My boyfriend and I took this 4 day cruise from Southampton to Cobh/Cork to try out Royal Caribbean after having sailed with Carnival and NCL previously. This was the first time we had embarked in the UK, something we found very easy and would happily repeat. We travelled to Southampton by train and then it was just a few minutes in a taxi to the dock.
The Independence of the Seas was a very large and impressive ship. Some areas felt a little tired, however the facilities were excellent. We liked the promenade area and thought the aft sports deck had amazing facilities such as flow rider, which would particularly appeal to teenagers.
We booked an outside guarantee stateroom and were assigned a category H cabin on deck 2 forward a couple of weeks before sailing. The cabin was a very standard outside view cabin. We found it nice and quiet, apart from when docking. The cabin was conveniently located close to forward stairs, 3 decks below the promenade. Although standard, it was a shame the bed head was under the window, rather than in a position where you could look out to sea. A kettle and tea bags were provided in the room, but no coffee. There were no robes in our room either, which would have been nice for walking up to the hot tubs on deck 11.
The range of activities on board was not as broad as expected. Maybe because of the British clientele the key daytime activities were quizzes and bingo. We played bingo once, and although expensive ($32) there were some great cash prizes for the winners (from $400 to $750). The theatre shows were very disappointing, especially the comedian Tom Pepper in our view. We really enjoyed the ice show however, Freeze Frame, which had great music and choreography. It was necessary to get tickets for this in advance, which meant getting up early one morning, although I did not experience the long queues which have been reported on this forum. We attended an art auction on board which was fun and interesting, and included a couple of glasses of free champagne. The parades were not that good in our view, Olympus Rocks on the first night was poor, but Britannia Rocks on the last night was more fun, although not really a parade, just dancing on the sky bridge. (The best place to watch would have been from between the two bridges).
We chose the My Time dining option so we had flexibility and selected a table for two. We ate around 8.30pm each night and 3 of the 4 evenings were seated in the same section with the same waiters who got to know our tastes. The food was good, but not exceptional. On the first day at lunchtime and the last day at breakfast the Windjammer buffet was overcrowded and chaotic. At all other times there was plenty of space and an enjoyable experience. I particularly enjoyed the Asian food from Jade. The promenade cafe and Sorrento's were handy for grabbing a coffee and an (unnecessary!) snack at any hour of the day.
We liked the Olive & Twist bar for it's great views out over the rest of the ship and out to sea. Vintages and the Dog & Badger both had prime seats right on the promenade. The Schooner bar was laid back and nautical themed, a nice place to relax over a drink.
Service on board was fine, but not special. Most of the bar and wait staff were efficient but quite brusque. Our cabin steward Selvin and the waiters in Johnny Rockets were the exceptions to this rule and came across as friendly and helpful whilst still being efficient.
There was only one port of call on our trip, Cobh in Ireland. This was a pretty town with enough to look around for a couple of hours. The second day in port we took the train (7 EUR return, 25 mins) to Cork, which was a bigger city with more to see and do. Our top tip would be to buy your ticket the day you arrive in Cobh to avoid the queues the next morning. We did not participate in any organised excursions, although those on offer seemed better value than some we have taken with other cruise lines.
At disembarkation we carried off our own bags which was simple and very quick.
Overall a really good cruise on a fantastic and very large ship. Would definitely cruise with RCI again.