Independence of the Seas: My cruise on Royal Caribbean's 'ultimate family ship'
Royal Caribbean's famous, Freedom Class ship has gotten a reboot. So what's it like onboard?
After a multi-million euro makeover, Royal Caribbean's 'ultimate family ship' is back.
Set the mood
There's no doubt that watching the world (or a few islands, at least) pass by while gliding over the ocean is a beautiful and relaxing holiday - if a little confined.
Now, there's a ritzier, rebooted way for families to do it thanks to a multi-million euro refurbishment of Independence of the Seas.
Royal Caribbean dubs this 15-deck, 339m giant "the ultimate family ship", and new features include a Sky Pad virtual reality trampolining experience, duelling water slides, glow-in-the-dark laser tag and revamped lounges, bars and restaurants.
Plus, if joining up to 3,858 passengers on board does leave you feeling confined, there's always the gym, while will help take care of the extra calories you're bound to consume...
It's all too easy to dine in Royal Caribbean's self-service Wind Jammer buffet restaurant, with its panoramic views and smorgasbord of food and drink (a tip: order your drinks before you go for food). But the onboard speciality restaurants are definitely worth investigating.
At Izumi Hibachi & Sushi (above), the ship's new Asian-inspired dining experience, you can kick back as your meal is cooked to order in front of you, while the Italian Giovanni's Table is another tasty alternative. Charged a la carte or with a supplement (Giovanni's costs $15/$25 for lunch/dinner), speciality restaurants add to the cost of your cruise, but they're worth the treat - while the buffet-style dining may suit a fussy eater, it might be too bland for others.
The best way to see the ship (and take some exercise) is to walk it. Some activities are charged (eg spa treatments, or the new Observatorium Puzzle Break Room), while others are free - the climbing wall, waterslides, or 'FlowRider' surf simulator, which looks much easier than it actually is, for instance.
Do an early reccie and note when crowds start gathering (mealtimes and port days are generally quieter). A couple of daily laps of the ship will also reduce the guilt when it comes to ordering desserts!
A balcony is a must on a cruise, allowing you to take in port and sea views - worth the extra spend if you can afford it. 'Indy' also has wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling views in its new Panoramic Ocean View Staterooms, so you feel like you're on the bridge, in the privacy of your own room... at an extra price, of course.
First-time cruise? Try to spot the regulars. Royal Caribbean's Pinnacle Club members (they wear name badges) have spent at least 700 nights on cruises, and know every nook and cranny of the ships. I found them super-friendly, and more than happy to share their experience and advice... from the best times to dine to the ports worth getting off at, and the quieter areas of the ship.
Watch those extras! I paid $17 for two small bags of pick 'n' mix sweets at the new Sugar Beach candy store. And while I'm on it, there's loads of fast food on the ships already - does a family ship really need another sugar fix?
Get me there
Margaret travelled as a guest of Royal Caribbean on Independence of the Seas, which is based out of Southampton until November 2018. Fly direct to Southampton from Dublin with FlyBe or from Cork with Aer Lingus.
Cruise packages start from €1,099pp for a seven-night itinerary taking in France, Spain and Portugal, based on two people sharing an interior stateroom with an October 19 departure. Other summer sailings take in the Canary Islands, Mediterranean and Norway's fjords.
See royalcaribbean.ie for more.
Read more:Symphony of the Seas: What's it really like on the world's biggest cruise ship?