The planet we live on is made up of 70% water. When you consider that there are 6.5 billion people living on the 30%of lands out there it seems to make perfect sense that we should utilise the oceans around us for a vacation.
The Independence of the Seas, the latest ship to join the ranks of the prestigious Royal Caribbean family, is the largest liner ever set to sea. It launched from Southampton in late April of this year and as the flagship of the company, is seen by its creators as the definitive word in luxury ocean travel.
So far, so impressive!
The sheer scale and size of The Independence is lost to pictures and in reality, this massive structure of steel and glass is breathtaking. At 1,112 feet long – longer than 5 Boeing 747s lined up in a row – and an astonishing 237 feet high, it has the capacity to hold 4,300 guests who are all looked after by a crew of 1,360 men and women.
The majority of the cabins have a sea view and balcony, with the remaining rooms overlooking the ship’s interior main promenade. All come fitted with a flat-screen television, comfortable double beds and plenty of storage space. The bathrooms are also well laid out, although slightly smaller than I would have expected, with only a shower rather than a bath, but as far as standard accommodation goes it meets the average traveller’s requirements adequately.
Still, the thing that has always worried me about cruises is the boredom factor. Once they have you on board, what is there to do to keep you interested, particularly if you have children?
Fortunately, The Independence comes equipped with 14 decks of entertainment opportunities, although many come at a price – such as the arcades, casino and beauty treatment rooms – whilst others are not all of a, particularly high standard.
Stand out features include the wonderful Flowrider and Rockwall attractions, both of which offer exhilarating outdoor experiences for children and adults alike and the impressive indoor skating rink. The fully-featured gym is another must and for evening entertainment both The Alhamba theatre and the themed night club Labyrinth offer somewhere different for the adults to “play” when the kids are tucked away in bed.
Another place of note – and something Royal Caribbean PR never seems to tire telling you about – is the Royal Promenade, a 445ft long main street walkway flanked on either side by coffee bars, eateries, shops and even an ice cream parlour. There’s no doubting the wonder of the achievement, not least of all because as you emerge from the tall glass elevators at one end and begin your stroll, it’s easy to forget that you’re on a boat at all!
In fact, if you blind-folded grandma and then let her free again in the Promenade she’d take some convincing that she wasn’t on dry land and out on a shopping spree at some major city mall. People are sat outside “inside” (if you get my drift!) snacking on pretzels and pizza or sipping a late afternoon coffee before preparing for dinner as you pass by and it’s only when the reality comes back from time to time that you realise just how surreal an experience it really is.
As far as the atmosphere and aesthetics are concerned, it’s very difficult to fault.
However, if there is one area that you do come away feeling a little cheated it is with the quality of the food onboard. Royal Caribbean is clearly aiming at a wider audience – gone are the days when cruises were seen exclusively as the indulgence of the rich and famous – but with their cuisine, they have, in my opinion, stopped this being an all-out five-star experience and missed a great opportunity.
Everywhere you go, from the self service eateries to the more intimate dining experience in the main restaurants, the food looks wonderful but nothing I ate really had any taste.
The idea of eating as much as you can sound appealing initially but if it all carries the same flavour then you soon tire of the opportunity. As a man who loves his food, it was disappointing. It was a little like going to the Ritz for dinner and being served three courses of different flavoured potato chips!
Partly because of this, I think a week is probably the longest I could manage without starting to feel a little restless, although the daily stop-overs in different ports would probably add a greater appeal to any package and help extend the experience for many to a fortnight without too much difficulty. If you can explore different countries and cuisines away from the ship then it does help to “break” things up somewhat.
Overall, I can’t say I disliked the experience. There’s so much to marvel at and the crew make a supreme effort to help whenever called upon for information or assistance. The nightlife is interesting, the entertainment opportunities vast and the luxury layout impressive.
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