I'm going to try and be as helpful and honest as I can with this review but will prelude it by saying that if someone is determined not to like something then sadly there's a very good chance of them doing just that. So while there may be a few negative elements to my comments, in the main there are a lot more positive ones and I hope that gives a fair assessment of our experiences on board The Independence of the Seas.
My husband and I had cruised with Cunard last year; on the Queen Mary 2 to the Norwegian Fjiords. It was wonderful but would not have suited (in a million years) our two grown-up children who were to accompany us this summer. So we did our research by looking at reviews on Cruise Critic and also asking friends who had experienced a more diverse range of cruiselines than us. We chose Royal Caribbean because it seemed to suit all our needs in terms of the entertainment it provided for us oldies (well, in our 50's!) and our offspring, both in their early twenties, and in terms of destinations,suitability of dates etc.
As my husband and myself were flying from Ireland and getting a coach down from Heathrow (very well organised by the Royal Carribean staff) our children actually embarked before us as they were already on the mainland. Having arrived earlier than us they perhaps had less time to wait to get on board compared to our forty minutes or so, having arrived during a much busier period. However, we expected some sort of wait because of security so it was no real hradship in any respect. All staff were courteous and polite, a trait that extended into the rest of our trip and I must say that there were times when it must have been difficult for the staff to deal with some of the more demanding members of the public.
So, I'll divide the next part of the review into sections so that it might be more easy to follow and extract what's appropriate for the reader.
DINING To be honest I was sceptical that the Independence could better the food on offer on the Queen Mary but I was wrong. I really do not know how a previous reviewer thought that the food was bland and luke warm. All I can say is that they must have been on a different ship! Every single meal in the main dining room each night was cooked to perfection albeit in reasonably small portions although with three courses that was more than enough for me. Our daughter is vegetarian and every effort was made to also suit her needs. Our waiter (Luis) and assistant waiter (VJ)- table 320, were absolutely super; neither of them too intrusive or pandering and always polite and respectful without being over the top. As for the food in the Windjammer at lunch time, we found it to be more than adequate with a very good variety of hot and cold food on offer. Yes, there were times when the restaurant got crowded and you might not have got your preferred seat (my husband likes a window seat for example) but with a bit of patience and good humour, something became available before too long.
STATEROOM Of course, unless you are fortunate enough to have a suite most folk will know that the staterooms are not that massive in size. And yes it would be nice to have rather more space to move about but considering the amount of time we spent in our room it was adequate for us. More importantly everything was clean and tidy and if we needed anything extra such as small shampoos, conditioners etc then we only needed to ask our stateroom attentand, Putu,who accomodated us willingly. Our room was quite low on the ship but it was actually quite nice to be close to sea level and look out in the morning as the sun was rising. Our children were in an inside cabin which they said was fine for them but personally I need the daylight and would always book something with an ocean view whether it be a porthole or balcony.
STAFF What can I say about the staff? They work such long hours, day after day, night after night and I'd like to really commend Royal Caribbean for doing such a great job with their obviously effective staff training. Our one hiccup on the trip revolved around the wine package my daughter had bought for me. They had run out of a particular wine I liked on only the third night (something that shouldn't really have happened) but the reception staff dealt with it quickly and efficiently and offered a solution. Thankfully most passengers we met on board were appreciative of the hardworking staff but like everywhere there were those who complained a lot. As far as gratuities go, we only paid tips to those staff who gave good service but this is for the individual to decide themselves. Most ships will have guidelines as to how to pay gratuities but we never felt under pressure to pay things upfront.
PORTS OF CALL We were visiting the Western Mediterranean ports, the first of which was Gibraltar which was, by a long way, the most disappointing. The Rock could learn a few things about cleanliness from some of the other ports we visited. Palma and Alicante for example were spotless but Gibraltar, I'm sad to say, was embarrassingkly grubby.
I agree with many of the other reviewers when they complained about Royal Caribbean's policy to charge for the shuttle buses into the ports. Apart from Lisbon the ports were actually within walking distance (for most fit people)from the ship. However, if you used the shuttle bus it was around a Â£10 charge I think which is way over the top and something that Royal Caribbean should think about changing as it only antagonises passenegers in the long run.
ENTERTAINMENT In the end we could hardly get our children off the ship. Obviuosly the nightlife at the Labyrinth Club suited them nicely. They bought their own drinks package (I didn't ask!) while my husband and I had the soda package which suited our requirements. I do know that alcoholic drinks seemed to be expensive though. From listening to other passengers with young children it seemed as though the young were very well catered for although obviously we had no firsthand experience of this. The Ice shows were, to put it midly, fantastic. Whether they are your thing or not, you have to admire the standard of skating and the quality of the production involved. The costumes were fabulous. We went to one of the comedy shows with Kevin the Armenian and it was first class. It just goes to prove that someone can be very funny for all agegroups without resorting to being blue. We also went to the Quest (full house)with our dining room friends Steve and Marie and it was a night to remember and just good plain fun.
ACTIVITIES We tried the mini golf a few times - we were all hopeless! The table tennis was fun and an opportunity to meet with other travellers. My only complaint about the boardgames room was that it needs to be better supervised. A few of the kids did not have a great deal of respect for the playing pieces, cards etc and left them all over the floor. Easily lifted, I know, but annoying (on the Queen Mary for example they had some 1000 piece jigsaws set out down one corridor and people would just add to it as the cruise went along. At the end of the cruise not one piece was missing).
SECURITY This was something that I was very impressed by. I hadn't actually thought that much about how they control misdemeanours on a ship but when my daughter said that at the club there was a three stikes and you're out policy it made me realise how important it is. I suppose that after a few drinks there may be a tendency for bravado but it was reassuring to hear that the ship takes no nonsense and that they do actually put people off. There are video cameras everywhere and this is no bad thing in this day and age. Happily we didn't come across any form of discipline problems ourselves (except perhaps when my husband was finally persuaded to get up and dance which was a thing to behold!)
THE GYM We used this ten out of the forteen days in an effort at maintaining some semblence of fitness. The machines seem to be up to date although I didn't use the weight machines myself so can't comment. There is also a full- size boxing ring and a separate spa area. Several times when I was on the jogger there were dolphins swimming ahead of the ship - a quite wonderful spectacle.
So, I have tried to be as comprehensive and fair as I can. In conclusion I would give this advice - do your research before you go because otherwise you may end up with a very unsuitable cruise for you. Know about the gratuity charges, room sizes, towel charges, photographing policies etc etc from these reviews and the cruiseline websites. Certainly I believe we ourselves chose well even if 14 nights is slightly too long for me but not nearly long enough for our son and daughter.
Anyway,I hope this helps and happy cruising!