We did not enjoy this cruise very much. We had heard good reports from friends about Royal Carribean so decided to book up six months in advance, however some passengers played a fraction of our fare and insisted on repeating what a good deal they got throughout the voyage.
Embarkation went well cabin was available from 1pm and was a standard cabin with average bathroom. The steward kept it clean but they have to service far more cabins than on other ships due to the vessels extreme size. 'Only' 3600 passengers were on this cruise, in the summer there can be over 4000 folks on board which must be unbearable. In the past Independence was known for being overrun with children but it seems the target market has shifted to the more profitable over fifties. There was an English majority but also with many people from Ireland, USA, Canada, Spain and others, our fellow English passengers were of course the worst at pushing and shoving in the many bottlenecks on the cruise especially the windjammer buffet. The few children around were no problem, but mobility scooters seemed to treat the open deck as a racetrack and we saw several near misses a day.
Lifeboat drill was chaos with thousands of passengers crammed into a small outside section of the deck. In a real emergency this boat would make Costa look organised, it does not inspire confidence at the start of the cruise. Staff were generally helpful but some appeared overworked or disinterested. With Royal Caribbean more than any other line there is an obsession with getting extra profit from passengers- the whole ship experience is like a sales experiment. This is something American passengers don't really mind but for Europeans it is irritating. Alcohol on board was dearer than on shore in Norway, quite some feat, and the Fosters and Amstel lagers were south american brews made under licence. There are drinks packages available where you pay a set amount and can drink as much as you like. Thankfully this did not lead to binge drinking but it could easily turn into an alcoholics dream with people trying to get their moneys worth of booze and turning violent, a very irresponsible scheme designed to get profit from the hard drinker brigade.
The ship itself is very stable and coped with force 10 gales easily although aft cabins do suffer vibration due to the size of the engines. There was plenty of open deck space since we were going through cold waters but it is easy to see the mayhem that must ensue in the Mediterranean sun, with four thousand people trying to get into a few hundred loungers. A very unhygienic machine called 'sprinkles' dispensed yogurt and ice cream near the children's pool, complete with mess around the nozzle and sticky hand marks on the front, it should be renamed Norovirus dispenser.
The queuing started on the first sea day with a half hour queue for tickets to the ice shows, but in this case it was worth the wait as the shows were very enjoyable with a quality cast of skaters. The other things we queued for we less worthwhile, for each show in the Alhambra theatre you must be seated fifty minutes or even an hour to get a seat. There was an excellent Queen tribute band but the rest of the shows were a ventriloquist who was full of himself and crude, a female talent show winner who sung tribute songs of pop stars with various levels of success, song and dance shows which were very random with some singers being talented and versatile and others screechy and dancers seeming to be taken from lap dance clubs, a magician comedian who appeared to suffer a respiratory illness and tried to be Tommy Cooper but resorted to humiliating audience members to get laughs, an Irish comedian who would have been funny if this was the seventies and his jokes hadn't been told a thousand times then yet another magician on the last night we didn't bother watching.
The Ports on this cruise were regular Norwegian cruise ports and of course they were excellent with the scenery and generally good weather, and also Cobh in Ireland and Zeebrugge. Royal carribean had enough money out of us so we didn't have any tours, from speaking to other passengers this was not a bad decision with many people feeling overcharged. In Flam many passengers took the rail journey but apparently they were herded on then train after standing in a queue for a very long time. In Zeebrugge there was a shuttle bus to Blankenburg which we used since we visited bruges a few times before and know how crowded it is in summer. Having got back in early afternoon, we ate a quiet meal in the windjammer, this day was the only time it was quiet on the whole cruise, at six o clock I looked down from the top deck and saw a line of passengers streching all along the quay waiting to embark, we later heard all the tours were scheduled to come back at the same time, very poor planning indeed, and some elderly people looked very poorly that evening after an hour stood in strong winds. All this was after a chaotic scrum to get into the theatre simply to get your tour number, I did not witness this but overheard conversations about the terrible organisationation of the tours at most ports.
The worst aspect of the cruise was definately the food. In my job I regularly have to use Little Chef type places, the food on board was below that modest level. We had second sitting in the main restaurant but there was this thing called Mytime where you pay yet more money for flexible dining. After a couple of nights in the main restaurant we got fed up with the slow service and almost total absence of vegetables, so resorted to the windjammer. You are very lucky simply to get a seat in the windjammer, unlike most cruise ship food courts it is closed off completely at various times of day, so that means yet another queue to get at the front to get a seat. There was a massive amount of gluttons on board who made it their aim to as much as they phsically could take, grabbing the serving tongs with fury and one man over twenty stone litteraly snatched them out of my hands to get the last fries in the tray. Food here was undercooked or burnt, unappetizing and mostly out of rehydration packs. Some of it would have been condemned if it was served in a land restaurant. They are the kind of people who are pleased eating anything so long and they can chew and swallow it. Royal Carribean is aimed at these people and we won't use them again.