the very best in holiday cruise mode..... formal or informal - whichever mood takes you. We loved every single minute of our cruise and recommend it for quality, value for travel money spend and an ideal way to meet people who appreciate the best.
(Also on Ciao)
Summary: Brand new, huge and plenty of holiday fun
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