I have just returned from a holiday of a lifetime - it was fantastic!! As some of you may already know (I have mentioned it in plenty of reviews during the past few months , that I was going on a cruise) , and after waiting (impatiently) for almost ten months , the time arrived on Saturday 5th June and lasted until Saturday 19th June , and so my holiday has quickly and sadly been and gone! I had never been on a cruise before , let alone gone away from home for more than one week , let alone a fortnight , and now after a brilliant time , I am very sad that's it's over! So to help me get over my post-holiday-blues , I thought that I would share my experience with you!! (Just to warn you , it is going to be a very long review , as I have so much to say!)
Right...where shall I begin............ from the very beginning I guess.
So , last year , having never been abroad before , I was moaning that I wanted to go on a foreign holiday , so one day whilst out shopping , I walked into a travel agents and picked up a load of holiday brochures. My mum had always wanted to go on a cruise but hadn't been and so after flicking through a couple of brochures , was getting quite tempted to actually go. We then decided that it would be good if a group of us went (these were the very early days of the planning, and me like an excited child , was really hoping that the answer would be a great big yes!) So we discussed it with my sister and her boyfriend , and my aunt and uncle , and we were all (well I wasn't - I was all for it!) debating , shall we shan't we. In the end we decided on a two week mediterranean cruise with Royal Caribbean International. I was so excited when we had confirmed the booking , yet I still had ten months to wait for the time to come.
When the day eventually arrived , we caught a bus not too far away , which was a 'link' to the ship itself. The journey to Southamton (we got on in Southamton , not Dover as I have put as the 'place of emarking' , it didn't have 'southampton' on the list , but wouldn't let me post my review if I didn't choose one of the places)took about four hours (I slept most of the way , and so I woke up just as we arrived at the port), there were loads of ships which we passed before we got to hours and I was thinking 'I think it's that one' , 'no wait , it's gotta be that one'. But when I finally saw the actual ship , Independence Of The Seas , I was gobsmacked - it was absolutely massive - in fact it was bigger than a lot of the big buildings by the port. I could not believe that something so big could sail the seas!) It was a beautiful ship ; very smart looking.
* Boarding The Ship *
Once we had got off the bus , we had to queue for a little while , and then check that our 'papers' and passports were correct before going to a desk where we had to hand in some paperwork. We were then handed our 'seapasses' (more of which I will come to later on). We then had to make our way through 'security' ; the same kind as you would in an airport , I expect ; putting your hand luggage through an 'x ray machine' and then walking through a kind of 'x ray frame'. We then had about a ten minute walk where we finally got to step onto the ship. Boarding was fairly straightforward and didn't take too long which was good news. We were told that it could take up until 9pm that night (by now it was around 4 o' clock) until we had our luggage , although when we found our cabin at about four , our luggage was there waiting for us outside the door. We had around thirty minutes in our room , and then we had to go to a 'safety thing' about how to put on a life jacket etc. Apparently the ship would not sail until everyone had seen the demonstration. As planned , we set sail from Southhampton at 4:45.
When I first got on the ship and saw how big it was , I was a bit 'scared'. I was thinking 'oh my god - this place is massive, we're all going to have to stick together the whole time otherwise we may not see eachother for days. Before going , a lot of people who had been on cruises before had told me , 'it's so easy to get lost' and 'make sure you follow the corect carpet (if your room carpet is red , then follow the red carpet on the ship and then you will know that your cabin is in that area'. Well of course that panicked me , although after a couple of days , I knew my way around and so there was no way of getting lost. We were all on deck 6 and we were on one side and the rest of the group were on the opposite site. We had a meeting point which was the bit between the two corridors , this was the place that we always met , by the balcony overlooking the Royal Promenade.
As I mentioned earlier , before boarding the ship , each person was given a little blue card which was known as the 'seapass'. This little card was the same size and made of plastic just like a bank card. On it , it had the name of the ship,your name , date of sailing , your cabin number, your designated area number (if there was an emergency etc) , the name of the restaurant you were booked at as well as your table number. So all in all this card held a lot of information about the passenger. Also , instead of using money , the ship uses a cash-free system. Whatever you bought onboard (food is included) , for example drinks , spa treatments or for buying souveniers in the onboard shops , you would pay for it by 'swiping the card' , which would then add the amount to your 'bill' which you paid at the end of the trip. I really liked the fact that you could use it to buy things , as it made it so much easier and meant you didn't have to carry money around on the ship with you at all. This card also acted as your room key , and also to 'clock you in and off' the ship. So it was very important not to lose it.
* The Ship *
The ship itself was absolutely massive , yet very smart looking. It is a fairly new ship , built in 2008 and cost £900 million to build! The ship is very smart in the inside , with a lot of artwork and paintings. There were a few glass elavators which were handy as sometimes if you were shopping on the ship's own street on Deck five and then wanted to go to the Windjammer (on deck eleven) for lunch it meant walking twelve sets of stairs. So taking the lift was the easiest option (although I did try and take the stairs when I could , until I twisted my ankle one day - being silly , I jumped off the bed and landed on a shoe - not clever at all).
The ship had glass elevators so you could see the street and decks from the inside when you were going up and down. There were also 'closed elevators' where you couldn't see out , and I wasn't too keen on using these ones. At least if you broke down in the glass elevators (thankfully we didn't) at least people could see you panicking!
The ship itself was very , very clean. There was always a member of staff cleaning the hand rails on the stairs or cleaning the floors. A couple of nights when returning to our rooms at about 11:30pm , I saw a member of staff hoovering the carpets - at that time of night -poor thing!
* Cabin *
Our cabin , was quite spacious. The room was spotlessly clean and tidy. The beds were the comfiest ever - I always find it hard to get to sleep at night and always sleep lightly , but on the ship , I don't know what happened to me , becaue the minute my head hit the pillow , I was fast asleep , and a deep sleep it was. I've never had such good sleep as I did on that ship - I think the slight movement helped). Because there were three of us , I slept on the 'sofa bed'. My first impression was 'oh no - it's going to be uncomfortable' , but that was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in! It did not look like a sofa at all at night - it was brilliant.
The room had plenty of storing space ; a large wardrobe and plenty of draws and cupboards as well as mirrors with build in cupboards behind them on the dressing table. We had a shower (no bath) which was great , especially after a sweaty day in the sun - the shower was adjustable , and was easy to adjust (either hot or cold , and also you could choose which pressure you wanted). There was plenty of 'oomph' in the pressure of the water which was great.
Tea and coffee were available in our bedroom , along with a mini fridge which included cans of coke , sweets and bottled water. To begin with , we were like 'don't touch the fridge - it'll cost us!' but towards the end , we had almost cleared all the sweets!
We even had our own private balcony which was great , as you could see the sea , and whenever we were close to the ports , you could see the land getting closer and closer , and also when we were leaving the port , you could watch the sight of the land fade away. It was also a great place to relax outside , knowing that you had a 'bit of outside space to yourself'. No one could see you either which was nice , although if you popped your head round the side , you would sometimes see your neighbour if they were also leaning over the balcony. I absolutely loved the balcony , and would often sit there reading a book or listening to my music , not having a care in the world whilst watching the sea go by.
The bathroom , although small , was still quite spacious with a huge mirror. We also had a hairdryer and tea and coffee making facilities which were replenished on a morning/night basis. We also had a televison with a great selection of channels ; sports , news , movies , music etc. The ship even has it's own channels including one which shows , events which have happened so far on the holiday ,as well as the shows , and also a morning programme with the ship's famous 'Joff' the cruise director , who 'presented' all of the shows. There was always an 'interactive' thing on the telly , where you could book an excursion , see what was coming up on the cruise , and even keep an eye on your bill , as well as loads of other things.
You could even watch some of the latest movies for a price of $12. I watched Dear John. I had thought that $12 was quite a lot to watch a film , but then I realised , had I gone to my local cineworld which is an hours drive away , the cost of petrol combined with the £7 per person cinema ticket it would have cost around £30 for three of us to go to the cinema , and so for $12 , it was great value as we saved petrol , and all three of us got to watch the movie , so it worked out a lot cheaper than going to the cinema.
We had our own room attendant , who was brilliant ; always friendly , professional and always had time for us. He did his job really well , and I felt sorry for him that every night he would have to turn the sofa into a bed for me , and in the morning change my bed back into the sofa , although when we returned from dinner at night , my sofa bed was always ready , and in the morning , we'd leave the room for about half an hour for breakfast , and then return to our room , and the bed would be back to a sofa. When returning from dinner , it was always a pleasure to see what kind of animal the room attendant had made for us using towels ; some nights we would have elephants , pigs , snakes and monkeys.
* Food *
The food on the Independence of The Seas was brilliant. The restaurants wee always very clean and the standard of cleanliness was very high. Before entering a food place, everyone had to sanitize their hands which I thought was a brilliant idea.There were so many choices of places to eat :
* Romeo and Juliet Restaurant *
This is the restaurant where we were automatically booked into when we booked the holiday. The restaurant was very posh looking and you could see the above restaurant 'Macbeth' above , and also the restaurant 'King Lea' which was above 'Macbeth'. It was like one big restaurant (3 floors - yet each floor had a different name and had a different menu and sometimes a different style of serving. ) It was in the Romeo and Juliette restaurant that we had our breakfast and dinner.
Breakfast (Romeo and Juliette restaurant): You could choose where you wanted to have your breakfast each day. Most of the time we stuck to the buffet-style breakfast which was served in he Romeo and Juliette restaurant. Here , you helped yourself to the massive selection of cereals , pastries , fruit salad , cooked breakfast , cheese and meats and yoghurts. There was so much choice, and the food was always topped up right to the top. I am not a fan of cooked breakfast , although the rest of my group all had cooked breakfasts (bacon , eggs , mushrooms , beans , harsh browns etc) and could not praise the food enough. I myself would have fresh fruit (different fruits laid out in separate bowls ; different kinds of melons , grapes , pineapples - great for getting your five-a-day) , croissants , cereal such as Alpen and also there were muffins which I absolutely loved. Tea and coffee was brought to your table , and so was the orange juice. There didn't seem to be many other fruit juices available ; the waiter would come to your table and say 'would you like some orange juice' and if you didn't they would ask if you would like apple juice. I loved the orange juice though , as it was always fresh. Another 'toast waiter' would then come around with a basket of toast and ask you if you wanted white or brown. Throughout the cruise , the toast was edible , although it wasn't that nice - it was always really hard and had a funny texture , although I solved the problem by smothering it with plenty of butter and strawberry jam.
Dinner (Romeo and Juliette) : We were a group of seven and had requested at the time of booking for a table of our own so that we could sit together. However , when we received our seapasses with the dining information on it , it stated that three of us were to eat in the Romeo and Juliette and the other four were to eat in the Macbeth restaurant. We went to see the restaurant manager who changed this for us and so on the first evening we had a table to ourselves. One you knew where your table was (at dinner , you sat at the same table every night , although breakfast , the waiters would find you a suitable table each day , and so for breakfast you sat on a different table each day - on the last day we had a window table which was fantastic!). So on the second night , we walked into the restaurant , making our way to our table , when we noticed a couple on our table , meaning that as the table was only set up for us seven, there wasn't enough room for all of us. The head waiter then came and explained to the couple what had happened (we couldn't hear what exactly was being said as we were too far away) , although the couple did not seem happy at all , although the head waiter was brilliant and we had our table back , which remained ours for the rest of the holiday.
The food was brilliant at the restaurant ; of a very high standard. The menu more or less changed each evening although there were still items which remained on the menu most nights. There were about eight options for each of the three courses. The majority of the group are meat-eaters (including fish) and so it meant that they had a different starter and main course each evening , however , I am vegetarian and so is my mum , and we are quite fussy eaters too. I stuck with the ceasar salad most nights (consiting of crisp lettuce , parmasan cheese , yummy garlic croutons and a gorgeous dressing - I absolutely loved it!) and a pasta dish (I love pasta). On one or two ocasions there was other vegetarian meals available such as 'pastry tarts' which I tried one night - it was nice to begin with , but I found it became too much of the same taste and so I couldn't finish it. Although , there was nothing wrong with the food (we all agreed that it was wonderful) , it was just that I am a very fussy eater. On the other hand , the deserts were to die for ; sponge puddings , chocolate tarts , panacottas - they were all brilliant. Although , I love fresh fruit , I am not really a fan of fruity deserts , although I did try a 'berry mousse' one night - and it was one of the best deserts I have ever tasted! Also if you didn't want to put on too much weight during the holiday , there was also a 'special three course menu' where every starter , main course and desert all came to less than 800 calories - I tried this some nights and the food was of an excellent standard.
* WindJammer Cafe *
What a great place this was ; it was open from about 7am everyday for breakfast , right through for lunch and afternoon tea until 5pm and then it would open again at 6:30pm for dinner. The very popular , cafe is located on top of the ship at the back with fantastic views of the ocean. Foodwise ; there was so much to choose from. The food was served buffet-style and had something for every taste , whether you were starving or just in a 'picking' mood. Such food included roast dinners ,salads, pizzas , burgers , pasta , rolls , as well of a huge range of deserts.
On days where we were getting off the ship to go exploring , we would sometimes get up early and go to the cafe for breakfast. Food available was served buffet style where you helped yourself. Although it was a great place , I prefered having breakfast in the Romeo and Juliet dining room as although they were both buffet style , at least in the restaurant a waiter would bring you juice,toast, tea and cofee and anything else you wanted. A waiter would come around with tea or coffee in this cafe , but it would be served tea-bag-in-a-cup style rather than in a pot like in the restaurant.
I loved the Windjammer ; as it was always quick and you could go whenever you wanted ; there was always plenty of food to choose from and the dishes were always topped out ; they never seemed to run out of anything. The food was always of a high standard too.
One thing which I did not like about the Windjammer , although this is by means no fault of the ship's , was the fact that some people were like pigs and would push in front of you even if you were queing. One day , I had been queing up for one of the deserts and as it was my turn , was just about to take a desert , when a man pushed in from nowhere , and said 'excuse me , can I just grab one of those' , and his attitude was so selfish ; he hadn't queued or nothing. People would very often push you out of the way too which was annoying. We found the nicest time to go was at about 4:30 as there wasn't that many people about then which was great.
Also sometimes , at peak times , especially lunch time , it was hard to find a table , although there was always one waiter who would greet customers and get another waiter to find a suitable for us. They always found us a table very quickly and we were never left to wait more than five minutes. Once you found a table , the experience was great.
What was also great was the fact that you could just grab a slice of pizza or a cake and then take it to your room or to the poolside to eat it.
* Other Restaurants *
There were also many other places were you could have food , such as 'Johnny Rockets' which was like an American-1950's style burger place. We went here one night for a change (there was an extra charge of around $4 per person at this place - most of the restaurants including the Windjammer and Romeo and Juliet restaurants as well as a lot of others were included in the cruise package which was good as it meant that you could eat as much as you wanted which was brilliant).
If you like Italian dining , then there was an Italian restaurant onboard called the Portfino. Although to eat here , it cost $20 per person. I did fancy here but the rest of the group thought that beings as there were a lot of places that we could eat at , that were included in the price of our holiday , it would have been silly to have spent $140 between us for just one meal , and so we didn't go there. Although I would have liked to have tried it.
There was also a 'meaty' restaurant called 'Chops Grille' which also charged around $10 extra , although being vegetarian , I didn't eat here.
There are also numerous cafes down in the Royal Promenade , where you could obtain as much tea and coffee as you wanted for 'free'. There were also tea and coffee stands in various areas of the ships , although these were only available at certain times.
* Bars *
If you wanted a drink then you had many bars to choose from , and even at busy times , you would almost always find a seat. Some of the bars which we went to included the 'On Air' bar, which also did karaoke , where my sister and I sang a couple of times. They also had a 'private karaoke booth' where you could sing if the karaoke wasn't on. This place also showed the football on a big screen.
Another bar which I loved was 'Boleros' ; a latin themed bar. There was a live latin band who performed there every single night and I loved their style of music and how they made their own 'Spanish sounding' versions of popular songs such as 'Sway' by Michael Buble.
I also loved the Olive Or Twist bar which was located right on top of the ship and you could see 360 degrees around the ship ; it was brilliant. It was one of my favourite places to go in the day as it was always peaceful , and you could see all that was happening outside on the ship as well as the sea , so it was great.
There was another bar called 'The Pyramid Lounge' which had an Egyptian theme. I didn't particularly like this bar ; there wasn't nothing wrong with it , just that it seemed 'out of the way' compared to a lot of the other bars which were located in the centre of the ship. When the football was on , this is one of the areas where loads of people flocked too to see a game - there was a good atmosphere here though, especially when England were playing.
There were also a lot of other bars which you could go to , although the ones listed above are the ones which I went to the most.
There was also a nightclub called 'The Labyrinth' on the show. I did step inside and it was full of smokers (one of the not too many places that smokers could smoke). I was really disappointed that they had made the club a 'smoker's place' as I love partying yet hate smoking , and because the club was absolutely full of smokers , I didn't go there again.
* Staff *
The staff were absolutely fantastic!!! They treated us as though we were royalty. They couldn't do enough for you ; always willing to help and nothing was too much trouble. They were always so professional , friendly , and a lot of them were also really comical too so that made our dining experiences entertaining.
The service was always spot on , especially in the dining room. They would not let you lift a finger ; they wanted to do absolutely everything for you which was brilliant , although I did feel guilty at times especially when they said they don't get one day off and work all day every single day for six months!!
We had two waiters at dinner who remained the same two throughout the cruise (for breakfast you always had a different waiter , depending where you sat) , the main waiter and an assistant waiter and they were brilliant ; so professional , yet very friendly. They really knew their stuff. Working in the hotel industry myself , I appreciate it so much more and with their excellent 'Gold Anchor service' I even picked up a few tips!
The staff in the Windjammer cafe were also great ; always smiling and willing to get anything you wanted from the buffet (if you were too lazy to get it yourself).
All staff aboard were great ; always friendly and saying hello if they met you in the corridor , even the ones you had never spoken too.
Throughout our cruise we received a fantastic service. Everything about it was properly thought out and all made sense , which meant that everything ran smoothly. There was always plenty of staff around too , all working very hard. Everyone was lovely ; professional , friendly and ALWAYS willing to help which was great.
Before we went on the cruise , a lot of people who had been before had warned us about the tipping of staff - apparently if you didn't say that you didn't want them to automatically add tips to your bill , at the beginning of the cruise , then they would go ahead and do this. So , at the beginning we made it clear that we wanted to choose the amount of tips we gave at the end of the cruise , as the suggested amount for each person (head waiter , waiter , assistant waiter and room attendent) added up to around $6 per person per day ,and did seem quite a lot. We were assured that unless we had signed a form in our room that said you wanted the tips to be added automatically to your room bill , then you wouldn't be charged.
So on the last day , when we received the envelopes to put our own tips into. We all agreed on what we were going to give per person ( in total it added up to about $200 between the three of us for four members or staff). Although , later on that afternoon (before we had handed in our tips) we receieved 'vouchers' along with a letter type thing that said 'thank you for pre-paying your gratuities'. We weren't sure what this meant (there were four vouches which had our names printed on them so they were obviously for us).
So we went down to enquire about it at the guest relations , and they said that we had indeed already paid the gratuities in the price of our holiday. We were a bit annoyed at first because we had preched and preached that we hadn't wanted this (although it wasn't the ship's fault , it was the travel agent's fault) , although when we added up what we had already pre-paid (around $60 from each of us between four members of staff) compared to the $200 which we were going to pay , it worked out less for us , and we were also relieved that it had already been paid as it meant we had more spending money left , and also , we weren't sure how much to give in the first place , so that solved the problem. We did however give the room attendent an extra $30 , especially when he told us that he would have to move all of the cases (there were hundreds of them , all laid out in the corridors outside people's cabins) in the night (and he had already worked most of that day). The staff worked so hard , so it was really worth every penny!
So instead of putting money in the envelopes and handing them to each member of staff (4 in total) , we simply put our vouches in the envelopes and then gave them to them. I expect they would then have to hand in the vouchers in return for the money we had already paid for them. So although we were against pre-paying the gratuities , it did actually work out better for us , and also means you get it out of the way.
Apparently the staff only get $50 per month (including their food and keep) , although they work very long hours , and for their whole contract (6 months , usually) they don't get one day off - so they rely on the tips as their income.
* Shows *
The Independence Of The Seas has it's own theatre called the 'Alhambra' , which is fairly big. Each night , there was a different show on. The ship has it's own entertainers simply known as 'The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers'. Whilst we were there they put on four different productions ; one was a circus , another one was about fairytales as well as others. The shows were brilliant and the performers were excellent. As well as the shows they did , they also performed in the street parades. The ship also had it's own live band ; who seemed to be involved with most things musical on the ship ; all of the shows , the street parades , the talent show etc.
As well as the ship's own in-house-entertainers , there was also entertainers who had just 'called in'. Some of them were very good including a comedian who was very funny , and kept us laughing throughout the whole show. There was an elderly gentleman who sang , and he was brilliant too. Another good one was a comedy juggler , who was brilliant and so was the Motown band. There was one man though , who was an impersonator and he was really bad ; he was American and lot of the impersonations he did were of Americans from television shows and things like that , which we hadn't seen and ,so because we didn't know who these people were , we didn't know if he was good at impersonating them or not , and so the show was very boring. A lot of people even walked out that night. It was really cringy because no one was laughing either!
Most of the time , the shows were fantastic , although my only criticism was the fact that they were too short. Each show only lasted around an hour and so they were over quickly. Apart from this , the shows were of a very high standard (apart from the impersontor man).
There was also an ice rink onboard which also had their own shows , although because these were always on in the afternoon , because we had either been out in the ports all day we would go for a rest before dinner that evening and so we didn't go to see the ice shows. Also another factor was that , with the other shows you could just walk in (it was included in the price of the cruise) to the theatre , find a seat and watch the show. Although with the ice shows , you had to get a ticket in the morning of the day of the show , and so we had already gone out by then perhaps.
One evening they did a show called 'The Love And Marriage Show' in the theatre. The show consisted of four couples hand-picked from the audience ; the men then had to answer embaressing questions about their other halves while they weren't there and then vice versa , and the other halves would have to guess what their partners had said. This was a very comical show!!
* Activities *
There were many activites taking place all day every day. Each night , you would receive a cruise newsletter called 'The Cruise Compass' which would tell you everything about what was going on the next day , including the weather as as well as certain onboard offers such as at the spa etc ,which was very good . There were hundreds of activites to choose from including ; Yoga , bingo , Quizzes , karaoke ; everything you could imagine. They even had a rock climbing wall and a Flow Rider which was a water thing which 'shot' out water so that you could surf. Great for kids! There was so much to do that in the whole two weeks , no way would you have had time to try everything! I had orginally thought when I saw that we had a few 'sea days' (days where we didn't get off the ship at ports) that we would be very bored with nothing to do , although there was soo much to do , that at times I actually prefered the sea days to the port days.
We went to the karaoke one night and it was quite quiet there. There wasn't that many singers there. Me and my sister both sang , although I was disappointed with the songs available , as they were all pre 2000's songs and so there weren't many songs that we knew.
We also went to the bingo session one afternoon. We go to bingo every couple or months or so , and so were looking forward to the session. Although we were really disappointed when we only played about four 'line' games and one 'house' game and so for about $30 we felt this was a bit of rip off as there was only about five chances of winning a prize. When we go to Mecca bingo at home , we pay about £15 and have about twenty-something games , so this one was a bit disappointing. Although I would have loved to have won the top prize which was to spend the rest of your holiday in the 'royal suite'.
There were also other 'fun activities' which involved 'members of the public'. Such things included 'men's belly flop' competition , where they had to flop into the pool and the audience had to vote for who they thought made the biggest splash. The ironic part was , that there were five guys trying (four of which were quite big men) and a skinny guy and the skinny guy won which I thought was funny!
There were a lot of sports facilities including table tennis tables , which we played a few times during our stay. You could also play football and basketball as well as go swimming in one of the many swimming pools. What was good was the fact that there were lots of little swimming pools and one section was for kids and then there was a more quieter area with pools for adults. There were also a few jacuzzis which were lovely and warm. There was also a pool bar which was good , especially at night as it was very quiet and relaxing.
There were loads of deck chairs available on the top deck ; great for sunbathing , and most of the time we had brilliant weather. There was almost always deck chairs available , until the last day when there were hardly none left! There was also a 'help-yourself-ice-cream-machine' which I absolutely loved , and you could as many as you wanted!
* Ports of Call *
We went to some great places ; Gibraltar , Corsica , Cannes , Barcelona , Ibiza , Malag , Lisbon and Vigo. You could book excursions with the ship , where you could go on tours (you had to pay) or go to museums or things like football clubs. We never went on any of the ship's excursions and just did our own thing.
I was really pleased with the places we went to especially ; Barcelona , Malaga , Lisbon and Vigo. The rest of the places we visited were good , although the ones I have listed above are the ones which stood out the most for me.
When getting off the ship you had to use your seapass to 'clock out' and then on returning to the ship , you had to clock back in , and go through security checks ; you couldn't bring particular items such as food and drink onto the ship.
* Photographs *
There was always an opportunity for a photograph. The ship had it's own photographers , who were always buzzing about the ship. Whenever you stepped off the ship , the photographers would be waiting for you , (one would be dressed up in a special outfit depending on which place we were at - in gibraltar they were dressed up as a monkey , a bull fighter in Barcelona , a dolphin in lisbon etc) and you could have your photo taken with the 'mascot'. Your photos would then be available to purchase in the ship's own gallery which held loads of photos. You could also have you're photos taken every night around the ship with special backgrounds such as the ship , or on the stairs. On formal nights they would 'chase' you for a photo - sometimes even interupting your dinner for a photo. We had some good photos of all of us which we purchased at around $20-$30 per photo. Once we had purchased four photos , we had a 'free' photo album which was worth $39 so that was good!
Throughout the cruise , they were always on about a dvd which the ship people had made during the fortnight and would be a great souvenier to take home as it contained great memories from the particular cruise (featuring clips from the shows , and the parties , and of the people). I thought 'oh wow ,that sounds good' and so bought a copy of the DVD for $30! However , I managed to watch it for the first time last night , and it was a load of old rubish! Yes , it did feature clips of the shows and clips of the passengers dancing in the parties and so on , although it was more like a 'promotional dvd' which you can get free if you request from cruise companies (I had had some free through the post from P&O cruises and Ocean Village , before we went) and this one was exactly like one of those as it said 'this is the so-and-so - we are open from 8-4 every day' kind of thing , and so I felt it was a complete rip off , telling me about what I already knew!
* Royal Promenade *
Believe it or not , the ship has it's own 'street' with shops and cafes. You would not believe that you were on a ship , but would think that you were really shopping on a real street. There aren't that many shops (just small shops such as a 'general store' which sold sweets , medication and souveniers , a women's clothes shop , a men's clothes shop , cafes , Ben and Jerry's Ice cream shop as well as 'travel agents' where you could book your next cruise' , and once you had been in them once , you'd seen it all. One good thing about the shops was the fact that they were 'duty-free'. The shops were sometimes closed whilst the ship was docked , and would then open when the ship was back at sea.
At night , 'parties' would take place on the Royal Promenade. The first 'party' was good ; it featured two of the cruise's professional singers and they were brilliant. Although as the cruise went on , these parties became 'boring'. There were these bridges/stages that came down from the roof. There would be music playing (they would have special nights such as British rock etc) and then they would have members of the entertainment teams (not the actual singers and dancers - but the ones who would help out at events such as bingo and karaoke etc) and they would just be dancing and jumping up and down , and the crowd would just be looking at them , and so I thought that this was very boring and so I didn't watch these parades after.
* Extra Points and tips *
Beforehand , we had worried that we would get sea sick ; although it did take us a day or two to get used to the ship's movement , we were absolutely find. One or two nights it was a bit rocky although we felt safe onboard. We took 'travel bands' which really helped on the first day. Although sea sickness didn't affect us at all.
We always made sure that we left at least an hour before we were supposed to get back on the ship , when visiting ports , as the ship wouldn't wait for anyone. When we visited Cannes , there was a group of people who weren't back on the ship at the time the ship was set to sail , the captain said that they would wait twenty minutes for them and no more (as the ship was being charged to park at the port). I don't know if they did get back on in time or if they had to fly to Barcelona to meet the ship the next day. So it's better to leave the ports a little early in order to get back onto the ship in time.
Before the cruise I shopped and shopped until I was certain that I wouldn't be able to fit everything into my suitcase (luckily I was). I was sure I didn't have enough clothes for two weeks ; I took about eight different pairs of shoes and only ended up wearing the same two pairs throughout. I also didn't wear half the clothes that I took with me. There was also an onboard laundry where you could send your dirty laundry for a small price and then they would return your items to your room which was good.
The best time to go swimming was at around 6pm as there were hardly no people there at all , just the odd one or two. However in the day it was proper busy and quite noisy at times too .
If you are going to buy sovenieres then I recommend that you do so on the last day rather than at the beginning of your holiday , as there was a big sale at the end of cruise ,especially on jewellry and perfumes , so it is worth waiting.
With over 4000 passengers onboard as well as over 1,300 members of staff , you would have thought that it would have been overcrowded , but the truth was it wasn't (apart from the Windjammer at busy times). There were some real great places which were very peaceful , including the very front of the ship , on the top deck after 6pm (when everyone had either gone to dinner for 6:30 , or gone to get ready for dinner at 8:30).
Before going , a lot of people had said that a cruise was a holiday for old people ,so I was a bit like 'oh god', but I can honestly tell you that there were more people in their twenties and thirties than old people. Although having said that , there were people of all ages from , babies , toddlers , kids , teens , adults and seniors. It really is the perfect holiday for everyone!
If you're in a group , it's a good idea to have a meeting point. So if you do happen to get split up from everyone , it's a good idea to say 'if we lose someone , head to the 'meeting point' (whether it be outside a shop or bar) on the hour' , so say that you 'lose someone' and it's 12:45 , then you would be at the meeting place to meet at 1 o clock , if that makes sense.
Before going I was worried that I wouldn't have enough spending money to last a fortnight , and was thinking 'oh my god , I'm going to need at least £1000. In the end I took around 400 Euros with me and that was more than enough - I think during the whole two weeks , I only spent around 100 Euros , and that was off the ship , mainly buying tickets to go on tour buses , entries into places like caves and museums and for souveniers , and so that proves that you don't need that much money with you at all , although it wise to make sure that you do have enough. Everything you bought onboard the ship with your 'seapass' , which was linked to a credit card , was taken out of your bank account at the end of the holiday.
* Overall Experience *
We had a fantastic time ; all seven of us agreed that it was a brilliant experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything about it was wonderful ; the food , the staff , the cabins , shows , ports , ice cream machine , jacuzzi , bars ....everything was perfect!!
We paid around £1300 each for a room with a balcony and it was well worth the money. At first it did seem a little expensive , although when we were actually on the ship it was obvious that it was well worth the money when you think about all that was included :
Unlimited food : (breakfast , lunch tea , and dinner as well as 24 hour buffet) , including a three course meal every night (if you had gone to a restaurant it would probably have cost £20+ per person). All of the ice cream we had at the pool (if you would have bought it in a shop , each cone would have cost at least £2 each , and we had loads here)
The top shows ; In all , I think we saw about nine shows. Imagine if you had gone to see a show at your local theatre it would have cost around £20 per person per show (actually more probably as the performers on this ship were World class).
There was so much more included although the above are the main ones! So all in all it was excellent value for money!
* Highly Recommended *
I would definately recommend the Independence Of The Seas ; it was fantastic , a real holiday in a lifetime , and now that I have arrived home after two weeks onboard the brilliant ship...it's horrible , there was so much to do onboard , so many people and great company , and now it just seems really boring and lonely after being surrounded by so many people for a fortnight !I really can't wait to go again!
Time to start saving some money for another cruise I think...........!
Thanks for reading! Apologies for such a long review (it's not often I write long ones!)
June 24th 2010 xdonzx