December 2015 - Independence of the Seas to Caribbean - Western
This was our "pre busy (tax) season" treat/early Christmas present to ourselves. This was our first time on this ship and our first time sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale. Pre Cruise We booked a park and cruise package at the Holiday Inn Express on SR 84/Marina Mile. The rate, including taxes, was $210 (Sunday night stay). When we arrived, we were told we'd been upgraded to a suite with a king-size bed. This was nice, but we didn't really require the extra space. Plus, the room (3rd floor) was right over the entry way to the hotel so the light from the neon signs shined into the window. Luckily, I'd brought my sleep mask ;-) There are no restaurants/bars at this hotel but there are several places within walking distance (although I wouldn't say this seems to be the safest area to be out walking). The hotel provides a list of these places. Also, right across the street is a grocery store and a McDonald's. We opted to eat at a restaurant I'd found via Trip Advisor, Hardy Park Bistro, which was a 5 or so minute drive away. It was very good, I'll review that on Trip Advisor. The complimentary breakfast was well stocked. DH and I eat low carb; we were pleased to see eggs and breakfast meat in addition to all the usual cereals, pastries, pancakes, breads, yogurt, etc. The coffee was good! There was no separate place for cruise parking. We just had to fill out an info sheet on the car so they could "keep an eye on it". Transportation to the Port The hotel uses All Star and offers a 10 or an 11 pick up. We opted for 10. The driver arrived and was very friendly. There were a total of six of us going; our party of four and another couple. The port is only a 10-15 minute drive from the hotel. While en route, the driver told us we could arrange for a ride back, so we did. $10 pp; we got a sticker each to wear that day and a RSVP slip. We were dropped off at the porter area and then proceeded into the terminal (a bit of a walk). We got through security and checked in with Royal Caribbean very quickly. We were in the priority lounge by 10:30 and on the ship by 10:50. Ship Same layout as Freedom (which we are very familiar with) other than the fact Indy has not been refurbished to eliminate the two story "disco" on Decks 4 and 5 so thus does not have a Sabor restaurant. Generally speaking, she seemed to be in good shape. Maybe a bit of wear and tear here and there but nothing really obvious. Although we were told the ship was full, it was odd in that there were several times i seemed no one was around (in particular The Diamond Lounge and Olive or Twist every night). Of course, all you had to do was go to The Windjammer (AKA The People Jammer) to find everyone; or by the pools on sea days. Stateroom We were in Junior Suite 9568 port side forward. It's slightly to the left and below one of the hot tubs in the Solarium. If you look at the deck plans and also the ship from the outside, it does appear that the balcony on this one is slightly larger, a mini hump, if you will. In reality, it was likely more of an optical illusion. In any case, the balcony was roomy. The room itself was fine; all the typical benefits of a JS. It was a decent location; close to the forward stairs/elevators and not too far of a walk to the mid ship stairs/elevators. It was quite for the most part and we did not notice any significant amount of movement in the room (the seas were REALLY calm this cruise). Our SRA, Savi, was good despite a rocky start. She did not tidy up the room the first evening so we were not very happy about that but it turns out there was not a Do Not Disturb card to put in the door so she didn't know if we were in there or not. We got that worked out and she was excellent the rest of the cruise. She even did THREE towel animals! Food We ate in the MDR 2nd seating four of the five nights. We had table 318 for 10 with only 7 at it (one being a small boy of four traveling with his parents who actually turned out to be one of the best dinner companions we'd ever had!) The service was ok (our waiter was sick two nights and so another guy filled in who turned out to be pretty funny) and the food was typical. Nothing really great but a lot of variety. We typically find the appetizers to be the best quality wise and so order two or three each and then sort of pick at the entree. Desserts are ok but I think many of us are hoping the menu will change again soon. We ate our breakfasts and lunches in The Windjammer. Others have noted selections seem sparse in the salad bar, to which I'd agree. No spinach! But, for the most part, the food was fine and plenty of low carb options. We did eat breakfast in the MDR on disembarkation day and it was served promptly. We had room service once; blech. Again, I wish they'd change the menu options. However, it is nice to get coffee delivered! We also picked up coffee/snacks several time from Promenade Cafe. We love those chicken curry rolls; too bad they only had them two days. We had my birthday dinner in Giovanni's. The food was good but the portions seems a lot smaller than I remembered. Come to think of it, this seemed true in the MDR as well. Also, we had to remind them it was my birthday. Bevos We got the Premium Drink Package (PP on your Seapass!) For the first time ever, we were charged extra for a Lemon Drop (95 cents) because it was over the $12 limit. Frankly, I think most bartenders don't bother with this but the ladies in The Champagne Bar were unfriendly and uninspiring, which is too bad as this is typically our favorite hang out. Generally speaking though, we were pleased with the package and were able to order whatever we wanted (that Lemon Drop not withstanding!) For the first time ever, we were not required to sign a slip every time we got a drink! This was nice! BTW, no Freestyle Soda machines on this ship yet so if you have the soda cup, you have to get a server or a bartender to fill it up. Crew Mostly friendly; a few (such as the bartender in The Champagne Bar) were not very friendly or helpful. As mentioned, our SRA was good, as were our servers in the MDR. There were one or two pool servers who took good care of us. I wasn't overly impressed with the lady in The Diamond Lounge. She didn't say anything to us until the 4th night. The servers in The Diamond Lounge as well as two at Olive or Twist were very good and attentive. No separate line at Guest Services for Diamond/Diamond Plus, either. Ports We only got off the ship in Jamaica and went to Margaritaville, which was fine. We met up with our daughter (who was on a Celebrity ship in port the same day) so that's the only reason we got off. We typically enjoy staying on the ship when everyone else is off! Fellow PAX The typical chair hogs, especially in The Solarium. On Freedom in October the pool attendants were actually removing towels/belongings on chairs where nobody had been there longer than 30 minutes. Not so this time so people were taking advantage of that. Typical rude PAX treating the crew badly and/or barging in and out of lines at The Windjammer and not following proper elevator etiquette. However, most PAX friendly and happy. Entertainment We only heard one band up in Olive or Twist. They were pretty good. We didn't go to any headliner shows or even The Quest this time (this also needs to be switched up a bit). Disembarkation Here's where it got ugly. We were in our designated waiting area forward Deck 5 lounge for Diamond/Diamond Plus early. Many others came in and it was obvious they were not Diamond/Diamond Plus since there were not that many on board. Not that this really matters but it was just an indication that the crew was not paying attention. When they called our number, they told us to go down to Deck 1 (a first for us!) They failed to tell us a) the elevators were not working and b) you were supposed to go to the mid ship stairs to go down to Deck 1. So, we got down to Deck 1 only to be told we were in the wrong area of Deck 1 and had to go all the way back up to Deck 4, go over to mid ship, and go back down to Deck 1. This cause a huge jam of people in the stair area; we were stuck between Deck 3 and Deck 2 for over 1/2 hour. People were really getting rude and testy. Once we finally got out, there was a long walk to the terminal to pick up baggage and go through customs. Thankfully, this went relatively quickly for us but I heard others had long delays here, too. Trip Back to Hotel Another disappointment. When All Star finally showed up, they loaded up a party of 14 before those of us who had been waiting much longer. This almost cause one man to swing at the driver. They eventually got us all loaded in. But, despite the fact our hotel was ten minutes away, they dropped us off last, which took about an hour. So, word to wise, probably better just to take a cab if your destination is relatively close to the port. Summary We had a great cruise despite some of these nits, great mostly because of our travel companions and the fact we really enjoy cruising. We really didn't have any WOW moments on this cruise, sad to say. It is also sad to see Royal cutting back here and there so much and their prices keep going up up up. Case in point. We paid about $600 pp for a JS on Explorer December 2014. This cruise was about $700 pp. We booked a cruise on board for next December, a five night on Brilliance out of Tampa, its fare is $1030 pp (all prices before taxes/port charges, etc.), and this a much smaller ship. They gave us $300 OBC for that cruise and $100 OBC for the current cruise, so that brings the price down to about $830 pp, but, you can't combine it with C&A discounts or much else. So, you've got to learn to play the game!