After I left home, my parent’s holiday preferences began to change and they looked to a different way of travel – one where they could combine plenty of sightseeing with luxury and relaxation. Cruising became a big hit with them both – and ever since, they’ve been trying to persuade me to give it a go.
The Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas
Having seen how much entertaining Monkey now needs as he gets older, the idea of a family cruise is beginning to look a lot more appealing. So when we were invited to spend the day onboard the Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, I jumped at the chance to see for myself what a family-friendly cruise could offer us.
What struck us cruise virgins as we pulled up to Southampton Docks was the gargantuan size of the ship itself. If you’ve never seen a one before, then it’s a spectacular sight. And hard to quantify in words. What’s even more unbelievable is that the Independence of the Seas isn’t Royal Caribbean’s biggest ship – it only holds a mere 4,300 passengers unlike its brand new sister, Harmony of the Seas – the largest passenger ship in the world – which holds nearer to 6,000!
After boarding and taking an elevator to the sixth deck out of 15, we alighted to wander the impressive Royal Promenade. A few of us were left speechless because quite frankly, I thought I was in a shopping centre. One other guest exclaimed: ‘How do these things actually float?’ For those of you who are au fait with cruising, you’re probably laughing at our reactions… but the magnitude of the vessel was mind-blowing.
As we walked past the plethora of designer shops, restaurants and bars, it was difficult not to just stop and take it all in. But we had so much to see and do in such a short space of time that we had to keep moving. So, we were allowed a quick peek in the Alhambra Theatre – which is currently showing a production of Grease The Musical, the casino, and the ice-skating rink. Yes, there really is an ice-skating rink…
Monkey loved all the different themes around the ship, and was mesmerised by these Egyptian statues… We were impressed by the Romeo and Juliet three-deck dining room, with its grand chandelier at its centre. There are numerous dining options including Asian, Italian, Japanese, as well as the Windjammer Cafe, a buffet restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Oh, and not forgetting the Cupcake Cupboard and Ben & Jerry’s. I get a distinct impression that passengers will not go hungry – perhaps going the other way and even putting on a few pounds?
Thankfully, there’s a state of the art gym – running on a treadmill facing out to sea would be pretty awesome, although there’s also a track around the outside deck. If, like, me you’re lazy on holiday, then eating as much as you want is par for the course. Walking to the sun loungers and exploring the ship is exercise enough in my opinion!
Next stop on our tour was the cabins. We got a chance to take a quick look a the Royal Suite, which was not only luxurious but had the most amazing hot tub on its balcony and a grand piano thrown in, too! Downgrading to something more in line with our budget, we moved on to the standard outside cabins, which were surprisingly bright and roomy. I imagined them to be a lot smaller. The Independence also has several family options from larger suites to accommodate up to six people or adjoining cabins.
By this time the children were desperate to get outside and explore. So it was back to the elevators and up to the 11th deck and to the H20 Zone and Main Pool. Monkey was so excited to go for a dip, he ignored the free ice-cream machine in desperation to get his gear on. The weather wasn’t particularly hot, so my boys were brave to get in. I was happy to watch from the sidelines – but was rather jealous when they both relaxed in the hot jacuzzi.
Meanwhile, the older children were having a go on the ship’s FlowRider – a surfing simulator which looked so much fun. The kids who were brave, and tall enough, were all having a whale of a time. But if that doesn’t float your boat (excuse the pun) then the kids can also try out the rock climbing wall, the mini-golf, golf simulator or play ball on the sports court.
After all the fun and frolics, we were all famished. American diner/burger joint Johnny Rockets was to be our host for lunch. And boy, was it good. While Monkey opted for the hot dog, hubby and I went for the double cheeseburger, all served with lashings of fries and onion rings, and washed down with a chocolate milkshake. We also enjoyed watching the staff do a little dance routine the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive. We could barely move having eaten so much. Which brings me back to my earlier point – I really think a cruise holiday would be detrimental to my waistline!
We did get the opportunity to walk off lunch, and go and explore what I was most interested in – the free childcare. Whilst I personally would never put Monkey in a kids club all day, I do see the benefit of children having some time to mingle with their peers and to have fun without their parents. After all, a holiday is meant to be relaxing for the whole family.
Independence of the seas Kids club
Located on the 12th deck, there is a Royal Babies and Tots Nursery up to three years of age, and then the Adventure Ocean Programme, which comprises of Aquanauts (3-5), Explorers (6-8), Voyagers (9-11) and Teens (12-17). All run by fully qualified staff, there is a range of daily activities suited to each age group, from Chefs on Deck to Space Night, and scavenger hunts and bingo. It was a testament to Adventure Ocean’s popularity when we saw a queue of parents waiting patiently to register their children.
Monkey and his pals really enjoyed the volcano experiment that was demonstrated to them – one of the many fun ways in which the children can interact and learn. Kids can attend at all times of the day, and there’s even a late-night party until 2.00am! So parents really can go wild… And If you have babies, there are also in-cabin babysitting services available. While on excursion days, you are able to leave your children on board the ship, while you disembark and explore on shore – which is a great option if you’re planning on going somewhere utterly boring for youngsters. Playing with their friends or walking around some ruins? Think we know the answer to that one!
It seems Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas really has got it covered. Just make sure you sign-up early – with over 1000 children on board during peak season, it’s a matter of first-come-first-served.
There was just enough time to take a quick spin around the spa (which looked like my idea of heaven), walk through the arcade full of computer games and machines, and play some mini-golf before we had to leave, as the Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas was setting sail for Spain a few hours later. We all joked and plotted to hide so we can stay put, but unfortunately, it was not to be. Monkey was bereft at having to go – he really was having such a good time.
And his reaction is exactly why I think that a cruise holiday may be suitable for us after all. My initial concerns about it being too overcrowded and claustrophobic were unfounded. There is simply too much to do and so much to see, that I really don’t think I would be able to experience it all even in a week. And the kids’ facilities are second to none. Monkey couldn’t possibly be bored – for someone as energetic as him, I think we may have finally found his match. Hurrah!
So, watch this space, perhaps the MTM family will be boarding a Royal Caribbean ship in the near future and shedding that cruise virgin tag once and for all…
* For a sneak peek of the Symphony of the Seas head over to Like Love Do, where Donna reviews her stay onboard another RC cruise liner