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.
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.
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.
Independence of the Seas requires passengers 12 and over to be fully vaccinated, as per CDC guidelines. While kids 2 to 11 don’t need to be vaccinated, they must take a PCR test upon checking in at the terminal (administered by Royal Caribbean at no charge) and – on cruises longer than five nights – an antigen test at the end of the cruise.
In addition, all passengers 2 and over must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result. The pre-cruise test should be taken no more than two to three days – for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers, respectively – before departure. For those 2 to 11, this test cannot be taken on embarkation day as it could affect the test administered at the terminal.
Children under two do not require any testing.
• Proof of full vaccination, with vaccines approved by the FDA and World Health Organization
• Negative COVID-19 test result
• Arrival time for check-in must be chosen on the Royal App
• Check-in to be completed via Royal App
• Health questionnaire (able to be completed on the Royal App)
• Masks are optional for fully vaccinated guests. Unvaccinated children should wear masks indoors and in crowded settings. Masks are required for all children 2 and older at the Adventure Ocean youth program. Children under 2 do not have to wear a mask. • Independence of the Seas sailing at limited capacity
• Physical distancing enforced throughout ship, with signage
• Spaced out seating in dining, entertainment and activity venues
• Designated areas of main dining room for families with children
Off the Ship
• Fully vaccinated groups may book a shore excursion through the cruise line or independently, or choose to explore off ship freely.
• Families with unvaccinated kids must book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean to go offshore, except at the line’s private island of Perfect Day at CocoCay.
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
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
Photos and retail purchases
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.
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.
OK for a short get away, but some misses and some updates needed.