As a first time cruiser, I was unsure of what to expect. I sailed with my boyfriend and his parents (who are frequent cruisers, this was his mother's 14th), so I had to set expectations based on their experiences, friends', and reviews on Cruise Critic...
Being 21 and antsy, I was exceptionally excited to board the ship. The wait to board was lengthy, but nothing unbearable. Many folks lack patience these days, so an hour-and-a-half wait to get through security, receive Sea Pass cards, get your photo taken, etc. is really not that steep. Our luggage arrived a few hours after we boarded, as I was told it would.
Wow oh wow. The grandeur of the Independence was almost overwhelming. Large, spacious, and magnificently beautiful. Everything was easily accessible, well-maintained, and clean clean clean. Every bar/area/theatre was stunning and well-kempt with unique features and themes.
It's a cruise ship cabin, what do you expect? It is small with a small bathroom (duh). The bed was extremely comfortable, ample space for both mine and my boyfriend's clothes and whatnot. The stewardess cleaned the room at least twice a day, kept the fridge stocked, and made some awesome towel animals! Ok, I have seen many things about the bathrobes and "amenities" (shampoo, lotion, etc.) You have to PURCHASE the bathrobes (nothing is free, friends) and bring your own toiletries. Who wants to use any hotel's shampoo or lotion? It's not the cruise's fault for your negligence in forgetting to pack some Head and Shoulders.
The main dining room was beautiful. I felt like a princess and was fed like one, too. Overall, the food is very good and the waiters are awesome. I highly recommend the Chops Grille (delicious food, fantastic service, awesome experience) if you want to step out from the dining room one night. Johnny Rockets is the bomb (if you are an unfortunate soul that did not enjoy JR, your taste buds obviously left the building in 1954) The only complaint I have is the Windjammer. It's institutional food, like the kind served on my university's meal plan. When one has to feed a large number of people, somethings are going to be overlooked, specifically variety.
There is sincerely something for everyone. The performers have pipes and talent like you would not believe. They are obviously well-trained and they clearly love what they do. The ventriloquist act was quite possibly the funniest live performance I have ever seen (even my fellow travelers thought so, too. The entire crowd was in stitches.) The guy who sang the theme song to "Happy Days" was a delightful performer. The gameshows the cruise director and his staff put on were hilarious and audience-interactive.
Nothing short of superb. From the dining room to the room stewards to the bartenders to the cruise director (Joff, whatta guy), I was consistently greeted friendly and warmly. Our waiters were FANTASTIC. (I almost thought I was going to be fed by hand some nights, service that good) Our room steward was always a gem, consistent and helpful. I never felt as if anyone was rude and disengaged.
We booked all of the excursions through the cruise line. In St. Maarten, we raced retired America's Cup yachts (awesome). In St. Kitts, we sailed on a catamaran and snorkeled (beautiful). In San Juan, my boyfriend and I rode horses through the Carabali Rainforest (amazing). Finally, in Labadee, we rode jet skis (thrilling) and ziplined (incredible). I honestly cannot pick a favorite because I loved every place and every excursion. And I did all of this with a broken toe (...impressive). My only complaint was I felt we did not have enough time is San Juan (ported about 7 am, left around 1:30 pm) to do everything I would have liked to do.
I had the most incredible time I possibly could have had. The ship, the food, the drinks, the entertainment, the ports- everything was FANTASTIC. I would highly recommend this ship (and RCCL) for both first time cruisers and experienced cruisers.