BOOKING. My wife booked the cruise directly through Royal Caribbean and the lady she spoke to Samantha was extremely helpful. We received $500 on board spending for booking area and booking direct and free parking at Southampton. We were able to look at the excursions prior to departure and book them online which was also useful.
DEPARTURE. We stayed at The Holiday Inn right across the road from where the Independence of the Seas docked. I arranged this seperately and would definitely recommend staying overnight as it made the whole experience stress free. i.e no worries about being delayed and missing the ship. On arrival at the terminal staff were waiting and took our cases from the car and we then drove to the car park on site which was excellent and secure. After a short walk from the car park we were checked in quickly and efficiently and only waited in the departure lounge for 10 minutes before boarding.
INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS. The whole ship is immaculate with staff constantly cleaning and hand gel everywhere. The facilities are second to none on the ship and we loved everything about the ship.
I had read reviews prior to travelling where people were calling it Royal Chavibbean and such like but everyone I met on board were fantastic normal friendly people.
I never saw anyone drunk and did not hear any abusive language from anyone. The kids on board behaved impeccably and generally stayed on the 11th and 12th deck near the amusements and teen area and could not be heard elsewhere. Our stateroom was a family interior room which had two bunks pulling down from the ceiling and we found it perfectly adequate in size. I am pleased I didn't pay the extra for a balcony or other upgrade because there is so much to do we were hardly ever in the stateroom. That said it was kept immaculate by our attendant and the room was very well insulated so we did not hear other guests when in the room. Great nights sleep on the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in. All staff on board were very friendly and helpful.
ENTERTAINMENT. Cruise director Joff and his sidekick Steve were fantastic. Hilarious double act and they presented a daily show on the TV which kept guests informed. Cruise compass delivered daily to the room along with an itinery for both our boys. The kids absolutely loved the ship, the kids clubs and their new friends. We hardly saw our 14yr old during the evenings as he was with his new friends at the clubs. The only criticism of the entertainment was that it was difficult to find a seat in the theatre for the evening shows. The shows I saw were all fantastic except for the comedian Kelly Monteith who was so bad most guests walked out. Freeze frame ice show was amazing. Flowrider was good fun and my sons enjoys the sports court and climbing wall. Staff on Flowrider were very good in teaching us the tricks.
FOOD. The Windjammer was always very busy but we always found a table. Plenty of variety on offer and I found the food hot and good quality contrary to some reviews I read. We did not eat at Portofino or Chops Grill because the food in the main restaurant was superb. Our waiter Dennis and his assistants were very attentive, great with the kids and really looked after us. Dennis always brought us other dishes from the menu to try. (That's why I've put on 7 pounds) The drinks waitress Liling was very friendly with everyone and taught our son some Chinese. We ate at Johnny Rockets one night and the staff were great putting on a show and getting us up dancing but the food was not as good as the main dining room. We had the My time dining option and never had a problem getting a table for Dinner. In addition to the ports listed below we also visited Lisbon and Vigo which were both nice places to visit. Lisbon was out favourite place but very hot 36C.