Royal Caribbean have launched the largest cruise ship in the world, Symphony of the Seas recently, but Independence of the Seas, the UK’s favourite cruise ship, wasn’t going to be left out of the limelight, she had a multi million pound makeover!
It seems like every other month there is a new cruise ship launch, which makes choosing the right cruise harder and harder. So what makes Independence of the Seas different from the rest? Dubbed the Ultimate Family Cruise Ship, the multi-million pound makeover is a family focused one. Many of the new experiences on board are geared towards families. I was fortunate to be able to cruise on the revamped Independence of the Seas on it’s inaugural sailing from Southampton. I was also able to bring my two children Luke (10) and Alex (7) to Southampton the following week to see what they thought.
We were on Harmony of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean’s larger cruise ships, last year, so we had something great to compare it to. I am so proud that Luke was chosen as one of Royal Caribbean’s Little Extraordinaires, a panel of six children who will act as consultants on future Royal Caribbean ships. The panel was introduced following startling research that 70% of parents will consult their children before booking a holiday! Luke’s first ‘job’ was to road-test Independence of the Seas, and I was delighted to have an excuse to get back on board!
Our first mission was to try the brand new Sky Pad. This virtual reality bungee trampoline experience is another ‘first’ for Royal Caribbean and is only available on Independence of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas; another cruise ship that has had a $90 million dollar makeover. Sky Pad is suitable for adults and children, aged 5 and over. If you want to don the VR head-set you need to be at least 7 years of age. There are four trampolines encased in a bright orange sphere on the top deck of the ship. It looks impressive even before you try it! All three of us had a go and we loved it. Myself and Alex smashed candies in the sugar world while my son went into the future and dodged bouncing balls. There is a knack to bouncing and if you manage to balance in the centre of the trampoline you can go really high! Alex managed to do this and gave Luke and I a mild panic attack in the process!
Much to my surprise, Luke decided to try the Flowrider surf simulator. The expert staff let you use a bodyboard for an easier experience although it is only a matter of time before you fall off… The great thing about this and the Sky Pad is that you can try them over and over again and I would imagine by the end of your week’s cruise, the novice would become the master!
For all around family run there is a large aqua park called Splashaway Bay which is great for kids of all ages, with small slides and a large splash bucket. There are also two larger waterslides for older children, kids need to be 122cm to ride. These were a big hit with Luke and Alex who loved racing each other over and over again.
After a morning at the pool, it was time for lunch. We debated between Sorrento’s pizza or the Windjammer buffet restaurant, both included in the price of your cruise, but decided the Windjammer ticked all boxes for the three of us. The decadent array of hot and cold foods is enough to satisfy even the fussiest of eaters. The only problem I have with buffets is that I eat too much, but needless to say the kids were not complaining!
Independence of the Seas has four restaurants included in the cost of your cruise as well as six speciality dining options. Kids will love the Fish & Ships restaurant on the pool deck but it caters well for adults too, with lobster rolls and deep fried calamari. I wasn’t overly convinced about the deep fried chocolate bars though…. I ate in the main dining room for dinner and it was superb. The food, service and even the room itself is very impressive.
I also tried the speciality restaurant, Izumi. This sushi and hibachi grill has the largest teppanyaki dining experience in the fleet. We enjoyed a lively presentation from our host Elvis, as he cooked up delicious asian food right in front of us. If sushi isn’t your thing, you can opt for the beef and tiger shrimp combo, sea scallops and lobster or even steak and chicken breast! It was a great experience and one I would urge everyone to book at least once during their cruise.
There are eight bars on board. For kick-ass cocktails try the latin themed Boleros. There is also The Champagne Bar somewhere – I don’t know how I missed that one! The brand new sports bar Playmakers is impressive. With pool tables and live events on 30 large screen TV’s, it has a cool American vibe. You can also pick up some tasty wings, sliders and a wide selection of beers.
Getting back to the kids! After lunch they played a quick game of mini-golf before trying the team game, Laser-Tag. This incredible set up is in Studio B, where the night club and ice rink are. Did I mention there is an ice-skating rink on board? In true Royal Caribbean style the floor rotates and the ice rink stays underneath, while the studio transforms into a glow-in-the-dark laser tag course, where aliens fight robots in the battle for Planet Z! This was another big hit with my kids and all the other children too.
There are plenty more activities on board that they didn’t get a chance to try. The rock climbing wall and multi sports court are no doubt huge draws as is Puzzle Break. This is an escape room where guests need to work together to find hidden clues and solve high-tech riddles to reveal the mystery. Unlike most of the activities on board, there is an additional charge for this. There is also an arcade room with a host of video games, including the latest Star Wars games. Independence of the Seas has traditional kids entertainment too, with a host of kids clubs, from a babies nursery to the teen club, as well as an outdoor movie screen by the pool!
Parents are well looked after too with a spa and fitness centre, jogging track, a host of swimming pools, seven jacuzzis and a casino! There is also an adult-only solarium if you fancy escaping the kids for a few hours. Make sure you try the frozen pina coladas with mango, they are to die for!
Grease the musical is the on show in the Royal Theatre which is suitable for both adults and children. We saw this on Harmony of the Seas and loved it. I had to download the soundtrack and the movie when I got home and the kids watched it over and over again.
There are numerous live music and comedy acts each night, including a Take That tribute band. We were lucky to be able to see Mark Wright on the decks in Studio B. It was like being at a rock concert, the atmosphere was electric. Who said cruise ships are boring?
Another great show is the party on the Royal Promenade every night. People spill out of the bars and there is a street party feel to it. From Buck’s Fizz’ ‘Making your Mind Up’ to Elton John’s ‘I’m still standing’, the Royal Britannia show is holiday atmosphere at it’s best. This may sound cheesy, believe me it is, but it is also great fun and shouldn’t be missed! The Royal Promenade is one of the focal points of the ship and is full of shops, bars and restaurants. I bought some costume jewellery in one of the shops while the kids tucked into some Ben & Jerry’s! Sugar lovers will love the brand new Sugar Beach candy store. Packed with thousands of sweets and some cuddly toys, this is a children’s dream, or nightmare, depending on how you look at it!
There are a wide selection of staterooms available including panoramic ocean view staterooms with floor to ceiling views, for the ultimate sunset views. We stayed in a spacious ocean view stateroom with a balcony. It even had a large walk in wardrobe!
The revamped Independence of the Seas has 1929 staterooms. This is 830 rooms less than Royal Caribbean’s newest ship Symphony of the Seas. I loved the size of Independence of the Seas. It is a massive cruise ship with 15 decks and capable of housing over 4500 guests, but it doesn’t feel that big when you are on it. It is very easy to navigate, the lifts have all the facilities listed, I didn’t ask for directions once! My sense of direction is fairly poor and I have got ‘lost’ on many occasions on other cruise ships! If you were relaxing on your balcony you could meet up with the kids within minutes, regardless of where they were on the ship. I have no doubt it will continue to be regarded as the UK’s favourite cruise ship. I wonder in time will it be Ireland’s favourite too?
Royal Caribbean are revamping 10 cruise ships over the next few years and spending a staggering 900 million dollars in the process! They have been bringing industry firsts to the cruise industry for 49 years, and with over 40 national and international awards in 2017, they want to ensure that they continue to be regarded as the most innovative cruise line in the industry.
For more details visit RoyalCaribbean.ie. This post was sponsored by Royal Caribbean Cruises but all views as always, are my own.