Ryanair of the Seas?: Independence of the Seas Cruise Review by Red_Roger

Independence of the Seas 4
Member Since 2009

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Ryanair of the Seas?

Sail Date: September 2009
Destination: Europe - Western Mediterranean
Embarkation: Southampton
We boarded Independence of the Seas at Southampton on 26th September 2009 after a 40 minute drive from home. This is the first time we have taken a cruise, so here is a summary of our experience: The Good: 1. Very quick and smooth arrival, car-parking, check in and boarding. 2. The high standard of presentation and decor on board and the obviously acive maintenance of the that standard. 3. The great importance placed on cleanliness and hygiene in all areas. 4. This is currently the largest cruise liner afloat, so lots of things to do (gym, spa, crazy golf course, "flowrider" surfing machine (did not try), swimming pools, hot tubs, ice rink, internet cafe, video games, library, shows, lectures, etc.). 5. Excellent wide choice of well-presented food at both the main dining rooms and the self-service Windjammer cafe reflecting the ethnic diversity of the staff. 6. Top quality shows with the ship's own team of singers, dancers, musicians and ice skaters. 7. A compact well designed cabin More with a large and comfortable bed. 8. Attentive and friendly staff.

The Not So Good: 1. With over 3,500 guests and 1,500 staff the ship has the population of a sizeable village and it shows in the queues for dining, entertainments, excursions, shuttle buses and tenders; in the battery farming arrangement of sun-loungers on deck; and just the hassle of negotiating the crowds to reach anywhere on board. 2. The relentless selling of overpriced stuff on board - drinks, excursions, shuttle buses, spa treatments, casino, bingo, souvenirs, photographs, artworks, the on-board shops and market stalls - Royal Caribbean seems to have the same business model as Ryanair (cheap headline prices, but make the profit on the extras). 3. For my taste the otherwise excellent food was spoiled by the addition of too much salt. 4. The library is far too small and limited in scope for the ship's population. 5. There were a few "destination lectures" that were very interesting, but were not directly related to the sights that we were to see at the ports of call. Here was an opportunity to tell the interested passengers more about the world-class sites that they could visit (e.g. ancient Rome and the cradle of the Renaissance in Florence), but there was nothing of that nature. This perhaps reflects Royal Caribbean's attempt to make cruising more attractive to a younger and more socially diverse demographic, but in my view it was an opportunity missed, and they may even have sold more excursions as a result. 6. The casino is sited across the main walking route to the onboard theatre and hence has no age restrictions on access to it.

On balance we were impressed by the ship and very much enjoyed our holiday, but there were just too many people on board. Less

Published 10/10/09

Cabin review: I2320 Oceanview Stateroom

Compact, but well designed. Everything we needed was available: there was enough room to hang our clothes and to stow our luggage. The bed was spacious and very comfortable and the air-conditioning responsive. There was some ambient mechanical noise when the ship was under way, but not enough to disturb us, and there was no noise from other cabins.

Read All Oceanview Stateroom (I) Reviews >>

Port and Shore Excursions

The ship anchored in the bay and we went ashore by tender. Cannes is the epitome of Cote d'Azur chic with expensive designer shops and equally expensive restaurants, but one corner of it still retains the atmosphere of the fishing village that it once was, even though the fishermen would not be able to afford the prices. Prices are more reasonable in the area around the covered market (not in action on a Monday) and it costs nothing to stroll along La Croisette past the film festival building and admire the smart yachts in the harbour. We returned to the ship for lunch.

Read 360 Cannes Reviews

The Independence of the Seas (or any other cruise liner for that matter) cannot ascend the river Arno to Florence so has to dock at the port of Livorno. Excursions to the main tourist sights in Tuscany (Pisa, Florence, Lucca, Siena and San Gimignano) were available, but we opted to take the shuttle bus (for $9 return) to the town centre of Livorno. A shuttle bus is unavoidable because pedestrians are not allowed to walk through the largely industrial port. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday when most shops were closed, or perhaps because the weather was cloudy and drizzly, but Livorno seemed a dismal town that fails to make the best of its assets, particularly the cathedral and the historic canal district. Even the canal tour by boat was not available because it had been fully booked for an over-priced excursion from a certain cruise liner.... Hence the score of only 2 for Livorno (not Florence!).

It's a long walk from the cruise terminal to the town centre (about 20 minutes)and there are no shuttle buses. There were excursions available to the main sights of the "Rock", e.g. Europa Point and St Michael's Cave, but as we had visited them only a couple of years ago we decided to take the walk. Imagine a British town in the seventies with cafes advertising chips with everything, smokey pubs selling fizzy beer, and poorly lit shops with unimaginative displays, and you get some idea of what Gibraltar is like now. To be fair there is a lot of renovation work in progress with scaffolding all the way round the cathedral and lots of roadworks, but there is still much to do. And don't you know they all speak English and take British currency.

The ship docks at Alcantara, a couple of miles away from the city centre. Shuttle buses were on offer at $11 return to the city centre. However there is a suburban railway station only 5 minutes walk from the ship where you can use the frequent train service to Cais do Sodre station in the city centre for 2.40 euros return. I have visited Lisbon on several occasions, and it remains one of my favourite European cities, with the buildings with their wrought iron balconies in the Baixa district, the ancient Alfama district on the hill around the castle, and the Chiado distict on the opposite hill, now sympathetically restored following the devastating fire in 1988. The normally impressive Praca do Commercio with the river Tagus on one side and the huge sculpted stone gateway to the city on the other is currently a large building site.

The ship left in late afternoon, but the journey down river under the suspension bridge, past Belem and out to Estoril is full of interest.

Read 626 Lisbon Reviews

The port for Rome is at Civitavecchia, over an hour's journey distant. However, before reaching there the ship called at Cadiz (a gem of a well-maintained city, largely undiscovered by tourists but full of narrow streets and historic buildings that earns a 5 rating in my view) and then Cagliari in Sardinia (a scruffy, graffiti-ridden city with far too much traffic - I give it 2), but neither destinations appear on the drop-down list. Civitavecchia was the only place for where we purchased an excursion (£43 for a private train to Rome for a full day for independent exploration). Rome exceeded my expectations in so many ways - it has all the historic sights, but it is also relaxed, colourful, full of narrow streets with their unexpected discoveries when you wander down them, and we also had a delicious good-value lunch. We did not have time to visit any of the historic buildings (there were long queues), but those can wait for another, longer visit.

We were able to walk off the ship into Vigo and we then climbed to the gardens surrounding the ruined castle overlooking the harbour. Vigo is a tidy, but mainly workaday city with few facilities for the tourist (its economy seems to be largely based on fishing), but the usual complement of shops, cafes and restaurants that you would find anywhere in Spain. There were excusions available to the surrounding countryside and Santiago de Compostela (at a price).

Read 383 Vigo Reviews

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