I had previously posted that as a Celebrity loyalist I would be trying out Royal Caribbean for only the second time in my cruising experience (20 cruises) by spending the half-term school holidays on the Independence of the Seas. I had asked for luck with this venture and quite a few, very nice posters, assured me that I would be fine. They were, to a certain extent, right but my husband and I won't be rushing back anytime soon unless, of course, we have the grandchildren with us.
This was mine and my husband's first time cruising with my son, his wife and two of my grandchildren (aged 11 and 8). This ship is definitely a family orientated ship and we enjoyed many 'family' moments both onboard and ashore.
With Celebrity Elite equalling Diamond on RC we very easily checked-in, slipped through the crowds and went straight onto the ship. This took less than 30 mins. I don't know how long it would have been had we not been diamond, they were handing out #21 and calling #5 when we boarded at 12.15 p.m. We did bring on a bottle of champagne, which was not taken from us at boarding and we had this at sailaway. I have since heard that RCCL are now allowing 2 x bottles of wine to be brought on per cabin at embarkation. Have no idea what made them change this rule but this is now the same as Celebrity.
We went straight to the Windjammer for lunch and the kids had sandwiches/burgers which they said were nice. The French fries were great and very hot. The juices are the same as on Celebrity, however, nowhere near the selection available on Solstice class ships and all with PLASTIC PLATES, I was not expecting that!! My husband calls the cafe areas on any ship 'the bun fight' and after the first day we avoided this area as much as we could which turned out to be a blessing as Norovirus was on the ship from day 3 and the less you were among crowds of people and the less you handled items already touched by others the better!!
There were constant reminders about washing hands and the Purell machines were everywhere and they were giving out wipes everytime you went into the dining rooms and the shops. They started to serve everything to you, and were constantly washing down hand rails etc. The 6 of us managed to avoid the virus but we always take antibacterial spray and wash all the handles, tv controller, and other surfaces in the cabin before we unpack, we also have packs of handwipes which we use constantly before touching any food. It sounds obsessive to some but as we didn't get sick, I am happy in my own belief that this works for now.
Apparently someone also reported on the RCCL CC boards that there was an outbreak of headlice onboard (OMG) that's a first for us on a cruise ship. Again, luckily, our grandchildren didn't go near the Kids Clubs (supposing it was kids and not adults that had them!!) so we avoided that peril as well.
The ship overall is in very good condition and was looked after continually. It is due to go over to the US so this may explain why they were continually painting outside on deck a lot of the time. The hand rails gleamed with new lacquer.
The cabin was a very good size, we had a D1, balcony was also very good and we got the steward to open the divider between us, the kids loved that! STORAGE, there was loads and loads of storage, I was in heaven, everything came out of the case except my shorts and tee-shirts, I couldn't believe it, I have not been able to do this for years, since we started sailing on the solstice class (I still can't believe women designed those staterooms!!!). Celebrity stated that they were going to look at the storage issue way back after the Solstice but even with Reflection the reports back state that nothing has been done and you still can't fit jackets etc into the wardrobe properly.
As on Solstice class ships, the shower had doors which is a great plus, I can't stand shower curtains (Cunard please note!), not as big as Celebrity's bathroom but it was OK. We had robes in the cabin (Elite=diamond members) someone said we should have also had a bottle of shampoo and bodywash but these never appeared and I bring my own anyway. The coupon books were there and a list of events and 2 bottles of water and some nicely wrapped biscuits and dried fruit pieces.
The TV channel choice was terrible. No Sky news!!! We had a BBC World news channel on somedays but we had no idea of Storm Sandy until we got back home, their coverage of the major event was non-existent.
Our room was kept clean but was never hoovered, this may have been a steward issue rather than a shipwide problem. On Celebrity -- our stewards hoovered our room almost daily. The Towel animals were great, the kids loved coming back to the room every other night to see what Brenden had made for them, we had a dinosaur the first night followed by swans, turtles, monkies, etc.
The balcony was a very good size, larger than Celebrity BUT smoking is allowed on Balconies -- we had a 'puffing billy' in the next cabin to us and with the children using our balcony I was somewhat annoyed that we could do nothing about this as RCCL allow this practice. We realise now how little we appreciate the non-smoking on balcony rules that they have Celebrity!! It could really spoil your cruise if you were in the Caribbean or sunny med and could not use your balcony as a sanctuary as we do many times on Celebrity. The IoS also has the most awful, horrible plastic 'strap' chairs on the balcony and the tiniest table. No way could you sit out there comfortably for long nor was there room to dine out there.
Dining Room: Had 6.00 p.m. dining. All the waiters were very nice but not all were efficient. Although to be honest it looked to us like too many tables and not enough waiters. We had very slow service, our waitress had 5 tables at first, this went down to 4 after 2 nights but the service did not really improve, we were usually some of the last tables to leave the dining room. The food was a big let-down compared to Celebrity. I managed to find something to order off the menu that I thought I might like but the first two nights the food was cold and I only ate the desserts. I then asked, very politely, if it was at all possible to get some hot food or I wouldn't be able to eat anything in the MDR on the cruise. The next night I got warmer food but it was never hot, after that it was hit and miss. Everyone on the table experienced the same luke-warm food which was fine for the kids but I really can't enjoy eating anything unless it is very warm to hot. I would go down to get food from the coffee shop when I didn't eat at dinner, for me that place was a life safer. Celebrity knock spots off RCCL for food even on an 'off-day'!!!
We loved the fabulous Royal Promenade with its Coffee Shop, Ben & Gerrys, Men's hairdresser, barbers, Pizza and Pies and other shops including duty free. I loved this very light 'outdoor feel' area, the coffee shop was my favourite where you could get (free) coffee and tea and/or Costa Coffees ~$3. Fabulous (free) filled croissants, rolls, paninis and their brownies and cookies were to die for. This placed was packed out all the time, this is where I put all my weight on (4lbs eek!!)
The dress code was very good for the first couple of formals (I'd say 95% in suits and evening suits) but the last one was not so good, everyone thought there would only be 2 but there were 3, so maybe they didn't want to pay for the laundering of a shirt. The paperwork we got listed casual, smart casual and formal. So we took suits and dinner jackets. The smart casual nights were not so well adhered to with the majority being casual. We are used to this on Celebrity but brought the suits in case we were in the minority -- we were not!!
Besides the Windjammer there was a buffet style breakfast in the dining room on deck 3 which was good when you are with kids. Coffee and juice is served to you but you go up and choose from the buffet set-up in the middle of the room. Got really repetitive with the same Danish, fruit etc every morning. I still preferred being waited on in the mornings, helps me to wake up slowly so my husband and I went to the dining room on deck 4 a couple of mornings to be waited on. Their omelettes, French toast and maple syrup were great.
Johnny Rockets (small cover charge but worth every penny!) -- this was fabulous, the kids thought they were in heaven, this was the hottest food we had all cruise, the onion rings are to die for! We didn't get to do this until later in the cruise or we would have gone twice. Great food, great staff, really friendly and we loved the dancing.
There were loads of bars, some bar staff were not friendly at all, others amazing. The soda packages were very bad quality drinks. On Celebrity it is the actual cans on the soda package, not so on IoS. It was the soda stream stuff and you could only get -- coke, diet coke, sprite, tonic, ginger ale (none of which tasted great) -- no orange or anything else. We went down to guest services to complain and eventually got refunded. We bought cans after that and eventually found cans of Fanta Orange at Johnny Rockets. You could not get drinks service in the Casino, no waiters wandering round at all and always a queue at the bar there was only ever one person serving. In the end we gave up and used to go upstairs for our drinks and come back to the Casino with them.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the 3 nights of entertainment on the Royal Promenade. The cruise director, James Andrews, was very good and not too many announcements, much more than Celebrity but not as bad as I feared. We went to some of the shows. The Theatre was always packed out. The Fairy Tale production show had my granddaughter entranced and it was very good. Some of the others were hit and miss but you had to be in the Theatre for at least 20 minutes before the start-time or you would not get a seat with a clear view. Same problem here as with other ships, supports/pillars in your line of vision.
The Ice Show was fantastic and the kids also went ice skating during the open hours on one of the sea days. Ice skates, helmets etc all provided and you get around 30 mins on the ice. My grandson and DiL tried out the climbing wall, it was more difficult than they had anticipated but both enjoyed this. Great staff who are sooooo helpful.
We never visited the cinema -- to be honest with the appalling choice of films i.e. Forest Gump, The Proposal, Mama Mia, Ghost -- need I go on -- talk about a cost cutting exercise. If this is the best they can do, the cinema is a waste of valuable ship's space!!!
There was some very good entertainment around the ship and singer/guiterist in the pub was very good but the pianist in the Schooner bar -- well it was OK whilst just passing on by to/from the Theatre. Our favourite was the Olive & Twist bar where there was a small dance floor and different entertainment nearly every night. The biggest dance floor was in the Pyramid Lounge but we didn't like the ambience in this place so we didn't venture in for more than a look around.
We did visit the Diamond Club but only on 2 occasions, the room is off from the Olive & Twist area. It is tiny with very few chairs and tables, it does have an area to sit outside and we utilised that. The Diamond Concierge allowed passengers into the Lounge wearing shorts/teeshirts/flip-flops etc., we have never seen anyone wearing such clothing on Celebrity at the Cocktail hour. There was a small selection of snacks on our first visit but after the norovirus hit, no snacks were available. The Concierge/Hostess was not as personable nor as 'tactful' as we are used to on Celebrity and we did not enjoy our experience in the Diamond Lounge at all.
We hardly ever caught the lifts as they were constantly in use and we needed the exercise anyway!! I do feel sympathy for the passengers with mobility issues it must take them ages to get to from anywhere unless it is on the same level.
The Captain (Arnolf Remo) and Officers were not visible at all, mind you with Norovirus on the ship I don't suppose they would be putting themselves 'out there' too much. We saw the Captain on 2 occasions both times on the stage in the Theatre. His noon announcements were very slow and pondering but he did have a sense of humour. However, he is not one for a good send-off and he hardly ever sounded the horn when we left port.
The Posts of call were all very good, La Caruna was a very nice surprise and we actually sat on the beach for a couple of hours whilst the sun was out. The other ports, Vigo, Lisbon, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Madeira were all very easy to just get off and do your own thing. You had to get a (free) shuttle bus in Tenerife to get out of the Port but there is a lot of building work there at the moment. It was a shame that we had to leave Madeira so early in the afternoon, it is a gorgeous place and we could have stayed for hours longer.
So to round this off, I would say that we had a good cruise because we were with the family, which is what some of you had told me!! I don't think we would have liked this cruise if it had been just the two of us. The smoking on the balconies and the luke-warm food were the two worst things about the trip. The rest was fine with some very high spots and some low points. We so missed the fantastic service and wonderful food on Celebrity and it was also strange not knowing any of the crew onboard nor seeing any officers or senior crew around. However, we are glad we did this trip for two reasons, we got to spend 11 days with our wonderful grandchildren and our son and DiL and it has made us realise that Celebrity is definitely 'our' cruise line of choice.