I decided it would be a nice idea for my 13 year old son and I to cruise together during the half term holiday. We decided to sail from Southampton to avoid the airports and we chose The Independence of the Seas for our first father and son cruise. I should add that I've cruised before but it was my son's first cruise.
I'll list this review into categories showing what I consider to be the plus and minuses - please bear in mind these are my opinions and you may have had a different experience:
Plus Points - From parking the car at ABS Shuttle Car Park in Southampton to getting onto the ship took less than 30 minutes. The whole process was efficient and pleasurable and I was delighted with the speed. We were scheduled to board at 12.15 but arrived early due to clear roads. When we were allowed on board 2 hours before our scheduled time, again we were delighted. We were unable to access the cabin until 1 pm so we used this opportunity for lunch and to explore the ship. Disembarking was equally as well organised and we were off the ship ahead of schedule.
Minus Points - None. The whole process was exceptional.
First Impressions: The ship certainly had the WOW as we looked around her. The public areas were plush and spectacular but perhaps a bit garish and 'Las Vegas' style.......not particularly my style but maybe suiting others.
Plus Points - We chose an inside cabin (8609), overlooking the Promenade Deck. We had a great view of the deck and were able to watch some of the parades from within the cabin. The cabin itself was small but had plenty of storage space. With 2 single beds (which do move together to make a double if needed), and 2 small sofas and tea making facilities (tea but no coffee strangely), the cabin was more than adequate for our needs. Despite overlooking the promenade deck, the cabin was quiet with minimum outside noise. Equally, the corridor was fairly quiet and we never experienced packs of kids running riot in the corridor as reported by some.
Minus Points - As I said, the cabin is small but adequate. It was fairly basic and the TV only had 3 or 4 English speaking channels - not a major issue as we never went on a cruise to watch telly. The room had a mini bar/fridge which was stocked with soft drinks/water. The prices were extortionate so we left well alone.
Plus Points - The Evening shows in Alhambra Theatre were excellent. Very professional and entertaining although not all acts were to everyone’s taste – you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time!!!! The theatre itself was comfy with great views from all around. The Ice Show was worth viewing and although only showing 4 times during the cruise, seemed to be sufficient showings for everyone who wanted to see it to do so. I also went to watch the ships band ‘Rock the Boat’ on a couple of occasions and also a Reggae/Caribbean band in Bolero’s bar on 2 evenings – again, they were both excellent. The highlight was a Queen Tribute act called ‘The Bohemians’….absolutely first class!!
Minus Points – None…..
Plus Points – where do I start? Very few of the activities were of any interest to me, although I had expected that from the outset. My idea of bliss is to relax in a quiet area, with my book and combine a read with some people watching. To be fair there were activities available for most tastes, but apart from the almost nonstop quizzes, there was little I fancied doing. Most of the activities were banal and more suited to 18 – 30 holidays of to some Hi Di Hi holiday camp. Now as for my son, regrettably there was little in the way of plus points
Minus Points – With the lion’s share of activities geared towards adults, the Teen clubs were lacking in ideas and catered for the less active kids. There were limited physical activities and long periods were allocated to 'chillin' in the lounge. Those events which did happen were shambolically organised and frankly dangerous. The football competition I watched my son play in was something of a farce. No control over the players, resulting in a 'free for all' in which someone could have been hurt. There were very few activities (2 in fact) where children could compete with their father. I fully support the fact that children can't compete directly with adults in contact games such as football, but can someone explain why children can't compete against adults in Archery, darts, table tennis, Wii Golf, Guitar Hero etc. When I spoke with the Entertainment Manager about it, he explained that the children's club activities were not controlled by RCI but were sub contracted out to a third party......Not good enough Tim! !!",
Plus Points - The food was plentiful and in most cases very tasty. There was an element of quantity over quality in the Windjammer/Jade restaurants (buffet, self-service venues) and there were extensive choices. The food in the main restaurants was considerably better in my opinion and focused more on quality rather than ‘pile it high’. If, you're undecided on a starter, as I was on a couple of occasions, then have both. The waiters are more than happy to bring more of your favourite or a taster of something else. The lunchtime menu in the main restaurant is excellent. The salads and cold cuts/fish were wonderful and made a pleasant change from the heavy, over indulgence of breakfast and dinner.
Minus Points – I had a couple of issues with the food but have still tried to be honest and balanced in my review. On 2 occasions food was returned to the kitchen. Firstly grapes were delivered by room service which were covered in mould. I reported this to the room service manager and to reception and to their credit, they were replaced and I received both an apology and complimentary canapés and fruit as a way of saying sorry. Secondly, I found a long hair in my lasagne in the main restaurant during dinner on the 3rd night. The waiting staff were very apologetic and I was promised a call from the Head Chef to explain why it happened. 4 days after and now at home, still no feedback or apology from the kitchen. I found the whole restaurant experience far from'WOW'. Waiters failing to provide the correct cutlery, freezing cold milk with my coffee, butter served in foil containers..... hardly 'a la carte' more “Beefeater”.
Plus Points – Generally the staff were very good. As in any walk of life, some were more efficient than others, some had more cheery dispositions than others, but overall, service was good. Our cabin attendant was discreet and was hardly seen. She was however both thorough and efficient, if not a little grumpy.
Minus Point: None of the staff really stood out as being head and shoulders above the rest. My experience was that all were adequate, some better than others but none were exceptional.
Plus Points – The upfront price of the holiday package is attractive and seduces people to book. The basic holiday price does offer good value for money.
Minus Points – Royal Caribbean are a money making machine. Everything from bottled water in the mini bar to a Kit Kat in the duty free shop, from a photo to an excursion ashore, everything is overpriced. Not a trick is missed when trying to separate you from your hard earned cash. Just be aware, nothing comes cheap apart from the initial price.
We managed to perfect the art of queuing (or standing in line as our colonial friends call it) during my 6 night cruise. Whether it was for a seat in the Windjammer, trying to get back on ship following an excursion or just getting a lift from one deck to another, the whole experience was frustrating. There were far too few serving staff at all of the food and drink outlets and queuing 10-15 minutes for a coke or a pizza became the norm. Without exaggeration, I reckon around 6 or 7 hours over the week was lost to standing in line or waiting for space in a lift.
Sadly, only 5 out of 10 for me. I wouldn’t sail with Royal Caribbean again. That’s not to say it was a bad ship or an inferior holiday, it just didn’t suit my son and I. We found the ship too large, too crowded and activities lacking in thought and execution. The weather was poor (clearly not Royal Caribbean’s fault) but as a result, more could have been done inside ship for the teens.
We’re not put off cruising but will hopefully have fun finding the right cruise for us!!!