Review of holiday from 22/09/2012 -- 06/10/2012 on Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas to the Western Mediterranean.
I arrived at the Ocean Terminal at about 1.30pm. via a coach. I had booked a JS grade (Suite) for my sole use.
The terminal was nearly empty and I was given priority to the check-in desk as a suite customer. Check-in took less than three minutes and I was very quickly aboard. The cruise company's definition of a suite is totally different from the dictionary definition. However, the cabin was well equipped with a full bathroom including a bath and powerful shower, a walk in wardrobe with about twenty hangers and plenty of storage space for one. The electrical supply was three American sockets with either 120 or 240 volts output and were sited on the dressing table. A hand held hair dryer was also available. Balcony and interior cabins to not have sachets of coffee available so I was pleasantly surprised to find a coffee percolator and plenty of very good quality ground coffee sachets plus the usual milk and sugar. The fridge was stocked with soft drinks and snacks. These I later found out were chargeable although there was no notice to that effect. Pictures of the cabin can be found on Flickr.com/photos/howard/223. The balcony was very large with two full recliners and a couple of non adjustable chairs plus a table.
I had chosen "my time" dining and paid the tips in advance. I had also pre-booked restaurant times so there was no problems with seating at my allocated time. Being a gregarious sort of person I was looking forward to sharing a large table with varying guests each night. This proved perfectly possible with the restaurant concierge proving first class in his duties. Unusually after a couple of nights he also knew my name and made a stab at the cabin number. My favourite tipple was always brought to me without ordering regardless of the table I sat on. Points to a very good computer table reservations system. I couldn't fault the food and there was ample at all times and you could eat in the Dining room for breakfast on non port days plus a Dining room for lunch and Dinner. After dinner coffee was included in the price unless you had an Expresso single which cost an extra $2.25. or double for $3.00. Casual eating could be found in the Windjammer self-serve eatery. Just a small point on the Windjammer. If you used the self-service at main meal times then it was very difficult to find a table. So sometimes I had a snack in my cabin rather than queue. I did not try the speciality restaurants on board but I understand that they were good value for money at $20 per person cover charge for "Portofino" and $30 for "Chops".
There were, as usual, plenty of bars on board and the charging was mainly at U.K. bar prices plus a few bob. For example a "pint" (20oz) of lager cost $6.95. A Gin and Tonic was $7.00. It is worth mentioning that the spirit measures were not U.K. measures but were free pour. Shops onboard included a barbers, a gift shop, a duty free shop and various cafes where self service coffee (ugh!) was available night and day plus free snacks. I could also buy a copy of the London Times for $4.50 (Monday -- Friday). The so called duty free shops do not really sell duty free items other than cigarettes and alcohol. Chanel No:5 was a classic case of seeing what they could get away with. I paid Â£48 in Gibraltar that the perfume shop was selling at duty free prices for well in excess of $100.00 and slightly less in Spain which of course carries the full VAT expense. I believe that the shops are run by a company
under the name of Hardings. However, you are on holiday and you cannot spend your time constantly comparing prices. One last point on tobacco. I am a cigar smoker and the cigars that were available in the shop were well in excess of the tax paid prices in the U.K. Enough said on that subject.
There were many activities available throughout the day and you could keep yourself busy learning how to learn the Michael Jackson dance or The Samba amongst many others. There were plenty of quizzes throughout the day. Movies were not only available on your TV. (endless repeats of repeats) but in the theatre which for example was showing Die Another Day and Forrest Gump. The ice rink was in full flow if you were brave enough and the fitness centre, with it's own boxing ring, seemed quite busy. The equipment in the fitness centre was quite exceptional and deserves a mention even if I didn't use it.
At the top of my list was the entertainment. I would say that without any doubt the shows in the Alhambra Theatre were the finest productions I have seen outside the West End of London. The dancers were backed by a large orchestra of some sixteen musicians. The Big Band show was outstanding. Even the small bars had bands with some live music during the evening. Royal Caribbean have put a lot of money into their productions. Also at various times in the cruise, single acts ranging from comedians to singers entertained. The couple of parades that I watched were, again, full of life and a superb visual spectacle.
All of the ports that were visited which included Gibraltar, Lisbon, Rome and Toulouse were quayside docked. At no time were the lifeboats used as tenders. Just a couple of years ago the cruise companies used to provide free coach transport to the City centre. These days it is another profit opportunity for the cruise companies. Buying your ticket on board for the shuttle was nearly always more expensive than getting a local coach. The arrangements for the disembarkation of passengers on shore days was very well handled -- none of the usual chaos. Very smoothly organised.
Overall there were only about 100 children onboard for this September cruise. About what you would expect. Never saw them during the day -- I guess they were well occupied by the various kids clubs that were available. Based on experience, the later the dinner the less kids you encounter. So if you are bit long in the tooth like me you have been warned. Other small points are that there is a small library which was not very well stocked. Either that or the books were all out on loan!
Disembarkation: This was a very smooth operation and I was off the ship before my allotted time, picked up my luggage using the new numbering system in a couple of minutes and was
through Customs (with no passport check). This has had a lot of attention over the last couple of years -- I think they have it about right now.
Tipping: I said earlier I had pre-paid my tips to that I could take advantage of the My Time Dining. However, at the end of the cruise, instead of being given the vouchers which I could distribute as I saw fit, I was given a letter with some envelopes. The letter stated that to
"Save the waves" even more the company had decided to distribute the tips AT THEIR DISCRETION! You are no longer able to decide who gets what. The envelopes were for extra cash which was to be awarded to staff who had exceeded expectations. There was no way you could miss out someone who had not performed adequately. This is a very retrograde step and will cause a lot of animosity. I am fed up paying the crews wages.
As a conclusion I would say that Royal Caribbean met and exceeded my expectations. I certainly couldn't justify spending more cash on a Celebrity cruise again. Tipping is still a bugbear, but at least they don't add it blatantly to the bill for drinks any longer. I will use Royal Caribbean again.