This was our fourth cruise with RC (our 3rd on IOS) and we have cruised before with both Disney and Princess. We are a family of six, ranging in age from 15 to 72, and we occupied 3 balcony cabins. The cabin attendant was polite, helpful and efficient and he gladly opened the partitions between the balconies so that we could freely move between cabins. Embarkation was a little chaotic, but we were on board within 30 minutes of arrival at the terminal. We hired Eddie Manning's transfer service to drive us from our hotel in central London to the Southampton terminal and we were extremely pleased with the elegant service we received.
The Independence is a stunning ship. The common areas are attractive and are very well kept. Staff members were constantly cleaning, painting or restoring the floors, walls and railings. We found crew members to be friendly and courteous--saying "good morning" in the hallways for example. We even passed the Captain one afternoon in the Royal Promenade, and he stopped to answer a few questions and to shake our hands. The Royal Promenade has removed the barbershop and installed a cupcake store since our last IOS sailing. I don't think I saw a single customer at the Cupcake Cupboard during our entire 2 weeks on board. Perhaps that space could be reclaimed for seating as Café Promenade is nearby and very popular.
Our cabins were comfortable and quiet. There is adequate storage room for clothing and cases. I give high marks to RC for their no smoking policies regarding cabins and balconies. The bathrooms are small with phone booth style showers, but the water pressure is good and there is ample hot water. There are no toiletries provided (other than bar soap and shower gel), but I prefer to travel with my own products anyway. The outlets in the cabins are fitted for U.S. plugs.
We were never at a loss for fun activities. The weather was absolutely stellar for the entire 2 weeks, allowing for sunbathing, mini golf, ping pong, surfing, and all outdoor activities. We watched movies and FIFA 2014 action on the big screen by the sports pools. We enjoyed the nightly headliner offerings in the Alhambra Theater (although the sound system was set too loud). We also enjoyed the 70's dance party in the Royal Promenade. The two parades seemed a little lackluster and disorganized, but the ice shows were impressive (especially given the size of the rink) and The Quest (in Studio B) was spectacular fun.
We purchased shore excursions at most of the ports. The huge advantage to purchasing shore outings through RC vs making your own arrangements is that the ship will not leave port without you if your excursion is late returning to port. Several members of our family were on a tour bus that suffered mechanical difficulties, and the ship waited until their bus returned before sailing.
We found the food quality and variety to be very good. There were a large array of typical buffet selections available in the Windjammer (along with delights such as curry dishes and free sushi in the evenings). We ate at the 8:30 seating in the main dining room and were pleased with the service and menu offerings. Steak, chicken, fish and pasta options were available nightly (at no extra charge) in the dining room if, for some reason, none of the entrees on the menu seemed appealing.
The only grumble that I have with RC is that they need to offer reasonable WiFi. The WiFi on the ship is very expensive and incredibly slow.
We all had a lovely vacation and were sad to see it come to an end. Our fellow passengers seemed to be having a wonderful time as well. Disembarkation was remarkably smooth and efficient.