The vacation itself started off as a disaster when my morning flight to Florida was canceled due to 3 inches of snow. We were re-booked on another flight an hour away, sat on the runway for 2 hours, and missed our connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale. Needless to say, the ship left without us and our only choice to salvage the trip was to fly to Grand Cayman and board there.
We called Royal Caribbean's customer service center, where I found the service to be disgraceful. I realize that it wasn't their fault and it wasn't their money at stake, but I wasn't looking for a refund, I was just looking for assistance. The first person we talked to first said she could transfer our cruise to another date within the next few months, and after getting our hopes up completely, she came back on the line and said she couldn't do it. That really upset me because the offer was on the table and they totally reneged on it. The lady assured us we would be able to board in Cayman, but we called later to verify before we spent another $500 on 2 plane tickets there. Another representative, a perky to the point of rude woman, informed us that we would need a note from the airport stating why we missed our flight or we would not be allowed it. It would have been nice if the first person told us that, and it was extremely lucky that we were still in the airport. We were also annoyed with Royal Caribbean at that point because I had called to inquire about purchasing trip insurance about a month or so prior to the cruise and they refused, stating that I had paid the cruise in full and therefore it was impossible to add insurance. I should have bought it in the first place, yes, but if they hadn't refused me insurance post-payment, I wouldn't have ended up in the predicament in which I found myself.
We flew to Cayman the next morning, stayed in a lovely hotel on 7 Mile Beach, Comfort Suites, which provided a small breakfast and coffee and was situated 70 yards from the beach. We were fortunately able to board the ship there and I was vastly disappointed. This was my first Royal Caribbean cruise and I had been looking forward to it for months, with expectations that the ship would be phenomenal. It was a nice ship, and we had a very nice balcony room, but the ship itself was nowhere near what I thought it was going to be.
The Independence is a large ship and it has 3 beautiful pools and even a kiddie pool. But one of the first things I discovered upon boarding is that the drinks are terrible. Now I don't mind paying $8 for a drink, but when the drinks consist of a glass of sour mix with a splash of rum, there is a problem. Rip-off, pure and simple. My companion is not a drinker by any means and even she complained that the drinks were awful, and it wasn't just the lack of alcohol, it was the overabundance of sweet and sour. Of course I found a good bartender on the last day.
The dining room food was quite good and had a couple of vegetarian options each evening, which was a must for me. The wait staff was excellent, as was our room steward. The buffet, however, was vastly disappointing. I've been on several other cruises and on each of them the buffet was different every day; however, this ship offered the same food time and again. Lunch was the same every day, consisting of mostly salad and burgers (no veggie burgers), and the dinner and breakfast buffets barely differed from day to day. There was a pizza joint down on the promenade and it was my assumption that it was frozen pizza.
I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to experience as much of the entertainment as I would have liked, as I visited the piano bar my first night and found myself there every evening. The pianist, Joe, was quite good, very personable, and carried out all of the requests that were shouted his way. He informed us that it was his first week, but he did a great job and brought a smile to my face every time I entered the bar.
We also saw one of the theatrical performances, and as a theater-goer, I loved it. The singing and dancing was spectacular and I found myself mesmerized. Again, we didn't see much else entertainment wise, but there was a 70s disco style parade where the cruise director dressed up as John Travolta, and there was a poolside party with music and dancing. There was also a movie screen located on the top deck.
As for activities during the day, I found them to be a bit lacking. I took a line dancing lesson and we went to a trivia game every day, but other than that, it seemed that any activities took place mainly at night. Fine for port-of-call days, but not so good for at-sea days. There was a Flowrider surf stimulator and an ice skating rink, though the rink was only open every once in a while, not every day, and not for lengthy perds of time. There was also an ice show, but I did not have the opportunity to see it.
Disembarkation was fairly simple, though I had to be off the ship at 6 a.m. to meet with Immigration since I had boarded from a different country. A bit of a pain, really, but we ended up getting off the ship without having to wait in line. The bad side was that it was 6 a.m. and what is there to do at 6 a.m.? We were spending the night at a Fort Lauderdale hotel, Ocean B, right across from Fort Lauderdale Beach, and we had a lucky break when they told us they had a room ready and we could check in. Beautiful hotel, with ocean views from every room. The beds were like heaven and we d right across the street to take pictures of the sunrise on the beach.
All in all, it was an enjoyable vacation, but Royal Caribbean did not meet my expectations. I suspect my feelings stemmed from the representatives at their call center, and it really affected me. I knew right away that I would never book another trip with them. I had a nice time once I was on board, but it cost us an extra $800 to get on a cruise of which we'd already missed 2 days. I realize of course that it is not their fault, but they might want to employ better call center workers because in my opinion it is quite a turn-off to be treated badly when you're already in a lousy situation. Again, the staff on the cruise was fantastic, but I would not choose to sail with them again.
The main thing I learned on this trip is that you should always fly down a day advance. This was the first time I decided to fly down on the day of the cruise (to save money) and it was a very costly mistake. To anyone reading this, take my advice, and if you can't get a fly down the day before, purchase trip insurance. I am not sure of the cost, but I know that they will pay up to $500 to get you to the first port of call, so at least you won't have to pay out of pocket like I did.