Independence of the Seas Cruise Review by DonS: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
This is yet another "review" of my transatlantic trip on the Independence. That's because I spent many hours on board drafting one for the Royal "mid-cruise feedback". 4 pages, noting the good, the bad and the ugly. What do I get for that? Taking off the internet charges from my bill and a promise to call me later - which never happened. So, once more:
After 6 cruises on Carnival in 2.5 years, my wife and I felt we wanted to "move up" to something else. Carnival is what Carnival is. Bottom line for us was the, how to put this nicely, Carnival deciding to become the cruise-line of the "unwashed masses". I guess that was not so nice. It caters to the 20s and 30s rudy-necked, part crowd with break dancing in the atrium for 3 hours during dinner, disco music replacing live bands, etc. So, with 6 cruises at Carnival as a comparison, we embarked on the Independence. We ended up seeing a LOT of good points about Carnival as a result. We'll probably try to "move up" again More next cruise to Celebrity. My review here will mention Carnival a lot - sorry, but that is what we have it to compare against.
Of the 35 points I reported to Royal worthy I might modestly add of being a professional critics feedback about a third were applause, a third were suggestions and a third were complaints. Unfortunately for Royal, my trip is how I see Royal as a whole which means I will likely not be sailing them again - if just for the lack of response from management as anything else. I know, ho hum, they'll probably survive without me.
I'm old enough to know that not everything is ever going to be perfect, but the little things tend to make or break an experience like a cruise.
A sign of things to come. It was horrid. I have always been early enough in the past to be on board sipping a nice drink about 30 minutes after boarding started. This time it was over 2 hours. Why? No one ever said. But the boarding started late and all the "special" people had to be boarded first. Boarded in tiny little groups. I was in the "first" group, but that was the group of unspecial people. So for hours after I arrived the previous Royal cruisers arrived and complex and silly categorization of them and their boarding class began. Throughout this cruise there were many attempts to show new Royal cruisers how unimportant they were. We boarded when all the special people were aboard. We were thrown out of lounges when the special people had one of their CONSTANT "parties". We got no bathrobes - because that is what the special people got for being so, errrr, special. The caste system is alive and well on Royal. Perhaps it might be good to make NEW cruisers feel welcome. Never was done. All in all, the embarkation process is by far the worst I've ever seen in terms of confusion and time taken.
Well, it was a long time to be communicated to us, but apparently the Norovirus was alive and well on the Independence. It changed first 8 days or so of the trip into a internment feeling. We were not allowed to touch food - even a foil-wrapped tea bag. We were constantly inundated with wipes being forced on us. Constantly told to wash our hands. An antomated "attendant" told us to wash our hands every time the bathroom door was opened. Each time we sat at a card table or used a stair railing our hands would come away dripping of the "stuff" they were constantly wiping on it. It was an over-reactive response that succeeded in nothing so much as making the cruise a hardship for people.
We loved the ship - as compared to Carnival. The layout was very easy to learn - unlike on Carnival where, even after a week, I never knew how to get where I wanted to go. The decor was pleasant, the cleanliness was perfect, the design of the common areas, where and what, was flawless. A very pretty ship. A very nice stateroom - albeit, the first one we've had with a balcony. Only thing lacking was room amenities like a bathrobe, beach towels, and the little pack of goodies/samples that we were used to on the Carnival. Turned out the beach towels could be "checked out" - which we figured out after a week on board. I wonder why they do this? Whatever.
One of the biggest letdowns. Carnival food is far superior in selection and preparation. A hit on Carnival is the made-to-order omelets and Mongolian stir fry. Nothing like this on Royal. The prepared things like eggs were alternatively soupy (do they like this in England, perhaps?) or so dry they could not be eaten. No made to order anything. Selection very hum-drum. Tried Johnny Rockets - as opposed to others, we found it poorly presented and pretty low quality food. The only good food we found was a the extra-charge Portifino. That was excellent. However, all 5 of the desserts were highly rich and chocolate which we would not eat. Some selection would have been nice.
On one hand the main shows were clearly inferior to Carnival, with the exception being the Ice Show, which could have been done more often (please). The smaller venue entertainment which on Carnival were painful on the ears, was very nice on Royal. The often heard strings group was awesome, as was the final night impromptu jazz revue in one of the smaller lounges.
The specialty drinks were very unappetizing as opposed to Carnival. Carnival has its own beer, Royal does not but has a "decent" selection. The main problem is that the selection varies by where you are. It is not posted and it is always an effort to figure out what is served where. Also, as opposed to Carnival pushing drinks, it was nearly impossible to get the attention of a bartender or deck waiter. In one lounge, I had to ask FOUR times for a drink. Clearly, they do not work on any commission, lol.
Carnival's "my time" dining is wait in line and take what you get. Royal's is a great concept. You can actually call down during the day for reservations (so can schedule around other things you want to do), and they will answer the phone with your name and know who you ate with previous nights, and where you dined those nights. So, generally you are able to be at the same waiter's area, even though you were not in a general seating. How wonderful that was.
Staff was very lacking, with the exception of dining staff. After some "training" the wait staff knew who took coffee, who took tea, who got that unusual glass of milk with their dessert, who like chocolate, etc. And they did not hesitate to recommend certain dishes. On the other hand, stateroom attendant was never around, I had to ask 3 times for ice - finally calling guest relations. Or the dirty tea pot which I had to beg many times to be cleaned. Bar staff did not want to be bothered with hearing your order. Guest relations were a joke. No smiles from anyone anywhere. Seems like a pretty unhappy bunch. I did not think that Carnival staff was particularly happy or helpful, but in comparison.....
Seems like a small thing, but Carnival posts menus on-line in the room. They even have them available for the entire cruise on-line before you board. Royal had them posted only for that day outside the restaurant. Makes it very difficult to decide where to eat. We use that on Carnival to determine if we would prefer the extra-charge or buffet that evening. Not so, here. Not easily.
Beach towels were not present in the room (as Carnival), but could be checked out on the pool deck. On carnival you have to check out golf clubs and balls for mini-golf (like someone would STEAL this stuff?), but they were there available for Royal cruisers. On Carnival there is a checkout system for library books - only during 2 1-hour periods a day. Silly. On Royal, everything was available there all day long for the taking. On Carnival each room had nice robes. On Royal, no robes, except for the special passengers.
On Carnival there were virtually no games available. On Royal there was a game room with an area where you could grab any of a number of games, or take a new deck of cards with pencil and paper. This was great.
Mentioned food earlier. Just a note here about trays. Why are none furnished. It is a needless effort to make 3 trips from table to buffet for breakfast because you have to take one cup or bowl/plate at a time. Would be a great stepsaver to have trays available.
I suppose all ships have the same inane on-board activies. We tend to just ignore them, but we did attend a trivia game that had beer as a theme, since I am a beer aficionado, thought it would be fun. It wasn't. In this game and in one other we attended, the host made a point of talking about how HIS answers would be the correct ones, even in cases where they were NOT correct or just one of other correct answers. He did it in a put-down way. That was uncalled for and silly. So, as we thought, on board activities are generally something to be avoided, unfortunately. I can't believer that someone can't come up with things that are worth doing and that could be handled well, but I've not seen it.
I just have to stay this one. I'm sure the Captain (Remo?) is a nice enough person. However, it was SOOO painful to listen to his announcements. I guess he just like to talk. They would go on and on and on and on.... and say pretty much nothing. Everyone rolled their eyes when these "chats" started and absolutely no one paid attention to them after the first couple of days. Soooo, most everyone was caught unawares when the time changed on board for the first time. After that, they did seem to put the announcement in the daily newssheet. Please don't let Captain Remo near the microphone....
My wife and I needed to check e-mails each day. It was a very nice place at which to do so, with many stations set up and ready to go. Unfortunately, it was a very slow connection and after painstakingly taking 2+ minutes to just get logged in - the signal was lost. Over and over, day after day. It was a known issue but I had to complain about it to get the charges removed - rather then Royal just striking all charges with 2 minutes automatically.
I don't care about movies on the television - that is not what I'm aboard to do. However, I do watch the information channel a lot, which shows ship position, speed, etc. On one day the ship position did not change - for 40 hours. I looked outside and it did not appear that we were going around in a tiny circle, so I called about it. An hour later it started working again. Might be a good thing for them to monitor this stuff.
Well, yeah, we were sailing from London to Ft. Lauderdale during school time.
Intentionally. Our fellow passengers, as compared to those on Carnival, were well-behaved, friendly and quiet. Yes, you might also say "old", but then so am I. But it was a breath of fresh air not to have to contend with kids running up and down hallways at 2 in the morning (by that I mean drunken "kids") which is the norm on Carnival. The music events reflected this - strings on a Carnival ship would be an oxymoron. There were two acts with stringed instruments and they must have been popular with everyone because they kept appearing in the shopping area as well as at dinner. What a great touch!
Oh my, muster on Carnival used to be like Royal. Stand outside for 30 minutes for no apparent reason. Then Carnival (a change or a change of ship?) started using the lounges and restaurants to do this. Royal has not figured that out. We spent that time in COLD, blustery weather standing on the outside deck with wind whipping at us freezing. Bad idea, Royal.
A Funny Thing
One of the neat things which I appreciated aboard was the presence of a teapot in my room. I used it a lot, both morning and evening. As we approached the end of the trip, we were notified that all teapots would be removed the day before disembarkation. I guess that is either because the US has rules against this sort of thing, or that Royal figures only the English drink tea and the US does not or should not have it available to them.
As I end I figure that people will consider most of this picking nits. However, I never mentioned the TV remote which did not work, the shower whose water varied from scalding hot to freezing cold over 20 seconds or the toilet which overflowed at 1am. I understand this stuff happens. But with some care and consideration by Royal personnel a lot of what I have indicated could be fixed. Instead, I get an overwhelming feeling of apathy, as witnessed by the lack of response I got from any of my feedback (both good and not-so) by Royal personnel. Less
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Cabin review: 9262
Wonderful room. Based on the ship design, this room had a balcony that was, seemingly, the biggest on board (as far as I know), because the deck "bulges" a bit just where this room and its neighboring room are. I could have held a dance out there. FOUR of us brought chairs and a table and played cards out there regularly.