Our group consisted of 10 family members, who had all sailed on Royal Caribbean previously (except the 14 month old). None of us had ever been on a freedom class ship before and were looking forward to trying it. We consisted of 2 seniors and 2 families of 4, which included 4 children ages 7, 5, 4, and 14 months.
We stayed with family and friends prior to boarding the ship so did not stay in a hotel in the FLL area. On departure day we arrived at the port at approximately 1:30 pm. There were no lines at the port security so we proceeded to our terminal (#25). We had used e docs, so we had to get baggage tags at the curb. It didn't take much longer than normally dropping off your bags but it was a pain to find a pen and make sure all the information was filled out properly. Next time I would request paper docs from the travel agent, just to get the tags. Getting through security in the terminal was only 5-10 minutes, then a short wait (less than 5 minutes) to check in. This is where we realized we had a problem....
The 10 of us were booked in 5 different rooms (it was much cheaper to book 2 to a room than to get a room for 4). Eight of us were in inside cabins all right next to each other. The other room was a D2 balcony (that they were able to get for only $100 each more than what we paid pp for our inside with their Diamond balcony discount!!). Well, to make a long story short, each cabin was assigned to a different table at dinner. I wasn't even in the same dining room as my husband! We asked the staff at checkin and they told us after boarding to head to the dining room to see if we could get it fixed. This was something that we had checked and double checked with the TA prior to sailing to make sure all our of reservations were linked and we all had the same seating. I had checked our reservations on the Royal Caribbean website and they had us all linked and at the same seating, but... you can't check table assignment online.
Luckily, they were able to figure out how to put all 10 of us together. It wasn't easy since there aren't that many tables for 10. They actually had to push one oval table and one square table together and put us in the My Time Dinning section, but we didn't care as long as they could put us together.
Ahhhh, the ship was beautiful and still had that new ship look. Everything was very clean. The inside rooms were clean, bedding was nice. It was quite nice to only have two people in each room rather than the 4 we are used to. The best part though was my parents D2 balcony room, it was huge!!! (in cruise ship terms) the balcony was large enough that when all six adults were out there we weren't wedged together. That room was well worth the extra $100 per person.
The kids enjoyed adventure ocean. The room setup was the same as on the Voyager class. Since it was Thanksgiving week there were lots, and lots, and lots, of kids on board. For the most part the staff kept things in check and we didn't have too many problems with unruly children. I still am just amazed though at how many young kids (in the 7-10 range) that were just allowed to wander the ship alone. The one area that the cruise line definitely needs to improve on is policing the elevators. The kids playing and pushing all the buttons in the elevators was too much!! But on the pool deck and in the solarium there were always staff checking and making sure the rules were enforced.
We loved the cantilevered whirpools in the solarium. The freshwater pools are also really nice, this is one thing I've always loved on Princess and wish everyone else would join them. For a ship as huge as the Independence with 4,000 people I couldn't believe that we never had a problem finding a deck chair! The ship never really seemed crowded except on embarkation day and debarkation day, with one exception... the Windjammer buffet... they just don't seem to have enough tables or there were too many tables that hadn't been cleaned and we had to move dirty dishes to find a place to eat, not fun.
Service in the dining room was excellent we ate in the dining room once for breakfast, once for lunch, and every night for dinner. The food was good. They had turkey for Thanksgiving if you wanted it.
The kids really enjoyed the H2O zone it was nice that the kids had such a great area with a pool, circular current pool, hot tubs, water guns, and fountains. It is so much better than the kids pool areas on the Voyager class. The first sea day the water was really cool and the kids were getting cold, so most of the time after that the water was heated in the kids area, that was nice.
The ports were OK, we went on the cruise for the cruise not for the ports and didn't even get off the ship in Costa Maya. We did get off in Belize and Cozumel but didn't take any tours or organized activities.
We returned to FLL the Saturday after Thanksgiving. There were 9 ships in port and we were the last to arrive, we didn't actually dock until after 7 am. The ship wasn't cleared until after 8 am. We were in the 4th color to be called and weren't called until after 10 am!! By the time we got off the ship got our bags and got through customs it was after 10:30. We then proceeded to the area that we were directed where we could be picked up by our ride. The area that they sent us to was the same area that people were now arriving to get on the next cruise!! It was very confusing and the traffic congestion was horrendous. I was sad to leave such a great cruise on such a bad note but that was the worst debarkation experience I've ever had.
Until next time.... Happy cruising