This was my first cruise, a party of 6 of us went on a cruise to celebrate my Brother in law and Sister in laws' silver wedding anniversary.
I have been a Merchant Navy Officer for 30 years and I am not easily impressed, but I thought the Independence of the Seas was a spectacular ship unfortunately RCI is not so spectacular. Our cabin was a deluxe balcony stateroom and was much better than I expected.
The staff I found to be friendly,polite and very helpful.Our cabin attendant kept our cabin clean,tidy and well supplied. The room service staff bought our breakfast hot and on time every morning. The dining room staff were very good, friendly and at times entertaining.
The food was good quality and plentiful although after about a week it became a bit repetitive. On a cruise to Spain and The Canaries I would have expected the menu to have had a bit of a Spanish influence, but in 10 days I did not see one Spanish dish.
When we joined the ship we were encouraged to sign up for one of the Beer and soda Packages, this cost $45 per day for every day onboard for each person in your cabin, on a ten day cruise this works out as $900 per couple. This should have allowed us 'free' beer,soft drinks and glasses of wine for the whole trip.
When you sit down and do the sums it works out that have to drink about 8 Beers or Glasses of wine each per day to make it pay, which unless you are a very heavy drinker is quite alot to drink every day.
RCI also have other tricks up their sleeves to make sure you don't get your moneys worth :-
1) You can only get certain beers, wines and soft drinks on the package, we heard of a couple who paid $1500 for the Premium Package but still had to pay extra for a can of Coke.
2) If you have more than 1 drink every 30 minutes for your own 'Health and Safety' the bar staff are instructed not to serve you. RCI don't seem to be so concerned with your 'health and safety' if you are not on a package and are paying for drinks, as so far as I could see you can then drink what you want when you want.
3) If one of your party appears to be getting drunk (difficult not to when you have to drink 8 pints every day) then the barstaff are instructed not serve the whole party.
4) The package is supposed to be an easy and simple way to pay for your drinks, but you have to keep a close eye on your account, as most days we found that we had been charged for drinks we shouldn't have and had to join the morning queue's at reception to get it sorted out.
We did not meet anybody who had sailed with RCI previously who had bought a drinks package on their second cruise, many said they had bought one on their first cruise and thought it a waste of money.
Drinks on board are expensive about $6.5 a pint (Â£4.25), this is particularly expensive when you consider RCI are buying it duty free for less that $1 a pint.
We were encouraged at every opportunity to signup for the excursion packages which were very expensive. We only went for the $10 scheduled buses in Madiera and Lanzarote and there was a free bus in Tenerife.
You are supplied with quite alot of information about the excursions that you had to pay for, but there was not much information if like most people you just wanted go for a walk ashore in the local area. We were considering signing up for an excursion in Gran Canaria and Vigo as this looked like the only way to get ashore, until we found out from the bar staff that the ship actually stops in the middle of town in these ports and you can just walk ashore.
The organisation for passengers not using the paid for excursions was often non existant. For instance when we arrived at our first port Madiera, no instructions were given about going ashore which meant that people began congregating at the gangway, we were eventually organised into an orderly queue which went up the stairways for 3 or 4 decks and there we stayed for about 90minutes until the gangway doors were opened.
There is a huge mark up on any Jewelry, Drink or tobacco bought onboard.Drink and tobacco is about twice the price onboard than it is ashore.
My wife was looking at a ring in one of the jewelry sales it was marked up $216 but when we peeled back the price tag put on by RCI we found a makers Price tag with a recommended price of $115.
We only managed to see one show which was an ice show, the show was very good but the organisation of the seating was chaotic and many people ended up having to stand.
In conclusion if you are not suckered into any of RCI money spinning Scams you can you can maybe have a good time. Although RCI are keen to tell you about the experience of crews working onboard their ships, it sometimes appears that they have never actually taken a cruise themselves.
If I go on another cruise I will look somewhere else.