First off, I'm a relative cruise rookie, having only done Caribbean Princess before this one. We also travelled with our 13-month old son, which any parent will tell you is not easy. Let me tell you - I didn't want to leave!!!
Ship: As we found out later, the ship was renovated last year. There was no sign of age on the ship and we loved the vibe on-board. Not too stuffy and everybody was having a great time. If you want water, Deck 11 is the place to be: three pool sections. The H2O Zone is great for kids and there was even a little water park for my son to play in. The middle pool is where most people gathered when onboard, but it never really felt crowded for us. One of the new additions is the big video screen above the middle pool area. It was good, but compared to Princess (which actually showed quality programming on it most of the day and night), it was severely underused. Most of the day they'd play this 'XY' show with music videos, most of which by artists I'd never More
heard of. The third pool is an adults-only solarium area, most tranquile if you want peace and quiet.
At night, most people hang out in either the casino, one of the bars nearby or the promenade level where all the shops are. Really nice atmosphere.
Activities: I'll be honest, with a 13-month in tow, we kept our on-board activities to a minimum. Nothing jumped out at us. They put a ton of effort into promoting their big-money activities - mainly the casino, bingo and shopping - but not much else. Much of the activities were your traditional holiday resort things aimed at an older audience. The belly-flop contest by the pool was fun on our last day at sea though.
As for night entertainment, their CD Joff Eaton is virtually everywhere hosting shows/telling jokes and does a great job. (Go on youtube and find the 'Splendid' music video that he did - I still can't get that song out of my head.) If 'The Quest' is happening on your cruise, go! It was a ton of fun. They have an ice skating show most nights - that is a must-see! The promenade hosts parades throughout the week - we did the Disco Inferno one and had a blast. (Joff and his staff dancing to cheesy disco music - it had its charm!)
Bringing Infants: The main reason that we chose Royal Caribbean was for the day care - they're the only main cruise line that we found that offered it for toddlers under 3. Let me tell you, it was amazing and allowed us to relax a bit as well. They tell you ahead of time that you'll probably have to book all your day care sessions on the first day, but our cruise ended up being light for kids so we could just walk in and drop him off whenever we wanted. It's $6 per hour until 6pm, $8 per hour in the evening and runs until midnight, very reasonable.
If you're bringing infants, the only thing I'd say is that wait until your little one eats mostly solid food. We didn't have a problem, except for the kiddle food package that we were promised. After it didn't arrive on the first day, we went to the front desk to inquire. They said something about figuring out the provision for this voyage and we got food the next day - 16 portions of green beans! Ew! Have you eaten green-bean kiddie food? Do it, then get back to me. So we followed up again and they eventually dropped off some more variety. At night, the restaurants were very infant friendly and we just fed him kids-menu fare.
As for kids activities, they have a ton on the ship, but the infant ones weren't highly attended. (They open up the nightclub for Under-3's Disco... I felt bad for the poor staffer who had to sit there and play The Wiggles while our son was the only kid there.)
Service: No problems here. The front desk is phenomenal and all staff that we encountered greeted us with a smile.
Cabin: We had a nice view of the water. My only issue was that the entrance is very squished - hard to get our son's stroller in through the door. But the room was nice.
Dining: We didn't venture too far off the beaten path when it came to food, choosing to have all our breakfasts and lunches at the Windjammer buffet. Breakfast options are good if not standard buffet fare. Lunch was OK - the only thing I'd say was that there wasn't much variety and their burger stash isn't good enough to want to eat it every day. For dinner, we did King Lear a few times. (King Lear is the upper level of the massive 3-level main dining room.) The staff was superb with us and our little guy - never once on the entire voyage did we feel like we were imposing on anybody by bringing our son along. The food didn't blow us away, but it was solid.
If you want to pay an extra $5 per person, you can eat at the Johnny Rocket's burger joint. Funnily enough, it was the only restaurant on the entire ship that had outdoor eating areas. To be honest, I wouldn't recommend it. The Johnny Rocket's that I know where we live has huge monster burgers, which the cruise-ship's were not. The waiter had issues understanding our order and there was nobody else there!
On the flip side, the offerings at the Promenade cafe and Pizza joint were solid. And I had no issue paying extra to Ben & Jerry's every night!
Grand Caymon: Highly recommend the Turtle Farm. They tour you around what is basically a turtle zoo - you can even hold the little guys! Once the tour is over, you can play with the turtles more or hang out at the water park until it's time to go. The rest of the tour after that was your typical hurry-up-and-wait tourist trap. They take you to the town of Hell, so you can send a postcard from Hell!
Falmouth, Jamaica: We did the historic Falmouth tour and it was amazing! You begin at William Knibb church where a member explains to you the church's history. (Knibb posted a gravestone on the site ending slavery in the 1800's.) They you drive around and stop at various other places - the most random was a private school where 8-year old kids sing to us. Really cool, although I'm not sure what the motivation is to show tourists a local school. Then they take you to a local park where they make you jerk chicken & rum for lunch. Overall a great experience.
Labadee, Haiti: The port stop here is actually a ocean-side resort owned and operated by Royal Caribbean. So it's very easy to just leave the ship and do your own thing. Bring cash along if you want anything - the locals will let you use a cabana for shade for a tip. Apart from that, everything food & drink is included with your SeaPass card since it's considered an extension of the ship Not my thing, but you can Zip Line over the entire resort.
This was the only low-light of the trip and led to a very frustrating final day. Because we had an evening flight out of Fort Lauderdale, we decided to get the Miami City Tour excursion, ordered through the company. However, it seemed to me that once you get off the ship, they wash their hands of you. Port Everglades is a gong show with people leaving/entering port and it was very hard to get any information as to where we had to go. There was confusion in the big room where you pick up your luggage. At one point, a crazy old lady screamed at us to go one direction, then we were ushered to a totally different area. And after standing around for 15 minutes, we were finally told that we had to load our luggage onto the tour bus ourselves. It was a very frustrating experience.
The Miami tour itself was actually very good. You're basically riding the top of an open double decker bus while the guide drives you around Miami. (Bring a jacket - Florida isn't necessarily super-hot in January and you're driving highways to get around - the breeze had a wind chill!) You get about 90 minutes to walk around on your own, the drop off seconds away from South Beach. We had a relaxing lunch overlooking the beach. You can also walk around the main shopping district if you want.
Getting to the airport from the tour was a big of a mess. The tour bus only goes to Miami airport. We had to transfer all our luggage to a neighbouring bus to get to Fort Lauderdale airport. The driver had no information as to what terminal everyone wanted and was a total a---hole about it, throwing everyone's luggage around on and off the bus at every terminal stop while handing out his business card to promote himself at every opportunity. RC staff was nowhere to be seen once we got off the ship in the morning. So disembarkation and the day that followed was a lowlight of the week.
That aside, I highly recommend Independence of the Seas if you're looking to cruise, especially if you have young children. Less
Independence of the Seas Cruises to the Eastern Caribbean
Room was very nice. You can't really go wrong with a balcony view of the water. Will say that the entrance way is very crammped - it was hard for us to get our stroller through the door. The shower was also tiny. To be honest, those were minor flaws in our mind.