This cruise was my sixth cruise (3rd with Royal Caribbean) and I have not taken a bad cruise yet. The cruises I take just keep getting better. The Independence of the Seas had plenty to offer for all ages and is a great option for families.
We cruised as a family of four. We arrived the day before in Fort Lauderdale and stayed nearby the cruise port and pretty close to the airport as well. We stayed at the Hyatt Place 17th St. Convention Center. They provided a free airport shuttle and breakfast was included. I would recommend staying here since it was very easy for us. It is not particularly close to the beach area, but there are plenty of restaurants and shops nearby. The cab fare to the beach was around $10 (flat rate). The day we arrived at the hotel, we signed up for the cruise port shuttle which is $7 a person from this hotel (not sure about others). I then found out that the cab fare to the port would be a lot cheaper. It was $15 for the four of us. It depends on how much traffic there is. We left at around noon and there was waiting to get in through the gates.
Embarkation was very easy and was organized. Have your set sail page in hand when arriving, because they will ask for it a lot. We carried our carry-on luggage on and had the porters take our big suitcase. We boarded the ship after about 20 minutes or so in the terminal. Rooms are not ready until 1-1:30, so we headed up to the Windjammer Cafe and started our vacation there.
Our stateroom was very nice and roomy. There was plenty of storage space for the four of us. You could sleep more people in this room if you wanted too.. it was very large, about double the size of a regular cabin. We had a great stateroom attendant who was very friendly and welcoming. Our stateroom was a Promenade Family Stateroom facing the Royal Promenade. It was a great room but I will say, it was dark and cool, just like an inside room if you close the curtains. You could sleep in the room all day if you wanted to. The room had a walk in closet with plenty of hangers. The bathroom was very nice a large with a tub and with beautiful tiles.
We had My Time Dining for this cruise in the King Lear Dining Room on Deck 5. It worked out pretty good. When we booked the cruise, the 6PM dining was full and we didn't want to eat at 8:30. My Time Dining allows you to pay your gratuities up front and you choose what time that you want to eat each night. We ate in the dining room for 5 out of the 6 nights, and the dining room service, environment, and food was spectacular. We requested the same table for each night and our waiters were outstanding, funny, and entertaining. They kept us informed of all of the major events happening on the ship that night as well as what to expect the next day. You must go to the dining room on this cruise, because it was one of the best dining experiences that I have ever had. Those who choose to eat in the Windjammer really miss out on great food and great dining experiences.
The Windjammer Cafe was overall pretty good. It does lack variety as you will see the same food over and over. We ate in the Windjammer every day for breakfast and lunch and the food was very good for the most part. The service was pretty good, but I often found that the salad and other foods would take a while to get replenished when it was all gone. Other than that, the experience in the Windjammer was pretty good. With so many people on board, you often had a hard time to find a place to sit down as well as having to wait in line often.
Also, there were specialty restaurants including Chops Grille and Portofino. We did not eat at any of those places. There was also Johnny Rockets and Ben and Jerry's but we did not get a chance to eat at those places either. They do cost more and I do find that a lot of the free stuff can be just as good. Ice Cream was only available in Ben and Jerry's, the Dining Room, or on the pool deck at Sprinkles (when open). They didn't have Ice Cream in the Windjammer which was a little disappointing. On the Royal Promenade, there was Sorrento's, a pizza place with great pizza that was open until 3am, so if the Windjammer is closed, you don't have to worry because the restaurants on the Royal Promenade on Deck 5 are open late. Cafe Promenade had tea, coffee, sandwiches and sweets available. Both Sorrento's and Cafe Promenade did not charge anything. All bars had great service and if the pool bars were closed, the bars on Deck 5 were still open.
I recommend getting the soda package if you know that you will drink soda often. It is $4.50 a day for kids, and $6.50 for adults. You get unlimited soda in all facilities on board, including the private island. Wine packages are also available.
The activities on board were really good. The kids and teen programs are very good. With teenagers in the party, they participated in many teen activities including teen ice skating, teen Flo rider, free arcade games, and much more. As far as the pools and whirlpools, there was plenty of space for everyone. There is the solarium pool and whirlpools, the main pool and whirlpools, and the H20 Zone for the kids with whirlpools. There was also the Flo Rider wave machine which was very popular as well as Mini Golf and the Climbing Wall. There was a nice fitness center that I used that wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be. People tended to do their own things and did not crowd into one area. There was plenty of space for all.
The shows were also very good. Every night there were good shows to go to like Bowser and the Stingrays, the comedies, and Ice Shows. They all were exceptional.
The ship staff really works hard to provide everyone with a great cruise vacation, and they did that. Cruise director Joff did a very nice job and was at all of the events. The itinerary was very good, too. I had a good time at all of the ports of call.
Independence of the Seas was the biggest ship that I've been on and it was a great experience to be on a mega ship. You never really know that there's 4,000 people on board because there is so much to do and so much to see. I personally have really enjoyed cruising Royal Caribbean, and this cruise was the best Royal Caribbean Cruise that I have taken.