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In June 2017 my wife (Susan) and I, decided to embark on our first proper cruise.
I say ‘proper’ because we have done a mini-cruise across the North Sea from Hull to Rotterdam – but I don’t think that can count as a ‘cruise’.
After researching 16 million cruises, cruise lines, ships, reviews, recommendations, Trip Advisor, Cruise Critic, etc. etc. we went for one that sailed to Northern Europe and Scandinavia.
Ten months later and I’ve finally managed to put together this brief account of our experience.
- 1 Our Ship – The Independence of the Seas
- 2 Sail Away
- 3 The Cabin
- 4 Food and Drink
- 5 Pros and Cons of The Food and Drink
- 6 Entertainment
- 7 Pros and Cons of the Entertainment
- 8 Gym/Fitness Facilities
- 9 Excursions
- 10 The Crew
- 11 Tips
- 12 Conclusion
We set sail from Southampton, so not having to fly to the departure port was a bonus for us. It also means we didn’t have to worry about any baggage weight limitations.
The cruise was also sailing in school term-time, so we were hoping there would be less
annoying brats young children on-board.
It was a ‘Northern Lights’ cruise, which was something we both wanted to see.
Unfortunately the itinerary changed at the last minute, and we didn’t travel as far up to see the lights – the missus was not impressed!
Our Ship – The Independence of the Seas
The Independence of the Seas is operated by Royal Caribbean. It has 15 decks and can carry 4370 passengers and 1360 crew.
I won’t bore you with the dimensions, cruising speed and weight!
It is a fantastic looking ship; very smart, clean and modern.
Our cabin was lovely and the decor was spot on.
One of the highlights of the ship is the impressive promenade, with numerous cafes, bars and shops.
There’s even a vintage Morgan sports car parked up!
After travelling down to Southampton the night before, and spending a lovely evening at a hotel, we arrived mid-morning at Southampton docks.
After parking the car, it was just a 2 minute walk to the ship.
Considering there were a couple thousand+ passengers, it didn’t take long to board, and before we knew it we were on deck sipping our first ‘cocktail of the day’ and exploring the ship!
We were delighted with our room – especially with the size of the bed!
It was a decent size en-suite, and we booked an outside balcony.
The wardrobes came with plenty of hangers, and there was enough space in the drawers to store all our clothes and belongings.
There was a TV which included the ships own information/entertainment channel and music channels.
Food and Drink
There are two restaurants that are included in your cruise. There is also another restaurant that you have to pay extra for. (I’ll get on to that it a mo!)
One is a formal dining experience with smart casual attire with waiter service, and one (The Windjammer) is casual dress with buffet style food.
In the evenings we opted for the formal dining restaurant and to sit at a table for ten people. (You stipulate this at the time of booking) We like socialising and enjoy a natter!
If you prefer your own company then you can sit at a table for just one or two of you.
We were sat with a lovely group of people – one couple from Ohio and two other British couples.
The evening meal was one of the highlights for us. We enjoyed getting dressed up and making an effort. You don’t need to wear a tux, and I only did on the two formal evenings.
Breakfast can also be a more formal affair, although you don’t need to dress up – just no shorts/vests.
We mixed it up during the cruise, and had buffet breakfasts, waiter service breakfast and also breakfast on the balcony, which of course you pay extra for.
During the day (in between meals) there were a couple of cafe areas where you could order all sorts of snacks and drinks.
All Inclusive Drinks
We bought the premium drinks package which meant we could have anything (and we did!) It was very expensive to do this, but the alcoholic drinks/cocktails were very expensive to buy otherwise.
It worked out at approximately £35 each, per day, for drinks!
I still wince at how much we spent on drinks. But it was our first cruise and we wanted to do it in style.
We certainly got through a few cocktails!
Pros and Cons of The Food and Drink
Lot’s to eat and drink, as you can imagine. Lovely coffee and cakes.
We were quite disappointed at the standard of food that we ate in the evening. Speaking to fellow seasoned passengers, it seems that the standards had dropped quite noticeably.
We were also often ‘encouraged’ to pay extra to eat in the ‘better restaurant’ – which we didn’t.
Our head waiter had no idea about the food (or anything really!)
There was no vegetarian sausages at breakfast or poached eggs. I mean, how can they not have any veggie sausages?!
Daytime food pretty good. Evening food – very average.
Me and the wife enjoy a good night out!
A nice meal, a few drinks and some entertainment is right up our street. And it was one of the reasons we choose this type of cruise and size of ship.
Happily, the entertainment in the evening was a lot of fun.
We saw some great shows, including a dancing on ice show.
There were live bands, a casino, plenty of themed bars (including a cracking Irish bar), a disco, and a massive outside screen showing films.
The daytime entertainment wasn’t really up to much. The main draw was a climbing wall and a flow-rider.
The problem with these were you had to book a time in advance – and it was only during set hours. Outside of these hours and.. you guessed it – you had to pay extra!
We weren’t that bothered because we usually spent the day off the ship exploring the country/port we were in.
We spent quite a few hours in one of the (adults only) Jacuzzis, sipping cocktails and watching the world go by.
One afternoon when we were at sea, I sat in one of the jacuzzis for about 2 and a half hours watching the tennis at Wimbledon, on the big screen!
Pros and Cons of the Entertainment
Excellent variety every evening. Great shows, an-board casino and live bands. Brilliant!
The climbing wall and Flow rider should have been available all day without charge.
Despite our love of food and drink, we also like to keep fit, and were delighted with the size of the gym.
There was all the equipment you could ask for, and it never got too busy. We used it almost every day.
It was lovely having a jog on the tread mill whilst looking out to sea!
There was also an outside running track on the upper deck which we both used – again, this never got busy.
We never tried the sauna and didn’t partake in any classes – although were quite a few to go to.
Although we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights, we did stop at some lovely places, including Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
The beautiful port and fjords of Stavanger in Norway were probably the highlight for us.
All the crew were pleasant and polite. Some more than others.
The entertainers were awesome.
Unfortunately everyone (apart from the restaurant and bar staff) were always trying to sell you something, or up-sell you something better.
We spent a lot of money to go on the cruise and felt that we shouldn’t need to ‘upgrade’.
People always ask about tips!
We paid ours upfront (you have to do this), and also gave our cabin boy a tip at the end.
In hindsight, we should have done what a lot of people did, and that’s ask for our tip money back at the start (which you’re allowed to do) and tip people as you go along.
Tipping is not something us Brits do, and I hate the concept of it. But that’s another story.
Overall we really enjoyed our first cruise.
We enjoyed the formal evenings, chatting with our fellow passengers at dinner. The evening entertainment was great and of course we were all inclusive on the drinks!
The ports we stopped in were nice enough and we enjoyed finding our own way once on land, rather than go with the overly expensive guided tours.
It was great to stand on one of the upper decks, cocktail in hand, waving goodbye to the people on shore.
We will certainly book another cruise in the future, but perhaps try a different cruise company.