Arrived at the port around 2pm for a 14 day back to back cruise. Embarkation was organized and quick with virtually no waiting. Had an inside state room which was nicely laid out with a sofa, glass coffee table, HD plasma TV, elegant drapes in front of the bed. Room was very small but felt bigger than it's size because they sacrificed closet and dressing area for more living area. I travel extremely light with only one carry-on bag yet our closet seemed very full with hardly any clothes in it. Washroom was more tiny than expected with reduced counter and shelf space but was very functional with nice decor. For someone who spends little time in the cabin and basically uses it for sleeping it was perfect.
The ship was opulent and extravagant with lots of glass and chrome and a modern decor. The ship is hugely bigger than most other ships but I was surprised that it didn't actually feel that much bigger. There was a large mall area called the promenade which had a multi-story high ceiling and a 33 foot wide hallway. Within the promenade was a coffee shop, pizza parlor, and a bunch of shops, etc. I only used the promenade to get pizza after the buffet closed at around 10pm so to me it seemed like wasted space. I was disappointed that the buffet closed so early ... I was used to fattening up with a bedtime buffet snack on previous cruise ships but here I was restricted to pizza and pastry in the promenade. The deck did not seem crowded for the entire 2 weeks on board. There was never a problem with finding a good deck chair. There were very few people saving deck chairs with their towels ... maybe because they charge you $20 if you lose one of your towels. Charging you for lost towels is probably a good way of preventing that annoying practice of people saving the best deck chairs but not even using them. When towels are handed out they are recorded to your stateroom. You can change your towels as many times as you want. The ship seems more logically laid out than what I am used to on a big cruise ship. Hallway routes seem to be direct and you don't have to follow a convoluted path when going from point A to point B. The children's pool area is amazing! ... I think better than the adult main pool. There are creative water falls, and wading areas and splashing areas yet there is enough to keep the adult parents happy as well. If I was a kid again I certainly would enjoy this area. The adult pool encircles a central platform where organized games are played. There is some stadium-type levels with deck chairs on each level which is nice because then more people can have a view of the pool while sunbathing.
My best surprise was the exercise area. I like to work out every day especially with body building exercises and this ship's gym was much better compared to other ships that I've been on. There was a free weight area, a good variety of those universal type machines, lots of elliptical trainers, stationary bikes and treadmills. There was even a small boxing ring. Usually the place was not crowded except just before dinner. The rock climbing wall and the Flow Rider surf pool was something new to me on a cruise ship. Tried them both. They were a good thrill but the novelty wore off quickly. Would be better if I was a kid.
The food was excellent. The main dining room was 3 stories high and huge. It had a more warm decor than the rest of the ship. The service was top notch. However, we usually ended up having dinner in the more casual buffet where you could load your plate with how much and whatever you want. Breakfast at the buffet was very crowded so that twice we were required to be seated with someone else. Go early if you don't like crowds.
The theater was absolutely beautiful! The evening shows were top notch in production and talent. There was a live 13 piece band and the acoustics were awesome including the earth-shaking bass speakers. The themes of the show varied each night. Unfortunately I found the shows to be boring in typical cruise ship fashion - singing and dancing to songs that I've never heard before which eventually becomes monotonous . Also it seemed that the rest of the entertainment on the ship didn't really start until later in the evening past 9 or 10 o'clock. On my Princess cruises, the entertainment seemed to start earlier in the evening which is perfect for old guys like me who don't stay up late at night. The ice show was a real treat. Not to be missed. All the seats are very close to the ice giving an intimate feel with the performers. The skaters probably fell more often than normal but only because of the rocking of the ship. Those ice skaters are amazing - not only artistically talented but also true athletes. Don't be fooled in the end by the delightful cruise director...he is a better skater that he lets you initially believe.
To me the ports were typical of the Caribbean. Either you get nice beach and lush greenery or you get to tour around an old impoverished town and check out little known historical sites. The worst part of the cruise was at the end. They have what is called an Express Checkout. It's advertised in a way that makes you think that if you don't mind carrying your bags then you can get off the ship easily and quickly. Wrong. Very disorganized. You are herded like cows into the ice arena. Then it's every man for himself. Everyone there has the same idea of getting off the ship quickly. People jockeyed for position, tempers flared. I got yelled at by 2 groups for cutting into the line but the line was so disorganized that is was impossible to know where the line was. Eventually got off the ship by 9 am but this was a harrowing experience. Hopefully they've improved the process by now.
This ship was awesome. The cruise was as good as what I expected and equal my experiences with Princess. With regard to the Independence of the Seas, I would say that the entertainment was a little worse, the public areas were a better and the food and service were equal to the big Princess ships. I would say that overall, the two cruise lines offer almost identical cruising experiences.
Belize. Followed a walking tour of the town which I downloaded off the internet. Heartbreakingly poor town. Very sad. Nicest people on earth living there; warm and friendly.
Costa Maya. Nothing really there, just some shops. Found some nice beach chairs under a canopy on the rocky beach and watched the waves coming in.
Cozumel. Lots of cheap booze and nice beaches.
San Juan. Beautiful place with an old historic downtown. Great for walking around and getting interesting pictures.
St. Thomas. Good shopping stop. Pretty town. Took a nice, interested walking tour of the town.
St. Maarten. Dutch side of the island is nicer. Cab rid there is 20 minutes, costs $7 per person and offers some dramatic views of the island.