My wife and I traveled to Ft. Lauderdale to embark on Independence of the Seas from Albuquerque, NM. This was my 18th cruise and my wife's 7th. It was my 7th on Royal Caribbean and my wife's 3rd on Royal. We are very active individuals in our early/mid 30s.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites by the cruise port. I had read some negative feedback on cruisecritic regarding how this hotel has gone downhill lately. I would say that we found there to be no evidence of this. The front desk service was exceptionally friendly. We found both the public areas and the room to be clean and well furnished. In fact the room looked to have been recently remodeled. I believe the taxi to the hotel from the airport was about $15. We arrived late in the afternoon, so we didn't have a lot of free time. My wife has a pretty limited diet, so she is usually happiest getting food at a grocery store. We walked over to the Publix behind the hotel and she got her rations for the day along with some beverages for the cruise. We spent some time in the pool and hot tub before grabbing a couple drinks and snacks at the manager's reception. We are not really drinkers, but it looked like there were several options available, not just a couple wines as someone reported in a previous post on cruisecritic. We then headed over to Moe's Southwestern Grill which we had seen on an episode of Undercover Boss ("Welcome to Moe's!"). I grabbed a burrito to take back to the room and it was quite good.
I am training for an ironman triathlon, so I had to get a 15 mile run in the morning of departure. My wife took a cardio ballet barre class at ProPilates which was also in the Harbor Shops along with Moe's and Publix. My run was great, and the cooked to order breakfast I had afterwards was fantastic. I had an egg white omelet, fruit, yogurt, grits, french toast sticks, and just about anything else I could stuff into my face ;)
After cleaning up, we headed to the ship a few minutes after noon. My wife and I discussed this prior to our trip and we decided we wanted to walk to the ship, which was at Pier 29. We are pretty good hikers, and we like a good story, so we figured we'd give it a shot. Let the record show my wife was probably more into this idea than I was! We made it in about 50 minutes... not too bad. I actually kind of enjoyed it. I think it was a good three mile trek. When we arrived, there was a line out the door of the terminal, but someone immediately asked to see my pre-embarkation documents. Since we are Platinum, we were sent to a VIP line which must have moved us past about 150 people. I felt a little bad for them, but for us, it took maybe 20 minutes to go from our arrival to boarding the ship. I guess all those cruises we've taken are paying off!
We found the ship to be in very good condition despite its upcoming dry dock. You would see crews all the time vacuuming, painting, etc. They take very good care of the Indy. The ship is very impressive. I think there is a room, deck space, environment, or whatever you want to call it for just about anyone. Although the ship did seem crowded at times (more so to my wife than to me), it wasn't too bad. I don't think I stood in line longer than a couple minutes for anything with the exception of the FlowRider line, which sometimes had waits of 15 minutes for a turn.
Our stateroom was a fairly typical interior room on Deck 6. We found the location (just forward of the front stairs) to be really good. We had very easy access to the Promenade Deck, the Schooner Bar for trivia, the dining room, the Pyramid Lounge, and the theater. My wife had one gripe about the room that I agreed with. It sounds small, but it was a bit of an annoyance. The soap "indention" at the sink lacked a barrier to stop it from sliding into the sink. So every time you used the soap, you had to sort of press it down so it wouldn't slip into the sink. Just a minor design flaw that hopefully has been corrected on future builds. Our stateroom steward, Suputra, was exceptional. He was very kind and friendly, and he did a great job of cleaning the room. We had towel animals every night! We did have one weird issue in the room. I had a massager which is known as "The Stick". It looks like a rolling pin and is about two feet wide. I left it on the bed the 2nd or 3rd evening, and when we came back to the room that night, it was nowhere to be found. We searched high and low and it was gone. We never took it out of the room, so we knew someone else did. I asked Suputra the next day, and he knew of the item, but didn't know where it was. He hadn't changed the sheets that day. I thought maybe it was taken to the laundry room by mistake, but it didn't turn up. I made a comment to the front desk, and they took it pretty seriously. They had security and a housekeeping supervisor (there were actually four men in our room, which seemed like a bit of an overkill) come up to search our room. They also checked the cameras in the hallway to see if someone gained access. We never did find it. Royal, to their credit, issued me a $100 on board credit to compensate me for replacing the item and also for not being able to have it for the trip. Remember, I ran 15 miles a couple days earlier, and my muscles could have used a massage. Quick free ad for The Stick people - if you have IT band issues or sore muscles, The Stick is a great tool to take care of those issues. Anyway, Royal handled things pretty well, but the front desk woman I dealt with seemed to have a bit of an attitude, although she did help me ultimately.
Dining was pretty good to excellent, depending on where you were eating. A note to those who might be expecting that they can swich to My Time Dining when they get on the ship: There is a chance it could be full as it was on our sailing. We tried to switch from Early to My Time on the first day, but were told it was full. We were put on a waiting list, but apparently they never took anyone off of it. We ended up switching to Late seating, and got a nice table for two that we enjoyed. I had read that the Indy was supposed to get the new dining room menus well before our voyage, but they kept getting delayed. I actually emailed a Royal rep before sailing and she wrote back saying they would not be available. It wasn't the end of the world since usually anything coming out of the main dining room kitchen is very good. Well I was pleasantly surprised to see the new menu hanging on the wall outside the dining room on the first day. The new menus did not disappoint. I have to admit I had 3-4 appetizers, 1-3 entrees, and 2-3 desserts every night, and I loved the vast majority of the items I ordered. The service by our waiter Hilal, our assistant waitress Amrita, and our head waiter Erduly (spelling might be off) was wonderful. Between my ordering of half the menu and my wife's special requests, we kept them quite busy. On about the third night, we asked Erduly if he could produce any dried figs for my wife's dessert since she couldn't eat anything else on the normal menu. He kind of made a big deal about checking to see if it was possible. The next night he produced the figs almost like it was some huge ordeal and he had to get them from the back corner of some freezer that might have been on an adjacent ship... so he had to personally dive overboard, swim to the other vessel, sneak on board, obtain this precious commodity, and then swim at 23 knots to get back on our ship, all while wearing his red tux. I'm giving you a hard time, Erduly, but we really did enjoy you during the week and appreciated your efforts. The reason I go into all this detail is because on the last day I went to breakfast in the main dining room for the first time (I had previously had breakfast in the Windjammer). I ran into Erduly and was glad to see him and he greeted me as well. I went to the buffet set up they have in the MDR, and amongst the dried fruit offerings were, you guessed it, dried figs!! So while he made a point of tracking down these delicacies, it really wasn't a big deal. Again, I'm not complaining about this, we just thought it was pretty funny. The food in the Windjammer was good but not great. Some of the ingredients were not of the highest quality, so the chefs did a good job with what they got. All the basics like omelets, fruits, oatmeal, and grits were very good. Lunch was sort of hit or miss, but most things were good. I would say at breakfast they could have had hash browns a couple mornings. They only had tater tots or triangular wedges of potatoes. They also had a pancake of the day - nut, cranberry, etc. I thought it was funny that your cranberry pancakes had literally two cranberries in each one. The Promenade Cafe and Sorrento's Pizza were both good places to grab snacks. They had a fudge cookie at the Promenade Cafe that I tried on the first day. It was like eating a rock, but actually tasted good, so I tried it again the next day. The texture was much better, so I made it a regular item to grab whenever I needed a little snack. Be sure to check these places daily, as the offerings do change.
Since I've touched on service already, I won't go into great detail here, but I wanted to mention a couple things. Overall, it was wonderful throughout. The only little issue I had was with the shore excursions desk guy. He was rather short and unfriendly. And I didn't even ask questions, I just told him which one I wanted to do and he had kind of a snippy response. Not a big deal, just the one negative on service.
The entertainment on the ship was great overall, but we've seen better. The production singers and dancers were excellent. There were six, yes six, singers - three men and three women. The first show with the fairy tale theme was the best of the three. The last one was interesting; it included most of the musical performers on the ship. The other production show was a little less enjoyable. The guest performers were good, but not great. The comedian on the first night was very good. He did a late night show later, but we didn't see it. They had the original singer of the Happy Days theme song on, and though a little past his prime, he still put on a great show. There was a juggler who was ok, but had a very short act. Joff, the cruise director, had to do about 20 minutes before the ballroom dancers did a brief performance. Finally, the juggler came on. There was a ventrilaquist another night, and he was very good. Apparently he performed on America's Got Talent. Overall, pretty good performances, but nothing earth shattering. The game shows were fun to attend and watch.
The activities on the ship were pretty good. I spent a lot of time on the FlowRider, enjoyed the miniature golf, and other sports that were available. They had a dodge ball tournament one day that was billed as guests versus crew. While a fun concept, the crew team played every game while the guest teams only played twice each out of the ten games played. So the crew got about an hour and a half of dodge ball while the guests only played for about 15 minutes each. I would have liked to have played more, and I wasn't the only one. Also, the games were sort of rigged in the crew's favor. I won't go into details, but some people were pretty upset to the point of someone getting tossed out of the game. It was fun though, just not as fun as it could have been. I also played in and somehow won the ping pong tournament. It was a lot of fun and I met some nice people. I should mention here that Tam from Scotland who ran the ping pong and also helped me on the FlowRider and rock wall was a super great guy who Royal Caribbean should be happy to have as an employee.
Ports - In St. Maarten we did "The Extreme", a ziplining excursion booked through the ship. It was pretty fun, but not as much fun as other zips we've done. There were about 30 people on the tour and only two guides. You had to rig yourself onto the line with limited training. About half way through the line, the second of the guides took off, leaving about 15 of us on our own to rig ourselves for the first time. You'd think that at least for the first time they would make sure people knew what they were doing before, you know, slinging yourself 500 feet down a line as much as 100 feet off the ground. We survived this trip and walked around town later. St. Maarten is a great port.
In St. Kitts we did a Volcano hike that I booked with David who was recommended by a friend as well as on cruisecritic. The hike would have been tough on a dry day, but it rained 90% of our time in the jungle, and you had to climb over roots, rocks, logs, etc., which made it very difficult. Most of us took spills but luckily no one was hurt badly. The guide was in a huge rush and made a point of it to pass another group. A couple of the group could keep up with him, but most everyone else was quite a distance back. He'd stop every so often for us to catch up, but it would have been better if he just went at a slightly slower pace. We didn't get to see St. Kitts besides the trip out to the volcano, but we saw a lot of poverty.
We really enjoyed San Juan, but due to scheduling restraints, we only had a few hours. It was fun just walking around town and doing a little shopping and photo taking.
Labadee is a great private island with lots to do. The barbeque lunch is cool, although not spectacular. We did the Dragon Coaster which was a lot of fun. One tip - if you want to go out to the Dragon's Point, do so early. We tried to go there towards the end of the day, and they locked the gate leading out.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We did self assist and you could leave the ship anytime you wanted after 6:15. We left around 7:45 and the customs wait was about 15 minutes. There was no line for a taxi and no traffic leaving the port. Taxi fare was about $17. We made our 10:25am flight with plenty of time to spare. If you wanted to be first off the ship, I don't see why you couldn't get a 9am flight, with the only problem being if the ship were delayed coming in for some reason.
In summary, we had a great time and it was hard leaving the ship as always. We will definitely sail on Royal again.