This was our third Royal Caribbean cruise out of about 30 cruises in total with various lines - I should say that the other two were both transatlantic and the most recent (albeit several years ago) was blighted by bad weather and missed ports. We had intended to try RC again ever since and a good value Canaries itinerary in March looked to be a good one to try - and it was.
We were notified a few days before sailing that embarcation would be delayed by a few hours because norovirus was present and the ship was having a deep clean. The notice also informed us that, due to my husband's pre-existing medical conditions, we could have transferred onto a later cruise on request, but we were looking forward to it, had kept the dates clear and decided to go. Full marks to RC for giving us honest information and the choice, though. For the first 4 days the usual norovirus precautions were in place, so staff served both food and drinks at the buffet and everything unnecessary that could be touched was removed (salt and pepper, bar menus etc)and hand shaking was banned. It seemed that the ship had experienced several outbreaks over the last few months so the staff were well versed in the procedures so there was no real inconvenience but it was nice when the buffet went back to self service on day 5.
The food throughout in the main dining room and windjammer buffet was very good, in fact better than our previous RC experiences. Not gourmet, we did not expect that for the price paid, but the majority of food served was very good. The menus seemed to have been Anglicised to some extent, eg there was a version of roast beef (under slightly varying descriptions) most evenings. We were in the minority in having signed up for 'My Time' dining and it worked well. We always asked to share a table and only waited a couple of times and then not for many minutes.All the waiters we encountered were exceptionally friendly, helpful and efficient. In fact the crew in general were fantastic - I know cruise ship staff are always great, but we felt the atmosphere among the crew on board Indie was exceptional.
The entertainment was pretty good overall with the ice show being the highlight.
A lot has been written about wheelchairs and mobility scooters on the Independence and my husband was one of the many scooter users. The ship is fantastically accessible and for that reason is rightly popular with travellers with mobility issues. I hope he did not spoil anyone else's enjoyment by using his scooter, but if any one has a problem with others using scooters they should consider looking at the less accessible ships that they are lucky enough to be able to enjoy - those of us using scooters and wheelchairs have less choice.
Likewise the ship is very child friendly, so naturally there were quite a few children on board, no doubt there would be many more during school holidays. We had no problem with the children and the layout of the pool deck, in particular, is perfect. The H2O zone is a lovely colouorful aquapark perfect for the younger children, which tends to keep them out of the two large main pools which, along with three huge whirlpools, occupy an adjoining area in the middle of the ship. Beyond that is the adults only 'solarium' pool with comfortable padded sunbeds and the 2 whirlpools that jut out over the side of the ship (but the solarium is not covered). This would be a lovely area to escape if there were too many kids in the summer but it is mostly shaded and the weather, although lovely, really was not hot enough to sit in the shade all the time so we did not use it as much as we would have done on a different itinerary. I should add that the solarium pool had perfect access for the disabled - gently sloping nonslip steps with good firm handrails, excellent.
Not the most exciting port and we had been there several times before so just wandered into town and had a look at the new shopping centre close to the port.
We know the city centre of Lisbon is very difficuly with a wheelchair or scooter so avoided it and walked/scooted along the river to Belem, which is about 2 miles each way. It's a flat and accessible path all the way but the surface varied from bumpy cobbles near the port to tarmac further along. We saw the Monument to the Discoveries and the pretty little Belem Tower but access to the monastery and other attractions is via a steps-only underpass unfortunately. There are several nice cafes along the path to stop for a drink and a rest on the way back.
Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
As expected this was the best day of the cruise. Arriving on a Sunday a lot of the shops were closed but we found a huge Sunday market just outside the port which more than compensated for the lack of shops. From there it is an easy walk to the beach of Las Canterenas on the other side of the town. There is really no need to pay for a transfer to a beach resort in Gran Canaria as this lovely golden sand city beach has everything you could need. At regular intevals along the 3km promenade you find free toilets, showers and changing facilities and there are showers on the beach too. There was even a disabled access point with wooden decking on an area of beach - excellent ! Being the first hot weekend of the year, apparently,(27C) the beach and restaurants were packed and the whole place felt lively without being crowded. The sea was cold but clean and clear with lovely waves and the bottom was solid sand.
Santa Cruz, Tenerife
We had been promised a free shuttle bus here and were pleasantly surprised to find an accessible van for wheelchairs and scooters as well as the standard bus. The driver was most helpful, dropping us on the other side of the port where there were lifts up to a footbridge across to the town centre. It was our first time in Santa Cruz and I would not be sorry if we never go again, there were a lot of shops but we did not find them terribly interesting but we enjoyed the sunshine, we also found the African Market, an orange building you can see off to the left about a third of the way up the main street, which was very attractive but go in the morning as by the time we arrived shortly after midday nearly all the shops were closed.
It's a shame we only had until 2.30pm in port as it meant that everybody left the ship and arrived back at about the same time making for long queues both ways. Having been to Funchal just a few months ago we passed on the $7 shuttle bus and walked the mile or so into town, wandered around the market and the lovely park and back again.
La Coruna, Spain
This port was a very pleasant surprise. The layout is similar to Gran Canaria in that the town straddles a narrow peninsula with the port on one side and a nice beach on the other. It was not warm enough to use the beach at this time of year (although we watched a lot of surfers properly (equipped with wetsuits) but it would be beautiful in the summer. We walked a mile or so to the right along the promenade until we were able to see the town's most famous landmark, the Tower of Hercules - Roman, apparently, although it does not look that old. Don't miss the Maria Pita square either, it's slightly to the right as you come off the ship and a couple of blocks back, really quite attractive and there are several pedestrianised narrow shopping streets leading off it. La Coruna is such a nice port that we wondered why itinerary planners usually favour nearby nearby Vigo ?