INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS
OCT 9TH- OCT 20TH 2011
This was our first cruise and also our first holiday for over 5 years, so a perfect holiday was well needed. RCI have ticked every box, I cannot complain or give a negative feedback on anything. It was PERFECT!
I booked this cruise over 18mths ago direct with RCI. I pre-registered online for 2011 before the dates of the cruises were released. In March 2010 RCI phoned and asked if we were still serious about a cruise as they had now got the dates for October 2011. I told them yes and was offered an unbelievable cruise package, which consisted of a suite for the 5 of us, onboard spend, free parking for 2 cars plus other benefits that you get when you book a suite.
As the months passed and the cruise date finally arrived we all left for Southampton, directions are easy and the parking a doddle. (Word of advice make sure your luggage labels are attached before you leave and get to Southampton as the porters unload your car as soon as you get through the gates, and don't take suite/dress bags as you have to carry these on. We had put all our evening wear into the specialist bags but ended up having to carry them onboard ourselves as the coat hangers won't go through the scanning machine. This was not really a problem as we boarded at 12.45pm and we were allowed into the suite at 1pm. If we had of boarded earlier which you can, we would of had to of carried them around until 1pm which would of been a pain)
Boarding was stress free and very easy, then it hits you just how huge this ship really is. You cannot comprehend the magnitude of the sheer size and how spectacular she looks; she really does give you the WOW factor.
We went straight to our deck and waited until 1pm then an announcement was made that all passengers could go to their staterooms. Again we had the WOW factor; the suite was beautiful and very spacious for the 5 of us. We had ordered a fruit, cheese and wine basket to be delivered for the start of the cruise for an incredible Â£28. The sparkling wine cheese and fruit were delicious. I had also ordered for my husband a Romance Package, which consisted of Sparkling Wine, Breakfast in Bed (or on the balcony), a silver frame for a photo taken on a formal night and pre dinner nibbles this cost Â£63. I think both of these items were value for money. Our suit cases were delivered, in my opinion quite quickly, the first one arrived within 15 mins of us being in the suite, the last one to arrive, which was mine, arrived an hour and half later. This did not cause us a problem, but when we were walking down the corridor to go to Muster Station, at 4pm some passengers were complaining that they had not yet had their luggage. RCI do inform you that it can sometimes take up to 9pm until you get your luggage and to carry on a small bag with a change of clothes and medication.
My son and I had taken out the soda package on line. The queue for the soda package when you boarded was very busy, with fraught parents and kids wanted drinks right away. My advice, do it on line it saves so much hassle and your soda cups will be waiting for you in your stateroom. That way you have more time to explore and find were things are. We also took out the wine package which you can do at the table on the first evening your waiter will sort this out for you.
We chose the "My Time" Dining option; we found this really worked for us. We found the food to be wonderful and plenty of choice, my mother in law as food allergies but was catered for without any problems at all.
The one thing that was worrying both my husband and I were the beds. I have M.E. and I need a comfortable bed. I don't like staying away from home as I can never get comfortable in any other bed. I have to say the beds were fabulous. There was no need to worry. The bedding was soft and there was a memory foam topper on the mattress. I never had any trouble sleeping.
On our first morning we all went to breakfast, you have several choices, Windjammer, Al le carte on deck 4, buffet in the restaurant on deck 3 and then the promenade cafe which serves drinks and freshly baked pastries or room service. Over the cruise we tried all the options, and we found the self service on deck 3 the best option for us. The Windjammer is brilliant and as mountains of choice (more than the restaurant on deck 3) but if you are not a morning person and you don't like crowds stay away, it gets very crowded and can be difficult to find a table. There is less choice on deck 3, but you are shown to a table and juice, tea and coffee are served to you.
The first day is a sea day and it can be quite cold and rough on deck in October so make sure you pack a fleece or something warm. The kids on board don't seem to feel the cold and were in and out of the pools for most of the day.
I booked myself a manicure as a treat, also this is the first formal night as well. The manicure was very pleasant and the young lady, Natalie, soon put me at ease. I booked to have a massage further into the week which was not a pleasant experience; it was a Swedish massage which is a very deep manipulation of the muscle tissue. I was advised by one of the girls on the desk to have this treatment and it was totally the wrong treatment for me. It was extremely painful. However this did not put me off as I had 2 different treatments which were very relaxing and most enjoyable. Do not book on the internet before you leave, the Spa runs some deals on certain days at a fraction of the cost that's advertised on the webpage. Look out in your cruise Compass leaflet that your cabin attendant leaves for you every evening.
Word of warning all the spa treatments have a 15% surcharge and you do get subjected to some hard sell after your treatment. Be polite but firm, and then you don't get pestered after that.
Before we booked our cruise we had spoken to several people that had cruised before, and every one of them had advised us that if you don't feel like getting off the ship Don't! Enjoy the ship and its facilities. So with that in mind we had already decided that we would not get off at every port. The first port of call was Vigo which to my surprise was a very nice city. The shops etc are a 5 min walk from the ship, there is a lovely square as you walk through the town and we stopped at a cafe/bistro for a beer. Vigo was very easy to get to and very clean. We did a bit of window shopping then went back onboard. We did not book any trips from the ship for any port of call.
Next port was Lisbon. We had already decided not to get off the ship here. Where the ship docks (just under the bridge) it's not a very nice place and there is a 35min transfer into the city from the ship. We enjoyed the sundeck and pools as it was 31c and the ship was very quiet. We later found out that several passengers had been victims of pick-pockets and had several items stolen. So if you do decide to get off the ship, do not take any valuables with you and be extremely careful.
Gran Can aria was next on the agenda; we got off the ship here and spent an hour at the beach. There is a beach which you can see from the ship, but we walked for approx 10mins into town and found a much nicer beach. There are sun beds you can hire for a fee, or take a towel with you and lie on the beach. Worth seeing are the sand sculptures they are quite remarkable.
Tenerife was next, and on the day we went the local market was on. It's quite a walk so if you are going it alone and not doing the organised trips get a taxi or bus, we regret not doing this.
Madeira for me was the highlight of all the ports of call. It's a beautiful place to visit. Again we did not do the organised trips, we paid 6 dollars return for a coach to take you into the town then we got a yellow taxi. What a bargain this trip was. We paid 20euro each to go where the organised trips were going which were $89 each on ship. The taxi driver was very informative and spoke excellent English. The taxi trip lasted approx 3hrs. This was by far the best way to see Madeira. The sledge ride was an extra 15euro each, which when you got to the bottom they had your photo waiting for you which they had taken at the start. To purchase this it was 10euro which if did not want to you did not have to buy.
Final destination before Southampton was La Coruna. Easy place to get to shopping centre next port to do your final present buying. This is a nice town with some beautiful old buildings.
The organised trips are expensive, and if you don't mind sitting on a hot coach for a few hrs and you like to be shown around, then organised trips are your best option.
We went on this cruise to relax and to enjoy the ship and what it had to offer. The ports of call to us were not important.
The ship is just a fantastic place to be and to be honest I would of spent all my time onboard. The food is to die for, the crew treat you like royalty, they are always smiling and nothing is too much trouble. Every minute of the day the ship is being cleaned and maintained. Our suite attendant Edwin was so helpful and obliging nothing was too much trouble. Our waiters Leoncia and Alan made our dining experience so enjoyable; to the extent we actually cancelled our booking at Portofino's.
We did not attend any shows as we enjoyed the entertainment that was being offered in the Pyramid Lounge and again the staff in there were very attentive.
I think value for money you will not beat this cruise, get the soda packages, wine packages etc and you won't go wrong. The duty free shop is cheaper than the ports. Royal Caribbean International have got this format perfect, I don't see how they can perfect it any further.
Enjoy your experience. We did, we are hooked and can't wait for the next cruise.