We were on the June 14th sailing on the Independence of the Seas on the Italian Mediterranean cruise. This was the second cruise we have been on, the other with Carnival in the Caribbean. We loved this cruise!!! It was my husband and I, with our teenage daughter (14). It was one of the best vacations we have ever had!
We stayed in London for two nights pre-cruise after our flight from Washington D.C. We stayed at the London Renaissance Chancery Court hotel, which was a beautiful hotel very near the British Museum, but was quite pricey. We enjoyed our time in London, also visiting the London Eye and Harrods. We used Eddie Manning's transfer service (www.limo.co.uk) for both our transfer from Heathrow to London, and then again Saturday from London to Southampton. We would definitely recommend them; ask for Stuart, he was great!
Saturday, we got down to the ship about 11:00 a.m. They told us where to put our luggage, and we waited a few minutes to make sure it went into the building (there was a lot if luggage sitting there and we just wanted to make sure it got on). We went into the check-in area and had no lines at all. We were on the ship in 10-15 minutes!
We went to check on our table in the dining room. We really wanted to sit by ourselves, but being a family of three, we were sure we would have to sit with at least one other family. We were so happy to find ourselves at a table for four (but just for the 3 of us) by the window on Deck 3 in the Romeo and Juliet/Othello dining room. I went and hugged and tipped the head waiter!!! We loved our table. They had lots of big tables for groups, but also many tables for two and four for couples and small families.
CABIN: We went and ate lunch in the Windjammer and went to our room about 12:45. Our stateroom attendant - Rogie introduced himself right away. He was the BEST! We were in balcony cabin 7514 on deck 7. The room was amazing, plenty big enough for the three of us. The bed was the most comfortable we had ever slept on. Rogie would make up the sofa bed every night for our daughter with sheets and a nice duvet- it flattened out, not like a hide-a-bed with the bar, and she said it was comfortable (although not as comfortable as our bed!). We had four large suitcases and they all fit under the bed. All of our clothes hung nicely in the closet. There are four shelves in the closet along with the safe and six drawers out by the mirror. Don't forget to look behind the mirrors, we didn't realize there were compartments behind them until the end of the cruise!
We were the first cabin on the port side of deck 7 and one side of our balcony had rounded window panels that give us extra room and allow us to look forward to the front of the ship! If you have this cabin for a future cruise, you will love it! It was also very quiet, being at the front of the ship - hardly any people in the hallways. We got settled a bit and then went to the muster drill station. You do not have to stand outside like on our Carnival trip. We got drinks and went on deck for the sail away. It was great fun because the Queen Mary 2 and the Sea Princess were all leaving at the same time. We beat them all out, but had a battle of the ship horns before we left.
SHIP: The ship was beautiful. Very elegant, with wonderful artwork everywhere. Everything is brand new and one of the best things is that smoking was only allowed on the open decks of 4, 11 & 12 and in the Labyrinth Disco (sorry smokers). We loved it! The casino and all of the other bars/lounges were smoke free!!! We really enjoyed having drinks in the different lounges and bars without smoke. The ship was easy to navigate and the Royal Promenade was great. The ship was full, but it almost never felt crowded - only during parades, etc. Our favorite places were the Pyramid Lounge and the Olive or Twist Lounge. We would go up to the Olive or Twist and read our books during the day - great view and quiet. We aren't pool loungers, but there were always plenty of chairs that we could see, and we had excellent weather our whole trip - sunny and warm! The pool areas are large and the H2O Zone was great for the kids.
There was so much to do. Our daughter loved the Flowrider, she learned how to surf and practiced every day, and my husband tried it as well. We also played mini golf - fun! It is great that the teenagers have two different areas all to themselves, The Living Room and Fuel, their dance club. She made tons of friends and had the time of her life. We heard there were only 300 kids on the ship, compared to 3,000 adults, but the teenagers made friends and hung out the whole cruise. The teenage activities were excellent - she was hooked after the "hottie hunt" the first night. She was out until 1:30 p.m. every night and has many great memories.
The photographers on board were great. They offered opportunities for pictures with many different backgrounds and we took the opportunity, while we were dressed up to have family pictures taken. On a side note, everyone really got dressed up for dinner, especially on formal nights. My DH had rented a tuxedo through the ship and was very glad he did. Most men were in tuxedos (loved the Scottish kilt tuxedos around!) and women were dressed to the nines. The ship also had photographers out and about, like at the Flow Rider, and we got great professional pictures of both my DD and DH surfing. I also liked that they had souvenirs and post cards from the ports we visited for sale in the evening on the Royal Promenade.
ENTERTAINMENT: The cruise director, Graham Seymour was excellent the entire trip - very funny!! We loved all of the production shows we went to. We attended the Welcome Aboard Show, Center Stage, Once Upon a Time, and the show the last night. We also went to both ice shows, Freeze Frame and Strings. Everything was amazing. I have been to Broadway shows, and these were just as good. The singers and dancers are very high quality and the ice skaters are simply outstanding. Don't miss the ice shows!!! Also, many nights we would go to the Pyramid Lounge and listen to the band Rock the Boat. They were excellent! I'm not kidding! They would play Maroon Five songs and they sounded JUST like Maroon Five. They had different "theme" nights like 70's, 80's, etc. and had a huge repertoire of songs. Do not miss this band!
FOOD: We loved all of the food the entire trip! We had the late dining, which really worked for us. We liked going to the evening show at 7:00 (about half the time it was at 7:00) and then going to dinner afterwards. We ate in the dining room most nights. The food was always excellent. Some of our favorites starters were the Vidalia onion tart, chilled watermelon soup, calamari, jalapeno potato soup, and fried mushrooms. Some of our favorite main courses were the prime rib, shrimp ravioli, beef filet, duck, lamb, and pork tenderloins. We also ate at Portofino's one night and at Chops for our anniversary. Chops we loved - we had the crab and shrimp cake starter and filet mignon and it was perfect. They let us try all four sauces they serve with it! We also had the fried mushrooms and onions and potatoes - Yum. The mud pie for dessert was to-die-for. Our only complaint was Portofino's. It was good, don't get me wrong, but it was not like any Italian restaurant we were used to. The food was more like another steak place. We would have liked to see more pastas, etc.
We had breakfast in the Windjammer almost every day, very good, hot and lots of variety. Here, the British influence was felt the most because they had tomatoes, beans and British bacon every morning. However, they also had American bacon, sausage, eggs to order, omelettes, pancakes, fruit, and anything else you could have wanted for breakfast! The white chocolate covered doughnuts were great! Also, do not miss the cookies for free in the Cafe Promenade! They had several different kinds every day and they were some of the best cookies we had ever had - we had some almost every day! Also, we ate lunch in Johnny Rockets four times!!! It was that good! We had room service a couple of times for a snack in the afternoon. They were always quick and it was good.
SERVICE: The workers on this ship are the friendliest people you will meet. They will go out of your way to do anything you ask. When we walked down the hall in the morning, every ship employee would say "Good Morning". Our head waiter Katarina and our assistant waiter I-Wyen were amazing. We really felt like royalty. We never had a bad experience with any of the waiters/staff. In the Windjammer, they would come around with drinks, and were right there to clean off tables. They had greeters for every meal (that would also make sure you grabbed some hand sanitizer - good job!) We are very impressed with Royal Caribbean service. We tipped extra and hope others will too.
We did a ship's tour at Gibraltar - the Upper Walking Tour. We went to the theater and they had us in groups and out of there within a few minutes. We got onto small busses in groups of about 25 people and drove through the town to the cable car. We did not even have a line. The cable car ride had amazing views and although we were squished in, it was open air and the breeze made the ride nice. At the top, we took amazing panoramic pictures and learned about the history of Gibraltar from our guide. We started walking down and saw the Barbary monkeys everywhere!! There were many babies, and they were feeding them fruit, so we saw them so close up. It was awesome seeing so many monkeys with babies. We saw monkeys on the mirrors of the taxi vans coming up the street and only one monkey jumped on someone. I think they had coaxed him to do it; it was not anyone in our group. In our group, no one had anything snatched or had a monkey jump on them.
We then went into St. Michael's cave. The cave is beautiful with amazing stalactites and stalagmites. After that, we boarded our small bus and drove to the Great Siege tunnels. They have exhibits (mannequins dressed up in period costume) which were neat. The tunnels are also very interesting.
After the tunnels, we re-boarded the bus and drove through narrow streets that were so quaint with Italian looking shutters, wrought iron balconies and wash hanging in the breeze. The bus was going back to the ship, but they offered to let us out at the main shopping district in town and about half the bus got off. We were dropped off in a square with many restaurants and we decided to get something to eat. We happened upon Cafe Solo and went inside to eat. It was Italian. We had learned from our tour guide that the majority of Gibraltean people are descendants of Italians! We believe her after that lunch! It was the BEST! We had goat cheese salad and rustic pizza, our daughter had cheese pizza. It was some of the best pizza we have ever eaten! Our rustic pizza had the sweetest small red onions, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and goat cheese along with mozzarella. The salad had the most delicious fresh tomatoes. They also had home-made garlic and herb infused olive oil that was to-die-for! We are already wondering how we can get back to Gibraltar to go to that Cafe! If you go to Gibraltar, find Cafe Solo!
After lunch, we did some shopping in the cute, pedestrian-only shopping district. We decided to walk back to the ship, it was not a bad walk at all - maybe 15-20 minute walk. The weather was beautiful and we could really see the coast and mountains of Africa. We all agreed that Gibraltar exceeded our expectations!
We woke up at 7 a.m. to find ourselves in France. We were anchored in the bay right in Cannes. We got pastries and chai iced lattes at Cafe Promenade and then headed for the tendering stations. We just wanted to do Cannes on our own. There were no lines! We went to the public market in Cannes, which had beautiful, fresh vegetables, flowers galore, fresh fish still flopping around, and meats, cheeses and herbs. It was awesome!
Then, we headed up through the quaint winding little streets to find the castle at the top of Cannes. We took beautiful pictures along the way and at the top. Then we wound our way back down to the main street in front of the harbor. Our daughter stuck her feet in the Mediterranean and we window shopped at all the fancy shops like Lois Vitton, Hermes, etc. We enjoyed "beautiful people" watching and looking at all of the super expensive cars driving around and yachts in the harbor. We stopped for a break and had Nutella crepes and DH had a dark French beer he said was really good. We also went to the Cannes Film Festival building for a "red carpet" picture and to see the handprints in the concrete walkway.
We had the Florence and Pisa on Your Own shore excursion from RCI. They loaded us on big busses and took us first to Pisa, even though the description of the shore excursion said we would go to Pisa in the afternoon. There were seven other ships in Livornia that day, so it was very crowded, so we were glad we went to Pisa first. We were able to get the standard pictures holding up the leaning tower before it got too busy. The buildings around the leaning tower, especially the baptistery were beautiful! There were also lots of shops along the field and we had time to do shopping. We were given an hour of free time, then we met up and went back to the bus for the hour and a half ride to Florence.
In Florence, we were let off outside the pedestrian shopping district and walked in. We then had almost 4 hours on our own. We went to the piazza with all of the great statues and the replica of David. We had a reservation to see the real David, but missed it due to going to Pisa first. We weren't really disappointed, the square with all of the statues is beautiful and we were able to find a small air-conditioned restaurant and had a nice lunch. Then, we shopped quite a bit. DD got a purse and some leather bracelets for her friends. I got ceramic plates painted beautifully. We made our way down to the Duomo and saw the famous doors on the baptistery. We hardly had to wait in line at all to go into the Duomo and it was beautiful inside. DH was wearing longish shorts, and they had no problem with it, they just wanted bare shoulders covered. After taking lots of pictures in the Duomo, we slowly made our way back to the meeting point for our tour. It was very hot, so we just hung out in the shade of a church. We really liked the little alleyways and pretty buildings. All-in-all it was a very fun day!
Our day in Rome was our favorite day on the cruise!!! We walked right off the ship because we had our own guide reserved through Rome in Limo (firstname.lastname@example.org). Do NOT try to see Rome on your own - you CAN see all of the best sites in one day using Rome in Limo! It is sooooo worth it! This was our one splurge on the trip and we were so glad we did it.
Francesco from Rome in Limo was there for us at 7:50 a.m. and off we went. He was an absolute delight! He told us all about his city and showed us many amazing sights, all in the comfort of an air conditioned Mercedes! He drove us right up to everything and all we had to do is step out and see things and take pictures. We were able to see Palentine Hill, the Roman Forum, Circus Maximus, the outside of the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Tell the Truth Fountain (in the movie Roman Holiday), the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, Castel Sant'Angelo, and much more all before lunch! We threw our coins into the Trevi Fountain to ensure we will return to Rome one day. Francesco took us to a special, secret place that was absolutely amazing! I don't want to ruin it for anyone who might be able to get to Rome to see it, but let's just say that it was the most amazing key hole we have ever seen. And then, Francesco was even amazed because the doors opened! He said that he had been there hundreds of times and only 3 times had he seen the doors opened. It was very, very special!!! We then drove over and explored the Pantheon, which was also amazing. We found the best gelato near the Pantheon.
For lunch, we ate at Piazza Navona, one of the most beautiful squares in the world. We just had about 45 minutes, so we had quick salad and panninis. After lunch Francesco took us to our guide, Sara who was to take us through the Colosseum and the Vatican. (Costs extra, but very worth it!) What an amazing afternoon! We breezed past the lines right into the Colosseum. Sara was very informative and it was really neat to be inside the famous Colosseum.
Francesco then zoomed us over to the Vatican. Sara got us in a back entrance with only a short security line, and then it was into the Vatican Museum. Wow! It was amazing and breathtaking and overwhelming. Sara is an expert in Art History, so she made it all come alive and was so informative. We saw roman statues, beautiful tapestries spun with silk and gold, the famous map room, and of course, the best part of the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel. It was much larger and more impressive than we had imagined. The vivid colors and beauty of the paintings were incredible. Sara then took us via St. Peter's square into the basilica. What an amazing place. It was huge! And it was filled with several sainted popes lying entombed in wax or metal. We rubbed a famous statue's feet as is the custom for good luck. It was so huge and overwhelming - so much to see, but an amazing, unforgettable experience!
We were exhausted on the ride back to the ship, but we would not change a thing! It was so worth the money to have Francesco and Sara show us around Rome. We highly recommend them!!! If you only have a day in Rome - use Rome in Limo, you will really get your money's worth.
What a great, amazing day!
We did this port on our own; we just got off the ship and went into Cagliari to explore the town. It was a cute little town and we did a little shopping along the main shopping street. Cagliari is known for its cork, ceramics, and cheese and sausage. We then hiked up the small winding alleys towards the castle at the very top of the hill. It was quite a hike, but a great view from the top. We came across beautiful churches and quaint alleys with iron balconies and potted plants with wash hanging from lines. Simply beautiful!
We docked at 9:00 and boarded our bus for Seville, Spain. We had the Seville transfer (on your own) tour through the ship. We all slept some on the hour and a half drive to Seville, although the farmland scenery was interesting, especially the sun flower fields. We were dropped off several blocks away from the Cathedral and shopping district. We went shopping first since they would be closing for siesta. It was a great pedestrian shopping area. We bought painted fans and clapper music things, among other things. Then, we went to the Cathedral. On the way, we were going to get something to eat at one of the cafes, but the menus were really weird food with squid and bulls testicles - yuk! We just went to the cathedral and tower first. The cathedral was incredible! It is one of the biggest gothic style churches in the world and it was worth the visit and cover charge. We also were able to climb the tower, which dates back to Moorish times. The view from the top was great!
We happened upon a small cafe that had ice cream and were going to just have ice cream for lunch. I noticed some other customers eating delicious little sandwiches of ham and cheese. DD knew some Spanish and was able to order us some and they were very good - ask for jamon and quesa! We got cold water and ate our dessert first (ice cream) then the sandwiches hit the spot! After that, it was back to catch the bus back to our ship.
We watched the ship come into the port at Lisbon which was amazing, especially going under the bridge which is an almost exact copy of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco where we lived for many years!
After mochas and muffins, we headed off the ship to the shuttle bus (purchase for $10 per person round-trip from the ship) which took us to the heart of Lisbon. Again, many cute winding streets. We headed up-hill and happened upon the Cathedral of Lisbon. It was one of the best churches we have visited, not because of its size, but because of the unique things inside. There are cloisters in the back that have many tombs you can walk right among. There is also excavation work being done where they have found Phoenecian, Moorish and Roman civilizations' artifacts. Also, there is a museum of Portugese artifacts which is amazing. It is hard to explain, but don't miss it! You have to pay two different small cover charges to go into the cloisters and up into the museum - don't miss either one!
We then walked up to the Castle of St. Jeorge which is a medieval castle. You can walk all around it and even go up steep stairs to the tops of the ramparts! We had a picnic lunch up at the top with a wonderful view. After some shopping, we headed back to the shuttle bus and back to the ship. Lisbon was definitely one of our favorite ports!
Again, we just did this port on our own. We got off the ship and headed to the highest point. There is a great park at the top of the hill - quite a hike! There are great views and Celtic ruins along with pretty gardens and fountains. There is a curvy street on the way up, by the cathedral that is crazy later in the afternoon with locals selling seafood. If you love raw oysters, this is the port for you! There is also good shopping, in little shops in town and at the large mall that is RIGHT next to where the ship is docked. We never could figure out why, but there were little witch souvenirs everywhere in Vigo. I would love to find out their superstitions or customs that seem to make witches their mascot! A very low-key port for the last port day.
We took the ship tour to get us back to Heathrow airport that goes to Stonehenge. We had a late flight and figured it would be more interesting than waiting at the airport. Because we had a RCI tour, we were the fourth ones called on debarkation day at 7:15 a.m. We got right off the ship and found our luggage. It was a little congested, but did not take long at all. The bus took us through very pretty English countryside with thatched house roofs and wild ponies. We went through Salisbury and got a glimpse of the Cathedral there and even drove by Winchester Castle. We spent an hour at Stonehenge and then were dropped right at the airport. We really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone going right to the airport on debarkation day.
This was one of the best vacations we have ever taken! The cruise was mostly people from U.K. and they are the most polite, delightful people that we have ever met. Our last cruise on Carnival, I got annoyed at people cutting in line or being obnoxious. I did not see one person doing any of that! We will definitely cruise Royal Caribbean again! For those of you sailing on the Independence of the Seas soon happy sailing, you will have a wonderful time! Read Less