Independence of the Seas Review
- Pro: Strong entertainment lineup, including "Grease," the musical.
- Con: Average food in main dining room and buffet might leave some unsatisfied.
- Bottom Line: A good option for cruisers who enjoy great entertainment and a variety of dining options.
Independence of the Seas Overview
In April 2013, Independence of the Seas (or "Indie" as the ship is known to its many fans) underwent a $7 million upgrade as part of Royal Caribbean's larger $300 million investment in its fleet. The new features included a cupcake shop, an Italian trattoria called Giovanni's Table and a Royal Babies & Tots Nursery. On the technology side, the ship got new digital signage, bow-to-stern Wi-Fi and a poolside movie screen. And in 2016 Grease the musical was added, combining the best of the movie and the stage hit -- and for our money, one of the best shows at sea.
The digital way finding systems are an excellent addition -- especially for new-to-cruisers who get lost on huge ships such as this. They offer maps and directions to everywhere on the ship using a board with a number keypad on which a passenger can enter their room number to find their way to their room. There are also features that display the menus for the ship's restaurants, lists of entertainment options and other onboard facilities. The large writing and quick responsive touch screen makes navigation around the ship so much easier than squinting at a laminated map.
Independence of the Seas is the third and final of Royal Caribbean's ground-breaking Freedom-class ships -- once the largest in the world before the launch of Oasis of the Seas and its sister ships. Though approaching its 10th year (in 2018), the refurb has gone a long way to giving it a fresh, contemporary feel.
The ship has an extraordinary amount on offer for youngsters -- from kid-oriented entertainment and enrichment to recreational options that range from surfing and body boarding to ice skating -- making it a superb choice for family travelers.
However adult passengers will still find plenty of space for more grown-up pursuits, with a great selection of restaurants, a vast number of bars and almost limitless entertainment options. The fitness facility, complete with boxing ring, is excellent and always busy. Adults-only spots beyond bars and the casino ranged from the Solarium pool and boutique restaurants (which have a set age limit of 15) to a rather racy late-night comedy show. Travelers of many different stripes coexisted comfortably. (The ship also has outstanding facilities for disabled passengers.)
Sea days could feature a bit more substance in the lackluster enrichment department. (The chief workshop was advanced napkin folding.) The ship's vast sun deck, divided into three "neighborhoods," is colorful, whimsical and joyful -- but there's not enough effort to create events there after the sun sets.
If you're after an almost limitless number of activities and forms of entertainment, whether that's watching a Broadway show, enjoying movies by the pool, or perfecting your surfing skills; or if you want fine dining and a wide bar choice, or if you just want a great kids' club and kids' facilities -- Indie delivers, time and time again.
Independence of the Seas Fellow Passengers
The passenger make-up varies, depending on the time of year and where the ship is based. During vacation periods, kids made up more than one-third of the passengers, and a significant number were teens. During periods other than school holiday breaks, the ship feels less like an all-family resort destination, though the ship's Adventure Ocean program operates year-round.
During the Caribbean season (late fall through early spring), Independence of the Seas' American passengers are in the majority, with a strong showing of travelers from the U.K., Mexico and Spain, in particular. During its warm-weather cruises in the Mediterranean, when the ship is based in Southampton, Brits will be significantly represented.
The ship makes an effort to accommodate travelers with special needs. There are cabins with roll-in showers, transfer lifts in one pool and one whirlpool, and lowered tables in the casino. A show room is equipped with an Infrared Assistive Learning System, and the ship's daily newsletter is available, upon request, in Braille.
Although the ambience onboard is conducive for a variety of passenger types, this is a tough ship for solo travelers. So many passengers travel in groups of family members or friends that all but the most gregarious may find it hard to connect with fellow singles. One suggestion: Consider signing up for Cruise Critic's Meet & Mingle gathering.
Independence of the Seas Dress Code
On an eight-night cruise, there were two formal nights; the rest were resort casual (tropical sundresses and pants outfits for women, khakis and collared shirts for men). On the formal nights, those who dined in the ship's main restaurant venue tended to be the most dolled-up; passengers not in the mood to dress in black tie (most men actually just wore jackets and ties, and few women sported beaded gowns) headed to the Windjammer buffet venue, Johnny Rocket's or to casual eateries along the promenade.
During the day, dress was plain ol' casual, though most wore bathing suit cover-ups and shoes when indoors.
Independence of the Seas Gratuity
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $13.50 per person, per day ($16.50 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.