We’re a well traveled couple in our early 30’s who have previously been on 8 cruises (5 Carnival, 2 Princess, and 1 Paul Gauguin) and numerous land tours throughout the world. Throughout this review we will make comparisons to our previous Carnival and Princess cruises.
We returned the rental car and then took the free shuttle from the airport rental car garage to the port. Having never cruised out of Ft. Lauderdale before, we really didn’t know what to expect. We were surprised at how spread out the port area is and the docks of each ship. We were on the shuttle bus for approximately 50 minutes before we were dropped off at the Independence of the Seas and this was only the second stop on the shuttle, so plan your time accordingly if you are on a shuttle to the port.
We arrived at our port area around 11am and there were not many people in line at security. The only thing that was holding up the line were people who didn’t have their Royal Caribbean Sea Pass documents and passports out. We went with carryon bags only on this cruise. One bag we had packed our allotted two bottles of wine, a 6 pack of bottled water, and an 8 pack of Coke. This bag was pulled aside to inspect. The woman inspecting it held up the water yelled over to another security officer “are we collecting this stuff today?” The answer was no, so we were good to go. But the idea that sometimes they collect it and sometimes they don’t seems ridiculous. Next, we were off to the line to get our Sea Pass cards and officially check in. There was a line for those with status on Royal , but no line for anyone else…kind of nice for us newbies! We checked in and were on our way and onboard around 11:30am.
Upon boarding we attempted to go to our stateroom on level 8…as we have on previous Carnival and Princess cruises…the hallway doors were closed with signs stating they would be open at 1pm, there were also employees guarding the doors. This inability to get to our room to drop off our bags was a big annoyance for us, but we were expecting it based on what we had read on cruise critic.
We then went to the Promenade to check it out and grab some pizza for lunch. We thought that maybe the promenade would give us that “wow ah ha” moment when we first saw it, but instead it was more of a “ugh, this is it?” Our expectations were not met. We found it to be drab, dull, small, and closed in…almost a trapped feeling and definitely not a feeling that you are on a cruise ship. Maybe some people like to feel like they are not on a ship, but not us. The inability to see outside in many of the common areas throughout the ship made us feel the same way. We preferred the common areas on Princess and Carnival to what Royal offered on their promenade.
Stateroom: At 1pm, the hallway doors were opened and there was quite the crowd that had gathered at the doors to get to the rooms at that time. We had an inside cabin on deck 8 aft. Our cabin was by far the smallest cabin we have ever had. (And, we’ve cruised in a variety of cabins on other ships - balcony, oceanview, and inside cabins, but to be fair we’re only comparing inside cabin size to inside cabin size here.) It was noticeably smaller than the inside cabins that we’ve had on Princess and Carnival. The cabin décor we liked better than Carnival and thought the room décor was similar to Princess. There was plenty of closet space and at least two dozen hangers. There was also a good amount of shelf and drawer space in the cabin. We unpacked and stowed our suitcases and backpacks under the bed. There were two American outlets on the desk/dresser, which was nice compared to the one you get on Carnival or Princess. (There was also one European outlet.) There was a hair dryer in a drawer, but I had brought my own and never tried theirs. There was a stocked mini refrigerator, but the word refrigerator is completely overrated as it certainly wasn’t cold, even the word “cool” is a stretch. Also, there was no ice bucket, which would have been nice to keep our Coke cold since the refrigerator was worthless, but no such luck.
The bathroom was also noticeably smaller than other cabin bathrooms we’ve had in the past. The shower door was a nice plus compared to a typical shower curtain on Princess and Carnival, however, this also makes it very enclosed and difficult to maneuver around. If you plan to shave your legs in the shower, you’re going to need to be flexible. The water pressure was great, however, our shower temperature knob was broken, and we managed with semi-warm water for the cruise not wanting to deal with the hassle of having someone fix it.
Café Promenade – This was talked up on Cruise Critic…but was a let down. Royal needs a real deli with custom made sandwiches like Princess and Carnival. The tiny pre-made sandwiches were a joke compared to what you can get on other cruise ships, but if you only cruise on Royal, then you won’t know what you’re missing.
Sorentos-Pizza – Both Princess and Carnival could take a lesson from Royal on pizza. This was the best cruise ship pizza we’ve ever had!
Windjammer Buffet – The food quality was comparable to what we’ve had before on Princess and Carnival. The down side is that the lunch options are pretty much the same everyday…there was way more variety for lunch on Princess and Carnival.
Specialty Restaurants – We didn’t eat in either, but we did find it odd that the two specialty restaurants are located at the entrance of the buffet…that was kind of tacky to put their locations there.
Main Dining Room – We had the anytime dining and refused to make reservations despite how pushy they were about making reservations in the emails they sent prior to cruising. We don’t see why they call it “anytime” if they want you to have a set time to dine, but we digress. We never had to wait for a table and always shared with others. The dining room food quality was also comparable to Princess and Carnival, but was in smaller portions. Where Royal really loses was in the desserts…we didn’t really love any of the desserts. We really missed the chocolate melting cake that Carnival offers. Royal seems to offer a lot of things made with pudding and mousse, so if you enjoy that then you’ll enjoy dessert. Also, Royal has very limited ice cream and sherbet choices compared to Princess and Carnival.
Staff & Activities:
Cruise Director & Staff – This is where Royal Caribbean really disappointed us. Maybe we just had the luck of the draw with a boring staff, we don’t know. We never saw the cruise director and staff out and about unless there was a specific activity and they were quick to get out of there and didn’t care to interact anymore than they had to. We found their personalities to be cold, dull, and just over all no-energy and no-fun. We now understand why Carnival calls themselves the “fun ship” because it truly is compared to what we experience on the Independence of the Seas. It was quite a disappointment. We were glad we didn’t have to be stuck with this staff for longer than 6 days.
Sports Staff – These were the staff helping with the rock wall and flowrider. Some of them seemed to have a fun personality, others were standoffish. The day we went to climb the rock wall the staff said to us “are you sure you want to climb? It’s really hot out.” Of course we want to climb, that’s why we showed up! They were just being lazy and didn’t want to move from their spot in the shade. They should be encouraging the fun and activities!
Flowrider – We had a good time watching others do the boogie board and surfing on the flowrider as well as giving it a shot ourselves a few times. But after a few days the novelty of watching and trying it wore off and we were off looking for other things to do.
Ice rink – We used this once during an open skate time. It was fun for a few minutes, but because of the small size, it got dull quietly skating in a small space over and over. But it is worth a try for the novelty of skating on a cruise ship.
Activities on board – hmm…what activities?! The activities & games were few and far between on the Independence of the Seas. Royal was definitely lacking in organized activities, whether that be lectures, shows, trivia, games, crafts, etc. If you simply want to lay in the sun, read a book or just plain relax without activities, then cruise Royal Caribbean . There are way more activities on Carnival and Princess during the day and evening than what we experienced on Royal. For example, Carnival has trivia and other games going on every hour starting in the morning and going throughout the day and evening, so many that we always have a hard time choosing what to do. But on Royal, we found ourselves with hours of dead time with nothing going on. Royal’s belly flop and sexiest man competition were fun to watch (similar activities exist on Carnival and Princess), but even at those the cruise staff tried to take the fun out of by telling the guests judging who to vote for, and listing so many “rules” that it sucked some of the fun out. The staff needs to take a serious chill pill. The game shows and trivia were hosted by staff with little enthusiasm and were lacking outgoing personalities; we felt this detracted from the trivia and games. We did enjoy watching the Quest game, but it seems like they maybe do the same thing over and over again so some people come into it with a purse full of what they will ask for. In many of the activities, including the Quest, it is really up to the cruise director and staff to decide who wins, and really isn’t up to the guests, which felt a little biased.
Shows – The ice show featured music through the decades. It was good. They did a great job for what limited space they have and the ticket system seemed to work well for everyone to be able to see the ice show. We also saw a juggler, who was pretty good, but we’ve seen better on other ships. There was a comedian, again, we’ve seen better. There was also a ventriloquist, who was ok, again, we’ve seen better. The last night we finally saw a real stage show that featured different kinds of dance. The dance troupe was new and this was their first show. We’re not sure if that was why we only had one stage show on the last night or if that is typical of Royal. On Princess and Carnival, there are many more choices for evening entertainment, such as a comedian in one location and then a stage show in the theater with multiple showings each night…not just one option each night like on Royal. We will say that dancing/singing show we saw on the last night was far better than anything we’ve seen on Carnival or Princess. We were also expecting some sort of parade on the promenade during the cruise, but there wasn’t anything besides the 70’s party (which we think needs to be updated to maybe an 80’s party or some other sort of party).
Pool side/sunning – We never had a problem finding a deck chair. It might not have always been in the most popular hangout locations, but chairs were always available both in and out of the sun. The pool area seemed kind of low key to us compared to Carnival who typically has music playing all day. It was more similar to Princess. There were times where they had a DJ and a few times with a live band, but also a lot of times where there wasn’t anything.
Touchscreens – We really liked the touch screens at the top of each set of stairs where you could see what was going on at the time and to view menus. Princess and Carnival could use these!
Cruise Compass – the paper that tells you what is going on for the day – we thought this was poorly organized and difficult to read. Royal could learn from looking at Princess or Carnival’s version of the same type of thing.
The first morning onboard early, we were awoken to an engine noise, similar to the sound you here when stopping or docking, etc. We knew something was wrong because we were going into a day at sea. An hour or so later over the announcement was oscar oscar oscar – the code for someone overboard. I looked at the clock and it was around 6am. Then a few minutes later another announcement was made for some of the crew to go to the starboard side. We jumped out of bed, put some clothes on and ran up to a deck where we could see. It was dark so we couldn’t see much, but we did see one of our ship’s tender boats out in the water. According to the captain’s announcement later, we picked up 13 Cuban refugees who had been stranded on a make-shift raft for 7 days. Around 10am, our ship stopped again and a US Coastguard ship pulled up next to us and took the refugees to their ship.
At some point, there was also a noro-virus outbreak. The hand sanitizers were out – the self dispense and the buffet greeters were pretty much forcing everyone to use the sanitizers. On maybe day 4 or 5 the captain announced that they thought they had the outbreak under control during his noon announcement.
On the last day at sea in the afternoon, there was an announcement in the afternoon that they needed O positive blood donors in the medical center.
Also, on the last night at night there was an announcement that there was a medical emergency onboard and that we were going to speed up to get back to Florida faster.
Since this was our first time on Royal Caribbean, we booked excursions through them.
There was no information about where to disembark the ship given out or announced, so you’re kind of on your own to find your way to the lower decks at the right time to make your way off…there was an over all lack of communication we thought on Royal’s part. Maybe we’re just too used to Princess and Carnival over announcing what to do and where to go when. There were also no reminders to be back at a certain times like they are persistent with on Princess and Carnival.
Grand Cayman – Sting Ray City – This was good, but was advertised as 2.5 hours and was almost 5 hours! It was about a 20 minute bus ride to the boat, then an hour boat ride to “Sting Ray City”. The water was a little deeper than we were expecting on the sandbar, but plenty of sting rays around to see. The guide will grab one and hold it for you to pose with during the time that you are there. We were there for about an hour. We think Sting Ray City is a must-see-do activity if you go to Grand Cayman. However, be warned that it will be you and 400 of your new cruise mates with you once you get out there. For as many people were there, it didn’t feel too crowded.
Jamaica – Dunn River Falls Express – This was great! We highly recommend it and would likely do the same excursion again if we ever go back. This excursion just went to the falls and back to the ship (well, after we had two stops for mandatory shopping on the way back, but we’ve come to expect that with ship excursions). Our bus was one of the first in the Dunn River Falls parking lot that morning, when we left, it was packed! There are free bathrooms when you arrive at the falls at which there may or may not be toilet paper, so bring your own. The fall climb was better than we were expecting. The rocks look slippery, but weren’t too bad. You will get quite wet and be in water over waist deep at some points. (We left all of our personal belongings in the bus and were told they would be safe and they were.) They do make you hold hands with each other, which can be an annoyance. We don’t think it was for safety reasons, but more so to keep your group together. The guides were some what helpful and offered to take pictures if your own cameras along they way…mainly in hopes of a bigger tip at the end. The guides will follow you back to the bus to collect tips at the end too…that was a tad annoying. But overall a great climb and a fun time!
Haiti – We didn’t have an excursion planned and just got off the ship and wandered around. It was about a 10 minute walk all the way to the edge of the property in the back. We aren’t beach people, so we just checked out each beach and walked through the shopping area. The weather was super hot and humid, so we were ready to get back on the ship after 30 minutes or so and enjoyed having some of the ship to ourselves.
Debarkation: The information sheet we got was lacking in explanations of what the procedure was, but we really weren’t surprised at this point as the lack of communication of what was going on was throughout our entire cruise. We planned to self disembark with all of our luggage. The set time for this was 6:15-7am, which was way too early for us. We were given luggage numbers, and a set dining room to wait in until our number was called, but we didn’t see the point in doing that since we were self assisting. So, around 8am, we went down to the deck that we thought disembarkation might be on (because that information was no where to be found in the paper work or announced). We had to ask someone where to go and then we walked off the ship. It was easy with no line and no waiting. I don’t know if that was the proper procedure, but it worked alright for us. The customs/immigration line was long and we waiting about 30 minutes in line once off the ship. We took a cab to the airport, which was about $15 or $20 with tip.
Overall, we had a good time and was worth what we paid. If the itinerary and price were right we would sail with Royal Caribbean again, but we wouldn’t go out of our way to sail with them.