Embarkation is always hit and miss. If you show up at the same time as thousands of other people, like we did, it's going to be slow. It would have helped though if the signs for Crown and Anchor members had been better or the lady checking our documents had directed us to the correct line. It took well over an hour but wasn't unpleasant. Hint: try to arrive a little later after the crowds.
The Independence of the Seas is a huge ship with the modern concept of a "downtown" like setting in the middle of the ship. This area is cute but not nearly large enough to accommodate the number of people on the ship. It stays crowded much of the time.
Royal Caribbean has pretty much turned the ship into a floating hotel/theme park. The outside decks all have rock climbing walls and "surf" boarding and other activities, usually for an extra fee. Gone are almost all activities that don't in some way result in alcohol sales or extra income. Trivia is about all that is left of the traditional cruise activities. The ship was very clean as they are on every cruise I've ever been on.
Cruise: This was a four day cruise to Ireland. Ireland was beautiful and Blarney Castle well worth seeing. The ship was mostly British and they were a delight; happy, friendly and really fun to listen to. I'm sure RCI enjoyed the brisk 'ale' sales they provided. The dress on this ship was much nicer than any other cruise I've been on.
We had a great cabin steward, excellent job. Guest relations were hit and miss with one very rude clerk and several very nice. They love to use the excuse that your travel agent must call for almost everything. Despite their corporate office telling me to talk to the purser about a credit for them lowering the rates below what I paid, the desk clerk insisted my travel agent must talk to them. To bad for me my agent works by herself and was on her honeymoon out of the country and couldn't be reached. Of course due to 'policy' they couldn't do anything. HINT: Don't book through a travel agent; they love to use this excuse to not to deal with you. In my mind not using one also probably leaves them with a few more dollars they might put towards an upgrade or credit.
In the stores I was surprised at just how surly several store employees were although (again) many were very nice. Hint: In my opinion the bigger these ships get they less the employees care.
I read a lot of reviews. The food is very good considering they are feeding thousands of people daily, actually amazing they keep it as fresh as they do. I read complaints about the buffet getting monotonous. If you eat three plates of everything every day I'm sure it would. Hint: A hamburger, fries, and desert is a meal, so is pasta and salad. Spread it out and you will be amazed at your choices. If you have a very sophisticated palate you shouldn't be booking on a lower rung of the cruising ladder anyway.
The entertainment on this cruise was hit and miss. I couldn't believe they had a comic that had his jokes taped on a stand (you could see it from the balcony) and he still forgot and told them wrong. They also had a kid doing tricks on a bike. Good talent but not a headline act. RCI should have been embarrassed by it, as the very poor turnout showed most agreed with me. The show at the ice rink though was excellent and exciting and the club musicians were possibly the best I ever heard.
Cruising to me is by far the best value for your traveling dollar. We love it. RCI will give you a good value for your money. This is our 17th cruise in 10 years. We booked this cruise because Royal Caribbean canceled our roundtrip Venice cruise that was for our 30th anniversary last year to have more time to refurbish the ship. We had to book another cruise to get plane change fees.
This cruise was only four days and we figured if something went wrong, again, we could just hang out in London. Royal Caribbean's rebooking department was astonishingly rude to me (then and since) and they didn't even completely cover my air change fees or the travel insurance I had to re-buy. I will never cruise with them again. It's hard to believe any corporation would treat loyal customers like that when they just ruined someone's dream of a lifetime.
Based on this cruise and the obvious interest in income over anything else I don't think I'll be missing much by never sailing with them again. We are already booked on Princess for our next two cruises.