“ Cruises sail out of Southampton harbour. „
The Independence of The Seas is the largest cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean and is second in size only to the Oasis of the Seas in the world. We selected this ship as we wanted a cruise that required no flights and also would offer plenty to do for our teenager children as we thought this may be our last holiday all together as the children are getting older. We actually booked this holiday over 16 months ago at a cost of nearly £8000 so would our anticipation be worth it?
I was lucky enough to cruise from Southampton in June as well and TIOS was actually in dock next to the ship I was on so I had already seen how impressive it was. However the rest of my family were quite overwhelmed when they saw the size of it. It is 1112' long and 126' wide with 15 passenger decks plus extra decks for the crew, it really is enormous and since it is gleaming white you can see it from a long distance away as you approach the port of Southampton.
Royal Caribbean International offered free parking at the dock for our cruise. However this did require the use of a shuttle bus and we had to man-handle all of our luggage and then wait over 15 minutes outside. This was ok on the day we arrived but if the weather had been wet I wouldn't have been too impressed as both our luggage and ourselves would have got soaked. I prefer the valet service that Princess use.
We had completed our check-in on line so the embarkation process was very quick, we simply had to show our passports and the credit card that we had registered to our account and we were immediately given our room key and were told that our stateroom was ready for us and that we could have lunch in the Windjammer restaurant once on board. I was glad I had studied the plans of the ship before we boarded as the information we were given would have made it a little tricky to find our way straight to our room.
We had booked a Grand Suite to accommodate all four of us. We had decided to spend the extra to get a larger room and a decent balcony and it was not too much more than purchasing two double rooms (which are really very small). The cabin (or to give it the proper name-stateroom) was exceptionally clean and I was immediately impressed by the size. We walked into a large dressing area with mirrored wardrobes and a bar with a fridge (containing very overpriced sweets and drinks cans) and lots of drawers. On the right was a good sized bathroom with two washbasins, toilet and a bath with a powerful shower over it and a large supply of white towels, toiletries and beach towels. The suites also had one bottle of Evian and a large fruit plate on arrival and several times during our stay we returned to find a nice treat such as continental chocolates or a cheese platter.
The main area consisted of one side with a huge double bed (probably the most comfortable I have ever slept in!) with dressing table and stool and more cupboards and drawers, this could be sectioned off from the rest of the room with a heavy curtain. The other area was the living area with a sofa that converted into a double bed, two armchairs and a coffee table and a large flat screen TV and DVD player. The TV had many channels and also acted as an interactive unit so you could check your account balance and order room service etc too. There were also films available that you could pay to view which at $15 I thought were a bit expensive. The curtains were all very thick and dark which were wonderful at keeping out the bright sunlight and offering a great nights sleep.
The balcony was lovely with a glass front and had two sun loungers and two chairs and a table. I felt that there should have been four chairs at the table as when we had room service breakfast one day the children had to perch on the edge of the sun loungers to eat which wasn't ideal. The balconies were quite private although the dividers did not reach to the top and bottom between you and the neighbours.
Overall our stateroom felt very luxurious. Our stateroom attendant was very helpful and was brilliant at making the towel animals that people associate with cruises. Our main problem on arrival was that we had asked for our room to be made up as a twin so our children could have a bed each and we would share the sofa bed. This hadn't been done and to be honest I couldn't see how it could happen without banging your head on the bedside lights so I don't think it was ever a possibility really and shouldn't have been offered as an option. There was no way our 13 and 16 year old would share a bed so my son spent the first night on the floor after he lost the argument with his big sister! When we explained the problem to our attendant she was very helpful and returned later with a fold-up bed for our son which solved the problem perfectly. The room was so big that his bed was put in the dressing area at night which gave him more privacy too and then the attendant folded it out of the way the rest of the time.
Booking a suite gave us the Concierge service which I hadn't paid a lot of attention to when we booked but when we arrived we realised what benefits it conferred. The main advantage for most people is the free drinks, between 5.00 and 8.30 each evening there was a free bar in the concierge lounge, at $7 for a glass of wine in the bars this proved very popular. There was also a continental breakfast each morning in the lounge which was far more sedate than in the hectic buffet upstairs. There were free DVDs available to borrow from the lounge too. The Concierge (Kenneth) was available morning and evening and he was useful for booking restaurants, excursions or just basic information about destinations and ship information. Residents of suites get a "gold" door key which acts as a pass to certain seating areas on the ship; there was a reserved private area of sun loungers with covers, front row seats to the ice shows without needing tickets and also front row seats in the main theatres balcony. These bonuses were certainly useful when the ship was full to capacity with over 4000 passengers in the school holidays.
---Time To Eat---
RCI have just started to offer My Time dining on their ships which is what we opted for which meant that we did not have a set time to use the dining room as I did not want to be tied to eating at either of the set times that are offered. However it is still wise to book a table in the formal dining rooms, you can book several days ahead but we tended to book our table in the morning after we had checked out what activities and things we would use in the day so we knew what time we would be free. If you prefer you can simply eat your evening meal at the buffet in the Windjammer whenever you please. The formal dining room has a dress code each evening, on our two week cruise there were 3 formal nights, 4 smart casual and the rest were casual. This puts some people off cruising but personally I find it nice to dress up and I certainly have very little chance to do it normally so it makes a nice change. However, like everything else on the cruise it is optional so if it isn't for you don't do it.
Our formal dining room was the King Lear which is the third storey of the three tier dining room. The windows were large and the whole room had a light elegant feel about it which I loved. I did pop my head into the lower level rooms and they seemed darker so I was very happy at our allocation. We only ever sat at a table for just the four of us which I prefer as I don't want to have to share meals with people I don't know, especially with the awful table manners that I witnessed with some guests. As we used My Time dining we did not always have the same waiting staff but we found we preferred some to others so we asked for them when we arrived at reception in the evening and our request was usually accommodated. To use My Time you did have to pre-pay the gratuities but I liked the fact that the tips were shared out amongst all the staff working in that section (I had checked) so the great service you received was not purely based on the envelope you might hand them on the last night. We found all the waiting staff to be polite and helpful but we preferred some simply because they were chattier and remembered the children's names and favourite drinks and our preference not to have wine with our meals. The food was generally very nice and the quantities were just right. On two occasions one of our parties disliked their choice and it was immediately changed for something else which was very helpful. If nothing really appealed on the menu they seemed happy to find you something else you may prefer. We never felt rushed at mealtimes and we often lingered over a cup of tea and watched the hustle and bustle around us.
Breakfast and lunchtimes usually found us in the Windjammer restaurant which was the buffet option. It was possible to use the formal dining rooms as well but they were further from our room and the decks so we tended to not want to go that far, on port days the formal rooms were not always available. The buffet food was varied and I am sure even the fussiest eater could find something they liked. I loved the fresh salads and cooked meats but I am afraid to admit that my son opted for chips every lunchtime! Water, tea, coffee and a refreshing lemonade drink were available free with lunch. Breakfast drinks were tea, coffee, orange or apple juice. Beware the waiters bringing around fresh orange juice as that incurs a charge but collecting juice yourself was free. I felt the breakfast selection was not as good as it was always the same, the pastries and fruit on offer never varied and those are things I look forward to. There were plenty of options if you like cooked breakfasts. We always found the food tasty and usually hot but occasionally I thought they food had been kept at too low a temperature to be safe so then I went and selected something else. The main problem with the Windjammer was that it got exceptionally busy and finding a table could be difficult, this was not helped by selfish people who took up large tables when there were only a couple of them. If you are struggling to find a table the staff would always assist you. The tables were cleared very efficiently and the whole place was very clean. My major bugbear was how greedy people were and I must admit it seemed to mainly be the British who piled their plates high with chips and pasta and sometimes the way they were shovelling food in and then chomping away with their mouths open was enough to make me feel sick. We did eat in the Windjammer one evening for dinner and although the food was nice I found the hectic atmosphere unpleasant and stuck to the formal dining room after that.
Unlike some other cruise ships I have been on the buffet was not available 24 hours a day on IOTS. In the evening it shut at 9 which I thought seemed quite early, after this time you could use room service or go down to the pizza parlour or cafe on the promenade to pick up a snack. Ice-creams were available self-service style on the top deck from a machine which was very popular and luckily never had much of a queue.
If you felt you hadn't spent enough money paying for your cruise there were other dining options that incurred an extra charge. There was Johnny Rockets American Dinner ($5 each) and the Chops or Portofino restaurant ($25 each). We avoided these as I think they are just a money making scheme and the other dining options are perfectly satisfactory.
I must admit I am not really a night-owl, especially when I need to be up early in the morning at a port-stop so I did not sample all the entertainment options. I am also not much of a drinker so tend not to spend long in bars either but I did pop into a few to sample the atmosphere. The drinks are very expensive but probably on a par with upmarket hotels. It is possible to buy a soft drinks pass which we bought for both of our children and at $4 a day it was a bargain, they had as many soft drinks as they wanted (and so did we!). On a ship this size there has to be lots of entertainment options as guests are a captive audience in the evenings and they need to be kept happy. There were a selection of bars varying from quiet places such as the champagne bar, the sophisticated Olive or Twist jazz bar with its spectacular views and the friendly Boleros to name but a few. Finding seats early in the evening was easy but if you had late dining it could be more of a challenge. The boat had several resident musical groups but the only one that I liked was Rock the Boat who played in the Pyramid Lounge on many of the evenings, sometimes just general music and sometimes themed nights. I thought they played well and had good banter too.
The ship has a large casino, I don't gamble but I did walk through a few times to see how busy it was and there certainly seemed to be a lively atmosphere.
Each evening there was some sort of entertainment in the Alhambra Theatre. This impressive setting could seat about 1400 and each production was shown twice in the evening so obviously not everyone could see the shows and it was necessary to arrive early to get a seat for the more popular productions (those gold passes came in handy again!). The ships company gave two different shows a week; they were entertaining but certainly not as polished as the ones I saw on Princess, the singers were definitely not of the same calibre. The other shows vary depending on which guests they pick up in the ports, we saw a brilliant comedy juggler, a poor comedian and a mediocre violin show (he played well it just isn't my thing).
There are also two different ice-shows as well. These were brilliant with great skating and fantastic costumes. It was very bizarre to sit and watch these international skaters and remember that you were in the bottom of a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean! You need to get tickets for the ice-show which are given out free on about the third morning of the cruise, unfortunately this is early in the morning just after the clocks change which I think is a bit unfair as people felt they missed out although usually there were spare seats for the fourth showing of each.
During the day there are lots of activities available. No matter what your interests you should be able to find something you like; there are quizzes, lectures, dance classes and demonstrations. There are also Bingo sessions which unfortunately are permanently being advertised over the shipboard communication system which makes me want to shout "hi-de-hi" every time it starts. It was these announcements and the poolside sexy legs and belly-flop contests that made me think of Butlins on the sea and certainly didn't really seem in-keeping with the luxurious feel of most of the cruise.
The ship has the most amazing gym which is very modern and well equipped. Working out whilst looking out across the sea was certainly more pleasurable than at my local gym. There is also a huge spa but one look at the extortionate prices for treatments sent me running in the opposite direction.
We originally chose this ship because of the many free activities aboard as we didn't want the children to get bored and they certainly enjoyed all the opportunities open to them. Everyone who participates in the higher risk activities need to sign a waiver form and then you have to wear a wristband saying which activities you can participate in. Not all the activities are available at all times as there have to be qualified staff available and you could also book private lessons. This didn't ever cause us a problem as we checked in the Cruise Compass what time things were available and planned accordingly.
Flowrider: This surf machine allows participants to have a go at surfing and boogie-boarding. The staff were always helpful and gave people lots of instruction and encouragement and both my kids got much better over the holiday. Be sure to wear tight fitting swimwear as there were several red faces when things moved! I had heard that the queues were dreadful but they never had to wait too long and they enjoyed watching the other riders anyway. There are lots of seats around and this is a nice place to sit and watch the action.
Rock-climbing: The idea of rock-climbing 200ft above sea-level terrified me but I was determined to give it a go. I was kitted out with shoes, helmets and harness and then given brief instructions before being sent up one of the many faces on the wall. There were usually at least 3 people climbing at a time so the queues moved quickly and I never waited more than 10 minutes. Although I tried to scale the wall several times I never made it to the top (unlike my monkey-like children) but I did get higher than my husband! I always found the staff helpful and encouraging and I was never made to feel a failure when I had to come down before I reached the top.
Ice-skating: This was a very popular activity but the sessions got booked up quickly as only 40 people could go on the ice at a time. As the cruise went on you had to get there earlier and earlier to sign in but we found the best bet was to arrive just after one session started and you could get your name down for the next session and come back when it was about to start. You can take your own skates if you want but you have to wear a helmet. The teen sessions in the evening could get a bit rowdy but in general there was a real mix of abilities and people were very considerate to each other.
Putting Course: The ship boasts a nine hole putting course which appears to be open 24 hours a day. You simply pick up your clubs and balls at the entrance. I am sure I would have done much better if the ship had not been moving and that was my excuse for why I was always losing! There is also a golf simulator which has to be booked and paid for but we didn't use that.
---On The Deck---
For lazy days whilst floating around the Med most people headed up to the sundecks. Whilst out at sea this was when you would most notice that there were over 4000 people sharing the ship with you? There are several pool areas, one with water jets and sprays which is brightly coloured and aimed at young children, the next has two pools and several Jacuzzis and get very busy and loud and then there is an adults only pool which is lovely and quiet. There are no lifeguards on duty but there are staff members who patrol the decks and who will bring in security if the pool gets too rowdy but it does seem to have to get very bad before they step in. My teens found the main pool just too busy and hectic in the day so tended to avoid it which was a shame although hubby and I were able to go and cool off in the adult pool. There are also two large cantilevered whirlpools which allow you to wallow in warm bubbly water suspended 12 storeys above the ocean, a very bizarre experience!
I believe there were enough sun beds to go around but obviously the ones in the best positions got snapped up early. There are notices saying that beds left unoccupied for 30 minutes will have towels removed, unfortunately this didn't happen so you ended up in the "can't beat 'em join 'em" situation where reserving a sun bed early was the only chance you had if you wanted a spot in the sun by the time you finished breakfast. Luckily a gold card gave us reserved chairs right at the top of the boat above the sky bar which was useful. All of the sun beds were comfortable fabric or soft plastic with none of those horrible hard white plastic ones that I have seen elsewhere.
---The Royal Promenade---
After too much sun it is time to head inside and this is when you enter the ships atrium which really has the wow factor. The atriums at either end are gleaming lift wells and open landings that stretch up over 10 storeys, along the centre of deck 5 you find the Royal Promenade, this is the attractive heart of the ship. This street is home to the pizza parlour and the cafe as well as the pub and a number of shops. I am not an avid shopper and I was amazed by the amount of money people appeared to be spending in the perfumery, logo store and clothes shop.
At various times during the cruise the company set up stalls in the promenade selling watches or cameras or clothes. I hated this as it made it very congested and it was like a tat market and I felt it detracted from the overall impression.
The Royal Promenade was also the venue for the evening parades and parties that occurred a few times during the cruise. These were bright, colourful, noisy and extremely crowded. I am probably a real bore but I didn't enjoy the first one I went to and so avoided the rest as they didn't start until 11p.m and they weren't worth hanging around for. Some of the cabins look out over the promenade and I don't know how sound-proof they are as the parties could go on quite late.
Going on a cruise gives you chance to sample various ports and the easiest way to explore can sometimes be on a ship organised excursion. These can be pre-booked or booked or the ship. You are given tickets and a meeting time and you have to meet at the theatre and are then allocated to your coach. I felt this system seemed disorganised as you had to walk all the way down to the stage to get tickets and then work your way back to find a seat, surely it would be easier to be given your sticker as you walked in! The excursions we participated in were well organised although expensive but for some ports they were essential. Some ports were easy to explore by yourself and every evening before arrival in a port you received useful information and a map of the local area so the choice is yours.
A cruise is certainly not the right holiday for everyone. This is an enormous ship and during the school holidays it certainly feels very full. The biggest problem I felt was that so many parents appeared to come on board and then simply turn their children loose for two weeks with very little interest in their well-being or their behaviour. You are in the company of over 5000 strangers, why do people assume that none of them could possibly have an ulterior motive with regards to children?
As the two weeks went on the groups of teenagers got larger and more troublesome and the staff didn't seem really able to do anything about it but really I blame the parents, my kids are my responsibility and I would have been horrified if they had behaved like many of the children I saw. I imagine this ship gives a completely different experience when not in high season.
All of the staff we met were friendly and helpful. They work hard with long days and few days off and it is certainly worth making the time to have a chat as they are from all over the world and have interesting things to tell you, most of them in excellent English too.
The ship was very clean and all the time we were aboard we saw maintenance being carried out and thorough cleaning. We did not hear of any norovirus on this ship and the staff were vigilant about guest hand cleansing before entering the food areas. The only thing I disliked was the amount of smoking that was allowed on board. One side of the pool-deck was allocated to smoking as well as the club and anyone could smoke on their balcony and unfortunately someone near us appeared to be a chain smoker and whenever we were stationary in port our balcony stunk of stale smoke.
These large ships are very stable and movement can hardly be felt on most days but crossing the Bay of Biscay on the way home was a choppy experience that had me reaching for the travel sickness tablets and judging by how quiet the dining rooms were I don't think I was the only one suffering but the rest of my family were fine.
Although the ship was busy it was always possible to find a quiet area such as the library or some of the bars during the day. However I am a person that likes their own space so I did enjoy being able to relax in the peace and quiet of my balcony and simply watch the sea (and dolphins once too!), I don't think I would like an inside cabin and they did look small but they are also really good value if you don't think you will be spending much time in your room.
This was a perfect holiday for us as a family and our children always found things to do when they wanted but they also enjoyed just chilling out with us and exploring new places together and making memories to last us a lifetime.
Wow! I have just returned from a holiday of a lifetime - it was fantastic!! As some of you may already know (I have mentioned it in plenty of reviews during the past few months , that I was going on a cruise) , and after waiting (impatiently) for almost ten months , the time arrived on Saturday 5th June and lasted until Saturday 19th June , and so my holiday has quickly and sadly been and gone! I had never been on a cruise before , let alone gone away from home for more than one week , let alone a fortnight , and now after a brilliant time , I am very sad that's it's over! So to help me get over my post-holiday-blues , I thought that I would share my experience with you!! (Just to warn you , it is going to be a very long review , as I have so much to say!)
Right...where shall I begin............ from the very beginning I guess.
So , last year , having never been abroad before , I was moaning that I wanted to go on a foreign holiday , so one day whilst out shopping , I walked into a travel agents and picked up a load of holiday brochures. My mum had always wanted to go on a cruise but hadn't been and so after flicking through a couple of brochures , was getting quite tempted to actually go. We then decided that it would be good if a group of us went (these were the very early days of the planning, and me like an excited child , was really hoping that the answer would be a great big yes!) So we discussed it with my sister and her boyfriend , and my aunt and uncle , and we were all (well I wasn't - I was all for it!) debating , shall we shan't we. In the end we decided on a two week mediterranean cruise with Royal Caribbean International. I was so excited when we had confirmed the booking , yet I still had ten months to wait for the time to come.
When the day eventually arrived , we caught a bus not too far away , which was a 'link' to the ship itself. The journey to Southamton took about four hours (I slept most of the way , and so I woke up just as we arrived at the port), there were loads of ships which we passed before we got to hours and I was thinking 'I think it's that one' , 'no wait , it's gotta be that one'. But when I finally saw the actual ship , Independence Of The Seas , I was gobsmacked - it was absolutely massive - in fact it was bigger than a lot of the big buildings by the port. I could not believe that something so big could sail the seas!) It was a beautiful ship ; very smart looking.
* Boarding The Ship *
Once we had got off the bus , we had to queue for a little while , and then check that our 'papers' and passports were correct before going to a desk where we had to hand in some paperwork. We were then handed our 'seapasses' (more of which I will come to later on). We then had to make our way through 'security' ; the same kind as you would in an airport , I expect ; putting your hand luggage through an 'x ray machine' and then walking through a kind of 'x ray frame'. We then had about a ten minute walk where we finally got to step onto the ship. Boarding was fairly straightforward and didn't take too long which was good news. We were told that it could take up until 9pm that night (by now it was around 4 o' clock) until we had our luggage , although when we found our cabin at about four , our luggage was there waiting for us outside the door. We had around thirty minutes in our room , and then we had to go to a 'safety thing' about how to put on a life jacket etc. Apparently the ship would not sail until everyone had seen the demonstration. As planned , we set sail from Southhampton at 4:45.
When I first got on the ship and saw how big it was , I was a bit 'scared'. I was thinking 'oh my god - this place is massive, we're all going to have to stick together the whole time otherwise we may not see eachother for days. Before going , a lot of people who had been on cruises before had told me , 'it's so easy to get lost' and 'make sure you follow the corect carpet (if your room carpet is red , then follow the red carpet on the ship and then you will know that your cabin is in that area'. Well of course that panicked me , although after a couple of days , I knew my way around and so there was no way of getting lost. We were all on deck 6 and we were on one side and the rest of the group were on the opposite site. We had a meeting point which was the bit between the two corridors , this was the place that we always met , by the balcony overlooking the Royal Promenade.
As I mentioned earlier , before boarding the ship , each person was given a little blue card which was known as the 'seapass'. This little card was the same size and made of plastic just like a bank card. On it , it had the name of the ship,your name , date of sailing , your cabin number, your designated area number (if there was an emergency etc) , the name of the restaurant you were booked at as well as your table number. So all in all this card held a lot of information about the passenger. Also , instead of using money , the ship uses a cash-free system. Whatever you bought onboard (food is included) , for example drinks , spa treatments or for buying souveniers in the onboard shops , you would pay for it by 'swiping the card' , which would then add the amount to your 'bill' which you paid at the end of the trip. I really liked the fact that you could use it to buy things , as it made it so much easier and meant you didn't have to carry money around on the ship with you at all. This card also acted as your room key , and also to 'clock you in and off' the ship. So it was very important not to lose it.
* The Ship *
The ship itself was absolutely massive , yet very smart looking. It is a fairly new ship , built in 2008 and cost £900 million to build! The ship is very smart in the inside , with a lot of artwork and paintings. There were a few glass elavators which were handy as sometimes if you were shopping on the ship's own street on Deck five and then wanted to go to the Windjammer (on deck eleven) for lunch it meant walking twelve sets of stairs. So taking the lift was the easiest option (although I did try and take the stairs when I could , until I twisted my ankle one day - being silly , I jumped off the bed and landed on a shoe - not clever at all).
The ship had glass elevators so you could see the street and decks from the inside when you were going up and down. There were also 'closed elevators' where you couldn't see out , and I wasn't too keen on using these ones. At least if you broke down in the glass elevators (thankfully we didn't) at least people could see you panicking!
The ship itself was very , very clean. There was always a member of staff cleaning the hand rails on the stairs or cleaning the floors. A couple of nights when returning to our rooms at about 11:30pm , I saw a member of staff hoovering the carpets - at that time of night -poor thing!
* Cabin *
Our cabin , was quite spacious. The room was spotlessly clean and tidy. The beds were the comfiest ever - I always find it hard to get to sleep at night and always sleep lightly , but on the ship , I don't know what happened to me , becaue the minute my head hit the pillow , I was fast asleep , and a deep sleep it was. I've never had such good sleep as I did on that ship - I think the slight movement helped). Because there were three of us , I slept on the 'sofa bed'. My first impression was 'oh no - it's going to be uncomfortable' , but that was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in! It did not look like a sofa at all at night - it was brilliant.
The room had plenty of storing space ; a large wardrobe and plenty of draws and cupboards as well as mirrors with build in cupboards behind them on the dressing table. We had a shower (no bath) which was great , especially after a sweaty day in the sun - the shower was adjustable , and was easy to adjust (either hot or cold , and also you could choose which pressure you wanted). There was plenty of 'oomph' in the pressure of the water which was great.
Tea and coffee were available in our bedroom , along with a mini fridge which included cans of coke , sweets and bottled water. To begin with , we were like 'don't touch the fridge - it'll cost us!' but towards the end , we had almost cleared all the sweets!
We even had our own private balcony which was great , as you could see the sea , and whenever we were close to the ports , you could see the land getting closer and closer , and also when we were leaving the port , you could watch the sight of the land fade away. It was also a great place to relax outside , knowing that you had a 'bit of outside space to yourself'. No one could see you either which was nice , although if you popped your head round the side , you would sometimes see your neighbour if they were also leaning over the balcony. I absolutely loved the balcony , and would often sit there reading a book or listening to my music , not having a care in the world whilst watching the sea go by.
The bathroom , although small , was still quite spacious with a huge mirror. We also had a hairdryer and tea and coffee making facilities which were replenished on a morning/night basis. We also had a televison with a great selection of channels ; sports , news , movies , music etc. The ship even has it's own channels including one which shows , events which have happened so far on the holiday ,as well as the shows , and also a morning programme with the ship's famous 'Joff' the cruise director , who 'presented' all of the shows. There was always an 'interactive' thing on the telly , where you could book an excursion , see what was coming up on the cruise , and even keep an eye on your bill , as well as loads of other things.
You could even watch some of the latest movies for a price of $12. I watched Dear John. I had thought that $12 was quite a lot to watch a film , but then I realised , had I gone to my local cineworld which is an hours drive away , the cost of petrol combined with the £7 per person cinema ticket it would have cost around £30 for three of us to go to the cinema , and so for $12 , it was great value as we saved petrol , and all three of us got to watch the movie , so it worked out a lot cheaper than going to the cinema.
We had our own room attendant , who was brilliant ; always friendly , professional and always had time for us. He did his job really well , and I felt sorry for him that every night he would have to turn the sofa into a bed for me , and in the morning change my bed back into the sofa , although when we returned from dinner at night , my sofa bed was always ready , and in the morning , we'd leave the room for about half an hour for breakfast , and then return to our room , and the bed would be back to a sofa. When returning from dinner , it was always a pleasure to see what kind of animal the room attendant had made for us using towels ; some nights we would have elephants , pigs , snakes and monkeys.
* Food *
The food on the Independence of The Seas was brilliant. The restaurants wee always very clean and the standard of cleanliness was very high. Before entering a food place, everyone had to sanitize their hands which I thought was a brilliant idea.There were so many choices of places to eat :
* Romeo and Juliet Restaurant *
This is the restaurant where we were automatically booked into when we booked the holiday. The restaurant was very posh looking and you could see the above restaurant 'Macbeth' above , and also the restaurant 'King Lea' which was above 'Macbeth'. It was like one big restaurant (3 floors - yet each floor had a different name and had a different menu and sometimes a different style of serving. ) It was in the Romeo and Juliette restaurant that we had our breakfast and dinner.
Breakfast (Romeo and Juliette restaurant): You could choose where you wanted to have your breakfast each day. Most of the time we stuck to the buffet-style breakfast which was served in he Romeo and Juliette restaurant. Here , you helped yourself to the massive selection of cereals , pastries , fruit salad , cooked breakfast , cheese and meats and yoghurts. There was so much choice, and the food was always topped up right to the top. I am not a fan of cooked breakfast , although the rest of my group all had cooked breakfasts (bacon , eggs , mushrooms , beans , harsh browns etc) and could not praise the food enough. I myself would have fresh fruit (different fruits laid out in separate bowls ; different kinds of melons , grapes , pineapples - great for getting your five-a-day) , croissants , cereal such as Alpen and also there were muffins which I absolutely loved. Tea and coffee was brought to your table , and so was the orange juice. There didn't seem to be many other fruit juices available ; the waiter would come to your table and say 'would you like some orange juice' and if you didn't they would ask if you would like apple juice. I loved the orange juice though , as it was always fresh. Another 'toast waiter' would then come around with a basket of toast and ask you if you wanted white or brown. Throughout the cruise , the toast was edible , although it wasn't that nice - it was always really hard and had a funny texture , although I solved the problem by smothering it with plenty of butter and strawberry jam.
Dinner (Romeo and Juliette) : We were a group of seven and had requested at the time of booking for a table of our own so that we could sit together. However , when we received our seapasses with the dining information on it , it stated that three of us were to eat in the Romeo and Juliette and the other four were to eat in the Macbeth restaurant. We went to see the restaurant manager who changed this for us and so on the first evening we had a table to ourselves. One you knew where your table was (at dinner , you sat at the same table every night , although breakfast , the waiters would find you a suitable table each day , and so for breakfast you sat on a different table each day - on the last day we had a window table which was fantastic!). So on the second night , we walked into the restaurant , making our way to our table , when we noticed a couple on our table , meaning that as the table was only set up for us seven, there wasn't enough room for all of us. The head waiter then came and explained to the couple what had happened (we couldn't hear what exactly was being said as we were too far away) , although the couple did not seem happy at all , although the head waiter was brilliant and we had our table back , which remained ours for the rest of the holiday.
The food was brilliant at the restaurant ; of a very high standard. The menu more or less changed each evening although there were still items which remained on the menu most nights. There were about eight options for each of the three courses. The majority of the group are meat-eaters (including fish) and so it meant that they had a different starter and main course each evening , however , I am vegetarian and so is my mum , and we are quite fussy eaters too. I stuck with the ceasar salad most nights (consiting of crisp lettuce , parmasan cheese , yummy garlic croutons and a gorgeous dressing - I absolutely loved it!) and a pasta dish (I love pasta). On one or two ocasions there was other vegetarian meals available such as 'pastry tarts' which I tried one night - it was nice to begin with , but I found it became too much of the same taste and so I couldn't finish it. Although , there was nothing wrong with the food (we all agreed that it was wonderful) , it was just that I am a very fussy eater. On the other hand , the deserts were to die for ; sponge puddings , chocolate tarts , panacottas - they were all brilliant. Although , I love fresh fruit , I am not really a fan of fruity deserts , although I did try a 'berry mousse' one night - and it was one of the best deserts I have ever tasted! Also if you didn't want to put on too much weight during the holiday , there was also a 'special three course menu' where every starter , main course and desert all came to less than 800 calories - I tried this some nights and the food was of an excellent standard.
* WindJammer Cafe *
What a great place this was ; it was open from about 7am everyday for breakfast , right through for lunch and afternoon tea until 5pm and then it would open again at 6:30pm for dinner. The very popular , cafe is located on top of the ship at the back with fantastic views of the ocean. Foodwise ; there was so much to choose from. The food was served buffet-style and had something for every taste , whether you were starving or just in a 'picking' mood. Such food included roast dinners ,salads, pizzas , burgers , pasta , rolls , as well of a huge range of deserts.
On days where we were getting off the ship to go exploring , we would sometimes get up early and go to the cafe for breakfast. Food available was served buffet style where you helped yourself. Although it was a great place , I prefered having breakfast in the Romeo and Juliet dining room as although they were both buffet style , at least in the restaurant a waiter would bring you juice,toast, tea and cofee and anything else you wanted. A waiter would come around with tea or coffee in this cafe , but it would be served tea-bag-in-a-cup style rather than in a pot like in the restaurant.
I loved the Windjammer ; as it was always quick and you could go whenever you wanted ; there was always plenty of food to choose from and the dishes were always topped out ; they never seemed to run out of anything. The food was always of a high standard too.
One thing which I did not like about the Windjammer , although this is by means no fault of the ship's , was the fact that some people were like pigs and would push in front of you even if you were queing. One day , I had been queing up for one of the deserts and as it was my turn , was just about to take a desert , when a man pushed in from nowhere , and said 'excuse me , can I just grab one of those' , and his attitude was so selfish ; he hadn't queued or nothing. People would very often push you out of the way too which was annoying. We found the nicest time to go was at about 4:30 as there wasn't that many people about then which was great.
Also sometimes , at peak times , especially lunch time , it was hard to find a table , although there was always one waiter who would greet customers and get another waiter to find a suitable for us. They always found us a table very quickly and we were never left to wait more than five minutes. Once you found a table , the experience was great.
What was also great was the fact that you could just grab a slice of pizza or a cake and then take it to your room or to the poolside to eat it.
* Other Restaurants *
There were also many other places were you could have food , such as 'Johnny Rockets' which was like an American-1950's style burger place. We went here one night for a change (there was an extra charge of around $4 per person at this place - most of the restaurants including the Windjammer and Romeo and Juliet restaurants as well as a lot of others were included in the cruise package which was good as it meant that you could eat as much as you wanted which was brilliant).
If you like Italian dining , then there was an Italian restaurant onboard called the Portfino. Although to eat here , it cost $20 per person. I did fancy here but the rest of the group thought that beings as there were a lot of places that we could eat at , that were included in the price of our holiday , it would have been silly to have spent $140 between us for just one meal , and so we didn't go there. Although I would have liked to have tried it.
There was also a 'meaty' restaurant called 'Chops Grille' which also charged around $10 extra , although being vegetarian , I didn't eat here.
There are also numerous cafes down in the Royal Promenade , where you could obtain as much tea and coffee as you wanted for 'free'. There were also tea and coffee stands in various areas of the ships , although these were only available at certain times.
* Bars *
If you wanted a drink then you had many bars to choose from , and even at busy times , you would almost always find a seat. Some of the bars which we went to included the 'On Air' bar, which also did karaoke , where my sister and I sang a couple of times. They also had a 'private karaoke booth' where you could sing if the karaoke wasn't on. This place also showed the football on a big screen.
Another bar which I loved was 'Boleros' ; a latin themed bar. There was a live latin band who performed there every single night and I loved their style of music and how they made their own 'Spanish sounding' versions of popular songs such as 'Sway' by Michael Buble.
I also loved the Olive Or Twist bar which was located right on top of the ship and you could see 360 degrees around the ship ; it was brilliant. It was one of my favourite places to go in the day as it was always peaceful , and you could see all that was happening outside on the ship as well as the sea , so it was great.
There was another bar called 'The Pyramid Lounge' which had an Egyptian theme. I didn't particularly like this bar ; there wasn't nothing wrong with it , just that it seemed 'out of the way' compared to a lot of the other bars which were located in the centre of the ship. When the football was on , this is one of the areas where loads of people flocked too to see a game - there was a good atmosphere here though, especially when England were playing.
There were also a lot of other bars which you could go to , although the ones listed above are the ones which I went to the most.
There was also a nightclub called 'The Labyrinth' on the show. I did step inside and it was full of smokers (one of the not too many places that smokers could smoke). I was really disappointed that they had made the club a 'smoker's place' as I love partying yet hate smoking , and because the club was absolutely full of smokers , I didn't go there again.
* Staff *
The staff were absolutely fantastic!!! They treated us as though we were royalty. They couldn't do enough for you ; always willing to help and nothing was too much trouble. They were always so professional , friendly , and a lot of them were also really comical too so that made our dining experiences entertaining.
The service was always spot on , especially in the dining room. They would not let you lift a finger ; they wanted to do absolutely everything for you which was brilliant , although I did feel guilty at times especially when they said they don't get one day off and work all day every single day for six months!!
We had two waiters at dinner who remained the same two throughout the cruise (for breakfast you always had a different waiter , depending where you sat) , the main waiter and an assistant waiter and they were brilliant ; so professional , yet very friendly. They really knew their stuff. Working in the hotel industry myself , I appreciate it so much more and with their excellent 'Gold Anchor service' I even picked up a few tips!
The staff in the Windjammer cafe were also great ; always smiling and willing to get anything you wanted from the buffet (if you were too lazy to get it yourself).
All staff aboard were great ; always friendly and saying hello if they met you in the corridor , even the ones you had never spoken too.
Throughout our cruise we received a fantastic service. Everything about it was properly thought out and all made sense , which meant that everything ran smoothly. There was always plenty of staff around too , all working very hard. Everyone was lovely ; professional , friendly and ALWAYS willing to help which was great.
Before we went on the cruise , a lot of people who had been before had warned us about the tipping of staff - apparently if you didn't say that you didn't want them to automatically add tips to your bill , at the beginning of the cruise , then they would go ahead and do this. So , at the beginning we made it clear that we wanted to choose the amount of tips we gave at the end of the cruise , as the suggested amount for each person (head waiter , waiter , assistant waiter and room attendent) added up to around $6 per person per day ,and did seem quite a lot. We were assured that unless we had signed a form in our room that said you wanted the tips to be added automatically to your room bill , then you wouldn't be charged.
So on the last day , when we received the envelopes to put our own tips into. We all agreed on what we were going to give per person ( in total it added up to about $200 between the three of us for four members or staff). Although , later on that afternoon (before we had handed in our tips) we receieved 'vouchers' along with a letter type thing that said 'thank you for pre-paying your gratuities'. We weren't sure what this meant (there were four vouches which had our names printed on them so they were obviously for us).
So we went down to enquire about it at the guest relations , and they said that we had indeed already paid the gratuities in the price of our holiday. We were a bit annoyed at first because we had preched and preached that we hadn't wanted this (although it wasn't the ship's fault , it was the travel agent's fault) , although when we added up what we had already pre-paid (around $60 from each of us between four members of staff) compared to the $200 which we were going to pay , it worked out less for us , and we were also relieved that it had already been paid as it meant we had more spending money left , and also , we weren't sure how much to give in the first place , so that solved the problem. We did however give the room attendent an extra $30 , especially when he told us that he would have to move all of the cases (there were hundreds of them , all laid out in the corridors outside people's cabins) in the night (and he had already worked most of that day). The staff worked so hard , so it was really worth every penny!
So instead of putting money in the envelopes and handing them to each member of staff (4 in total) , we simply put our vouches in the envelopes and then gave them to them. I expect they would then have to hand in the vouchers in return for the money we had already paid for them.
So although we were against pre-paying the gratuities , it did actually work out better for us , and also means you get it out of the way.
Apparently the staff only get $50 per month (including their food and keep) , although they work very long hours , and for their whole contract (6 months , usually) they don't get one day off - so they rely on the tips as their income.
* Shows *
The Independence Of The Seas has it's own theatre called the 'Alhambra' , which is fairly big. Each night , there was a different show on. The ship has it's own entertainers simply known as 'The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers'. Whilst we were there they put on four different productions ; one was a circus , another one was about fairytales as well as others. The shows were brilliant and the performers were excellent. As well as the shows they did , they also performed in the street parades. The ship also had it's own live band ; who seemed to be involved with most things musical on the ship ; all of the shows , the street parades , the talent show etc.
As well as the ship's own in-house-entertainers , there was also entertainers who had just 'called in'. Some of them were very good including a comedian who was very funny , and kept us laughing throughout the whole show. There was an elderly gentleman who sang , and he was brilliant too. Another good one was a comedy juggler , who was brilliant and so was the Motown band. There was one man though , who was an impersonator and he was really bad ; he was American and lot of the impersonations he did were of Americans from television shows and things like that , which we hadn't seen and ,so because we didn't know who these people were , we didn't know if he was good at impersonating them or not , and so the show was very boring. A lot of people even walked out that night. It was really cringy because no one was laughing either!
Most of the time , the shows were fantastic , although my only criticism was the fact that they were too short. Each show only lasted around an hour and so they were over quickly. Apart from this , the shows were of a very high standard (apart from the impersontor man).
There was also an ice rink onboard which also had their own shows , although because these were always on in the afternoon , because we had either been out in the ports all day we would go for a rest before dinner that evening and so we didn't go to see the ice shows. Also another factor was that , with the other shows you could just walk in (it was included in the price of the cruise) to the theatre , find a seat and watch the show. Although with the ice shows , you had to get a ticket in the morning of the day of the show , and so we had already gone out by then perhaps.
One evening they did a show called 'The Love And Marriage Show' in the theatre. The show consisted of four couples hand-picked from the audience ; the men then had to answer embaressing questions about their other halves while they weren't there and then vice versa , and the other halves would have to guess what their partners had said. This was a very comical show!!
* Activities *
There were many activites taking place all day every day. Each night , you would receive a cruise newsletter called 'The Cruise Compass' which would tell you everything about what was going on the next day , including the weather as as well as certain onboard offers such as at the spa etc ,which was very good . There were hundreds of activites to choose from including ; Yoga , bingo , Quizzes , karaoke ; everything you could imagine. They even had a rock climbing wall and a Flow Rider which was a water thing which 'shot' out water so that you could surf. Great for kids! There was so much to do that in the whole two weeks , no way would you have had time to try everything! I had orginally thought when I saw that we had a few 'sea days' (days where we didn't get off the ship at ports) that we would be very bored with nothing to do , although there was soo much to do , that at times I actually prefered the sea days to the port days.
We went to the karaoke one night and it was quite quiet there. There wasn't that many singers there. Me and my sister both sang , although I was disappointed with the songs available , as they were all pre 2000's songs and so there weren't many songs that we knew.
We also went to the bingo session one afternoon. We go to bingo every couple or months or so , and so were looking forward to the session. Although we were really disappointed when we only played about four 'line' games and one 'house' game and so for about $30 we felt this was a bit of rip off as there was only about five chances of winning a prize. When we go to Mecca bingo at home , we pay about £15 and have about twenty-something games , so this one was a bit disappointing. Although I would have loved to have won the top prize which was to spend the rest of your holiday in the 'royal suite'.
There were also other 'fun activities' which involved 'members of the public'. Such things included 'men's belly flop' competition , where they had to flop into the pool and the audience had to vote for who they thought made the biggest splash. The ironic part was , that there were five guys trying (four of which were quite big men) and a skinny guy and the skinny guy won which I thought was funny!
There were a lot of sports facilities including table tennis tables , which we played a few times during our stay. You could also play football and basketball as well as go swimming in one of the many swimming pools. What was good was the fact that there were lots of little swimming pools and one section was for kids and then there was a more quieter area with pools for adults. There were also a few jacuzzis which were lovely and warm. There was also a pool bar which was good , especially at night as it was very quiet and relaxing.
There were loads of deck chairs available on the top deck ; great for sunbathing , and most of the time we had brilliant weather. There was almost always deck chairs available , until the last day when there were hardly none left! There was also a 'help-yourself-ice-cream-machine' which I absolutely loved , and you could as many as you wanted!
* Ports of Call *
We went to some great places ; Gibraltar , Corsica , Cannes , Barcelona , Ibiza , Malag , Lisbon and Vigo. You could book excursions with the ship , where you could go on tours (you had to pay) or go to museums or things like football clubs. We never went on any of the ship's excursions and just did our own thing.
I was really pleased with the places we went to especially ; Barcelona , Malaga , Lisbon and Vigo. The rest of the places we visited were good , although the ones I have listed above are the ones which stood out the most for me.
When getting off the ship you had to use your seapass to 'clock out' and then on returning to the ship , you had to clock back in , and go through security checks ; you couldn't bring particular items such as food and drink onto the ship.
* Photographs *
There was always an opportunity for a photograph. The ship had it's own photographers , who were always buzzing about the ship. Whenever you stepped off the ship , the photographers would be waiting for you , (one would be dressed up in a special outfit depending on which place we were at - in gibraltar they were dressed up as a monkey , a bull fighter in Barcelona , a dolphin in lisbon etc) and you could have your photo taken with the 'mascot'. Your photos would then be available to purchase in the ship's own gallery which held loads of photos. You could also have you're photos taken every night around the ship with special backgrounds such as the ship , or on the stairs. On formal nights they would 'chase' you for a photo - sometimes even interupting your dinner for a photo. We had some good photos of all of us which we purchased at around $20-$30 per photo. Once we had purchased four photos , we had a 'free' photo album which was worth $39 so that was good!
Throughout the cruise , they were always on about a dvd which the ship people had made during the fortnight and would be a great souvenier to take home as it contained great memories from the particular cruise (featuring clips from the shows , and the parties , and of the people). I thought 'oh wow ,that sounds good' and so bought a copy of the DVD for $30! However , I managed to watch it for the first time last night , and it was a load of old rubish! Yes , it did feature clips of the shows and clips of the passengers dancing in the parties and so on , although it was more like a 'promotional dvd' which you can get free if you request from cruise companies (I had had some free through the post from P&O cruises and Ocean Village , before we went) and this one was exactly like one of those as it said 'this is the so-and-so - we are open from 8-4 every day' kind of thing , and so I felt it was a complete rip off , telling me about what I already
* Royal Promenade *
Believe it or not , the ship has it's own 'street' with shops and cafes. You would not believe that you were on a ship , but would think that you were really shopping on a real street. There aren't that many shops (just small shops such as a 'general store' which sold sweets , medication and souveniers , a women's clothes shop , a men's clothes shop , cafes , Ben and Jerry's Ice cream shop as well as 'travel agents' where you could book your next cruise' , and once you had been in them once , you'd seen it all. One good thing about the shops was the fact that they were 'duty-free'. The shops were sometimes closed whilst the ship was docked , and would then open when the ship was back at sea.
At night , 'parties' would take place on the Royal Promenade. The first 'party' was good ; it featured two of the cruise's professional singers and they were brilliant. Although as the cruise went on , these parties became 'boring'. There were these bridges/stages that came down from the roof. There would be music playing (they would have special nights such as British rock etc) and then they would have members of the entertainment teams (not the actual singers and dancers - but the ones who would help out at events such as bingo and karaoke etc) and they would just be dancing and jumping up and down , and the crowd would just be looking at them , and so I thought that this was very boring and so I didn't watch these parades after.
* Extra Points and tips *
Beforehand , we had worried that we would get sea sick ; although it did take us a day or two to get used to the ship's movement , we were absolutely find. One or two nights it was a bit rocky although we felt safe onboard. We took 'travel bands' which really helped on the first day. Although sea sickness didn't affect us at all.
We always made sure that we left at least an hour before we were supposed to get back on the ship , when visiting ports , as the ship wouldn't wait for anyone. When we visited Cannes , there was a group of people who weren't back on the ship at the time the ship was set to sail , the captain said that they would wait twenty minutes for them and no more (as the ship was being charged to park at the port). I don't know if they did get back on in time or if they had to fly to Barcelona to meet the ship the next day. So it's better to leave the ports a little early in order to get back onto the ship in time.
Before the cruise I shopped and shopped until I was certain that I wouldn't be able to fit everything into my suitcase (luckily I was). I was sure I didn't have enough clothes for two weeks ; I took about eight different pairs of shoes and only ended up wearing the same two pairs throughout. I also didn't wear half the clothes that I took with me. There was also an onboard laundry where you could send your dirty laundry for a small price and then they would return your items to your room which was good.
The best time to go swimming was at around 6pm as there were hardly no people there at all , just the odd one or two. However in the day it was proper busy and quite noisy at times too .
If you are going to buy sovenieres then I recommend that you do so on the last day rather than at the beginning of your holiday , as there was a big sale at the end of cruise ,especially on jewellry and perfumes , so it is worth waiting.
With over 4000 passengers onboard as well as over 1,300 members of staff , you would have thought that it would have been overcrowded , but the truth was it wasn't (apart from the Windjammer at busy times). There were some real great places which were very peaceful , including the very front of the ship , on the top deck after 6pm (when everyone had either gone to dinner for 6:30 , or gone to get ready for dinner at 8:30).
Before going , a lot of people had said that a cruise was a holiday for old people ,so I was a bit like 'oh god', but I can honestly tell you that there were more people in their twenties and thirties than old people. Although having said that , there were people of all ages from , babies , toddlers , kids , teens , adults and seniors. It really is the perfect holiday for everyone!
If you're in a group , it's a good idea to have a meeting point. So if you do happen to get split up from everyone , it's a good idea to say 'if we lose someone , head to the 'meeting point' (whether it be outside a shop or bar) on the hour' , so say that you 'lose someone' and it's 12:45 , then you would be at the meeting place to meet at 1 o clock , if that makes sense.
Before going I was worried that I wouldn't have enough spending money to last a fortnight , and was thinking 'oh my god , I'm going to need at least £1000. In the end I took around 400 Euros with me and that was more than enough - I think during the whole two weeks , I only spent around 100 Euros , and that was off the ship , mainly buying tickets to go on tour buses , entries into places like caves and museums and for souveniers , and so that proves that you don't need that much money with you at all , although it wise to make sure that you do have enough. Everything you bought onboard the ship with your 'seapass' , which was linked to a credit card , was taken out of your bank account at the end of the holiday.
* Overall Experience *
We had a fantastic time ; all seven of us agreed that it was a brilliant experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything about it was wonderful ; the food , the staff , the cabins , shows , ports , ice cream machine , jacuzzi , bars ....everything was perfect!!
We paid around £1300 each for a room with a balcony and it was well worth the money. At first it did seem a little expensive , although when we were actually on the ship it was obvious that it was well worth the money when you think about all that was included :
Unlimited food : (breakfast , lunch tea , and dinner as well as 24 hour buffet) , including a three course meal every night (if you had gone to a restaurant it would probably have cost £20+ per person). All of the ice cream we had at the pool (if you would have bought it in a shop , each cone would have cost at least £2 each , and we had loads here)
The top shows ; In all , I think we saw about nine shows. Imagine if you had gone to see a show at your local theatre it would have cost around £20 per person per show (actually more probably as the performers on this ship were World class).
There was so much more included although the above are the main ones! So all in all it was excellent value for money!
* Highly Recommended *
I would definately recommend the Independence Of The Seas ; it was fantastic , a real holiday in a lifetime , and now that I have arrived home after two weeks onboard the brilliant ship...it's horrible , there was so much to do onboard , so many people and great company , and now it just seems really boring and lonely after being surrounded by so many people for a fortnight !I really can't wait to go again!
Time to start saving some money for another cruise I think...........!
Thanks for reading!
Apologies for such a long review (it's not often I write long ones!)
June 22nd 2010
xd-o-n-z-x (also posted under xdonzx on ciao)
Recently I had the pleasure of spending a couple of weeks on Royal Caribbean's 'MS Independence of the Seas' - a fifteen-thousand tonne cruise ship, upon which I traveled over 7,000 miles.
A town at sea
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Having not been on a cruise before, I really didn't know what to expect, and was in for a shock when I saw the ship for the first time. The Independence is currently the largest passenger vessel ever built, measuring a massive 1,111.9ft. To put that immense scale into perspective, it's twice the length of the huge Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, and incredibly tall. Walking up to the ship is like walking up to a skyscraper - and there certainly weren't any surrounding buildings which could compete with its height in Southampton where I boarded.
The Independence has a capacity for 4,370 passengers, which is quite incredible when you consider the amount of food and supplies needed for that amount of people, and the fact that life on board never seems really crowded.
After going through the security checks which are basically the same as you would encounter in an airport (metal detectors, x-ray machines etc), the boarding experience is pretty straightforward - unless of course you're planning on bringing a cache of heavy weapons with you.
Welcome to the USA!
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As an American vessel, the onboard currency is dollars - although due to the excellent 'seapass' system, there is no real need for any actual money to change hands, apart from in the casino. Basically, you pay for things using the seapass card which is linked to a credit card you have nominated before traveling. The card doubles up as a security pass which has to be scanned into a machine everytime you leave or board the vessel.
Continuing the American theme, my mobile was fooled into thinking it was in The States, as I had a "welcome to the USA message" when my phone was roaming for a new network. As well as a mobile network, each room has wi-fi capabilities, although charges apply to use the service.
Once onboard, I initially felt that I wouldn't ever be able to find my way around! The amount of rooms, decks, and passageways can be pretty daunting, and the general scale of everything is bewilderingly impressive. That said, I did get my bearings quite quickly, and I was soon familiar with my new floating surroundings.
Room with a view
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My room, or 'cabin' to use the nautical term, was on the port side of deck eight, located on the longest and narrowest corridor I have ever seen in my life - and that's no exaggeration. The room itself was of a medium size and very pleasant - I had a window which overlooked the 'Royal Promenade' (a shopping street which runs the length of the ship), so I could see what was going on in the busy precinct below.
The cabin bathrooms are small, but feature a huge mirror, loads of storage space, and an incredibly powerful shower which always stung my sunburned shoulders when I used it.
The bed was very comfortable, although I had a foam mattress which meant I kept waking up too hot in the middle of the night. Each cabin has a flatscreen Samsung TV which features film channels, sport channels, plus many of Royal Caribbean's own productions. One of the channels on the TV constantly showed the view from the front of the ship, whilst another featured the current navigational statistics like wind speed, distance traveled from the UK, and a chart showing where we were in the world. This made me appreciate how small we are in the grand scheme of things, when the largest ship ever built is depicted as a tiny dot in the middle of the ocean.
The TV doubles up as a interactive tool, allowing you to view things like your expenses account and general info about the cruise. The interactive service also offers a selection of the latest movies on demand - although it costs around $15 to view each one.
Tea and coffee making facilities are available in the rooms, although the little milk cartons which Royal Caribbean provides taste absolutely disgusting!
Take a look around
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After unpacking, I went to have a look around, and the first place I visited was the main shopping street which I previously mentioned. If you didn't know you were at sea, it would be easy to assume you were in the middle of a large shopping centre, or even on a town highstreet - there's even a sports car parked on the street which confuses the mind even more into thinking that you're still on land. At nights there are frequent events which occur on in the Promenade, and there was even a carnival style parade one evening.
Just off the street, down a flight of glamorously lit stairs, is the 'Casino Royale', which, surprisingly enough, is a James Bond themed gambling den. Housing hundreds of one-armed-bandits which are capable of paying out thousands of dollars, the casino is straight out of Vegas, and the croupiers around the roulette and poker tables are all ready to take your hard earned cash. I spent an evening in the casino, but didn't have much success - my initial fistful of dollars was soon reduced to a small handful of cents.
Food for thought
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Dining on board the Independence of the Seas is a real pleasure, and there are a wealth of café's and restaurants to suit most eating needs. The main self-service café is known as the 'Windjammer' - a huge eatery which is of a similar size to a small supermarket! Here you can go up and take whatever and however much you want, and there is an excellent selection of delicacies from around the world - Chinese, Italian, English - its all there, and it's all absolutely delicious. Then there are the desserts which, were *too* perfect.
In the evenings I ate in the dining rooms which are situated on the lower decks, with titles such as 'Rome & Juliet' and 'Anthony & Cleopatra'. These eating rooms are very posh looking and appear like the ornate settings which are depicted in the film 'Titanic' (although that's probably not the best thing to think about when you're on a ship!). Here the service is truly excellent, and the waiters and waitresses are extremely attentive. One example of this was whenever I took a sip of water, the waiter would come and top up my glass from the jug on the table - they never missed a sip! The dress code for these restaurants is preset, so some nights it's 'casual', others are 'smart-casual' (jacket required), and a couple of nights are 'formal' - a DJ and bow-tie should do the trick.
Occasionally the waiters (and there are hundreds of them, from all corners of the world) would perform a musical interlude during dinner - a theatrical parade which kept the old-folks happy! - a bit too smiley and happy for me though!
All the food from the restaurants is included in the price of your cruise, although alcoholic drinks are extra... a lot extra. If you wanted a beer for example, you would be looking to pay in the region of $7, whilst a small liquor like a Bailey's would be around $6.50 - extortionate really. Oh, and don't even think about using the mini-bar in the room, which has the following laughable price list:
Small bottle of Evian: $4.55
Can of Red Bull: $4.55
A question of sport
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After all that excellent eating, exercise is the key - and considering the fact that many people come back from a cruise a couple of stone heavier, I decided to make good use of the onboard sporting facilities.
The huge gym is located at the top and front of the ship, and has more exercise equipment than you could possibly imagine, including a boxing ring, and every type of weights machine that you would ever need. The exercise bikes and treadmill machines are extremely modern and touch-screen, allowing you to programme in your own routines so you can go at your own pace. The gym's location, providing a magnificent 360 degree view of the ships current position, allows for an inspired workout - I remember sitting on the exercise bike, staring out upon the huge Golden Gate-esque bridge in Lisbon Portugal, whilst watching the dolphins leaping out of the water - great stuff.
Next to the gym is a dance studio, a sauna, and a steam room, above which is a beauty salon which offers all sorts of cosmetic procedures, massages, and other relaxing treatments - all at a high price of course.
In terms of other fitness activities, on Deck 11 there is a running track (which I used on most evening), and two swimming pools with adjoining jacuzzi's. Actually, swimming for exercise was a bit tricky, as I always came face-to-face with the free ice-cream machine when I stepped out of the pool (which you could use non stop, all day long if you liked).
The sports deck is at the top of the ship and features an outdoor all-weather basketball court, a climbing wall, and a flow-rider (surf-machine). There's also a golf simulator (which I played during fairly rough sees - quite an experience), and a 'mini-golf' course, although this is more like glorified crazy-golf.
The Independence also features an ice-rink called 'Studio B' - yes, you heard correctly - a ship with an ice-rink! - although I didn't use it, so I can't comment on how good it is. When not open to the public, Studio B features ice shows with professional performers in the evenings.
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The non-sporting entertainment on the ship is very good - the huge 1,200 capacity 'Alhambra Theatre' shows a selection of shows; from comedy to music, theatre to cabaret, on most nights. When not showing live shows, the venue broadcasts sporting events, and I watched the Man U v Arsenal Champions League semi-final here on the large cinema screen.
There is an Egyptian themed section known as 'The Pyramid Lounge', featuring a large bar which also doubles up as another live music venue. The entrance to The Pyramid Lounge contains real stone Egyptian-themed statues, which makes the area look even more like something which should be located in Vegas.
A number of other bars can be found scattered around the ship, although the drinks in all of these venues are of the same nastily high price.
For the bibliophiles amongst you, there is a well stocked library which also doubles up as a designated quiet area - I used the tranquility of this setting on a couple of occasions when I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of cruise life. The library features a good selection of books which are available in a variety of languages.
On the Independence of the Seas there is always something to do - each day, you get a cruise planner which is delivered into your room. This details the many events which are going on throughout the day, and there really is something for everyone... Cigar tasting, basketball shootouts, longest drive competitions on the golf simulator, pub-quizzes, ice-shows, cabaret - the list goes on and on - there are literally hundreds of things going on at the same time.
Down with the sickness
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If anyone tells you that you can't feel yourself moving whilst on a cruise ship, it's a lie! Of course, some times this is the case - but whilst going through the Bay of Biscay on the return to England, the ship was ridiculously rocky. It's really difficult to sleep when the sea is in this condition - feeling your bed tipping back and forth whilst in a darkened cabin deep in a ship. Of course, some people may find this rocking motion helps them drop off - but for me, I felt quite claustrophobic, especially when combined with the slight creaking of the ceiling. Of course, the ship does have stabilisers, but in really rough seas they cant stop the 'motion of the ocean'.
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The Independence of the Seas is an amazing vessel, which really felt like home for a couple of weeks. There is so much to do and see onboard, that really the ship is a small town rather than a boat.
If it wasn't for a few really rough days, I would say that spending time on the Independence was the perfect holiday - and that's from someone who wouldn't have ever considered cruising in the past.
For more information, visit www.royalcaribbean.co.uk
Stats for the Tecchies
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Tonnage: 154,407 GT (gross tonnage)
Length: 338.92 m (1,111.9 ft)
Beam: 38.6 m (127 ft) hull
Draught: 8.8 m (29 ft)
Decks: 15 (passenger); 3 (crew)
Propulsion: Diesel-electric (kW)/3 pods (1 fixed, 2 azimuthing) 14Mw each
Speed: 21.6 knots (40 km/h)
Capacity: 4,370 passengers
Crew: 1,360 crew
Currently the largest cruise ship in the world, the Independence of the Seas is the newest Royal Caribbean International ship, the third entering the new freedom class of ship, it was built in Finland and registered in the Bahamas.
It has an astounding capacity of 3634 people and 1360 staff/crew. It entered service in February 2008 and the whole of 2009 it is operating out of Southampton, England.
I hope most of you enjoyed the Bank Holiday weekend, I did, I went on my first ever cruise, it was a 4 nights mini cruise to Ireland, on the MASSIVE Independence of the Seas.
The Independence has 15 decks (these are just the ones you're allowed on, there are 3 more staff decks below the water line).
The facilities are quite out of this world for a boat, they include:
A theatre that seats 1300 people
An ice-rink, open to the public and with ice shows
The Royal Promenade (the indoor shopping street with bars and restaurants too)
A boxing ring
A climbing wall (I did it and made it to the top)
The flowrider (a surfing machine)
A basket ball court
A 9 hole golf course
A jogging track
3-4 swimming pools (depending on what you count, there are 3 sections, but 4 pools)
2 jacuzzi's that hang over the edge of the ship by 12 foot
Loads of bars, and much much more.
We watched a different show every night, went in all the bars and played game shows. It is big, it's almost like being in a shopping centre on water. I was worried about feeling movement, but you don't feel much, there is a constant hum which is the engines and you do move around a bit, I awoke the first morning and was moving slightly in bed, it felt like I was drunk.
I get sea-sick and I wasn't on here, but the water was very calm, I did feel a bit queasy at times, I think this was purely the motion sickness from moving.
Everything except exercusions are included, and drinks, although we brought the soda fountain drinks package for £20 each, and we got a free flask thingy with it, which was great cause we just got drinks whenever for free. There are drinks available in the restaurants for free at meal times too, but alcohol is obviously an extra charge.
The entertainment was good, and there was kids clubs for children of all ages. I would describe this boat as Butlins on a boat. It is great for families and there is a lot to do.
However the main thing that concerned me was the false sense of security being on the ship gives you. A lot of people left their kids to it, and although yes they couldn't go too far being on a ship in the sea, they could however go overboard, there were no high sides and the worse is people could be rapists or paedophiles, just because they are on a cruise means nothing, and people left kids of all ages, and they could have easily been targeted. It just worries me.
We had an inside cabin, which I didn't really like, I mean I'd never pay the silly money rooms with balconies cost but a window would have been nice, it was weird waking up in the pitch black with no idea of the time. It would have been nice to have some natural light. At first I was annoyed we wouldn't know what the weather was like but the Independence has a camera on the front top of the ship and you can look at it on the TV in your room (channel 18/19).
The food was fantastic in typical American order of priorities the food was top, there was a restaurant open at nearly all times, there was a void between midnight and 6am though. Although thinking about it, I think there was a pizza place open later than that. We ate in the main restaurant twice and another 2 on the other nights, there was so much variety and even the super fussy like me had a big choice. The WindJammer had a lot to offer, chips, burgers, pizza, salad, fruit, curry, roast dinners, meats, pastries. Everything you could want.
My favourite meal was breakfast - Pancakes all the way!
We choose first sitting which was 6pm, for dinner this was good as we didn't have to wait till 11pm for our show, we got to see the one at 9pm. We met some nice people on our table and got on well. I think though if the people were horrible it could make dinner quite awkward.
I didn't like that we were given envelopes to tip, I know it was an American boat and they are obsessed, but cruising isn't cheap and salaries in the hospitality industry are generally quite low (I always tip well and when it is deserved, I've had a few jobs in the hotel sector and so I know) BUT being told to tip this for that, and to tip not only our waiter, but the assistant waiter and the head waiter (who we didn't even see) is a bit much. The guy looking after our room was excellent and we tipped what we thought was very reasonable, but according to Royal Caribbean's guidelines we were tight.
My biggest upset was at around Midnight every night a banging noise started, and it continued to start and stop throughout the night, this did ruin sleeping for me, and I like my sleep and by the end of it, I was a bit grumpy.
Personally I wouldn't choose to go on another cruise if I had a choice, it was enjoyable but not my idea of a relaxing holiday. Perhaps if we were sailing around the Caribbean it would be different. My boyfriend however loves them and thinks it's the only holiday he can fully relax 100% purely because he likes the regimented routine, I like to be the boss and not be told what to do when, but hey.
Facilities: 9/10 (very kid orientated)
Cabin 8/10 (the bed was great, real comfy)
Overall experience: 7/10