Freedom begins in the Personal Karaoke Booth. At least it did for me. That’s where I was freed from my inhibitions to loudly belt out the lyrics being displayed on a screen in front of me. I had always wanted to perform karaoke but had never mustered the courage to do so in front of an audience. One of two intimate karaoke booths on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas (one of the line’s “Freedom class” vessels) was the perfect compromise for a closet crooner who would be mortified should anyone hear him. The experience was not unlike singing in the shower, using a bar of soap for the microphone, but without the discomfort of having to undress to perform.
The song I chose was “Dancing Queen.” Like many other passengers at this late hour, I was still humming the lyrics after leaving the 1,350-seat Alhambra Theatre where AbbaCadabra had performed. The Abba tribute band put on perhaps the best performance I have seen in my 20 years of cruising, particularly judging by audience response. The final song the U.S.-based band performed for the evening, Dancing Queen, was met by an entire room that stood and danced — and didn’t want to leave.
But alas we did leave, and most of us headed to Studio ’84, where “flashback to the 1980s” started just after midnight. Studio ’84 was jammed packed with those attending what can only be described as a mix between a rock concert and dance party. On stage, an oversized screen displayed videos, as animators performed both on stage and in the audience to get the party started. A sea of happy faces, including mine, sang the words to the familiar feel-good songs.
Ice, Ice Baby
The evening before, Studio ’84 was transformed to Center Ice, used to stage the original show Independence Ice. It is absolutely mind-boggling to imagine such a performance at sea, but the show on ice was so beautifully choreographed and executed that I forgot I was on a ship.
I had the same feeling at the Royal Promenade, where in the late afternoon, I watched the Madhatter’s Ball Parade. The colorful chorus of performers parading down the street set a happy tone for the evening. Photo flashes pulsed from cameras held by passengers playing paparazzi on either side of the promenade. A second parade later in the week, “Olympus Rocks,” featured characters from Greek Mythology and a Rock-n-Roll soundtrack.
Even without a parade, the Royal Promenade is quite remarkable in that a stroll from one end to the other is like a mini-tour of main street Europe. Walking from one end to the other, I passed Sorrento’s, an Italian trattoria/pizzeria; an English pub called The Dog & Badger; Café Promenade, a French-style bistro/street café; a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor; and thankfully, as I was parched from the long walk, a champagne bar.
The Royal Promenade is a destination in itself, with a barber shop, boutiques, a wine bar and more.
Family Friendly Staterooms
The interior Promenade Family staterooms feature bay windows that overlook the action on what serves as the ship’s main street, and with 300 square feet interior space, these staterooms accommodate up to six guests.
A clever configuration provides separate sleeping quarters for parents and kids, with bunk beds in a (smallish) room. One caveat is that this category stateroom can be noisy when the Royal Promenade is busy, but what a vantage point for watching the action. It’s like living in Manhattan when the Macy’s Christmas Parade is taking place.
For those who don’t mind splurging, the Presidential Suite on deck six sleeps up to 14. Yes, it’s pricey, but plunking down the cash for this suite can be a better value for large families than other stateroom categories. How so? The full rate is charged only for the first two guests, with additional guests paying reduced rates.
The suite’s 1,215-square-foot interior space features dual entryways and two master bedrooms with flat screen televisions and en suite bathrooms with tubs. Two additional bedrooms sleep four people each. For those who are doing the math, a sectional sofa in the spacious living room sleeps two. That’s 14 people.
The Presidential Suite’s balcony measures 810 square feet and features a bar, whirlpool, eight lounge chairs and a 14-person table for dining al fresco. It’s like a resort inside of a ship.
Accommodating up to eight, the 588-square-foot Royal Family Suite on deck nine features two bedrooms and two private bathrooms, one with a tub, and a 234-square-foot balcony. Similar to the Royal Family Suite, the Owner’s Suite, on deck 10, is slightly larger but sleeps only four.
Kids Will Love It
Kids who enjoy the whiz-bang of the latest technologies will adore any of the Freedom-class ships. Like its sisters Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas represents state of the cruising art — with a whole host of amenities and features that run from the now-expected-of-Royal Caribbean rock-climbing walls to an interactive water park.
The most talked about feature is the FlowRider Surf Park, a surf simulator that functions like a perpetual wave where you can try to hang ten. Wipeouts aren’t painful, and the less adventurous can use a body board.
The Flowrider is situated near the H2O Zone (pictured above), an expansive top-deck area fitted with a kids’ pool, water cannons and abstract colorful sculpture fountains that shoot water in entertaining and unpredictable directions, partially controlled by passengers who want to get soaked or start a water war.
Extended versions of popular Voyager-class ships, the Freedom-class ships vessels are the most innovative in the Royal Caribbean fleet of megaliners, and it would take a seriously bad mood to claim that there is nothing to do. If anyone gets too truculent, ship them off to the full-size boxing ring, where they can get lessons and even do some sparring.
With programs for five age groups of kids and teens, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean, for young people 6 months to 17 years, gets consistently high marks for its family friendly approach. Providing fun learning opportunities about local customs, with some cool science experiments too, Adventure Ocean separates kids by age, with dedicated facilities for each group.
For fun family fare, it’s tough to beat the 1950s-influenced American style diner Johnny Rockets for a burger, fries and a shake. If you are having too much fun to leave the pool deck, the Solarium pool has a cafe dispensing pizzas, while the self-serve Sprinkles provides frozen yogurt. If looking for a healthier drink options, there is the Squeeze selling various fruit drinks.
And for grown-ups who want to occasionally get away from the activity, the adults-only Solarium offers a range of possibilities: from spending a lazy afternoon in a hammock to enjoying underwater music while swimming in the central pool. For a hot soak with a dramatic view, step into the two adults-only hot tubs that are cantilevered 12 feet out from the side of the ship. Or dine in one of the specialty restaurants, Chops Grille for steaks and seafood, or Portofinos for fine Italian dining.
After dinner, be sure to catch the performances in the Alhambra Theatre. If you fail to catch AbbaCadabra performing “Dancing Queen” take solace in knowing that you can always stage your own performance in the Personal Karaoke Booth. Surely you remember the lyrics: “You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life.” Yes indeed. Having the time of your life.
Beginning in November, Independence of the Seas will sail six-night Western Caribbean and eight-night Eastern Caribbean itineraries from Port Everglades, giving vacationers a choice of six Caribbean itineraries aboard one of three Freedom-class ships.