Many, many moons ago, back when my children occasionally did anything I asked and I was a fully fledged ‘mummy blogger’, I was really proud to be asked by Royal Caribbean Cruises to be an Official Family Ambassador or ‘Royal Mum’. It was a fab time and I really enjoyed my role: as part of my ambassadorship, I wrote about family cruising on the Royal Caribbean blog as well as in newspapers like The Times, and was lucky enough, along with my lovely fellow Royal Mums, to experience wonderful trips like a Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, and a family cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. Another wonderful memory was when we all got together at Southampton for a sunny day on board Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. I’ve always been hugely proud of my long-running association with Royal Caribbean: I love the quality of the brand, the wonderful people who have a genuine love and enthusiasm for creating incredible experiences, and all their beautiful, innovative ships, so when Mr E and I were invited along to experience the shakedown cruise following Independence of the Seas’ multi-million dollar makeover, we were all over it. Here’s how we got on.
There’s always been a genuine affection amongst cruise passengers and people involved in the cruise industry for ‘Indy’ (in fact, it was voted the UK’s favourite cruise ship in a survey last year), so her multi-million pound makeover was eagerly awaited. Independence has 15 decks, and carries 3,858 guess in 1,929 staterooms.
What’s new on board?
SkyPad: this flipping crazy virtual reality bungee trampoline experience was one of my favourites: strap in to the bungee harness, hop onto the trampoline, pop on your high-tech VR headset and bounce and glide through incredible virtual scenarios. Mine was a world full of sweeties reminiscent of Vanellope’s Sugar Rush game in Wreck-it Ralph. Just breathtaking and a little bit addictive too!
The FlowRider: okay not new but this brilliant surfing simulator is always deserving of a mention. Back on our last visit, we couldn’t get the kids off the FlowRider (this time it was just Mr E I had to contend with), and it’s the first place they head (along with their dad), when we get on board a Royal Caribbean ship. The staff are amazing and even if you think you’ll never be able to stand up, they somehow manage to coax you upright! After that, it’s just practice that makes perfect.
The Perfect Storm: I’m not going to lie, Mr E was a leeetle bit addicted to these three-story high dualling waterslides. On a quiet morning, we actually had the slides to ourselves and spent a happy half hour whooshing down the slides, rushing back up and doing it all again. Oh and the translucent sections give epic views across the sea too.
Laser Tag: not just for the kids this one, this brilliant glow-in-the-dark Battle for Planet Z is seriously sweaty and addictive. I had to wrestle Mr E’s laser blaster out of his clutches or he would have played all day.
Escape Room: we were blown away by this beautifully designed observatory at the top of the ship. Teams battle to solve problems and puzzles to win their freedom. Clever and gorgeous – this is set to be a winner at sea.
Food, glorious food
Royal Caribbean’s dining options have always been spectacular, but thanks to Independence of the Seas’ multi-million dollar makeover, there’s even more choice on board. We were determined to try the main Sapphire Dining Rooms, and were not disappointed. The decor is chic and elegant and the service is unobtrusive. Our visit coincided with me recently deciding to become pescatarian, but there was a world of choice for me and every dish was delicate, flavoursome and delicious. Along with the other complimentary dining options onboard, like the beautiful, newly-designed Windjammer Marketplace and the fab Sorrento’s on the Royal Promenade (gorgeous pizza by the slice, yum), you’ll never be stuck for a snack.
New foodie options include speciality offering, Izumi Sushi and Hibachi: this isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a whole new entertainment experience. The clever chefs fling eggs about, tell jokes, get you doing all sorts of mad stuff, and serve the most delicious food too. We absolutely loved it. Oh, and even when you’re not remotely peckish, the delicious smell wafting towards you as you pass Fish & Ships on deck will tempt you in to enjoy their delicious, crispy fish and hot, chip-shop-perfect chips. Mmmmmm…..
Mr E was very taken with Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade. It’s a brilliant spot to while away the afternoon, with loads of different sports showing on huge screens (plus, the popcorn shrimp is to die for and they do THE BEST barbecue wings too, apparently).
The best entertainment
The highlight for me was the absolutely brilliant Take That Experience. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the real Take That: the audience were up on their feet, singing along to all the classics from all the different eras of Take That. The band are so talented and the atmosphere is like being at a real concert. Plus you get to experience is in the gorgeously plush Royal Theatre too.
I absolutely loved Strings! A World Adventure on Ice (yup, there’s an ice rink on the ship). At times it’s pretty edge-of-the-seat thrilling when the brilliant International Ice Cast are flipping and whirling themselves around on the ice – the accompanying music swirls and soars around you in the most wonderful way, and the whole show is magical.
Shop ’til you drop
We love an evening wander when we’re on holiday, and the wonderful Royal Promenade is packed full of beautiful shops, including a very sparkly Michael Kors boutique that called out to me every time I passed (the prices are good, too). Add to that the fab new Sugar Beach Candy Store, with rows of tempting treats and the most instagrammable shop front, and you’re never going to go home empty handed. Oh and while you’re on the Royal Promenade, you need to pop into gorgeous Vintages wine bar, our favourite spot on the entire ship for pre-dinner drinks.
Let’s face it, our annual family holiday is a precious time, and if you’re choosing a cruise holiday for the first time, you can have all sorts of worries. Let me help by addressing the most common:
Will we feel ‘trapped’ on board? Well, with fabulous kids’ clubs (in our experience, we spent more time trying to persuade them to leave their mates in the kids’ clubs than any time worrying about keeping them entertained), fantastic, interactive aqua parks, outdoor movies, water slides, laser tag and more, your problem will be deciding what to do next rather than worrying about being hemmed in. Plus, it’s not just about the kids – there’s plenty for adults to enjoy as well, whether you want time to yourself to hit the gym or jogging track, or prefer relaxing by the pool.
Will we be seasick? Well, I counted up the other day, and I’ve done upwards of 30 cruises. I’m not a great traveller, especially in a car or plane, and I’ve only been seasick on one cruise and that was around the Bay of Biscay in some nasty weather. Modern ships are enormous, and most of the time you won’t even be aware that you’re moving – plus they have stabilisers and clever crew who will steer you around any dodgy weather.
Could one of the kids fall overboard? Nope. Modern ships have inward-facing rails with sheer glass on all their public areas and it’s as safe as being in a normal holiday apartment with your kids: you wouldn’t leave your kids alone out on the balcony, but you wouldn’t worry about it before you left. If you’re at all worried on your first cruise, book an indoor cabin and ask to see a balcony cabin for yourself.
I hate flying!, well then a cruise is definitely for you. With a whole world of holiday adventures accessible from ports in the UK and Ireland, you can enjoy your holiday without the stress of airports and planes.
I feel like Indy is the perfect size for first-time family cruisers, with tons to do – especially now, with all the fab new activities – and with world class dining, brilliant entertainment and the adventure of visiting multiple ports of call added into the mix, a whole new generation of cruise families are going to become as addicted as we are.
Many, many thanks to Royal Caribbean for inviting us on board. I hope I’ll see lovely Indy again very soon. For more video highlights of our time on board, you can watch my Insta story here. Following her inaugural sailing, Independence of the Seas will call at destinations across Europe and the Mediterranean until November 2018.