From the moment you arrive in Southampton (particularly if you drive there), it takes about 15-20 minutes to embark. Drop your labelled luggage with the porters, park your car, walk back to the port terminal and follow the Port & RCI staff directions into the cruise terminal to check in. I would highly recommend the online check-in before you travel as it really speeds up the process. The longest queue we had was to actually board the ship, though this seemed to go down fairly quickly. Everywhere on the ship they have hand clean dispensers for you to use and it is something that staff are very keen on. You get used to using them fairly quickly and it isn't a chore as the cleaner is alcohol-based and dries fairly quickly. They are there to guard against any viruses onboard that will affect large numbers of passengers, such as the norovirus that affected a cruise ship recently.
The ship is amazing, stunning even and is absolutely huge. We were still getting lost on the last day at sea!!! As mentioned on other reviews, some have the said that the food in the main dining room wasn't so good, but to be honest, like [Cruise Critic member] jetdriver has said they are catering for a huge number of passengers, not only in the dining rooms, but all over the ship. We ate in the Windjammer and the dining room equally and the food in both restaurants was really good (particularly for those who love curry..). If you have Katarina or Genuine as one of your waiters in the dining room, say "hello from Amanda & Anthony", please - both were fab at their job.
We did several excursions and the only one we were disappointed in was the Monaco/Monte Carlo one as we also didn't think that we had enough time to look around the places. The longest time we had was in the "Pink Palace" but by the time you finished that, you just had enough time to take a few photos, use the nearest toilet and maybe grab an ice cream, and you were off again. So, if you've booked this tour, be prepared.
Before we travelled, one reviewer said that only shampoo is supplied in the shower - no conditioner - that is correct, but I assumed that there would be other toiletries, but there weren't any. They provide soap for your basin and the shower, but nothing else. Also, they don't provide shower caps (you know the type you normally get in hotels) - so if you don't want to wash your hair everyday, then remember to pack one.
The staterooms were a good size, but we had our bed made into a Queen size and it was nigh on impossible to get around the bottom corners of the bed. We found we had to climb over the foot of the bed and get into bed that way - and out that way too. If they are left as single beds then there's plenty of room down the middle of them.
Also, in the daily newsletter that is left in your stateroom every evening, there is a request for passengers not to reserve sun loungers - this did happen and was very frustrating for a good deal of passengers. However, be warned if you intend to do this as the staff also work as Deck Patrol and use an ingenious system to know exactly how long you've been away from your sun lounger - then they remove your belongings to the nearby Towel Exchange station to make the lounger available for other passengers.
We saw the Strings Ice Show and the Once Upon a Time show in the Alhambra theatre and both were amazing shows. If you can, get to see at least one because they are brilliant.
If I say anymore, I think it'll spoil the experience - other than to say we had a wonderful time and are looking to book again next year.
I hope you enjoy the Independence of the Seas as much as we did!!