Sunday, March 12, 2017

Independence of the Seas

Independence of the Seas Royal Promenade

Fort Lauderdale

It’s been a long time since we’ve been on a cruise ship with “Wow Factor”. We mainly take 3- and 4-day cruises and, let’s face it, the cruise lines save their oldest and smallest ships for the short itineraries. So I was really excited when we found a 4-day cruise over President’s Day weekend on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. At 154,000 gross tons, it was much larger than any ship we’d been on. Plus it had a FlowRider and an ice skating rink, as well as a Royal Promenade, an indoor boardwalk with shops, bars and a 24-hour cafe. Lots of new things to do and see.

The ship was supposed to leave out of Fort Lauderdale at 4:30 but the day before sailing we got an email saying that “due to important maintenance work”, we would not be departing until 7:30. Ron and I speculated that the delay had something to do with Majesty of the Seas’ life jacket fiasco. A few days earlier, the Coast Guard had found some faulty life jackets on Majesty, and the ship was stuck in port an extra day while they inspected and replaced all the life jackets. Fortunately, our email didn’t say anything about boarding being delayed, so we decided to stick with our original plan of getting to port around noon to enjoy the ship as early as possible.

Check-in at Port Everglades was fast and easy and we were on the ship and eating a buffet lunch at the Windjammer Café by 12:45. By the time we’d finished lunch, the cabins were available so we headed to Deck 6 to drop the luggage off in our cabin. When we’d booked the cruise, all the ocean view cabins were already taken so we’d picked a Promenade Stateroom, which was actually an interior cabin but had a window looking out onto the Royal Promenade. The stateroom was a decent size (by cruise ship standards) and had a sofa in front of the window with a view of Sorrento’s pizzeria below. I knew I would miss being able to see the water and sky, but it was a Promenade Stateroom or no cruise, so that settled that. :-)

Promenade Stateroom

Promenade Stateroom view

Finally we were off to explore. We started with the Royal Promenade, walking from one end of the ship to the other. Wow! The Promenade was 4-stories high with colorful lighting and little tables to sit and enjoy a drink or people-watch. In addition to the cafe and pizzeria, there was a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream store, a cupcake shop, a pub, and a wine bar with an actual Morgan Roadster parked in front. Despite the size of the ship, the Promenade made it very easy to get from place to place so we quickly figured out our way around.

Independence of the Seas Royal Promenade
The Royal Promenade

Independence of the Seas Morgan Roadster

Dog and Badger

Sorrento's Pizzeria

Sorrento's Pizzeria

Indendence of the Seas stairways

Next we went up to the pool deck on Deck 11. Independence had three separate pool areas – a kids’ splash zone called H2O, a central area with two “main” pools, and an adults-only Solarium with upgraded lounge chairs and its own bar. One of the neat features in the Solarium were the hot tubs that hung out over the edge of the ship. I really meant to try out the hot tubs during our cruise but never got around to it.

Solarium pool
Solarium Pool

H2O Zone


We spent the afternoon hanging out on the pool deck until the sun set and then went to dinner in the main dining room. The dining room on Independence was really elegant – 3 stories high with a huge chandelier in the center and a sweeping staircase. Each floor of the dining room was named after a different Shakespearean play (Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear). We were seated in the Romeo and Juliet Dining Room, on the lowest deck. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find anything on the menu I could eat because of my bad tooth, but it wasn’t an issue. I ordered the escargot, spinach salad and seafood spaghetti and finished it off with almond chocolate cake, which was more like a brownie but still delicious. I think I added back at least one of the pounds I’d lost. :-)  We liked our wait team, Nathaniel and Ketut, so as we left the dining room, we made reservations for the next night at the same table.

pool at dusk

pool at dusk

Port Everglades
Sunset over Port Everglades

Independence of the Seas main dining room

Ron was really sleepy after dinner so we didn’t stay up long. We made a quick stop at the casino so I could drop off my daily donation at the Black Jack table, had a night cap in the Schooner Bar, and then headed for bed.

Sea Day

In the morning, I couldn’t sleep past 6, so I pulled on some clothes and snuck out of the cabin and down to the Royal Promenade for a latte and some pastries from Café Promenade. The café was serving my favorite Royal Caribbean raisin bread – yay!  We were heading west towards Cozumel so I took my latte to the back of the ship to watch the sunrise. There were already about a dozen people out there waiting for the sun but unfortunately, there was a thick bank of clouds on the horizon so we were out of luck. At 7:15, I gave up and went back to the cabin to check the daily Cruise Compass for the weather forecast. The Compass said “Sunny with Cloudy Periods”. I hoped the cloudy periods weren’t going to last too long!

After Ron got up and we’d had breakfast in the Windjammer Café, it was still cloudy so we walked a lap around the life boat deck and made our way to the helicopter pad on the bow to watch the ocean. There were several crewmen out of the deck pulling life jackets out of the lockers and inspecting them. Hmmm, our suspicions about the reason for our delay the day before were confirmed. :-)  I imagine the same thing was happening on all the Royal Caribbean ships that week. From the helicopter pad, Ron spotted a bird flying in the ship’s wake and diving down to catch flying fish. I’d never seen a bird like that before. It wasn’t a gull or a frigatebird. Could it have been an albatross? Are there albatross in the Gulf of Mexico? I had no idea but it was neat to watch.

At 10 o’clock it was STILL cloudy and we had no idea what to do with ourselves. I was starting to regret not packing some workout clothes so we could at least go to the gym. We finally decided to play mini-golf, but by the time we changed our clothes and went back up on deck, the sun was out! Hurray! So instead of mini-golf, we snagged two lounge chairs near the Sky Bar overlooking the main pool and soaked up the sunshine.

pool deck and Viking Crown Lounge

Flowrider stand up riding

Flowrider wipeout

pool deck

We relaxed on deck for a few hours but in the early afternoon, I woke up from a nap feeling like I was having trouble breathing and my heart was pounding. I’d started having these episodes a couple of weeks ago and had gone to my doctor before the cruise because I didn’t want to be floating around in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico if I was having some kind of heart problem. The doctor gave me an EKG, which was normal, and said I was fine to go on the cruise. But I definitely was not feeling fine! It made me realize how vulnerable I was out so far on the ocean, and it was scary.

I calmed myself as best I could and Ron and I went back down to the life boat deck, hoping that I’d feel better where there was less ship motion. I thought a distraction would help too so we decided to go to the ice skating show, which started at 3:30. That was something I really wanted to see anyway. We got to Studio B, the skating theater, at 3 o’clock and there was already a line of people half way down the hall. But once the doors opened, we didn’t have any trouble finding a really good seat on one of the sides. The theater was actually a lot larger than I was expecting, with plenty of seating.

I was so glad we made it to the show! I’d never seen an ice skating show on a cruise ship before, or any live ice show for that matter, and it was excellent. The show was called Strings and it was about the journey of a violin through time. Throughout the show, a live violinist performed solos. I especially liked the waltzing scene, with its elaborate costumes, and the finale where the skaters showed off their lifts. It was amazing what they could do on such a small rink.

Strings Ice Show

When the show was over, I was still feeling kind of cruddy so we went back to the cabin and napped until it was time to get dressed for dinner. I woke up feeling a lot better and ready to enjoy another big meal and a little time in the casino. The casino on Independence was called Casino Royale, after the James Bond movie, and had paintings of various Bonds and Bond girls on the walls. I had a lot more luck at the Black Jack table that night and I ended up winning back my donation from the night before. I made sure to keep a $1 casino chip for my collection. I started collecting $1 chips on my first trip to Vegas, so I like that Royal Caribbean has different chips for each of their ships. New ship, new chip!

formal night portrait

Independence of the Seas Casino Royale
Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Royal Caribbean casino chips

We didn’t want to stay up too late that night since we had an early tour in the morning, so we decided to have a quick drink at the Champagne Bar before bed. The Champagne Bar immediately became my favorite bar on the ship. Weirdly, there didn’t seem to be a menu, so I asked the two women next to me what they were having. They said it was a French Martini and highly recommended it. It was made with vodka, Chambord and fresh lime juice with a sugared raspberry for garnish. Yum! The Champagne Bar reminded me a lot of the Alchemy Bar on Carnival Victory, because if you told the bartenders what you liked, they would come up with something creative for you. My kind of place! And finally, I was feeling normal again and could relax and enjoy myself.

Independence of the Seas Champagne Bar
Champagne Bar

Champagne Bar



Our Cruise Compass once again said the weather would be “Sunny with Cloudy Periods” but when we woke up Saturday morning, the skies were clear and blue. Yay! For our day in Cozumel, we’d booked the Fury Catamaran Snorkel and Beach Break, which included a catamaran ride to a reef for snorkeling and then a couple of hours at Fury’s private beach. We met our tour group on the pier at 8:15 and no sooner had we boarded the sailboat, the crew was already casting off the ropes and pulling away from the dock. They didn’t mess around! Turns out there were actually two catamarans and we were just the first group. The snorkeling site was Paradise Reef, a short ride from the pier. It was a drift snorkel so we floated along with the current while the boat followed us.  It wasn’t the best snorkeling because the coral was kind of spread out and it was hard to see much before we drifted past. But the crew put out fish food to attract the fish and then took pictures of us swimming in the schools. And since I wasn’t sure what was going on with my heart, I appreciated the ease of just drifting with the current. By the time it was time to get out of water, we’d drifted almost all the way back to the pier!

Next, the crew hoisted the sail and we cruised down the coast to the beach (which turned out to be next to Playa Mia Beach Club where we’d done the cooking class a few years ago). The beach had everything you could want for a fun day – lots of lounge chairs, kayaks and paddleboards, floats, hammocks and inflatable water trampolines and slides. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the inflatables, kids and grown-ups alike. I had a little trouble getting over the top of the water slides because they didn’t seem to have enough hand holds (also, I have no upper arm strength) but Ron helpfully boosted me over. I could easily have spent the whole day at the beach, but at noon it was time to pack it up for the ride back to the pier. On the way back, the crew got everyone line dancing on the bow to the Cupid Shuffle, the Wobble Dance and even the Macarena. I don’t think I’d done the Macarena since the 90’s but it came back pretty quickly. :-)

ships in Cozumel
Independence of the Seas docked next to Brilliance of the Seas

Fury Beach
Fury Beach

Fury Beach palm tree

Fury Beach lunch hut


kayaks and inflatables

inflatable water park

Susan climbing slide

Ron on slide

Cozumel International Pier

Fury Snorkeling

We had a few hours to kill in Cozumel before all-aboard at 5:30, so Ron and I had lunch at the new Margaritaville next to the pier and shopped in the port shops. Back on board we watched the sailaway from the helicopter pad. It was so peaceful up on the bow.  We could see the buildings on the mainland 12 miles away, lit up from the setting sun, as Cozumel faded away behind us. That night after dinner I gave my donation BACK to the casino and then we went to the Champagne Bar for another awesome French Martini.

helicopter pad
helicopter pad

Ron on lifeboat deck

Sea Day

Our final cruise day was all about relaxing. We slept in and didn’t make it up to the pool deck until around 10 o’clock, but there were still plenty of lounge chairs available. It was another gorgeous sunny day, and some of the activity staff were selling t-shirts and stuffed animals by the pool for the “Walk for a Turtle” event. We’d done a similar walk a few years ago on Jewel of the Seas but at the time the walk was to support the Make a Wish Foundation. Last year Royal Caribbean partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) so now the walk raises money for ocean conservation and protecting sea life. Hey, I’m all about saving the turtles! Ron and I bought our t-shirts and signed up for the walk, which was three laps around the jogging track.

A little while later, a crowd gathered around the main pool for the Belly Flop Contest. It seems like there’s always one big guy in these contests and he always wins. But this time there was a small guy who gave the big guy a run for his money. After the second run-off flop, the cruise director finally announced a tie.

hello in Korean
Good Morning!

cantilevered hot tubs
cantilevered hot tubs

walking track

belly flop contest

belly flop contest

belly flop contest

belly flop contest

belly flop contest

belly flop contest winners
It's a tie!

After lunch in the Windjammer Café, I was chilling in my lounge chair with a Mudslide and a book when Ron called me over to the railing. He pointed to the ship’s wake, where we could see flashes of silver in the waves. There were two huge fish swimming alongside the ship and chasing flying fish. Ron thought they were probably mahi mahi or maybe even sailfish. Every once in a while they would flip around to go after some prey - they were so fast! I’m lucky that Ron is good at spotting these things. The ocean has such amazing things to see when you stop and look.

By around 3 o’clock, we were starting to feel a little over-sunned and decided to move some place with shade where we could still enjoy the pretty day. Since we hadn’t made it up to the Viking Crown Lounge yet, we thought we should at least check it out. The Viking Crown Lounge is Royal Caribbean’s signature bar, wrapped around the smoke stack at the top of the ship with panoramic views. Normally, I’m not a big fan of the Viking Crown Lounges. They are out of the way and usually have a smoking area so they smell like cigarettes.  But I was pleasantly surprised by the lounge on Independence. There was no smoky smell, just expansive views of the ocean on all sides. Ron and I ordered a Grapefruit Caipiroska to share, but Ron had to order a second one since I drank most of it. :-) 

Independence of the Seas Viking Crown Lounge
Viking Crown Lounge

Viking Crown Lounge

We had dinner a little earlier that night so we’d be able to make it to the 9:15 musical production of Grease. We usually skip the production shows because, well, they’re kind of cheesy. But this one was very good. I haven’t seen the Broadway version of Grease, only the original movie, so some of the songs weren’t familiar. But I had a hard time not singing along to “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One That I Want”. :-)

When the show was over it was almost 11 o’clock and I could barely keep my eyes open. We made one last stop at the Champagne Bar to say thank you and goodbye to the bartenders, Nicholae and Emilion. As we were walking back to our cabin, the 70’s Street Dance Party started up on the Royal Promenade. Uh oh, was the music going to be that loud inside our cabin? The answer was yes, it was that loud. We might as well have been out on the Promenade. OK, whose bright idea was it to have a loud dance party at 11 o’clock right outside of people’s bedrooms?? :-(  Thank goodness, the party didn’t last long and by the time I’d finished packing up our suitcases, it was quiet again and we could get to sleep.

Back in Fort Lauderdale

Up at 6 so we could do the early self-assist debarkation. As we ate our last breakfast in the Windjammer, we watched a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic. I was already ready to go back to Mexico!

sunrise in Fort Lauderdale


  1. Glad to see your report and your pictures - I'd been wondering how you'd like this ship. It was one of our very favorites - we went on the holiday cruise right after Christmas last year, and I'm so glad we did, and got in one holiday cruise. All the Christmas decorations were up and beautiful, with a huge tree at the end of the promenade. We liked the ice show a lot too - wish they'd been doing Grease as entertainment then! I loved the promenade; it seemed to give focus to the ship and I loved sitting in the cafe and having coffee and pastries while people watching. We never saw the casino (and appreciated it being so out of the way compared to most ships, so it was interesting to see your pictures of it. Also of the martini bar. I always think I want to go to a bar, especially the martini bar, but end up not wanting to when I get the chance! I'd love to take another cruise on this ship. So glad you could go! Sorry about your breathless interlude - scary indeed - glad it didn't reoccur!

  2. Beautiful ship! The Promenade reminds me of the big casinos in Las Vegas, with the insides that look like outsides. Your purple and black and green dress is so cute! Those cantilevered hot tubs - very cool! And, would it be a flop-off for the belly flop tiebreaker?