Having cruised many times before, we, more or less, knew what to expect when we booked this 14 days' cruise on the Independence of the Seas sailing from Southampton. Nevertheless, things turned out to be way better than expected.
But let me start from the beginning.
We always like to arrive at the port the day before we board the ship. Sometimes our luggage may not arrive at the airoport on the day that we do, and what a problem this may be when the cruise leaves on the same day. Be safe, fly the day before, the missing luggage always arrives on the second day !
Royal Caribbean has very expensive airport transfers, so we used the British Airport Transfers which for 170 pounds total (to and from the Port) offers good service is spacious limousines.
We spent one night at the West Quay Premier Inn, which we highly recommend, because it is reasonably priced and is ideally located next to the Port and to the city's main street and shopping area.
Boarding the ship was quick and effecient. No long lines for Diamond members :-)
Eventhough we had sailed on Freedom class ships before we keep having the wow feeling every time we go onboard. What a wonderful ship the Independence is. Spotless clean and so well organized that, inspite of the thousands of people that it accomodates one never has to face long lines or bottlenecks in whatever one pleases to do.
Have you ever thought of the statistics involved in cruising? How many dishes must be washed every day, how many DIFFERENT meals must be served HOT, at the same time to thousands of people?
I often think that on such large cruise ships, the real destination is the ship itself. Well, maybe not so in our cruise. All the ports that we visited (Gibraltar, Marseille, Livorno, Rome, Ajaccio, Cadiz, Lisbon and Vigo) were quite interesting.
The entertainment and the production shows were very good but not impressive. The cruise Director was one of the best that we have met during our cruises. The highlight of the entertainment, though, were the two Ice Skating shows, which were a definite DON'T MISS!
Surprisingly, food (both in the Windjammer and in the Main Restaurant) was much above the Royal Caribbean average. Our dining room experience was enhanced by the people that we shared the table with. They were interesting, friendly and classy. We made friends that we definitely want to meet again.
When we booked the cruise, we were afraid that July being a holiday season there would be many kids running around and creating problems. This was not the case, though, quite the contrary. The children were well behaved and gave a very pleasant and happy note all around the ship.
The majority of the people onboard were British. Yes, this makes a difference (by the way, I am Greek). They are polite, not fussy, they dress nice on formal nights and are very pleasant to be with.
At this point I need to thank publicly some people who made our cruise better than what it could have been: Captain Teo Strazicic who honoured us with his friendship and invited us to Bridge, Ms. Hitomi Makino, Loyalty Manager, who went out of her way to solve a problem that we had, Mr. Cornelis van Zijp, Executive Chef, who devoted more than an hour of his precious time guiding me through the Galleys and explaining all the Food Operation and Ms. Gabriella Murrara who co-ordinated these visits.
Perfect ship, perfect weather and seas, perfect co-travellers .... yes, this was the Perfect Cruise Experience. Were there things that we did not like or bothered us? Maybe there were, there always are, but it is nice to focus on the good things, these are that make a memorable experience out of a holiday.