Background & pre cruise:
We're 60 year old Australians with 15 previous cruises on different ships (and many different cruise lines) with which to compare. This was our 1st cruise on Independence of the Seas but our 3rd cruise with RCI.
After flying into Heathrow Airport, we took the National Express coach to Southampton. Then we walked to Premier Inn West Quay where we stayed for 2 nights. We've used this chain several times and found this had the same efficient service, basic modern rooms, and ideal location in town and was also close to the port.
Our booked taxi arrived on time with a short trip to the RCI terminal. After a frustrating slow process of acquiring luggage tags (these were not available for printing out at home), we moved quickly through the early part of the boarding process. Then we were told to go to a different section as we owed a small amount of money for our cruise. After inquiring what it was for, we were told that they couldn't find the reason and to forget it! As a result of this our boarding process was delayed.
Built in 2008 and partly refurbished a month before this cruise, IOS was a beautiful glamorous ship in good condition. This was the largest ship we have ever sailed on and was below capacity with about 3600 passengers on this cruise. Every day we walked down the very long Royal Promenade.
Our balcony cabin was very large with a long lounge and had a comfortable bed under which the suitcases fitted. The bedside cabinets were small but there was plenty of room around the bed. There was a double wardrobe with shelves down one end. Three power points were supplied.
Having all the cabin ceiling lights on one switch made night-time difficult when one partner retires before the other. Our cabin steward helped solve this problem by having the ceiling light bulb above the bed removed (it had a sealed cover).
As apparently our cabin steward wasn't allowed to remove the contents from the small fridge himself, it took a few days for it to happen. In the meantime we removed them ourselves so we could keep our drinks cold. Our cabin steward was friendly and seemed efficient at his job. A useful electric jug and large ice bucket were supplied.
The reasonable sized ensuite had a shower with a sliding door instead of the usual annoying curtain. Water pressure was good. Individual toiletry bottles are not supplied.
The balcony was a generous size but the door didn't seal with the result that the cold air poured in at night.
On our cabin crawl we noticed the inside cabins were very small.
Food & drinks:
Fixed-time dining in the MDR is chosen by us so we get to know the other couples. While we found the standard of food in the main dining room to be good, we missed having lobster on the formal nights as on Celebrity and Princess - it's only offered at extra cost! Wine choices and price were similar to other cruise lines.
For breakfast & lunch, we used both the MDR and the Buffet. The buffet is well laid out but the food was often unappetizing. It was always difficult to find a seat. At breakfast we missed the freshly made waffles available on other lines.
Room service offered a wide choice and was prompt with good food.
Staff and service on board:
Life boat drill on a freezing deck was unpleasant as we were not warned to rug up - many other lines use public rooms.
We missed having guest lecturers as on Celebrity. There isn't a free daily newspaper but a reduced size A4 newspaper is available for sale. The availability of having your account on the TV in the cabin was handy.
There are no coin operated launderettes on board but we did make use of the $25 laundry bag special.
Duty free alcohol was expensive (Bacardi was over twice the price of our Transatlantic cruise on Celebrity 3 weeks earlier); as it was priced to match Norway's high prices.
On cruises we enjoy the shows in the evening. Unfortunately we felt the singers & dancers were not as good as other cruises; or maybe it was the quality of the production shows. The guest entertainers were good. Joff Eaton from England, the cruise director put everything into his job and was entertaining.
Although the theatre holds 1400 passengers, it was difficult to find a seat unless you arrived over 30 minutes early. We feel this could have been improved by changing the timing of the shows. With 9 pm and 10:45 pm most of the elderly passengers choose the early show. Luckily the seats were comfortable for the long wait before the show.
The Royal Promenade was also used for shows.
The main advantage of a large ship is having ice shows. Coming from a tropical climate, we found these were the highlight of our cruise. Due to the small venue, you had to queue once to obtain tickets for the 2 different shows which are free. If you wished to have a choice of seats, queuing was also required before each show. As there were some tickets remaining, we saw each show twice!
Shore Excursions & Destinations:
We normally try to avoid shore excursions organised by ships as we feel that they were too expensive. Due to the location (Norway) private tours are difficult to organize. As a result we did a ship's tour at Olden to the Briksdalen Glacier; and, at Flam we took their organised railway excursion (here some CC's organised their own with a saving in cost). Both tours were satisfactory.
Armed with maps & information collected before the cruise (supplemented with detailed free local maps picked up on land), we easily explored ourselves at the other 5 ports - at Oslo (our favorite port) we purchased the Oslo pass which includes all public transport & museums.
Everything went smoothly at Southampton with us leaving the ship on time and finding no delay in taking a taxi to the railway station for our booked train to Gatwick airport.
Overall we enjoyed this cruise even though one seemed to be constantly lining up due to the large number of passengers. Otherwise we found all areas to be above average. We would cruise again with RCI in the future.