Of all Royal Caribbean International’s ships, Independence of the Seas is the one that has the strongest links with the UK. After all, this mega-ship was named in Southampton in April 2008 in a suitably British-style celebration, with a godmother who hailed from Derbyshire and UK pop-rock band Scouting for Girls leading the on-board party.
Independence has since spent every summer bar 2015 based at the Hampshire port, bringing a taste of home-grown outsize Americana to British shores. This is a ship that promised to be bigger and better than anything else sailing from our doorstep, where active types could catch a wave on a surfing simulator or scale the ship’s climbing wall. But it is a new-look Independence that promises to return to Southampton in summer 2018, thanks to a multi-million-pound makeover that promises to ratchet up the fun-factor with an on-board trampoline park, water slides, a laser-tag challenge, Escape Room and a new children’s aqua park called Splashaway Bay. And if all these extra frills build up an appetite, there is a new restaurant, too.
Independence, it would seem, is coming back to Blighty with a bang.
Where to eat
The elegant tiered dining room with its sparkling chandeliers, gilded pillars and wrought-iron effect balustrades ramps up sophistication levels, especially with the backdrop of live classical music during evenings. As a result, mealtimes have a sense of occasion, whether you choose the two set dining times or opt for the flexible My Time Dining. At the other end of the scale is the casual Windjammer Cafe with its huge windows and superb views that accompany the reasonable selection of fare.
Sadly, the lack of outdoor space means there is no chance of enjoying al-fresco dining here, but there is a host of other dining options, led by the speciality Chops Grille steakhouse with its selection of prime cuts; the family-friendly and easy-going feel of Italian Giovanni’s Table; and for fans of Fifties-style burger and hot-dog dining, Johnny Rockets, all of which command a fee.
The Royal Promenade is also home to a smattering of eateries, with the 24-hour Cafe Promenade serving pastries and snacks (though you do have to fork out for speciality coffees); the Italian fare of Sorrento’s; and the sweet-toothed temptations of the Cupcake Cupboard. The choice will expand further post-revamp with new Asian sushi and teppanyaki restaurant, Izumi.
Where to sleep
Stylish and cosy are two words that best sum up the staterooms on-board Independence of the Seas, with their tasteful nautical-led decor and usual mod-cons - from minibar to flat-screen TV – and in a nod to British audiences, tea-making facilities. The most popular cabin type comes with a balcony, but it is family accommodation where Independence stands out with its range of Family Suites: from Interior staterooms to Oceanview, Balcony and, for those with cash to splash, the Presidential Family Suite. Following the ship’s makeover, passengers can opt for new Panoramic Staterooms with floor-to-ceiling windows promising views that will inspire you to jump out of bed every morning. Just make sure you are decent!
What to do
Where do we start? This is one big floating resort that promises plenty of diversions for the families and active types who largely make up the passenger mix.
Youngsters will love the H2O zone, a brightly-coloured water playground of pools, fountains, water spouts and sprays which promises to be even better once it becomes the new Splashaway Bay. There is also a climbing wall, ice-skating rink, mini-golf course and FlowRider surf simulator.
A hub of activity, especially on sea days, is the Royal Promenade – a shopping street filled with stores, an imitation English pub and various stalls that hold one-off sales which are an irresistible temptation for bargain-hunters. If the excitement gets too much, retire to the extensive spa or release some pent-up energy at one of the regular fitness classes.
Youngsters can also be entertained in the various kids clubs, while even notoriously hard-to-please teens are catered for at pool parties, movie nights and sports tournaments in addition to the special teen zones on-board. Evenings are long and lively thanks to a diet of stage shows in the theatres and bars, led by an impressive rendition of the cult musical Grease, plus comedy stand-up acts, cabaret turns and musical performances.
What I loved
- The themed parades along the Royal Promenade brimming with colour and energy with a line-up of stilt-walkers, acrobats and dancers; worth seeing whatever your age. Just make sure to turn up in good time and claim a good viewpoint.
- The wide range of evening entertainment: from the impressive shows in the Alhambra Theatre to live bands, karaoke, quizzes and the nightclub, but especially the slick ice-skating shows at the Studio B ice rink – not to be missed!
- The extensive gym, with its impressive rows of fitness machines and even a full-size boxing ring that is perfect for amateur sparring partners.
Sea days can be busy, but if you want to escape to somewhere quieter try the adult-only Solarium which has its own pool along with plushy sun-beds, golden palm trees and, overall, a more peaceful, sybaritic ambience far removed from the hubbub of the main decks.