This was our first time on Independence of the Seas and perhaps whether you end up liking it or not will depend a lot on your own attitude.
Are there things you could complain about if you wanted - of course.
There were things on this ship that weren't quite as good as on some of the other ships we have been on. For example, we enjoyed the outdoor eating area in the Windjammer that some of the Radiance class ships have. This ship does not have that.
Yes, if you want to see the Ice Shows, and you want a choice of times, you do have to queue for the tickets. There were other small things that we could comment on.
Did any of these things spoil our holiday? No.
In short, we loved the ship. It became our favourite ship of the 7 we have been on. There was so much to do and even on the days at sea we never felt it was overcrowded. We have to say though that we are not ones for sitting by the pool all day - and if that's what you want to do, then you would need to make a bit of an effort to get a lounger. We usually do lots of different things during the day and then go to the pool about 4.30-5ish before getting ready for dinner. At this time, there was never any problem getting a lounger.
We sometimes had to wait to be seated at dinner as we had My Time Dining and never wanted to make a reservation (defeats the object doesn't it?). But we never had to wait very long - and certainly not as long as turning up at a local restaurant without having made a reservation.
We found it fascinating that sometimes you could be somewhere (eg one of the jacuzzis, the front of the ship near the helipad, the disco etc) and on a ship with over 4,000 people you couldn't see any of the other passengers!
We booked an inside guarantee and have also done this in the past. We were allocated a Promenade Stateroom on Deck 8. It was a good location and a good room, although it had a connecting door there wasn't really any additional noise. We would have been happy with any of the cabins though, which is why we booked a guarantee.
This was the first time we have really noticed what a difference a really good cruise director can make. Joff Eaton was excellent and very funny. The "Give Us A Clue" show with the Captain was particularly funny, and even some of the staple shows which could get tiresome if you have seen them before (eg Love & Marriage Gameshow, The Quest) were worth going to simply because Joff himself is very funny.
We appreciated the number of quizzes there was on this particular cruise - perhaps because there were so many Brits aboard?
We didn't go to any of the Production Shows but we did see the Frankie Valli and Queen Tribute shows - which were both excellent. The Ice Shows were also worth going to.
Not 100% sure about the new menus - I think on the whole we preferred the old menus. But we appreciate that things need to change and you can't please everyone all the time. That said, we had some very good meals in the Main Dining Room and an excellent meal in Chops. Johnny Rockets also made a pleasant change and the Windjammer had a good variety. Is the food Michellen star quality? No. But I don't expect it to be so I aren't disappointed when it isn't.
Ports / shuttles / shore excursions
One of our (my) bug bears is when people expect the cruise line to tell you every little detail about a port. They tell you some information and they tell you about their own shore excursions and shuttles. We usually research a little in advance so we know what we want to do and the best way to do that. This is what we did:
Vigo - we rented a car from Avis in Vigo and drove to Santiago de Compostela. This worked out to be about the same price as the Santiago on your own shore exursion but we liked having the flexibility of the car. We also then had time to look around Vigo on our return. You can walk from the ship to the old town so no shuttle was needed.
Also be aware that when we went to Vigo we had to stay on ship's time for that one port.
We got the train from Alcantara Mar (5 mins walk from the ship) to Belem. We saw the Belem Tower and the general area. Then we got a tram to the centre before getting an old tram up to the Castle. Then we wandered around Lisbon before getting the train back to Alcantara Mar. One thing to note - you have to buy a ticket before you get on the trains as the conductors don't sell tickets. You can get tickets for the trams onboard.
We walked from the ship to the Main Street - it is probably about 15 minutes walk but it's flat. We then did a little tour of the Rock with a taxi-van.
We took the ship's shuttle into Valencia and walked around the city. We used the ship's shuttle as we had been unable to find out in advance whether there was any alternative and this was the first time the ship had ever been to Valencia. The port also seemed to have buses which went to the Centre and someone had said these were 1 euro each way.
We had been to Barcelona before so just decided to get the HOHO bus and get off at a couple of locations. We took the port's own bus which goes from the port to near the Colon monument at the bottom of La Rambla. It was 3.5 euros return. Please be aware though, that though they say they run about every 20 minutes, there is no particular timetable so you need to leave plenty of time to get back to the ship (I won't go into details, but through no fault of our own, we had to run from the port bus stop back to the ship!)
The ship runs a shuttle into Palma. I am not sure if the port had its own bus or not. We took a taxi to the train station and got the Tren De Soller (which was excellent). We then went to Valldamossa and had a look round Palma before going back to the ship.
We walked to the town from the ship. It took about an hour I think - it is quite far but if you don't mind walking it is pleasant enough. There was also a ship's shuttle and a port's own open top bus.
We went on the ship's "Seville on your own" tour. It was basically just a coach transfer to Seville. The cost of it was cheaper than hiring a car. We got 3.5 hours in Seville and then returned to Cadiz and had a wander around the old town before getting back on the ship.
All in all we had a great time. We paid what we thought was a very good price for the 2 weeks, it was good value for money and we would definitely go on this ship in the future.