Independence of the Seas Cruise Review by AvalonLady: Mostly delightful week on the Independence
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Mostly delightful week on the Independence
This was our second cruise with RCI and the first on the Independence. The ship was a nice size and well-kept. The staff was very friendly and helpful for the most part.
The food was very good. We only went to the dining room three times, preferring the Windjammer for greater variety. It frequently had some of the entrees from the dining room menu. The two negatives were way too many mousses for dessert (most of which did not have much flavor) and the pastas tended to be undercooked. We were not overly impressed with our dining room waiters, one of which was slow, and the other barely showing interest in us (probably because we switched tables towards the end of the cruise, and he figured he wouldn't be getting an extra tip by then). Portions in the dining room tended to be small, too - I had the ravioli and there were maybe six pieces in the dish. I found it odd that the three dining rooms were named for Shakespearean tragedies - King Lear, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. More Really, an odd "downer" for a cruise ship !
In general, the Independence does not seem to have a theme in its decor. There's ancient Egypt, Baroque, lots of steel and chrome in the Promenade, Renaissance, etc. Certainly nothing "American" despite its name. This didn't distract from the cruise, but just struck me as a bit of a decorative jumble.
The pool areas were nice, the best being the H2O Zone which is meant for the kids but has the best pool as far as depth - the pool with the waterfall has a useable depth of about 4 feet, unlike the adult pools which have a consistent depth over 5 feet - making it impossible to do anything but swim unless you are very tall ! If you like relaxing in a pool without having to tread water the entire time, head for the pool with the waterfall, under the "H2O Zone" sign. We were lucky that there were not a lot of kids on our cruise.
RCI definitely lives up to the "international" part of its name, with English being a second language for most of its employees. This occasionally proved to be an obstacle in asking for assistance, as even some of the waiters and cabin stewards had only the barest grasp on English.
The entertainment was not on a caliber with the Oasis (our previous RCI cruise) but good overall. The best show that I attended was the "Strings" ice show, which was actually better than the one we saw on the Oasis. Don't miss it ! Get in line for your tickets EARLY - I was there less than ten minutes after the ticket line opened, and had to settle for my second choice of times. Fortunately the shows in the large Alhambra theater were open seating, but don't wait until five minutes before the shows to get there if you want a decent seat. I did not go to all of the Alhambra shows, but found their "Once Upon a Time" show to be a bit odd - fairy tales interpreted through pop music (example: During "Rapunzel", the prince sang the theme song from the 1960s musical "Hair"). Some of this was cute, some not. A few older guests actually left during the performance. Also at the Alhambra was a welcome "party" for Crown and Anchor members, which was actually just a sales pitch for their new ships. Oh, and the legendary Super Mario was on board ! He has basically lived on RCI ships since 2000. He will be sailing on the Independence until March, and said he has another 150 cruises booked. Wow ! I love cruising but not enough to live on a ship for years !
There were two parades on the Promenade. Advice on where to stand to watch them: Do NOT stand under the arches ! Some of the performers are on top of these arches, especially the one midway down the Promenade. I learned this the hard way ! Also, try not to stand next to anyone carrying an ipad or tablet with a camera. During the second parade, the person next to me obscured my view with her ipad, sticking it out in front of her to take photos. Very annoying ! I think one of the best spots for viewing is near the car that is parked between the two arches.
As large as the ship is, there was still quite a bit of motion as she cruised. My husband got seasick on the last day when the winds were 30mph. Be sure to invest in a motion sickness wristband - they really work. We had to pay $12 for one on the ship; you can get them for $6 on amazon.com.
The embarkation and disembarkation went smoothly. Less
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Cabin review: 6694
Our cabin was aft and port side. I definitely recommend port side for this cruise as you will have the best view of the ports ! We had a balcony, which was delightful and worth the extra money (in this case, about $230 more per person). We went with the guaranteed cabin and were upgraded from a Deluxe to a Superior, so we lucked out there. The cabin had ample storage -including a retractable clothes line in the shower to hang wet swimsuits on. We had requested twin beds but it was made up as a king; our steward changed that the first day (had the same thing happen on the Oasis). The beds were very comfortable. Being towards the rear of the ship, it was a quiet location.
Port and Shore Excursions
We did not pay for any excursions here, but enjoyed Columbus Cove beach which has calm, turquoise waters and smooth sand. You can take a free shuttle bus there, which is highly recommended as it is a bit of a walk from the ship, and that way you can ride through the “Artisan Village” and avoid the pushy vendors. There are plenty of trees for shade at the beach, and free lounge chairs (tip the man who sets them up for you). The floating mats are an expensive $14 to rent. I definitely recommend Columbus Cove over the Atlantic side beach, which is rockier and has no shade. The ship provides a beachside picnic style lunch which was very nice.
We took the “Old and New San Juan City Tour.”
Since my husband cannot do a lot of walking, this was the only tour available that allowed us to see the city. I don’t know why they bother with the new part of the city, as it is just a drive past lots of condos and hotels. The one highlight is a brief stop at a beach area for photos. In old San Juan, there is a 45 minute stop to tour San Cristobal fort, which provides great views of the city. It is a self-guided walking tour with no interpreters to give information; be sure to pick up the brochure provided by the park service. We also drove past El Morro Fort but did not go in. The bus does NOT go through the streets of Old San Juan (it literally probably could not fit through the narrow streets!) but they give people the option of getting off the bus there to walk. The ship was within easy walking distance to Old San Juan.
Our shore excursion was “Caribbean Plantation and Beach”
The beach part of the tour, Frigate’s Bay Beach, was the most disappointing excursion we took. The beach is tiny, crowded, and has lots of rocks in the water. It has volcanic sand which means you don’t get the turquoise blue water. I could easily have skipped this part of the tour. Surely there are prettier beaches on St. Kitts !
Another highlight of the cruise was the Clay Villa Plantation. The delightful owners gave the tour. They use tour money to pay for rehabilitating abandoned animals, some of which you can see on the garden part of the tour (they are in large cages, not roaming free). Be advised that the tour does have several steps in the garden. The house is decorated with the owners’ collections (which are interesting) and is not in 18th century style, but the house itself is original and in great shape. This place has a wonderful “spirit” and I would love to visit again !
Our shore excursion, booked through RCI, was “ Butterfly Farm and Marigot”.
One of the highlights of the cruise for me was the butterfly farm. It is not a huge place but lovingly cared for, and the passion that the owners have for preserving butterflies is inspiring. Marigot was interesting, but seemed a bit more “run down” than Philipsburg on the Dutch side. The harbor area and French fort on the hill are the highlights, although there was not time to visit the fort. It is mainly a shopping stop. The drive through the countryside was interesting, with huge iguanas in the trees and some lovely panoramic views. Be sure to sit on the left side of the bus, behind the driver, for the best views.