Alhambra Theater (Deck 3): The two-deck-high Broadway-like performance space hosts the spectacular new production, Grease.
Royal fought long and hard to bag this classic, securing both the original rights to the play and to the movie. And the performance you'll see onboard is part Newton-John/Travolta movie, part original play, blending the best of both -- and then adding the Royal touch.
The set Royal has constructed is a combination of digital and real; both were used in precisely the right scenes. The whole performance from start to finish was a genuine treat. The two leads playing Sandy and Danny are outstanding, easily holding their own both in terms of voice and performance, but what stuck us was the quality of the supporting cast, a number of whom -- Vince Fontaine, Rizzo, Rump and Mrs. Murdock -- absolutely owned their scenes. A triumph.
Diamond Lounge (Deck 5): The secondary show lounge hosts game shows such as a "millionaire game show".
Studio B (Deck 3): Skating performances take place several times throughout each cruise, both during the day and at night, and these are a must-see. In the Caribbean, the same program is performed at each show; European sailings merit two different programs. Although you won't see any Olympics-worthy quad toe loops or triple axels (there simply isn't enough room for the skaters to get up the speed and height necessary), the performances are still great fun -- more than making up in creativity, spectacle and energy what they lack in technical difficulty.
As contemporary and innovative as the design and programming of Independence of the Seas is, its entertainment offerings are, by and large, very traditional. Daytime staples include bingo, art auctions, films, trivia contests, arts and crafts (scrapbooking is popular), wine tastings, dance classes, karaoke and the like.
Special interest groups (Mah-Jongg, bridge, Friends of Bill W., Friends of Dorothy) can post information on informal gatherings outside of the cruise sales' office on the Promenade. A shopping "expert" dispenses info on retailers -- who pay a fee to be featured -- in each port of call; you won't learn much about other places on your itinerary, unless you do your own research.
A highlight of any ship with Royal Caribbean's Promenade is evening parties with the vibe of street festivals. On our trip, both Rock Britannia and the Madhatter's Ball Parade featured costumes, music, singing and dancing by performers. Especially darling was a parade, mid-voyage, of a group of young passengers from the ship's Adventure Ocean youth program, who sang as they marched along.
There is also the occasional "dancing under the stars" deck party and a once-per-cruise midnight buffet.
The Casino Royale features some 300 slot machines (ranging from one cent to $25) and a range of table games, such as blackjack and Texas Hold 'Em. Beyond simple gambling, there are occasional events and tournaments.
Independence of the Seas Bars and Lounges
Royal Caribbean offers a number of drink packages, which can be purchased pre-cruise for 20 percent less than onboard. Onboard the daily price works out as from $8 per person, per day (soda only) to $59 per person, per day (unlimited soda, premium tea and coffee, bottled water, fresh-squeezed juice, nonalcoholic cocktails, most alcoholic beverages and 20 percent off bottles of wine). Note that the drinking age onboard is 21, and each passenger of drinking age is permitted to bring up to two bottles of wine onboard. Free drinks available include tap water, iced tea, lemonade and flavored-infused waters.
On Air Bar (Deck 3): Offering nighttime karaoke -- in the open and in private booths -- and sports viewing throughout the day (satellites permitting), On Air is a hybrid karaoke and sports venue that leads the way to Studio B.
Schooner Bar (Deck 4): You'll find this hugely popular nautical-themed bar across the fleet, hosting trivia and piano music throughout the day and the perfect spot for a pre- or post-dinner tipple in the evening.
Bolero's (Deck 4): Latin-themed lounge for lively music and Latin-style dancing.
Star Lounge (Deck 5): The secondary show lounge is used for hosting trivia, live music and private functions, among other activities.
Dog & Badger Pub (Deck 5, Royal Promenade): Head to Dog & Badger for that "authentic" British pub feel, complete with live music and a glass, bottle or can of your favorite brew. (Choose from 40 different types of beer carried onboard.)
Vintages (Deck 5, Royal Promenade): A low-key wine bar, Vintages offers tastings, lots of comfy seating and self-serve for fee Enomatic wine dispensers.
Champagne Bar (Deck 5, Royal Promenade): This is located directly across the Royal Promenade, from the passenger services desk.
Plaza Bar (Deck 11, Windjammer): This is where you can snag your drink of choice during meals in the Windjammer buffet.
Pool Bar (Deck 11): The pool side bar, serving cold beers and cocktails.
Squeeze (Deck 11): Located by the pool, this serves alcohol and juice drinks made from concentrates that come in a carton.
Sky Bar (Deck 12): The Sky Bar serves mainly as a secondary pool bar and the place for evening singles meetups.
Olive or Twist (Deck 14, Viking Crown Lounge): Set high atop the front of the ship, with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, the Viking Crown Lounge is another Royal Caribbean favorite. On Independence of the Seas, this venue is home to Olive or Twist. Billed as and designed with the ambiance of a martini bar, it also acts as the ship's disco. This is the place for late-night dancing to music from all decades.
Cloud Nine (Deck 14): This little private event space, shares Deck 14 with the Viking Crown Lounge and Seven Hearts.
Independence of the Seas Outside Recreation
The ship's pool 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.
Independence of the Seas has outstanding recreational facilities. These include the FlowRider, a surfing simulator which debuted 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).
The 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.)
Independence of the Seas Services
The undisputed hub inside the ship is the Royal Promenade. Spanning three football fields in length, it's lined with a range of shops, casual eateries and bars -- even a full-sized car! It's also the site of numerous special events; particularly fun are the Adventure Ocean parades, with kids dressed up in costumes and chanting or singing as they pass by.
The shops are all clustered on the promenade; they're visually appealing, and it's enjoyable to stroll along and browse the special sale kiosks that are brought out during peak traffic days. The logo boutique offers all manner of Royal Caribbean-branded T-shirts and magnets.
A library on Deck 7, aft, has a limited selection, but kudos go to Royal Caribbean for lining it with unlocked shelves of books. The Internet Cafe is on Deck 8 (just above the library) and offers a dozen or so terminals, along with a printer.
Royal has installed its super-fast Wi-Fi Zoom across the ship which is sold per device per day and you can buy a package from stands in the Royal Promenade. Prices are by device/day and start at $12.99 (surf) and $17.99 (surf and stream) for a single device; the best value is $9.99 per device, when purchasing for four devices at the same time for the surf package or $13.99 per device for surf and stream for four devices.
A small chapel at the top of the ship (above Olive or Twist) is mostly used for onboard weddings.
Independence of the Seas features a subterranean deck with meeting rooms that, when not holding group gatherings, also serve as spill-over spots for crafts and other activities. There's also a small cinema that plays the same movies you'd find on airplane in-flight entertainment systems.