Spending a week in the warm climes of the Caribbean in January is music to many ears as winter has set in deeply and I must confess, it is a great time to escape for a week’s getaway or so! I was fortunate to sail on Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas for 8-days January 3-11, 2015 and visited St. Maarten, St. Kitts, San Juan, and Labadee, RCI’s sacred pristine peninsula paradise on the island of Haiti.
Independence is a big ship at 1112 feet long, carrying nearly 4000 guests at full capacity, and introduced in 2008. While she is a larger version of the Voyager Class, she is extremely well maintained even though her décor seems outdated (not tired) in some areas. This due to the ship being designed in the early 2000 era and with many identical features going back to the Voyager Class of the 1990’s. Nonetheless, she is maintained with TLC, extremely clean, and a happy ship from a crews and hotel perspective… The ship received a multi-million dollar update in 2013 adding some alternative dining venues like Chops Grill, Giovanni’s Table, The Cupcake Cupboard, and a few others. A Flow Rider surf machine was added among many other notable features and a refreshing of the vessel.
I was pleasantly surprised at the spaciousness of the ship with very few crowds-ever! The Royal Promenade down the middle of the ship is always busy but again never obscenely crowded. The pool deck works well as do all of the public spaces. The ship has many open atrium areas with high ceilings and lots of stunning maritime architecture features including a multi-million dollar art collection.
This class of ship works better than some of Norwegian and Carnival’s newer class of ships which can be crowded and tight during peak guest movements. Kudos to RCI for creating a ship that flows well, has a wide array of entertainment, live music, and exciting venues to keep guests of all ages happy.
My cabin was a standard D3 balcony cabin on Deck 6 aft quoted as being 199 square feet in the brochure with a balcony of some 40 square feet. I did my own measuring and believed the space to be 220 square feet and a balcony of 40+ square feet. The bed was comfortable with crisp linens and a memory foam pad (a bit too warm for my taste) but comfortable to the body, a full sized sofa, plenty of drawers, storage, closet space, a large flat screen interactive television with multi-channel (more than adequate) programming. The cabin was kept immaculate throughout except for a little dust behind the TV but my steward kept the room always looking spotless to the naked eye. The bathroom had a glass cylinder shower stall and adequate space for 2.
The cuisine on the ship varied from extensive buffet options in the Windjammer to lovely lunch and dinner menus in the 3 level main dining room. The menus were quite ambitious and food often failed to live up to expectation but it wasn’t of poor quality. I think the larger ships have issues with putting out the high level quantities of quality food in short order. Often, my food was warm-not hot. Some items had sat too long.
The ship excels in its two main paid for venues Chops Grill and Giovanni’s Table where I opted to take 4 of my 8 dinners onboard. The menus, quality, dining, and service were truly outstanding here and worth the prices of $35pp for Chops and $25pp for Giovanni’s. I never made it to Johnny Rockets as there was just too much going on to do it all…
The Independence and her two twin sisters have the largest spa, gym, and workout facilities of large ships. I am duly impressed with RCI’s dedication to the amount of space offered to its guests. This is, however, consistent with all the incredible design features of this large and impressive 4-star rated contemporary brand!
Entertainment was varied with high energy and campy street parades on the Royal Promenade. The most popular being a 70’s disco party, lively Broadway style musicals, entertaining comedians who did not cross over into too dark of comic realm, great kids programs for all ages. BTW, there were at least 500 kid of varying ages on this January post New Year’s cruise. There were outdoor dances, a Journey Tribute band, Latin music, disco, ice-skating rink with amazing ice shows in the incredible Studio B, and oh-so much more. One of my favorite things to do was to take a cupcake making class at the Cupcake Cupboard. I learned how to make a cupcake puppy do and a cupcake cheeseburger with fries!
The itinerary was exciting with lovely ports offering a wide array of shore excursions, shopping, and drop dead gorgeous weather. My two favorite excursions and port visits were St. Kitts taking a boat to the gem island of Nevis and a visit to the star studded Four Season Resort. Nevis is so isolated that celebrities go there to decompress and can walk for miles on gorgeous beaches without many tourists, no vendors, and no paparazzi… It is just as lovely as one could imagine. The second was Labadee, RCI’s private peninsula on Haiti. This masterpiece is isolated from the chaos of the rest of the island and accessible by boat. Royal Caribbean has built a dock for up to 2 ships-for easy guest access to the beach, has several absolutely lovely beaches, water sports, activities, a spa, several barbeque and dining areas, a large Haitian art center, entertainment, water slides, a roller coaster, zip-lining, and glorious over the water private bungalows-coveted and rented far in advance by guests in the know!
The experience was a great getaway and impressive in its offering. RCI has a masterpiece in Independence and I believe this is one of the best family cruise or vacation options anywhere.
Review my complete photo album here: http://cruisecenter.smugmug.com/Other/Independence-of-the-Seas/47013767_xW5rRj#!i=3829270432&k=NjCWPLB