We had never sailed on a transatlantic cruise before, but this was our third time on the Independence of the Seas.
Embarkation at Southampton was busy, we arrived shortly before lunch and it seemed that 75% of our fellow passengers all had the same idea! Whilst we did encounter some waiting, we were processed quickly and were on-board and in the Windjammer within an hour.
We were pleased to see that the Independence was still in good shape and looked clean and tidy. Our balcony cabin, 7556 on Deck 7 was in good order and as expected. We were fortunate to find out,(by luck rather than choice) that we had the sun on our side of the ship all of the way across the Atlantic. The cabin location was great, not too far from the lifts and we didn't hear much noise at all.
Navigating the ship was easy, with electronic boards and maps, the central Promenade is the hub of the ship and has a very good choice of shops, bars and cafes etc. We soon found that sanitizing was extremely prevalent and wipes and gel were requested to be used at all eateries. This wasn't an issue for us and we soon got into the 'hand-washing' and gel routine. On day 2 there was a notice delivered to say that a small outbreak of Norovirus had been identified on-board, but we were vigilant with cleanliness and weren't affected or in fact never met with anyone that was.
After leaving Southampton we hit some rough waters and the outdoor areas were closed on one day. We headed for a damp and grey Lisbon and were sorry to learn that our 'Segway' city tour had been cancelled due to the torrential rain. This was understandable and actually having then walked around Lisbon in the pouring rain, we felt for the best.
After leaving Lisbon we headed for Ponta Delgada and were charmed by the scenery of this lovely Island. We took a scenic tour to the craters and lakes and had a very pleasant day. The temperature was comfortable and we sat outside at a dockside cafe enjoying the sunshine and eating pastries. If you want to re-stock on goodies in Ponta Delgada, we would recommend the small supermarket that has the life-size fibre glass cow outside - as water, toiletries, chocolate etc were very reasonable.
After leaving Ponta Delgada the temperature rose nicely and the seas were much calmer. Crowds that had been stuck indoors seemed to disperse and the ship felt less crowded and more relaxed. The temperature got into the high 70's during the Atlantic crossing and it was great to be able to sit by the pool in the sunshine.
Activities during the trip were published in the daily Cruise Compass. These varied from dancing to quizzes and lectures. Some of the activities we felt took place way too early in the morning for us as we soon got into a very lazy routine and usually only got out of the cabin in time for lunch! The Entertainment team headed by Joff Eaton and his side-kick Rob were very good. We attended quizzes, guest lectures and demonstrations. The headliner acts in the theatre were mostly very good, all worth attending. Joff also hosted 'street parties' and parades along the Promenade, on some evenings, which were good fun. The 'adult talent show' was great, there were some very talented people on board. The TV 'Morning Show' hosted by Joff and Rob was very entertaining and at times totally hilarious. It really is worth flicking through the channels -- which we found quite varied, to catch a film or watch the Port information.
We also attended some activities set up by our 'Meet & Mingle' group. We had a chocolate party which was heaven and a slots pull, cabin crawl etc. We met some very interesting people who shared their love of cruising and knowledge of our ports etc.
Food on-board, in our opinion was really good. The main dining room choices were varied, not all meals were spectacular, but we always found something we liked and if we didn't like it, the waiters were more than happy to change it. Service was great -- we had opted for 'MyTime Dining' and this worked well. The Windjammer had a fantastic choice too and some of the carvery meats, exceptional. We loved the Bistro lunch in the restaurant on sea days. The tutti salad bar was amazing -- you can choose your own ingredients and the chef will then chop/mix it for you and then ladel on some more calorie-laden dressing!. Sorrento's pizzeria on the Promenade offered a nice anti-pasti salad alongside the pizzas which was great. Overall, the food choices were very nice and we didn't feel we need to book any speciality dining.
So much has been written previous about the facilities on-board and everyone has their favourite or worst hang-out. Mine is the Champagne Bar pre-dinner and the Casino, (slots) to end the evening! The Champagne bar was popular, especially on formal nights and they don't offer their canapes any longer, not that you need more food before a main meal! The Casino is large and spacious and totally non-smoking. The slots games were fair to me and I didn't donate too much this time! Boleros seemed to be buzzing most of the time and the live entertainment and bands were superb, those guys are so talented.
After 6 days at sea we were ready to step out onto terra firma. We had worried how we would cope with so many sea days, but are pleased to say we loved them. It was so relaxing, the weather was perfect and the seas calm. We had stocked up on lots of reading material (love to the Kindle) and gotten ourselves into a totally lazy routine.
On arrival in Nassau we headed over the Paradise Island and The Palm. We took the water taxi ($12 return) and had a very nice day wandering around the resort and casino. We also had a quick look around the new Straw Market, but I felt it was a bit pressurised and so didn't stay long.
So we finally arrived in Fort Lauderdale and expected a long delay at Immigration as we have found before. We steeled ourselves for this, and yes there were long queues and we were processed in about an hour, it wasn't too terrible.
In summary, the Independence is a fine ship and I hope her refurbishment changes will be for the better. We could not fault this Transatlantic trip at all. The staff on-board were professional and courteous, the ship clean and appealing. However, we tend to be quite upbeat people and it takes a lot to phase us or ruin out day. So what if you have to wait for the lift, so what if the old lady on the zimmer-frame is holding up the walkway, so what if I have to use hand-gel 50 times a day -- relax and enjoy the positives.
As for the transatlantic adventure -- we will certainly be looking to do this again, it was just perfect for us!