The Alhambra Theatre (Deck 3) is a two-deck-high Broadway-like performance space, which hosts the spectacular production show, "Grease."
Royal Caribbean fought long and hard to bag this classic, securing both the original rights to the play and to the movie. The performance you'll see onboard is part Newton-John/Travolta movie, part original play, blending the best of both -- and then adding a Royal Caribbean touch.
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The set the line has constructed is a combination of digital and real, and both were used in precisely the right scenes. The whole performance from start to finish was a genuine treat. The two leads playing Sandy and Danny are outstanding, easily holding their own both in terms of voice and performance, but what stuck us was the quality of the supporting cast, a number of whom -- Vince Fontaine, Rizzo, Rump and Mrs. Murdock -- absolutely owned their scenes. A triumph.
Star Lounge (Deck 5) is the ship's secondary show lounge. It hosts game shows such as a "millionaire game show," as well as karaoke nights.
Skating performances take place several times throughout each cruise in the ship's ice arena, Studio B (Deck 3), both during the day and at night, and these are a must-see. In the Caribbean, the same program is performed at each show; European sailings merit two different programs. The performances are great fun -- more than making up in creativity, spectacle and energy what they lack in technical difficulty. During the day this space is transformed into the laser tag arena, which inflates and deflates between ice shows.
The undisputed hub inside the ship is the Royal Promenade. Spanning three football fields in length, it's lined with a range of shops, casual eateries and bars -- even a full-sized car! It's also the site of numerous special events; particularly fun are the Adventure Ocean parades, with kids dressed up in costumes and chanting or singing as they pass by.
Daytime staples include bingo, art auctions, films, trivia contests, arts and crafts (scrapbooking is popular), wine tastings, dance classes, karaoke and the like. The 2018 refit also saw two new daytime features added: the Observatorium Puzzle Break Room on Deck 15 and Laser Tag: Battle for Planet Z in Studio B.
Located inside Studio B (Deck 3), the Laser Tag Arena is an inflatable, glow-in-the-dark arena, which is blown up and let down between ice skating performances. Essentially it works like this: Participants get divided into two groups (aliens or robots) and then work together to take down the other team during the "Battle for Planet Z." It's fabulous -- and free. Reservations are required; kids can play accompanied by an adult.
The Observatorium Puzzle Break Room sits right at the top of the ship, where the wedding chapel used to be on Deck 15 (you have to access it by its own set of stairs near the Viking Crown Lounge). It's beautifully designed, with a stunning telescope as the centrepiece (hence the name), and surrounded by bookshelves stuffed with clues, wooden boxes and a periodic table of elements. Participants work in teams of six; the aim is to solve a series of clues within an hour. The cost is high: $29.99 per person.
Special interest groups (mah-jongg, bridge, Friends of Bill W., LGBTQ meets) can post information about informal gatherings outside of the cruise sales' office on the Promenade.
You'll also find a series of port shopping talks most days during which a shopping "expert" dispenses info on retailers -- who pay a fee to be featured -- in each port of call. If you want learn about non-retail places on your itinerary, you'll need to do your own research.
Another highlight are the evening parties that take place here, each with the happy vibe of a street festival or holiday parade. Expect anything -- Rock Britannia is a staple, featuring costumes, music, singing and dancing by performers along the promenade and on the bridges across it. Be prepared to join in: the enthusiastic entertainment team will be sure to grab any wallflowers to join in a conga. There is also an occasional DreamWorks character parade, and when there are a lot of kids onboard they also participate in the parades.
There is also a "White Party" on cruises of seven nights or more, which takes place around the pool deck.
The Casino Royale features some 300 slot machines (ranging from one cent to $25) and a range of table games, such as blackjack and Texas Hold'em. Beyond the basic gambling, there are occasional events and tournaments.
Royal Caribbean offers a number of drink packages, which can be purchased pre-cruise for 20 percent less than onboard. If purchased on the ship, the daily price works out from $8 per person, per day (soda only) to $65 per person, per day (unlimited soda, premium tea and coffee, bottled water, fresh-squeezed juice, nonalcoholic cocktails, most alcoholic beverages and 20 percent off bottles of wine). Note that the drinking age onboard is 21 (18 when the ship is in Europe), and each passenger of drinking age is permitted to bring up to two bottles of wine onboard (there's a $15 corkage fee). Free drinks available include tap water, iced tea, lemonade and flavor-infused waters.
Playmaker's Sports Bar & Arcade (Deck 3): This bar was added in the 2018 refit, and is already a huge hit. Replacing OnAir (which was empty during the day), Playmaker's Sports Bar links the Casino with Studio B and is busy day or night, showing major sports fixtures on 35 giant TV screens. It also has classic arcade games and board games, as well as an extensive craft beer menu, as well as cocktails and a snack menu.
Schooner Bar (Deck 4): You'll find this hugely popular nautical-themed bar across the Royal Caribbean fleet, hosting trivia and piano music throughout the day. It's the perfect spot for a pre- or post-dinner tipple in the evening.
Bolero's (Deck 4): This Latin-themed lounge, which features lively music (they've got an excellent six-piece Latin band) and Latin-style dancing, was given a refresh in 2018, complete with card tables and retro Cuban-style furniture. There is an emphasis on Latin-themed drinks, including Cuban mojitos and Brazilian caipirinhas.
Star Lounge (Deck 5): The ship's secondary show lounge is used for hosting trivia, live music, karaoke and private functions, among other activities.
Ale & Anchor Pub (Deck 5): Head to Ale & Anchor for that "authentic" British pub feel, complete with live music and a glass, bottle or can of your favorite brew. It's a real pleasure to sit outside on the promenade and watch the world go by. (Choose from 40 different types of beer.)
Vintages (Deck 5): A low-key wine bar, Vintages offers tastings, lots of comfy seating and self-serve, extra-fee Enomatic wine dispensers. It also offers outside seating.
Champagne Bar (Deck 5): This bar is located on the Royal Promenade, across the way from the passenger services desk.
Plaza Bar (Deck 11): This small bar is where you can snag your drink of choice during meals in the Windjammer buffet.
Pool Bar (Deck 11): A poolside bar, serving cold beers and cocktails.
Sky Bar (Deck 12): The Sky Bar serves mainly as a secondary pool bar and is the place for evening singles meetups.
Olive or Twist (Deck 14): Billed as and designed with the ambiance of a martini bar, this spot also acts as the ship's disco. It's the place for late-night dancing to music from all decades.
Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 14): Set high atop the front of the ship, with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, the Viking Crown Lounge is another Royal Caribbean favorite.
Suite Lounge (Deck 14): Open to suite passengers only, this lounge includes tea and coffee, drinks and a concierge desk. It also has an outside veranda.
Diamond Club (Deck 14): A small bar with great views open to only the top-tier members of Royal's Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program.
The ship's pool deck, which consists of three distinct pool areas, is comfortable, magically colorful and full of energy.
The center pool with its nearby whirlpools is party-central -- at least during the daytime. It's the site of light-hearted fun, pool contests and music on sea days.
Two water slides were added in the refurb. Collectively known as the Perfect Storm, they allow two people to race each other down to the bottom. They've been built beside the rear funnel, on the opposite side of Sky Pad. The entrance is on the same level as the FlowRider (Deck 13).
The Solarium (Deck 11) is a pretty, though small, adults-only pool area that includes two whirlpools that are cantilevered out over the ship (great spots for watching the sun set), a bar that opens only on sea days and swinging benches.
None of the pools are equipped with a retractable roof that can be shut in case of inclement weather.
Independence of the Seas has outstanding recreational facilities, which got even better in the 2018 refit with the introduction of the first Sky Pad on a Royal Caribbean ship. This combo trampoline/bungee/virtual reality experience sits right at the top of the ship (you can't miss it; it's a giant yellow ball that looks like a piece of new radar equipment). Here's how it works: You get strapped into a harness, with bungee cords attached and after a briefing in which you choose the world you want to experience, you put on the VR headset. Then you start bouncing up and down. The three world choices are: a post-apocalypse city where you shoot aliens with your eyes; a candy crush style world and a "pop video"-style world. The higher you go, the more you'll experience of the VR world you have chosen. Each experience lasts 2.5 minutes and is a lot of fun. It's open to over 5s and is free.
A deck below you'll find another new feature -- a suspended climbing frame, which is more aimed at kids.
Also aimed at the younger set, is the kids-only Splashaway Bay, a water park that incorporates small pools (some slightly deep, some shallow) and all sorts of fountains and water guns. It replaced the previous kid-only splash zone in the 2018 refit.
One of the most popular top deck features is the FlowRider, a surfing simulator that debuted on Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships. At specially designated times, ShipShape staffers are on hand to assist passengers who want to give it a go; you must be at least 52 inches tall to use a Boogie board and 58 inches to try stand-up surfing. FlowRider is free, but passengers can also book private lessons ($75 per person) or rent out the FlowRider ($350 per hour).
The rock climbing wall, which hovers some 30 feet above the deck and 200 feet above the sea, can accommodate two climbers at a time. There's no fee to use it.
Other recreational options include a full basketball court (also pressed into use for soccer games and dodge ball), a running track (four laps equals a mile), mini-golf, a golf simulator and the ice rink. (Skate rentals are free of charge.)
All the ship's services are clustered in a hub toward the aft end of the promenade (before the main dining room). Here you will find guest services, shore excursions and the next cruise sales desk; at the other end of the promenade you'll find a small library and Royal Caribbean Online, which is an internet cafe where you can buy a Zoom package and troubleshoot any Wi-Fi related problems.
Royal Caribbean has installed its super-fast Wi-Fi, Zoom, across the ship, which is sold per device, per day and you can buy a package from stands along the Royal Promenade. Prices start at $12.99 (surf) and $17.99 (surf and stream) for a single device; the best value is $9.99 per device, when purchasing for four devices at the same time for the surf package or $13.99 per device for surf and stream for four devices.
The promenade also acts as a mall, with all the shops along here, too. There is everything from a logo shop for branded sweatshirts, tote bags and towels, to an essentials shop, designer threads, handbags, watches and, of course, duty-free goods.
The Photo Gallery is part of a smaller walkway on Deck 3, which leads out from Studio B and toward the Art Gallery.
One deck below you'll find a Conference Center with meeting rooms that, when not holding group gatherings, also serve as spill-over spots for crafts and other activities.
There are no self-service laundrettes.
Royal Caribbean's Vitality Day Spa (Deck 12) offers a comprehensive range of services, but ambience-wise, it possesses the charm and character of a big-city bus station. The salon, tucked off to one side, features hair-cutting and styling, manicures, pedicures and teeth-whitening, as well as men's grooming such as a 55-minute facial with shave for $95.
The spa offers massage (Swedish, hot stone and couples are among the varieties), reflexology, acupuncture, facials and body wraps. A Swedish massage starts at $129 for 50 minutes.
There is also the teen-geared ZSPA program. Kids ages 13 to 17 can book treatments, such as "acne attack" and "surfer scrub." More standard massages, facials, manicures and pedicures are also available, and ZSPA extends to the gym, where there are teen-only fitness workouts.
If you are on a cruise that calls at Labadee, the island massage is a lovely treat; the spa sets up a mini outdoor area on a hill, away from the crowds. Plan to wear a bathing suit under your robe if you're choosing this option.
Keep an eye out for spa discounts, which will usually be on offer on port days and advertised in the Cruise Compass.
Indy's Vitality Fitness Center excellent. In the 2018 refit, the floor was re-sprung and some of the equipment was upgraded. Circuit-training machines ring the walls of windows and include treadmills and stationary bikes. There's also an area for weightlifting and a group of cycles for spinning (individually or in group classes).
The facility has a dedicated room for a variety of classes, such as yoga, aerobics, Pilates, group cycling and water aerobics. Other, less standard options include "combat in motion," a workout that combines Eastern martial arts with Western aerobic conditioning. Classes are mostly for-charge, and it is recommended that passengers sign up in advance. (You will be charged if you're a no-show.) Fees start at $12 for a yoga class and indoor cycling, to $35 for a Body Sculpt Boot Camp for an hour. Personal trainers start at $85 per hour.
The running track is on Deck 12 (four laps equal a mile).
It's a testament to Royal Caribbean's far-reaching Adventure Ocean youth program (for kids ages 3 to 17) that, on our cruise, which took place firmly in the midst of a major school holiday period, the 1,400 (!) kids onboard were not only engaged but also proved a joy to be around, rather than a disruption. We can't tell you how many parents we talked to who said that their children were having so much fun in the program that they'd hardly seen them.
What also stood out to us with Adventure Ocean is the breadth and range of activities, regardless of age. The program includes activities that are focused on enrichment and recreation, occur during mealtimes, encourage family participation and offer creative outlets. Each of the five different age levels have dedicated facilities, yet the programs also make use of the ship's other features, from recreation to dining.
All children are registered at the Adventure Ocean reception desk and issued with a wrist band, which they wear for the duration of the cruise. Under-12s must be signed in and out.
For families with little ones, the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery (6 months to 3 years) caters to the tiniest passengers. Here you'll find dedicated Youth Staff at a ratio of 1:4 kids. Meals are served in the nursery on a designated table, and there are chairs attached for babies. The Nursery is open 9 a.m. to midnight on sea days, and 30 minutes prior to docking to midnight on a port day.
Children on Independence of the Seas are divided into three groups.
The Aquanauts is for kids in the 3- to 5-year-old age group. Activities occur in 15-minute intervals and range from beach games and hula-hoop contests to story time. Adventure Science makes learning fun with hands-on science experiments. To participate in Aquanauts, children must be potty-trained.
The Explorers program for 6- to 8-year-olds changes in half-hour intervals and is centered on the Explorer room, where there's space enough for free play (cartoons, coloring, board games), dancing, bingo, art and science experiments, foosball, and PlayStation. Outside play includes basketball and soccer, which takes place on the basketball court. Royal Caribbean dancers even hold a dance class for the kids.
Voyagers are the 9- to 12-year-old set; activities for them are held in the Voyager Room and include a hula-hoop competition, dodgeball, Adventure Art, Crazy Tag and Adventure Science enrichment. There are also a number of TV screens and videogames.
On sea days there is a "lunch and play" feature on for Aquanauts, Explorers and Voyagers; for $7.95 per child, kids have a two-hour playtime (typically, the facility would be closed at lunch) that includes food and activities. All three groups participate in family-friendly play, like karaoke and scavenger hunts.
Nighttime group babysitting, dubbed the "Late Night Party Zone," is available during the evening every night; the cost is $5 per hour, per child, and it runs until 2 a.m.
My Family Time Dining is also available and is for kids, ages 3 to 11. With this program, families who have chosen the traditional dining option can enjoy special, expedited service for the kids; after 40 minutes, Adventure Ocean counselors pick the children up and take them to the age-appropriate facility while parents finish their meals leisurely.
Royal classifies teens as ages 12 to 17, and divides them into two groups, though, in some cases, they share activities and venues. Other times, they're separate, such as with disco nights in the Labyrinth. (The 12- to 14-year-olds are able to participate from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m., while the older group gets the 11:45 p.m. to 1 a.m. time slot.)
Tweens, ages 12 to 14, are supervised by Adventure Ocean staff and are based in The Living Room. The program is far less structured than for the younger kids; there are a handful of group activities, such as dodge ball competitions, mini-golf ball-driving, bingo, karaoke, "Boogie boarding under the stars" at the FlowRider and clay sculpting. In the evenings, there is Prom Night and a Pajama Party Hangout. But, there's lots of free time for just hanging in The Living Room.
The Home for the 15- to 17-year-old set is Fuel, a teens-only nightclub that's got a bunch of comfy chairs and TV screens and a dance floor and DJ booth. There are a handful of activities, mostly recreationally inclined (teen ice skating, Scratch D.J. Academy, Wii tournaments). There is a teen counselor on hand, but there's no obligation to participate and teens pretty much just do their own thing. Teens also have access to a specially dedicated outdoor deck area.
The ship's vast games arcade is always popular. It's located right in the center of the kids' facilities and is dominated by young passengers.