Please keep in mind that the following are MY opinions and comparisons to other ships/lines are made based on MY experiences.
We are frequent cruisers, hubby and I have taken 27+ cruises(40 for me) and our kids are seasoned cruisers as well, both at around the 10 cruises each mark. After many years of taking the kids on Carnival and a few times on Norwegian we decided to splurge and take them on a RCCL cruise for this past spring break.
We drove down from Georgia the day before and stayed in Ft. Pierce that night, driving the rest of the way down the next day. Pier 29 was the pain that others have posted, with hubby dropping us off then having to go park at the other end of the world and get a shuttle back. They really need to improve that part of the port and build some parking somehow. This was very time consuming and a bit of a pain upon return as well. Embarkation was pretty quick after that, although being Platinum on Carnival helped us get through their embarkations even more quickly.
The ship itself was beautiful, can't believe they are doing a dry dock except to add new features, it certainly did not need any obvious refurbishment except for a few areas of hall carpeting. Otherwise it was beautifully maintained. Decor is elegant and understated, something my husband both appreciated after the many Carnival cruises (although I understand their newest ships are vastly improved in that area). The cabins were beautiful, I think this was the largest balcony cabin we've ever been in and the balcony was as deep as the oversized balconies on most of the Carnival ships. I love having the sliding balcony door instead of the one that opens out (hate being awoken on Carnival to slamming balcony doors!). I also like having a door on the shower instead of the curtain. The kids had an inside cabin that was also very nice. We did my time dining each night and seldom had more than a 5 or 10 minute wait. We did end up with what seemed like the slowest servers on the ship the first two nights and made an effort to change to someone else the rest of the week. The food was delicious - lots of choices although by the third night we were all joking that we had never seen asparagus and mashed potatoes served with so many different dishes before :). Entertainment was excellent, they definitely have the edge over Carnival on this one, coming in second to Celebrity however.
There was a main show just about every night and they did not rely on the passengers to provide the entertainment which Carnival has been doing on an increasing basis lately. The vocal talent was some of the best I've seen in all my cruises and the costumes were amazing in all the shows and the parades. The singers and dancers work more on this ship than on any cruise I've been on, appearing in some shape or form just about every day of the week (regular production shows, parades, promenade events, etc.) Another plus to RCCL is that they don't have Bingo in the main showroom before every show, a big turnoff to me with Carnival.
Just some notes I made on various things I noticed - there always seemed to be a shortage of bartenders, most bars only having one most of the time, this made for long waits at times, especially at the pool bars. We also encountered a number of times the problem of trying to order a drink at one bar that we had ordered previously at another bar and they did not have the ingredients there to make it. You almost had to check a menu each time you changed bars to see what they offered at that one. We never encountered this problem on Carnival, Norwegian or Celebrity. I do wish that RCCL would get rid of the paper towels and install the hand dryers instead. Not only would this cut down hugely on paper waste and make them more "green", it would also cut down on the overflowing trash cans that I saw multiple times in the restrooms during the week. RCCL definitely wins on not having all the annoying announcements that you hear so much on Carnival. Celebrity also tends to really limit the number of these announcements. I will say though that the captain on the Independence was probably the most talkative I've seen, his noon report from the bridge was occasionally waaaaay too long. RCCL (and Celebrity) definitely win on the speed in the buffet area, there never seemed to be a wait for anything and my husband and I were both trying to figure that one out. On Carnival it seems like there is always a line for everything in the buffet. I do think that Carnival wins out on the variety offered in the buffet. The deli station, oriental, american, country of the day, salad bar, grill, pizza, just seems like there are more choices on Carnival. I think Carnival wins on the sushi offering, although RCCL was very nice, they did not open until dinnertime, which kind of ruined our tradition of getting sushi before going to dinner. Carnival wins on the repeaters party, offering a large variety of drinks and hors d'oeuvres while RCCL only offered a few drink choices and no food. Big drawback on RCCL was having only two soft serve machines and having them open for limited times. We all loved being able to grab some soft serve whenever we felt like it on Carnival and more than a few days on RCCL we didn't think about it until they had already closed. Carnival wins on drink of the day, offering a discount after you had purchased the glass. We only need so many souvenir glasses but got no break for ordering refills or ordering without the special glass. RCCL wins on their adults only venue and really only because you did not need to be there at 5 in the morning to get a chair. I also observed the deck patrol placing cards on chairs that were left with just towels for extended periods of time and it was nice to see that they were attempting to monitor deck chair hogs. It was also fun for the hubby and I to watch the offenders and what they went through to try to cheat the system. Little did they know that they were providing entertainment!
My final observation on this cruise will be why my kids have no desire to return to RCCL, which is a shame as I've gotten them hooked on cruising and I think they'll be frequent cruisers long after they've ceased going with their dad and I. My son is 18 and my daughter is 16 1/2. Before we left port on Saturday my husband and I went to Olive or Twist (round lounge up top) to have a drink. Our daughter, dressed in a nice sundress joined us to have a smoothie. The waiter came over, asked us how old she was and upon finding out she was under 18 said that she would have to leave. Keep in mind, we had not even left port yet and there were only four other people in the lounge. Early that same evening we were in the champagne bar playing cards and having a drink before dinner. Again our daughter joined us and at yet another location we were told that she could not be there. We could go down one deck, exactly under the champagne bar to the Latin bar and she could sit with us there. I've never been on a ship that had so many "off limits" locations for under 18 year olds. None of these lounges was ever busy yet we did not return to them. The clincher for my daughter however was the 1am curfew. Every night without fail she was stopped on her way back from the teen club activities and asked how old she was and asked to produce her card. One night at 1:15 she was sitting with a friend in the chairs that overlook the promenade on deck 7, right around the corner from her room. Deck patrol told her that she and her friend would have to go back to their rooms. They were both dressed nice, sitting quietly talking and they were sent to their rooms like naughty children! What was so ironic was all the postings I had read about the Independence in weeks prior with all the rowdy spring breakers. Maybe they were trying to cut down on that, but it was not the 15-17 year olds that they needed to worry about. My 18 year old could stay out all night, go into any bar, but his almost 17 year old sister could not sit in a corner and talk with a friend! Needless to say this left a very bad taste in both their mouths and they are not in a hurry to go back to RCCL. My husband and I had a nice time except for the incidents with our daughter being excluded. We would go back on RCCL with the right ship, itinerary and price, but we would not take our kids again.