Independence of the Seas Ship Review

Independence of the Seas
Independence of the Seas, sailing away from Cozumel. Photo © Aaron Saunders

The third and last of the Freedom-class ships, the 160,000-ton, 3,634-guest Independence debuted in 2008 and, like her older sisters, is essentially a beefed-up version of Royal Caribbean’s earlier Voyager-class vessels, offering everything those ships are famous for, plus several additional entertainment, sports, and shopping features.

Like all the recent Royal Caribbean ships, she’s busy and bustling, with a huge number of activities, great entertainment, and a really urban feel—like you’re stepping out of your stateroom into a real city.

The Royal Promenade on Independence of the Seas

Independence of the Seas
Activities on the Royal Promenade aboard Independence of the Seas

Independence’s main drag is the Royal Promenade, a four-story horizontal atrium that stretches 445 feet down the ship’s center and is designed to resemble famous American entertainment streets like New Orleans’s Bourbon Street or Memphis’s Beale Street.

Independence of the Seas
The Royal Promenade aboard Independence of the Seas, facing forward. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Along its length, there’s an elegant champagne bar; a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream shop; a 24-hour cafe; a pizzeria; six different shops; a comfortable English-style pub with seating inside or on the promenade itself; and a Napa-style wine bar that offers wine-appreciation classes, tastings, and a chance to try dozens of vintages. Toward the bow, the Pyramid Lounge offers live music, dancing, and entertainment.

Most guests end up spending a lot of time in or passing through the Royal promenade, either hanging out to socialize; popping down briefly to grab a snack or coffee; catching an evening performance by one of the ship’s bands; coming for the parades of costumed characters and stilt-walkers that are scheduled several times a week; or just passing through when heading from one part of the vessel to another. You can even sleep in the Promenade if you want to, sort of: Up above, 174 cabins face the scene, their windows giving you views of the “street life” below. Curtains and soundproofing help shut out the light and noise at bedtime.

Staterooms On Independence of the Seas

Staterooms in general are comfortable and well-designed, though bathrooms are a little on the small side. Each cabin offers a sitting area, a vanity, TV, and minibar, and about 46% of the rooms aboard offer private verandas. Suites range from the 297-square-foot Junior Suite up to the 1,358-square-foot Royal Suite, with its separate bedroom and living room, baby grand piano, whirlpool bath, and a balcony that’s bigger than an entire Junior Suite.

Activities On Independence of the Seas

Independence of the Seas
The Alahambra Theatre aboard Independence of the Seas. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Royal’s older Voyager-class ships were already pretty amazing in terms of their sports and pool-deck facilities, but Liberty and her sister ships go several steps further. Up on Deck 13, there’s the same rock-climbing wall, basketball court, and miniature-golf course as on the Voyager ships, but there’s also a FlowRider surfing simulator, where powerful jets spray 30,000 gallons of water per minute up an inclined, wedge-shaped surface, allowing you to surf in place—or at least try to. Bleachers stand at the ride’s flank, letting family members and gawkers cheer you on. There’s also a free-standing “surf shack” bar to provide liquid courage or solace.

Just below, on Decks 11 and 12, the ship’s spa and fitness complex is one of the biggest and best at sea, with a well-equipped oceanview gym, a huge aerobics studio, individual treatment rooms, and a 20-by-20-foot boxing ring where guests can train like fighters, using heavy bags, speed bags, and jump ropes. Outside, on Deck 12, the jogging track has stretch and fitness tips located at intervals along its length.

Deck 11 offers a number of different fun-in-the-sun experiences. Toward the stern, nearly half the outdoor pool deck is taken up by the H2O Zone Water Park, where kids can soak each other with water jets, buckets, and sprays hidden among the cartoon statues. There are also two wading pools (one for toddlers) and two adult-friendly hot tubs. Farther forward, the enormous, multi-tiered main pool deck has two semicircular pools bisected by a walkway and platform, several whirlpool tubs, and scores of deck chairs.

For a more peaceful atmosphere, the adults-only Solarium offers a second swimming pool, hammocks, and two large hot tubs that extend 12 feet over the edge of the ship to port and starboard, about 112 feet above the sea.

Down on Deck 3,the Studio B ice-skating rink offers open skating for guests throughout each cruise, plus excellent ice shows featuring professional skaters from all over the world.

Other notable spaces on board include while the beautiful, three-story Alhambra Theatre; a two-level disco called The Raven; the huge Casino Royale; the Boleros Latin-themed lounge and nightclub; the elegant Viking Crown Lounge; and the cool Olive or Twist jazz club and martini lounge.

For kids, the large Adventure Ocean center on Deck 12 offers activities for different age groups. Next door, there’s a sizeable arcade, the Fuel teen disco, a teen chill-out space called the Living Room, and a nursery for babies and tots 6 through 36 months, offering playgroups and activities developed in partnerships with Fisher Price and Crayola.

Dining On Independence of the Seas

Independence of the Seas
Portofino’s Restaurant is located on Deck 11 Aft, with spectacular views. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Spanning three decks, the gorgeous main dining room is the centerpiece of the ship’s culinary experience. Designed with classic European grandeur, it’s centered on a large open rotunda with a huge crystal chandelier, a formal stairway, and a balcony from which a pianist or piano trio plays mood music. Dining alternatives include the cozy, Italian Portofino restaurant; the Chops Grille steakhouse; the Windjammer buffet and Asian-themed Jade buffet; and Johnny Rockets, a Fifties-style diner out on Deck 12 near the kids’ and teens’ centers, serving a classic menu of burgers, fries, and shakes.

At some point in the future, look for Independence to be retrofitted similarly to Freedom and Liberty of the Seas, which in 2011 got a Cupcake Cupboard cupcake shop; a giant video screen on the pool deck for movies and other programming; parades and kids’ activities featuring characters from DreamWorks Animation; and other new amenities.

Read The Avid Cruiser’s Independence of the Seas Cruise Review

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. (read The Avid Cruiser’s full review of Independence of the Seas)

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