Independence of the Seas - April 30 - May 2, 2008 Pre-Inaugural Cruise
Pre-Cruise We were contest winners! It's an amazing feeling to have someone call you to tell you you've won a trip to England and a trip on the biggest, newest cruise ship in the world! We are avid cruisers and I couldn't have been more excited.
Royal Caribbean was generous in allowing us to fly out early. We left on Friday, April 25th and spent 3 days touring London at our own expense. We flew on Virgin Atlantic and I'd recommend this airline to anyone. They were great. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum. It was a great hotel; the location was perfect, just one block from the Gloucester Road Tube Station.
We took the Big Bus tour the first day and saw all the classic sights from the bus. This is a Hop On/Hop Off bus and the ticket is good for 24 hours. On day 2 we toured the Tower of London and took a Thames River cruise. On our last day in London we walked to Kensington Palace and toured the gardens there. Then off to our flight on the London Eye and a visit to Harrods. That evening we went to the Lyric Theatre, one of the oldest theatres in London, to see Cabaret. It was a wonderful show and quite an experience.
On Tuesday morning, Royal Caribbean arranged a car service to pick us up at the hotel and drive us to the Hilton in Southampton to wait our boarding the Independence of the Seas on Wednesday. The Hilton was a nice hotel, but too far out of the cruise port for our liking. Food here was very expensive! That afternoon, we met up with the other contestants as they came in. Some of us went out to dinner that evening at the Chilworth Arms, a lovely pub near the hotel.
Wednesday, we were shuttled together to the port in Southampton for our first look at this beautiful ship. The check in process was smooth enough. There were a few kinks, but that is to be expected on a shakedown cruise. We were all given Priority boarding passes and sent to wait in a comfortable lounge where they were serving cookies, coffee and tea. There is a bar in the waiting area as well. At 11:30 AM, we were able to board the Indy.
This was definitely not your typical cruise experience. We brought our own luggage aboard, our photos were taken for the Sign & Sail card and off we went to our cabins. There was open bar for the whole cruise too. ? We were in cabin 7600, designated as Deluxe Ocean View, Cat E1. The balcony was very large at 74 sq feet, the deepest balcony we've ever had. The cabin was wonderfully appointed, even had a tea kettle. I really liked having this to make coffee every morning. The beds were pillow top mattresses and were very comfy!
We were off to wander the ship and I combed the whole ship taking a LOT of pictures. It was overwhelming.....just such a beautiful ship with so many spaces and things to do. The Royal Promenade was so cool. There you will find the shops, Sorrento's Pizza, the Dog and Badger Pub and a Champagne Bar to name a few things. It was really amazing! There is also a LOT of artwork on board the ship. Something I really appreciated. We were given a booklet identifying all the pieces, the artist and the location. The three level dining room was spectacular as well. Most had open seating for dinner, but we contestants had reserved tables on deck 4 in the Macbeth Dining Room. Deck 5 has the King Lear dining room and Deck3 has the Romeo and Juliet dining room.
Next, we were off to the Windjammer for lunch. The windjammer is huge with lots of tables and window seats. The food was delicious! Chops is located at the entrance to the Windjammer. It's a really beautiful space. After lunch, we did some more exploring, checking out the Flow Rider, Johnny Rockets and the Solarium area. The cantilevered whirlpools were open and although it was a chilly, rainy day, they were just so inviting we couldn't resist a dip. It was wonderful! There are two of these whirlpools on either side of the ship. It was nice to relax for a bit. After that we headed back to our rooms to dress early for dinner and attend the Naming Ceremony held at 4:30 in the Alhambra Theatre.
Everyone was presented a glass of champagne upon entering. The ceremony was done very well, so moving. The Godmother, Elizabeth Hill we presented in a procession with the Highlander Players following and the International Highlanders and Celtic Feet, a River Dance type troupe. Richard Fain announced the Godmother and Captain Strazicic spoke. Elizabeth was presented with a huge bouquet by some of the children helped by the Steve Redgrave Fund, a charitable organization that helps disabled and mentally challenged children. The Norwegian, American and United Kingdom anthems were sung as well.
We went to the Ice Skating show before dinner, Strings! - A world Adventure on Ice. It was really good. After the show it was time to get ready for dinner. Dinner was at 7:30. It was a more limited menu than is usual at dinner, but it was delicious none the less. We met the Royal Caribbean Marketing representative, Harry Liu and Gene Sloan from USA Today. We were also introduced to the reps from the marketing firm Weber & Shandwick who worked in conjunction with RCI and USA Today on the Name that Ship Genesis contest. Everyone was so nice. They made us feel very special.
Sail away was at 10 PM and we enjoyed it with a great view in the Royal Crown Lounge. Later, there was a 70's dance party in the Royal Promenade. What a blast that was with the dancers in costume, the disco balls sparkling and the music thumping. We danced and drank the night away. After a visit to the Karaoke bar and some laughs there, we headed to bed. We missed the main show tonight, just too much to do! The was titled Abbacadabra, the Ultimate Abba Concert.
Thursday morning, we were up early and had breakfast again in the Windjammer. Then we were off to a meeting with some reps for RCI and Gene Sloan. After the meeting, we headed up to the top decks for our photo shoot with the group of other contestants. We had lunch at Johnny Rockets after that, which is a great place to enjoy a burger and a shake. The waiters and waitresses did the singing and dancing. It was a lot of fun.
We were lucky enough to be invited on a Bridge tour. It was very interesting to see all the computers and other equipment that keeps us safe while sailing. The views from up on the bridge were amazing. After the bridge tour we went on a Galley tour as well. It was informative and interesting to see how they make so much food! Dinner Thursday night was a more typical menu, with many options. I had the steak and it was done to perfection. The Grand Marnier soufflE for dessert was perfect.
We attended the show on Thursday night, Under the Big Top. We enjoyed that a lot. After the show, was yet another dance party, the Rock Britannia Street Party on the Royal Promenade. After the party, we headed to bed, thoroughly exhausted and happy.
On Friday morning, disembarkation was a breeze. We took our own luggage off the ship, climbed onto the waiting bus and headed to Heathrow to fly home.
Photos of Independence can be see on my Webshots page here: http://good-times.webshots.com/album/563288702TpMeic