Independence of the Seas is the third and final of Royal Caribbean's ground-breaking Freedom-class ships -- once the largest in the world before the launch of Oasis of the Seas and its sister ships.
In May 2018, Indy, as the ship is known to its many fans, went through a massive refurbishment that saw a host of new features introduced onboard including Sky Pad, a virtual reality trampoline experience; a laser tag arena, a puzzle break room, The Observatorium; two water slides and a kids' aqua park, as well as new dining and drinking venues -- and 107 new cabins. The upgrade was part of Royal's $900 million "Royal Amplified" program, which will see similar features rolled out on nine other ships in the fleet.
The ship has won multiple accolades from cruisers over the years and lays a strong claim to being the U.K.'s favorite family ship. (It's less popular in the U.S., where the Oasis-class ships hold that honor.) A lot of thought went into the last refurbishment, and it really shows, giving Indy a fresh, contemporary feel, as well as cutting-edge (Sky Pad) and on-trend (puzzle break, laser tag arena), new features. Installing new bars and restaurants, as well as the entertainment facilities on the outer decks, is a huge project, yet all of it fits seamlessly into the ship, almost as if it's always been there. With that said, Independence of the Seas is still a 10-year-old ship and some of the cabins and bathrooms are looking their age in terms of decor and in-cabin fixtures and fittings.
Where Indy really excels is in its family offerings. The ship has an extraordinary amount on offer for youngsters -- from kid-oriented entertainment and enrichment to recreational options that range from surfing and body boarding to ice skating and the aforementioned VR-enhanced trampolines -- making it a superb choice for family travelers.
However, adult passengers will still find plenty of space for more grown-up pursuits, with a great selection of restaurants, a vast number of bars and huge amount of entertainment options. The fitness facility is excellent and always busy; adults-only spots beyond bars and the casino range from the Solarium pool and specialty restaurants to late-night adult-themed comedy. Travelers of many different stripes coexisted comfortably. (The ship also has outstanding facilities for passengers with accessibility needs.)
If you're after an almost limitless number of activities and forms of entertainment, whether that's watching a Broadway show, enjoying movies by the pool, or perfecting your surfing skills; or if you want fine dining and a wide bar choice, or if you just want a great kids' club and kids' facilities -- Indy delivers, time and time again.
Independence of the Seas has five types of cabins: insides, promenade views, outsides, balconies and suites. However, there are plenty of variations within cabin types. A handful of cabins across all categories are especially designed for families.
The majority of cabins are outfitted in a pleasant nautical/natural blue-and-green color scheme. However, 107 cabins -- added in the 2018 refurb -- feature a more subdued color scheme of gray and beige.
All standard rooms, from insides to balconies, come with interactive flat-screen televisions, telephones, desks/vanities, a safe and easy chairs or couches. Socket types are European and U.S., but not U.K. three-pronged, and are placed above the desk. Some cabins also have USB ports by the desk.
Beds, covered with duvets, can be configured as twins (narrower than American-style single beds) or as a queen, with a small chest of drawers either side (or in the middle). There is a double closet with plenty of hanging space and drawers, where you will also find the safe. There are additional drawers under the desk/vanity.
Bathrooms are shower-only (though, fortunately, there are doors instead of the dreaded clingy curtain). The only toiletries provided are a bar of soap for hand-washing and dispensers in the shower for shampoo and shower gel, so bring your own products if that's important to you.
Mini-fridges, stocked with for-fee items, are tucked into one side of each vanity. Tea- and coffee-making facilities are tucked away in a closet.
One cool feature: Standard cabins have a curtain in the center dividing the room, thus allowing for privacy/late-night TV viewing while someone else sleeps.
Interior: Standard interior and promenade-view cabins measure 152 square feet and 149 square feet, respectively. Sixty-one interiors were added in the 2018 refit and although the same shape and size, they feature different decor, fixtures and fittings. You will find these on Decks 6 and 12.
It's worth noting that what you gain in terms of a view with a Promenade-view cabin, you lose in terms of privacy -- especially the lower deck ones. (Unless you keep your curtains closed, people can look straight into your cabin from below.) And if you're planning on early nights -- forget it -- there are almost nightly parades on the Promenade outside your cabin.
Note that there are also "spacious" interiors that come in at 337 square feet, and with a double sofa bed, two pull-down beds and two twin beds, they sleep six and work well as a family option.
Like other Freedom-class ships, Independence of the Seas also features the so-called B & J cabin. This promenade-view stateroom overlooks the backsides of the two cows that stand atop the Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor (just underneath). Cruisers who end up in this obstructed-view cabin receive complimentary ice cream at Ben & Jerry's every day of their cruise.
Oceanview: Ranging from 161 to 200 square feet, most outside cabins feature large porthole-style windows. Variations on this include "Spacious," "Ultra Spacious" and "Panoramic." The ultra-spacious ocean-view rooms come in at 351 square feet and accommodate six in twin beds and a sofa or pull-down beds, plus there is a sitting area, making them ideal for families.
The panoramic ocean-view variation was introduced in the 2018 refurb. There are 39 of them on Deck 12, arranged around the Spa & Fitness Center; they are generously sized at 283 square feet, just shy of a Junior Suite. They feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a separate living area and a rotating TV situated on a stand in the center of the room.
Balcony: Balcony cabins come in two varieties. The Deluxe is 177 square feet, with a 74-square-foot balcony, while the Superior is slightly larger at 180 square feet, though, ironically, the balcony is slightly smaller at 68 square feet. Sliding-glass doors lead to the balcony. Balcony furnishings are made of mesh and metal; there's room for two chairs and a small table.
Minisuite: Junior Suites come in at 287 square feet and feature walk-in closets, large desk space with numerous drawers, sofa beds, lounger-type chairs, coffee tables and 101-square-foot balconies. Bathrooms include a tub, and at this level and above you get branded bathroom products, which include shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and lotion. Note three additional Junior Suites were added in the 2018 refit, which although the same size, feature brand-new fixtures and fittings.
Suite: Grand, Owner's and Royal Suite passengers have access to the Suite Lounge, just off the Viking Crown Lounge, high up on Deck 14, where they can enjoy complimentary pre- and post-dinner canapes and cocktails. They can also use the concierge that's on call to book shore excursions, dining reservations and spa appointments. There is also a private suites-only sun deck, with lovely views over the ship toward Sky Pad and Perfect Storm.
Suite passengers (not including Junior Suites) also get the following perks: priority check-in; reserved prime seating in the theater; priority tender tickets; VIP pool deck seating; full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus in room service; private breakfast and lunch seating in the specialty restaurants; complimentary luggage valet service; luxury spa bathrobes; complimentary ironing service on formal night and priority departure and breakfast in suite lounge.
There are a number of different suite types, including a selection of family suites:
Ocean View Panoramic Suite: There are two of these, built as part of the 2018 refurb. They can accommodate up to six people, but note although they offer gorgeous views and are huge (406 square feet), with two bedrooms, each with two twin beds and a private bathroom, they do not have a balcony.
Grand Suite: These measure 387 square feet and have two bedrooms as well as a separate living area. They have tubs in the bathroom, walk-in closets and 126-square-foot balconies. You'll find them on Decks 6, 8, 9 and 10 (but note the one on Deck 10 has just one bedroom, though it has the same square footage). Two new Grand Suites were added in the 2018 refurb, and are billed as "Family Suites." They feature modern fixtures and fittings, but apart from that are the same as the existing Grand Suites.
Owner's Suite: There are eight 614-square-foot Owner's Suites onboard. They feature a marble entranceway, which has a dining table that can seat four, surrounded by glass-fronted wardrobe doors. There is a small bar area with the tea and coffee facilities on top and the mini-fridge below, and a living area, which features a L-shaped sofa with a coffee table, a side table and two chairs.
The room is divided by a TV on a pedestal, which (very cool) swivels around so you can watch TV in bed or in the living room. The bedroom has a queen-sized bed and a vanity. The 160-square-foot balconies can be accessed from the bedroom and living room and have two loungers, two side tables and a dining table for four.
Royal Suite: There is just one Royal Suite and this is a vast 1,633 square feet with a 360-square-foot balcony on Deck 10. Inside, you'll find a baby grand piano straight ahead; the bedroom lies to your right and the living room to your left. The living room features a bar, with barstools; a dining table with four chairs; two sofas (one of which seats three and converts into a sofa bed); and two lounger chairs as well as a TV affixed to the wall and an entertainment center below. There is some lovely artwork, including sculptures and paintings. Sliding-glass doors lead out to the balcony, which has a whirlpool tub, loungers and a dining table.
The bedroom has a king-sized bed and stunning floor-to-ceiling glass windows. There is a vanity and a separate chair and stool. The walk-through closet connects the bedroom to the bathroom, which has a whirlpool marble tub and separate shower.
Family Suites: Four Royal Family Suites (610 square feet, with 234-square-foot balcony) hold up to eight and feature a living area with a double sofa bed and two bedrooms with two twin beds that convert to queens. (One also features third and fourth bunks.) Each bedroom has a bathroom with shower; one also has a tub.
Presidential Family Suite: This suite also exists on Independence of the Seas' sister ships Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, and is unique in the industry. The suite is 1,215 square feet, with an 810-square-foot balcony and sleeps up to 14. It is made up of two master bedrooms with private baths, as well as two smaller bedrooms, each with two pull-down beds and two twin beds that convert to a queen. Moreover, there are two additional shower-only bathrooms (the same as you'd see in standard accommodations). The 810-square-foot private balcony is a destination in its own right and is outfitted with a hot tub, teak dining set (table and chairs) and padded loungers.
Accessible: Independence of the Seas has a wide range of accessible cabin and suite types across decks.
Overall, the quality of dining was at best variable, with free dining really not coming up to a decent standard in the main dining rooms and Windjammer Marketplace. However, the quality of the food and service levels in the specialty restaurants, in particular Chops Grille and Izumi, is generally high and it's worth a splurge at one if you're on a seven-night cruise.
Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear (Decks 3, 4, 5): The vast, three-deck-high dining room harks back to the classic days of cruising -- beautifully decorated and designed; it makes the evening meal into a real event, especially on formal nights and if you are situated toward the middle where you can look up or down and really take in the size of the room.
Each deck is somewhat randomly named after a Shakespeare play, with play-specific decor to match. The main dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, though daytime meals, which are open-seating, are limited to Romeo and Juliet, and there's rarely a wait for a table.
At breakfast, a standard American menu offers cruise basics, from eggs Benedict and pancakes to granola and omelets. There's always a special; chocolate-chip pancakes and almond-crusted French toast are among them.
At lunch, there is a buffet setup in Romeo and Juliet for the midday meal, but only on sea days. It features a make-your-own-salad bar and a wonderful antipasti selection for those who want light fare. It's a terrific choice if you want a quick lunch in the quiet and elegant atmosphere of the dining room, and it's one of the better lunchtime offerings for vegetarians.
There is also a menu of lunch entrees, featuring hot dishes, soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts.
For dinner, passengers can choose between standard two-seating arrangements (6 and 8:30 p.m.) or My Time Dining (King Lear restaurant only), a flexible option where you choose your own dining time each day in the King Lear Restaurant. Either way, the food's the same, and largely, so is the ambience. What you give up with My Time Dining is the chance to have the same waiter and tablemates every night -- but the service is exceptional, no matter where you sit. Dinner in any of the three main restaurants is a lovely, elegant affair.
You can pre-reserve My Time Dining online, but if you wait until you embark, you must choose My Time on the first day by reporting to the dining room on Deck 5, and you can't switch between traditional seating and the flexible option during the cruise.
Menus offer a list of starters, which might include eggplant and Kalamata olive tartare, a Spanish tapas plate, pan-seared scallops and a soup selection. Entrees might include a chicken dish such as a schnitzel, meat (lamb or beef) such as beef Wellington and a fish dish like battered-cod fillet with scallops or pan-seared halibut. When the ship is U.K.-based, expect a curry dish, too. There's also a small "Classics" selection (available every night), which includes French onion soup, escargot and a king prawn cocktail to start and New York strip and spaghetti Bolognese as mains.
On the menu all of the dishes sounded mouth-watering, but we found the reality to be disappointing. It was clear most had been cooked hours before and been sitting around since. The steak, for instance, was tough and tasteless with a sorry selection of tepid fries and tiny carrots, the poorest we have eaten in an MDR on any cruise. Portions, too are measly: The "Royal" seafood salad is anything but: It came with the smallest shrimp and tiniest portion of lobster we have ever encountered in a seafood salad; it was more like a slaw with seafood flavoring. The French onion soup was watery and tepid and the puff pastry was the size of a postage stamp.
There are a number of upcharge options, including whole Maine lobster ($29.95), Surf and Turf ($34.95) and the "Chops Grille filet mignon" ($14.95) cooked perfectly to order and accompanied by a better quality mashed potato side than the usually dry version that come with regular main courses.
Desserts include Key lime pie, ice cream or souffle, apple pie and New York-style cheesecake, which were on the whole tasty.
Menus include notes indicating gluten-free, lactose-free and vegetarian dishes, but note there is not a vast selection.
Windjammer Cafe (Deck 11): The food quality here was generally good for cafeteria-style fare and was best when we stuck to the basics such as pasta dishes, grilled chicken and pizza. Off to the side of the Windjammer is Jade Sushi, an Asian-themed buffet. As well as a limited selection of sushi (only available in the evening), you'll also find Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes such as stir-fried beef and various Asian salads and spring rolls. Food aside, somewhat disappointing is the fact that there's no outdoor seating in the Windjammer. (The room stretches all the way to the back of the ship.) It would be nice if the ship had a casual (free) poolside grill. Windjammer is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sorrento's (Deck 5): Sorrento's serves thick, doughy pizza along with antipasti and Italian desserts. (The tiny tiramisu is divine.) It's open from lunch until late (about 3 a.m.). Gluten-free pizza is available upon request.
Cafe Promenade (Deck 5): Cafe Promenade is the ship's only 24-hour restaurant, and offers breakfast pastries, mini-sandwiches and desserts. It also serves specialty coffees (for a charge).
Sprinkles (Deck 11): You can snack on ice cream at this pool-adjacent self-serve ice-cream machine.
Room Service: Delivery is available 24 hours a day. The breakfast menu is rather more generous than some of Royal Caribbean's big-ship competitors, going beyond continental fare to offer "country breakfast" items like eggs and bacon. It's available for delivery between 7 and 10 a.m.
Izumi Sushi & Hibachi (Deck 4); sushi: a la carte; Teppanyaki: $39/$49: Izumi is new to Indy. It offers the biggest hibachi dining area across the fleet (in terms of cooking stations, not square footage). While the Oasis-class ships have bigger spaces, a lot of that space is taken up by the sushi restaurant. Here it's all about hibachi with just a small raised area dedicated to sushi. As in all hibachi restaurants, it's part theater, part meal and is an acquired taste, metaphorically speaking -- if you don't like egg juggling, food throwing and cheesy singing, perhaps it's not for you. If you are happy to be entertained and fed at the same time, this new venue comes highly recommended. The set price includes edamame, rice and a green salad (or -- for a fee - you can order off the sushi menu). Mains consist of beef, chicken, shrimp, veggie or a combo (which is charged at $10 more per person). This is then chopped, whirled and cooked by your friendly chef while you watch. It's delicious, especially washed down with an Asahi beer. There is mochi ice cream for dessert. It was, by far, our favorite venue on the ship.
Sugar Beach (Deck 5); a la carte: New on Indy, this candy store first appeared on Symphony of the Seas and features a huge choice of loose candy, both retro and modern, to bag; as well as chocolate bars, lollipops and bacci (Italian for kisses = little chocolate treats). Beware: A little bit of candy can cost a lot of money (especially when you have demanding kids in tow).
Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade (Deck 4); a la carte: Added during the 2018 refit, this sports bar and arcade occupies a large space on Deck 4 next to the Casino. Primarily a bar, it also offers classic sports bar food such as burgers ($9), sliders ($3 each), wings ($8 for a dozen), nachos ($7), loaded potato skins ($6) and popcorn shrimp ($7) to wash all those beers down. For dessert you can find a warm chocolate chip cookie served with Nutella, melted marshmallow and a side of milk shooters ($6).
Ben & Jerry's (Deck 5); a la carte: Ben & Jerry's ice cream bar, located across from Cafe Promenade and next to Sugar Beach (there's an adjoining entrance at the back), makes delicious fresh waffles, in addition to offering up a large ice cream selection that tops a dozen flavors. They also make floats and shakes and let you sample flavors before committing.
Fish & Ships (Deck 11; a la carte): This opened to much fanfare in the 2018 refit, to cater to British tastes, offering what the line calls a "quintessentially British seaside menu" of classics such as fish 'n' chips, battered sausage and chip (fries) buttys (sandwiches), plus a few extras such as calamari. While we liked the casual nature of the eatery, we found the prices (most items are $9 for not big portions) steep, which would have been fine if the food was any good, but it's not; we found it over-fried, dry and tasteless.
Giovanni's Table (Deck 11); $30 per person for dinner, $15 per person for lunch: Giovanni's is a family-friendly place with a relaxed atmosphere and good, hearty, if not outstanding cuisine. The waiters greet you with a warm welcome in Italian and guide you to your seat. Neat and simple tables and decor are ideal for a family with young children who may fidget during the meal. The food is beautifully presented but maintains a rustic charm in its blend of Italian herbs and seasonings. One of the starters, focaccia della casa -- a flatbread with potatoes, marinated artichokes, olives and pesto -- is a perfect example of well-cooked, homely food. We particularly liked the oven-baked, almond-crusted scallops with red bell pepper, which are a more delicate starter and a lighter option, as compared to some of the heartier, carb-filled mains. There are dishes for vegetarians and those with a specific dietary requirements, as well. Normally only open for dinner, it does open for lunch on the last sea day.
Chops Grille (Deck 11); $35: Chops Grille is the ship's steakhouse restaurant, and is a mainstay across the Royal Caribbean fleet. The menu is steakhouse-influenced with starters like shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad; various cuts of meat, including filet mignon, lamb and pork; and family-size side dishes, such as succotash and mashed potatoes.
Johnny Rockets (Deck 12); $6.95; Johnny Rocket's is the only dining venue onboard to offer outdoor seating. The 1950s diner-style national U.S. chain features trademark gut-busting hamburgers, chili dogs, onion rings, fries and milkshakes. (The Oreo sundae is worth trying!) It's also the only place onboard that you'll find plastic straws (Royal Caribbean tried to do without them, but it didn't work. Especially with kids). If you hear the Bee Gees starting to rev up on "Saturday Night Fever," you'll know that the wait staff are about ready to break into a dance. Linger over your meal, and you'll be treated to several versions. The cover charge does not include drinks, such as sodas, beer or milkshakes.
Room Service: Delivery is available 24 hours a day, at a cost of $7.95 per order (which includes a gratuity). The selection, though limited, offers a blend of healthy and fast-food choices, such as fruit plates, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizza and chili, along with desserts.
On an eight-night cruise, there are two formal nights, though formal on Indy is better defined as "smart casual" -- very few people dress up in tuxedo or full ballgown/cocktail dress attire. Most men wear a jacket and shirt and women will opt for a nice dress. The other nights are resort casual (tropical sundresses and pants outfits for women, khakis and shirts for men).
During the day, dress is casual (shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops).
The Alhambra Theatre (Deck 3) is a two-deck-high Broadway-like performance space, which hosts the spectacular production show, "Grease."
Royal Caribbean fought long and hard to bag this classic, securing both the original rights to the play and to the movie. The performance you'll see onboard is part Newton-John/Travolta movie, part original play, blending the best of both -- and then adding a Royal Caribbean touch.
The set the line has constructed is a combination of digital and real, and both were used in precisely the right scenes. The whole performance from start to finish was a genuine treat. The two leads playing Sandy and Danny are outstanding, easily holding their own both in terms of voice and performance, but what stuck us was the quality of the supporting cast, a number of whom -- Vince Fontaine, Rizzo, Rump and Mrs. Murdock -- absolutely owned their scenes. A triumph.
Star Lounge (Deck 5) is the ship's secondary show lounge. It hosts game shows such as a "millionaire game show," as well as karaoke nights.
Skating performances take place several times throughout each cruise in the ship's ice arena, Studio B (Deck 3), both during the day and at night, and these are a must-see. In the Caribbean, the same program is performed at each show; European sailings merit two different programs. The performances are great fun -- more than making up in creativity, spectacle and energy what they lack in technical difficulty. During the day this space is transformed into the laser tag arena, which inflates and deflates between ice shows.
The undisputed hub inside the ship is the Royal Promenade. Spanning three football fields in length, it's lined with a range of shops, casual eateries and bars -- even a full-sized car! It's also the site of numerous special events; particularly fun are the Adventure Ocean parades, with kids dressed up in costumes and chanting or singing as they pass by.
Daytime staples include bingo, art auctions, films, trivia contests, arts and crafts (scrapbooking is popular), wine tastings, dance classes, karaoke and the like. The 2018 refit also saw two new daytime features added: the Observatorium Puzzle Break Room on Deck 15 and Laser Tag: Battle for Planet Z in Studio B.
Located inside Studio B (Deck 3), the Laser Tag Arena is an inflatable, glow-in-the-dark arena, which is blown up and let down between ice skating performances. Essentially it works like this: Participants get divided into two groups (aliens or robots) and then work together to take down the other team during the "Battle for Planet Z." It's fabulous -- and free. Reservations are required; kids can play accompanied by an adult.
The Observatorium Puzzle Break Room sits right at the top of the ship, where the wedding chapel used to be on Deck 15 (you have to access it by its own set of stairs near the Viking Crown Lounge). It's beautifully designed, with a stunning telescope as the centrepiece (hence the name), and surrounded by bookshelves stuffed with clues, wooden boxes and a periodic table of elements. Participants work in teams of six; the aim is to solve a series of clues within an hour. The cost is high: $29.99 per person.
Special interest groups (mah-jongg, bridge, Friends of Bill W., LGBTQ meets) can post information about informal gatherings outside of the cruise sales' office on the Promenade.
You'll also find a series of port shopping talks most days during which a shopping "expert" dispenses info on retailers -- who pay a fee to be featured -- in each port of call. If you want learn about non-retail places on your itinerary, you'll need to do your own research.
Another highlight are the evening parties that take place here, each with the happy vibe of a street festival or holiday parade. Expect anything -- Rock Britannia is a staple, featuring costumes, music, singing and dancing by performers along the promenade and on the bridges across it. Be prepared to join in: the enthusiastic entertainment team will be sure to grab any wallflowers to join in a conga. There is also an occasional DreamWorks character parade, and when there are a lot of kids onboard they also participate in the parades.
There is also a "White Party" on cruises of seven nights or more, which takes place around the pool deck.
The Casino Royale features some 300 slot machines (ranging from one cent to $25) and a range of table games, such as blackjack and Texas Hold'em. Beyond the basic gambling, there are occasional events and tournaments.
Royal Caribbean offers a number of drink packages, which can be purchased pre-cruise for 20 percent less than onboard. If purchased on the ship, the daily price works out from $8 per person, per day (soda only) to $65 per person, per day (unlimited soda, premium tea and coffee, bottled water, fresh-squeezed juice, nonalcoholic cocktails, most alcoholic beverages and 20 percent off bottles of wine). Note that the drinking age onboard is 21 (18 when the ship is in Europe), and each passenger of drinking age is permitted to bring up to two bottles of wine onboard (there's a $15 corkage fee). Free drinks available include tap water, iced tea, lemonade and flavor-infused waters.
Playmaker's Sports Bar & Arcade (Deck 3): This bar was added in the 2018 refit, and is already a huge hit. Replacing OnAir (which was empty during the day), Playmaker's Sports Bar links the Casino with Studio B and is busy day or night, showing major sports fixtures on 35 giant TV screens. It also has classic arcade games and board games, as well as an extensive craft beer menu, as well as cocktails and a snack menu.
Schooner Bar (Deck 4): You'll find this hugely popular nautical-themed bar across the Royal Caribbean fleet, hosting trivia and piano music throughout the day. It's the perfect spot for a pre- or post-dinner tipple in the evening.
Bolero's (Deck 4): This Latin-themed lounge, which features lively music (they've got an excellent six-piece Latin band) and Latin-style dancing, was given a refresh in 2018, complete with card tables and retro Cuban-style furniture. There is an emphasis on Latin-themed drinks, including Cuban mojitos and Brazilian caipirinhas.
Star Lounge (Deck 5): The ship's secondary show lounge is used for hosting trivia, live music, karaoke and private functions, among other activities.
Ale & Anchor Pub (Deck 5): Head to Ale & Anchor for that "authentic" British pub feel, complete with live music and a glass, bottle or can of your favorite brew. It's a real pleasure to sit outside on the promenade and watch the world go by. (Choose from 40 different types of beer.)
Vintages (Deck 5): A low-key wine bar, Vintages offers tastings, lots of comfy seating and self-serve, extra-fee Enomatic wine dispensers. It also offers outside seating.
Champagne Bar (Deck 5): This bar is located on the Royal Promenade, across the way from the passenger services desk.
Plaza Bar (Deck 11): This small bar is where you can snag your drink of choice during meals in the Windjammer buffet.
Pool Bar (Deck 11): A poolside bar, serving cold beers and cocktails.
Sky Bar (Deck 12): The Sky Bar serves mainly as a secondary pool bar and is the place for evening singles meetups.
Olive or Twist (Deck 14): Billed as and designed with the ambiance of a martini bar, this spot also acts as the ship's disco. It's the place for late-night dancing to music from all decades.
Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 14): Set high atop the front of the ship, with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, the Viking Crown Lounge is another Royal Caribbean favorite.
Suite Lounge (Deck 14): Open to suite passengers only, this lounge includes tea and coffee, drinks and a concierge desk. It also has an outside veranda.
Diamond Club (Deck 14): A small bar with great views open to only the top-tier members of Royal's Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program.
The ship's pool deck, which consists of three distinct pool areas, is comfortable, magically colorful and full of energy.
The center pool with its nearby whirlpools is party-central -- at least during the daytime. It's the site of light-hearted fun, pool contests and music on sea days.
Two water slides were added in the refurb. Collectively known as the Perfect Storm, they allow two people to race each other down to the bottom. They've been built beside the rear funnel, on the opposite side of Sky Pad. The entrance is on the same level as the FlowRider (Deck 13).
The Solarium (Deck 11) is a pretty, though small, adults-only pool area that includes two whirlpools that are cantilevered out over the ship (great spots for watching the sun set), a bar that opens only on sea days and swinging benches.
None of the pools are equipped with a retractable roof that can be shut in case of inclement weather.
Independence of the Seas has outstanding recreational facilities, which got even better in the 2018 refit with the introduction of the first Sky Pad on a Royal Caribbean ship. This combo trampoline/bungee/virtual reality experience sits right at the top of the ship (you can't miss it; it's a giant yellow ball that looks like a piece of new radar equipment). Here's how it works: You get strapped into a harness, with bungee cords attached and after a briefing in which you choose the world you want to experience, you put on the VR headset. Then you start bouncing up and down. The three world choices are: a post-apocalypse city where you shoot aliens with your eyes; a candy crush style world and a "pop video"-style world. The higher you go, the more you'll experience of the VR world you have chosen. Each experience lasts 2.5 minutes and is a lot of fun. It's open to over 5s and is free.
A deck below you'll find another new feature -- a suspended climbing frame, which is more aimed at kids.
Also aimed at the younger set, is the kids-only Splashaway Bay, a water park that incorporates small pools (some slightly deep, some shallow) and all sorts of fountains and water guns. It replaced the previous kid-only splash zone in the 2018 refit.
One of the most popular top deck features is the FlowRider, a surfing simulator that debuted on Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships. At specially designated times, ShipShape staffers are on hand to assist passengers who want to give it a go; you must be at least 52 inches tall to use a Boogie board and 58 inches to try stand-up surfing. FlowRider is free, but passengers can also book private lessons ($75 per person) or rent out the FlowRider ($350 per hour).
The rock climbing wall, which hovers some 30 feet above the deck and 200 feet above the sea, can accommodate two climbers at a time. There's no fee to use it.
Other recreational options include a full basketball court (also pressed into use for soccer games and dodge ball), a running track (four laps equals a mile), mini-golf, a golf simulator and the ice rink. (Skate rentals are free of charge.)
All the ship's services are clustered in a hub toward the aft end of the promenade (before the main dining room). Here you will find guest services, shore excursions and the next cruise sales desk; at the other end of the promenade you'll find a small library and Royal Caribbean Online, which is an internet cafe where you can buy a Zoom package and troubleshoot any Wi-Fi related problems.
Royal Caribbean has installed its super-fast Wi-Fi, Zoom, across the ship, which is sold per device, per day and you can buy a package from stands along the Royal Promenade. Prices start at $12.99 (surf) and $17.99 (surf and stream) for a single device; the best value is $9.99 per device, when purchasing for four devices at the same time for the surf package or $13.99 per device for surf and stream for four devices.
The promenade also acts as a mall, with all the shops along here, too. There is everything from a logo shop for branded sweatshirts, tote bags and towels, to an essentials shop, designer threads, handbags, watches and, of course, duty-free goods.
The Photo Gallery is part of a smaller walkway on Deck 3, which leads out from Studio B and toward the Art Gallery.
One deck below you'll find a Conference Center with meeting rooms that, when not holding group gatherings, also serve as spill-over spots for crafts and other activities.
There are no self-service laundrettes.
It's a testament to Royal Caribbean's far-reaching Adventure Ocean youth program (for kids ages 3 to 17) that, on our cruise, which took place firmly in the midst of a major school holiday period, the 1,400 (!) kids onboard were not only engaged but also proved a joy to be around, rather than a disruption. We can't tell you how many parents we talked to who said that their children were having so much fun in the program that they'd hardly seen them.
What also stood out to us with Adventure Ocean is the breadth and range of activities, regardless of age. The program includes activities that are focused on enrichment and recreation, occur during mealtimes, encourage family participation and offer creative outlets. Each of the five different age levels have dedicated facilities, yet the programs also make use of the ship's other features, from recreation to dining.
All children are registered at the Adventure Ocean reception desk and issued with a wrist band, which they wear for the duration of the cruise. Under-12s must be signed in and out.
For families with little ones, the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery (6 months to 3 years) caters to the tiniest passengers. Here you'll find dedicated Youth Staff at a ratio of 1:4 kids. Meals are served in the nursery on a designated table, and there are chairs attached for babies. The Nursery is open 9 a.m. to midnight on sea days, and 30 minutes prior to docking to midnight on a port day.
Children on Independence of the Seas are divided into three groups.
The Aquanauts is for kids in the 3- to 5-year-old age group. Activities occur in 15-minute intervals and range from beach games and hula-hoop contests to story time. Adventure Science makes learning fun with hands-on science experiments. To participate in Aquanauts, children must be potty-trained.
The Explorers program for 6- to 8-year-olds changes in half-hour intervals and is centered on the Explorer room, where there's space enough for free play (cartoons, coloring, board games), dancing, bingo, art and science experiments, foosball, and PlayStation. Outside play includes basketball and soccer, which takes place on the basketball court. Royal Caribbean dancers even hold a dance class for the kids.
Voyagers are the 9- to 12-year-old set; activities for them are held in the Voyager Room and include a hula-hoop competition, dodgeball, Adventure Art, Crazy Tag and Adventure Science enrichment. There are also a number of TV screens and videogames.
On sea days there is a "lunch and play" feature on for Aquanauts, Explorers and Voyagers; for $7.95 per child, kids have a two-hour playtime (typically, the facility would be closed at lunch) that includes food and activities. All three groups participate in family-friendly play, like karaoke and scavenger hunts.
Nighttime group babysitting, dubbed the "Late Night Party Zone," is available during the evening every night; the cost is $5 per hour, per child, and it runs until 2 a.m.
My Family Time Dining is also available and is for kids, ages 3 to 11. With this program, families who have chosen the traditional dining option can enjoy special, expedited service for the kids; after 40 minutes, Adventure Ocean counselors pick the children up and take them to the age-appropriate facility while parents finish their meals leisurely.
Royal classifies teens as ages 12 to 17, and divides them into two groups, though, in some cases, they share activities and venues. Other times, they're separate, such as with disco nights in the Labyrinth. (The 12- to 14-year-olds are able to participate from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m., while the older group gets the 11:45 p.m. to 1 a.m. time slot.)
Tweens, ages 12 to 14, are supervised by Adventure Ocean staff and are based in The Living Room. The program is far less structured than for the younger kids; there are a handful of group activities, such as dodge ball competitions, mini-golf ball-driving, bingo, karaoke, "Boogie boarding under the stars" at the FlowRider and clay sculpting. In the evenings, there is Prom Night and a Pajama Party Hangout. But, there's lots of free time for just hanging in The Living Room.
The Home for the 15- to 17-year-old set is Fuel, a teens-only nightclub that's got a bunch of comfy chairs and TV screens and a dance floor and DJ booth. There are a handful of activities, mostly recreationally inclined (teen ice skating, Scratch D.J. Academy, Wii tournaments). There is a teen counselor on hand, but there's no obligation to participate and teens pretty much just do their own thing. Teens also have access to a specially dedicated outdoor deck area.
The ship's vast games arcade is always popular. It's located right in the center of the kids' facilities and is dominated by young passengers.
The passenger makeup varies, depending on the time of year and where the ship is based. During the Caribbean season (late fall through early spring), Independence of the Seas' American passengers are in the majority, with a strong showing of travelers from the U.K., Mexico and Spain, in particular. During its summer sojourn in Southampton, when it offers cruises to both the Baltic and the Med, as well as short-break cruises, Brits make up the vast majority of passengers.
During vacation periods, kids make up more than one-third of the passengers, and a significant number are teens. During periods other than school holiday breaks, the ship feels less like an all-family resort destination, though the ship's Adventure Ocean program operates year-round.
The ship makes an effort to accommodate travelers with special needs. There are wheelchair-accessible cabins with roll-in showers, transfer lifts in one pool and one whirlpool, and lowered tables in the casino. A room is equipped with an Infrared Assistive Learning System, and the ship's daily newsletter is available, upon request, in braille.
Although the ambience onboard is conducive for a variety of passenger types, this is a tough ship for solo travelers. So many passengers travel in groups of family members or friends that all but the most gregarious may find it hard to connect with fellow singles, though there are occasional meetups for solo travelers. One suggestion: Consider signing up for Cruise Critic's Meet & Mingle gathering.
Royal Caribbean's Vitality Day Spa (Deck 12) offers a comprehensive range of services, but ambience-wise, it possesses the charm and character of a big-city bus station. The salon, tucked off to one side, features hair-cutting and styling, manicures, pedicures and teeth-whitening, as well as men's grooming such as a 55-minute facial with shave for $95.
The spa offers massage (Swedish, hot stone and couples are among the varieties), reflexology, acupuncture, facials and body wraps. A Swedish massage starts at $129 for 50 minutes.
There is also the teen-geared ZSPA program. Kids ages 13 to 17 can book treatments, such as "acne attack" and "surfer scrub." More standard massages, facials, manicures and pedicures are also available, and ZSPA extends to the gym, where there are teen-only fitness workouts.
If you are on a cruise that calls at Labadee, the island massage is a lovely treat; the spa sets up a mini outdoor area on a hill, away from the crowds. Plan to wear a bathing suit under your robe if you're choosing this option.
Keep an eye out for spa discounts, which will usually be on offer on port days and advertised in the Cruise Compass.
Indy's Vitality Fitness Center excellent. In the 2018 refit, the floor was re-sprung and some of the equipment was upgraded. Circuit-training machines ring the walls of windows and include treadmills and stationary bikes. There's also an area for weightlifting and a group of cycles for spinning (individually or in group classes).
The facility has a dedicated room for a variety of classes, such as yoga, aerobics, Pilates, group cycling and water aerobics. Other, less standard options include "combat in motion," a workout that combines Eastern martial arts with Western aerobic conditioning. Classes are mostly for-charge, and it is recommended that passengers sign up in advance. (You will be charged if you're a no-show.) Fees start at $12 for a yoga class and indoor cycling, to $35 for a Body Sculpt Boot Camp for an hour. Personal trainers start at $85 per hour.
The running track is on Deck 12 (four laps equal a mile).
Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $14.50 per person, per day ($17.50 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs and spa treatments. The currency used onboard is U.S. dollars.
Note: Australians and New Zealanders do not have the stateroom service charge added to their account; fares automatically include this gratuity as long as the cruise was booked in AU or NZ dollars.
Date Refurbished: 2018
Country of Registration: Bahamas
Regular Capacity: 3858
Maximum Capacity: 4560
Number of Crew:1440
Crew Nationality: International
Officer Nationality: International
Language(s) Spoken:< Multiple Languages
|Meet Independence of the Sea, a marvel of maritime engineering, packed with all the phenomenal onboard experiences you'd expect from our Freedom class of ships-including the FlowRider® surf simulator, a rock climbing wall, ice-skating rink, cantilevered whirlpools, Royal Promenade, mini golf course, and much more. It's your most incredible vacation yet!|
Health and Beauty
Dining InformationDinner Gratuity Policies
Suites (GS & Above) $17.50 per guest per day
Standard (JS & Below) $14.50 per guest per day