This review is not intended for first-time Independence cruisers but for old hands that may be wondering what has happened during the recent refit.
Being both Diamond and a Suite passenger, I had a preferential queue prior to security screening, but there was no-one else there so it mattered not. Now there I was, pulling my trolley with one hand, holding paperwork in the other hand, a sunhat between my teeth and I am presented with a health questionnaire to complete all whilst sanitising my hands at the same time. Why cant this health form be included in the e-docs sent by RCI or incorporated into the SetSail pass so it can be presented already completed at check-in? Alternatively, I learn how to retract my ears.
Initial impression was that the ship was perfectly clean and tidy with no detritus from the recent refit to be seen, unlike my one and only trip on QM2.
I was on board within about 20 minutes and up to the Windjammer for lunch. Nothing much there appeared to have changed, ie still few hot vegetables, if any, (apart from potatoes) to accompany your hot meal but lots of good hearty fayre otherwise. Ill stick with the Windjammer (even though it is out of sync with the rest of the review) as Ive only one other observation to make: there were fewer cold cuts salad items on this cruise than previous ones and those same few were repeated time after time.
After lunch I went to examine the changes/additions. Firstly, Giovannis Table looked little different to Portofinos. Ill write much more about that later. Secondly, the Cupcake Cupboard on five (formerly the barbers) looked soulless, nothing like either a cupboard or a kitchen. It may be OK on the Oasis, but it does not transfer well as is onto the Independence. I would like to make a few suggestions. There was lots of empty counter space and shelves. Kitchen paraphernalia, like a mixer or set of scales with bell-weights, should be put out to make it look more real. Bags of baking ingredients should be visible in the empty cupboards. In a corner was an enormous and over powering stainless steel fridge for canned drinks taking up about a quarter for the space this should be disguised with a false front to look like a kitchen cupboard. There was no sign of an oven to bake the cakes again a false oven front could be stuck on one of the blank walls. This might be a money-earner cake decoration classes?
The wifi and bandwidth had been updated. This was obvious during football matches as all the TV channels were available now whereas previously some had to be closed down to be able to broadcast the football in HD. The new outdoor TV screen was working and gave a good quality picture even in sunlight. Hmm, I wonder who controls the remote control?
At the appointed hour, my cabin was ready and one of my cases was already waiting for me. Now heres another suggestion: The biggest printed item on the luggage labels is the Deck Number whereas I think it should be the Cabin Number. As it transpired I went on a forced route march to find my second case it was (thankfully) on the correct deck but outside the wrong cabin.
My cabin was perfectly clean (and kept perfectly clean by my perfectly friendly stewardess). After a short interval of unpacking, it was off to the lifeboat drill. This one had shades of Costa about it. It had to be repeated three times as, apparently, the instructions from the bridge could not be heard in every location. By the end of it my legs ached and I was looking forward to a sit down.
From start to finish, I must say the evening service in the Diamond Lounge before dinner was excellent and so was breakfast. I was pleased to see less food put out in the mornings as now there is only a small amount of waste at the end of breakfast whereas before the amount of waste was almost criminal.
The all-new MDR menus were certainly a more substantial document but the food didnt seem much different. Each days printed menu had a herb or spice in the top left with a picture and description what was missing (or was not obvious) was where that thing was an ingredient in any of the nights dishes. All-in-all, I think the MDR dinners were a disappointment and if someone wanted a cruise line recommendation for cuisine, then RCI would not be it. But the MDR waiting staff all remained helpful and polite even though we sorely tested them.
The MDR for a la carte breakfast was perfectly civilised with excellent service. One thing I noticed, perhaps RCI has finally cottoned on to our English tastes as the near force-feeding of iced water at breakfast had ended. My poached eggs always arrived perfectly cooked and the corned beef hash was better than on Celebrity if only by virtue of being left alone and not allegedly improved with unnecessary additions. I also noticed that the sliced bread was extraordinarily thick and that RCI had (finally) learnt how to cook toast.
So to room service. Room service breakfast always arrived on time; always arrived warm (not hot, though I never expected it to be, but still warm enough to enjoy), always had American bacon even though I wrote ENGLISH in big letters on the order form and always had the most foul and disgusting tasting English sausage. To be fair, the same foul and disgusting sausage was to be found in the MDR and Windjammer. Not only was the taste something else, the texture was unpleasantly smooth as if it was reconstituted from slurry. I found the Food Manager at a Crown and Anchor event and talked him into a corner he promised to look into the sourcing of them, I gave him the name of some English brands and I promised I would be looking for him in September. I dont think he had the nervous tick I left him with when I first saw him though. At the C&A event I had a nice long chat with the Captain we had met before on the Adventure and I was presented with an award for long and faithful service.
I had a major argument that went on (on and off) for about an hour with various members of the dining room management. I had bought a wine package on embarkation and still have the receipt. When I came to order some wine, I was told I had been charged the old price based on an out-of-date flyer used by the member of staff that sold me the package and was given the option of either paying the extra or cancelling the deal. I said No to both. We had a contract based on an offer, an acceptance and a consideration. Three differing levels of MDR management said I had to pay and I said I would not as we had a contract and if they wanted to break that contract then there would be ramifications. Finally they gave in. But it did not end there. Someone else on the table wanted to buy a wine package a day or so later what happened? They were given a leaflet - with the old prices! A word to RCI: either control to the nth degree the circulation of documents with prices on, or circulate documents without prices that require the staff looking-up some master schedule of prices held under lock and key, or be big enough to take the hit when you are found to be wrong. But better still train your staff and put people that know what they are doing in the right place.
I was on this cruise chiefly for La Palma as I had not been there before. So my intention on going on a tour there was educational not for entertainment. But I got a really good belly laugh when I read the bottom line of my excursion ticket: This excursion is unsuitable for guests, I showed it to the excursions manager who also saw the funny side of it.
New computers have allegedly been installed. I dont think they have been set-up properly as they kept falling over and some of the pages on the RCI website had been barred, or if not actively barred then no-one had checked to see if they could be accessed (I tried this on 7 computers in all). Also on the computing front, terminals have been installed at sales outlets to enable the recording of your signature electronically rather than on a piece of paper. New electronic interactive signs are everywhere and work well showing, amongst other things, what is on now and where. Come the day I need directions on the Indy, theyll have to be to a nursing home.
Finally to the late lamented Portofinos. Dont worry it is still there though under a new name, Giovannis Table. Im afraid this will turn out to be a disappointment to RCI as every dollar spent on it has been wasted. They wanted an Italian family trattoria but have failed abysmally but I am not complaining. The choice and quality of the food and the service was still Italian fine dining in the old Portofinos tradition. The only nod towards family dining was a terrible moulded fairground looking glass to be used for water and it stuck out like a sore thumb. I was looked after wonderfully and the manager, Andre, was good enough to listen to, and reward with an unnecessary act of kindness, my suggestions on how to achieve what RCI wants. This new enterprise may be as on Oasis, but on Oasis, Giovannis Table is in a row of pay to eat venues but here it is only a footstep away from the free Windjammer.