With our last visit to Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas fresh in our minds having spent a few nights onboard about 18 months ago we were really excited to see what Royal had done to one of our favourite ships as part of their Royal Amplified revitalisation programme.
Royal are currently investing $900 million into revitalising some of the ships separate to the huge investment in new ships such as Symphony and the forthcoming Spectrum of the Seas. Independence or Indy to her friends, is just the latest ship to be completed with Mariner, Navigator, Oasis and Allure all coming up in the next 12 – 18 months! The adjustments will vary from ship to ship but for Indy there are many.
Lets start with the not so positive and get it out of the way as there's so much to love and with Indy already a massive favourite in the UK & Ireland, there's no doubt people will love her even more now. While there are to be 107 new staterooms added (somehow finding the space) with some staterooms having panoramic floor to ceiling windows (these are still about 2 weeks away from being complete) the existing staterooms have in the main, not been refreshed. Now, while the staterooms are perfectly fine, perfectly comfortable and of good size the decor for some may look slightly dated. We found it fine to be fair but like everything in life trends change, colour schemes and patterns go in and out of fashion so it would have been lovely to have seen them given a little something. Don't be put off in any way, the beds are great, the showers great, the balcony spacious in this stateroom, reasonable storage and everywhere clean...but just don't be expecting brand spanking new staterooms.
Indy is considered, as far as Royal ships are concerned, a mid sized ship (but still massive) and is part of the Freedom class, so this is not Oasis Class with 7 distinct neighbourhoods like Symphony that you may have seen recently. However, there is more crammed on this ship than you'll find on most ships of this size and for someone new to Royal this is the perfect size and the perfect ship to start in our opinion. It gives you a feel for the Royal experience, the little touches, the extra magic without being overwhelmed by the sheer size and range of things to do of the Oasis class.
So whats new? Where to start! Skypad perhaps, a feature born out of an idea from a travel agent to have a trampoline park onboard. Royal took that idea and instead of just having an ordinary trampoline park they played with the idea and made it extraordinary – by adding a VR element so that you're not simply bouncing up and down, you're in a whole new world, bouncing, jumping, kicking and moving through VR games...a million miles away from the sea around you for those 3 minutes. The design stands out so much that even in the last few days other ships have been contacting Indy to find out what it is!! This area is all new and although Flowrider remains in place there are now 2 new water slides (Perfect Storm), a new climbing zone as well as loungers, swings and a new larger sports court!
Staying outside we have Splashaway Bay replacing the existing children's water park and next door we have the brand new to Royal eatery (replacing the poolside grill) Fish and Ships! Here you can have well...fish and hand cut chips, battered sausage, calamari if feeling particularly posh or deep fried mars bar if...well...you ever wondered what it was like!! Only problem – there's a cost and as nice as they were $10 is a little steep for a portion of fish and chips given what you can get for free elsewhere in the ship. Our recommendation - if you feel you need to try it, have the chip butty!
Inside there are more changes – Laser Tag now magically appears in Studio B, ready for you to blast each other in a glow in the dark face off! The Escape room has replaced what was the chapel, and it could not be more different! Expected to be priced at $20 pp you and 5 (or anything up to 11) others divide and conquer to take on various challenges. As it's Royal you can expect innovative use of technology, audio, lighting unlike anything you see on land. It's not just activities that have been updated. Sugar Beach candy store (chargeable) has appeared in prime position on the promenade with 76 different varieties of PickNMix for starters! The problem here will be what to choose. Playmaker's Sports Bar has taken a considerable area (used to be the photo area) and it's a brilliant addition to the ship; a place where you can watch all your favourite sports so you will not miss out on any of those major events ever again. You can play a little pool, some arcade games will reveal your competitive streak and the food is some of the finest bar food you'll experience....wings, mini burgers, nachos are all here. It's clear to see from the 2 nights just how popular a spot this is going to be! Expect both the Escape Room and Playmakers to appear on other ships!
Of course there's plenty of food on board ship but for something different Royal have added Izumi – an Asian inspired dining experience with Teppanyaki grills and chefs that sing, dance & laugh making this an experience that's both entertaining and downright delicious as it's cooked in front of your very eyes! Booking will be required and with just 5 tables this will sell out quickly on every cruise!
There are plenty of other little touches around the ship for you to discover and all the elements that people loved about Indy remain – Flowrider, cantilevered whirlpools, multiple swimming pools, the big screen on deck, Ben & Jerry's, a refreshed and better than ever Windjammer and the best milkshakes you'll ever have at Johnny Rockets; Sorrento's pizzeria which is always busy, Studio B ice rink and of course the famous Royal Promenade. Grease the musical is still on board and the service? Well it remains as good, as friendly, as fun as always.
While of course the Oasis Class ships eg Harmony, Oasis, Allure and Symphony are incredible they can be a little overwhelming particularly for a cruise first timer in our opinion. Independence being just a notch smaller may be perfect and in particular for a family with so much to see and do.
We loved Indy back 18 months ago and we love her just a little bit more now. The revitalisation is not radical, but has it improved a ship that was already much loved? it definitely has...
Royal keep telling us 'This is how to holiday!' Is it? You know what...we think they might be right.... Indy, we'll be back....
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