I was on RCCL’s Independence OTS’s May crossing from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton. It was my 41st cruise. Most of my travel has been on RCCL’s smaller ships, Celebrity (all except Century), and Cunard. I say that, so you’ll know what my frame of reference will be.
My non-cruising friends have always asked me, How can you stand being trapped on board a ship with all those people for so long? This was the first cruise where I understood what they meant. With that said, I guess I’ll hit the low points first.
Since I’ve been on only smaller RCCL ships, I haven’t encountered the Promenade before. While it’s nice to have a central hub, it’s crowded most evenings. And, during the day, the shops extend kiosks into the space, so you’re forced to deal with the throngs of shoppers and the narrower paths. But crowded and loud is how most places felt - only on one night was I able to find a bar (in this case, Olive or Twist) where the music was low enough to have a conversation with someone sitting two seats away at the bar. Most nights it was full volume.
Service was generally good, but there were some weird and stupid things done. The letter explaining the Diamond/D+ cocktail hour was written so poorly that two of us couldn’t figure out what they meant to do on the first night of the cruise. Another example: Unbeknownst to me, a friend back home ordered a bottle of wine and snacks for me. I was napping after the muster drill on embarkation day, and had the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. So, Room Service CALLS, to say they saw the DND sign, and would I like the cheese plate. No, I said, I didn’t want to be disturbed…. and I was going out, so it shouldn’t sit in the room. When I got back to the room at 11:30 that night, of course, the cheese plate was there. It was made right (they arranged a delivery later in the week), but this was just stupid, non-service oriented behavior.
RCCL would probably deny this, but they’re increasingly becoming a two-class operation. Folks with Diamond/D+ status, and guests in suites get a lot of benefits that separate them from the less-traveled. The two ice shows (which were terrific!) required tickets. The upper crust didn’t stand in line for those; the line in the Promenade for everyone else was a long one. There are special seats near the pool, with finer lounges, reserved for suite guests, and you’d see restaurant signs saying “Gold-card guests only” referring to the color code for suite guests.
On the Plus side:
I was in the junior suite - thanks to a very generous “no single supplement” offer than ran last year. It was a wonderful, comfortable cabin, with the best closet I’ve ever had on a ship. Would have been plenty of room for two full-sized adults. :)
Meals in the MDR were very good and the Italian specialty (Giovanni’s Table) was the best food on the ship. They offered a 5 course tasting menu, with wine, for $55pp, and it was a bargain. Really amazing stuff. The steakhouse was very good, but not in the same league as the two meals at the Italian restaurant.
Wine service was good, and the manager of Vintages was terrific - knowledgable and friendly. She sponsored a modestly priced “exclusives” tasting one afternoon that let them clear out some older bottles where they had only a couple bottles. And, she offered remaining bottles to the group at big discounts. So, lots of fun, and resulted in getting some wines for the table that wouldn’t otherwise have been available.
The gym was great - well-equipped and spacious. The locker rooms had plenty of showers, steam and sauna, and made a great spot for relaxed time in one of the quieter spots on the ship.
The computer screens on every deck were great for finding your way around. The daily program was there, restaurant menus, even a system to give you directions from where you were standing to any place on the ship.
The entertainment was TERRIFIC. Dramatically better than what I’d gotten used to on the Celebrity ships. Production shows had big, dramatic sets with lots of pieces. The singers and dancers were great. I’d rate 3 out of 4 really excellent - nearly as good as some of the touring shows that come to my hometown. The ice shows were terrific - I was glad not to stand in line for tix, but it would have been worth it.
So, overall - I’m not a fan of the ship - it’s just too big, too loud, and not designed for someone with quieter tastes in most of the places. So, I’m not likely to sign up for an Oasis or Allure cruise anytime soon. But if you like the party atmosphere, are more outgoing, and don’t mind the crowds, it could be a good time. And, get to Diamond status as quick as you can - it will make for a very different cruise experience.