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Linda

Age: 53

Occupation:Musician

Number of Cruises: 17

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Independence Of The Seas

Sailing Date: 2-3-2009

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

Wonderful ship and staff. Very good, especially Indian food in Windjammer. Good location, nice bedding. Great activities, lots to do. I don't do ship excursions. Pre Cruise: We flew into FLL at night and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express using free points. It was a nice place with free airport shuttle. There are many good restaurants within walking distance, but we were convinced by the staff to try Coco Asian Bistro a couple blocks away. It was fantastic, a truly great meal! We took the shuttle the next day to the ship after picking up some items at the Publix store. Ship: In my opinion, this is by far the prettiest ship I've ever seen. The art work is very interesting; works from modern artists are compared to those of old masters and explained in detail. I walked the various decks one day to see it all and found it enjoyable. The Promenade is an indoor mall with shops, bars, and restaurants and is a great place to relax and watch and meet people. The big difference in this ship compared to the others is that there were (thankfully) more smoke free venues such as the wine bar (Vintages) and the piano bar. Boleros and the English Pub were very smoky, however, and we were unable to enjoy them; ditto for the casino and the Karaoke bar. I don't understand why they allow smoking in a venue full of singing; it’s simply wrong. Cabin: We booked a Deluxe Oceanview cabin (Cat E2) on Deck six, known as a "hump cabin" because the area juts out a bit. It was central aft and very convenient. It was adequate, with a nice flat screen TV, comfortable bedding and a balcony. The room has a small shower with sliding door, a safe and a mini fridge. No shower amenities are provided, except a body wash in the shower and soap. Entertainment: Headliners vary from cruise to cruise. We enjoyed the two comedians but really were awed by "El Gaucho," a comedian/musician/Boleros artist. The production shows "Invitation to Dance" and "Center Stage" were the best shows I've ever seen on a ship. Part of the reason was the quality of the entertainers and musicians and the originality as well. "Center Stage" used all the various ship musicians in vignettes with dancing and singing. The pro dance team, Olga and Dima were spectacular to watch. We scheduled 3 private dance lessons with them and learned a lot. They were a lovely couple. We didn't hear the entertainment in Boleros (smoky) but really enjoyed the Odessa string trio and the talented group in the Viking Crown, Night Flight. They also played ballroom music in studio B. The piano player in the Schooner lounge was Paul O'Shea, a talented man who really played to his crowd. The ice show "Strings" was amazing. The music started with Mozart and ended with a roaring rendition of Copeland's "Rodeo". Costumes were stunning. The skating was good, not as good as on some other ships, but enjoyable. There were two parades on the Promenade and they are always so much fun. Costumes and antics are great. There are various game shows such as "Love and Marriage" and "Battle of the Sexes" held in various places around the ship. There are several trivia contests daily, as well as, demonstrations of cooking, ice carving, vegetable carving, napkin folding, etc. The Daily Compass, that arrives the night prior, keeps you well informed. One thing not to be missed is the back stage tour. It is amazing what goes into the production of the shows, and the technology is cutting edge. Bingo is a huge event; they play for cash, as well as, a cruise. Fitness: Staying fit is important to us. The gym has Lifestyler equipment (treadmills, steppers, elliptical, bikes) which have touch screen controls for various programs and TV. The newest feature is ports for iPods and MP3 players and headphones. If you don't bring headphones, you can buy a pair at the gym, but they are plastic and not very nice. I was a little upset at the volume of the techno music. It was so loud that you could not hear the TV programs and the various fitness instructors were never around to check on anything; they were too busy doing training or giving bogus "detox" seminars. There are classes in yoga, spinning and pilates for a fee. There are free seminars and stretch, step and aerobics classes offered. There is a boxing ring for sparring and training and many machines for total body workout, as well as a large free weight area and small wooden gym floor for Tai Chi, etc. The running track is on the deck above the pool. However, once people start filling up the chairs, it is useless, as they block the track. This is a bad design and I hope they change it. I enjoy "power walking" on the Promenade deck. At times, sections are closed for cleaning, but generally it is wide open in the afternoons and shaded. The ship has putt-putt, golf simulator, rock climbing wall, full court basketball as well as shuffleboard and ping pong. There are also dance classes (free) almost daily. Food: I found the food to be very good overall. There are many healthy and tasty options. In the Windjammer Cafe (buffet) there is an area called Jade where fusion food is available. The Indian food served daily there was wonderful. Some of the Thai dishes were hit and miss, but overall the best buffet food I've had. You can have specialty omelets made as well as egg beaters. We had room service one morning which was okay; eggs were a bit cold and they brought pastries instead of fruit. I'd rather just bring it down from the cafe to eat on the balcony. We didn't eat at the specialty restaurants this year, but have loved Portofino in the past. We shared a table for six in the dining room and enjoyed perfect service from Eduardo and Manny. Our head waiter, Sam, was the best ever. He was always in sight making sure things were right. We had great tablemates and shared many laughs. Several menu items were outstanding, some were just okay. I liked when they served the salad "family style" twice. Lobster was served on one of two formal nights and it was delicious. We were offered more, but passed. The dining room is gorgeous and on three levels with a huge crystal chandelier overhead. Each night, a pianist or a string trio entertains. Dinner is also served in the Windjammer, as well as Johnny Rocket's ($4.95 cover charge). People: Our favorite part of cruising is meeting others. This cruise, the last week in January, had very few children on it. The majority of cruisers were over 50 and there were many nationalities on board, but generally more Americans than in the past 2 years. We made lots of friends, but especially enjoyed a large group of Swiss travelers who brought their own bands. We partied and danced with them several times and had a blast! We also are members of Cruise Critics and enjoyed a small "Meet and Mingle" party hosted in the dining room for us. The crew, as always, were warm and friendly and we always love seeing familiar faces. Our room steward, Ricardo, did a great job - no more chocolates at night, but there were towel animals on the bed nightly. Cruise director, Allen Brooks, was excellent and entertaining. Venues: We enjoyed the Diamond Club on the 14th floor. They offer Continental breakfast, great lattes and cappuccino and special service for members. There's also a nice private outside area for relaxing. There were so many Diamond cruisers that afternoon snacks and drinks were served in the Labyrinth Club on the 4th floor. I didn't like that much. I liked watching the sun set with my cocktail. The internet cafe still has the slow connection and many computer problems. At 55 cents a minute, it's frustrating to wait so long for mail to open, etc. However, there always were computers available. The library below offers many books for use and they have daily trivia pages and sudoku puzzles. Gone were the daily headlines (wire service from the NY Times). I heard that they will offer these again, but I missed them. I also miss my daily crossword puzzle, but brought a supply. On the Promenade, the shops include upscale clothing , logo clothing/gifts, sportswear, general merchandise and books, jewelry, perfume/makeup and various tables offering all sorts of jewelry, t-shirts and gifts. These tables also generate lots of crowding. Restaurants on the Promenade include Sorrento's which offers 24 hour pizza and daily antipasto, desserts and Italian cookies. The Promenade cafeoffers delicious sandwiches, snacks, cookies/desserts and drinks. This is a good central place to grab water or iced tea. Ben and Jerry's Ice cream is available for a price at their store. They hold 2 parades here as well as a disco dance party, which is hilarious. Vintages wine bar has several wine tastings and offers "flights" of any 4 wines and serves complimentary cheese and fruit trays. The Dog and Badger Pub had guitarist Shane Tapper, who was very good, but the smoke drove us away. The Pool area is always lively with games such as Men's sexy legs, belly flop and volleyball. They have a "Dancing Under the Stars" night with a large buffet. The H2O Zone is a water park area for children. Bright and whimsical, it is very popular with the kids and keeps them out of the other pools! The adult area is the Solarium and has a small pool, hot tubs and shaded reading areas. There are hot tubs along the sides of the pool areas as well. The 4th floor is where art is displayed and where photos are displayed and sold while at sea. They also sell digital cameras there and do photo processing. The On Air Karaoke club also has 2 small sound rooms where you can tape yourself and cut a CD for a price. However, if you're there during karaoke times, it gets very smoky. The ice rink has open skating hours, but you must wear long pants. The rink is turned into "Studio B" at other times and hosts the crazy "Quest Game," which is an R-rated adult scavenger hunt. I did not use the spa, casino or book any ship excursions. You can't do everything! However, we did use the Loyalty Ambassador to book our next cruise, the Oasis. Ports: We generally book for the ships and rarely get off at the ports. The first stop was San Juan, PR where I went to Marshall's for a piece of clothing I had left at home. It was close to port in Old Town and had some great deals! Nice to know about this should you forget to pack something! In the past, we've visited the forts, shopped in Old Town and enjoyed a meal or snack in town. Second stop was St Thomas where we stayed on the ship. However, in the past, we've taken the ferry to St John and enjoyed the pristine beauty of the island. It's a 15 min ride from Red Hook, accessible by a short taxi ride. Others in the Cruise Critic group went on a small charter boat on a snorkeling trip around the island. St. Martin was the third stop. We took a taxi to Cul de Sac and had lunch at the small restaurant, Mark's Place, where we were craving their Accras (a type of fish cake). This is a great spot, if not very fancy or scenic, but the locals love it. I also have several favorite places to eat in Grand Case and Marigot. Last time we were here, we took the cab to lovely Orient Beach for some fun and sun; there are many beach bars and music as well as a nude beach for the brave. Another year, we caught the ferry from Marigot to pristine Anguilla where there was no traffic or crowds and enjoyed a gorgeous beach day and private tour from a cab driver. Last stop was RCCL's private island, Labadee, which is actually a small spot on Haiti where some locals are allowed to sell goods, play music and entertain. The dancing is amazing! There are three beaches with plenty of bars, an island barbecue with basic food, some ruins, a water park, volleyball, and many shaded hammocks for the less active. Water can sometimes be a little murky here, not the pretty aqua that you see elsewhere. The reefs are devoid of fish, due to overfishing by the locals, so it's not a good snorkeling spot. However, it's a great place to rent a Waverunner and you go up the coast quite a way and are allowed to go as fast as you want. Embark: As Diamond members, we get a priority embarkation area. We did online check-in and it took us 15 minutes from the taxi to the ship! We arrived around 1 pm and the buffet was not very crowded and our room was open. We were off the ship from the Diamond area which let out at around 8:30. It only took 15 minutes to reach the taxi line, which was horrible. It took us over an hour to check luggage with SWA then wait in LONG taxi line. Good thing the weather was nice! Conclusion: We left home three days before an ice storm hit. We were without power when we arrived at home, but it returned the next day. Perfect timing! Our goal in January is to enjoy some respite from the cold in a relaxed setting, and cruising always provides that. We also enjoy staying active and dancing, which we did often on this ship. We've tried Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines, but have found a good fit with RCCL. Not everyone likes the huge ships, but we love all the various activities and venues. I have never felt crowded on the big ships; they are so well designed that crowding never occurs. The theatres and venues almost always accommodate all guests, which cannot be said for other ships. Once again, we had a great time and we don't let the petty problems keep us from having fun. Life is short. Making memories through travel and spending time together will always be our priority! Happy cruising! I'll be happy to answer any questions if you write me at LLindaC@aol.com

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