My wife and I have enjoyed always cruising as our preferred holiday as an escape from our Canadian winters. We have been on 5 previous cruises but our recent sailing on the Independence of the Seas was our sixth and first with Royal Caribbean. I am an avid reader of Cruise Critic and have come to rely on the opinions of others here to assist in choosing our next cruise.
Having just returned from the IOTS I thought that I would stop by to what others were saying about the cruise. I didn't intend to write a full review but after reading the comments left by "grouten" I knew I had to provide an entirely different and relative perspective.
Port Everglades - Rating 10
Extremely fast and simple. From shuttle outside of terminal to Boleros bar with cold drink in hand - 20 minutes. Most of our prior embarkations were min 45 mins to over 1 hour.
Windjammer Buffet - Rating 9
Ate some breakfasts, all lunches and some snacks here. How anyone can complain about this extensive buffet is beyond me. Breakfast choices ranged from the standard fare of fruits, yogurts, granola, hot and cold cereals, eggs, bacon, sausage, crepes, hand cut ham, breads, bagels and great made to order omelette within couple of minutes. If that did not satisfy your palette I noticed that there were several hot lunch type meals such as well as a full deli of salads, meats, cheeses, pickles, veggies and the like.
Lunch choices were also varied and ranged from burgers, dogs, pizza, fries, chilli, soups, sandwiches and the like. For those looking for a heartier lunch there were were a variety of chicken, beef, ham and seafood hot dishes. There were also several sides, veggies , soups and sauces. Continental, European, and oriental themed dishes and salads were always available as well. Not once did I stand in a line of more than 4-6 people for any type of meal here. The food was varied, beyond plentiful and far more fresh and flavourful than any similar land based buffet restaurant that I've attended. I'm not certain why a guest would complain about the Windjammer buffet as the main dining rooms were also open for all 3 meals. Here guests could enjoy sit down service of prepared to order meals. If there was one area for improvement in the Windjammer it would be that more waiters would be useful to clear tables and direct/ seat guests carrying their food plates to those empty seats.
King Lear Dining Room - Rating 8
Dined here each evening for dinner. We chose Anytime dining so that our schedule would not be limited by a specific dining time and it was wonderful. This dining choice also allowed us to be seated in different areas of the dining room and experience a variety of different wait staff. The menu had ample choices to again cater to most tastes. As an example we were served the following during our cruise; unlimited prime rib, filet and tenderloin of beef, medallions, chops and roast pork, marinated, stuffed, breaded, barbequed and infused chicken, duck l' orange, shank and chops of lamb, We also enjoyed an unlimited fresh bounty from the sea prepared in a variety of ways. The choices included filets of salmon, tuna, sea scallops, escargot, mussels, calamari, Atlantic lobster and crab. All appetizers, entrees and sides were pleasing to the eye and the palette. Dessert selection ranged from European style cakes, souffles and pastries to light mousse and fresh fruit dishes. All so good that it is hard to resist the continual offers for a second serving! The service ranged from very good to outstanding. All staff did their jobs well, spoke English clearly and all were engaging. A few went above and beyond by serenading us personally by singing and playing guitar and entertaining us with mind teasers and magic.
A few areas for management to look at improving the dining experience; at each of our dinners most meals were served piping hot but some were just barely warm.
Also, all dining room singing and dancing performances were announced throughout all 3 levels of this very large and elegant dining room. The show and live music however were only played on and visible by diners on the first level. When the entertainment was made each evening all guests on the 3rd level paused, looked around and wondered what the fuss was all about. By the last few nights, the waiters had apologetically informed us all that only first level guests could enjoy the announced show. It certainly interrupted the ambiance of meals to the extent that a conversation is interrupted by the annoyance of a passing train - wait until it passes and then continue.
There were also 3 or 4 specialty restaurants but we felt no need to pay extra for these.
Premier Beverage Package - Rating 10
If you drink 5 + drinks per day, enjoy bottled water and soft drinks then this package is for you. Admitdely we were apprehensive to purchase it as we were concerned that there would be several restrictions placed on the program and our money would have been wasted. Nothing could be further from the truth'. We enjoyed ANY drink offered at ANY bar or restaurant at ANY time. Unlike all inclusive resorts where the drinks are watered down and only cheaper alcohol and brands used RCL offers up the top brands. Grey Goose vodka, Crown Royal whiskey, Glenfiddich scotch, Bacardi rum, Patron tequila, Grand Marnier and Baileys and the like are all offered; All domestic 16 oz beers, Imports such as Heineken, Amstel and many Canadian beers are available Wines from around the world are also included as are all tropical and REAL specialty drinks such as Tequila Sunrise, Miami Vice, Pina Colda - not syrup in a jug mixed with cheap rum. This package is also applicable when stopping at RCL owned resort destinations such as Labadee, Haiti and Coco Cay, Bahamas, both of which excellent private beach resorts.
Standard balcony cabin - Rating 9
We had a a Deluxe Ocean View with balcony. The cabin was as expected - basic neutral decor, compact, very clean and well maintained. Comfortable king size bed, desk, lots of closet and storage space for two, flat screen, mini bar, 3 piece bath incl shower. Pretty standard stuff but we booked an aft balcony which was awesome!!! It measured 12 ft x 12 ft and came with 2 chaise loungers, table and 2 chairs where we enjoyed a couple of breakfasts and wine before dinner. Would prefer to never go back to the confines of a standard balcony if at all possible. The ultimate would be a suite or Jr. suite with an aft balcony - next cruise! Room attendant was great - never interrupted us, made up room twice daily, ice always full, towel animals etc.
Rating - 9
From guest services staff to waiters, from bartenders to housekeeping, the staff we met couldn't do enough to make us feel comfortable and special. Officers of all stripes and departments are always visible and available to chat and offer advice. We found that our questions, comments or concerns were always welcomed. As a general rule, the over 1400 staff onboard were all helpful, happy and congenial. None of the people in our traveling party ever saw any evidence of grumbling, angry staff at any level, For the most part, we found the level of staffing to actually be higher than on Carnival or NCL. Cruise Director Joff is super energetic and funny.
Rating - 9
This is a huge boat with amenities that are plentiful. They include pools, several large hot tubs including the 2 very cool cantilevered tubs, ice rink, great pizza shop, 22 bars, the Promenade mall shops, flow rider surfing, rock climbing, basketball, mini golf and more. The entertainment ranged from family oriented shows and bingo in the amphitheater and ice rink to adult comedy and karaoke in the clubs. There is wifi throughout the ship and an internet cafe. There is a huge exercise and spa area with state of the art equipment, treatments and classes. Only area that we had issue with was one that all ships and cruise lines grapple with - shortage of loungers due to guest reserving chairs with towels and then abandoning them.
RCL Rating - 10 Terminal Rating - 3
Asked for and received late disembarkation from ship as our flight left later in the day. All restaurants remained open and happy to serve. Leaving ship was quick, orderly as was luggage pick up in the terminal so RCL service ended where it started - top shelf! At issue was US Immigration - it was cumbersome to wait in the Immigration line for 25 mins. Worse yet though was the chaos outside of the Port Everglades terminal to get to the taxi waiting area. To be blunt Port staff were rude and not at all in control of the hundreds of people, numerous buses, cabs and shuttles scattered everywhere. There must have been considerable complaints as the Broward Couinty Sheriff had half a dozen officers trying maintain some semblance of order to things. Long story short we stood in line for 35 minutes awaiting a cab to the airport. Will never disembark at Port Everglades again without pre-booking shuttle out of that terminal mayhem.
In summary our cruise experience aboard IOTS far exceeded expectations and we are now RCL converts - sorry Carnival. With respect to some the extremely negative few I would remind you that they are the exception and not the rule - there will always be complainers. For example, I overheard two ladies complaining that ice used on IOTS melted to quickly as their drinks were warm, another gentleman commented that RCL should have changed the day at sea as the weather was to cool on the scheduled day.
The Habitual Complainers (yep.... that other 20%)
Rating - 0
These naysayers of RCL, NCL and the like, pay the same affordable price for an above average cruising experience that we all do. The expectations of the these complainers however always seem higher than what they are actually paying for. If they demand flawless white glove service then they need to stop complaining about the mainstream lines and pony up with much higher fares on ultra luxury lines such as Azamara, Regent or Crystal.