I'd like to preface my review with some context. This was my first cruise, as cruising is not personally my ideal type of vacation. I prefer going somewhere and having time to explore -- maybe city- or country-hop if I can. But I'm not typically into tours or rigid itineraries. Still, I love tropical environs, water and sailing, and am ok with resorts in general even though they're not as authentic as the places surrounding them. So I tried to go into the cruise with a fairly open mind. In the end, I have decided that cruising is not for me. On the other hand, there are some people that love cruises. So the things that bothered me might not apply to everyone else. But I will try to be thorough and specific, so at least others can get a sense of what I experienced during 6-Night Western Caribbean Cruise on the Independence of the Seas with Royal Caribbean.
As a quick summary, I found that there wasn’t enough time to spend in the better port stops (Grand Cayman and especially Falmouth, Jamaica) and the other was completely artificial and run bythe cruise line (Labadee, Haiti). Even in the stops that had some authentic culture, sights, and activities, Royal Caribbean tried to dissuade people from leaving the port area complexes where they take a cut of sales from vendors and luxury shops. They claim the towns and countries can be dangerous. If that was the case, why bother going? Why get off the ship? It’s just a money grab. On that note, there were LOTS of upcharges from the alcohol packages to the souvenir cups and the added-fee restaurants that were totally generic and not much better quality than the regular dining hall. The food quality and preparation in the dining hall and buffet were pretty atrocious – most dishes were mediocre at best, and some were appalling. There was also a lack of variety in foods, with one exception being the Singapore-Style Curry Noodles%u2026unfortunately, while they tried to offer an ethnic taste, they were comically bad (they tasted like ketchup, French dressing, and sadness). In general, the foods were bland, drab, and not particularly fresh. Exceptions were some of the pastas and the steak. The ship, while large, felt confining. It was like we were confined to what Royal Caribbean felt like giving us as a vacation, rather than getting to enjoy ourselves and make the most of the time and the places we visited.
Now to get more specific%u2026
I'll start with the positive:
*The staff members on the ship were incredibly friendly, warm, interested, and caring. They were the absolute best part of the trip. Whether in the dining hall, bars, lounges, or pools, they made us feel welcomed and taken-care of. They helped us enjoy the cruise as much as possible, and are a huge credit to Royal Caribbean for hiring and training them. They’re truly outstanding.
*The ship was well-maintained, clean, modern, and generally had a nice feel to its layout and in its venues.
*There was one night with a stand-up coming guest performer – the show was great, although she might not have thought the crowd was into it due to rough seas at the time. I wish there were more established artists with some broad appeal.
*Grand Cayman, while small, had some deliciously fresh seafood and lots of outdoor activities like snorkeling.
*Falmouth, Jamaica was a very vibrant place. The produce was so incredibly fresh and diverse. The people were friendly and hospitable. The mountains and sea were beautiful. The history was interesting and complex. The foods were tasty (we went on a culinary walking tour). Plus it’s close to Montego Bay and Ochos Rios. I wish we could’ve stayed at port for a night so we had more time to enjoy this stop.
*Onboard activities were fun, and facilities were nice – this applies to pools, hot tubs, the surf simulator, rock wall, etc. The time on the boat was generally enjoyable when we weren’t in rough seas or having a mediocre meal.
*The alcohol package made things that much better – we got the ultimate package, which paid for itself after 4 or 5 drinks a day. That was a good call for us.
And now for the negative:
*Most importantly, Labadee was horrible, inauthentic, and a waste of a day. The entire complex was set up by Royal Caribbean, and is fenced-in from the rest of Haiti. If you were to judge from Labadee, Haitian food must be burgers, hot dogs, and the “Labadoozie” frozen drink. True story: one guy tossed part of a burger to one of the stray dogs on the beach – the dog sniffed the burger and wouldn’t eat it! The beaches were crowded, and most of them were rocky with coral chunks. The ones that had nicer sand were near the boat, and smelled like fuel. We were not allowed to experience any of what actual Haiti had to offer in terms of culture and sights. Yet from the beaches at Labadee, we could only be teased by the beautiful rolling hills that lay beyond the resort area’s fence. And as a resort, it was poor – everything had an upcharge whether it was a floating mat or a cabana. And the facilities were dirty and run-down (stank bathrooms). They do let some Haitian residents work in the complex, which I guess is a decent job. But it’s not a good experience for tourists. Except for the landscape, there’s no reason to bother leaving the boat here.
*Premium amenities and services were very expensive, for example massages and spa services. Royal Caribbean tried to squeeze more money out of passengers every chance they got.
*The "cold" water in the stateroom was tepid and undrinkable. Of course, even with a drink package you could only get one bottle of water at a time.
*The mini fridge was barely cool. So you kindof need a beverage package for a cool drink.
*The curtains in the promenade stateroom were see-through and provided no privacy unless we used the blackout ones, which eliminated the view and any light from outside. They should’ve been sheer to let in light, but not prying eyes. It basically defeated the purpose of having the promenade window.
*The food quality was very poor, and dining options were few and unsatisfying. I actually touched on this more specifically above. Everything tasted frozen (ok, it’s the best way to get food to last for 6 days), but was not prepared in a way that brought out any of its flavor. Things were bland, and drab. There were only a few ethnic foods, most of which were terrible. The sushi bar at the buffet was very disappointing (they had a variety of bad rolls, when they probably should’ve just had a decent California roll and called it a day). Everything was soggy. When we got off the boat, we’d always crave veggies and fresh foods. They should probably simplify the menu to more reliable things, and consider cheap foods that can hold up well and make people happy%u2026why not have a decent lo mein or burrito bar? And the two premium restaurants were totally not worth it -- $25 per person for generic “Italian” food or $35 for a lousy steakhouse. They should consider getting a chain or established chef to set up a restaurant – if they can source some decent-quality food that a real chef would accept.
*The drinks were a price gouge%u2026but they have you by the balls. You can bring on wine, but not even a large-format beer. Basically if you enjoy drinking, you have to pay out the nose.
*WiFi was expensive and unreliable – if you expect dial-up speeds, you will be sorely disappointed.
*There were incessant announcements on the PA loudspeaker system to announce “important” information like longitude/latitude, pre-scheduled port stops we already knew about, and opportunities to spend money at the overpriced duty-free and jewelry shops. These woke us up if we dared to relax during our “vacation,” and were obnoxious in content and volume. They woke us up at 6am on debarkation day even though many of us were not allowed off the ship until 10. Awesome!
*The island stops were too short, and Royal Caribbean tried to mislead passengers that the only safe areas were the ports, where all shopping basically went back to the cruise line. I don’t see the point of taking a ship somewhere beautiful in the Caribbean, but not getting time to actually experience these places. For people who enjoy the cruising experience aboard the ship, why bother stopping? It seemed like a lose-lose proposition for me.
*Finally, while they’re truly amazing people, the cruise staff are overworked, and abused by Royal Caribbean. While the option to work with a cruise line might be a better career choice than staying in their home countries, they should be treated fairly on par with American employment laws and not treated so horribly. It is depressing to see, and I felt ashamed that my family did business with Royal Caribbean. It was typical to learn that some staff members worked 15-17 hour days with no days off. And they are penalized without-pay if they happen to get sick. Sure, it’s just business. But I think a company should be judged not only by how profitable they are, but also by how decently they treat the people who work with them to help them succeed. For the absolute best part of this company, the staff was not properly appreciated by Royal Caribbean.
I hope some of this might help people make their cruise related decisions in the future – the bottom line is that if you already like cruising, you probably will enjoy this ship and itinerary with a few exceptions. And if you’re not sure about the cruise experience, there are some downsides that are probably worth being warned about in advance.
Overall, the most important thing I can say that should apply to everyone is that Labadee was, in my opinion, the absolute worst part of the trip--and a waste of time and money. Even if you’re gung-ho about taking a cruise with Royal Caribbean, I’d urge you to check out an itinerary that avoids this lame excuse for either a resort or a genuine port stop. I looked through their port brochure, and am intrigued by some other places they serve such as Puerto Rico and St. Maarten.
The Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Independence of the Seas, with her sister ships Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, are the biggest cruise ships afloat. They will hold this title until December 2009 when the 220,000 ton Oasis of the Seas will be launched! This Saturday morning she sat alongside another renowned cruise ship who previously held the title of "Biggest Cruise Ship": The Queen Mary 2 of the Cunard Line.
Captain Teo Strazicic of Dubrovnik, Croatia is very proud of his beautiful behemoth, which although larger than RCI's Eagle Class (Voyager, Explorer, Navigator, Mariner, and Adventurer of the Seas) she still uses only the same number and types of engines, but more efficiently. Bravo RCI this awesome ship is a true engineering marvel!
Embarkation Saturday noon, the I-95 traffic was bearable and we arrived at Port Everglades at 12:00pm, however, it took thirty minutes to go through traffic control. Many passengers were surprised at this delay, since other ports are more efficiently handling security. Once in port, things moved along more quickly. We were through Check-in in five minutes, but had to wait for another wheel chair for Vincent fortwenty minutes. The ramps to the ship were not too steep, but they were very long ones. Mary's motorized wheel chair handled them easily!
We checked on our dining arrangements and found we had a nice table for two at the rear of the Romeo & Juliet Restaurant near the magnificent triple deck staircase. We kept this table because of its proximity to the live music. Now, we were off to the Welcome On Board Buffet: which was overcrowded, but even with courteous assistance we had an unusual dispersal of hot potato soup!
Embarkation was good considering over 3,600 were boarding along with crew members.
Ship The Independence was launched in May 2008, so it is in pristine condition.
Hotel Director Darren Budden (Newfoundland, Canada) has a right to be proud of the Independence: she is immaculate, well run, service is pleasant and immediate. He kindly gave us a book: "Art The Collection" on board. There are 15 decks with many eclectic pieces of art which merit a detailed overview.
Deck 1 is mainly for crew except that the Medical Facility is located aft.
Deck 2 forward has the Alhambra Theatre with a beautiful Austrian crystal beaded curtain. The design has five dark haired Flamenco dancers with their gorgeous ruffled skirts spread: all forming a 13 paneled 28ft tall by 46ft wide spectacular display. Midship is the Ice Skating Rink, a RCI innovation, which allows passenger skating and show opportunities. There are also staterooms on Deck 2.
Deck 3 again forward is the Alhambra Theatre. Then toward midship is the Labyrinth night club with its Harry Cardross stained glass windows featuring the "Raven of the Tower" (Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the British Monarchy and the country will fall.) The second window features the "Raven of the Battle." Midship is Studio B, On air Studio and the Art Gallery. There are also staterooms and aft is the Romeo and Juliet Restaurant. At the entrance is a marvelous all white 3D bust of William Shakespeare, which follows the viewer as s/he walks by. It has the effect of motion. Very cool!
Deck 4 forward has the balcony of the Alhambra Theatre; then towards midship is the Schooner Bar with its nautical décor and a ship model of the "Flora of Tjomo," one of RCI's founders Gjert Wilhelmsen' first barques. Then there are the upper level of the Labyrinth, the spacious Casino Royal, the Photo Gallery and Shop, and the Boleros Lounge. All the way aft is the Macbeth Restaurant.
Deck 5 forward has the Pyramid Lounge with the entrance flanked by a series of imposing Pharaohs and inside is a stunning black and gold statue of King Tutankhamen based on the one found in the boy King Tut's tomb in the King's Valley, Egypt. Also located here are Clarissa Parish's two frescoes of Egyptian women.
This deck has the unique Royal Promenade with its many shops and eating venues: "Sorrento's Pizzeria" features antipasti, pizzas, garlic toast, and panini, daily; plus Italian biscotti, macaroons and amaretto cookies. There are logo shops, "A Clean Shave" barber's shop, men's and women's boutiques, a perfume shop, a general store, "The Dog & Badger English Pub" and "Ben & Jerry's" ice cream. Also there is "Cafe Promenade" serving excellent coffee and tea, sandwiches, scones, RCI's terrific cookies and doughnuts.
The star exhibit of the Promenade is the blue 2008 Morgan V6 Roadster handmade on commission by RCI. Aft suspended is Larry Kirkland's Greek Drinking Vessel featuring dolphins -- a good omen at sea. Kirkland modeled his huge cup on a 550 BC work by Exekias in Athens. Also here are located the Guest Relations Desk and the Explorations Desk. All the way aft is the King Lear Restaurant, which completes the third tier of the dining complex with a gorgeous crystal chandelier visible from all three tiers.
Decks 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are all staterooms and located nearby the aft elevators on each deck are the Business Services, the Library with open stacks, the "Royal Caribbean Online" computer center and the "Concierge Club."
Deck 11 has many guest facilities. Forward is the State of the Art Fitness Center with beautiful views of the sea while using treadmills, etc. In the Solarium are two huge whirlpools, one on each side of the ship, cantilevered over the sea, and a swimming pool just for adults. Near here are two Barsanti Mosaics named "Tigers in the Jungle" based on the works of a French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau. In the forward stairs portside is the Robert Silvers' head of Venus inspired by Botticelli's unforgettable "Birth of Venus." This artist creates his work by computer using thousands of tiny photographs to form a larger image -- You must look at this up close, rather than the usual admonition to "stand back in order to get the full import of a picture." Here, you must go up close to see how this was made. Amazing!
Deck 12 forward is the Day Spa, the Sky Bar, and the jogging track. Toward aft is Johnny Rockets, a 50's style diner and the Challengers Arcade, Adventure Ocean children's area, and the Surf Teen Disco.
Deck 13 has the Rock Climbing Wall, the Sports Court (basketball, volleyball, tennis), the Golf Simulator and the Dunes Mini Golf. The most unique sports opportunity is the Flowrider which allows passengers to surf standing or kneeling.
Deck 14 has the "Olive or Twist" & the Viking Crown Lounge, the card and game rooms and Diamond Lounge where we met the Diamond Member Concierge Columella Arandia.
Deck 15 has the nearest thing to heaven on the sea: the Skylight Chapel.
The Independence of the Seas is decorated with art work inspired by the Old Masters, but executed by modern artists -- very interesting.
This ship is huge at 160,000 tons and 208 feet tall (double the height of the Statue of Liberty) and its Royal Promenade is longer than a football field. Its enormous size allows RCI to offer a more diverse vacation.
Service & Food The state of the economy has finally done what years of begging from us could not accomplish. The over abundant portions have finally been reduced to appropriate sized portions. We are so happy not to waste food -- we could rarely finish those too ample entrees. It does not restrict those with gargantuan appetites, since they can still order as much as they want.
RCI has brought eating back to normalcy. Thanks to Executive Chef Ivo Jahn, we enjoyed dining in the Romeo & Juliet Restaurant. Maitre D' Dominic Barr gave us a nice table and our Waiter Sabit Majaki and his Asst. Waiter Chantelle John made every night a dining pleasure. Head Waiters Jason D'Silva and Francesco Orlando made us feel special.
Sunday formal night we dined with Captain Teo Strazicic (a very erudite gentleman, who had insightful ideas on education (Vincent & Mary are both university teachers) and other world topics. It was a fantastic dinner only surpassed by Chef Ivo's Almond Brittle Hand Made Chalice filled with wild berries and cream! The food is of good quality and available all over the ship: from Sorrento's Pizzeria on Deck 5, to self serve frozen yogurt on Deck 11 at Sprinkles. We also dined at the Chop's Grille where both food and service were excellent. Food & Beverage Director Joao Mendonca oversees a complex system with dexterity. Bravo! Room Service all week long was prompt, hot and appetizing.
Cabin Wheelchair accessible cabin #7324 is bright with light pine wood and the RCI trademark blue and aqua colors. When entering on the left there is the oversized bathroom with a 4'X4' shower with safety rails and a fold away seat. There is one sink with a large medicine chest for amenities. Next, there is a sofa and a queen bed flanked by two night stands and reading lamp sconces; the head board is the traditional aqua suede.
When entering on the right, there is a triple armoire with shelves and both high and low cross dowels for hangers and a private safe. This last is the handiest item since cruisers may lock up valuables and go wallet and purse free all week. There is a lighted mirror on the desk/vanity, a LCD TV and a hair dryer in the first of four drawers.
The far wall is all glass and has a door to the extra large balcony with two chairs, a small table and a chaise which our excellent steward Lenore Reid brought for Vincent. Our week was perfectly restful thanks to the lovely Lenore.
Entertainment On the Independence there is no shortage of opportunities to be "amused."
Sunday evening from our balcony there was a beautiful sunset with a clear view of the slenderest crescent moon in the SW sky. Above the moon shone the planets Venus and Jupiter. All three heavenly bodies were close to each other -- picture perfect and brighter than 1st magnitude stars. However, as we looked at other balconies, we were astonished to find that we were the only audience for this phenomenon; so we took a picture of it! This is why we love to cruise.
For other more typical activities, Cruise Director Allan Brooks does his very best. The RCI singers and dancers perform in production shows like "Center Stage" in the Alhambra Theatre along with comedians like Michael James; ballroom dancers Olga & Dimatri have a dance competition. The Ice Show "Strings" with world class performers on ice and an extraordinary violinist from Canada (so sorry we haven't got her name.) This is only the beginning. For the athletic minded the "Flowrider" and the "Rock Climbing Wall" are musts. Don't forget golf, basketball, shuffleboard, ping pong, swimming, Bingo, Casino games and tournaments, etc. etc. Oh, just get out there.
Ports of Call Day 1: Ft. Lauderdale -- Sail Away 6:00pm. Day 2: At sea. Day 3: San Juan, Puerto Rico -- Arrive 1:30pm, Depart 8:30pm
For first timers this port has an interesting "Old & New San Juan City Tour" (2.5 hrs, $32.) Try the "Fortifications Segway" touring the old city on a Segway (3.5 hrs, $95).
Day 4: St. Thomas, USVI -- Arrive 7:00am, Depart 5:00pm
This is one of the best shopping ports in the Caribbean. A tour especially designed for the handicapped is "Accessible Scenic Island Drive and Mountain Top" (2.5 hrs, $64).
Day 5: Philipsburg, St. Maarten -- Arrive 6:00am, Depart 5:00pm
One of the most fascinating tours here is the "America's Cup Sailing Regatta" (3 hrs, $89) -- A sailing competition with famous yachts like Dennis Corner's "Stars & Stripes," "Canada II" and "True North." After the exciting race, participants are treated to complimentary rum punch.
Day 6: At sea. Day 7: Labadee, Haiti -- Arrive 8:00am, Depart 4:30pm
This is RCI's private island where passengers may enjoy the white sand beach and swimming or snorkeling in the sparkling clear water. For those who love water sports there are many choices: "Kayak Adventure" (1.5 hrs $38.); "Personal Watercraft Experience", enjoying the thrill of speeding on a Waverunner (1.5 hrs, $95 adults and $29 children); "Snorkel Safari" (2 hrs, $46), etc.
Day 8: At sea. Day 9: Ft. Lauderdale -- Arrive 6:00am.
Disembarkation We had a terrific going home breakfast in the main dining room at 6:30am and went back to our stateroom. At 8:30am a wheelchair came for Vincent and we were taken down and off the ship to baggage pick up, customs and passport control. We were out on the port at 9:00am. This is quite good for the biggest cruise ship with so many passengers.
Conclusion This was another great cruise. As "Frequent Floaters" with 37 cruise credits on RCI ships and Diamond Plus membership in the Crown & Anchor Society, we enjoy all the repeaters benefits aboard, including the use of the Concierge Services, the Diamond Lounge, evening cocktails, reservations for specialty restaurants and tickets for the ice skating show, and other favors. That is the reason RCI is our favorite cruise line. However, we are addicted to cruising and we also cruise on other lines. Until now we have never experienced a bad cruise, although some cruises have been better than others.
Now we look forward to cruising on the Norwegian Pearl on Jan. 4 and on the Ruby Princess on Jan. 24. We have also booked transatlantic crossings on the Celebrity Solstice in April and Queen Mary2 in May, as well as the inaugural cruise on the Oasis of the Seas on Dec 12, 2009. Happy Cruising!
Do NOT go on Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas
If you haven’t booked a Royal Caribbean Cruise do NOT book one. As a seasoned traveler and a 5 time cruiser I am telling you DO NOT BOOK ROYAL CARIBBEAN—OR-- cancel your cruise if you are unfortunate enough to have already booked the Independence of the Seas. Here is why:
• The worst food of any cruise I have ever sailed
• No 24 food service in the Windjammer
• Food police guard the Windjammer so even if you wanted an apple around 5 pm the cops are there to stop you and direct 6 floors below to the pizza place.
• They shut down the Windjammer from 5 pm until 6:30 and then again at 11 pm
• Unhappy people serving the food All of them wanted to get off the ship
• Nothing special on the Buffet EVER—Hamburgers, Hot dogs and then slop that was bland enough to cater to the over 80 crowd and let them gum it down without their teeth
• Overcrowded and horrible boarding and departing procedures
• Over priced drinks and watered down cocktails
• Any alcohol brought ontothe ship is taken off you and given back on the last day
• Automatic gratuities and then the servers try to get you to tip on the 18% saying they don’t get it all
• NO FOOD SERVICE at the pools so even if you wanted some of the slop you have to go back to the Windjammer and tote it out yourself
• Don't purchase their drinking water packages. It costs about $4.50 for a bottle of water.
• They try to ding you for every minor thing as if they built the ship and now YOU have to pay for it every nickel dime they can extract All the time we were on the ship Royal Caribbean was incessantly attempting to fleece the last penny from your pockets. If it wasn't for official photographs at $20 a photo, it was cocktails at the pool side, art auctions, paying for fitness classes or paying for the shuttle buses at some of the Ports that convey you from the boat into the local town
So you say –Well what was good:
• Our Jr. Suite was wonderful
• Spending time with my wife
• Sleeping with the door open so you could hear the waves
• The Casino
• The Entertainment Director Goff was hilarious!
Final word---Book anything but this BIG ship the Independence of the Seas Or you will HATE it