The Independence of the Seas was recently refitted and it looked good. The cruise itinery was good and the weather even cooperated except for one day of rain. It was our first trip with RCI and (obviously) on the IOS. We found that it was big but not unduly so, we soon had our bearings and the electronic signage helped a lot. The inside cabin/state room was larger than we've had previously and we thought the toilet/shower arrangemkents the best we've had on a ship - no feeling of being cramped at all. The small 2 seater sofa and decent sized TV also helped. The big problem for us was that because this was a cool weather cruise very few people were on the outer decks which meant the inside facilities were always crowded. Getting a coffee was easy, finding a seat to drink it was another matter. The other problem was crowded exit/entry to the ship. In Flam particularly the dock was so small (or the ship so large) that only one gangway could be used. 4000 people trying to exit/enter via one gangway meant long queues to get off/on (around an hour at peak). I wonder if they could have used tenders to augment the gangway and thus alleviate things? Other ports were slightly better and the bigger ports with 4 gangways in operation were no problem.
Dining arrangements were good but the fact that all the eateries were at the back of the ship produced an uneven traffic flow so that again the crowds on board were very obvious. Other lines seem to spread the resataurants around and so dsisperse the numbers more. I was also dissappointed with only 2 speciality restaurants (3 if you count Johnny Rocket's burgers!), I expect more variety on a modern ship.
Having said that, the meal we had in Giovanni's was excellent - as far ahead of the MDR as the MDR was of the buffet. The speciality coffee wasn't great, I think they use Starbucks on other shi[ps and that would have been better.
Entertainent was exceedingly average. Simon Cowell's famous put down of it being a "cruise ship performance" suggests he maybe cruises with RCI. The performances were competent but not exceptional. Even the much vaunted ice show was good but not amazing (although after my attempts to skate on the tiny rink my appreciation rose several notches!). There were a few good acts but neither the main shows nor the lounge entertainers were as good as any of the other ships we've been on.
The weather had a big influence on this cruise because, as already mentioned, most folks stayed inside. It also meant that for most of the cruise the famous RCI climbing wall and surf simulator were out of action - too cold/windy. But there didn't seem much alternatives arranged for what must have been a foreseeable issue.
Embarkation/disembarkation were completely average. Relatively painless in both directions. The only question: why does the terminal not have a left luggage facility? Don't people want to visit Southampton? In the end we took a taxi to the airport and then hired a car for the afternoon...
The highlights were the Royal Promenade "street in a ship" - a great concept that really worked despite the crowds. Giovanni's was good, the ice rink is a good feature, if the sun decks had been usable they looked well laid out. The solariums and hot tubs were well used by a brave few and looked like a good idea on a warmer cruise. Also the destinations, I enjoyed all of them except for the queues at Flam.
Customer service was worth a mention, better than on other ships, the only complaint was a lack of rigour in the washy-washy regime in the MDR/Buffet and the fact that we went a week without ever meeting our cabin steward - a first for a cruise! The cabin was well looked after but it would have been nice to meet this elusive individual.
The lowlights were the crowded venues, the average entertainment and the limited access to the signature features(wall/surf etc)
In conclusion I'd sail on IOS again but only in a warmer climate. I'd also go to Norway again but only in a smaller ship. And I'd love to tour Norway by car but I can't afford it - ouch! those landside prices were steep!