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, which will see similar features rolled out on nine other ships in the fleet.
The ship has won multiple accolades from cruisers over the years and lays a strong claim to being the U.K.'s favorite family ship. (It's less popular in the U.S., where the Oasis-class ships hold that honor.) 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. 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, Independence of the Seas is still a 10-year-old ship and some of the cabins and bathrooms are looking their age in terms of decor and in-cabin fixtures and fittings.
Where Indy really excels is in its family 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, 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 -- Indy delivers, time and time again.
The passenger makeup varies, depending on the time of year and where the ship is based. During the Caribbean season (late fall through early spring), 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 its summer sojourn in Southampton, when it offers cruises to both the Baltic and the Med, as well as short-break cruises, Brits make up the vast majority of passengers.
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.