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737 Royal Caribbean Southampton Cruise Reviews

Ok I was lucky to be invited onto Liberty of the Seas for the inaugural celebrations. I was excited as I have never been on a Freedom Class ship before. I expected it to be like the Voyager but alot bigger and with loads more facilities. ... Read More
Ok I was lucky to be invited onto Liberty of the Seas for the inaugural celebrations. I was excited as I have never been on a Freedom Class ship before. I expected it to be like the Voyager but alot bigger and with loads more facilities. I boarded the ship at 1:30pm and went to my stateroom. I was lucky to have an E2 Balcony which was lovely and new. The whole ship smelt new and looked pristine. I found my way around very easily as the layout of certain areas is very much like the Voyager. I decided to drop my bags and take my camera to look at the ship. I started from the top and worked my way down. The Chapel was actually very nice and not OTT which I had thought it would be. The setting would be ideal for a wedding or renewing vows. The Spa was very nice and had all the top of the range equipment as had the gym. The mens sauna and steam area was very well laid out and bright. The boxing ring which is outside the entrance to the changing areas is a novel addition. The H2O kids pool is a really good idea and such fun. After that I decided to go to the Windjammer for Lunch. The Windjammer looked great . Its much better than the Voyager and has so much choice. Burgers,Pasta,huge hot buffet with the best roast beef Ive had at sea. Everything sparkled and was such a nice area to have lunch in. All of the staff were in their new uniforms and were all very happy. I then continued my exploring . The whirlpools that hang over the sides are cool. Although they were not filled with water at the time. They are a nice little feature. The surrounding area has lovely wooden furniture to relax in and the Solarium pool is very inviting. The main pool and whirlpools are very well laid out. There were lots of loungers and the new feature on these is an integrated pillow. They are alot better than the current loungers on many of the ships. The Flowrider(surf Simulator) is a fun thing to do or watch. The mini golf and rock climbing wall are the same as on other RCI ships. The Ocean Adventure at sea is amazing . So many things for the children to do. Their teens disco looks better than the adult one!! All the latest gaming machines and gadgets will keep the children happy for at least a week. Studio B is the same as the Voyager and is a nice thing to do at least once and the ice shows are fantastic. The Royal Promenade is very long and is full of cool places. The Cafe Promenade for Pizza slices and snacks. The Vintages for a nice glass of wine and then theres Ben And Jerrys for a nice afternoon ice cream. Plenty of shops to browse and a mens hairdressers. The pub is a nice meeting place day or night. The Champagne bar is also a nice place to stop for an hour or so. The Main dining room is very elegant and nothing has really been changed which is nice as I love the dining room in this style. Chops Grill and Portofino are nice and intimate for that special dining experience. Pharoahs palace is the same as other ships. The Diamond/Diamond plus Concierge lounge is very nice and new. Could be a bit small given the number of D and D+ members these days but still a nice place to visit if you have reached that level. There was one stateroom of each type available for viewing so I decided to do them all. The Presidential Suite was nice but I preferred the Royal Suite as its more open plan and airy. The Promenade Family stateroom is great for a family on a budget and plenty of space. The normal Promenade is great value for money if you cant stretch to an outside but don't want an inside. The reduced mobility inside is great for clients with special needs and offers all the proper equipment such as adapted showers and hand rails etc... The outsides are very nice and spacious. The insides are the same layout as the outsides without the window. The E2 balcony was lovely and very spacious and well laid out. I had the E2 and it was ideal. All staterooms have the flat panel TV's which add to the look of the staterooms. The decor is also getting a bit more conservative which I welcome. I used the Online at sea but even in Southampton port it was crazy slow. I wish they could do something about that as its frustrating. Anyway after my 3 hour tour I headed back to my stateroom and got ready for dinner. On our night it was one open seating at 730pm which was a one off for this launch event. I got a table for two with my colleague. The food was excellent and plenty of choice. The only thing which I could comment on would be the long delay between soup and main course. It could have been a bit quicker. After that we went to the Viking crown lounge which had a band playing. It is a nice place to meet everyone before hitting the night club.At 945pm we were all invited to watch the fireworks display on the main pool deck. It was amazing and was accompanied by music. It was one of the most impressive I have ever seen and lasted for 8 minutes. At 11pm we went to the night club and it was amazing , very well laid out and plenty of space even though it was packed. I have never seen a nightclub that full on a ship. Maybe it was because of the type of event that it was. The DJ was brilliant and the music was UK and European which was great also. We stayed until 3am. The next morning I woke up after having the best nights sleep in a long time. The beds were perfect. It was then time to hit the Windjammer for breakfast. Again alot of choice and one thing you cant beat Royal Caribbean on is their American breakfasts. It was really nice and tasty. I was surprised by the lack of queues also. So all in all I was very impressed with the Liberty and Royal Caribbean seem to be going in the right direction.They are upgrading certain things and raising the standards its the little things that matter. My photos can be viewed at http://liberty200734.spaces.live.com/ Read Less
Sail Date April 2007
We are a family of four including a 12 and 13 year old who shared a basic interior cabin. Embarkation was quick and, unlike with P&O, did not involve a lot of hanging around in a waiting area before boarding. Our cabin was ... Read More
We are a family of four including a 12 and 13 year old who shared a basic interior cabin. Embarkation was quick and, unlike with P&O, did not involve a lot of hanging around in a waiting area before boarding. Our cabin was well-appointed, pleasantly decorated, clean and with enough space for all our clothes/cases. We attended a welcome meeting for parents and children who wished to use the Kids Club facilities but it was somewhat disappointing that the staff member did not seem to know what he was supposed to be talking to us about, and had to be reminded by another member. It was all a bit wishywashy and badly organized. I did not like the room we met in either - it was dark and reminded me of a nightclub. Nevertheless, the children stayed at the club and we went to explore the rest of the ship. We saw that there was an enormous amusement arcade within the Kids Club area with plenty of scope to extract extra funds from children and teens (but maybe that is me being cynical). First impressions of the Navigator public spaces are good. They are spacious, clean and well-maintained. During the whole trip I saw staff members constantly cleaning and maintaining public areas. In the Windjammer on deck 11 staff were always quick to clear tables for guests, and often when I was eating a snack I was asked by a waiter if I'd like a cup or tea or other drink prepared and brought to me. This was much appreciated, especially if it was a busy time. We had chosen the main sitting time and for the first evening this was 6.30. There were many delays which meant that we missed the first show of the cruise. Fortunately, subsequent evenings were much better organized. One of the high spots for us were the ice-skating. We got to take part every sea-day and I even had a lesson (no fee). I was able to practice several times over the cruise and we all improved our skating techniques. There were two different ice-shows, each one shown four times during each week of the cruise. A real treat. The second show involved an element of competition between each half of the audience which I did not like and felt was not necessary. The skaters were marvelous and I clapped until my hands hurt. The climbing wall was another (literally) high spot, particularly for me. I do not like heights but was determined to have a go. Well, I had three goes and got to the top to ring that bell twice, once wearing a dress! We also played golf, dodgeball, roller-bladed, and used the basketball pitch to shoot hoops. We did not use the bars, pubs, gym, beauty salons, internet cafe, adult pool area, casino, or Johnny Rockets, so cannot comment on them. We did not go on any excursions either, partly because of the expense, partly because we realized that we could be more flexible if we did our own thing. Sadly, after the first evening, the children did not return to the kids club either, they felt that the staff were not really interested. I was most disappointed because last year on the Aurora and Oriana (P&O) they had had such a wonderful time that we hardly saw them. I felt that it was telling that on each of the daily kids club activity card that we received, there was a note saying words to the effect that "in the event that no-one turns up during the first 15 minutes of an activity it will be cancelled". Hmmm, this tells me that there is a major problem with the way the teens kids club is being organized and run if they have to write that. It was the only black spot on an otherwise wonderful experience. Sadly, it is a major reason why we may return to P&O next year. I have asked my kids what they would prefer, RC or P&O, and overwhelmingly they opted for P&O because the 'Youthies' who run them are so obviously dedicated and committed to ensuring that the teens have a great experience i.e. they have a full and imaginative timetable of events from 9.30 in the morning until midnight every day. Parents are sometimes invited to participate too. They get to spend time safely with other young people of their own age, and learn and grow, develop relationships and friendships, be independent of us, and have an unforgettable holiday. We never had a problem with lifts (other people have mentioned having to wait for ages) but this may be because we rarely used them. We did not like being charged for shuttle buses (P&O don't), but this was only an issue 3 times out of eight ports, and two of those times we walked in to town anyway. It was irritating to be charged $35 dollars on the one occasion (for the four of us) to get into town because we were not permitted to walk through the dock area. We attended most of the evening shows and although not all of them were 'our cup of tea' we did appreciate the skill and effort of the participants. I attended most of the dining room breakfasts and enjoyed chatting to new people every day. Because there were so many Scottish people on this particular cruise due to it being at the beginning of the Scottish summer holidays (consequently loads of kids too), we actually ran out of porridge three days in! I switched to Granola for a couple of days. I have to marvel at the waiting staff's ability to remember everyones order and who ordered what, particularly at breakfast time. I also liked the greeter at the entrance to the dining room (Judith) who ensured that I was seated where I wanted to be. There was always a member of staff stationed at the entrance to the Windjammer, reminding people to use the hand cleanser and directing us either left or right. Disembarkation was quick and painless. We were off and in our car driving out of the car-park within half an hour of our color being called. This included the complicated stuffing all the suitcases into the boot (they seemed to have expanded over the two weeks), which took ages! Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
Having recently returned from 14 nights aboard the Navigator of the Seas we are already thinking about another cruise with Royal Caribbean. This time we will steer clear of not only English school holidays but remember that Scotland and ... Read More
Having recently returned from 14 nights aboard the Navigator of the Seas we are already thinking about another cruise with Royal Caribbean. This time we will steer clear of not only English school holidays but remember that Scotland and Ireland finish school 2 weeks before England. There were some 700+ children on the ship. Not that they bothered us - except waiting for lifts which they seemed to enjoy pressing buttons in. The staff on board Navigator are superb, our state attendant (Eliza) was wonderful. We had a cabin with a balcony and enjoyed sitting relaxing. The excursions were incredibly well organized - although our guide in Rome could have been better. Embarkation and disembarkation was smooth. The shows were very good, the ice show was incredible. We were on the late sitting for dinner, this would not have been a problem except for 1 lady on our table, who practically every meal sent at least one course back (our poor waiter - he bent over backwards but he could do nothing right for her) I was on a low fat diet !!! and they even ensured I had blackberries every night for sweet (I only asked once) Of course the lady then wanted them with English custard. This was the only down side to our holiday, as obviously meals took a long time and it was sometimes 10.50 p.m. when we left the restaurant. We visited the Italian restaurant (cover charge) one evening and it was incredible I urge everyone to try it. Bay of Biscay was awful going out but smooth on our return. Will I travel from Southampton again - i am unsure, but certain of one thing I will cruise with Royal Caribbean again. Cleanliness was superb. Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
Having just returned from a 14 day cruise with an 11 year old daughter, I would say that for anyone wanting a fantastic all round family holiday, this could not have been better unless you are looking for things to criticize. Everything ... Read More
Having just returned from a 14 day cruise with an 11 year old daughter, I would say that for anyone wanting a fantastic all round family holiday, this could not have been better unless you are looking for things to criticize. Everything was perfect because we all had fun. Yes, it was busy but you cannot expect anything else at the height of the school holidays. Yes, there was a huge range of people from different professional levels and backgrounds but when you have a family this matters not and when you go on a ship like this, what else would you expect???? Children can attend kids club if they wish and those who did, had the time of their lives starting early in the morning until 1.00 am in the morning where they chose to do so. It was our daughter's first cruise and she was a bit apprehensive thinking she might be bored!! Now, she does not want to go on any other type of holiday and is eagerly awaiting us to book our next one. Embarkation and disembarkation were both excellent. We were on board by 11.30am and in our room and unpacked by 2pm (suitcases all arrived by 1.30pm). Excursions were slick and well organized. The captain even left our anchor behind at one port rather than delay or postpone our day in Rome. Although we had to be diverted to an alternative port one day, the staff pulled out all the stops to ensure that excursions went to plan and that our day was not disrupted more than necessary. Children are catered for in all ways whatever they chose to do. But for those who take children out of school to avoid core holiday time, I would not expect it to be as good but that is only to be expected. In terms of service, we could not fault it. Even to the point that our room attended came off duty when our daughter locked herself out of our room. Cleanliness - well it was better than anyone could have wished for and the bed was so comfortable, it was bliss!! The bathroom with its shower screen, washing line for drying bikinis etc. and loads of storage space was more than sufficient for a 14 day cruise. My only complaint would be the whining of people who seemed to be in pursuit of something which you would never expect on such a cruise. Yes, it is a very big ship with fun to be had all day every day if that is what you want but that is how it is sold when you chose your holiday, so you cannot expect anything different. You can participate in the fun or observe if you wish but equally you can get away from it if you want to because the ship is so large and you can easily find peace and quiet if that is what you want. We had heard criticism of lifts being difficult to catch due to kids "riding in them". This was not the case for us (and there were hundreds of children of all ages on board). We never had to wait for a lift and, on the odd occasion where children did anything likely to cause annoyance, their behavior was soon checked by the staff who did not stand for shouting, running or causing passengers any disruption. We never had to queue for rock climbing, ice skating or golf etc. which considering the number of people on board was amazing. The Windjammer does get very busy at peak times but even so, it is well managed and there was never a time where a member of staff didn't offer to bring cold drinks or tea and coffee to the table. Room service always arrived within 10 minutes of the time allocated and was of good quality. We are already looking at booking another cruise with RCI as many of our fellow passengers did whilst on board. Read Less
Sail Date July 2007
My wife and I, our son 9, daughter 10 and my in-laws had a fantastic time on the July 28th 14 night cruise. Here is a brief review including ports. The Ship, Passengers and Crew We had previously been on the Adventure of the Seas so knew ... Read More
My wife and I, our son 9, daughter 10 and my in-laws had a fantastic time on the July 28th 14 night cruise. Here is a brief review including ports. The Ship, Passengers and Crew We had previously been on the Adventure of the Seas so knew what to expect. The facilities, scale and general fit-out is just breathtaking. It will be hard to ever go back to a small ship although I've heard great things about the Brilliance. The ship was crowded, much more so than the Adventure with many many more Brits (I am a Brit who emigrated 9 years ago). There were 1100 kids under 18 and as another poster mentioned more working class Brits than you'd expect; not a bad thing as this was certainly more of a party cruise with a better atmosphere in the pub, lounges and clubs than I've seen before. I was worried about comments on this board of "moaning Brits" but they were anything but. We also heard accents from North America, Europe, Russia and regular posh people like me. Lots of disabled on board as the ship obviously had good disabled facilities such as a motorized chair to lift people into the swimming pool. The crew was mainly eastern European with excellent customer service, friendly and cheerful and with a sense of genuine comradery between many of them. Almost everyone dressed up on this cruise whereas in the Caribbean many people just don't bother. Entertainment The shows bar one crass welsh "entertainer" were excellent. The huge main theatre puts on West End quality production shows while the smaller Xtapia and other lounges put on smaller shows and entertainment. The Ice show is astonishing and the final night in the main theatre outstanding. The Cruise Director was a capable standup comedian (with his own adult show one evening) . Bingo was expensive but a laugh with a $15,000 jackpot on the last day (I was a Bingo Virgin prior to this cruise). The Cigar Bar was my favorite with a charming hostess who had been taught to pour Guinness perfectly by a crowd of paddies the cruise before. Champagne bar was a good place to get chatting to other passengers and the pub was packed every night with a very good singer/entertainer. The Wine bar was great for people-watching especially between dinner seatings when hundreds of people mill about on the promenade. Sunset in the "Viking Crown" on the 14th deck is perfection with panoramic views of the ship and its passage. The Casino was a good place to donate $20, especially the "Stampede" slots. Didn't make the Salsa bar. We had the early seating for dinner, which could be a struggle to be ready for but gives you more options for the shows and a packed evening of entertainment. From 8:00 am to 1:00 am there was something going on somewhere that we wanted to see - you have to accept that you will miss out on things and probably miss out on sleep! This is not a relaxing holiday. Food & Drink I believe that the people who complain about the food either expected gourmet 7 course dinners every evening or wanted chips/fries and ketchup with everything. We ate in the main dining room most evenings where service was prompt and efficient. The soups were excellent, our kids loving the cold soups such as apple and pear and myself the hot cream of asparagus or French onion. Other starters included anti-pasta, snails, cheese plates, melon and prosciutto, prawn cocktails, tuna tartar, Caesar salad etc. Mains were varied with plenty of choice from Duck to Steak to fish to pasta. Deserts were too good. Often when we couldn't decide what to have our waiter would place an extra plate on the table to try and we always asked for extra vegetables being British. The portions were just right leaving you full but not bloated. We'd finish off with an espresso or regular coffee. All in all as good as a decent restaurant in London but with a different menu every evening. The "Murder Mystery" dinner in Portofino was US$49 including wine and great value with excellent food and a funny, tong-in-cheek performance. Chops was OK, the food was great but they were trying too hard on the service which made it uncomfortable - maybe because the Captain was at another table while we were there. My only complaint would be that the Wine list was too limited with not enough French/Italian/Spanish wines considering that's where we were cruising. Message to RCL here - If you won't let me buy a nice Borolo in Italy and bring it aboard to drink then for Gods sake put decent European wines on the wine list. Prices of drinks were OK to pricey depending what you were drinking. Cocktails were reasonable. Sports and Activities Climbed the wall with my son. There are several "routes" from very easy to extreme. Ice skating was too crowded the day we did it, but we left it too late. The kids learned to skate on the Adventure rink last year! Rollerblading is a laugh, golf putting a dead loss at sea but OK in port. Belly flop competition was very "Butlins" but funny. We missed the parades down the royal promenade but made it to the Gala buffet - amazing what they can do with several tons of chocolate. The main pools were full of teenagers, the Jacuzzis comically so, but the Solarium pool and Jacuzzis were fine and another place to meet people!. Finding a sun lounger on a sea day was difficult after 9:00 am with lots of reserving of loungers. That said we always managed to find space somewhere and if you wanted a quite corner there were plenty on deck 4 or forward on 12. Kids Club Brilliant. We had to bribe our kids to come out to shows etc. Picking them up before midnight would elicit begging and promises of anything we asked just to stay an hour longer. It's one long organized party for the kids with sports, games, scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, movies, chill-out time etc. each day with a different theme (e.g. Harry Potter, Pajama Party or Sports Day). The club is divided by age groups with the teens having their own lounge and club. The arcade was popular and LOUD and unfortunately right outside the kids clubs. If you haven't heard of "Gaga Ball" and the Hal of Fame yet you will do. Cabins We had a balcony and two an insides on deck 9. The beds were comfy enough, there was enough storage, the shower was tiny. What can I say. If your a family of 4 try getting the Grand Suite instead of 2 cabins if you can as we did last year. At the end of the day you don't spend much conscious time here though having a balcony on which to sunbathe and watch the port arrival/embarkation is well worth the extra $200. Inside cabin is great for a long deep sleep as they are pitch dark so you have absolutely no idea what time it is. Getting to Southampton As we don't have a car in the UK we got a taxi to Waterloo and then the train to Southampton Central where it's a 5 minute taxi ride to the ship. Sounds like a lot of hassle but I booked first-class tickets online weeks in advance for a huge discount and the whole thing was smooth. Certainly less stressful than being stuck in traffic as my in-laws were. Ports of Call Gibraltar A military base with a large rock and aggressive monkeys which we didn't see because the cable car line was too long. The high street was good for tax-free shopping including very nice Cuban cigars. Getting back to the ship was a long long walk and no taxi's available. Book a tour if you want to see the rock, or stay on the ship. Friends we met had a great time on a private tour. Ville France We organized a private tour with TravelWithFriends on the Internet. Our English speaking French guide met us in a new minibus from the dock and took us to a perfume factory and then Eze before the crowds got there. Eze is a stunning "eagles nest" village above Nice with a labyrinth of lanes, alleyways and tiny hidden shops. A short drive up the mountainside took us to a park where we got panoramic photos of the coastline, Eze and the ship in the bay of Ville France. Then off on a longer drive past Nice and Cannes to St Paul, a beautiful walled town inland in Provence famous for its artists. We wandered around the lanes and shops before a traditional lunch with a local blush wine. As we still had time we stopped in Nice on the way back for a quick wander and Crepes for the kids. Finally our guide dropped us back in Ville France where we had a sea front beer before going back aboard. Much better than getting a coach to Monaco! My daughter asked me why we couldn't live in Provence. (A. the French and the cost) Florence I'd booked a private tour with Paola and Giuseppe of Tuscany Tours on the Internet again. The port was changed at the last minute from Livorno to La Spetse. Paola called me on my cell phone the night before (even before the ships captain had announced it) to let me know. Giuseppe drove up to La Spetse to collect us and rather than go to Florence as originally planned took us to Lucca so that we'd spend less time driving and more time sightseeing. Lucca is a medieval walled city as pretty as Florence but with very few tourists or crowds. He had a pass that enabled him to drive us through incredibly narrow streets into the heart of the City where we spent a couple of hours wandering around and of course a long Italian lunch after the shops shut at 1:00. Then we went to Pisa, where again Giuseppe's pass took us right up to the tower. If you want to climb the tower you have to book ahead, which we didn't. Pisa was crowded and touristy so after getting the obligatory "kids holding up the leaning tower" photo's and watching some street performers we headed back to La Spetse. When we got there my wife left her cardigan on the minibus but Giuseppe managed to track us down just before we got on the tender. Giuseppe and Paola live in Florence and Giuseppe clearly knows just about everything about Tuscany from history to wine. Next time we'll book him for his Tuscan wine tour and leave the kids on the ship. I can strongly recommend Tuscany Tours. Rome The ship docks at the unpronounceable Civitavecchia which is a long drive from Rome. However the train station is a 5 minute walk from the port. We got tickets for the Express which only took 30 minutes into Rome. Warning, the cruise line recommends getting the 9 Euro roaming ticket so we watched dozens of cruise passengers get ushered to another platform to get a 1hr 20 minute train while we got on what my son called "The Harry Potter Express" because the compartments looked like Harry Potters train. At Roma Termini we got on one of the open top bus tours which was a great way to see the sites with limited time. We got off 3/4's of the way round to see the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, then wandered off to find lunch in a small restaurant and got a taxi back to the Termini station. All very easy with the exception of the incredibly long walk to the platform for Civitavecchia which caused us to miss our intended train and get a later, slower one back. From the entrance of the Termini station you need a good 15 minutes to make the platform. Sardinia It was Sunday so most of the shops were shut - excellent. With no plans we strolled off the shuttle bus and walked up to the Cathedral and then around the narrow lanes and back down to the sea front. The old town up near the Cathedral is lovely. Along the seafront old men in sharp suites spoke with their hands and exaggerated expressions while drinking espresso exactly as you'd expect. My in-laws got on a tour bus and went off to see the nearest beach etc. and weren't that impressed. We bought a local cheese as a souvenir and got back onboard! Cadiz My son was sick and we were all tired so decided to stay on board and relax. It's nice to have the ship without the crowds. We kept both kids out of kids club as our daughter needed the downtime as well. Lisbon We got the ships' bus into town and wandered up the main shopping street. Had a nice lunch (Sardines of course for Nanny and my son) and then got back on board to watch the ship sail under the huge suspension bridge there. Vigo Vigo looked like a rough fishing and shipbuilding port so we got a taxi up the estuary to a holiday fishing village called Barona which also had Celtic ruins. Great views of the beaches on the way and a nice place to wander round. It's like a spanish cornwall and seemed totally undiscovered by Brits - absolutely no one spoke English! As it was my son's birthday and he loves seafood we had a huge seafood lunch which cost the earth. Summary So would we do it again. Definitely. We loved the ship, loved the activities, loved the ports. I couldn't imagine a better holiday, nor could my wife and certainly my kids. Nanny and Grandad may have found the ship a little too big but managed to find their way around OK and loved the shows and entertainment. If you imagine the cruise of your dreams to be elegant dining with polite company followed by a jazz quartet and an early bedtime then this is not the cruise for you. However if you have an open mind and want to experience the best variety of activities and entertainment then as the box says "Get out there". Now I just need a holiday to recover - skiing perhaps! Read Less
Sail Date July 2007
My family and I were very excited to be cruising from Southampton which is some 15 minutes from my home. A far cry from the transatlantic flights to cruise in the Caribbean that we normally have to endure. Although only 3 nights, we were ... Read More
My family and I were very excited to be cruising from Southampton which is some 15 minutes from my home. A far cry from the transatlantic flights to cruise in the Caribbean that we normally have to endure. Although only 3 nights, we were as excited as we are to be cruising a long way from home. We have cruised with RCCL many times as well as Princess and the traditionally English P&O. RCCL has always been our favorite. We were accompanied by our friends - also a family of 4 who have never cruised before. How lovely it was too to travel with such good friends that were easily impressed by what they saw. We picked up our friends at 1030. My husband dropped us and the luggage at the terminal and within a few minutes was able to join us at the check-in. We were there with sea passes in hand and directed straight to a check-in desk. We were given priority passes along with our friends who were able to board with us. We were then put into a waiting area where there was free coffee and cakes. The cruise terminal in Southampton is new and by far the best one I have ever come across. Very efficient and very clean. It was an extremely pleasant experience. At 11.30 we were the first to board. Fantastic! We were lucky enough to have the most fabulous weather - the best the English summer had to offer this year. It has been a terrible summer, so what a treat for us sun starved Brits!! We took a few steps onto the ship and even though this is the third Voyager class ship I have been on, I am never beyond being impressed. Our friends just stood there and just said 'WOW'. The word 'WOW' came up many, many times during this first cruise for them. They were completely bowled over, even though I had shown them lots pictures and explained many times about the facilities (much to my husband's annoyance who insisted they find out for themselves). The first thing we did was purchase the soda package for the kids - this is always a great saving for us and it's great not to have to limit them as to what they buy to drink. This was the last time we saw the kids until dinner. We then went to the Windjammer for a quiet lunch. Again, more 'wows' from everyone. The food was OK to good. I don't think I have ever been very impressed with the food on RCCL. It's not bad and plenty of it, but not their best point. However, no complaints, but just very nice. As the weather was so good we were straight up on deck and using the pools and the hot tubs. We had taken our swimming costumes with us in our hand luggage. In fact my daughter was wearing hers ready to jump in. We had a great time whilst this part of the ship was quiet. We then toured the ship. The Navigator is just beautiful and the best Voyager class that I had been on. So clean and very impressive. The staff as always were very friendly, attentive and couldn't do enough for us. I was worried that things wouldn't be as I had been used to as travelling with the Brits and not American's was a different concept to me. However, I really enjoyed this aspect of the cruise. Everyone was friendly, many things had been 'anglified' and I felt very comfortable the whole time. We had a large family ocean view cabin at the front of the ship. This was better than I imagined. A fantastic view of the sea and the helipad and very comfortable. The main beds were amazingly comfortable. My only complaint here is that the sofa bed for my 2 teenage children aged 14 and 15 (boy and girl) was REALLY small. Their feet flopped over the top by a good foot to 18 inches. Really, really small!! Next door was a family ocean view which looked huge and had a separate area with 2 single bunk beds in. This would have been great, but they are few and far between. Still, this was only 3 nights and we could put up with this and we hardly spent any time in the cabin. We had late seating for dinner and a table for 8 for all of us. Excellent service from Rita - never saw the head waiter, but again, only 3 nights and they crammed everything in. The Italian night with the signing, lots of parades around the dining room and the whole experience was good. The kids really had a blast and we only insisted we saw them at dinner and kept in contact with 'walkie talkies'. They used the facilities to the full. The rock climbing wall was great for the kids. They really enjoyed the ice rink and the golf many times a day. The weather throughout the trip was amazing. This made it feel like the 'Caribbean experience' we are used to. The next day we came to the shores of Ireland by around 12 noon. Everyone was on deck watching this beautiful landscape which was bathed in beautiful blue skies and seas. Coming into Cobh was incredible. Many people were out to see the Navigator. We docked in the smallest place and was very impressed how the ship was squeezed and turned to be able to dock against 2 floating pontoons. Amazing! We ventured ashore. The place looked beautiful. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and many shops were shut. There was a music festival going on and there were many drunk people floating around. The place was crowded and the streets were very dirty. Rubbish everyone. What a shame!! After an hour the kids were begging to get back on board. We didn't take much persuasion. We were up on deck swimming and making the most of the weather. Each night we went to the shows. English comedians, a fantastic acrobatic display and the RCCL singers and dancers. All of which were the best I have seen on a cruise ship. They really did cram the best into these 3 days. We also saw the ice show on the last day. Incredible!! Again, the best we had seen. On the last night in the Promenade they put on a 70's disco for everyone. It was really really good! Everyone danced and the cruise director and co danced and compared from the bridge across the main street. Huge beach balls were bounced through the crowd and the atmosphere was that of one big party. Everyone had fun - the kids joined in too and that left the most amazing feeling of fun that stayed with us when we had to disembark the next day. What a shame this was all over with so quickly. Of course we have converted our friends who will no doubt cruise again. As for us, we have the Brilliance of the Seas to look forward to at Christmas where we will transit the Panama Canal. I know that we will all miss the Voyager class that we love, but as it will be a 'hot' cruise time will be spent on deck and hopefully I won't crave the promenade as much as I think I will. I just love the Cafe Promenada and the whole atmosphere this place creates. There were lots of things we never experienced such as the nightclub - too much going on to join in such a short time. We have never been to Jonny Rockets, it just doesn't appeal. We never went to Chops or Portofinos, but that's fine. We have been to Portofinos before and loved it, but tend to only visit once during a cruise. One point to mention was that this ship was very busy, but they managed the crowds extremely well. During the busy times in the Windjammer they opened both Chops and Portofinos for additional seating areas. This was great! We never had trouble finding seats. If any of the staff saw you looking for a table, they found one for you and as we were a larger group - we nearly always ended up at a 'special' table. We were very impressed. Disembarkation again was the easiest ever. We were able to self disembark as long as we carried our own luggage whenever we liked. Breakfast wasn't crowded. No blocking of corridors or exits and we were off the ship all too quickly. We disembarked at 8.15 and by 9.00 I was home with the washing machine going. It was quite surreal. I would definitely recommend sailing from Southampton. Maybe next year when the Independent is at home in Southampton we will do this all again..... Read Less
Sail Date August 2007
The Navigator of the Seas (NOTS) is a very large modern ship built in Finland in 2002. We have just returned from a 10 day Madeira and Canary Isles cruise. This was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean but my 37th cruise (32 P&O, 3 ... Read More
The Navigator of the Seas (NOTS) is a very large modern ship built in Finland in 2002. We have just returned from a 10 day Madeira and Canary Isles cruise. This was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean but my 37th cruise (32 P&O, 3 Princess, 2 RCI) since 1963. We are a family of 4 and our children have been cruising since they were 5 and 9. This is not meant to be an exhaustive report. It is just picking up on a few things which I feel are important when making a decision about which ship to book. This was probably our best cruise ever mainly due to the friendliness of the crew, the facilities on the ship and the excellent food and service we received. Yes, the ship is big, yes the ship is very Americanised but somehow (despite my dislike for most things American) it all work beautifully together and provides a wonderful cruise for any age. The Royal Promenade (Atrium) has all the P&O ships beaten to a pulp and makes the Arcadia's atrium look sad and old. That is all I will say on the subject of comparing ships as many people see the same thing differently. It is possible that a newish cruiser who has only seen one or two ships would not like the NOTS but as an experienced cruiser, I can say for definite that P&O have a lot to learn from Royal Caribbean on facilities, crew and design. The restaurants on board are magnificent and the food and the waiters complement this. Every meal we had was superbly designed and hot (or cold if it was meant to be) we did not have to send one part of any meal back at all. There is a lot of menu choice and the offer of "we can make you anything you want if there is nothing on the menu you like" helps even more. There are a number of dining options depending on your mood ranging from informal buffets to very formal dining in speciality restaurants. The evening dress code was reasonably stuck to by most passengers but, in this new cruiser era that is to be expected on all cruise lines. The entertainment was particularly good with acts ranging from Adagio to an Elton John tribute. We also saw a Beatles tribute band and there were 3 production shows plus a juggler/comedian who was very funny. There were also 2 ice rink shows similar to the Disney on ice shows. The bands on board were typically 'cruise' bands but they got the job done. The cruise director (Graham Seymour) also did an adult comedy stand up routine and there were the usual welcome aboard and farewell shows. The very funny Jeff Stevenson was on board but sadly he was limited to a 15 minute routine on the opening show as he disembarked at the first port. There were over 3000 passengers on board and yet, only once, did we have to queue and this was to gain entrance to the ice rink show but this queue was no worse than a queue to enter a football match or to exchange something at the Argos store. In closing, I would recommend to the NOTS to any cruiser who has been on P&O and wants to see to how it should be done. As a dedicated P&O passenger over 44 years, it hurts me to say this but if P&O think that the design of the Arcadia is how is should be done, then they are sadly mistaken. We are booked on the new P&O ship, the Ventura next year and I sincerely hope that this new ship has been built as a sign of things to come for P&O. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Myself and a colleague flew from Dublin to London and were met by Royal Caribbean reps on arrival. We were coached down to Southampton and this only took around 1 hour 40 minutes. On arrival we were checked in right away and were able to ... Read More
Myself and a colleague flew from Dublin to London and were met by Royal Caribbean reps on arrival. We were coached down to Southampton and this only took around 1 hour 40 minutes. On arrival we were checked in right away and were able to board the ship at 1145am. This was great as we just wanted to get to our stateroom and drop our bags to explore the ship. We started at deck 14 and worked our way down. I have been on the Liberty of the Seas last year and the Independence is a carbon copy with a few minor changes. The flowrider is alot of fun and a guy was demonstrating how it works. Some of the guest then tried and its not as easy as it looks. Its nice to be able to sit and watch and always makes people laugh. A stop for a Pina Colada at 'Wipe out' bar next to the flowrider was a welcome break. No changes to deck 13. The basket ball court/Mini golf and the Wall are all the same. Down to deck 12 and a visit to the day spa. As we walked in the smell of essential oils was very nice. We were greeted by the staff and given a tour of the treatment rooms and advised about the treatments on offer. Down the glass steps to the boxing ring and sauna areas everything shiny and brand new. My colleague being a girl went to look at the ladies sauna area and I went to the mens area. After that we met outside and showed eachother the photos of the sauna's. The ladies sauna is half the size of the mens. I don't know why this is . We then went to look at the kids area 'Ocean Adventure' and Johnny Rockets. I was looking forward to having a milk shake but it was closed and remained closed for the whole time we were onboard. The kids area has so many facilities to keep any child happy for a 14 day cruise. Deck 11 and we loved the H2o zone for kids. Its a great idea and looks very impressive. The Solarium and whirlpools are a really nice area to relax in. I always prefer this area than the main pool area as its quiet. Down the other end of the deck and we were at the Windjammer. We decided to stop here for lunch. So much on offer and it was hard to decide what to eat. I decided to go for a a mix. The sweet and sour chicken was amazing. I decided not to go for a dessert although they were very tempting. We then proceeded to the stateroom decks and various types were available for viewing. I have to say my favorite was the Royal Suite. The owners suite follows. They are so spacious and nicely furnished. We then saw a reduced mobility stateroom and it really is great to have all of the handrails and wider doors for people with wheelchairs. Everything is tailor made to make life easier. The Promenade stateroom is an ideal choice for those who cant afford a outside but don't want to be boxed in with an inside. Alot of people actually prefer the PR staterooms as you can see all thats going on in the Royal Promenade. I have stayed in one on a Trans Atlantic cruise on the Voyager and it was ideal as a solo traveller. The outside stateroom was nice but to be honest Id prefer a PR. I love the showers onboard in the staterooms. They are very powerful and the curved doors give you extra room so you don't keep bashing your arms whilst showering. There was a dispenser for shampoo but I prefer to take my own products that I use at home. The towels were lovely and soft and made from 100% Egyptian cotton. The beds were so comfortable it was hard to get out of them the next morning. They get 100% for that. The powerpoints in the stateroom are one European 2 pin and 2 USA flatpin so for all UK cruisers take adapters!!! All staterooms have a Data socket to plug your laptop into. Time to take a stroll along the Royal Promenade. I love the Freedom class as the longer Promenade really makes a difference. The Cafe is great and you have to try the 'Rustica' vegetarian Pizza! Its to die for . Free Tea and Coffee from the self service area are always available. Speciality Coffee from Seattles finest is charged but very nice for a proper brew. The pub is called the Dog and Badger and is nice to have a pint. Im sure it will be popular with the Brits this season. The Champagne bar is as good as ever. I tried the Pomegranate one and it was very nice. All of the normal logo wear and perfume shops are there. The guest relations area is also the same. It was then time to check out the nightclub and its called the 'Labyrinth'. All quite gothic but also Tower of London themed with Beefeaters and ravens !!! Quite a mix but I have to say I loved the British influence for a UK based ship. Studio B and the Theatre are the same . We did look in on a show that night but to be honest I didn't like it and we left after 15 minutes. This is quite unusual as I normally enjoy them. Im sure they will improve on the proper cruises. I thought they would have done something related to productions in London's West end theatres but this seemed to be clowns or something. The main dining room is as glitzy as ever and it really looks the part. Dinner that evening was amazing and the food was top class. I went for my favorite shrimp cocktail and then we shared the Eggplant and Mozzarella dish which was equally as nice. I then went for the beef fillet and it was 100%. The food on the whole ship was 100% so a big thumbs up to Royal Caribbean for that. The dedicated terminal and great itineraries from Southampton should prove a success for Royal Caribbean. It certainly is a ship packed full of amenities and there is something for everyone onboard.... With the arrival of Genesis not far behind I can only dream what Central Park will look like. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Independence of the Seas - April 30 - May 2, 2008 Pre-Inaugural Cruise Pre-Cruise We were contest winners! It's an amazing feeling to have someone call you to tell you you've won a trip to England and a trip on the biggest, ... Read More
Independence of the Seas - April 30 - May 2, 2008 Pre-Inaugural Cruise Pre-Cruise We were contest winners! It's an amazing feeling to have someone call you to tell you you've won a trip to England and a trip on the biggest, newest cruise ship in the world! We are avid cruisers and I couldn't have been more excited. Royal Caribbean was generous in allowing us to fly out early. We left on Friday, April 25th and spent 3 days touring London at our own expense. We flew on Virgin Atlantic and I'd recommend this airline to anyone. They were great. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum. It was a great hotel; the location was perfect, just one block from the Gloucester Road Tube Station. We took the Big Bus tour the first day and saw all the classic sights from the bus. This is a Hop On/Hop Off bus and the ticket is good for 24 hours. On day 2 we toured the Tower of London and took a Thames River cruise. On our last day in London we walked to Kensington Palace and toured the gardens there. Then off to our flight on the London Eye and a visit to Harrods. That evening we went to the Lyric Theatre, one of the oldest theatres in London, to see Cabaret. It was a wonderful show and quite an experience. On Tuesday morning, Royal Caribbean arranged a car service to pick us up at the hotel and drive us to the Hilton in Southampton to wait our boarding the Independence of the Seas on Wednesday. The Hilton was a nice hotel, but too far out of the cruise port for our liking. Food here was very expensive! That afternoon, we met up with the other contestants as they came in. Some of us went out to dinner that evening at the Chilworth Arms, a lovely pub near the hotel. Wednesday, we were shuttled together to the port in Southampton for our first look at this beautiful ship. The check in process was smooth enough. There were a few kinks, but that is to be expected on a shakedown cruise. We were all given Priority boarding passes and sent to wait in a comfortable lounge where they were serving cookies, coffee and tea. There is a bar in the waiting area as well. At 11:30 AM, we were able to board the Indy. This was definitely not your typical cruise experience. We brought our own luggage aboard, our photos were taken for the Sign & Sail card and off we went to our cabins. There was open bar for the whole cruise too. ? We were in cabin 7600, designated as Deluxe Ocean View, Cat E1. The balcony was very large at 74 sq feet, the deepest balcony we've ever had. The cabin was wonderfully appointed, even had a tea kettle. I really liked having this to make coffee every morning. The beds were pillow top mattresses and were very comfy! We were off to wander the ship and I combed the whole ship taking a LOT of pictures. It was overwhelming.....just such a beautiful ship with so many spaces and things to do. The Royal Promenade was so cool. There you will find the shops, Sorrento's Pizza, the Dog and Badger Pub and a Champagne Bar to name a few things. It was really amazing! There is also a LOT of artwork on board the ship. Something I really appreciated. We were given a booklet identifying all the pieces, the artist and the location. The three level dining room was spectacular as well. Most had open seating for dinner, but we contestants had reserved tables on deck 4 in the Macbeth Dining Room. Deck 5 has the King Lear dining room and Deck3 has the Romeo and Juliet dining room. Next, we were off to the Windjammer for lunch. The windjammer is huge with lots of tables and window seats. The food was delicious! Chops is located at the entrance to the Windjammer. It's a really beautiful space. After lunch, we did some more exploring, checking out the Flow Rider, Johnny Rockets and the Solarium area. The cantilevered whirlpools were open and although it was a chilly, rainy day, they were just so inviting we couldn't resist a dip. It was wonderful! There are two of these whirlpools on either side of the ship. It was nice to relax for a bit. After that we headed back to our rooms to dress early for dinner and attend the Naming Ceremony held at 4:30 in the Alhambra Theatre. Everyone was presented a glass of champagne upon entering. The ceremony was done very well, so moving. The Godmother, Elizabeth Hill we presented in a procession with the Highlander Players following and the International Highlanders and Celtic Feet, a River Dance type troupe. Richard Fain announced the Godmother and Captain Strazicic spoke. Elizabeth was presented with a huge bouquet by some of the children helped by the Steve Redgrave Fund, a charitable organization that helps disabled and mentally challenged children. The Norwegian, American and United Kingdom anthems were sung as well. We went to the Ice Skating show before dinner, Strings! - A world Adventure on Ice. It was really good. After the show it was time to get ready for dinner. Dinner was at 7:30. It was a more limited menu than is usual at dinner, but it was delicious none the less. We met the Royal Caribbean Marketing representative, Harry Liu and Gene Sloan from USA Today. We were also introduced to the reps from the marketing firm Weber & Shandwick who worked in conjunction with RCI and USA Today on the Name that Ship Genesis contest. Everyone was so nice. They made us feel very special. Sail away was at 10 PM and we enjoyed it with a great view in the Royal Crown Lounge. Later, there was a 70's dance party in the Royal Promenade. What a blast that was with the dancers in costume, the disco balls sparkling and the music thumping. We danced and drank the night away. After a visit to the Karaoke bar and some laughs there, we headed to bed. We missed the main show tonight, just too much to do! The was titled Abbacadabra, the Ultimate Abba Concert. Thursday morning, we were up early and had breakfast again in the Windjammer. Then we were off to a meeting with some reps for RCI and Gene Sloan. After the meeting, we headed up to the top decks for our photo shoot with the group of other contestants. We had lunch at Johnny Rockets after that, which is a great place to enjoy a burger and a shake. The waiters and waitresses did the singing and dancing. It was a lot of fun. We were lucky enough to be invited on a Bridge tour. It was very interesting to see all the computers and other equipment that keeps us safe while sailing. The views from up on the bridge were amazing. After the bridge tour we went on a Galley tour as well. It was informative and interesting to see how they make so much food! Dinner Thursday night was a more typical menu, with many options. I had the steak and it was done to perfection. The Grand Marnier soufflE for dessert was perfect. We attended the show on Thursday night, Under the Big Top. We enjoyed that a lot. After the show, was yet another dance party, the Rock Britannia Street Party on the Royal Promenade. After the party, we headed to bed, thoroughly exhausted and happy. On Friday morning, disembarkation was a breeze. We took our own luggage off the ship, climbed onto the waiting bus and headed to Heathrow to fly home. Photos of Independence can be see on my Webshots page here: http://good-times.webshots.com/album/563288702TpMeic Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
We had the pleasure of taking the Brilliance of the Seas repositioning cruise as it headed from drydock in Hamburg on a cruise from Southampton to Barcelona with stops in Le Havre, Vigo, Lisbon, Tangiers, Corsica, Villefrance. We are in ... Read More
We had the pleasure of taking the Brilliance of the Seas repositioning cruise as it headed from drydock in Hamburg on a cruise from Southampton to Barcelona with stops in Le Havre, Vigo, Lisbon, Tangiers, Corsica, Villefrance. We are in our late 50s and this was our 11th cruise and our third cruise to Europe. The other 2 Europe cruises were on Celebrity to the Baltic and the Mediterranean. We also cruised with Celebrity to Bermuda and NE/Can. We've cruised on Princess (Alaska), HAL (Panama Canal) and Carnival (NE/Can). Our previous RCL cruise was the Explorer holiday cruise from NJ to the Eastern Caribbean. As you can see, we've cruised on a lot of cruise lines. Brilliance compared favorably to our other favorite ship, the Constellation. We also loved the Explorer of the Seas We are avid walkers and in good weather we walk several miles a day after dinner. Whenever we can, we do ports on our own. We love to experience the ambiance of the different cities/countries we visit. We've done ships excursions and while we can still handle the walking, we've decided to do as many ports as we can on our own or with an independent tour guide. This is nothing against excursions - we hope to be cruising for many more years and we will take excursions when we feel we can no longer walk for hours and miles or when the time and distance to an attraction does not allow us to have at least a one hour cushion for on-board time. Ship - Without going into all the details of the ship, the ship was in great shape. It may have been, spruced up in drydock. We had an inside cabin on deck 8 and the chair and sofa appeared to be new. The bedding was the new hotel style bedding that I like so much - a blanket with a duvet cover that can be washed, as opposed to worn bedspread. The price of the cruise went down several times after we booked to $1,130 for our deck 8 inside. We had no problem getting a price adjustment. For a few days there was a deck 6? Balcony guarantee for $20 less. We decided to stick with the inside and we did not regret that decision. We had a nice quiet cabin at the front of the ship. Between the windy, overcast weather and the limited sea days, we would probably not have used the balcony. The solarium area is like a fantasyland. I just love the dEcor (although on this cruise the single whirlpool in the solarium was almost always full). There is also a small food area here but we never ate here. Too many ports and too few lunches. Entertainment - I judge the theatre by the comfort of the seats and the leg room. Both of these are more than adequate on Brilliance. There was a new group of singers and dancers. They did a great job on the 2 production shows. One was a Tango show and the other a Swing show. Both of these shows were different than the shows we saw on Explorer in Dec. The other entertainment was typical cruise ship. We always enjoy this and never miss a show. One day they showed a movie in the theatre instead of a show. This was a little disappointing, but it was fun for us because we never go to the movies. Dining - Our usual routine is to eat breakfast in the Windjammer, no lunch and an early dinner. We chose traditional early seating and we were seated with 3 other couples who could not have been nicer. This is why we enjoy traditional seating so much. By the end of the cruise they felt like family. There was also anytime dining on this cruise and we did not hear any complaints. One couple from our table asked permission and went to anytime dining one night with a couple they knew from a previous cruise. They said it went seamlessly. The food was good. Our only complaint was the lack of choices. They've now added the 3 alternate selections as well as the vegetarian dishes to the main menu so there was even less selection than before. I love salmon and the salmon was cooked perfectly. I ordered it many times and it came out with different sauces, mimicking one of the other meals. By asking for a piece of salmon on the pad thai, or sharing one of the vegetarian meals with my husband (along with the salmon or chicken), I was able to always have something different and delicious. The comments from our tablemates were that the food was good, but not fabulous. The large shrimp on the menu one night was replaced by a lobster and medium shrimp meal. 2 people ordered prime rib which covered the entire plate. I don't have much to add about the windjammer. I had a well made omelet every morning that filled me up for the entire day. There were plenty of choices and food, including lox, smoked fish, cheese, pancakes, French toast, hot & cold cereal and lots of fruit. We always found a place to sit, even on port days when everyone ate at the same time - although several times we shared a table. CURRENCY EXCHANGE - I started with 200 euros that I had gotten from my credit union at work. I intended to use my on board credit to get additional euros. I had called RCL and they said you could do this. I went to the currency exchange desk and they had nothing to do with the on board credit. Then I went to the guest relations desk and they said what I had to do was get cash from the casino (for gambling only), and that cash would come out of my OBC. If I did not use all my OBC, I could get the remainder in cash from the guest relations desk on my last day (which is what I did). So we took the $100 U.S. dollars we had brought with us and went back to the currency exchange deck to get euros. I took another $100 out of the casino and converted that to euros later in the cruise. On the last day of the cruise I went to the guest services desk and got the $200 remainder of my OBC. The only thing we had charged to our on board credit was the tips and the money from the casino. For those who are wondering we had $200 for booking on a cruise, $200 stock holders, and $100 returned fuel surcharge since we had booked before the surcharge was added but paid a few weeks before they rescinded the charge for booking before the surcharge was added. PORTS - SOUTHAMPTON - We had a non-stop Continental flight that arrived at Gatwick at 6:30 in the morning. We had arranged for sedan pickup with Smiths for Airports out of Portsmouth. We decided on the car service because on Sunday we would have had to change trains and we wanted to enjoy, as best we could, our day in Southampton. The car was 77 pounds plus tip or $160. The driver was at the airport to meet us and we requested the scenic route which he was all too happy to drive on the early Sunday morning with no traffic. The only glitch, if you can call it that, was that we were planning to pay by credit card but the limo office was closed. So the driver stopped at a bank ATM machine and we withdrew pounds to pay him. An hour and a half later we were at the Novotel. They held our bags in a locked room and we were off for our day's adventure. There is a free 90 minute walking tour of the Southampton walls. I found out about this from the Southampton web site. We walked from our hotel along the waterfront to the start of the tour. We got there in plenty of time. My estimate is a 20 - 30 minute walk. It was a great tour and it would have been worth paying for. We had 2 guides, a trainee and an experienced guide and there was plenty of commentary. The tour ended at the Titanic Museum but we were too tired to do a museum. We walked around for several more hours, checking out restaurant menus while enjoying the ambiance of Southampton. We spent some time at the harbor enjoying the children playing and watching the activities in the harbor. On the way back to the hotel we passed a Leisure World which had a casino (we did not go in because you have to register and we knew we would not be gambling), a cinemaplex, a bar with music and a restaurant. We also checked out a pub/restaurant next to Leisure World and decided to eat there. At this point, we were only a few blocks from our hotel, so we checked in, brought our bags to the room, and returned to eat. We both had the roasted menu special which for me was half a chicken, Yorkshire pudding, fries, potatoes and 2 vegetables. My DH had the roast beef. Dinner was 6.5 pounds each. We returned to the room, read for a little while and then slept for 12 hours. The next morning we had breakfast at the McDonalds next door for a total of 3 pounds (2 oatmeals and an OJ). We just wanted something light since we would have lunch on the ship. We then went to walk into town in a different direction. As we turned the corner behind our hotel we saw 2 people wheeling their luggage out of the port. We also saw buses of people pulling out. We spoke to the people wheeling their luggage and they had been on the Brilliance cruise out of Hamburg. They said it was a 10 minute walk from the ship and a very easy walk. They were walking to the train station which was another block away. Since we had a good map, we were happy to show them the direction to the train station. (Do not bear right behind the Novotel, continue across the street and walk straight to get to the train station. The coach station looked like it was farther and more uphill). So we made the decision to not take a taxi but to walk to the ship. We enjoyed a few more hours walking around town, checked out the walk to the ship, and returned to our hotel room to check out. One positive of walking is that my DH was able to use the 10 pounds and change that we had left towards the hotel bill so we did not have to carry around those extra pounds and figure out how to exchange them. At 12:30 we headed to the ship. We had no problem. There was no line, and by 1:30 we were on the ship, our carryon bags had been dropped off, and we were having lunch in the Windjammer. LE HAVRE- Early the first morning we docked at Le Havre. We had arranged to join another family on an independent tour of the Normandy beaches. We used a guide named Eric with Normandy Town and Country Tours (le-doux-turnbull@wanadoo.fr). Eric is from England and has become a D-day historian. We left the ship at 7:15 to start a 2 hour drive to the Airborne Museum. As we stood in the center of the town square in front of the church (pictured in the Longest Day movie), Eric told us the story of the Paratrooper's arrival. We could picture the scene of that fateful night. We then visited the Airborne museum and a short visit to the church. We decided to skip a sit down lunch and instead bought take out lunch from a Patisserie in town. We then headed to walk through the area where we could see the remnants of the German artillery and the allied bombing. Next was a visit to Omaha beach. As we stood over the beach, Eric told the story of that fateful day. As we stood there we noticed several cars pull up, look around for a few minutes and then head to the gift shop. It was great to have a tour guide who brought the history to life. This was followed by a visit to the American cemetery where we saw the graves of 10,000 young men. We then visited the German Bunker Museum. I chose to walk around the small residential area for a half hour while the others toured the museum. I enjoyed my walk. It is always interesting to get a feel for how others live. My DH and the others said the museum was very interesting. We had planned to go to Bayeau but we ended up skipping that site because of the time. Instead, we made a short stop in Honfleur. Eric walked us around town for about half an hour. We returned to the ship at 6:30 from our 11 hour tour. We washed up and headed straight for the dining room. Because of the light turnout, we had been told they would serve dinner in the dining room up until 7:30. The dining room was maybe 25% full. Our tour cost 550 euros for the 6 of us. We gave the driver 200 euros for the 2 of us. This was about the same price as the ships excursion. DAY AT SEA - Our first day at sea was busy with 2 great history lectures by Dr. Jim Brodman. There was a lecture on the history of Vigo and another on the history of Lisbon. The lectures were excellent and these gave us a good background for our planned visits to these cities. We played trivia (and won for the first time), went to our meet and mingle, and spent several hours reading and/or sleeping in the solarium. The weather was windy and in the mid 60s. This was also our first formal night. My husband wore a tuxedo. We saw that while everyone dressed neatly and in jackets, my husband was in the minority in a tuxedo. He did not wear his tuxedo again. Our dinner table made a pact that the gentlemen would just wear button down shirts (and ties if they chose). At this point my husband decided he was not going to bother with a tuxedo anymore on cruises since he was very much in the minority, even on this cruise with a good number of people from the U.K. Instead he will bring a suit. VIGO - We had a short day of 10 am to 6 pm and we decided to do Vigo on our own. I went to the Vigo websites and found 3 - 100 minute walking tours. I emailed the tourist office twice in English and once in Spanish and got no response. So I printed the walking tours in color (easier to read) and figured we would use these if we could not hook up with the tours when we reached Vigo. From the pictures on the walking tour maps and the websites I could tell that Vigo was the type of place we love to explore. When we got off the ship we bypassed the long line at the kiosk visitor information center and headed for the information center that was about a block away. They in turn pointed us to the information center for the free walking tours which was another block away. We were told the tours were full, but we were also told the starting times and places. We were hoping maybe our names were on the list since I had sent the emails. As it turns out, getting to the start of the walks took longer than expected and we did not arrive at the beginning of the first tour until well after it had started. We walked up the hill in the park to the start of 100 minutes of nature. That walk is very uphill and not for the out of shape. We had some fabulous views at different points in the park on the way to the top of the park, as well as some interesting hard scape. The good news was that once we were at the top of the park, the rest of the day was downhill. When we exited the park, we were not sure where we were and we walked down a street (with no side streets so no street signs). It turns out we were on the far side of the park from the city. This street gave us an interesting perspective on real life in Vigo. We never felt unsafe. I will add here that we are very careful with the amount of money and what we take off the ship. We do what we can to keep from being targets of pickpockets. We found our way to the start of the 100 minutes of culture tour (well after that tour had started) and we followed our map. We saw many interesting and ornate old buildings. This took us through the business and shopping areas of Vigo. This ended near the old church that is uphill near the port. From here we continued back, to visit a few sights on the 100 minutes by the sea tour. There is an interesting area where it says the fishermen used to live. Then we headed back to the ship for a few hours of relaxation in the Solarium before dinner. LISBON - Lisbon was our next adventure. We headed out bright and early. We had decided to go to the Monastery and to the Tower of Discoveries. Our plan was to take the train. The tricky part was to cross the street (you have to head slightly to your right and mostly forward until you come to an underpass. That actually puts you in an area where you can buy tickets to the train. We weren't sure how to do this, but we watched a local. You press the name of the stop you wanted to go to (Belem) and it tells you how much you owe. The machines give change, but we did have Euro coins to purchase our tickets. The train arrived promptly. Not every train went to Belem so we had to let one train pass by. We arrived at 9:00 which was an hour before the Monastery opened. We headed to the Tower of Discoveries and took some marvelous pictures. The other couple we met on the train headed towards a bakery. They had heard this bakery made a delicious pastry from a secret recipe of the monks. I met them later and they said their pastry was wonderful. We visited the Monastery and also the cloisters (4.5 euros each). Although the cloisters were interesting and spectacular architecture, there was not a lot to see. We only spent about 30 minutes in the cloisters. We then went to the right corner of the monastery (as you face the monastery) and caught the #15 tram to the center of Lisbon. While I think we wanted the last stop, we accidentally got off one stop early at the wrong square and we walked the rest of the way. It was a short and interesting walk with shops. It started to shower and continued to shower for the next several hours. We just walked around and looked for the building that belonged to the church steeple we could see over the buildings. This was another interesting church and this took us through another neighborhood. We walked down the main shopping street back to and around the square. We decided to return to the ship. The rain put a little bit of a damper on the day. I had planned to take the #28 tram for a ride around town, but we decided we had seen a lot of Lisbon on the tram from Belam. I had seen the #15 tram go past a ship, so we took the #15 tram back. But it turned out that ship I had seen was the Pristedam that was docked closer to town. Brilliance was docked closer to the bridge. We stayed on the tram after the stop at the Pristedam, but got off as soon as the tram turned away from the water. We backtracked towards a walking bridge we had seen that went over the tracks and then backtracked from there in the direction of the Brilliance. With a little more planning or a little less rain you could probably do another tourist stop. This is a large city so if you want to see more of the major sites you need to have a plan. While we were lucky it did not pour, the steady light rain kept us from sitting down with our maps and making a last minute decision. I then had a snack in the Windjammer and spent a few wonderful hours in the Solarium and the whirlpool. For some reason, this was a formal night. Our table had decided not to dress formal and I was very happy for that. I don't think I could force my feet into my fancy shoes. We dressed neatly and went to dinner and show. TANGIERS - Another hectic day of touring awaited us. We had planned an independent walking tour with Aziz tours. They had been recommended in the Rick Steves book. We met several other couples from our roll call for the tour. Unfortunately, this was a tender day and tendering was a long and tedious process. Almost everyone on the ship took an excursion. There were only 2 excursions offered. One started at 8:30 and the other at 9:00. So everyone on the ship was up bright and early and ready to go on the first tender which didn't leave until after 9:00 because it took a long time for the ship to be cleared. We were frustrated and upset, but so were the people on excursions. Why make everyone get up so early if you know ahead of time it is going to take hours to get everyone off. Why not stagger the meeting times? As an independent it was even worse. Why make us get up so early to get tender tickets if they know they have 3 hours of excursions to get off first. They could even have told us this when they handed out the tender tickets, but instead they said it would be a few minutes until the ship was cleared for tender 1. (I think this miscommunication may be because there was new crew). When we finally got off the ship at about 11:30 we were met at the docks by our tour guide. We ended up walking 7.5 miles. We saw the old town, the new town, the souks, the Kasbah and many streets with shopping. We stopped at a carpet store for the carpet show. This was something our group wanted to do, and the other 3 couples purchased carpets. They were wrapped into small packages and they met us at the entrance to the port so that the carpets did not have to be carried all day and the purchasers did not have to pay shipping charges. We also visited a spice shop, watched them make bread at another open front store and weave. The others in our group stopped for a meal. Since my husband and I did not want to eat, the guide took us to the old synagogue. He was able to get someone to open the building for us. This was really a special treat. We walked on the beach where we saw a camel. This 5+ hour tour cost 15 euros a person. It was an interesting day in a place I never thought I would see and I never thought I would go to. I would certainly never go there for a land vacation. At 5:30 we were on the tender back to the ship. SEA DAY - Another typical sea day. We slept late and attended 2 lectures. We played miniature golf in a strong wind, watched wall climbing and spent several hours in the Solarium and the hot tub. This was an unanticipated third formal night. CORSICA - Corsica was another tender port and a whole different tender story. There was tendering for the independents on one end of the ship and tendering for excursions on another. This time, we were off the ship immediately, which was a good thing because we were not scheduled till noon (although the ship got there at 11:00). There appeared to be some security problems from France since we had just been to Morocco. RCCL collected all of our passports for the French authorities to stamp. There were rumors that RCCL would not stop in Morocco again because of the security problem. We do not know whether this was the hour it took to clear the ship in Morocco or the collection and return of all the passports in France because we had just been in Morocco. We walked around Corsica for 3 hours and took lots of pictures of statues of Napoleon. The city is very old and very quaint. It was the one sunny and hot day of the cruise. At 80 degrees we felt like we were melting. When we returned to the ship, we couldn't wait to get into the pool. I don't know how people do this during the summer when it is much hotter. VILLEFRANCE - Our plan was to go to Eze. This was another tender day. Which tender experience would we have today. We had been to Villefrance before on a Celebrity cruise and we got off first thing. So we got up early, had breakfast and got on line for tender tickets. This time we had to wait almost 2 hours to get off the ship. At least we were wiser this time. Once we realized we would not get off until after the excursions we went back to our cabin to lie down and read. We were able to hear the announcement for the tender from our cabin. We walked up the hill and found the bus stop for the bus to Eze sur Mer. There are small bus shelters with the number of the bus and the schedule of the buses that stop there. A few minutes late, but the bus arrived. We asked for a transfer but the bus driver spoke no English. He gave us a receipt. As we passed the bus shelters, we were able to see the name of the stops (so we knew when our stop was coming next) and we got off at a stop called David. There was a place to sit on a wall and wait. We chatted with a German couple from our ship that spoke English. There is nothing to do at the bus stop so I am glad we only had to wait 10 minutes for bus 83 which was right on time. The receipt was not a transfer, but the bus driver accepted it. I think he told us the French word for transfer was composition? The cost was only 1 Euro anyway. The next stop must have been the stop near the train station because many more people got on here. The ride up the hill was very interesting. The bus threaded its way back and forth up the hill. It was interesting that we planned with 2 other couples on the best way to get to Eze, but we did not get on the same tender. As it turns out, we went 3 different ways but we all got there. One couple took the train towards Monaco but it did not stop at Eze so they had to take the train from Monaco back to Eze. The other couple took the little tourist tram at the port entrance. The tram dropped them off at a bus stop to Eze. They hadn't planned this, but it saved them the walk up the hill. We got off in Eze Village and stopped at tourist information for a map and bus schedules. We spent the next several hours walking the streets of Eze. It is so interesting to see people actually living in this old town. I think this was my favorite place visited on this trip. This is one of the places where we considered an excursion to avoid the bus changes but the excursion had only a half hour stop in Eze. Yes there were many groups of tourists on excursions. We were able to avoid the groups by turning down different side streets. When we were ready to head back, it was the midday break for the bus 83 that went down the hill. Instead we decided to take the bus to Nice which was due 45 minutes sooner. There were a lot of people at the stop by the time the bus arrived. We got a seat. Everyone got on the bus because they allowed people to stand. Nice turned out to be very interesting. We had no plans and we just walked around. We happened to find the old part of town. These were the most narrow streets and just the sort of place we love. We visited a church in the old town and saw the Ministry of Justice. We walked back to the bus terminal to get the bus to Villefrance. We walked around Villefrance for a while. Villefrance is very interesting on its own. We were looking for and found the Rue Obscure - a covered road where the people hid from bombing during the war. As you can see there is plenty to do in Villefrance on your own. On our first visit to Villefrance we had visited Villefrance and the fort in the morning and walked to the Rothchild mansion in the afternoon. Next time I guess we will go to Monaco. Another sea day and then our cruise ended. We had a 10:30 flight. The daily planner had told us to inform guest relations that we had an early flight and we had done this. We did not ask for it, but they gave us self disembarkation which was fine with us. The schedule said self disembarkation would be between 7:15 and 7:25. We were having breakfast at 7:10 when they called self disembarkation. We finished breakfast and headed to our rooms to get our bags. At this time they called the first color. So we walked off the ship with our luggage at the same time as the first group heading for the RCL buses that would take them to the airport. We followed the taxi signs. There was no line. The taxi had a meter. When we got to the airport it said 25 euros. The driver quickly cleared the meter and asked for 30 euros. We decided not to argue with him. There was probably a charge for the luggage anyway, but I hate when I feel that someone is trying to rip me off. We found seats and waited for the Continental counter to open. We checked in and headed to the gate. Since this was one of a group of special gates where you had to take a bus to the plane, we waited in the main terminal until 10 minutes to boarding time. It was a nice plane with a movie screen in the back of the seat in front of me. I watched 3 movies, and they served 2 meals. Back to the real world. Here is our costs for 2: Cruise + fees $2500 On board credits -$500 Car service to Southampton $160 Novotel Southampton $160 Food Southampton $36 Le Harve tour + museums $325 Vigo $0 Lisbon transportation + cloisters $30 Tangiers tour $50 Corsica $0 Villefrance transportation $10 Taxi to airport $48 Tips $200 Total about $3,100 Add airfare + limo to and from to airport in NJ (Another $1,900) Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
My wife and I cruised with my niece and her friend, so essentially I spent the cruise in the company of three lovely women, which kept many of the other passengers guessing and boosted my ego quite a bit. Our cruise was the second of the ... Read More
My wife and I cruised with my niece and her friend, so essentially I spent the cruise in the company of three lovely women, which kept many of the other passengers guessing and boosted my ego quite a bit. Our cruise was the second of the IotS, from Southampton calling at Madeira, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Lisbon, Vigo and back to Southampton (not Western Mediterranean as I selected from the CC drop down list, but there is no selection offered for this itinerary). On a very warm and sunny day in Southampton, embarkation was fast and slick and by sailaway on deck 11 we were very much in the holiday spirit; the ship's band, 'Rock the Boat' caught our attention immediately with their superb playing, but I will come back to that. The Ship - huge of course and actually very impressive, good architecture, well designed and built. All I can compare with is QM2, and whilst the dEcor is perhaps a little jazzier, no quality is lost. I didn't think I would like the Royal Promenade, but it actually works as a main thoroughfare and social focal point for the ship. Of all the bars, we liked Boleros for a pre dinner cocktails in a very lively Latin American atmosphere, or for something quieter the Champagne Bar was also excellent. Both of these are pretty close to the main Dining Room entrance, so perfect venues just before dinner. There are of course other bars around the ship, and we used those occasionally. The top decks 11 and 12 are also well designed and create a variety of extensive sunbathing and pool areas, many of which sheltered from the wind, and on a nice late afternoon, the pool bars are a good place for a margarita or two. Flowrider and Rock Climbing wall are on the upper deck at the rear of the ship, looked good fun but didn't try. Sports Court here also, used this from time to time, kicking a ball around or the occasional 5-aside football game. Cabins - Good. We were in 7502, right at the front of the ship with a fantastic porthole facing dead ahead. We had a few gripes about the stateroom attendant but overall the cabin was as good as similar cabins on QM2, but without robes, slippers, toiletries. Casino - Big, all you need and I won so no complaints. Dining - We ate in third tier (King Lear) by the window, a wonderfully intimate setting considering the size of the restaurant, served by Milan and Olga. After the first night, which took too long and served dry steak, leaving us at that point wishing we were back on QM2, the food improved. There are only three courses but I have no problem with that, because you can supplement your meal with pretty much anything off the menu, if you can find room for it (which I could not). Milan and Olga were excellent, and took extremely good care of us (Hello Stacey, Chris and Dan). Speciality restaurants (supplement applies) Chops Grille and Portofino's were both excellent, Portofino's had the edge in my view, 5 star dining and excellent service. Entertainment - Alhambra theatre shows were OK to excellent, but even the less impressive shows are still a nice way to spend an hour in the evening. The Ice skating shows, we saw two, were superb, don't miss them. One evening the rink was converted into a venue for a crazy game show called 'The Quest'. Don't be snobby about this, go see it, you cannot help getting caught up in the fun. Otherwise there are performers ranging from violins, guitars, lounge bands etc dotted around here and there, all very nice. And then there is the ship's rock band, 'Rock the Boat'. That's right, rock band, in fact rock, pop and blues. This band, I promise you, was worth the fare alone, so much better than the usual calypso / Caribbean / party band that you will find disappearing into the background on other ships. Rock the Boat - Four extremely talented musicians and I will name them: Band lead vocalist and bass player, Curtiss; Drums and support vocalist Dave; Keyboards Dave; and last and certainly not least, lead guitar and support vocals Darren. I love this band, and Darren is an expert lead guitarist who knows how to play, really play. The blues night in the Pyramid lounge, amongst many other excellent nights when we saw the band, ranks as one of the best nights of my life. The Pyramid lounge became a blues club for the night, a sort of jamming session with a couple of the orchestra's sax players joining in for a few numbers, unrehearsed and simply magic. These guys don't know how good they are, Maybe RCI don't know either, but if you were born in the fifties like me, you will probably love these guys too. I could go on and on about this band, but I won't - just go see them. Destinations - OK, liked Madeira and Lisbon best, but actually usually were quite glad to get back on the ship. Go again - Probably, if only to catch another blues night. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We are a couple in our forties, travelling without children. EMBARKATION We travelled down to Southampton by train from London Waterloo. The terminal is a £5 ten minute cab ride away. As we had completed the online check-in ... Read More
We are a couple in our forties, travelling without children. EMBARKATION We travelled down to Southampton by train from London Waterloo. The terminal is a £5 ten minute cab ride away. As we had completed the online check-in embarkation took only 20 mins from arriving at the terminal to boarding the ship. A wonderful start to the holiday and full marks to RCI for their efficiency. CABINS We had an inside cabin on Deck 9. The cabin was small, but wholly functional. Not a lot of space at either side of the bed, but the bed itself was very comfortable. Flatscreen telly offered updates on our progress throughout the voyage, with weather guides, cruising speed and ocean depth etc, as well as information on all aspects of entertainment on board and film guides on each port of call, as well as news, film and sports channels. Our Filipino room attendant Ferdinand tidied the room three times daily and was very polite, humorous and unobtrusive. At night, we returned to our cabin to find animal shapes made out of towels on the bed and a chocolate on each pillow. Tea and coffee sachets and a kettle are also supplied throughout. DINING We preferred to dine in the buffet Windjammer most days and evenings, as it gave us more freedom. The buffet is open for breakfast between 7am-11.30am for breakfast, 11.30am-3.30pm for lunch, 3.30pm-5.00pm for afternoon tea and scones etc and from 5.30pm-9pm for dinner. The range of food on offer was superb, as was the taste and presentation and the service throughout was exemplary. ENTERTAINMENT We passed on a lot of the shows in The Alhambra Theatre as they were a little too Royal Variety performance stuff for our liking.......comics who laugh at their own jokes, glitzy dancers and tribute acts. The American Drifters were outstanding though and it was nice to see them around the ship the following day. The Labyrinth is one of two smoking bars and was a good spot for meeting people, though the nightclub below was half empty most evenings, possibly because the DJ seemed stuck in an 80's timewarp playing Rick Astley etc every night. Bolero's with an excellent salsa band was much more laidback and enjoyable. Fortunately, the weather was beautiful for all but the first and last days and much use was made of the upper decks poolside entertainment. The rock band Rock The Boat, who played on Deck 11 every day were very good and added to the feel-good factor while sunbathing with a cocktail, splashing about in the pools or wallowing in a hot tub. For the sports minded, the crazy golf, the Rock Wall, Flowrider and the basketball court all saw plenty of action. The gym is also superbly equipped. The centrepiece of the ship, the Royal Promenade, is quite a stunning feature. Boutiques and jewelers sit alongside bars and cafes and this area of the ship was busy day and night. PORTS OF CALL Gibraltar Not really any need to book an excursion on Gibraltar as it's so small and the ship docks ten mins walk from the town centre, but this being the first port of call we took a minibus with a local, which we booked on the spot just outside the ship ( 25 euros each). He drove us through the town explaining some of the local history, up to one of the Pillars of Hercules, with a great panorama of the bay and the ship below, then on to the caves and finally, on to see the free-roaming apes, which was fun and a good photo opportunity, before dropping us back into town. Barcelona We docked around 5pm and pre-booked a shuttle bus into the city. Again, the city is very close, but there is a sizeable bridge to cross, so well worth the ten dollar return trip. We were dropped off by the Columbus statue, just round the corner from Las Ramblas, the most famous street in Spain. We spent the evening there admiring the human statues in their wonderful costumes, taking in a few shops and a bite to eat. Overnight in Barcelona and the shuttle bus back into town the following morning. There, we booked one day tickets on the hop-on hop-off bus ( 20 euros each)which gave us ongoing commentary and allowed us freedom of movement. It's a long time since I was last in Barcelona and it's a wonderful, vibrant city. We ended the day with a last stroll down Las Ramblas and a walk around the food market. Villefranche. By tender from the ship to the port, we had booked the Nice and Cannes On Your Own excursion. This proved to be an excellent purchase. Driving out of sunny Villefranche with the tour guide pointing out the pastel-coloured hillside villas owned by the rich and famous we arrived in Nice, three miles away. Lunch in a lovely restaurant Beau Rivage, right on the beach and a stroll around the boutiques and gardens in this beautiful town, then back on the coach for a trip to Cannes 28km away. Yes, we did the touristy thing and photographed ourselves walking down the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival Auditorium, lay on the beach for an hour and had a cocktail in the town. This was our favorite excursion of the whole trip. Livorno Again, we pre-booked an excursion Pisa and Florence On Your Own. The journey to Pisa is appx one hour and our guide was very informative as we drove through the Tuscan countryside. I have been to both these places before. Despite being a university town, there is little to occupy the mind in Pisa beyond the Field of Miracles, which is where the leaning tower is situated. A few photos and we were back on the coach in 50 mins, heading for Florence. Three hours in Florence were spent in a leisurely manner, strolling round the narrow streets and taking pics around the Arno Bridge. Caglieri There is no need to pre-book anything in Caglieri as the ship pulls right in beside the town, a two minute walk. Our first time here and it was a wonderful surprise. It was Sunday and many of the shops were closed, but the town is very picturesque with the streets lined with a profusion of purple jacandara trees. We hopped on public transport for the fifteen minute journey to the beach, La Poetta, for one euro each and spent the afternoon sunbathing and watching the yachts. A great first impression of Sardinia. Malaga We pre-booked the Marbella and Puerto Banus On your Own excursion. This was largely disappointing. We alighted the ship by 11am as stated, but had to be back on board by 4.30pm, so we got something like 45 mins in Marbella and 45 mins in Puerto Banus, as the coach returned to the terminal by 2.45pm. Malaga didn't look particularly interesting, Marbella was much nicer, though time was so limited we saw very little and Puerto Banus was basically just an exclusive harbor with very expensive boats. Lisbon Pre-booked the shuttle bus into Lisbon for $10 return each, which was a wise move as it is too far to walk into town in the time permitted. In Lisbon, we just had a leisurely day strolling around the shops and the lovely squares, taking pics. I've always regarded the Portuguese to be amongst the friendliest people I've ever encountered on my travels and nothing happened in Lisbon to change that impression. Vigo A sense of everything coming to an end on what had been a wonderful cruise meant that once again we just used our time in Vigo to stroll round the city and get a feel for it, rather than seeking out anything of historical note. The ship pulls right in beside the town, so no need to book any sort of transport. Much more busy than I had realized, with lots of shops and the street musicians were enjoyable. Disembarkation was a swift and efficient as it had been getting on. In conclusion, this was a truly wonderful introduction to cruising for us. The Independence is a beautiful ship with something for everyone. Service and cleanliness are immaculate and the passage is so smooth that you practically glide over the waves. If, like us, you are a bit wary about cruising thinking it is only for the rich, don't be. Everyone we met was very friendly and the more experienced cruisers were only too happy to pass on advice. Would we do it again? You bet we would! Enjoy! CS, London, England. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
My family of four...2 forty somethings and 2 teen boys took the Mediterranean Treasures cruise that embarked on May 31. We arrived in London Gatwick 3 days early so that we could tour London. We stayed at a Best Western hotel near ... Read More
My family of four...2 forty somethings and 2 teen boys took the Mediterranean Treasures cruise that embarked on May 31. We arrived in London Gatwick 3 days early so that we could tour London. We stayed at a Best Western hotel near Victoria Station. Nice clean economical hotel in a good location. London is very expensive for Americans right now. We covered a lot of London using hop on hop off bus and tube and lots of walking. Wonderful place! We hired a private driver to Southampton who was late. I think we were nearly the last ones on the ship! Check in: Smooth and fast. We were the only ones checking at at 3:45! Cabin: For the first time ever we got an inside cabin. Previously we have had balconies, and outside (pothole) rooms. We loved it! I may never go back. We liked how dark and quiet the room was. I was afraid I would wake up disoriented or claustrophobic with no light but this was not the case. Our 7th floor aft location was very good...easy access to dining rooms. Ship: Gorgeous! I loved having 2 sea days to explore. We have never been on a mega ship before and we were impressed. Though large and full to capacity it didn't feel crowded and the layout made it fairly easy to get around. There are ship diagrams everywhere so you can't get turned around. We used the fitness center every day and it was great. Excellent equipment, fab views. My kids loved the flow rider, rock wall and ice skating and got a lot of use of these as there were not too many kids on board. They also loved the DJ class. I used the spa for hair services a couple times and was satisfied, though the services are wildly overpriced! I paid 75 dollars for a wash and blowdry! We spent some time in the casino..very nice. Dining: We had late dining (8:30) and loved it even though we are early diners at home. We never had to rush after port days. Service and food were good to very good in the Windjammer and beautiful dining room. Sorrentos and Cafe Promenade were open when you needed a snack. Worth mentioning is that this ship serves real coffee everywhere!!!! This has always been a complaint of mine that ship coffee is so terrible..not here! Kudos to RCI for this. Gibraltar: We walked to the cable car (15 minutes) took the ride up (bought the ride plus entries to caves, tunnels, and moorish castle for about 20 euro)There was no line early for the cable car. The views from the top were magnificent. We walked back down to town (moderately strenuous)and saw the very charming apes (they do not approach you unless you make the first move..they had plenty of food available to them and we saw no aggressiveness)One of our party wanted to hold one and the younger monkeys are very amenable to this. We somehow took a wrong turn after the caves (the map provided is not detailed)and have to get creative to get back to town. Unfortunately we missed the siege tunnels which I heard were very interesting. We walked around town then back to the ship. Barcelona: We docked at 7 p.m. and walked to La Rambla. It turned out to be at least two miles! Take the shuttle or a cab! We took a cab into town in the morning to meet our privately arranged Segway tour that never showed up!!! That was OK. We had a nice time walking around. Our kids enjoyed the market the best with all the exotic fruit, fish and meat. We have been to Barcelona before and have seen all the Gaudi sights..which are worth seeing. Nice: We walked to town and took the public bus from VF to Nice and then to Eze. The bus was cheap and easy to use, but very hot. It was a gorgeous, cool day out but here was no ventilation or open windows. I don't understand that. Anyway, Eze was fabulous and we spent a couple hours there, then back to Nice where we looked around the Old Town and had lunch and gelato, then took the bus back to VF where we walked around and had a nice glass of wine. VF is very pretty and less crowded than Nice. Livorno: We took the shop tour to Cinque Terre. We enjoyed this very much. Our tour guide was funny and informative (Andrea)and the scenery there was splendid. We arrived at the first island and took a boat shuttle to next two. At the last we had some free time. Though there are lots of tourists here, it still felt pretty authentic. I imagine if your could stay overnight when all the cruise people are god you would get a better feel for the area. Sardina: We arranged a private bike tour for the 12 in our party. We rode about 8 miles around town and to the beach and back through town. Cute town...I'm not sure I need to go back anytime soon...The bike leader went quite fast and this pace was too fast for our group...who wanted a more leisurely ride. We stopped for lunch at a seaside tent like restaurant. Our guides ordered seafood pasta for us, which was OK, but we saw lots of wonderful looking food that other tables had ordered that we would have preferred. Malaga: We took the shop shuttle into town and walked around. We really spent a lot of time at the fortress. It was huge and very impressive. The town was very lovely and we went to a sherry bar and tried the local wine. We had intended to go to Alhambra, but my teens staged a revolt against getting on another bus (the ones in Nice had made a bad impression! and the ride to Cinque Terre was long)It turned out fine as we had a great day in Malaga. Lisbon: We walked off the ship to Belem. It was about 2.5 miles. Saw the discovery monument, the monastery and the coach museum (very interesting). We also bought a sack of Belem Pastries (custard)...delicious! We took a cab to Lisbon Cathedral (about 6 euro) and walked around the town some. It was very pretty and we wished we had more time. We thought to take a cab back to the ship, but the cabbie wanted 15 euro for the 1.5 miles! We took the ship shuttle ($5 per person..I had prebought the tickets fortunately). Our friends took a cab tour they picked up right off the boat and they saw a LOT. I would do that next time. Vigo: We did the ship's white water rafting trip...highly recommended. It was an hour or so bus ride (again, a hot, uncomfortable bus with windows that apparently do not open!!! What's up with that???)We had to carry our inflatable rafts to the river. we wore life vests and helmets. Our group had four 8 man rafts with a guide on each. We went about 8 miles through very scenic country and some very exciting rapids. the guides said they were class 1 and 2 but they were enough for me. There were many splash fights among the boats and great fun was had. I recommend you not do this one unless you are quite physically fit. Carrying the rafts was challenging. Disembarkation: A breeze. We had a 12:30 flight so we wanted to be off early to meet our driver at 6:30 a.m. We did express check out where we managed our own bags and we could have gotten off at 6 if we wanted. Off to gatwick (2 hours) and home! It was a great trip. No complaints at all. OHHHH!!!! the shows...I almost forgot!!! They were GREAT! We went to two ice shows and 2 production shows and the magician at the end . All were fabulous. Very professional. I have never been too impressed with ships entertainment before til now! I can't recommend seeing these shows enough. I was on my feet at the end cheering. The ships orchestra is so good too. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS 31 MAY - 14 JUNE 2008 Captain Teo Ship Facts Passenger Capacity: 3,634 double occupancy Gross Tonnage: 160,000 Length: 1,112' Max Beam: 184' Draft: 28' Cruising Speed: 21.6 knots 2610 My wife and I ... Read More
INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS 31 MAY - 14 JUNE 2008 Captain Teo Ship Facts Passenger Capacity: 3,634 double occupancy Gross Tonnage: 160,000 Length: 1,112' Max Beam: 184' Draft: 28' Cruising Speed: 21.6 knots 2610 My wife and I have just returned from two weeks on independence of the Seas and this was our 11th cruise and out 2nd cruise with RCCI and we enjoyed the experience. We stayed in Southampton, DeVere Hotel on the way out and this made a nice start to our cruise as the outlook was to see other ships in that day and when we got up next morning we could see our ship. Our check in was very quick as we ate breakfast in hotel then a ride around docks to see other ships in and then about 10:30 am we headed in to gate 10 and as we had free car park a tag put on the car and up to unload cases and the across road to the car park and only a short walk back and we were on the ship by 11 am. The rooms had lots of space and were very well designed. The staff were all very helpful and friendly and the shopping mall was just spectacular. The size of the whole ship was for us a bit awesome. The main dining areas was split over 3 floors and a more stunning setting we have never seen. On the down side, we were a bit disappoint with the standard and the presentation of the food. The plates were hot. The service in the dining areas was first class but the food did not live up to expectations. Ports of Call: FRI 30 MAY HOTEL FOR OVERNIGHT SHIPS IN PORT 30 MAY ARTEMIS, NORWEGIAN JADE, VENTURA ARRIVE DEPART SAT 31 MAY Southampton Casual Attire 1700 SHIP IN PORT ORIANA, SEA PRINCESS Day one entertainment was John Evans (comedian) and featuring the Balancing act of Fulcrum in the Alhambra Theatre on deck 3 & 4. After show their was the Showband called "Rock the Boat" in the Pyramid Lounge on Deck 5. Very good band. SUN 01 JUNE CRUISING Formal Attire -- -- Day Two entertainment was The American Drifters and the are as good as ever even only 2 of the original group. We also had the Captain's Welcome Reception at 7:30 - 8:05 in the Pyramid Lounge. You could also have your photo taken with Captain Teo Also their was a time change at 3:00 am MON 02 JUNE CRUISING Casual Attire or '70s Attire -- -- Day Three entertainment was the ships group called Centre Stage as all their show were as god as you going to get. We also went to the first ICE SPECTACULAR which was a International Ice Cast and it was so good we booked another night for same show. At 10:40 they did Dancin' in the Street - '70s style. And the was down the Royal Promenade on deck 5. TUE 03 JUNE Gibraltar Smart Casual Attire 0900 1600 Day Four entertainment was the ships crew and called Once upon a Time. Also was the start of the dance competition with Greg Carger and Orchestra and Professional Ballroom couple Ashley and Ryan Di Lello. On our cruise on the Jewel last year a couple on our table were from Gibraltar and we said we were doing this cruise so the said they would meet us and give us the grant tour of Gibraltar. They meet us off ship about 9:30 and we got back to ship about 3.20 as we were due back by 3:30. We seen on much that we would not have seen on a ship tour. WED 04 JUNE Barcelona, Spain Smart Casual 1900 OVERNIGHT SHIPS IN PORT Norwegian JADE, CELEBRITY SUMMIT We did not get off ship when we arrived. Day Five entertainment was Andy Leach, Comedy, Mayhem, Magic and Madness. THUR 05 JUNE Barcelona, Spain Formal Attire 1700 SHIPS IN PORT SEA PRINCESS, VENTURA We made our way off ship and got the shuttle bus as we docked farther away than last time in Barcelona. Then we got the open top bus and spent 2 hours on it and the to the Rambles for a bit of lunch and a drink. Day Six entertainment was Jonathan Kane, The only tribute act endorsed by Elton John. The repeat Ice show was very good. FRI 06 JUNE Villefranche , France Casual/Tropical Attire 0830 2000 At 9am we went on the ships tour to Nice, Eze for lunch and then to Monaco and Lunch This was a lot of walking but we enjoyed it. Day Seven They showed a Mo vie in the Theatre as we were in port till 8 pm. SAT 07 JUNE Livorno (for Florence/Pisa), Italy Smart Casual 0700 1900 SHIPS IN PORT MSC MELODY, SUMMIT Again a early start on the ships tour at 7:35 to Florence and Pisa. Again it was a lot of walking but the wife loved it as I had been before I still liked it. Day Eight entertainment was Hilary O'Neil a Comedy Vocal Impressionist. SUN 08 JUNE Cagliari, Sardinia Casual Attire 1200 1900 We got off the ship a found a taxi who gave us a good ride with another couple around the area, this was RCCI first time in port. It a very nice place to go again. Day Nine entertainment Crew Show Under the Big Top, This was a very good show. MON 09 JUNE CRUISING Formal Attire -- -- Day Ten entertainment Gary Lovini who I have seen twice but hes does a very good show. We also went to a new Ice Show, some say it was better than the other one but I think both were very good. TUE 10 JUNE Malaga, Spain Casual Attire 0700 1600 We were going to do a walk about as we have been a few times but we booked a ship tour to go to the Caves at Nerja. It was a very hot day but the caves keep the same temperature all the time. Day Eleven entertainment The Mr. & Mrs Game Show staring Cruise Director Graham Seymour also Mad Hatter's Ball Parade down Promenade Deck 5 WED 11 JUNE Lisbon, Portugal Casual Attire 1130 1630 SHIPS IN PORT ROYAL PRINCESS The ships tour was 12:30 Panoramic Lisbon , we think this was the best ship tour we had and we got back to the ship at 4:30.. Day twelve entertainment Starring Blackbeat Beatles which was very good show for my age as I can remember the start of the Beatles. Graham the Cruise Director did a 12:15 Adult show. THUR 12 JUNE Vigo, Spain Smart Casual Attire 1000 1700 We walked around the town and up a lot of hills and steps. Then we stopped for a drink the the square. Day Thirteen entertainment by the cruise people called Invitation to Dance also another street party but not as good as the other ones. FRI 13 JUNE CRUISING Casual Attire -- -- Day Fourteen entertainment Farewell Variety Show staring The Magic of Jamie Allen and guest stars Fulcrum. SAT 14 JUNE Southampton 0515 SHIPS IN PORT ORIANA, SEA PRINCESS We got up early and had breakfast and went to the bar and waited for our call, we were called at 7:15 then off ship and found our cases and out to the car by 7:30. We arrived home just after noon. The cruise and the stops were very good. The food could have been better and the layout of the menu could have been better but you can choose what you like from it in any order as it not laid out as 1,23,+ courses. Walking from dinner to the show you walked or tried to through the casino. All rooms of the ship were very nice and the cabins were great and found very quite and room for everything. Yes we would go on her again and I think most would say that. james/sheila June 2008 Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We sailed from southampton on May 31st after arriving on the coach transfer from Heathrow. The coach trip down was very pleasant and boarding was quick and uncomplicated. Our cabin was not ready when we got on board so we had a quick lunch ... Read More
We sailed from southampton on May 31st after arriving on the coach transfer from Heathrow. The coach trip down was very pleasant and boarding was quick and uncomplicated. Our cabin was not ready when we got on board so we had a quick lunch and made our way to the pool. We had 2 young children with us and they enjoyed splashing in the pool in their underwear while we waited for our bags with swimwear to be delivered to our cabin. Luckily this was the first bag delivered. We had a table for 4 in romeo and juliet on deck 3 and we lasted 2 nights in the dining room. Our complaint here was, understandably they set the table with a full set of cutlery but the opportunity to play with 3 knifes and forks was too much to resist and they all ended up on the floor, the kids menu was not pointed out to us and it was limited and when it did arrive the plates were too hot for an adult to handle and yet it was placed in front of a 2 year old!! We ate in the windjammer every other night and it was much more relaxed with kids and the staff were so much more friendlier there. Our cabin was an inside one with 2 bunk beds that were pulled down from the ceiling. I had requested a cot but it never arrived and I don't know where they would have put it anyway. The cabin was a bit of a squeeze with 4 of us but we managed. Beds are really comfy, but the bunks weren't so and the blanket on the bunk was really light not a proper duvet. Showers were lovely and plenty of towels which were constantly changed. Our stateroom attendant was very nice and helpful. A wash and fold laundry service was provided after the first week for $20. I asked could I give in 2 bags of laundry for $40 but was told no that they would be doing this service again but this didn't happen. Our kids went to the kids clubs every day. The aquanauts was brilliant for our 4 year old and she loved every second of it. The royal babies and tots was good too but our 2and half year old wanted to be in with her big sister in the aquanauts. Before I left I enquired and was led to believe that if our 2 year old was mature enough and fully toilet trained she could be upgraded to a higher aged kids club. She goes to montessori with her big sister so she is mature enough and is fully trained but when we got on board we were told no. She could go to the aquanauts room with her sister if it was quiet and one parent had to stay at all times. We didn't avail of the babysitting service but from speaking to other parents it was very good once your child is 12 months plus. The entertainment on board was excellent. We went to both ice shows but people started queuing up to an hour before hand for seats and they definitely give out too many tickets to the amount of seats available. I was left standing for the entire show because we were not allowed sit on the steps. Normally not a problem but I was 5 months pregnant and was holding a 2 year old who had fallen asleep in my arms. You can't blame royal caribbean for uncaring ignorant people who choose to save seats for others rather than offer them up. Any of the stops were had were lovely. We bought tickets for the shuttle buses into the ports but in malaga it was a joke. We were on the bus for 4 minutes. They brought us from the ship to the port terminal and then you made your way into malaga. About a 20/30 minute walk and charged $6 each for this. We didn't even use the bus on the way back. Disembarkation was quick and painless even if it was early. Our bags were waiting and so was the coach. All in all we had a fantastic time on this cruise. This was our second with RC. We honeymooned on Voyager 6 years ago. We found the facilities for children on freedom class fantastic for children but the staff and food was of a much higher standard on voyager. We are definitely going to go on a cruise again. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We were treated to this cruise by my parents to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. We travelled with them, my brother and his partner, my niece and her 2 yr old son- so 8 of us in total of varying ages and abilities! My parents ... Read More
We were treated to this cruise by my parents to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. We travelled with them, my brother and his partner, my niece and her 2 yr old son- so 8 of us in total of varying ages and abilities! My parents are in their 70's, The four of us in the next generation are in our 40's, my niece is 20 and her son 2 years old. Being from the north and south of the country we all met up just outside Southampton on Friday lunchtime in order to drive to the port in a convoy of three cars. (This was not easy as there are many traffic lights in Southampton!) On arrival at the port gate 8 there was a slight build up of traffic but we were moving slowly. We couldn't believe the size of the ship when we first caught sight of it. We were so excited! Baggage drop off was smooth and as my mum has Parkinson's, and uses an electric scooter, I went with her on foot to the check in area whilst the others parked the cars. They joined us very quickly and we were soon through the necessary controls to check in. ( I had to be searched as I set off the bleeper thing- which always seems to happen to me at airports too!) Mum also had to be searched as her metal hip set off the bleeper! We all could check in through the disabled desk as we were a party with a disabled member which was good as the queue was not as long as some of the others. However we still had to wait 5 or 10 mins after check in for our card passes to be brought from elsewhere. Embarkation was then so easy and access was no problem for my mum. She rode straight up and onto the ship, up in the lift and into her stateroom with ease. There really is no problem for people with mobility problems. You can access all areas of the ship easily. We were handed a lovely cocktail as we entered the ship which was delicious. On Deck 9 We all separated to find our rooms. On the way I was trying to take in as much as possible! One of the first things I noticed was the artwork- this continued to impress me throughout the trip. There is a booklet in your rooms giving background information on this. Our balcony stateroom was better than I had expected. Plenty big enough for two with plenty of storage and a good sized balcony with two chairs and a small table. The bed was huge with top quality linens and was so soft and comfortable it was hard to leave it behind! The towels were very thick and soft but too small for me. I like a good sized bath SHEET and these were just tiny hand towels and a bath towel. The bathroom was small - only room for one- but perfectly adequate. The shower was powerful and hot and I liked that it had proper doors not a curtain-which I hate. Our room attendant came to see us after about 10 mins to introduce himself and explain the room etc. We had tea and coffee making in the room (which they've introduced for the brits I think) but when we went to make a coffee there was no milk and we were too anxious to get out and explore so we didn't bother to send for any( just brought a carton back from breakfast the next morning) We had a look at our family's rooms. My parents had a junior suite which was superb. About half as big again as our room. It had a lounger on the balcony in addition to the chairs and the balcony was wider. They had a super walk-in wardrobe and a bigger bathroom with a full bath(shower over). They had a chaise long type seat in addition to the settee and chairs. We had ordered flowers and a fruit basket for them before we left home. I did this on the internet and it did not allow for me to put in their room number so I had to have it delivered to ours. However it was waiting for us in our room as we arrived so I had our attendant take it round for them. He was pleased to do so and even reported back to us that they were really surprised.Nothing is too much trouble on this ship. My brothers room was the same as ours but a little cramped as there were three adults and a child in there. The Ship Well where do I start. My husband and I set off to explore the ship just as it left Southampton. I could not believe all the things I saw! And the atmosphere as we left port was electric. Bands playing, people dancing, waving flags, lined up looking over the side, cocktails, horn blowing.... The weather was superb and people were making the most of it on the sun loungers and in the pools.We managed to take in the pool deck before we had to get ready for dinner as we had booked the 6pm sitting. Im not sure about the sittings for dinner. I would have preferred to eat a little later as we were always rushing to get ready fro 6. If we had been on or own I think we would have taken a more flexible approach to dining rather than the set time but it was good to meet with the family and get together at meal times. The main restaurant was breathtakingly stunning. We ate in Macbeth which was the middle tier, I think, and we were near a window which was nice but it was far too tight for space around the table. My chair had to be pushed in by the waiter every night as it was too heavy for me to move!! I ended up feeling a little hemmed in. The waiting staff were excellent. Well trained, friendly and 'no' is just not in their vocabulary! You can ask for whatever and it will be done! After the first night our waiter, Candice ,knew every one of our preferences and looked after us so well. The menus were varied and there was something to suit everyone. I could not fault the food. It was perfect for me as it was small portions. If you have a bigger appetite you can just ask for more! A member of our party celebrated her birthday on the Saturday night and they brought her a birthday cake and sang to her round the table. It was a nice touch. The after dinner shows were of a high standard. My favorite being the Strings Ice Show. Top quality skating. It got a standing ovation. My little nephew couldn't take his eyes of the skaters despite being way past his bedtime! The sports activities were great. We tried the ice skating(the boots hurt), the crazy golf(well planned and set out), the rock climbing wall ( hard work), the flow rider (very difficult but fun),the table tennis( kept losing the balls), the jogging track (5 times round = 1 mile), the gym ( loads of equipment). We tried the cantilever whirlpools. Lovely but my only complaint was there are no suitable changing cubicles. I don't like getting changed in the toilets and it was a long way back to my stateroom. You can use the gym changing area but its not private. On the topic of toilets, my niece had trouble when needing to change her little boys nappy as there are NO baby changing facilities anywhere. You Have to go back to your room. This is usually a long way from where you are! My Dad took his grandson to the play activities for 19-36 months. He said the staff didn't do anything with the children - you had to entertain them yourself. We didn't use the ships excursions as my brother had booked us a private mini bus tour before we left. The driver was great. He took us to Blarney Castle( where we kissed the famous stone) the on for sunday lunch at a great Irish pub called Blairs Inn. Highly recommended. Then a quick tour around Cork city and back to Cobh port. One word of warning- allow plenty of time back to the ship especially if you are sailing that day. There was a build up of traffic going back into Cobh( apparently locals going to see the ship leave port) and it took us ages to get back to the ship! Our highlight has got to be leaving Cobh on the Sunday night. It was formal night so we were all dressed up on deck. Thousands of people had lined the town, piers, streets etc. There was a band playing on the quay side and as we set sail there were cheers and whistles,ships horn blowing etc. It was quite emotional. We liked the Olive or twist bar with its live music and dancing. We went there most nights after the show. But there are many more to try. We only had four nights and couldn't possibly cram everything in. We did our best though! One thing I must say is that if you are not used to cruising you WILL feel the ship moving. I don't think the sea was that choppy but I felt a lot of swaying and at times it was making me quite dizzy. Back at Southampton disembarking was so easy and we collected our luggage and back in the car in about 15 mins. All in all it was an amazing experience.I would definitely do it again. Just have to start saving now as we will have to pay for the next one ourselves!! Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We drove from home in the Midlands to the port of Southampton taking our usual 2.5 hour and arrived just after 12 noon. We dropped of the luggage and parked the car and then walked back to the terminal in order to go through the passport ... Read More
We drove from home in the Midlands to the port of Southampton taking our usual 2.5 hour and arrived just after 12 noon. We dropped of the luggage and parked the car and then walked back to the terminal in order to go through the passport control. We were soon on the ship and were welcomed with a glass of champagne after walking through a balloon archway. It made you feel like royalty. We rode the elevator up to the lido deck and walked along to the Windjammer restaurant to have a quick spot of lunch. Plenty of choice of food and soon seated. We then went for a walk around the deck and marvelled at the Flowrider. After having a quick game of golf we went back inside the ship and wandered round finding our bearings. One good thing about the royal promenade is that there are so many different things to look at and do, gift shops, bars, snack bars, etc etc. The evening meal was taken in one of the main restaurants and we had a very pleasant head waiter called Maximo. He was a great comic and made us laugh with his intepretation of the English language ie. a jacket potato. When he had first heard about a jacket potato he thought it was a potato with a napkin wound round it to form a jacket. To say the table was in fits of laughter was an understatement. The first evening was spent moving around bars, theatre and sampling all that the ship had to offer. Also as we found the ice rink and it was fairly quiet we had a try. At one stage we were even the only two on it. Less people to laugh when I nearly fell over! Cabin was just underneath the bridge and was an oceanview. It was very spacious and the bed was enormous. Bathroom was small but functional. Also had a small sofa which is a great advantage as it means that you do not have to sit on the bed whenever you are in the cabin to watch the TV. First and only port was Cobh, Ireland Cruise port in order to go to Cork City. Morning was spent walking around and watching the brave souls try the flowrider. Had a couple of games of golf and a quick game on the basketball court. About 1 - 2 pm we hit the outskirts of Ireland and then followed the inlet into Cobh. We were escorted to the dock by pilot boats spouting water fountains. As this was Indy's second appearance in a month, she was still warmly welcomed by the irish crowds who were lining all the streets of the town in order to see the largest liner (at the time) enter their town. As we were stood on the deck everyone was taking photos, people on the ship were waving at people on the docks and street and vice versa. To add to the occasion, the local market was happening alongside the lower streets of the town. Once we had docked, we left the ship and went for a walk around the town. It is very compact and very attractive, with an enormous church at the top of the hill which overlooks the whole town. We went and sampled some of the local drink in one of the many public houses in the town. After a couple of hours sampling the local life, we went back to the ship for evening meal and then went back out on the town again. The next day we left the ship and took the bus into Cork city. We then caught another bus and went to Blarney castle. We toured the grounds and then climbed the many steps inside the castle to the very top where we kissed the Blarney stone. On return to the city we walked around for a while and then caught the train back to Cobh. Left Cobh at 6 pm. The following day was spent at sea cruising back to Southampton. During the day we again watched people on the flowrider. I had a go at climbing the rock wall and got halfway up. Some very small children were climbing up it with no bother at all. Had another game or two of golf and in the afternoon watched the Ice Show. Considering how small this rink is the shows which are produced on it are spectactular. The skaters put in throws and stuff which you see on the television and they have no room whatsover to get their speed up before the throws. Congratulations to them. Whatever you do, do not miss the ice shows!! Best entertainment on the ship. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We knew she was big. Nothing could have prepared us for the size of what was, at the time, the biggest cruise ship in the world. As we drove up to Southampton port we were just blown away with the size of this stunning ship in front of us. ... Read More
We knew she was big. Nothing could have prepared us for the size of what was, at the time, the biggest cruise ship in the world. As we drove up to Southampton port we were just blown away with the size of this stunning ship in front of us. Such a massive ship would bring to mind long queues to get onboard but this was not the case. In no time at all I'd moved my dear old lady friend, in her wheelchair, through the formalities and we were standing in the foyer of the most fabulous, brand-new, foyer of Independence of the Seas. To say we were gobsmacked would be an understatement. This was my second cruise and the first for my friend. We were stopped in our tracks at the opulence, the colour and sparkle of it all. Our luggage came to the delightful cabin quite quickly and we were out exploring in no time, only interupted by the practice 'safety drills' which was well organised and not too intrusive of our rather excited early hours on the ship. What an experience. We were just so elated to be on this floating hotel where we savoured divine meals in the copious restaurants; Wind Jammer was open any time of day or night and always full with people choosing from hundreds of choices in huge, delightful smorgasboard of hot and cold collations. Our evening more formal dining was at a table for six, so we met two other friendly couples as we sat beside a window and had the most efficient serving staff. Every day we had something different to do and with eleven nights and twelve days ahead of us we set about making sure we got the best out of all on offer for this inaugural cruise to the Canary Islands. We appreciated the evening newsletter which appeared on our beds each night after our house-attendant had turned down our beds and made us a surprise towel sculpture. It gave us time to plan for the next day and not to miss the best of the huge amount of activities, lectures, trips for the next day. Our shore excursions were easy to book, tickets arrived on time and we saw lots of places in Madiera, Teneriffe, Lanzarote, Lisbon and Vigo. We didn't go rock-climbing, wave-riding, golfing or tennis but we did attend food sculpture, table-serviette folding and spent indulgent time in the beauty spas. Heavenly. My 80's friend had always wanted to cruise but could never find anyone to go with her. She was in a wheelchair but I have to say access was excellent. As it was early days for the ship we told an official that the lift doors tried to close too quickly for wheelchair access. This was attended to and like the incident with our flat tyre, it was fixed and we got a report to say so. My only quibble is with the gratuity/tipping edict system. I don't like being told what to give, I rather like deciding the amount and to whom I give it. To overcome this - as with the other two couples at our table - we put a sum of British pounds into an envelope and asked the head waiter to share it around the staff. Independence of the Seas was on its first voyage to the Canary Islands, the staff were so well presented, with keen and energetic enthusiasm for their work. I hope they continue to assist and share their cruise as well as they did on this first trip. Certainly the ports we visited gave us the most amazing welcomes as it had not been there before thousands were keen to welcome it along the shore and specialty groups beside the ship when we walked down onto the port. We were given souviners and music and dancing abounded. Super memory. So, if you like the idea of cruising in the most wonderfully presented cruise ship, like waking up in a new port each morning, appreciate divine cuisine and relaxing outdoors or in - choose a Royal Caribbean cruise. My mind slips back to the most fantastic holiday on Independence of the Seas, my life was enhanced by sharing this most wonderful cruising experience with my very special friend. We thought everything about it was value for money, food, activities, interesting destinations, shopping, casual cafe time (what a picture the tiny cakes and savouries!!) with plenty of options everyday. The ice show was the best show I have ever seen, on land or sea. I won the main prize on day one's welcome aboard party which got it all off to a great start. Go well - Independent of the Seas. Please may I join you again sometime? Sure thing! Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
This was our sixth cruise, third from Southampton and second with Royal Caribbean. We arrived at the terminal at 10:45 am after a leisurely 4 hour drive from our home near Liverpool. As we approached the cruise terminal the sheer size of ... Read More
This was our sixth cruise, third from Southampton and second with Royal Caribbean. We arrived at the terminal at 10:45 am after a leisurely 4 hour drive from our home near Liverpool. As we approached the cruise terminal the sheer size of the ship was visible. We were swiftly directed to the luggage unloading area and then after unloading proceeded to the parking area, which was just 2 minutes walk away from the terminal building, check in was quick and efficient having pre completed the online forms, no waiting at security and then straight onto the ship - in total from leaving the car it took no more than 10-15 minutes, top marks for organization. After checking out our dining table we went up to Windjammer for some lunch, we then spent a little time exploring the ship before going to our room at just after 1pm. Three of our bags had already arrived and our fourth turned up a few minutes later. We had a D2 Room with Balcony (9576) on Deck 9, we found it to have ample hanging and drawer space, a minibar with space for us to put our own bottles of water in, 6ft double bed, 3 seater sofa and 28" flatscreen tv showing a mix of news, documentary, entertainment and films, the balcony was a good size with two chairs and a small table. Our room steward popped in to introduce himself, we found him to be efficient and very low key. We had a table for two on second sitting in the King Lear dining room on deck 5 - which was excellent, the waiting staff could not of been better and they looked after us extremely well, we were rather concerned about about some of the negative comments we had read about the standard of food before going away, but over the 14 nights we never had any cause for complaint about either the quality or the portion size. One thing we did notice was that the menu posted outside of the dining room did not always display all of the items on the menu for that evening. We ate breakfast in Windjammer everyday and usually also had a snack there mid afternoon, unless out on a trip, food always piping hot and lots of choice, it did get busy at peak times especially on port days, but we always found a table but generally tried to go either before or after the main rush. Rolls, cakes and cookies were also available in the Cafe Promenade, and Pizza from Sorrento's. We tried Johnny Rockets on one of the sea days for lunch and it was excellent. We did pick and choose which shows we attended as obviously they are catering for a wide audience and not everything was to our taste, the only thing we did feel that was missing was at least one well known act. Graham Seymour the cruise director was very funny and was very visible around the ship, during the second week he also did a five minute slot each morning that was repeated on a loop between 6am and 10am on one of the tv channels going through the highlights for the day, there was also a couple of behind the scenes tours he presented, which he brought his humor to. The ice shows were extremely good, we actually preferred Freeze Frame to the second show Strings. The nightclub was very good - busier on some nights than others, but found the music to be great. Bars etc - good service throughout and very good choice of drinks at reasonable prices. Facilities - lots to do throughout the ship, plenty of sunbeds, sitting areas etc. The Royal Promenade can become a little congested at times in particular when they have retail sales on. Reasonable choice in the onboard shops. Gym was fantastic, better than the one we go to at a local Hotel! Ports: Gibraltar - we took the Fortress Gibraltar organized tour which was very good and enjoyable, only one point was that it took over an hour longer than advertised, leaving us a little less time for shopping than we had hoped, but having been to Gibraltar many times before we were able just to go to the shops we wanted. Barcelona - Evening in port - we booked tickets for the evening shuttle service, which runs between 7pm and 10pm but despite getting into port on time, it was almost 7.30pm before we were able to get off and then the traffic in the port was very busy, we did not get dropped off until almost 8pm - a quick walk and drink was all that we could manage before heading back to catch the shuttle at 9.45pm again traffic very busy, due to the overnight ferries loading at this time. I think they need to rethink the shuttle bus times and possibly extend it till say midnight or my advice would be just get it one way and get a taxi back. Barcelona - we took the transfer to Sitges a small resort about 45 mins south of Barcelona - well worth the visit, some lovely shops and a nice seafront prom / beach. Villefranche - we took the Nice & Monaco on your own tour - this gave us two hours in Nice and three hours in Monaco - which was ample - as we have visited both before. Livorno - We had a day off as we have visited Florence and Pisa before and relaxed onboard, with so many people on tours the ship was very quiet. Cagliari - We had a leisurely walk around town, being a Sunday not many places open, but a lovely place. Malaga - We took the tour to Mijas, as we quite regularly have short break in the area we have visited most places - but had not been to Mijas for a number of years. Lisbon - We took the shuttle bus into the center and walked around. Vigo - We had a walk around the center for a little while before returning to the ship. Our only criticism about the tours was the ticket collection process, in every other cruise ship we have been given your stickers as you enter the lounge, you then sit and wait to be called - here you had to go in sit down, then get called up to get your stickers, then sit down again, as most times they used the theatre this was quite awkward, squeezing past people, walking down to the front, then finding another seat afterwards, then getting out again to go on your tour. As ever on most cruise ships and in life in general, a minority element of rude and inconsiderate people, examples included pushing past everyone to get into the lifts, pushing into the lines at the buffet, speaking to the ships staff like dirt. Disembarkation was very smooth and well organized - we were called right on schedule at 6:45am and in the car at 7:00am. We both really enjoyed the cruise and would not hesitate to return on it, we very much went on this holiday for the ship not the ports as we have been to most of them before either on holiday or on other cruises. We would not hesitate in booking another cruise onboard - but it would be good if they could offer some new ports of call / itineraries, but I appreciate they are quite limited sailing from Southampton. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
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, ... Read More
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. PORTS GIBRALTER: 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! CANNES: 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. LIVORNO: 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! ROME: 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 (info@romeinlimo.com). 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! CAGLIARI/SARDINIA: 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! CADIZ: 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. LISBON: 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! VIGO: 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. SOUTHAMPTON: 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. OVERALL: 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
Sail Date June 2008
EMBARKING - We made our way down to Southampton on 14th June and arrived at Southampton port around midday. Our paperwork was checked at the gates and in we went. We were pointed over to an unloading area where a chap helped get our cases ... Read More
EMBARKING - We made our way down to Southampton on 14th June and arrived at Southampton port around midday. Our paperwork was checked at the gates and in we went. We were pointed over to an unloading area where a chap helped get our cases from the boot of the car and took them away. Job done. We parked the car nearby (parking is really easy and you can see the ship from every parking space!) and made our 5 minute walk to the ship. Checking in was a breeze, no endless queues like at the airports. A pleasant lady checked us in which took a total of 5 minutes and then off we went to get on the ship. Our cabin (an outside cabin on deck 4 - more about this later)was ready so we decided to put our hand luggage in there, grab the cameras and go exploring! BEST BITS: No queues, no flying, open luggage allowance, sitting with a cocktail within half an hour of parking the car! THE SHIP - This ship is huge and although there are a fair few people on board, it never seems busy and you can always get a seat in one of the many bars or restaurants are on the sun deck. The ship is very glitzy, neon lights, plants, art work, marble floors, lush carpets and is very clean and tidy. The staff are friendly and always smiling, no sloppy service on this ship! You can tell its an American cruise line - they just know how to do it don't they. Great food, great shows, great service - it makes other cruise lines look like Butlins! OUR CABIN - Our cabin was an outside cabin on deck 4 with a nice big round window, no small portholes on this ship! The bed was huge and the most comfortable we had ever slept in. Crisp cotton sheets and plenty of pillows. The storage space was good, suitcases went under the bed, wardrobe ok for 2 of you and it has a safe in there too. The dressing table is useful with little hidden shelves behind the mirror at the side. The bathroom is functional, big shower with proper circular shower doors, not naff shower curtain here! Plenty of towels and flannels. There aren't any toiletries available in the bathroom other than shampoo in the shower, so take your own toiletries! We didn't see much of our room steward, he kept himself to himself but we were ok with that. He made our room a pleasant one, turning down the sheets at night, chocolate on the pillow, clean bathroom and sometimes we would come back to the cabin and find an elephant or a monkey on the bed made out of towels! BEST BITS: The bed, the room service, the view from the window FOOD - my favorite subject and boy, did they do us proud! What can I say and where do I start? Starting with breakfast - we decided to have breakfast in bed every morning - why not? So we ordered our breakfast every night by filling in a card and hanging it outside the door. You have up until 3am to order brekkie! You can have English breakfast items, or continental, pastries, hot chocolate, fresh fruit (fruit platter is fab!) and fresh hot flasks of ground coffee or tea. I hear that the breakfast in the Windjammer buffet restaurant was marvellous - I can believe it too, but we just decided that we were going to be lazy and treat ourselves! Breakfast in bed is not charged for, its all included in the room service. Lunch - The best lunches we had were in the Windjammer Buffet Restaurant. It seems wrong to call it a buffet as it brings to mind the wrong image. Forget that image, this is a first class buffet restaurant. Firstly, there are different "stations" within the restaurant. There is Italian, Japanese, Thai, Indian, English, Salad bar, Dessert bar, it goes on and on. I love Indian food so decided to try the curries - they were fantastic. I've dined in some very fine Indian restaurants in the UK and I can honestly say, the curries here were as good, if not better, than those fine restaurants. Every day they would have 3 or 4 different curries and rice and breads - in total I had 22 curries in 14 days! I had it for lunch and dinner it was so good. They were very authentic, had some interesting mixes (such as paneer and chickpea, potato and spinach) and I couldn't get enough of them. Being a vegetarian is not a problem on this ship, they go out of their way to cater for us which makes a huge change. We are normally 2nd class citizens when it comes to menus, but not here, you will be spoilt for choice. Amongst all the fine cuisine above, they also have an English station where there is a huge roast every day, mash, carrots, peas, gravy, shepherds pie, fish pie, toad in the hole - they cater for even the plainest of pallets! The salad bar is great too - lots of variety and lots of different salad dressings - again, very American - they know how to do food! The dessert station is fab - bit bowls of whipped cream, freshly made ice cream, choc mud pie, jellies, mousse, cakes, cookies, muffins - again a fantastic choice. The main restaurant is as you would expect - formal and special. We had a table for two and our waiters were great. They noted that I was a vegetarian on the first night and went out of their way to make sure that I had a good choice of dishes. My husband tried lots of different dishes, especially fish - lots of fish that we hadn't even heard of!. There is a steak and lobster night on board which he enjoyed too. The black tie nights are fun - a chance to get dressed up and I noticed that not all chaps wear black tie, lots wore suits, so no need to by a penguin suit just for a cruise. Johnny Rockets - burger bar. Fantastic for a lunchtime treat. The cover charge is $3.95 each (around £2) and is worth every penny. Its set out like a real 50's diner, rock and roll in background, staff dressed up in that era and mini wurlitzers on your table where you can pick and song and it will play over the sound system. Every now and then the staff burst into song and start dancing in the isles. The food is what you would expect and more. As soon as you sit down they bung massive onion rings and a big bowl of fries in front of you. They you can order what burger you want. My husband had the double cheeseburger which stood 5 inches high! I had the toasted cheese sandwich which was lovely. You can order as many chips and onion rings or chilli etc as you want. Drinks are charged for, but quite cheap. Included in the cover charge is an oreo cookie sundae - you have to have this - its naughty, but nice! SORRENTOS - Italian pizza bar on the Royal Promenade deck. Again, all included and they serve pasta, pizza, salad and cakes. They are open most of the time and is idea for a slice of pizza after a late night in the nightclub. ACTIVITIES - The cruise director, Graham Seymour, is great. I've seen him on previous cruises with the Princess Cruise line. He suits RC very well and is really good fun. He does a TV show every morning, telling you about what lay ahead for that day and he always had us in stitches. I wont forget those mornings sat in bed with the hubby, breakfast on our laps, laughing and Graham's silliness. The theatre is great - the shows again are very American, some would say cheesy, I would say not. The entertainment in here is varied - magicians, violinist, singers, dancers, comedians (although one would question whether David Copperfield is a true comedian!). The Ice shows were good on the ice rink too, very daring and great costumes/music. You can order drinks in the theatre and ice show just before the show starts which is great. The rock climbing wall is fun, my hubby gave it go and really enjoyed it. The surf rider is great to watch, we didn't fancy having a go as it looks a bit too fast and furious but it was very good fun to watch the young ones performing on it! The basketball court looked good and the mini golf with 9 holes at the back of the ship was brilliant! We played on there many an evening as the sun went down. Some of the pools and jacuzzis are open 24 hours so if you fancy a midnight dip that is possible. There is a waiter service around the pool in the day so you really don't need to move from your sun bed (unless you want to get your self a "Mr Whippy" style ice cream from the machine near the pool - all included. There is a Ben and Jerrys on board which is great although you have to pay for it. Having said that, you ought to see how much ice cream you get for £2 - ridiculous! We could only manage one trip there as we were so full from it! We visited some great ports - other reviews cover these and you can gain lots of information about the places that ship visits by surfing the net. Our day in Rome was great - we went on the cruise trip for this and it cost about £35 each for the day but was worth it. Monte Carlo was good too, take the little train on wheels as this will take you around the "race track". Gibraltar was good although I wasn't overly keen on the monkey running wild at the top of the Rock! They steel anything in a plastic bag so don't take any up with you. I saw the monkeys steeling bags off people! The view from the top of the Rock are fab and you can take a great photo of your ship from there! Beware the queues for the cable car for this though, we queued for over an hour (although I guess it was worth it). Nice and Florence were beautiful, Pisa was good although once you have seen the leaning tower theres not much else to do around there. All in all a fabulous holiday - great food, great room, great places of interest, great service and worth every penny. When we got back home we sat and talked about the holiday and tried to think of just ONE thing we would change - and we couldn't think of one thing. It was perfect and we are definitely now fans of Royal Caribbean. I'm not sure that we will bother with Princess or P&O ever again! Happy cruising folks! Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
This was our first cruise and travelled as a family 2 adults and 2 children aged 5 and 12. Leaving 28th June from Southampton After a nightmare 8hr car journey to Southampton we stayed at the holiday inn on the outskirts of Southampton ... Read More
This was our first cruise and travelled as a family 2 adults and 2 children aged 5 and 12. Leaving 28th June from Southampton After a nightmare 8hr car journey to Southampton we stayed at the holiday inn on the outskirts of Southampton leaving the car there for the two weeks (even with the room was cheaper than paying for parking at the dock). Waking refreshed and ready to go we set off for the port in a taxi at 11am expecting a long wait to get on board as embarkation was not until 2pm within 10mins of arriving our luggage was gone and we were checked in, walking onto the ship Excellent!!! As it was a our first cruise we were just as excited as the kids, exploring the ship as stated in a previous review we found it good to go and find your dining table for the evening, what a size this ship is ,at 1pm our stateroom was ready. We had an inside cabin for the 4 of us, we were disappointed with the sleeping arrangements and size of the cabin, 2 single beds (on our anniversary) and 2 bunks above , we were led to believe there would be a small sofa bed for the little one as she has trouble with getting up and down bunks to get to the loo the bunks were "Not recommended for children under 6" so not a good start I went to guest relations and offered to pay to upgrade they did their best to help but the ship was fully booked. The beds were pushed together to make a large double and our 5 year old spent most of the trip in-between us in the crack of the bed (the only night she stayed on the bunk she had an accident). Pre booked packages. Very Disappointed. I had pre booked the grand romance package and on arrival we got champagne in our room (no champagne glasses) flowers were delivered on the first day at 8pm they were very nice, canapEs and chocolates were delivered together 5 mins before dinner on the formal nights. The silver photo frame was not in stock and have been told it will be posted to me!! All in all not really good value for money Pools. Excellent our little one was a little bit nervous of water but after an hour in the H2O zone was like a water baby, the other pools and Jacuzzi's were great well looked after. The only gripe with the pools was the lack of attendants to monitor the saving of sun beds sometimes people disappearing for hours on end leaving towels there while people were looking for beds around the pool to monitor their children and also the kids getting boisterous and spoiling the pool for others. For the kids. Fantastic, excellent , first class This made ours and the girls holiday the best we have had, after the initial registering and getting the little one to join the Aquanauts for the first few activities we could not get her away from the place even to get off the ship !! The staff was the best and made our little girls holiday and the older one disappeared in the morning and appeared when needing something or at the odd meal time. Although unlike other parents kept a check on her (some kids were just left to run amok). For the first few days myself and my wife were lost without the kids to look after but then learned to relax and enjoy our holiday as well ? Now for the food. I have gained a over a stone in the past two weeks, breakfast in the windjammer was great (even though the ship was full never had a problem getting a table or food) well presented and something for everyone. Lunch again in the windjammer great again. For the restaurant we were on early sitting this suited us with the little one in the Romeo & Juliet dining room we had a fantastic table for four by the window, Marina our waitress was Top Class and really made us feel very special ever meal time. We ate there every night, the food was outstanding. We also liked dressing up for the formal nights (some did not, personally I don't think these people should be allowed in unless dress code adhered to) Ruben our barman in the restaurant amused us and the kids with magic and makes a wicked cocktail. Another little gripe was the pre-paid gratuities this was pre printed vouchers for the room attendant (who deserved a medal tidying up after us lot and left fantastic towel animals) the waiter, assistant waiter and head waiter. We only really saw the head waiter on a couple of occasions and would like have split the amount myself; in the end we also left a little gift for marina's son as an extra. Also I could not believe my eyes on the last night when people who had ate every night in the dining room failing to turn up for the last night to avoid tipping!!!!!! Entertainment was good in all areas although parades and such were too late for us as the little one was exhausted by 10pm on most nights so missed most of them. Ports of call, we tended to go around by taxi rather than an excursion this normally worked out cheaper and more convenient but do agree price with taxi's before leaving and compare a couple as some will try it on. All in all we had a fantastic time for our first cruise and will be doing the independence next year on the Italian med cruise on 1st august. This time we have booked a junior suite with a balcony and will know what to expect Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
Excitement was at an all time level as our party of 14 got ready to embark on the 4th voyage of The Independence of the Seas on June 28, 2008. We arrived at the terminal at 11:15 eager to start our adventure as early as possible. After ... Read More
Excitement was at an all time level as our party of 14 got ready to embark on the 4th voyage of The Independence of the Seas on June 28, 2008. We arrived at the terminal at 11:15 eager to start our adventure as early as possible. After reading on the cruise critic boards that you were able to embark early and just wait until your cabin was ready. We were walking onto the ship at 11:30 eager to start to learn where everything was. The process was the easiest I have ever experienced on my cruising history. We were informed our cabins would be ready at 1 PM. We took a walk around deck 11 which is where the pools are as well as the Windjammer and specialty restaurants. We then proceeded to go for lunch at the Windjammer. So to start this review let me go in order. Cabin: We selected an inside cabin. Since we do not spend anytime in the cabin we chose this category. The room was ample enough with plenty of storage. When the beds are put together to make a king (not a queen) there is no room to walk around either side. You really have to slide off the bed or step over the corners. Otherwise there was no complaint. The shower is ample enough as there is a rounded shower door. As stated in other reviews, there is no conditioner or lotion in the room. Easy enough to remedy by bringing along sample sizes. Dining Room: We were seated at 2 adjoining tables in the Macbeth Dining Room. We were a table away from the window so we had magnificent views. We had Renato as our waiter and he was superb. I have to say the food is just adequate. There were a few nights that were very good but on a whole RCI needs to improve their food. The choices were varied enough but just not that good. It actually got better towards the end or we just got use to it. Flaming Baked Alaska and lobster tails are a thing of the past. They had surf and turf which included 1/2 of a small lobster tail. The bread was actually very good compared to a Princess cruise we took last year. Windjammer: Eat here only if you need to. It is very crowded and the food is for the masses. Good when dining room is closed for breakfast. Specialty restaurants: If you can treat yourselves. Chops was great and Portofino's is not to be missed. Service is first class as it should be. Cafe Promenade has great cookies in the afternoon. Stop by for a cup of coffee or tea and some sweets... Excursions: We took one in every port with the exception of Sardinia. I can truly say you get value for your money. Ports: We stopped in Gibraltar, Barcelona, Nice, Livorno, Sardinia, Malaga, Lisbon and Vigo. Only Sardinia we were not thrilled with. It was Sunday and EVERYTHING is closed. A couple of restaurants had the sense to stay open. Learning from a neighbor who spent the school year there as an exchange student, we knew that all would be closed. Most restaurants closed at 1 pm for siesta. A few got smart and were ready for the cruise ships that stopped there. Entertainment: Graham Seymour was our cruise director and if you are lucky enough to get him you will have the time of your life. All shows were professional and excellent. The ice shows are something that you should not miss. One night we had THE QUEST. This was the funniest thing every and if you have the opportunity to get it on your cruise do not miss this for anything! You will not be sorry!!!! Funny, funny, funny!!!! The parades on the promenade were just terrific and lots of fun. Disembarkation: As easy as embarkation. I give this ship the highest recommendation. It is a beauty and cannot wait for it to come to Florida. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
My wife, son (age 13), and I went on the Independence of the Seas "Mediterranean Treasures" cruise, leaving Southampton on June 28 and returning on July 12. The ship stopped at Gibraltar, Barcelona, Villefranche (French Riviera), ... Read More
My wife, son (age 13), and I went on the Independence of the Seas "Mediterranean Treasures" cruise, leaving Southampton on June 28 and returning on July 12. The ship stopped at Gibraltar, Barcelona, Villefranche (French Riviera), Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Cagliari, Malaga, Lisbon, and Vigo. Pre-cruise: I opted to make travel and pre-cruise arrangements through RCCL. We flew from Washington Dulles to Heathrow without any problem, were met immediately by the RCCL rep, and bused to our hotel, which was the Grosvenor House. The hotel was nice and in a fabulous location (next to Hyde Park), but everything associated with it was hideously expensive. Since we arrived early in the morning, we got to camp out in the lobby for about 4 hours prior to getting into a room. We opted for free sightseeing (the British Museum and Hyde Park) on the day prior to embarkation. Travel to Southampton: the harried RCCL rep, who was also trying to handle several busloads of passengers leaving for a Celebrity cruise out of Dover, got us onto the bus about 45 minutes late - just in time to hit the height of London weekend traffic. We drove through the middle of town to another hotel and stopped - no passengers. The driver finally rousted the handful of people we were supposed to pick up, and we then spent another 45 minutes in traffic going to another hotel to pick up maybe four people. It took over two hours to get out of London, and we didn't get to Southampton until around 2:00 p.m. Since we like to get on the ship early, this was fairly irritating. Embarkation: RCCL did a great job here, as it took less than 15 minutes to go from the port to the ship with our IDs in hand. This was probably one of the most efficient people-processing operations I've ever seen. The Ship: Independence is enormously impressive and very large, but it was easy to get around. I thought the elevators would be mobbed, but after a day or so everyone settled into various routines and crowds were limited to shows, parades in the Royal Promenade, and the pools. The dEcor (particularly the artwork) is not immediately attractive, but you need to understand that most of the major pieces are thematic and are not just trim pieces. Most rooms had a folio that described the art, and I'd recommend reading that folio in a spare moment so that you can appreciate some of the works (or even figure out where they are). One outdoor space I would recommend is Deck 3 (I believe), which features an outside covered walkway that runs around the entire ship. It was rare to find many people on this walkway, and since one lap of it was about a quarter of a mile, it is a nice place for a stroll. Most of the public spaces are very nice, with two exceptions: the Schooner Bar, which for some reason always smelled like a reeking fireplace, and The Crypt, a weird bar that looked like a set for a high-school production of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Since the Crypt stayed open most of the night, I can only conclude that it caters to customers who get so drunk they don't care what the place looks like. I used the gym a fair amount, including taking four Pilates classes during the cruise. The gym is large and well-equipped, and the staff was very capable. My wife used the spa on several occasions for facial and hair treatments, and gives them high marks. My son and I didn't attempt the Flowrider, but we did use the rock wall several times and my son and his buddies used the pool a fair amount. The pool areas were consistently crowded on this cruise, but that didn't bother us, as we are not sun worshippers and were content to leave the spaces to the passengers who really wanted to work on their sunburns. One thing RCCL did on this cruise was run a number of documentaries on one of the TV channels on ship operations as well as construction and refurbishment of several RCCL ships. I was fascinated by these, since I'm always curious about how these huge cruise ships are built and operated. Since things such as bridge and galley tours have disappeared due to security concerns, these documentaries are the next best thing. The Room: we had a junior suite (1600) on Deck 10, which was perfect for the three of us and was the best cabin we've had on any cruise we've taken. The walk-in closet was enormous, and we had a spacious balcony with good views fore and aft. Also, we enjoyed excellent service from Brenda, the room steward, who was efficient and unobtrusive. The Dining: previous posters have complained about the Windjammer buffet and the fare in the formal dining room fare, but we simply don't agree with them. We sat in the first seating in the Galileo (Deck 5 dining room), and had marvelous companions (Peter, Maggie, and their son Daniel from England) as well as excellent service from our waiters, Lloyd and Raymundo. We thought the food was better than on our five previous cruises (which includes RCCL, Celebrity, and Princess), and the menu was more varied. Now, on a ship this big, you will have to plan a little bit to use the Windjammer. It gets very crowded at peak times - so don't go at peak times. You can always sit down for breakfast or lunch in the formal dining room, or you can use one of the other restaurants. Cafe Promenade was always open, and the Sorrento's pizza parlor had extended hours (we didn't eat in Johnny Rockets, as there's one of those near our house and we didn't think it was something we needed to do on a cruise). My wife and I ate in Portofino on one of the three formal nights, and it was fabulous experience. If you are traveling with teenagers who view formal nights as sentences to be worked off, cutting them loose for one of the nights and going to the specialty restaurant is a very good plan. The Entertainment. I enjoyed the shows immensely. Since this ship caters to the British market, the various acts were generally from the UK or Australia, and I thought they were very good (Americans just don't imitate Ozzy Osbourne or Prince Charles very effectively). Again, previous posters have complained about the acts, but these people apparently have standards well in excess of ours. One piece of advice: if you intend to see the ice show (and you should - it's impressive, given the reduced size of the ice rink), take the time to get tickets for the show. The tickets are free, but are necessary because of the number of seats available. So, unless you want to cram into the back like we did and sit on a cocktail table, pick up tickets when they are announced to be available. I would give Graham Seymour, the cruise director, very high marks. He was much more interesting than other cruise directors we've had, and my impression was that he was rewarded with Independence for his abilities. The Ports. I'll cover each port in turn, but first I'd like to praise Dr. Kenneth Pearl of Queensborough College for the great series of lectures he gave on these regions. Unfortunately, the Independence for some reason decided to schedule these lectures in a little room in the Conference Center, and invariably scheduled the Inconsolable Toddler Hour in the room right next door! Dr. Pearl did a great job, and deserves a much better venue; on other cruises we've been on, he would have filled over half the main theater. Gibraltar. Following advice from other Cruise Critic posters, we did not book an excursion, but just walked into town and took the tram to the top of the rock. While the Barbary apes were more numerous than we expected, they weren't a bother. We walked halfway down and caught the tram the rest of the way (another Cruise Critic tip), which worked out very well. Barcelona. The Independence stayed overnight here, arriving around 7:00 p.m. The arrival time precipitated a stampede trying to get off the ship, and was our introduction to the unevenness of local shuttle services. Apparently, the company RCCL booked didn't provide anybody to get people onto busses, so some very high-ranking members of the ship's crew were enlisted to try and disentangle the mess. Not enough busses, no taxis (for some weird reason), and the last bus service back to the ship at 10:00 p.m. - this was not good. But, we made it to the town and walked Las Ramblas with a few million other tourists. The next day, my son and I took a bike tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours - again, based on a Cruise Critic review. We had a great tour, led by Michael from Austin, Texas, and got lucky with temperatures in the high 70s. Villefranche. Here, we took our only ship tour, a bus trip to Nice, Eze, and Monaco. This went OK, but it was hot and the tour group had to accommodate the usual wide collection of shapes, sizes, walking speeds, and attention spans. If I had it to do again, I would have just taken the train from the port to Nice and/or Monaco, which was inexpensive and quick. Nonetheless, the ship's tour was good for what it was. Livorno. Following previous Cruise Critic reviews, I hired Guido Sarzani of "Tuscany In My Pocket" to give us a private tour of Florence, with quick stop at Pisa. We had a great day, seeing all the sights in Florence including Michelangelo's David. Guido is a very enthusiastic guide and is encyclopedic about Florence, which is his hometown. My son, who is hard to impress with culture, highly recommends him. Cagliari. The ship put in at Cagliari (a city on the southern end of the island of Sardinia) on a Sunday. Except for a few gelato vendors on the main street, virtually everything was closed and there was almost no one on the streets. I have never seen a city so deserted - it seemed like the scene of a biological disaster. My wife and I walked the town at length and managed to climb a couple of the towers, but if I was RCCL I would avoid this stop on a Sunday. Even the ancient Roman amphitheater was closed (fenced in for an upcoming rock concert). A final "feature" was the genius of the port guards, who refused to let us walk through their port checkpoint to the ship and insisted we take the port shuttle. So, we trudged back to the bus pickup area, got on the bus, and drove through - and no one checked our IDs until we got to the ship. Malaga. Again, we did this on our own. We got off the ship early to avoid the heat, and I thought we could just walk up to Gibralfaro Castle, which overlooks the city. Well, this is a pretty taxing hike, and my family let me know that they didn't appreciate morning mountaineering. So, I'd recommend a bus or taxi to the Gibralfaro. Some travel books say the walk is dangerous due to muggers, but they would have to be Olympian to chug up and down this hill. But, once we made it to the top, the Castle was worth seeing, as was the Alcazaba further down. Downtown Malaga was also nice to walk, and easy. Lisbon. Lisbon was probably the most frustrating stop on the trip, because it is a fabulous place and the Independence was only in port for six hours. Determined not to get trapped by the ship's shuttle again, we got off the ship early and hailed a taxi, which turned out to be piloted by someone who must have been a Formula One driver at one time. After a white-knuckle ride, we got downtown and bought daily public transport cards. We rode the #28 trolley circuit (another Cruise Critic recommendation) and saw as much of the city as we could. Then, we took another trolley back, and were let off right in front of the dock. If you go to Lisbon on this cruise, you really don't need to mess with buses or taxis; just take the trolley into town. It's cheap, and fast. I would add one recommendation from our dining mates, though; they hired a taxi to give them a tour for about 150 euros total, and the taxi driver did a great job, driving them for 6 hours and showing them a huge number of sites. Vigo. A pleasant little town, but this stop simply did not compare to the other ports and was of value only as a way to ease into the end of the cruise and the subsequent return to real life. Again, we walked the city on our own, and I can't think of a reason to take an organized tour here. The Debarkation. Be advised that you kicked off the Independence very early, so if you are flying back to the US and have the typical late afternoon departure, you will be stuck for awhile at Heathrow without much to do. You can take the Tube and go into London, but you have to pay to store your bags because the airlines won't let you check in more than 3 hours in advance, and the charges to do this at Heathrow are ridiculous. However, the biggest problem for us was that one of our bags got lost between the ship and the terminal (a distance of about 25 yards), and we had to give up searching for it to make our bus. This headache lasted almost four weeks, with my wife having to declare war on RCCL to get them to ship our bag back to us (they had located it a day or two after we left). RCCL, to their credit, sent us very generous vouchers for use on a future cruise, but it was a really irritating way to end the journey. Would We Take the Independence Again? We look for itineraries rather than particular ships (although my son and I favor the mega-ships). Aside from the bag incident, the cruise was spectacular and lived up to our expectations. My son made eight buddies (with hometowns ranging from California to Hong Kong) within two hours of getting on the ship, and had such a great time that it took him many days to come down from the journey. However, I would strongly urge RCCL to straighten out the shuttle service at certain stops and find a way to increase port time in Lisbon. As a matter of fact, they could skip Vigo and stay overnight in Lisbon, which I think every passenger would have voted for. Regardless, I'd recommend Independence, and this itinerary, to anyone interested in this part of the world. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
This was our second cruise as a family, the first being a week round the Caribbean on Freedom of the Seas last year. We enjoyed that so much, that we booked this one the day we got back. Before sailing I read several reviews of both the ... Read More
This was our second cruise as a family, the first being a week round the Caribbean on Freedom of the Seas last year. We enjoyed that so much, that we booked this one the day we got back. Before sailing I read several reviews of both the Freedom and the Independence and found most to be interesting. I actually never intended to write a review of my own, but having read the last 2 negative reviews on this site, I felt the urge to make my own 'balanced' observations. Arrival and Embarkation were, as many have noted, very smooth and easy. One massive advantage of a holiday like this is the elimination of all things associated with airports and immigration. Breakfast in the Windjammer, home indoors in Essex by 11.00 - marvellous! Now the ship itself. I may be a little blinkered in my view as I have only been on this type of ship and have nothing to compare it with. However, my parents who came with us, and are in their mid 70's and veterans of 10+ cruises, said it was incomparable to anything else they had been on (including the Queen Mary and Victoria.) They both thought it was incredible. The facilities are second to none, and the cabins are roomy, well equipped and very well designed. Having done a week last year, we were a little concerned that 2 weeks may be too long - we were wrong. Nobody wanted to disembark on our return. Now to why I felt the need to write this. I travelled with 3 children, who were indeed promised a real 'Italian' ice cream in Florence - was it me being referred to in the previous post I wonder !!! Anyway, there were indeed many children/teenagers on this sailing. BUT surely that is what you would expect on the first 2 weeks of the UK school holidays, and on the newest, most innovative and FAMILY orientated ship afloat?? I can't deny that children (not mine!) playing in lifts and through corridors was apparent, as was the congregation of teenagers in the 2 main pools on sea days and early evenings. Swimming was impossible at these busy times, but you have to remember this is peak time, and the ship's size will always dictate that this happens. Tip - if you can, get the late dinner sitting and watch the pool deck empty out from 5.00 onwards and enjoy the early evening sun in peace if that is what you desire. This is a family ship, aimed at families with outstanding facilities for children - if this is not for you, the solution is simple - don't book during school holidays. That said, some kids did seem a little too boisterous and RCI may do well to put out a few more deck patrols to combat this, especially in the evenings. The food overall I thought was excellent. We ate in the main dining room 12/14 nights and on the whole the food was more than palatable with one or two exceptions. There are 3/4 dishes which appear every evening (not less popular!) so as to always offer something simple. Contrary to other posts we had decent wine most nights for $26 a bottle (via the 10 bottle package). Portofino's was excellent and breakfast in the Windjammer offered a huge choice, with 'fresh' eggs available to order (if you bothered to find out where to look). Port (and crane!) wise, you have to remember this is the Mediterranean NOT the Caribbean AND this is the biggest cruise ship afloat - it can only berth in certain places ! We knew this would be a different experience to our trip last year and apart from the beautiful Villefranche, indeed it was. But we expected it and other than a rather noisy Livorno dockside, we found no noise intrusion at all. Explorations, we did the 'Pisa and Florence on your own' which we thought was perfect for what we wanted, but we also did 'The City of Lisbon' which unfortunately was nothing like the description in the brochure. I have taken issue with RCI on this, but they have yet to reply. In closing, the best recommendation I can make is that we have already booked for next year for a return trip on Freedom of the Seas. cruising out of Southampton with a ship predominantly full of British families is certainly a different experience to what we had last year. We guessed it would be, and we adjusted our expectations accordingly. In no way did it detract from our enjoyment of the cruise. We are counting the days to next year already, and currently have no plans to take the kids to Butlins or Benidorm I'm afraid. Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
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