We had an enjoyable cruise, not fantastic but I am not going to harp on about our experience but just mention some things which I think are worthwhile bringing to people's attention.We are British and this was our first experience of sailing out of Southampton in the school holidays albeit in the final week. We did not realize this when booking but had sailed in the Caribbean during the US spring break so weren't unduly concerned, how wrong were we ? . So please, if you don't want to sail with hundreds of kids double check the UK school holiday dates.
Pool towels- There are 2 pool towel 'stations' on deck, one one each side of the ship in the main pool area. You will need the seapass cards for each person in your party to obtain a maximum of 2 towels per person, your seapass card will be swiped before issue of towels. Signs clearly state $20 will be charged for any missing towels. This was our first experience of a computerized system and on the first day I went to get 4 towels for myself and husband and was given a lecture by the pool attendant that ALL seapass cards had to be shown. I told him ,politely , I wasn't going to walk the length of the ship again to get hubbie's card when he could check on the system how many people were in the cabin !! I did show both cards after that but did witness many problems with lines for the towels due to the numbers of children onboard. Wet/dirty towels could be exchanged at anytime. The pool attendants were not pro-active in removing belongings from 'reserved' lounge chairs though to be perfectly honest we never had a problem finding one so long as you did not want to be frontline by the pool
Promenade parades/events- there are 3 'bridges' over the promenade. If you want a first class view of the activities position yourself forward of the middle bridge. I was absolutely amazed to witness this middle bridge come down from the ceiling with the cruise director and his staff on it ready to entertain us, fantastic. We missed the start of the first event on the parade and were too far away to see this happen, apparently the Captain arrived on this descending bridge to do his 'welcome aboard' talk but we also missed that. If I had known beforehand I would have have been there !!
We are Diamond plus C & A members and had access to the Diamond lounge looked after by Ricardo and his assistants Richard and Dennis. Excellent service from all. Some people did not realize that the key to access the Diamond lounge was also your 'ticket' to the ice shows , it says it in small writing on the bottom of the key. You no longer need to have a paper ticket, just show your key at the door and it is good for all members in your cabin.
Our cabin was an inside on deck 7, aft of the midship elevators. It was very comfortable but was lacking in storage compared to the other RCI ships we have been on, which are many !. With the new flat screens you lose a storage cupboard above, now replaced with a narrow, shallow glass shelf, you do gain some countertop surface though. The safe was now in the wardrobe, losing another shelf. There was still plenty of hanging space for 2 people.
We liked the ship and especially the 2 venues on the Royal Promenade for getting snacks and coffee. Never a problem getting a seat except at parade/street party times. If we consider Independence again I will definitely double check the school calendar. There were 400 teenagers, 500 in the middle age group, I don't know how many were in the younger age groups but have never seen so many prams and buggies on a ship !!