There were many positive aspects to both the ship and the cruise, but in retrospect, the negative surprises were so striking that they overshadowed the strengths more than they should have. More than anything else, the omnipresent sales pressure was a painful distraction from what could have been a much more enjoyable vacation experience. The most ridiculous example of this was our assistant waiter's seemingly inexhaustible eagerness to sell cola and wine to everyone at our table during our "formal" nights. The image of my husband dressed in his best suit having to fend off a fusillade of beverage inquiries went from odd, to embarrassing, to downright comical as the week progressed.
It should be noted that I don't fault the waiter at all. He appeared to be simply doing what he was instructed to do. Moreover, he was as courteous and pleasant as anyone could possibly have been who was trying to pimp a couple of extra sodas to a dining room full middle-aged men dressed in business suits and ladies dressed in evening gowns and cocktail dresses. With that said, the dining room service was generally attentive. The food was only fair for a formal dining experience, but seemed very good upstairs in the cafeteria where our expectations were more modest and the service was generally outstanding.
Unfortunately again, the pounding sales pressure did not end in the formal dining room. It was on the TV, in the public areas, on loud speakers, in the Promenade, at kiosks, getting off the ship, in the evening cruise news letter, by the shops, by the pool, relentless... and everywhere. Watches, massages, tanzanite, anti-aging treatments, drinks, excursions, ice cream, fitness consultations, facials, costume jewelry, t-shirts, cameras, e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. And quite tragic, really, because the ship itself was whimsical, imaginative, and lovely, and most of the service was somewhere between very good and fantastic.
To be fair, the price for the cruise was really very low, and maybe it is simply not possible to offer a ship and a staff that special at a price that low without squeezing extra money from somewhere else. And, to further speculate, maybe Royal Caribbean's market research has discovered that folks would rather pay less up front and then get soaked, pitched, and plundered after they board. Okay, maybe, but a better solution must be out there than to accost your guests dressed in their finery, hoping to charge them for another glass of wine or another soda? I've taken other cruises and have never been subjected to anything like what I experienced on the Independence.
Maybe the solution needs to start with an end to the "formal" dining, because the constant begging for money would not have seemed so out of place if all of the guests were not so overly dressed for the foolish hucksterism to which they were constantly subjected while dining. Of course, that does nothing to address the 24 hour-a-day quest for capital that happens everywhere else on the ship. If one were to simply surrender to the environment and go with the flow, it would be quite easy to double or triple the cost of the cruise without even trying. And if that is the objective, why be shy? RCCL could just change their motto from "The Nation of Why Not?" to "The Nation of Buy A Lot!" At least then their victims would know what to expect, and forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.