We drove down from Scotland the day before and stayed in a local Premier Inn. It was fantastic to sail from the UK and our first cruise where we did not need to go near an airport and all the hassle that involves - what a difference!! We drove straight up to the ship and offloaded our bags before being directed to our parking space. We checked in almost straight away (after security) and boarding commenced at around 11.15 which was well organised and efficient. The Independence of the Seas was absolutely immaculate with cleaning teams evident throughout the cruise.
Our cabin was an inside stateroom on deck 10 and it was well maintained as always. Arif our room steward was very attentive and sorted out extra coat hangers for us when requested and the girls loved his towel animals each evening. We normally book a 4 berth cabin which is either inside or an outside window because the idea of a balcony with small children made us uneasy. However this was the first cruise where I found this cabin layout just too restricting. It was particularly challenging when we were all getting ready for dinner in the evening and I did not find the Pullman bed easy to get into or out of (this was strange as I do not recall this being an issue when I used a Pullman on the Voyager and Explorer)! We are booked on the Independence for next summer and on the back of this when we returned home we upgraded our booking to a D1 category cabin which has a balcony and a sofa bed. I would recommend to anyone traveling with children to look at the pricing as we found that the price for the children was the same regardless of cabin grade. Our upgrade cost £950 (£425 each for my wife and I) and we will have more space, a sofa bed for the girls, a balcony and I will get a proper bed instead of a Pullman. We decided that the cost of the upgrade split over 14 nights was worth the these benefits.
Now for more details of the cruise!
The food and service in the restaurant was as ever excellent and our waiters Valerian and Daniel were amongst the best we had experienced. They always made a huge effort with the children and the food was delicious. We had the main dining at 6.00 but we want to try My Time dining next year so we can spend longer outdoors. The Windjammer food was the best we have had on any ship. There was plenty of choice and the food was always hot. We tried Johnny Rockets for the first time on the last day which was great fun and the milkshakes were delicious.
The children's facilities were absolutely exceptional and without question would influence us into booking onto this class of ship again in the future. The girls absolutely loved the H20 zone on the pool deck - what a fantastic facility. The Adventure Ocean program was varied and exciting and my eldest daughter would have spent her whole time split between the H20 zone and the Kids club if we had let her!! The staff in Adventure Ocean were excellent with Animal Andre, Andy Pandy, Razzle Dazzle Ryan and Pengin being amongs the girls favourites. A special thank you goes to Cheesecake Cheryl for the care and attention she gave our youngest daughter who is quieter and more reserved than her outgoing older sister. There were over a thousand children on this cruise but you would never have known it and the care and attention given to them was fantastic. This was reassuring from our point of view and gave us complete peace of mind allowing my wife and I to relax for a couple of hours on deck.
Joff our Cruise Director and his team were excellent and so approachable. he had a knee injury which steadily got worse throughout the cruise to the point where he was using a crutch on the last night. Poor chap kept trooping on till the end!
The singers, dancers and orchestra were excellent and I thought the lead singers were exceptional. Mike, one of the lead singers, had an absolutely amazing voice and we enjoyed all the RCCL musical shows. The Beatles and Elton John tribute acts as well as the acrobatic duo were excellent. We did not see every show that involved a guest act but enjoyed the ones we did (with the exception of the comedian Kelly Montieth who was slightly disappointing). The ice shows were spectacular and the Quest game was hilarious - a must for adults on any RCCL cruise!!
My eldest daughter and I also tackled the flowrider and rock wall and we had a great time. The staff were very attentive and good with the support and advice.
The independence has a barbers shop in the royal promenade and I treated myself to a shave and facial which took an hour and was well worth it - very relaxing! I also enjoyed a spinning class ($12 charge).
We enjoyed several shore excursions but after Pisa we cancelled the remaining tours for the children due to the heat. It was simply to hot for them and made the tours stressful which is the last thing you want. Adventure Ocean is open throughout port visits and it really is the best option. My wife hated the idea of getting off the ship without the children but in the two occasions we did get of subsequently it was absolutely fine.
I mentioned the amount of children on board earlier and I know it usually generates comments in other reviews. Having said that I have to say that without exception I did not see one unruly child in the entire two weeks. If anything my observation was that it was the young adults (13-16) who could get excited at times. However to be fair they were having a wonderful time on board and they did pretty much keep themselves to their club areas on deck 12.
There were around 4200 passengers on board from 45 different nationalities. The vast majority (3300) were from the UK and as such the cruise had a distinct British feel to it. This was an aspect that we had never given any thought to but which we appreciated and enjoyed on this cruise. It is hard to explain what I mean by this but all I can say is that we found that our fellow guests were always courteous and the atmosphere was friendly and more sedate than we have experienced on other ships.
All in all it was a fantastic holiday on an amazing ship with the most professional staff looking after us. It is absolutely the best option for us as a family and allows us to take in some great European destinations. Cant wait until next year!!!