The ship's sun deck, which consists of three distinct pool areas, is magically colorful, full of energy and comfortable.
The center pool with its attendant whirlpools is party-central -- at least during the daytime. It's the site of lighthearted fun, pool contests and music on sea days.
You'll want to be a kid again if only to be able to frolic in the whimsically decorated children-only H20 Zone, a water park that incorporates small pools (some slightly deep, some shallow) and all sorts of fountains and water guns.
The Solarium is a pretty, though small, adults-only pool area that includes two whirlpools that are cantilevered out over the ship (great spots for watching the sun set), a bar that opens only on sea days and swinging benches.
None of the pools is equipped with a retractable roof that can be shut in case of inclement weather. And, despite warning signs, sun deck lounge chair hogs proliferated to the point of ridiculousness. (Rather than leaving towels, which cost $20 apiece to replace, people would just leave one shoe on a chair to reserve it.) Little was done to enforce the rules.
Bar none, the ship's fitness facility is among the best in cruising (as are those of Freedom and Liberty of the Seas, Indy's sister vessels). It's the first fitness area on a ship that really looks like a land-based health club. Circuit-training machines ring the walls of windows and include treadmills and stationary bikes. There's also an area for weight-lifting and a group of cycles for spinning (individually or in group classes).
The facility has a dedicated room for a variety of classes, such as yoga, aerobics, Pilates, group cycling and water aerobics. Other, less standard options include "combat in motion," a workout that combines Eastern martial arts with Western aerobic conditioning. The ship's boxing ring hosts boxing lessons and even some good-natured fights. Classes, by the way, are mostly for-charge, and it is recommended that passengers sign up in advance. (You will be charged if you're a no-show.)
The Walk for Wishes effort is a daily one-mile walk that's a result of a Royal Caribbean partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the organization that grants children with life-threatening illnesses a wish-of-a-lifetime. Participants are each required to buy a T-shirt; proceeds go to the foundation.
Royal Caribbean's Shipshape Day Spa offers a comprehensive range of services, but ambience-wise, it possesses the charm and character of a big-city bus station. The salon, tucked off to one side, features hair-cutting and styling, manicures, pedicures and teeth-whitening. The spa offers pretty much the usual range of treatments: massage (Swedish, hot stone and couples are among the varieties), reflexology, facials and body wraps. Independence of the Seas also offers acupuncture treatments, a relatively new program for Royal Caribbean that was introduced in 2007 on Liberty of the Seas.
Therapists and beauticians were rather brusque and impersonal but did a competent job; in one case, when my pedicure chipped a day later, my request for a re-do was handled properly.
An interesting new program on some Royal Caribbean ships, including this one, is the teen-geared YSPA program. Kids ages 13 to 17 can book treatments, such as "acne attack" and "surfer scrub." More standard massages, facials, manicures and pedicures are also available, and YSPA extends to the gym, where there are teen-only fitness workouts.
If you are on a cruise that calls at Labadee, the island massage is a lovely treat; the spa sets up a mini outdoor area on a hill, away from the crowds. Plan to wear a bathing suit under your robe if you're choosing this option.
Keep an eye out for spa discounts. On my cruise, they were fairly common and weren't even limited to sea days. I checked each day's program for a heads-up on what was on sale and generally saved about 20 percent.
And a warning: Royal Caribbean's spas, like with most other cruise lines, are operated by the U.K.-based Steiner Leisure, which insists that its therapists wind up each session with a hard sell on its pricey Elemis brand products. Do not feel shy about firmly saying "thanks, but no thanks" if you are not interested. In fact, I highly recommend letting your therapist know this at the beginning of the treatment, thus avoiding a product pitch altogether.
Beyond the spa and fitness facility, Independence of the Seas has superb recreational facilities. These include the FlowRider, a surfing simulator only available on Freedom-class ships. At specially designated times, ShipShape staffers are on hand to assist passengers who want to give it a go; you must be at least 52 inches tall to use a boogie board and 58 inches to try stand-up surfing. The FlowRider is free; passengers can also book private lessons ($75 per person) and rent out the FlowRider ($350 per hour).
Independence of the Seas' rock-climbing wall, which hovers some 30 feet above the deck and 200 feet above the sea, can accommodate two climbers at a time. There's no fee to use it. Other recreational facilities include a full basketball court (also pressed into use for soccer games and dodge ball), a running track, mini-golf, a golf simulator and the ice rink. (Skate rentals are free of charge.)
When in port, ask the staff at the ShipShape gym for a free, self-guided running map.