Independence of the Seas Cruise Review by Sharon65b
- Sail Date: June 2018
- Destination: Europe
- Cabin Type: Spacious Ocean View Balcony
We live on the outskirts of Southampton so we were dropped off by our son at the port. We dropped our bags, entered the cruise terminal and within 20 minutes we were checked in and on board enjoying our first drink!
The cabin was ready around 1pm so we dropped off our carry-on luggage before continuing to explore the ship. The cabin was a balcony around midships on deck 8. It was clean and spacious, with plenty of storage space. Our steward knocked the door to introduce himself later that afternoon when we returned to the cabin and to check that everything was OK and we had received all our luggage. We later discovered that there was a problem with the safe which we reported to our steward and within 10 minutes, somebody had arrived to fix it. We also requested 2 robes which were delivered whilst we were at dinner. The cabin was serviced every day, usually whilst we were at breakfast and we did not see much of our steward, other than to say hello if we saw him in the corridor. We had a variety of towel animals throughout the cruise.
We selected My-Time dining although I pre-booked 8pm for the nights we were going to be using the MDR. We also pre-purchased a 5 night dining package, plus Chefs Table, Mystery Dinner Theatre and the Izumi Hibachi experience. We enjoy the variety so are happy to pay extra for this - the 5 night package represents good value for money compared to booking separately. There were queues at the MDR but separate ones for those with reservations and those without. We were generally sat down within 5 minutes and had the same table every night except for one. The MDR looks stunning and clearly the chairs had all been replaced as part of the refurbishment. The wait staff were excellent, bringing refills for our drinks without asking. The food was still of a high standard, with good choices each night we dined in the MDR. However, the first of my niggles was the lack of space between the tables! Clearly to accommodate the increase in passengers, additional tables had been added meaning that the wait staff were having to squeeze between the tables, also getting to and from you table was like negotiating an obstacle course, meaning that you inevitably were bumping into the back of fellow diners. We requested a table for 2 but to be honest, the gaps between tables were so small that you might as well have been on a table for 6 or 8.
We enjoyed all of the speciality restaurants, visiting Chops, Giovanni's Table and Izumi twice each. The steak in Chops is as good as ever and we were particularly impressed that when we asked if they had Chimichurri sauce which was not on the menu, our waiter went away and actually made it for us himself. We enjoyed Giovanni's but felt that there was less choice on the menu than previously. Izumi is a great addition to the dining offering. The food is great and it is so much more than just a meal, with the teppanyaki chefs providing great entertainment. After enquiring, we were told that the dining package could be used in Izumi although an additional $15 per person was payable. We thought it was worth it so decided to go again. We booked Chefs Table as we had done that on Navigator last year and had thoroughly enjoyed it. Before the cruise I had discovered that the menu was likely to be the same but went ahead anyway. It was basically the same but some of the courses were prepared and presented differently. The location was in the MDR on a table on a lading between 2 of the floors - we felt quite special! There were only 7 guests so some empty seats (next to me) meaning that it was a little more difficult to converse with fellow diners. The food was first class but the service was somewhat lacking. The host told us at the start that he was standing in for a sick member of staff and he was definitely winging it when it came to discussing the wine. The choice of wine to accompany each course was also a little disappointing (all US wines) but the main issue was that the host disappeared at one point so eventually one of our fellow dinners took and poured the wine that had been left on a side table so that we could enjoy the correct wine with the food that had already been served! We also did the Mystery Dinner Theatre which started in the Star Lounge, with the meal being served in Giovanni's (menu was a reduced selection of the main Giovanni's menu). The actors were from the singers and dancers on board, with the host a drag artist who was extremely funny. The plot was pretty thin and to be honest, it was a complete guess as to who the murderer was! We were a little unlucky in terms of the table we were put on as found it difficult to strike up much conversation with the other guests, however, overall it was an enjoyable evening, food was good and wine was flowing.
In terms of other dining, we mostly had breakfast in the MDR as we found the Windjammer Buffet to be too crowded and difficult to find a table. Having said that, on the couple of occasions we did use the Windjammer, the quality and choice of food was good. We tried the new Fish and Ships located on the outside deck once. It was good and quite a generous portion although it never seemed very busy, probably because like most of the new additions, there was an extra charge. We wanted to try the food on offer in the new Playmakers sports bar (again at an additional charge) but on the occasion we went there, it was closed, despite being advertised as open in the daily schedule. I do feel that both of these outlets should offer complimentary snacks as an alternative to the buffet restaurant. The complimentary snacks (sandwiches and cakes) offered at the Cafe Promenade were good but it was almost impossible to get a seat although the food could be taken away to eat elsewhere.
The entertainment offered in the theatre each night was generally of a high standard and a good variety. The Grease musical was particularly good and very professional. Apart from the main shows, there were two party nights on the Royal Promenade, but having been to these several times before, we gave them a miss, however those that did attend seemed to have a good time. There was one deck party, which we briefly visited but it seemed to lack much atmosphere, not helped by the fact that it was fairly windy and not that warm. I remember from past cruises that elaborate buffets were provided at these events but there was no food on offer - another sign of cut-backs. There is a good selection of bars on the ship but we tended to gravitate to our favourite Champagne Bar most evenings. The staff in this bar deserve a special mention as they were great. They were entertaining and very efficient and made some excellent cocktails! We also enjoyed the early evening quizzes in the Schooner Bar but never managed to win a prize all holiday!
We did not try the new features such as the Sky Pad and Water slides, so cannot comment on these. The new crazy golf course was good fun. We wanted to try the new escape room (additional charge) but it never seemed to be open or was fully booked. On sea days, the ship was extremely busy in the indoor spaces as the weather was not that great to make use of the outdoor space. There were a few quizzes etc on offer but I am surprised that they do not make more use of the theatre to show movies which they did but just on one or two occasions. On the occasions that the weather was good enough to sunbathe, it was difficult to find a sun bed, particularly if you wanted to be near to the pools and hot tubs. Although there were signs saying that towels and belongings would be removed from sun beds if they were unoccupied for more than 30 minutes, this was not enforced and we saw many sun beds with towels on left empty for hours on end. We used the gym on a number of occasions and found there to be a good selection of equipment - my only comment is that it was quite warm in the gym compared to some other indoor areas of the ship.
The staff all work extremely hard to provide you with excellent service, however it does appear that despite the increase in passenger capacity, there has not been an increase in staff so they can appear slightly stretched at times to cope with more guests.
We did not do any organised shore excursions as we do not feel they generally offer good value for money. We got off the ship at each port and either just walked around the local area or used local transport. Our favourite port was probably Madeira - the chairlift and toboggan ride are a must do and can easily be done on your own. We arrived in Tenerife on a Sunday so most of the town was closed so we went on a local bus to Puerto de la Cruz and visited the Loro Parque (last visited there nearly 32 years ago on our honeymoon!). It was a lovely day out and well worth a visit - the bus fare was only EUR 21 return for the two of us. Vigo was probably our last favourite port - it always seems to rain there and the shopping centre right be the port is full of empty shops! Also there was not a lot to see or do close by in Lanzarote. Royal Caribbean offer little information on what you can do in each port or about local transport, probably because they want you to purchase their overpriced excursions.
Overall we had a great holiday with just a few niggles, really as a result of the additional guest capacity with the new cabins added in the refit. It also feels like RCI are taking every opportunity to impose additional charges. We would go on the ship again but would certainly never go during school holidays as I can only imagine that this would stretch capacity even further.
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