We boarded Independence of the Seas at Southampton on 26th September 2009 after a 40 minute drive from home. This is the first time we have taken a cruise, so here is a summary of our experience: The Good: 1. Very quick and smooth arrival, car-parking, check in and boarding. 2. The high standard of presentation and decor on board and the obviously acive maintenance of the that standard. 3. The great importance placed on cleanliness and hygiene in all areas. 4. This is currently the largest cruise liner afloat, so lots of things to do (gym, spa, crazy golf course, "flowrider" surfing machine (did not try), swimming pools, hot tubs, ice rink, internet cafe, video games, library, shows, lectures, etc.). 5. Excellent wide choice of well-presented food at both the main dining rooms and the self-service Windjammer cafe reflecting the ethnic diversity of the staff. 6. Top quality shows with the ship's own team of singers, dancers, musicians and ice skaters. 7. A compact well designed cabin with a large and comfortable bed. 8. Attentive and friendly staff.
The Not So Good: 1. With over 3,500 guests and 1,500 staff the ship has the population of a sizeable village and it shows in the queues for dining, entertainments, excursions, shuttle buses and tenders; in the battery farming arrangement of sun-loungers on deck; and just the hassle of negotiating the crowds to reach anywhere on board. 2. The relentless selling of overpriced stuff on board - drinks, excursions, shuttle buses, spa treatments, casino, bingo, souvenirs, photographs, artworks, the on-board shops and market stalls - Royal Caribbean seems to have the same business model as Ryanair (cheap headline prices, but make the profit on the extras). 3. For my taste the otherwise excellent food was spoiled by the addition of too much salt. 4. The library is far too small and limited in scope for the ship's population. 5. There were a few "destination lectures" that were very interesting, but were not directly related to the sights that we were to see at the ports of call. Here was an opportunity to tell the interested passengers more about the world-class sites that they could visit (e.g. ancient Rome and the cradle of the Renaissance in Florence), but there was nothing of that nature. This perhaps reflects Royal Caribbean's attempt to make cruising more attractive to a younger and more socially diverse demographic, but in my view it was an opportunity missed, and they may even have sold more excursions as a result. 6. The casino is sited across the main walking route to the onboard theatre and hence has no age restrictions on access to it.
On balance we were impressed by the ship and very much enjoyed our holiday, but there were just too many people on board.