We just got off the Independence of the Seas. This was our second time aboard her, our 9th RCCL cruise and our 24th overall. We had a great cruise experience, I have little to complain about, but I have several comments.
Embarkation was a breeze. Just as we've experienced at other departure ports, the security line is a bottleneck, but once you clear that, you are aboard very quickly.
We saw a couple of the shows and they were good. We missed more shows on this cruise than on any other one. This is due to the great time that we had with people that we met on board. We tended to talk and hang out and make friends rather than go to the shows by ourselves. We felt very comfortable aboard this ship because there were many people our age as well as some older and some younger. There was not an abundance of kids on this cruise. We often book long cruises and find ourselves to be among the youngest cruisers (we are 58 & 55) because the long cruises are generally for the older crowd. This doesn't have anything to do with RCCL. It just happened to contribute to our enjoyment of this trip.
The Ports of Call were all repeats for us. We didn't do much in Cayman or Labadee; just walking around, but in Falmouth, we took an excursion to Dolphin Cove and Dunn's River Falls. This was an excellent! Furthermore, the Falmouth terminal has been greatly improved in the last 2 years! When we arrived there in April 2011 on the Allure, there wasn't too much there. Now it's a beautiful, vibrant port.
Time to talk about the food. You may have noticed that I gave the Food a high rating, even though I have a few negative things to say. This is because the food met my expectations. My wife and I are foodies. We often spend more on a single meal than it cost for a week on this ship. We simply do not expect 5-star dining. If RCCL intends to give me a 5-star dining experience every night, they fail miserably, even at Chops and Portofino. But I believe that this is not their intention. If you aren't into frequent fine dining, the food is very good. Windjammer's isn't for us, but we had breakfast there, and lunch, at least once or twice. One day, they offered a shrimp and pork fried rice that was excellent! I hate that they offer reconstituted scrambled eggs. This is disgusting. As much as my expectations are in order, I don't want to feel like I'm in a Holiday Inn Express. But it's easy to avoid that; I simply order an omelet or something else.
Portofino's isn't what it pretends to be. Giovanni's Table (on the Allure and now on other ships) is outstanding. I'm not sure why they are so different. Why not offer better food and a better menu at Portofino's? We went here one day and it wasn't any better than 'ok'. Perhaps we are spoiled by the exquisite cuisine at our land-based Italian restaurants, but, as I said, we LOVED Giovanni's Table. Chops has never been our favorite, but I think that this is because they do not offer a Rib-eye steak, which is far and away my favorite. I had the Porterhouse one night and the Filet the other night. Both were good, but not over the top. Probably because I prefer a lower quality rib-eye to a prime cut of either of these. The Goat cheese souffle was amazing as was the mushroom soup.
We had My Time dining and always had the same servers and the same table. We appreciate that. We you cruise as often as we do, the menu gets a bit old. The choices are predictable, but the service as great and the food was fine, but I have a HUGE negative comment that I hope RCCL takes constructively and you heed as a warning.
RCCL now offers, daily, Maine Lobster as well as a Filet Mignon from Chops for an additional charge. You can order one or the other or both. The surf & turf version calls for a $34.95 upcharge. First of all, I don't like where this is going. Being foodies, we often dine in the specialty venues. We were on the Allure for 2 weeks and only ate in the MDR 3 times. The upcharges in the MDR suggest that eventually, the menu will feature a handful of "free" menu choices and a selection that cost more. This is not what I want to see in the cruise industry. I can easily see that the chafing dish stuff at Windjammers would be free, but the dining room would cost more. Cruising has not been built on this premise.
One night, I ordered the Lobster and Filet. Experienced cruisers may be quick to note that they get a lobster for free at every farewell dinner on every cruise. This is not lobster. Australian or Caribbean lobster is garbage to a New Englander. It tastes nothing like Maine lobster. Sometimes the servers tell you that it is Maine lobster. They are mistaken.
So they do, indeed, offer real Maine Lobster for a significant upcharge, but it is absolutely disgusting (to a New Englander anyway). If you order this and you like it (and you might), know that this is not what Lobster tastes like. I knew immediately that this was previously frozen and thawed. I don't know how they heated it up, but when I order steamed lobster, I expect the whole lobster that I will need to crack open. And in Massachusetts, we can get 3 or 4 lobsters for $35! Its important to stress that RCCL refunded my cover charge without a hassle and the head waiter listened to my input intently and took notes. I felt like splurging on lobster one night even though there isn't much of a reason to pay such an upcharge because we can get it readily here. This was a very disappointing experience.
On Friday night, we and another couple were at the Viking Crown Lounge but were kicked out at 5pm because we were told that it became a Diamond members-only Lounge at 4:30pm. I found this to be very rude and I made that clear. Sorry that we are only lowly Emerald members. There is a separate lounge for Diamond members, but I was told that there were over 500 Diamond members on board so the lounge wasn't big enough. This was not handled properly.
I'm happy that RCCL doesn't wait until their ships are decrepit before sending them for revitalization. IOS is scheduled for dry dock soon, but the ship is hardly in bad shape. I would certainly sail her again. The food comments may not apply to many of you and because are expectations were properly aligned, the food did not distract us from having a great time!