Family aboard for our first Owners Suite experience in 20+ years of cruising RCCL. We arrived at the dock to no lines whatsoever at 11:45am, not that we we're expecting to wait as Diamond members with an Owners Suite - but great start. Ready to rock in our bathing suits and sun lotion, we we're shocked to have our cabin ready for us at 1pm after finishing the typically packed first lunch at Windjammer. There were no long lines for lunch - just close to impossible to get a seat with Chops closed at the time. Fun afternoon with the kids in the kids pool area, while the water in the kids whirlpool was still clear and clean (I wont go in there after Day 1). Upon returning to our cabin, we met our steward, Kamal, who would be servicing our room and a few to either side of us. Within 2-3 cleanings, he picked up on where we wanted everything, how the kids slept best etc and really made our trip and use of the Owner's suite an absolute pleasure. We did not use room service and really never had any special requests for him after the extra pillows on night 1 which came almost before I hung up the phone :) We then met the Suite Concierge, Nizar, who had quite a sweat going on night 1, but those who work hard, sweat hard. Nizar works HARD to make sure his suite guests have the best experience they can possibly have. A Cabana on Barefoot Beach at Labadee is usually our #1 priority, and with 2 ships in port, and a late arrival on our initial e-mail we almost missed out on one, but got the last one. Our cabana was rocking the great tunes from a mini Bose for anyone reading this.... LOL. Nizar took care of every request with diligence and a smile. He alone was a reason to consider coming back to the Independence next year, but read on and you will see why we did not make that choice.
The Dining Room. Oh Boy. I have long come to accept the quality of the food has gone down as prices have gone up. For years, I have been mentally prepared to be served B-/C+ food in an elegant setting with great staff on RCCL and with that I would give the Dining Room a great score. But the great staff just wasn't there on the Independence, at least for me. Our assistant waiter, Dragen, was the only accommodating staff member in the dining room. I experienced a flat out "holier than though" attitude from our waiter. He made us feel uncomfortable ordering too much, or asking for something out of the ordinary. He always had a chip on his shoulder. Every answer was met with an excuse. I will compliment him on getting our kids done by 6:40 to get back to Adventure Ocean every night but he only got their order right 1 of the 5 nights we did this, serving a Gluten Free meal to the wrong child one night, leaving him without dinner. This is the first time that a head waiter or Maitre'D did not come introduce themselves. It was not until the Director of Dining Services came on Night 3 that we could even share our troubles with anyone. The table next to us was very unhappy with him as well.
The Suite Guest access to Chops for Lunch and Dinner is what saved this trip from the dining room debacles. It was a PLEASURE to have breakfast and lunch one floor up from our cabin in a quiet and elegant setting with GREAT SERVICE. Albeit, just grilled chicken, salmon and strip steak - the ability to have a cooked to order meal outside the dining room was a great perk for suite guests and if they can expand on this idea, which I hear they are going with Quantum and Anthem, the suites will only grow in popularity.
Adventure Ocean was great for the kids. They were very, very accommodating. The entire staff asides the guy they referred to as "Jedi" who DID NOT belong as a kids counselor, was fantastic. Thank You for putting the VACATIO in our VACATION, as our kids are a lot to handle some times... If it opened at 8am instead of 9am, it would be PERFECT but beggars cant be choosers.
As far as the rest of the staff, from the entertainers that we saw, to the BINGO MC, to the cruise director. The Independence has substandard staff to the 2 other Freedom Class ships. Without a doubt, they send them to the Independence for training and trial. The Bingo MC was funny, but his adult humor was so questionable that I would not bring my kids. If the sexy legs of Bingo is "PG" this guy was talking "R" regularly with innuendos. I didn't mind the humor but definitely found it inappropriate.
And then there was a NORO outbreak. Whispers of it as soon as Day 4, full on quarantines and no self service food by Day 5. All I can say is PLEASE WASH YOUR HANDS FOLKS. RCCL needs to be even more clever at containing this. Luckily, we wash our hands at every opportunity and have never caught NORO, despite cruising every year. Room service almost could not be reached the last 3 days of the trip.
This also became a large factor in booking back to back 5 days next year. No risk of wide spread infection before a chance to clean at home base.
We booked back to to back on Liberty for next year. Can't wait !!!!!