One of the perks of being involved in the cruise industry is that you get invited to launch events. April 2008 found my wife and I being invited to a two night cruise on Royal Caribbean Internationals newest and biggest ship Independence of the Seas.

Independence of the Seas is big in every sense of the word, at 154,407 tons she is huge, she can accommodate up to 4,376 passengers over fifteen passenger decks, and has 1,397 crew giving a passenger to crew ratio of between 2.6 and 3.1.

Independence is also big on entertainment, she is very much a floating resort with a FlowRider- ( an on-board surf park) where you can learn to surf on a surf simulator, H20 Zone, primarily for the kids but fun for all the family with water cannons, fountain, swimming pool and two hot tubs, a dedicated sports pool for organised games and activities. There is an adult only solarium, two cantilevered whirlpools which extend some 12 feet from the side of the ship and are 112 feet above the ocean. There is the largest rock climbing wall at sea, an indoor ice skating rink, a small scale golf course, jogging track, basketball and volleyball sports court.

There is also a huge choice of dining options from fast food to fine dinning, the Royal promenade has 445 feet of shopping, dining and entertainment options and the choice of evening entertainment is amazing.
Our two night cruise was departing from Southampton and was going to…well nowhere really, we didn’t actually know what the itinerary was, Royal Caribbean had invited travel agents and the press to sample the ship for two nights and all we knew was our departure time and arrival time back in Southampton. As it turned out we were to circle the Channel Islands a few times but unfortunately not dock.

Even before boarding the ship the sheer size of the her as she sits in port is breath taking, she towers above anything else there and is clearly visible on your approach to the port. On boarding you are fully aware that this is something special.

We had an ocean view cabin on deck 3 which at 161 sq ft was an average sized cabin, the room was well laid out with all the usual facilities and the bed configuration could be made up as either a Queen size or twins. The only downside to our cabin was the fact that you could not walk the whole length of the ship on our deck due to the positioning of Studio B, this meant that we had to ensure that we were the correct end of the ship when we descended to deck 3 or we wouldn’t be able to get to our cabin without going back up to the next deck walking along to the next flight of stairs and then back down again. This became apparent shortly after boarding when whilst viewing the Gymnasium we were called for the safety drill, we quickly made our way back to our cabin to pick up our life jackets only to find that we had descended by the wrong stairs, we then went up a deck and were heading back to our cabin when our passage was blocked by a member of crew who informed us that we could not now go to our cabin and that we were to attend the safety drill without our life jackets. I would like to say that we learnt by our mistake, but sadly I managed to use the wrong stairs on at least one other occasion.

After the safety drill and once we had found our bearings (I’m not sure if we ever really did, the ship is so big and two days is not long enough to fully get acquainted with the layout) we made our way back to our cabin to get ready for dinner, the suggested attire was business casual. We had pre-dinner drinks in the Champagne bar which is located on deck 5 at the start of the Royal Promenade, the whole promenade was bustling and you could easily forget that you were on a ship as it is so large and resembles an American shopping mall.

After an excellent dinner in the main dining room we took in the Ice show which was truly amazing, very professional. We then went to the Alhambra Theatre to watch the show “Under the big top”, again very professional and entertaining. To complete the evenings entertainment everyone seemed to head for the Royal Promenade where the midnight parade takes place with music and dancing and the entertainment staff on platforms high above the crowds, I wondered what it would be like for guests staying in the promenade staterooms with all this noise going on in the early hours of the morning, but I was reassured that the rooms are soundproof .

The next morning and after a hearty breakfast it was off to explore the ship, taking in the sauna and whirlpool as well as watching the surfers on the FlowRider. Lunch was taken in Johnny Rockets which has to be the most fun place to eat on the ship, it is based on an American Diner and you have all the usual fast food options, the fun part is that just about every ten minutes all the staff stop what they are doing and dance and sing along to the Juke box, pure magic.

Tonight we dressed up for dinner and again it was pre-dinner drinks in the Champagne bar. After dinner we went to the Alhambra Theatre to see ABBACADABRA an ABBA tribute band. After a tour of a few of the bars, taking in some of the alternative entertainment we ended up at the Karaoke bar where there are special booths where you can sing along to your favourite music tracks and watch yourself on a video screen, once you have had your practice and gained the courage you can take to the stage for the enjoyment of your fellow passengers.

The Independence of the Seas will not appeal to everyone, it is probably not for your more traditionalist cruisers and the entertainment is very much geared to the American market, however, no one could deny the sheer brilliance of it’s construction and the excellent and professional service provided by the staff, this ship is a great alternative to a land based family resort holiday.