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Independence of the Seas Review

4.5 / 5.0
1,699 reviews
See all photos
Editor Rating
4.5
Very Good
Overall
Adam Coulter
U.K. Executive Editor

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.

In May 2018, Indy, as the ship is known to its many fans, went through a massive refurbishment that saw a host of new features introduced onboard including Sky Pad, a virtual reality trampoline experience; a laser tag arena, a puzzle break room, The Observatorium; two water slides and a kids' aqua park, as well as new dining and drinking venues -- and 107 new cabins.

The upgrade was part of Royal's $900 million "Royal Amplified" program, where similar features were rolled out on nine other ships in the fleet. Fans of the popular Viking Crown Lounge will be happy to know that the bar and its DJ nights survived the Independence of the Seas remodel, which was not the case in other Royal Caribbean cruises.

The ship has won multiple accolades from cruisers over the years. A lot of thought went into the last refurbishment, and it really shows, giving Indy a fresh, contemporary feel, as well as cutting-edge (Sky Pad) and on-trend (puzzle break, laser tag arena), new features.

The Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas Deck Plan Is Easy to Navigate

Quite a few things were moved or added during the 2018 makeover of the Independence of the Seas, and its deck plan has changed significantly. Installing new bars and restaurants, as well as the entertainment facilities on the outer decks, is a huge project, yet all of it fits seamlessly into the ship, almost as if it's always been there.

With that said, Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas is still over a decade old, and some of the cabins and bathrooms are looking their age in terms of decor and in-cabin fixtures and fittings. The ship’s atrium is also somewhat less impressive than those in the larger Royal Caribbean cruise liners.

While Independence of the Seas is a large cruise ship with a maximum capacity of 4,515 guests, its deck plan is well laid out. Cabins are spread over multiple decks, but bars, restaurants, pools and entertainment venues are almost all on decks 5 and 11 to 15. This keeps most public areas within a quick elevator ride or a couple flights of stairs away --  a good thing as  there are only two elevator banks on the ship.

With similar itineraries and offerings, many passengers struggle to decide between Independence of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas. They’re both almost the same size and were refurbished in 2018. Independence of the Seas has two more restaurants and more kid-friendly activities than Mariner. Independence, however, lacks a Starbucks.

Independence of the Seas is also very similar to sister ship Freedom of the Seas. They’re both part of the Freedom class and virtually carbon copies of each other. The only main difference between them is that Independence has a Sky Pad, which the Freedom does not.

Independence of the Seas Offers Plenty of Things to Do for All Ages

Where Independence of the Seas really excels is in its kid-friendly offerings. 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 and the aforementioned VR-enhanced trampolines -- making it a superb choice for family travelers.

However, adult passengers will still find plenty of space for more grown-up pursuits aboard the Independence of the Seas, with a great selection of restaurants, a vast number of bars and huge amount of entertainment options. The fitness facility is excellent and always busy; adults-only spots beyond bars and the casino range from the Solarium pool and specialty restaurants to late-night adult-themed comedy. Travelers of many different stripes coexisted comfortably. (The ship also has outstanding facilities for passengers with accessibility needs.)

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 – Independence of the Seas delivers, time and time again.

Pros

Outstanding entertainment including "Grease," the musical; vast number of daytime activities

Cons

Food quality varies considerably; upcharging for certain activities can be wearing

Bottom Line

2018 refurb has reaffirmed the ship as one of the best family-friendly cruise ships afloat

About

Passengers: 3858
Crew: 1360
Passenger to Crew: 2.84:1
Launched: 2008
Shore Excursions: 404

Inclusions

Included with your cruise fare:

  • Meals in three main dining rooms, the Windjammer Marketplace, Sorrento’s Pizzeria and snacks at Cafe Promenade; continental breakfast room service

  • Shows in the main theater

  • Most activities and events, including ice skating in Studio B

  • Use of the gym, but not most fitness classes

  • Use of the sports court, Perfect Storm water slides, mini-golf, Sky Pad, Flowrider surfing simulator and rock-climbing wall

  • Adventure Ocean kids’ club programming (extra charge for late evening activities)

  • Gratuities, only if you booked your cruise in Australia and New Zealand in AU and NZ dollars

Not included with your cruise fare:

  • Daily crew gratuities (amount varies depending on cabin type)

  • Drinks, excluding water, tea (including iced tea), coffee and juices from the Windjammer buffet

  • Room Service (flat-rate delivery fee)

  • Most specialty dining

  • Spa and salon treatments and services

  • Most fitness center classes

  • Auto-gratuities of 18 percent applicable to salon, spa, and beverage purchases, and all specialty dining reservations

  • Activities like the behind-the-scenes ship tour, arcade games, bingo, sushi demonstrations, arts and crafts classes, the bottomless galley brunch and all alcohol tastings

  • Nighttime kids supervision programs in Adventure Ocean

  • Shore excursions

  • Internet access/packages

  • Photos and retail purchases

Fellow Passengers

The passenger makeup varies, depending on the time of year and where the ship is based. For most of its year-round Caribbean season, 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 vacation periods, kids make up more than one-third of the passengers, and a significant number are 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.

The ship makes an effort to accommodate travelers with special needs. There are wheelchair-accessible cabins with roll-in showers, transfer lifts in one pool and one whirlpool, and lowered tables in the casino. A 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, though there are occasional meetups for solo travelers. One suggestion: Consider signing up for Cruise Critic's Meet & Mingle gathering when they resume.

Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas Dress Code

The dress code on Independence of the Seas is mostly casual, both during the day and in the evening.

Daytime: During the day, dress is casual (shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops).

Evening: On cruises longer than five nights, there are two formal nights, though formal on Indy is better defined as "smart casual" -- very few people dress up in tuxedo or full ballgown/cocktail dress attire. Most men wear a jacket and shirt and women will opt for a nice dress. The other nights are resort casual (tropical sundresses and pants outfits for women, khakis and shirts for men).

Not permitted: Tank tops are prohibited in the main dining room and specialty restaurants at dinner. Shoes must be worn in all dining venues at all times.

For more information, visit Cruise Line Dress Codes: Royal Caribbean.

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More about Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas

Where does Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas sail from?

Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas departs from Miami, Southampton, and Southampton

How much does it cost to go on Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas?

Cruises on Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas start from $235 per person.

Is Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas a good ship to cruise on?

Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas won 23 awards over the years.

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