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Refurbed Independence Western Mediterranean Review

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If anyone is interested, I'll post a review of this cruise. Only because I had a lot of the questions I'm answering here and searched in vain for these topics prior to the cruise. I realize most of the people on this blog cruise all the time and are well-versed in RCCL - but I assume newcomers could benefit from the info. These are my personal opinions of this cruise only so please take it as such - I understand some may differ.

 

Background: Experienced cruiser on different lines but not constantly. Have cruised RCCL 3 times in the last 4 years.

 

Embarkation Southampton: Extremely fast and smooth, one of the easiest ports ever. Total time maybe 10 minutes. Ditto on Disembarkation (we carry off our own luggage). There's a nice little kiosk outside that sells breakfast sandwiches, crisps and drinks. If you are commuting from London, I highly recommend Silver Fleet transfers. They may be a bit more expensive but the personal service is well worth it. Pick up at your hotel, constant communication and super easy online booking and payment.

 

Bay of Biscay: We had 2 sea days to get down to the Western Med from Southampton and I naively thought they would be warm pool days, especially in August. I was wrong. The passage through this part of the Atlantic is blustery, rainy, windy and sometimes even cold. The waters can be a bit rocky (but nothing requiring dramamine). You can maybe get one afternoon of sun. Perhaps this was unique weather but I don't think so. Not a big deal, and if you live in the British Isles you have no choice, but I might not have chosen this itinerary (coming from the U.S.) had I known. Once in the Med, however, everything was sunny, calm and hot. And wonderful.

 

Shipboard Entertainment: The ice shows were nothing short of spectacular. I can't even believe a cruise line has this kind of talent. They were really phenomenal. On Independence, you can't reserve seats on the Cruise Planner ahead of the cruise. You have to stand in line on the first day (first thing in the morning) to get free tickets - which is not well publicized. I'm on vacation - so no way I'm getting up at the crack of dawn on the first day to stand in line, even if I'd known about it (which I didn't). We were kinda worried, but we appeared at show times and had no trouble getting in and getting good seats after the ticket-holders were let in. Grease was also really, really great (no tickets required for this one) and very professional. The rest of the shows were mediocre at best. The lounge bands were ok. Pulse was the best and liveliest with a varied repertoire. Vibes had a great lead singer but they looked half asleep most of the time.

 

Refurbishment: The best refurb was the addition of the giant sports bar next to the casino. Lots of big screen TVs, open seating, bar food, games, etc. A very good change to all those old-fashioned lounge bars. We don't do flow rider, rock climbing or slides - but I thought the addition of a virtual reality trampoline ball that can hold only 3 to 4 at a time was a waste. What a long wait for so few at a time. Adding a lot of new inside cabins just compounded the crowding problem (more on that later). Adding hand-washing stations before the Windjammer was very good - they are fast and easy. A couple of RCCl staff near the stations sing and joke and play with the kids and remind you to wash (great idea).

 

Coming Next (if you want): Food, ports of call and more

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It's a shame nobody warned you about the Bay of Biscay, it varies, and looks like you got it on a good day!

Edited by Annabellecruiser
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If anyone is interested, I'll post a review of this cruise. Only because I had a lot of the questions I'm answering here and searched in vain for these topics prior to the cruise. I realize most of the people on this blog cruise all the time and are well-versed in RCCL - but I assume newcomers could benefit from the info. These are my personal opinions of this cruise only so please take it as such - I understand some may differ.

 

Background: Experienced cruiser on different lines but not constantly. Have cruised RCCL 3 times in the last 4 years.

 

Embarkation Southampton: Extremely fast and smooth, one of the easiest ports ever. Total time maybe 10 minutes. Ditto on Disembarkation (we carry off our own luggage). There's a nice little kiosk outside that sells breakfast sandwiches, crisps and drinks. If you are commuting from London, I highly recommend Silver Fleet transfers. They may be a bit more expensive but the personal service is well worth it. Pick up at your hotel, constant communication and super easy online booking and payment.

 

Bay of Biscay: We had 2 sea days to get down to the Western Med from Southampton and I naively thought they would be warm pool days, especially in August. I was wrong. The passage through this part of the Atlantic is blustery, rainy, windy and sometimes even cold. The waters can be a bit rocky (but nothing requiring dramamine). You can maybe get one afternoon of sun. Perhaps this was unique weather but I don't think so. Not a big deal, and if you live in the British Isles you have no choice, but I might not have chosen this itinerary (coming from the U.S.) had I known. Once in the Med, however, everything was sunny, calm and hot. And wonderful.

 

Shipboard Entertainment: The ice shows were nothing short of spectacular. I can't even believe a cruise line has this kind of talent. They were really phenomenal. On Independence, you can't reserve seats on the Cruise Planner ahead of the cruise. You have to stand in line on the first day (first thing in the morning) to get free tickets - which is not well publicized. I'm on vacation - so no way I'm getting up at the crack of dawn on the first day to stand in line, even if I'd known about it (which I didn't). We were kinda worried, but we appeared at show times and had no trouble getting in and getting good seats after the ticket-holders were let in. Grease was also really, really great (no tickets required for this one) and very professional. The rest of the shows were mediocre at best. The lounge bands were ok. Pulse was the best and liveliest with a varied repertoire. Vibes had a great lead singer but they looked half asleep most of the time.

 

Refurbishment: The best refurb was the addition of the giant sports bar next to the casino. Lots of big screen TVs, open seating, bar food, games, etc. A very good change to all those old-fashioned lounge bars. We don't do flow rider, rock climbing or slides - but I thought the addition of a virtual reality trampoline ball that can hold only 3 to 4 at a time was a waste. What a long wait for so few at a time. Adding a lot of new inside cabins just compounded the crowding problem (more on that later). Adding hand-washing stations before the Windjammer was very good - they are fast and easy. A couple of RCCl staff near the stations sing and joke and play with the kids and remind you to wash (great idea).

 

Coming Next (if you want): Food, ports of call and more

 

They handle the ice show differently on the Navigator - you can’t book it via the Cruise Planner beforehand but they issue you a day and time based on your Muster Station, and then in the Cruise Compass it will just say ‘Ice Show for those in Muster Station A1’ etc. It’s a better way of doing it I think as the first time we were on the Indy we missed it completely because of not wanting to have to wait for tickets!

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Following! Yes very interested in food including the pub, all of the snack places and so on.

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Hmm. Booked this for next June. Bummer that the sea days won’t be sunny and warm. It’s the only one that fits our schedule though. Guess I’ll need to remember to bring a jacket and jeans for those days.

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They handle the ice show differently on the Navigator - you can’t book it via the Cruise Planner beforehand but they issue you a day and time based on your Muster Station, and then in the Cruise Compass it will just say ‘Ice Show for those in Muster Station A1’ etc. It’s a better way of doing it I think as the first time we were on the Indy we missed it completely because of not wanting to have to wait for tickets!

 

Yes that does sound much better. However, even though the ice shows were sold out, we had no trouble getting in. Lots of no shows.

 

Will post more later today.

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Interested to see your comments as we were on Independence in June. This was our second cruise on her and thought it not as good as prior to the the added cabins. Thank you for taking the time to post the review and looking forward to the next instalment.

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Cont'd....

 

Room: We always book a Junior Suite on RCCL. I love it. It is so big and roomy with a big balcony (table, chairs, recliners) and a huge walk-in closet with a ton of shelving inside, so all of your clothes, shoes, totes, suitcases and so forth can be tucked away and not out cluttering the living space. There's also lots of storage in the bathroom for all your stuff. The beds have first class bedding with very high-end sheets and are super comfortable. The room was spotless. The tub is wasted on us because we never use tubs in hotels but the shower was strong and hot. Junior Suites also have coffee/tea machines, nice light-weight robes and shampoo, conditioner and shower gel (which we never use because we bring our own) and other light toiletries. The AC worked fine. The small fridge isn't really a fridge, it's really more of a cooler so we didn't use it. (No suite benefits for a Junior, just FYI).

 

WIFI: I got the VOOM package and it worked fine all the time with good speed, but I didn't try to watch any videos. This is definitely an improvement over past cruises on RCCL so I assume it was part of the Independence upgrade.

 

Staff: The staff was exemplary everywhere. Our room steward was super, brought us ice every night and kept the room very clean and tidy. Waitstaff was also great, as were the bartenders and all the patient people at the Guest Services desk. Just A+ all around.

 

(Note, so far I've been pretty complimentary but I'm talking about all the things I liked first. I also liked the Ports of Call and I'll post about them next).

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Cont'd....

 

Ports of Call: We don't shop on vacation and we avoid shore excursions and locales that are geared for shopping. We're old and don't need any more knick-knacks. We choose cruises for the itinerary and like educational venues, art and nature. We are big walkers. I liked all the ports on this trip and will try to give some pointers here (but maybe what we do is not everyone's cup of tea). I especially loved all of the Mediterranean foliage and tropical trees and bushes that were lush and green in every port.

 

Gibraltar: We took the ship excursion's rock hiking tour and loved it. Our guide was fantastic and talked all about the area, history, etc. We rode the tram up to the top of the rock, walked around to see the beautiful vistas and then down to the caves. Interacted with many monkeys and there was lots of time for photographing them and watching them. We had a tour through the caves and then a walk to the military tunnels used in different wars from the late 1700s through World War II. Lots of history here and very interesting as we toured through the tunnels. Highly recommend. There is a bit of walking, a little bit uphill, but it's not that strenuous.

 

Cartagena: There are a lot of Roman ruins in this port city and it is an easy, short walk from the ship. We did this on our own. There's an opulent Roman home, a forum and a large theater. Also a museum about the ruins that is connected to the theater. It is dryer here and the city itself is a bit run-down but the Roman ruins are worth the visit. There's an avenue with restaurants along it right by the ship; we had lunch at one and it was sub-par. This was the only city meal we had that wasn't good, though - and maybe we just picked wrong (forgot to Yelp it first). Our least favorite stop but still very interesting.

 

Palma de Mallorca: We took the Hop-on Hop-off bus into Old Town and loved this part of Palma. Medieval buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, beautiful trees and plants, lush parks and squares, all very clean and upscale. We had coffee and pastries near a beautiful park full of pink bougainvilleas and later a fantastic tapas lunch outside by the Plaza de la Reina fountain. Visited the 10th century Arab baths and toured the Palma Cathedral (that you can see rising above the city as you come into the port). The grounds of this gothic cathedral (which dates from the 13th to the early 17th centuries) are breathtaking, with ponds, fountains, pools of water and lush vegetation. The interior of the cathedral has a hanging chandelier by Gaudí that's amazing as well as other great art and architecture.

 

Barcelona: Unfortunately the stop in Barcelona wasn't very long (we had to be back on the ship by 4:30) so it was very hard to see as much as we wanted. We took a taxi to Gaudí's masterpiece, Sagrada Família. I bought tickets online to tour it (with audio guides) many weeks before we left. You have to purchase them for a specific date and time slot (for crowd control) and they sell out. (We did not do a ship excursion because those just drove by and did not include an interior tour, which we wanted.) We took a taxi then to the Gothic Cathedral for a quick run through and then walked to the close-by Picasso museum (we also had pre-purchased tickets for this with a specific time slot). Our plan after Picasso was to walk to a close Gaudí house (Park Güell) which I was really looking forward to touring. Alas, while we were in the Picasso museum a torrential downpour started that didn't let up for literally hours. We tried to wait it out but finally had to give up and take a cab back to the ship. We had umbrellas but still got pretty wet. I enjoyed everything we did immensely - but was so disappointed that we had to miss Park Güell. Because of the time crunch, we just grabbed a sidewalk sandwich from one of the many open-front stores in Barcelona. Needed more days here for sure.

 

More ports to be continued.....

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I'm enjoying your review! We're going on Symphony just 4 weeks from today and will be seeing some of the same ports.

 

Barb

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Thanks for your review. We are cruising on her later this year. We are very concerned about all the reports of crowding.

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Cont'd....

 

I'll digress from the Ports of Call reviews for a moment to discuss some shipboard amenities, since I think some people are more interested in that. (And yes, I will get to the food later. It's a loaded subject).

 

Drinks: Keep in mind that unless you buy a soft drink package (there are various levels), you get no soft drinks with your cruise. So, in the Windjammer, there is water, an orange juice drink (in the morning) and some kind of punch or lemonade. No iced tea. No sodas. Water is ok with me, but my husband bought a diet coke several times from the bar. If you want fresh juice you have to purchase it. Coffee is available free all day in the Promenade and also in the Windjammer. It is actually good coffee. We also had it in our Junior Suite room.

 

Alcoholic drinks are, as expected, expensive. In the range of $14 each for a mixed drink (and $10 to $14 for wine, although you do get a good pour). Beers around $8 to $10. RCCL used to show the automatic 18% tip separated out on the bill, but now they just include it altogether with the total - so it is hidden and you will be inclined to add an "additional" tip (which we always do - the bartender will remember). At the bottom of the bill it does say that an 18% tip is included in the price.

 

We prepaid to have a bottled water package in our room - my gripe with this is that the water is in liter-size bottles. Too large to take on excursions and even too large to take to the pool or have by your bedside. It takes two hands to lift them to your mouth and they get stale, warm and back-washed. Plus it is Evian which tastes oily and flat to me.

 

Art Gallery: I'm going to veer off on a tangent since I have an open slot in this review and am holding court. Do not buy art on a cruise if you think it is an investment. It is not. The upper-end cruise lines don't even have onboard art because it is a customer rip-off. If you really like a piece and just want to own it, then go ahead. But you will pay 10 times what it is "worth." I could go on for pages on this subject, including the Peter Max junk and the suspect Chagall and Picasso prints. Google cruise art and you will get all the info you need. Or go to eBay and look for the same piece you are about to buy. I'm an accredited antiques appraiser and am just doing my informative duty here. I'll leave it at that.

 

Next... I'll get back to the Ports of Call. I really did love this itinerary. I hope I'm not boring anyone and maybe some will get worthwhile info. Cheers.

Edited by Cruise-y

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Great review, thank you.

 

I was disappointed to read though that there was no iced tea in the windjammer :(

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Are you doing MTD or Traditional and what do you think of it. In the past when we have been on Indy they always asked at MTD if you were willing to share but I think that may be a thing of the past now and next year on Indy we have chosen to go back to traditional dining.

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Are you doing MTD or Traditional and what do you think of it. In the past when we have been on Indy they always asked at MTD if you were willing to share but I think that may be a thing of the past now and next year on Indy we have chosen to go back to traditional dining.

 

All RCI ships offer MTD. We always have it. If they ask if we want to share we politely decline and say we will wait for a 2-top.

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Shore Excursions Cont'd....

 

Malaga: Alhambra is one of the reasons we chose this itinerary as it's always been a bucket list item. We took a ship's excursion. It was a 2.5 hour bus ride and the guide talked to us about the surrounding area during the trip. Lots of olive orchards to see on the way. On arrival, we had a quick sack lunch (cold ham and cheese sandwiches, yogurt and a banana) on the shady porch of a charming old hotel on the grounds - surrounded by Mediterranean trees and bushes. The lunch was blah but the setting was just so delightful and peaceful. We had a separate tour guide for Alhambra and spent 2.5 hours walking the grounds there (with small ear receivers so we could hear the guide speaking into a small microphone). We had separate entry (these tours are all scheduled by date/time and name so you need to bring a picture ID or passport). It was nothing short of amazing and so worth it. We loved it all. 2.5 hours back in the bus and we arrived just before the ship sailed. I wouldn't do this tour any other way than through the ship because of the length and danger of something happening on the way back. It was a highlight for sure.

 

Corsica: We loved our day on this island. We rented electric bikes (you still have to pedal them but the battery power gives you a big boost so they are very easy to ride). The bike rental was just a short walk from the ship but you have to reserve the bikes ahead of time (easy to find if you google it). We rode several miles along the coast (on the side of the road) with the beautiful sea right next to us, out to the Sanguinaires Islands. On the way back we stopped at a great open air restaurant right next to the water for a seafood lunch (with super views) and then swam in the blue ocean and lounged on the beach for a while. This far away from the city nobody spoke English at the restaurant but we muddled through with our tortured French and the food was excellent. Upon return, we toured the birthplace of Napoleon which was an old home just a short walk from the bike rental. There were audio guides for this home tour which was quite extensive. We were there on a Sunday and there was also an open market by the ship with cheeses and meats and fruits.

 

Sorry have to leave but will finish the shore excursions later today.

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Great review, thank you.

 

I was disappointed to read though that there was no iced tea in the windjammer :(

 

It’s possible that ships that leave out of Southampton don’t have iced tea because it’s maybe not that popular with Brits. I can’t remember if there was iced tea on the cruise we took before that left out of the U.S.

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Bay of Biscay: We had 2 sea days to get down to the Western Med from Southampton and I naively thought they would be warm pool days, especially in August. I was wrong. The passage through this part of the Atlantic is blustery, rainy, windy and sometimes even cold. The waters can be a bit rocky (but nothing requiring dramamine).

 

 

Many people thought the same thing about warm pool days for our round trip Hawaii cruise from San Francisco. The first two sea days were cold and rough.

 

We will make this crossing from Southampton to Gibraltar next July on the Indy. At least we will get a peek at the refurbishment when we sail her in January.

 

Keep up with the review.

 

 

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Forums

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Cont'd....

 

Room: We always book a Junior Suite on RCCL. I love it. It is so big and roomy with a big balcony (table, chairs, recliners) and a huge walk-in closet with a ton of shelving inside, so all of your clothes, shoes, totes, suitcases and so forth can be tucked away and not out cluttering the living space. There's also lots of storage in the bathroom for all your stuff. The beds have first class bedding with very high-end sheets and are super comfortable. The room was spotless. The tub is wasted on us because we never use tubs in hotels but the shower was strong and hot. Junior Suites also have coffee/tea machines, nice light-weight robes and shampoo, conditioner and shower gel (which we never use because we bring our own) and other light toiletries. The AC worked fine. The small fridge isn't really a fridge, it's really more of a cooler so we didn't use it. (No suite benefits for a Junior, just FYI).

 

WIFI: I got the VOOM package and it worked fine all the time with good speed, but I didn't try to watch any videos. This is definitely an improvement over past cruises on RCCL so I assume it was part of the Independence upgrade.

 

Staff: The staff was exemplary everywhere. Our room steward was super, brought us ice every night and kept the room very clean and tidy. Waitstaff was also great, as were the bartenders and all the patient people at the Guest Services desk. Just A+ all around.

 

(Note, so far I've been pretty complimentary but I'm talking about all the things I liked first. I also liked the Ports of Call and I'll post about them next).

 

 

Which cabin did you stay in? We are booked in an aft JS (#1706) in December and am wondering if you're JS was an aft or side cabin.

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