Royal Caribbean‘s Independence of the Seas was at one point one of the largest ships at sea until 2010 when Oasis of the Seas entered service. Independence of the Seas is one of the Freedom Class ships which includes Freedom (2003), Liberty (2007), and the Independence (2008). With a passenger capacity of 3,634 double occupancy and 4,375 maximum, the Independence is no little ship. The Freedom Class ships continued a Royal Caribbean favorite, the “Royal Promenade,” which was introduced on the Voyager Class of ships and brought in some new items like the FlowRider, a rock climbing wall, and an ice skating rink.
The Royal Promenade is one of my favorites and other cruisers agree as everything you can ever possibly need or want is located in one area and includes shopping, restaurants, bars, lounges, and more. Instead of searching all over the ship for these things, Royal Caribbean made a central thoroughfare that runs the length of the ship on deck 5 and called it the Royal Promenade. No more wandering off and hoping you can locate something because more often than not, it’s in the Royal Promenade.
Another favorite is the rock climbing wall located on the sports deck. Bring socks, sign a waiver, and before you know it you are strapped in and ready to climb to the top of the wall. There’s nothing like climbing to the top and looking out over the ship and the water.
People of all ages, shapes, and sizes give it a go and there are even competitions posted in the daily compass, the Royal Caribbean daily newsletter. There are special hours for the rock climbing wall, including evening hours for teens when they aren’t hanging out in the teen club called “Fuel.”
Accommodations: Our family of three stayed in a deluxe oceanview stateroom with a balcony on deck 8 and we were pleased with the overall accommodations. The cabin was 184 sq. ft. with a 66.5 sq. ft. balcony. The furnishings were clean and in good shape although somewhat dated in appearance despite being fairly new. As with most cabins, there are two twin beds that can be left separate or pushed together. When they are pushed together they are made up with bedding and feel like a full size bed and not like two twin beds pushed together. The third bed is a pull down bed from the ceiling which was only made up at night before going to bed. Sometimes you can get this type of option and other times it is a sofabed that opens up to a bed.
The bathroom was a typical Royal Caribbean bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower stall with plexiglass doors. Royal Caribbean does provide guests with soap and shower gel, but be sure to bring your own shampoo and conditioner. If you are traveling with young children you might want to opt for a Junior Suite since there is no bathtub in balcony staterooms. A Junior Suite is one step up from a balcony cabin with more square footage, but without the price tag of a suite.
Pools: The Independence was the first ship to have a heated freshwater pool in the Royal Caribbean fleet. With several pools including the main pool, the Solarium adults-only pool and hot tubs, and the H20 Zone – a kids aqua park with more than enough to do for any child and it may make you wish you were a kid again. The brightly painted sculptures with water shooting everywhere and kids screaming wildly proves this was the place to be for the under 10 crowd.
At night, the main pool area becomes the inviting, seductive place to be on the ship with under the stars dancing and a midnight buffet.
Dining: What would a cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship be without a visit to the Windjammer, the cruise line’s nautical casual dining venue? At breakfast you can indulge in eggs, bacon, pastries (including their white chocolate donuts that disappear quickly!) to healthier options such as yogurt, fruit, and oatmeal. On the Independence, within the Windjammer is a section called Jade, an Asian inspired section that appealed to the vegan in me. Every morning they had hot miso soup with toppings to put in the soup from rice, seaweed, carrots, radishes, tofu, sriracha, and more. Every day the entree options were different and each option was better than the last. Although some ships within the Royal Caribbean line offer miso soup in the morning, they don’t all offer Jade.
The Main Dining Room on Independence of the Seas is three decks high. On deck three is Romeo & Juliet; deck four is MacBeth; and on deck five is King Lear. Deck five is the dining room for My Time Dining guests, those guests who don’t want to have to commit to either the early or late seating choices and instead can choose when they want to dine. If you are traveling with children, there is also the My Family Time dining in which dinner is served within 40 minutes and then the kids return to Adventure Ocean, the children’s program, and the parents can stay and enjoy drinks, dessert, or coffee. The food in the main dining room is very good with a large variety of options available from meat (pork, beef, or chicken); seafood; pasta, and an Indian option for vegetarians. If you have any dietary restrictions (allergies, diabetic, Kosher, etc.), let your travel agent know to allow him or her to contact the cruise line at the time of booking so they can accommodate your requests.
Other dining options include Portofino and Chops Grille for an additional fee; Johnny Rockets ($4.95 per person); Cafe Promenade for sandwiches, cookies, and coffee/tea; Sorrentos for pizza; and Ben & Jerry’s (additional cost). If you are ever hungry, pop down to deck 5 and Cafe Promenade and grab a coffee and a sandwich or a cookie. No charge unless you order a drink or a specialty coffee. You can sit inside, at one of the tables outside, or bring it back to your cabin. Don’t forget you can always order 24-hour room service.
The overall condition of the Independence when we were on the ship in February of 2009 was fantastic as this is a relatively new ship. I often recommend choosing a newer ship if you’ve never cruised before or if you’ve never cruised with this cruise line. Although the older ships within the Royal Caribbean fleet have gone to drydock to get retrofitted with some of the newer amenities, they will never feel like the newer ships. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them, but the Majesty of the Seas will never be able to compare with the Oasis of the Seas as they are like night and day. I would highly recommend the Independence of the Seas to any family looking for a vacation, couples, and multi-generational families traveling together.
As of 2013, the Independence spends half the year in Southampton, England with Norway cruises, Mediterranean cruises, and Canaries cruises with alternating 6-night Western Caribbean and 8-night Eastern Caribbean cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
Here is a sample itinerary for the Independence sailing April 26, 2014 on an 8-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary:
Ft. Lauderdale: Depart 04/26/14 5:30 PM
At Sea: 04/27/14
At Sea: 04/28/14
St. Maarten (Phillipsburg): 04/29/14 Arrive: 8:00 AM, Depart: 6:00 PM
Basseterre, St. Kitts: 04/30/14 Arrive: 7:00 AM, Depart: 5:00 PM
San Juan: 05/01/14 Arrive: 7:00 AM, Depart: 2:00 PM
Labadee: 05/02/14 Arrive: 10:00 AM, Depart: 6:00 PM
At Sea: 05/03/14
Ft. Lauderdale: 05/04/14 Arrive: 5:30 AM