First off, this may be long and extensive, but you can skip around to the parts that interest you. My
husband and I travel fairly frequently and have primarily vacationed at all-inclusives, and recently began cruising in 2011. We’ve been to many islands for land-based vacations and now enjoy cruising as well. We’ve primarily cruised on Carnival, and I had one experience on NCL. This was our first time on Royal, so this was our opinion of the ship, Independence of the Seas – 4/6-4/12.
The ship was near capacity, and due to spring break still going on, there were over 1100 kids on the ship! (we asked for confirmation). Even with that many people, it only seemed crowded on sea days trying to get a lounge chair.
First off, the ship is massive, beautifully designed, and really gives you the WOW factor that Royal
promises. The promenade area was a sight to behold and we spent many hours walking along the shops, sitting and talking, drinking and just enjoying the general atmosphere. If I had to describe the difference between Royal and Carnival in one word, it would be REFINED.
The best part of this ship to us was the solarium area. The nice, cozy seating areas, along with the swings. Whoever thought to put swings on a ship is pure genius! Who doesn’t love to swing and sit back and relax and enjoy the ocean views!!
All in all, we loved Royal and it likely fits our personality better because we enjoyed the adventurous activities. The more laid back feel, and the lack of head pounding music in all corners of the ship. We were hopeful that would be the case, and Royal delivered.
Having said that, would I sail on Carnival again….ABSOLUTELY positively! It’s fun, lively and a great option when working in a budget. However, if you can splurge a bit, I would recommend doing so because it will be well worth the extra cost if the “winners” section appeals to you. If not, stay on the ship that fits YOUR personality best! This is just OUR opinion.
TO SUMMARIZE, THE WINNERS
IN OUR OPINION:
Royal wins in:
Embarkation – no lines, just walked up and provided our passport information
Disembarkation – at ports and at the end of the cruise, this was seamless (until we got pulled by customs, but that is another story).
Food – dining room & lido – far more options
Room Service – hot items available for breakfast
Entertainment – upscale and excellent entertainers
Ship – phenomenally designed
Drink programs (one person can purchase alcohol and the other soda, or however you wish)
Gym – large & spacious
Promenade – gorgeous and well laid out
Cabin – much more storage and better colors.
Balcony doors – these slide into place with ease, so nice
High end shopping – if you like high end shopping, this is the ship!
Lounge areas – comfortable seating options
Activities for all ages
More areas for relaxation
Offering various types of music from steel drums, to soft music, to dance and orchestra
Carnival wins for the following:
Continual cleaning – they are always steaming, spraying and cleansing areas
Fun – more dancing, people interacting with others
Deck Party – no comparison, much more fun
Friendlier guests – more social
Towel animals daily – only twice on Royal
Guy’s Burger – the BEST!
Availability of lounge chairs on sea days
The Pointe Steakhouse – best steak ever
Bathrooms – more functionally designed
Comedy club – Royal’s comedians didn’t have shows until 11:45 pm at night. We don’t stay up that
late each night and truly missed this because it was something we always enjoyed on Carnival.
Dancing wait staff – Royal doesn’t do this at dinner and we missed it
Reasonably priced shopping
More line dancing and activities to keep people having fun
Ice cream – avbl 24 hrs (on Royal, only until 6:30 pm)
Service was great on both lines, and we both believe this was a tie.
We arrived a day early and stayed at the Hyatt Place Plantation, near Fort Lauderdale. The hotel
itself was nice and functional and provided everything we needed. The service was not as good as when we stayed at Hyatt Place Dania Beach. The driver that took guests around the surrounding area was not very pleasant and was not a very safe driver. He would slam on the brakes frequently, and we were so
uncomfortable we didn’t ride with him again.
The hotel was in a nice location, and we were able to go to BoKampers for a nice dinner and to watch the Final 4 on the large televisions. Food was great and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Highly recommend this restaurant/sports bar if you are in the area.
We have family in the area, so we met them at a nearby pancake house and they transported us to the
port, which was very nice. Otherwise, you can set up transportation upon booking with the hotel, or get a cab.
I suspected that for such a large ship, this may be problematic. I was absolutely incorrect. We walked up to the ship, went up to where we needed to be, were greeted and provided our passports, our photos were taken, sea passes provided, and we were on our way.
We love that Royal allows you to choose from several different packages. EACH person gets to choose
whether they want a package or not. It is NOT required that each guest in the same cabin purchase the same package as required on Carnival. I purchased the soda package for $6.50/day plus gratuity and my husband purchased the wine/beer/soda package for $40/day. Packages increase up to $65/day and include beer/wine/mixed drinks/bottled water/specialty coffees and juices. There are several options to choose from and I think this is a great idea if you don’t want to do the daily tally trying to figure out what your tab will be. NO SHARING of drink packages allowed.
We cannot say enough about the entertainment offered onboard. We were blown away by the first musical performance of Savannah Jack, from Nashville, Tennessee. They had the crowd involved and were just great entertainers, singers, musicians and I could return just to listen to them. They still play with Kenny Rodgers.
We enjoyed the juggler/comedian show. He was quite funny and kept the crowd laughing hysterically at his juggling moves and with his funny antics.
The ice show was out absolute favorite while onboard. This is amazing and a MUST do on any ship that provides the option. Also, we did not get the tickets when they were available. However, if you arrive 5
minutes prior to showtime, if there are available seats, you will be allowed in. This is how we were able to get in. So please do not be discouraged if you forget, or if you don’t get the tickets when they offer them for a 2 hr window of time.
The last night they had singers/dancers and the orchestra play for a show. This was their first time in production. This isn’t my favorite type of entertainment, but it was nice. The only issue is that one of the dancers was absolutely incredible that she makes the others not look as good. She’s phenomenal, and I think once the others get the performance down better, this will work out for them.
This ship is gorgeous, well maintained, and beautiful. I cannot say enough about the design, the beauty and the wow factor. You have to see it to believe it. It is well designed, well laid out,
The promenade is just incredible. We truly enjoyed the Champagne Bar, Vintages and the Pub for just sitting and enjoying our time or people watching. Everything was well thought out, well planned and beautifully carried out.
The staff on this ship are comparable to what we found on Carnival cruises. Everyone is extremely nice, attentive and caring.
We splurged and had a Jr. Suite on the 9th deck. It was spacious, offered a great deal of storage, had a nice tub, chair with ottoman, a couch, and an enormous balcony with 2 chairs and 2 loungers. The cabin was more than we needed, but it was so nice. I really liked that the balcony doors had a sliding door, and all you had to do was turn the handle upward for it to lock. This was a nice change from the balcony door we had issues with on Carnival that would come open at times even when it appeared locked. Since the ship was at full capacity for spring break, it was nice to have this extra space and we actually used the balcony more.
On Carnival they offer the faster to the fun program where you can get your cabin a bit earlier. This is not available on Royal. The cabins are ready by 1 pm. Don’t try to go in and look for yourself because the “cabin police” are watching and will make you leave!
On Carnival, there were always photographers on the gangways and it always causes HUGE backups for people trying to get off the ship into port. This was what I thought was fantastic on Royal. The photographers were off of the ship and you could choose whether to have the photo or not. On Carnival I often feel forced to have the photo taken.
I still don’t understand why all cruise lines don’t make the pools much larger, but that seems to be the
case on all of them. Although, the splash pool for the kids was absolutely incredible. The cantilevered hot tubs looked amazing, although we never tried them.
This is where I would complain on this ship. During the sea days, unless you were up on deck at 8-9 am, you could not find a lounge chair. I do think this had to do with the spring break crowd and that the ship was at capacity. We like to go to the gym, but if we went to the gym and showered, it was impossible to find a chair.
The solarium is a great place to lay out if there is a breeze or the ship is moving. Otherwise, it doesn’t get a lot of air and becomes very hot. The cushions also get extremely hot in the sun.
I did miss Guy’s Burger, and we did try Johnny Rockets one day, but there was no comparison. The burger was good, but it was too thick and just not a Guy’s burger. I did like that they provide you with fries and onion rings while you are waiting. Those were very tasty!
Main dining room – great service, many options, great dessert options, and the food was absolutely delicious. I primarily had the chicken. My husband did try the special Chops filet mignon for $10 one evening, and I tasted it, and it was just ok. We found the other food to be better tasting. That was a disappointment. The steakhouse on Carnival is absolutely incredible.
We also felt that the food in the Windjammer offered far more options than Carnival and tasted better. We also appreciated that there were wait staff around to help you if you needed anything. This was a nice touch.
Sorrentos – pizza was ok, I think it’s more for teens and for late night snacks.
Giovanni’s – (paid restaurant) This was very nice, and we took my client to eat at this restaurant after Chops Grilled cancelled our reservation for the date we scheduled. The service and the food were excellent.
Issue at Chops – I pre-booked a dinner at Chops before we left for the cruise. My husband received a phone call that the reservation had to be canceled. I’m still not sure why they contacted him, as I am the agent that booked the cruise, and I set up all of the reservations. I contacted RCCL and a very kind lady checked with several departments and confirmed we were on. A week later, I received an email that our reservation was cancelled. That, in and of itself was fine. However, the way it was handled was not proper at all. I was on hold for nearly three hours trying to get this issue resolved. I was extremely disappointed in how they handled this. I didn’t mind so much that the reservation was canceled, but the lack of common courtesy and trying to resolve the issue was improper. No one should need to be on hold for hours because of a dinner reservation. After many more lengthy phone calls and emails, they did finally credit us for the dining reservation for us and for my client. This did not set a good tone the week prior to the cruise, however, I will say that everyone else made up for the terrible lack of communication with Chops.
A much better list of options available for room service. We were very pleased that hot items could be ordered for breakfast, as that is not available on Carnival. We really enjoyed eating bacon, eggs and fruit in our room before starting the day.
FOOD ALLERGIES - I suffer from nut/tree nut/sesame and coconut allergies, which can be deadly. Please contact the special needs department and they will assist you with these types of issues. Our head waiter would provide the menu each evening and then I would decide what I wanted the following day. They do a nice job of making certain that you are kept safe.
This is what sets Royal apart. They have basketball, mini golf, shuffleboard, dodgeball, ice skating, pig pong, make your own rock video, flowrider, rock climbing, video arcades, splash pools, and all sorts of options to keep you busy.
We absolutely loved watching people on the Flowrider. When they have the competitors, it is very entertaining. It’s hard to believe you are on a ship.
We did make it up the rock wall and rang the bell. Although I may have sustained a couple bruises along the way.
On Carnival, it’s offered 24 hrs a day, but on RCCL, only until 6:30 pm. The kiddos
were lined up in this area. I like that Carnival offers several stations. Royal only had one. I typically don’t eat as much when I’m hot, but I do enjoy the ice cream, so this was a bit disappointing!!
We only went to the casino once on this cruise, but it was very large and offered many slots, and
PORTS – Western Caribbean – Grand Cayman, Falmouth, Jamaica, Labadee, Haiti
We have been to the Cayman Islands a couple times, so we are familiar with the area. We didn’t book an excursion and just walked in town and went to Margaritaville where it was extremely lively.
Falmouth, Jamaica – Booked Dunn’s River Falls with RCCL. This was the highlight of our trip. I am glad we booked with the cruise line because I knew it was about an hour drive each way and I didn’t want to take any chances. This is definitely a hike and well worth the experience. Even if you aren’t physically able to climb the falls, they have a walking path that you can take to walk with your family and take photos. This was our most memorable excursion to date.
When you exit off the ship, there is a shopping area very similar to the set up in Grand Turk. It was very nice.
Labadee, Haiti – We booked the kayaking tour. We kayaked for about ½ hr and then stopped at a beach and the locals would sell you goods if you were interested. If I had known ahead of time, I would have brought cash with us, but we had put everything in our locker. They offer lockers for $8.
This private island is absolutely amazing. It is huge and spread out, and there are so many options
for people to do that it doesn’t get crowded. It’s lovely. They have the waterslide, parasailing, wave runners, zipline, a roller coaster, kayaking, beaches, shopping, cabana rentals and much more.
This is an odd comment, but the doors on the RCCL ship are too long and it is often very difficult to
tell whether someone is in the stall or not. Very odd design.
I was very surprised that I found the dress to be much more casual on RCCL than I have ever seen on Carnival. I expected just the opposite. My husband thought it might have been due to spring breakers on family vacations, and that very could be. I don’t mind at all how people dress, but from some of the photos I had seen, I was expecting long, formal gowns and tuxes. That was simply not the case.
On our first sea day, we learned that we had picked up 13 Cubans in the middle of the night that were screaming for help. Someone heard them and reported it to the Captain. They ended up rescuing them, but had to turn them over to the US Coast guard the following day to be returned to Cuba. That was an interesting start
to the cruise.
On our last sea day, the Captain asked if anyone had O positive blood, as someone on the ship needed medical attention. We aren’t certain what happened to this person, however, the Captain had to get them to shore early, and we arrived at 3 am instead of 6 am so they could get the medical attention they needed. We certainly hope this person is ok.
I found it odd that I always hear RCCL making negative comments about the hairy chest contest and so forth, but they have a belly flop contest and a game called Quest which apparently is quite a risky show but we did not attend. I think some of the RCCL people would quite enjoy Carnival if they tried.
Lastly, as we were disembarking, everyone was going through the line with their cards, ding ding ding until it go to my husband, BZZZZZ stop this family. My husband then asks me if we paid our bill…of course we did! We then find out that we have been randomly selected to be screened by Customs. Talk about nerve racking. We were taken into a small room, and to call this random was an overstatement. There were 4100
passengers, and about 10 pieces of luggage in there, 2 of which are ours. I may buy a lotto ticket. Anyway, someone apparently had something in luggage that looked like ours and they wanted to make certain we weren’t with them. After my heart stopped pounding out of my chest, we proceed to find a taxi.
Did we book another…well you will have to wait to see my review in January.
Happy sailing!! If I have missed anything and you have further questions, feel free to ask!!