I booked this cruise with two 18 year old men for their Spring Break. The night before we stayed at the Courtyard Plantation. They have a frees shuttle from the airport to the hotel, and one the next morning from the hotel to the pier. ... Read More
I booked this cruise with two 18 year old men for their Spring Break. The night before we stayed at the Courtyard Plantation. They have a frees shuttle from the airport to the hotel, and one the next morning from the hotel to the pier. Our flight time and the shuttle didn't match, so they told me to take a cab and they paid for it when we arrived at the hotel. I love Marriotts! The hotel also comped me 3 free Bistro Breakfasts because I am a Marriott gold member and they have now concierge level. The hotel is clean and in an area easy to walk to restaurants and bars. A fun night!
We arrived at the terminal at 10:30 and proceeded to a holding area with seating. At 11:15, we were on the ship. Our cabin wasn't available until 1, but we spent the time exploring and eating at Windjammer. It was fun to board so early and to enjoy the ship before others boarded.
I bought the Ultimate Drink Package for me and the Royal Replenishment package for the boys. I definitely got my money's worth, as did the boys, who enjoyed espressos, red Bull and Peach Coladas. RCI is clearly pushing us all to unlimited packages. The drink prices have really increased in the last 2 years. The cheapest glass of wine is $8-12, so if you have 2 glasses of wine at dinner, a beer with lunch, and a pool drink in the afternoon, you are almost there. Add to that bottles of water, a latte in the morning and an espresso or after-dinner drink at dinner, then it makes sense even more. I enjoyed tasting drinks I never would have tried (and if they were too sweet, I just returned it to the bar). I also enjoyed sparkling water with dinner and the fresh-squeezed orange juice at breakfast. The drink package started as soon as I got on the ship, so that was nice. It can be used on Labadee, which was great.
I reached my conclusion that the UP makes sense when calculated over the entire cruise. One Day 1, I enjoyed a lot of beverages. On Day 5, I only had 2 alcohol drinks. So, think of it like that. Hats off to someone who can drink for 5 straight days! The RR package for the boys made sense because of their love for specialty coffee drinks and Red Bull.
We had Aft cabin 7708, which has a huge balcony (4 times larger than regular balconies), with room for two lounge chairs, two sitting chairs and a table. It had views of the aft and port side. The room has two beds and one pull-down bed. There is not a sleeper sofa. Two days were very windy on top, but not on our balcony--a nice treat.
This was my first time on Independence, although I have been on Freedom. The ships are virtually identical. I am a Platinum member of Crown & Anchor.
This was a first cruise for my son's friend, and he really seemed to enjoy it.
The food was about the same as usual. We did not eat in any of the specialty restaurants, although table mates did. They all said that neither Chops nor Giovanni's was anything special. I prefer the Main Dining Room for meals. I just enjoy the variety, the discussion with new friends, and the informality. Highlights included the lobster, the perfectly prepared vegetables and the Bailey's Cream-flavored souffle. When a dish arrived lukewarm, I sent it back for a properly heated version--a common complaint on cruise ships. Our table had 7 people, and my experience is that if you get above 4, wait quality suffers. Also, we were by a table of 10 children. They were reasonably well-behaved, but were demanding on the wait staff, which caused our table to suffer. When I pointed this out to the head waiter, he became our waiter for the rest of the cruise. I nice "save" by RCI. I always suggest to first time cruisers that they base Dining Room meal quality on the level of service and food quality they would expect at a large wedding reception in a hotel ballroom. If you go in with that expectation, you won't be disappointed, and almost always will be pleased. When you think about what they are doing back of house, it is a small miracle.
Although it was a Spring Break cruise, there was little, if any, college rowdiness. Security was everywhere, and the Captain ended his muster drill speech with a warning that underage drinking would not be tolerated. That was the first time I had heard such a speech, and it set the mood for the cruise.
I spent most of my days at sea in the Solarium. It was well maintained and kept clean. The hot tubs were kept clean, as well. I usually stay away from the "active" pool. I have seen one too many belly flop contests, and I like a quite pool experience now.
Our stops were Labadee and Falmouth. We did not do anything at Labadee with the amusements. Once you've done the zip line for $100, that's enough. We rested by the water, drank some Labadoozies, and then headed back to the ship for lunch. I don't care for the BBQ beach lunches. I find the food no better than a church picnic (RCI brings all the food, ice, water, etc. from the ship and cooks it on the resort). At Falmouth, we went on one of the Dreamer Catamarans and I highly, highly recommend this. It was a beautiful time. Be aware that the drinking age in Jamaica is 14, so you have to watch the kids.
The last day at seas, the ship had a poolside BBQ. Steak, chicken, hot dogs, potato salad, etc. That was fun, and the first time for me. They had a large BBQ grill set up on the deck. Smelled fantastic!
The entertainment was the best I have seen recently. The performers were top drawer. I especially enjoyed the comedian.
Getting off the ship was chaos. Americans have convinced themselves that they are pack mules, and I could not believe the number of people who carried their own bags off the ship. This slowed everyone down. Also, the elevators stop at the 3rd deck on the last day, so these fools had to bump and bounce and carry their luggage down two flights of stairs to disembark. It took us 2 hours to disembark and go through customs. I don't blame RCI for this, although it may be time to rethink allowing passengers to drag their own luggage off the ship. If there had been an emergency during this process, I cannot imagine the choas.
Crown and Anchor membership benefits are continuing to decline. There are small discounts off the internet service (which was excellent, by the way), and a buy one get one half-off beverage discount (meaningless to me due to the package). There was no welcome back party for C&A members. On disembarkation day, there was a C&A lounge set up in the dining room, which offered coffee and tea, but was uninspired. They need to work on the whole C&A program, as right now it is meaningless at the lower levels.
Overall, an amazing fun time. Nothing is perfect, but my test is whether I want to go back. I do. Can't wait! Read Less