Independence of the Seas Live Blog

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Sea Day

In:
26Nov2017

The final day of our Independence of the Seas cruise is a sea day, and it also an opportunity to take things easy. The past few days have had us all rushing around to get things done, but we wanted to enjoy this last day by slowing things down.

My wife and kids slept in while I enjoyed a quiet morning and beautiful sunrise. While I am all for taking things slowly, I could not lay in bed this morning knowing there as more time available to enjoy the ship.

Eventually everyone got up, and we had our usual breakfast in the Windjammer. I think a lot of other families were sleeping in, because it was not overly busy in the Windjammer.

After breakfast, we mostly wandered the ship to see what was going on. My kids said they wanted to swim, but also did not want to shower (evidently showering everyday is a kid faux pas), so they opted not to go to the pool.

We had planned to eat lunch at Giovanni’s Table, but I think the kids were still tired and we decided to grab something quick in the Windjammer and let them take a nap. Sometimes you just have to adjust your plans in the name of family sanity.

With the kids napping, we started packing up our belongings to avoid having to do it later tonight.

Once we woke from naps, I could tell everyone was feeling better. The kids spent some time playing in their room.

My oldest daughter wanted to try ice skating again on this sailing, so we headed down to Studio B. We arrived 15 minutes early and found a rather long line, which was surprising to see so many people there early. Luckily, we were the last two guests that made it into the first session.

We headed back to the room to get ready for dinner. As per usual, we took the kids up to Adventure Ocean and then my wife and I enjoyed some time in the Diamond Lounge.

Dinner tonight was in the main dining room, and the service was great. Unfortunately, my eggplant parm was not cooked well (as was the case with the table next to us), but otherwise the food was on par with what we were used to on past cruises.

To round out our evening, we enjoyed some drinks in the Pub while listening to some live music.

Overall, we had a great cruise and I am so glad that we took this opportunity to getaway for Thanksgiving and finally cruise on Independence of the Seas. She is a great ship, and I think anyone going on her will have a great time. In fact, I think the April 2018 refurbishment that will take place should revolutionize this ship and breathe new life into what is an already a great ship.

While we generally cruise on at least 7 night cruises, a 4 night cruise worked really well. To be honest, I think it worked out even better than I thought it would prior to getting onboard. Given that this was a weekend getaway cruise, I felt it was a great choice.

Stray observations

  • Overall, I am impressed with the Voom internet speeds on Independence of the Seas. While it may not be Oasis class fast, it is significantly better than I expected.
  • In retrospect, I could have skipped the drink package purchase and been alright with relying on wine I brought onboard, Diamond drinks, drinking in Cozumel, and the drink card.
  • I tried a bloody mary at two different bars this morning. Champagne Bar makes a better one, although both bars relied on mixes.


  • The Sorrentos Pizza on this ship might be the worst I have ever had.  Sorrentos Pizza is never amazing, but it is edible.  The pizza on this ship is more “mushy cheese” is the best way I can describe it.  We have tried a number of times and always lament the decision.
  • The weather today started out nice enough, but after lunch clouds rolled in and the sun never reappeared.

Thank you to everyone that followed along on this live blog. I always have such a great time reading your comments and answering questions, so thank you for being part of the fun.

My next live blog will take place on Rhapsody of the Seas in March 2018. Until then, don’t forget we talk Royal Caribbean daily on Periscope and Facebook Live!

 

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - Cozumel

In:
25Nov2017

Our first and only port stop brings us to Cozumel, Mexico. I think I have been to Cozumel the most of any cruise port and I have always enjoyed my time here. There is so many different things to do, and this time around we get to try something newto us.

Our ship was set to dock around 7:30 and be cleared at 8, but we got in a little early and ship was cleared by 7:45. We had set our alarm early so that we could get on our way sooner than later. As we got out of bed, I got to see a lovely sunrise over Cozumel as our ship arrived.

We got our things together and had a quick breakfast in the Windjammer.

Getting off the ship was easy, and we were just one of three ships in port today. In fact, there was not even a ship next to us, which is kind of unusual.

We hopped in a taxi cab and went to our spot for the day, Nachi Cocom.

Nachi Cocom is an all-inclusive beach resort that offers unlimited food and drinks, along with access to its beach and pool. Nachi is best known for the fact it limits the amount of guests that may enter each day (around 100), which means it is not oversold.

We had heard about Nachi Cocom from friends and random people on the Internet for years, and decided to give it a try ourselves.

It takes about 10-15 minutes by taxi to arrive (which will cost about $17 each way). Once you arrive, you are greeted with a photo opportunity (that you can buy later) and then check-in. At check-in, you are assigned a waiter and get to pick any spot you wish from the beach.

We picked a table and chairs by the pool because the kids prefer to swim in the pool.

Overall, Nachi Cocom was exactly as described: an indulgent escape with lots of flowing drinks and plenty to eat. Your day at Nachi is about splashing in the pool or ocean and enjoying drinks and food. There are not any water toys or similar things to do, because it is about relaxation.

The kids had a blast swimming to their heart’s content. Despite the fact the pool water was really cold, they could not get enough of it. I later told my wife that this may have been the most successful beach day for our kids in quite a while.

Somewhere between 1-2pm, we decided to head back because the kids were starting to run out of energy and naturally refused to nap. Thus, my wife and I decided to leave before an epic meltdown.

Back on the ship, it was time for that much needed nap to ensure everyone had enough energy for the rest of the day.

We were treated to a spectacular sunset this evening, as our ship was in town until past 6:30pm. One nice thing about cruising in winter is you get earlier sunsets.

Next, we took the kids up to Windjammer for dinner and then dropped them off at Adventure Ocean and the nursery.

My wife and I enjoyed some cocktails in the Diamond Lounge before heading to the main dining room for dinner.

After dinner, we tried our hand at the casino (it did not go well for us) and then enjoyed some time on the pool deck to enjoy the perfect weather outside.

Tomorrow is our last day and it is a sea day.

Stray Observations

  • I swear every time I get pool towels from the pool deck, there are pool towels available to pick up near the gangway and every time I don’t, there are no pool towels by the gangway.
  • We had perfect weather today: no clouds, warm temperatures and low humidity. It was a pleasure to be outdoors.
  • A friendly reminder that even in a beautiful setting as Cozumel, danger lurks around the corner (or beach)
  • The drink card showed up today.  $85 for 10 drinks.
  • Drink of the day is the Royal Lemonade.
  • A mariachi band from Cozumel boarded the ship to perform this afternoon. I do not think I have seen that happen before.
  • Here is what happens when you ask for "nothing" for dessert

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Sea Day

In:
24Nov2017

If you are familiar with the contemporary acronym “FOMO”, then you know exactly what a typical first sea day on a Royal Caribbean ship feels like for me. Despite any logical argument, I always find myself wanting to do as much as I can, and today was no different.

We did not set an alarm, but ended up waking up around 8:30am or so. Even though we all got to bed late last night, the drive to get a full day of fun in on Independence of the Seas was too great to ignore.

We headed up the Windjammer for breakfast at 9:30am and it was very busy. In fact, I think the Windjammer on Harmony of the Seas was less busy during this time than on Independence. I think going forward if we want to eat breakfast after 9am, we need to go to the main dining room to ensure getting a table.

After breakfast we did what any sensible Black Friday shopper would do: we went to the NextCruise office! We did not book anything new, just re-booked a sailing or two to take advantage of the Black Friday offer combined with the NextCruise booking bonus.

We then took the kids up to the Teen club, Fuel, where they have an open play area for toddlers from 9am – 5pm. Both kids played together for a bit.

Lunch today brought us to the main dining room. On sea days, they serve lunch in the main dining room and today’s menu was wonderful. The tandoori chicken kabobs were excellent, and they even had coffee ice cream available!

Following lunch, we headed to the pool for the only activity my kids can never get enough of. Even though we rolled in around 1pm, there were still a few lounge chairs here and there near the H2O Zone. In fact, we managed to get three chairs near the pool and in the shade. Perfect!

After lunch, we instituted a mandatory nap for everyone to ensure we all had enough energy later this evening. The kids especially need a nap to recover from all the energy they expelled at the pool.

Walking the ship this afternoon, it turned out to be a really great day weather-wise.

After naps, we all got ready for formal night and dinner. We wanted to take nice photos of the kids this evening, so the kids had to get ready early.

I fed the kids and took them up to the Windjammer for dinner before dropping them off at Adventure Ocean.

My wife took in Grease while I took care of the kids. Today was the only day to see Grease, so we had to split up. One of the nuances of a shorter cruise is you have less time to see everything, and that includes less showtimes than on a seven night cruise.

We had planned to go to the main dining room for dinner, but my wife was feeling a bit run down from a steady stream of fun over the last 48 hours, so we decided to call it an early night and rest up for our time in Cozumel tomorrow.

Stray Observations

  • The onboard internet continues to perform well. One annoyance is after connecting with my phone, if I let the screen turn off for more than about 15 seconds, it will lost the WiFi connection and I usually have to manually re-connect. I don’t have to re-login, but it is not a perfect situation. Still, I will gladly take internet that functions reasonably well.

  • Oddly, Chops was open for lunch today but not Giovanni’s Table.

  • We did not meet our stateroom attendant yesterday, but ran into him this morning. He gladly opened up the balcony divider between our connecting staterooms.

  • One nuance of a sailing less than 7-nights is trying to work in all the entertainment is much more difficult since you have less opportunities to see the shows.

  • The Solarium on Independence of the Seas has these great bench swings, which are not on Freedom of the Seas.

  • There is Izumi Sushi To Go available at Sorrentos.

  • The drink of the day is the Woo Woo.

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation Day

In:
23Nov2017

Happy Thanksgiving! Our weekend cruise is finally here, and we are ready for a fun Caribbean escape.

We drove down to South Florida the night before the cruise to ensure we would be close to the cruise port and not have to wake up super early to get to the port.  Other than my youngest daughter sleeping poorly, this plan worked out quite well.

We left for the cruise terminal right around 9am and got to the cruise terminal around 10am.

We arrived to Port Everglades a bit before 10am, and proceeded to drop the wife, kids, and luggage off at the terminal while I parked the car at the nearby parking garage. It is always a good idea to drop everyone and all the stuff at the pier and then park the car so that you do not have to lug everything from the parking garage, onto the shuttle, and to the terminal.

The doors of the terminal were initially closed, but opened up a few minutes after 10am and we went through a quick security and check-in line. Boarding began fairly promptly, and we were on Independence of the Seas by about 11am.

The Windjammer opened at 11:30am, and we partook in a traditional embarkation day buffet lunch. The variety of food was not as extensive as I am used to, but it was still good food and we enjoyed it.

After lunch, we all changed and let the kids go for a swim in the pool. The kids were beyond thrilled for early pool time, and they basically had the pool to themselves.

The staterooms were ready promptly at 1pm and maybe 30 minutes later, we dried off and headed downstairs to our room.

We have two connecting balcony staterooms on deck 7, near the forward elevator banks. These rooms have lots of space for everyone, and it gives my wife and I some separation from the kids. Plus, we have two bathrooms, which is great when we are all trying to get ready.

We also took the opportunity to register the children for Adventure Ocean. Oddly, the nursery was not taking any reservations, and said to return at 8pm when they open to not only drop kids off, but make reservations.

Muster drill was I think the quickest I can recall, and before we knew it, it was time to start the cruise. There were passing showers in the afternoon, but it all cleared up in time for sail away. Having taken a number of cruises this summer, it felt so good to have a sailaway where I was not super sweaty.

After departing Port Everglades, we headed to the room to get ready for dinner.

Everyone took a shower, and then I took the kids up to the Windjammer for their dinner.

It was not very crowded, and the spread of food was quite extensive. I was particularly impressed with the Jade section this evening.

After dinner, we took the kids down to the Royal Promenade for ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s.

Adventure Ocean and the Nursery opened at 8pm, and we had no issues dropping the kids off. In fact, the nursery allowed us to book each evening of the cruise (usually on 7 night cruises they make everyone book just a few hours at first, and then open up reservations later in the cruise).

After dropping the kids off, we had some time before dinner and headed to the Diamond Lounge for drinks. To our surprise, there was literally no one in there. I have never seen the Diamond Lounge empty during Diamond drink hour, let alone not bustling.

Dinner this evening was in the main dining room, and we had a special Thanksgiving menu.

Our assistant waiter warned us that since it was day one, the kitchen was likely going to run into issues with speed, but it felt like an average main dining room experience in terms of speed. It may have taken a bit longer than normal, but I am not sure I would have complained or even noticed an issue.

I started off with the pumpkin ravioli, which while good, had little pumpkin flavor that I could detect.

The butternut squash soup was also very good. My wife prefers this soup, compared to the butternut squash soup from 150 Central Park for the lighter consistency, but I would prefer the opposite.

The turkey was moist and perfect serving. It could have used more stuffing, but I am not certain there is ever enough stuffing at any meal.

If I can be critical, the pumpkin pie was neither orange nor edible. Otherwise, a great meal.

Following dinner, we took in the ice show in Studio B known as Strings. I can best describe the show as a tribute to many classical music in the public domain. Well-performed (I do not think anyone fell or missed a trick) and a fun performance all around.

We decided to check out the Labyrinth dance club on deck 4 for old times sake. It certainly still has the eclectic décor I recall from other ships.

Tomorrow is our first sea day, or as my kids see it, a day with non-stop pool action with Windjammer snacks sprinkled in.

Stray Observations

  • The Adventure Ocean staff member said there about 900 kids on this sailing.
  • During the nursery registration process, I had to fill out a form to use a dect phone. In all our cruising with our kids, I have never had to fill out such a form. Always interesting to see how policies differ from ship to ship.
  • It is kind of weird seeing a Royal Caribbean ship with its nightclub still intact. Granted, it will be removed during the April 2018 refurbishment, but it was still interesting to see one after all the other ships had theirs removed.
  • The Christmas decorations are up on the ship.


  • Check out this kids section of the general gift shop on the Royal Promenade. I have never seen anything so ornate on any other Royal Caribbean ship.
  • Here are the drink package prices if you bought them onboard. I certainly saved some money pre-ordering it online.
  • There is still a number of items on the ship leftover from the European season, like this candy.
  • They showed all the Thanksgiving Day football games at the pool, as well as at the Pub and some other places.
  • The drink of the day was the margarita azul.
  • The internet speeds with the Surf & Stream package thus far are better than I expected. Even fast enough for a few Periscope broadcasts.

  • Since I have them, here are the boarding day tips

Live Blogging from Independence of the Seas - Preamble

In:
20Nov2017

Welcome to our next Royal Caribbean adventure, onboard the beautiful Independence of the Seas! Each day, I will be LIVE blogging to share with you what it is like to cruise on a ship as feature-packed as Independence of the Seas.

We are taking a four-night Western Caribbean cruise from Port Everglades on Independence of the Seas.  On this cruise, we will celebrate Thanksgiving on a Royal Caribbean ship for the second time, and take a sailing on Independence of the Seas for the first time.

Why we chose this cruise

Believe it or not, taking a cruise over Thanksgiving was not my first idea.

Two years ago, we took a cruise on Brilliance of the Seas over Thanksgiving and found it to be a great getaway cruise.  Four nights is short, but since the kids are off of school and I even have a few built in days off, so it is an easy logistical vacation.  The issue, however, is telling my family we are going to go on a cruise instead of a traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

As it turns out, my parents informed us they would be travelling this year over Thanksgiving and so, the gears in my head began turning and to no one's surprise, we began looking for a cruise.

Independence of the Seas was a great choice for us, because the sail dates lined up well with the built-in days off and trying a ship that was new to us sounded like a great combination.

Our plans onboard

This is our first time on Independence of the Seas, but not our first time on a Freedom class ship.

Of all the Royal Caribbean ships, I have been on Freedom of the Seas the most, and we have really enjoyed our time on the Freedom class.  While Independence of the Seas has not yet had a recent refurbishment like her two sister ships (it is coming in April 2018), we are excited to try a different Freedom class ship.

We booked two connecting balcony staterooms, which means the kids can sleep in their own room.  That is important to us, because it gives us all a bit of separation, and we can ensure the kids get to sleep on time while allowing my wife and I to stay up later.

Being that it is a shorter sailing than we usually take, I think our family is looking to enjoy some time simply relaxing onboard.  I know my kids are mostly concerned with getting in plenty of swim time, ice cream, and Sorrentos pizza.

I am most curious to see how Independence of the Seas compares to her sister, Freedom of the Seas.  Based on reputation, I know they are very similar ships, but I am looking forward to trying the ship for myself. Plus, with so much attention on the new ships in the fleet, it is great to spend some time seeing an established and well-loved ship like Indy.

Our plans on shore

We only have one port call, Cozumel, and wanted to try something different for our visit.

Usually, we visit Cozumel on longer sailings and opt to leave the kids onboard while my wife and I do some shopping and dining.  On this cruise, however, Cozumel is our only port stop, so we wanted to ensure everyone in the family got a chance to spend some time together on an excursion.

Ultimately, we chose to visit a very well reviewed all-inclusive resort in Cozumel, Nachi Cocom. Over the years, I have heard a lot of favorable reviews of Nachi but have never had a chance to see it myself.  We were surprised to find very reasonable prices for our kids, and it offers the three most important things I look for in any beach excursion: pool option, shade, and good bar/food service.

Based on reputation, I am looking forward to what I expect to be a new adventure in the cruise port I have been to the most times.

Our Itinerary

Three things I am excited to try

3. Grease

Did you know that Independence of the Seas features the Broadway musical, Grease?  In addition to Harmony of the Seas, Grease is offered on Independence of the Seas.  

Not only am I excited to see Grease again, I am curious to see how the production stacks up on Independence of the Seas after seeing it on Harmony of the Seas.  My expectation is that it should be indistinguishable from the Harmony version, but this is the first time I have been able to compare show productions across ships.

2. Self disembarkation

Let me be clear, I am never excited for disembarkation day. However, there is a new Royal Caribbean experience wrapped up in this otherwise depressing last morning of the cruise.

Our cruise ends on a Monday, and I have to get back home for work and my oldest daughter needs to get home for school.  Thus, we are going to take our own luggage off the ship and attempt to get off the ship early so that we can drive home and make it back in time.

1. Swim on embarkation day

We have never taken the advice of bringing our swim suits for an embarkation day swim, but I think we are going to give it a try this time around.  My kids love to swim, so we are going to pack swimsuits in our carry-on luggage and try it out after we get onboard and eat (waiting 30 minutes after eating, of course).

The only way this may not happen is if the weather does not cooperate.  This time of year, it is a bit cooler than usual in Florida, but while my kids will not mind at all, as the supervising adult, I will definitely mind if it is cool out!

What's next

Our Independence of the Seas cruise begins on Thursday, November 23rd, and I will be sharing the details on the blog, as well as across my social media channels.  Be sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram and Periscope for live updates throughout the day.

I invite you to share in this experience with me, by posting in the comments for any blog post questions and comments you may have.  I try to make these live blogs as interactive as I can, so I want everyone to feel welcome to share their thoughts.

Thanks for reading all of this and welcome aboard our next fun live blog experience!

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4

In:
28Nov2016

I’m not sure who “they” are, but when they said that all good things must end, I wish they’d have exempted cruises.  Today was a sea day, and our final day on Independence of the Seas.  

I woke up around 0830, but to be honest, was not ready to do so.  My head was screaming and all I could wonder was how many caipirinhas Fernanda served me at Boleros the night before.  I stayed in bed just a bit as I waited for Larissa to get moving and then pressed on, as the last day of a cruise is not the time I want to spend in bed.  With the exception of the first full day, the Windjammer was seemed to stay open until 1100 each morning, an hour later than the main dining room.  While we’re never early risers, we stayed up particularly late each night of this cruise, so we opted to again hit the Windjammer today for breakfast.  On this trip we didn’t try the custom waffle station in front of the Plaza Bar (the bar at the entrance to the Windjammer), though it looked awesome.  I wanted to give it a whirl this morning but while the long queue indicated that it must be delicious, it also kept me away.  We grabbed some light breakfast and got some espresso before heading to the stateroom to do a very preliminary packing of our clothing and other wares so we had less of a struggle later.

On the way to our stateroom we came across some friends who invited us back to the Windjammer for mimosas, an invitation I was excited for, though as I was nursing my headache and pondering the need to pack we decided we’d circle back around.

We piled all the dirty laundry into our suitcase, organized clothes for today and tomorrow, etc.  At this point, I almost got stuck in a rut, wanting to take a nap and maybe whine about the cruise being nearly over.  Instead of going down this road we headed back to the Windjammer to meet up with our friends Gabby and Steve for mimosas.  They’d brought some champagne, so we just needed orange juice, which while available, wasn’t fresh squeezed.  I remember they were pushing fresh squeezed juice on past cruises, so I’m not sure if this is part of a bigger shift, or just one of the small differences between ships.

By this time lunch was being served, but realizing that I wasn’t particularly hungry (drink fatigue may not be much of an issue for me, but food fatigue is) and that we hadn’t visited the main dining room for lunch this entire sailing, we headed downstairs for the salad bar that Royal Caribbean offers each day.  I really enjoyed this in the past, as I found the ingredients fresh, and I’m able to completely customize what I want.  Today was no different, though they seem to have run out of spinach, which I’d have preferred.

At this point I decided we needed to enjoy some time on the open deck.  The weather has, for the most part been perfect.  Reasonably cool air and warm sun.  I’m not sure if it was just timing, but when we arrived to the Solarium either the chair-hogs were out in force or half of the guests had been raptured...leaving only their towels.  We managed to find two chairs out of the sun (Larissa’s preference) and just laid down listening to the relaxing sounds of the cruise.  I’d love to make a soundtrack, “sounds of a cruise”, but really when I combine distant reggae and the sound of exhaust coming out of the stack, it may not sound as awesome as I’m imagining.  There is a certain feeling when you’re out on deck that just can’t be replicated any other way.  Eventually, Larissa had enough indirect sunlight and we went back to the Champagne Bar for some scotch.  

I can’t emphasize enough that the Champagne Bar staff are not only incredibly pleasant and efficient, but are fantastic craftsmen - it’s entertaining just watching them make drinks.  After a few rounds it was time to go clean up, do a little more packing, and get ready to watch Grease.

This July Independence of the Seas started featuring Grease in the Alhambra Theatre.  It’s not a mash-up, but a full ninety minute show on a stage a bit smaller than that which hosts broadway shows on the Oasis class ships.  Several scenes took advantage of the booths just above and to each side of the stage, and actors occasionally came from the house too, making good use of the available space.  Every performer in the show held their own, though I didn’t feel the “wow” factor that I got seeing Mama Mia on Allure.  I can’t quite put finger on why I feel that way, but it was high energy and a lot of fun, so I certainly don’t mean to knock it and you should absolutely see it when on Indy.  In this show, Royal Caribbean carried on in it’s wonderful tradition of using live music, with the orchestra below the stage but very much a part of the show.  I really hope they never stop this.  The show let out just in time for us to grab another drink before heading for a chat with Jamie Fentiman, Cruise Director on Independence of the Seas.  He was very generous with his time and really gave me a better appreciation for the hard work he and his team do to make our cruises fantastic.  We’ll share more soon from our conversation with Jamie.

After our talk, which ran a bit later than planned, I didn’t want to miss the Windjammer like we did a few nights ago so we sprinted.  If you’re keeping track, you’ve noticed that we only had dinner in the main dining room once this cruise, and even then it was really just an encore to what we had first in the Windjammer.  Up until a couple years ago we almost never hit the buffet for dinner, but it’s becoming a habit, and I’m pleased with it.  It’s casual and offers so many choices it’s hard for us to go wrong.  There were an assortment of curries once again, including cauliflower.  We stuffed ourselves and then kept going with some key lime pie.

Now we’re all packed and I’m back at the Champagne Bar, but after the long nights I’m bushed.  Larissa is down at On Air where it seems karaoke has somehow turned into a variety show.  Once we disembark in the morning it’s straight to the office for us, so as much as I like to milk the last moments of our cruises I think I’ll be turning in before midnight tonight so I’m fully functional at work, and making more cruise money.  I’ll post an update about our disembarkation process, but this is the last full update for the Independence of the Seas Live Blog.  

Today’s take-aways:

  • I noticed I didn’t sleep well on this cruise, and you know what?  It’s my fault.  The mattress was harder than on some ships, but simply asking for a topper would have helped, our friends already had on their bed.  Further, we had a lot of whistling/wind noise around the verandah door.  I finally called maintenance and they easily remedied the issue.  The real takeaway here is that if there is something that can be improved upon, just ask!

  • It seems the last night on any cruise is always the most lively, contrary to what you’d think.  This should be our motivation to sail back to back (a “consecutive cruise”) sometime.  It would be nice if we had five nights more ahead of us...

  • I heard many people on this sailing discuss wanting to sail on smaller ships - which I haven't heard much on longer sailings.  I think maybe these shorter sailings leave people feeling like they missed many things on the ship, and perhaps the size means that by the time you’ve made new friends on the cruise it’s time to part.  

  • Every time I walk by the Schooner Bar I wonder why I don’t spend more time there (this has been true of all of our RCL sailings.  I think maybe I just don’t pass by them as much - out of sight, out of mind.  I’ll make a conscious effort to visit more on future cruises, though I do love the Champagne Bar staff...and my scotch they store here.

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3

In:
27Nov2016

So let's be honest, there are some times on a cruise when you're in a bar at one in the morning, and thinking, "I shouldn't be writing things on the internet".  You've been there, right?  Great!

Today we visited Cozumel Mexico, which as mentioned yesterday, is one of our favorite spots in the Caribbean.  After another long night we woke up the the beautiful Mexican waters at around 0945.  It's mornings like today's that I really value a verandah, it was so refreshing to wake up like that.  We grabbed breakfast at the Windjammer, and I know feel like I have a large enough sample size to declare that the Allure Windjammer breakfast is far superior to that of the Freedom and Independence Windjammer breakfast.  We've found that the breakfast on Indy and Freedom are just a bit uninspired - the same eggs, bacon, etc (and I suppose I should mention the lo mein - which is an odd breakfast item).  To be honest, most people are probably pretty happy with the selections, but on Allure we enjoyed some Indian options, various more traditional, but creatively presented items (like blueberry whole wheat waffles), etc.  All of that in mind, the most critical part of breakfast was espresso, and that waaaas excellent.  Oh, and I grabbed some grilled tomatoes, which I love, and have only ever eaten on cruise ships.  

After a stop at the stateroom we headed ashore, and it was beautiful day with the sun penetrating the topaz waters among the Brilliance, Independence, Carnival Freedom, and Carnival Fantasy.  There are few places in the world that have coastlines like this, we never stop appreciating it.  

If you get a cab right from the port (in this case, the International Cruise Terminal - which generally serves Royal Caribbean and Carnival, you'll see a list of rates to various destinations on the island.  We headed to Parque Benito Juarez a few miles away, which was an $8 ride.  The ride took a bit longer than usual because tomorrow's Ironman competition closed a few roads.  When we finally arrived we first visited a small shop at which Larissa purchased a dress  several months ago.  She likes the dress, but it was a bit too large.  Once we reminded the shop owner who we were, and that we really did purchase the dress there (I cheated, told him he was famous, and showed him a video of Larissa and him talking, which you can find on Periscope), he was kind enough to help us find the right size, and within minutes we were on our way.  

Next stop?  Coz Coffee.  This is also in Parque Benito Juarez, and I really wish we had a coffee shop this good close to our home in Ft Lauderdale.  While we've been there a number of times in the past year and change only today did we chat up the owner, Vince, and realize that he is an American ex-pat (it seems speaking to him in broken Spanish in the past was really useless).   Vince showed off his roasters next door and told us his story, but we'll elaborate more on this in a post on www.CruiseHabit.com in the next week or so.  After our chat we enjoyed some espresso we were off to our next destination only a couple blocks away.

We've written about The Pub before, and it feels funny mentioning it, as I always try and convince people to visit local and authentic spots.  While a British pub in Mexico doesn’t seem authentic, they have a great spot with reasonable prices, and we had some veggie tacos with guac and fresh salsa, which frankly rivaled anything I’ve had elsewhere on the island.  

We enjoyed not only tacos, but many beers and great conversation (including a very lively group from Brilliance of the Seas) before taking a walk to grab a cab to Chedraui, a Mexican grocery store.  We fell in love with this chain in Cancun a month ago, and calling it a grocery store may be a bit of an understatement - it’s more like a Walmart in variety, but with better prices and customer service.  

I grabbed a few bottles of hot sauce (for less than $.40USD each) and some Havana Club Cuban rum.  Oh, I also stopped at an ATM in the store and took out some Mexican pesos, as after going to Mexico four times in seventy days, it seemed nuts not having some local currency handy.  

We got back to the ship around 1600, cleaned up, and grabbed some lite fare in the Windjammer before it was time to take in the fresh air, gawk at Brilliance of the Seas as she sailed away (we’ll be sailing her next year), and Periscope sail-away. There aren’t many sites as beautiful and depressing as leaving Cozumel on a cruise ship, and today was extra difficult as we don’t have another trip planned to the island (or the mainland for the matter) for another year, though I have a feeling we’ll find our way back long before then.

Since we enjoyed Giovanni’s last night we wanted to keep it casual tonight, so we relaxed, had a few drinks at Boleros, and headed to the Windjammer.  Tonight there was a decent spread, including a large cheese selection near the desserts, which is not something I’d noticed before.  There was also a papadum-like bread with chutney - I’m always a fan of this.  Somehow, I kept from over-eating and we went back to Boleros - which was definitely tonight’s hot spot.  Live music started and our bartender Fernanda made caipirinhas that were as good as Larissa’s, though without the need for me to mop sugar and lime juice out of the kitchen for the rest of the night.

That was where we nearly spent the rest of the evening until I realized we hadn’t visited the Labyrinth.  You may recall the one thing I miss from the Freedom of the Seas is Sabor, because on Indy, this spot next to the Schooner Bar is occupied by a nightclub called Labyrinth.  It’s theming reminds me of a goth club, and I mean that in a good way - it’s a neat looking space.  Ultimately, the loud music and dark lighting isn’t my thing, so we only spent a little time there, but it is, to me, a far more interesting space than so many of the open venus that are host to late night parties on other ships.  The theme also lead us to goof around a bit, so that was fun.

After Labyrinth I went back to the Champagne Bar where they’ve had my scotch, and a fantastic staff.  I’m here right now and consider this my “home base” for this sailing.  It’s really just the R Bar, but they haven't changed the colors to match (and there is no picture frame seat).  Tonight they advertised as  “Speakeasy” night, and the special menu includes cocktails that looked very much like what we’ve seen in the R Bar.  When I came back later to write this post, I noticed the front of that Speakeasy menu… it say’s R Bar on it.  Go figure.

Tomorrow is the last day, a sea day.  As seems the tradition on this cruise, we have no real plans, and to be honest I don’t want to think about the last day any more than I have to - but we’ll hope for a clear sky, high seas (because that’s what I’m into), and a loooong day.  I do have one meeting tomorrow that you’ll get to read about and listen to in the near future, so that’s today’s teaser.

Today’s takeaways:

  • The drink package definitely worked out nicely for us on this sailing, though I see a very clear correlation between having the drink package, and building a sizable surplus of half-consumed water bottles in our stateroom.

  • Brock, my MEI travel agent contacted me about yesterday’s NextCruise bookings, and after he compared them to those sailings with the new promotion, he found only one needed adjustment to get the best possible deal.  This is why a good travel agent is helpful.  Brock is off to sail Harmony this week by the way, so I truly hope he has a blast and stops answering my emails.

  • There was a 70’s party in the Royal Promenade tonight, and when that happens, if you’re at a surrounding bar, I recommend ordering doubles leading up to this point, because as soon as it was over everything got very busy, very quickly.

  • VOOM failed me tonight with regard to Periscope.  I tried dozens of times to broadcast my fun but it just wasn’t happening.  Checkout my Facebook page (http://fb.com/CruiseHabit) and Instagram feed (instagram.com/cruisehabit/) for some video clips of the fun you missed.

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2

In:
26Nov2016

I love going to new places, but quite often, after many Caribbean sailings, sea days seem to be my favorite.  We woke up later than planned after being out at The Dog & Badger pub until after 0200.  We got up just in time to head to the main dining room for breakfast, which we found on the Freedom sailing to be much better than the Windjammer.  With a nice table for two by a window we had a spanish omelette, eggs benedict, and muesli with a large portion of espresso.  The MDR was much busier than I remember it on other sailings in the morning - but perhaps it was just timing.  

We headed back to the stateroom after eating, and I really just wanted to pass out, but knew that it was time to enjoy the ship, so I jumped on Periscope, said hi to the internet, and went up on deck to roam.  I often gauge how a ship handles crowds based on pool areas on sea days (when the weather is nice).  

As is usual, I saw a number of “reserved” loungers, though I didn’t stay in one spot long enough to see if the crew were clearing them out after some time.  It was, without question, crowded - but not so much so that I felt I was dodging people as we walked around, it was comfortable, and if you weren’t married to the idea of getting a spot right next to the pool, there was still chair space about.  The real crunch was at the outdoor bars, which were slammed.  The crew was working hard to take care of everyone, so the wait wasn’t actually as much an issue as it looked.

After finally getting a drink from Carlos, the Brazilian bartender at the Sky Bar, we settled into a swinging bench at the Solarium.  It’s funny, on the group cruises time flies because I’m trying to pack in as much as possible - today though we spent a few hours just sitting on that swinging bench (as a server kept our glasses full), staring at the ocean, and ya know what… time still went by way too fast.  

We really enjoyed our time there though, and I’d be content repeating that each day.  I did recall while sitting there that on a recent episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast our friends Len and Laurel mentioned having a swinging bench on one of their verandahs in their Anthem loft suite.  

The next event of the evening was awesome.  Actually, it was a nap… but after that was great.  It was experience you just can’t arrange, well, for the most part.  We met up with our friends Gabby and Steve behind the Flowrider to take pictures in our (well, their) formal dress.  What made it awesome is that the real reason we were there was to take pictures while Steve proposed to Gabby!  We captured the moment, celebrated, and I didn’t cry a whole bunch or anything, no matter what Larissa says.  Congrats to them!  Let’s celebrate together by taking this same cruise next year!

Speaking of future cruises, we left Steve and Gabby to have a vat few glasses of scotch at the Champagne bar as I waited to for my NextCruise appointment.  The big ‘Cyber Weekend’ sale starts tomorrow, but I’ve found that some RCL sales are cup games, and you never know which sale will be best.  The upcoming promotion seems pretty good, but I wanted to lock in some prices just in case, and can always roll them into the new promotion tomorrow.  I booked several Royal Caribbean sailings as well as a Celebrity sailing.  For the record, if you book Celebrity at NextCruise the incentive is very similar to booking an RCL sailing, the only difference is that while with RCL you can take your on board credit on this sailing or the next, with Celebrity bookings it applies to your next cruise - I’m guessing this is just because applying a Celebrity on board credit to a Royal Caribbean cruise would be an accounting nightmare.  I’m glad to have everything taken care of, but I will say the process always takes a while - I’m beginning to suspect they use a combination of telegraph, semaphore, and carrier pigeons to get the information back to the Miami headquarters.  Oh, and I think I saw the nice woman turn a crank on some sort of steam powered machine as well.  All worked out, but the delay did cost us, literally.

Our plan was to have diner in the Windjammer, and when we ventured from NextCruise to deck 11 at 2130 we found that the Windjammer was closed.  This was a problem, as I was not about to resign myself to Sorrento's for dinner.  Luckily, Giovanni’s Table took our walk in with no issue.  It was our first time at Giovanni’s on any ship and while we really enjoyed it, it didn’t blow me away.  Between us we shared caprese salad, lentil soup, mushroom and truffle risotto, and spinach and ricotta crepes.  Being big fans of truffles we devoured the risotto and realized it’s almost certainly the same dish they served us in Chops on Freedom in September, which is not a bad thing at all.  For dessert we sampled everything, and it was all great.  The low point was the cannoli (I think they filled it too early, making the shell the wrong texture), then there was the custard, tiramisu (fantastic), and the chocolate cake, which was the high point for me.  Larissa took one bite of the cake, declared it too rich (for her taste, not mine) and proceeded to “chase” the cake with tiramisu, which I thought was hilarious.

Finally we met up with our friends who’d been waiting for the whole semaphore operation at NextCruise and our Giovanni's dinner to come to an end.  We arrived to find that while waiting, they’d tied a few on.  It was a fun evening and after today’s engagement, a very celebratory atmosphere at The Dog & Badger.  

All in all I loved today.  Days of doing almost nothing on a cruise make me feel more relaxed than anything else I know.  Tomorrow we’re in Cozumel, one of our favorite places.  Our plan is to, as usual, walk around the city, stop at Coz Coffe, and perhaps The Pub.  I’m also looking forward to stopping at Selecto (a local grocery store) to pick up some inexpensive liquor, hot sauces...who knows what else.  Oh, and we may try and exchange a dress that some of you watched Larissa buy back in September, it was a bit too large.

Day 2 Takeaways

  • The solarium and all the pool areas were hopping today, but I appreciated that I saw a decent number of servers walking around the area offering to get drinks.  This seemed to be in decline on many lines, so I was glad to see this.
  • There doesn’t seem to be live entertainment in the pub on Independence.  The staff said it’s been about a month since they last had a singer here.  This is a massive disappointment to me, as on Allure and Freedom this venue had the best atmosphere on the whole ship.  I’ll definitely be mentioning this to officers and including it on my feedback at the end of the sailing.
  • Maybe it’s because there are more families on this sailing than in the past (because of the holiday), but the smoking side of the deck isn’t as smokey - same with the casino.
  • On Freedom and Indy the Wipeout Bar (the bar near the Flowrider) seems to go unopened and unused.  

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Embarkation Day

In:
25Nov2016

Today was embarkation day for us, which is far from the most relaxing day on board, but always chock full of anticipation.

We’d initially planned to arrive at Port Everglades between 1000 and 1030, ensuring we’d be first on board.  After going to sleep at 0200 (not at all because we were still packing despite mutually agreeing we’d completed that task on Tuesday), we didn’t sleep terribly well.  The anticipation of embarkation day keeps many a sleep-lover awake at night.  We ended up arriving to Port Everglades at about 1100, still plenty early (and hours earlier than Royal Caribbean recommends).  I usually take a car service or get a ride, so it’s been years since I drove myself to Port Everglades to take a cruise and while it wasn’t painful, I’ll probably just take Uber or Lyft next time. It’s really is nice just getting right out at the curb.  Port Everglades parking, for the record, is $15/day.

Walking into Terminal 25 it was clear the facilities weren’t quite as plush as our last several cruises (including the Allure out of the same port).  The terminal is being renovated, as indicated by signs apologizing for the mess, so there are many temporary dividers, and the bulk of the checkin process takes place in an area that looks like a warehouse.  That in mind, it was silky smooth and perfectly functional - no complains at all.  Security took less than five minutes, we were walked right up to staff to check in (though we’re only Gold on RCL), and the agent got us checked in quicker than any cruise I can recall - it felt like less than a minute or two.  We then sat for maybe five or ten minutes before it was time to board.  All in all, it took about thirty minutes from arriving at Port Everglades to that magical chime when your SeaPass is first scanned - most of that thirty minutes was probably spent walking from the parking garage as I muttered something about Uber being easier.

Once onboard we headed right to the Windjammer for lunch.  It was reasonably empty since we were among the first to board, and had a reasonable selection, including a giant “Welcome” sheet cake (which I passed on in favor of other sweets).  I had some chana masala (my favorite Indian dish), vegetable biryani, kidney bean and pineapple stew (new to me, but pretty awesome), and some random vegetables.  Overall I was pleased with the selection.  Somehow, I managed to not overeat, had only a small selection of desserts (your standards), grab an espresso and then take a walk as the Windjammer filled with the losers guests that showed up later than we did.  Oh, for those who are so inclined, I did notice the much revered Honey Stung Chicken was there today!  I don’t eat meat, but the sign looked delicious.

From the Windjammer it was time to get a drink.  We headed up the Sky Bar as it was such a nice day we wanted to enjoy the air and sun.  I’m mostly a scotch person, but in the sun on a cruise, I tend to go for more tropical concoctions - and today’s choice, my first drink on Indy, was a Planter’s Punch.  After that (and a brief Periscope if I recall) we went for a walk, went to the MDR to request a table for two this sailing, then hit up the Viking Crown Lounge.

When we were on Freedom in September I really enjoyed the Viking Crown Lounge, having always admired those lounges for their view when sailing on other cruise lines.  Once we got to the lounge (Olive or Twist on both Independence and Freedom), we walked around and checked out the chapel upstairs (which is pretty neat looking).  One thing of note here, it seems the Diamond Lounge is being renovated, so Cloud 9 and Seven Hearts are designated as the temporary Diamond Lounge.

Continuing our roaming, we checked out The Dog & Badger, Indepence’s pub.  There we met up with some friends that are, just by luck, on this same sailing.  Their mention of this sentence is the test of whether or not they’re reading the blog - I’m looking at you Gabby and Steve.  It’s a great venue, and I always look forward to the singers at this venue at night, though as I write this from said venue, he or she may have had the evening off because it’s pretty quiet.

Next we headed to our stateroom, a Superior Ocean View Balcony which we booked as guaranty balcony.  We found the room to be much more spacious (in actual space and layout) compared to our ocean view stateroom on Freedom.  The balcony is particularly deep, too, which is nice - though I wish there were loungers, or at least ottomans out there.  I scoped a tour of the room, but I’ll offer up some pictures later.

Finally it was time for the muster drill, which I was dressed perfectly for.  The cruise overlords blessed us with an inside muster station, the Pyramid Lounge.  No standing, no sweating, just sitting in a lounge waiting for the fun to begin.  Once the muster drill is over on cruise that’s when I feel like vacation has actually started, as any scheduled events after that are purely optional.  

From the muster drill we went back to the Sky Bar for sail-away and did another live broadcast.  It was a beautiful site as the sun set against the South Florida skyline.  Both because of what it indicates and how it looks, this is one of my favorite sights of any Caribbean cruise.  

It is of course Thanksgiving in the US, so when it came time for dinner, we were conflicted.  I’m looking to take it very easy on this cruise, so hitting the Windjammer each night is tempting, but I did want to see what the MDR had to offer for the holiday.  There was only one logical solution: two dinners.  The Windjammer was dead quiet (later in the night at least, we usually have second seating), but the buffet was full of options.  While I had every intention of having only a small portion of a couple items I ended up with a plate full of different curries and vegetables.  It was awesome.  I also had what I think was my favorite Windjammer item so far - chana chat, which is an Indian appetizer made with chickpeas, onion, spices, etc.  I’m tempted to ask for this dish each night.  As we left the Windjammer I looked back and smiled, knowing there was so much leftover food and that the crew will eat well tonight.

After a pitstop at the Champagne Bar for one of our favorite scotches, we headed to the main dining room.  Our previously requested table for two took a while to find, because it turns out it was a table for four, but with only us.  It’s right in the center as you walk into the top deck of the MDR and overlooks the lower floors.  Start keeping score, because I’m very concerned: day one, zero items dropped onto the cruisers below us during dinner.  We had the squash soup and salad then a strawberry dessert before heading out.  Our wait staff was fantastic, and one of them is Brazilian, much to Larissa’s joy.

After dinner it was time for karaoke.  Carrying on with our tradition, Larissa thumbed through songs for twenty minutes as I enjoyed a drink, and by the time she found anything they’d filled all the nights slots for singers.  Better luck tomorrow.  I did notice the karaoke booths/rooms which you may or may not have seen Matt and I sing in on the Freedom of the Seas group cruise, we’re shut down on Indy, essentially used as storage.  While I don’t love karaoke, I thought this was a neat feature and hope they bring it back.  

Tomorrow is a sea day, and I’m stoked about just relaxing on board and exploring the ship.  Make sure you’re following me Periscope, Twitter, Facebook, etc as I’ll be providing all the updates I can.

Take-aways so far:

  • Indy is very similar to Freedom, but so far, except for the lack of Sabor there are a few small things that I actually like more on this ship

  • VOOM works on Indy, but not as well as Freedom.  For those nerds keeping score, I just got about 3 megs up, .6 megs down, with a ping of just over 600ms.

  • Royal Caribbean Hotel Directors dictate whether or not you’re given a receipt with your drink when you have a beverage package.  I don’t like wasting paper, but I like getting a receipt so I can add additional gratuity for those working hard.  On this sailing, I’m getting in the habit for asking the receipt so I can do this.

  • While I enjoy Freedom class ships, @Earl_McGrath from Periscope (who we’re hanging out with as I write this - he’s fun!) points out that having started on Allure of the Seas, it does feel like a minor step down to be on a Freedom class ship - but a blast either way.

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Preamble

In:
22Nov2016

We’re kicking off a new live blog this week on board Independence of the Seas and I promise that at least one of us is going to have a ton of fun (hint - it’s me, I’m the one going on a cruise).  My name is Bill and you may recognize me from my site www.CruiseHabit.com, past RoyaCaribbeanBlog.com group cruises, episode 146 of the RoyalCaribbeanBlog Podcast, or as an extra in Any Given Sunday.  This Thursday, Thanksgiving in the US, I’ll be embarking on a four night sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas.

Why This Sailing

Last year Matt enjoyed Brilliance of the Seas over Thanksgiving, and when the choice is between coordinating multiple family gatherings while suppressing remarks like, “Pilgrims didn’t have buckles on their hats!” and taking a cruise, it seemed clear.  Further, cruising over Thanksgiving means that my spouse Larissa, nor I have to take use vacation time.  A huge plus when you’re trying to pack in as many cruises as possible.  

We looked at several sailings over the holiday, but ultimately the Independence was the only ship leaving out of Port Everglades (only 30 minutes from our home) on Thursday, and returning Monday morning, just in time for us to head back to work. Further, and a bit to my surprise, the price was right.  Usually I expect to pay a premium for holiday sailings, but it seems Thanksgiving may be the exception.  Lastly, we already enjoyed Freedom of the Seas on the September group cruise, and sailing her sister ship gives us the opportunity to check out her new broadway feature, Grease.

Our Plans

I often emphasize that some cruises are about exploring new places while others are about the shipboard experience.  For us, this sailing is about doing a lot of nothing.  With two full sea days to relax, and a day in Cozumel, one of our favorite ports, this will be a nice opportunity to just enjoy being away.

While in Cozumel we’ll enjoy our normal routine of a long walk through the city, just a block or two back from the touristy areas.  Here we can enjoy the pleasant locals, find a nice place for a cheap meal, and maybe head to the grocery store to see what we can find (those who follow my adventures on social media know I fell in love with Chedraui Selecto in Cancun a few weeks ago).  If we feel ambitious, we might even spend a few minutes exchanging for a different size a dress Larissa bought back in September.  You may have even seen her purchase it on Periscope (check out the 10 minute mark at https://www.periscope.tv/CruiseHabit/1DXxyLrQOoYJM?).

On board we have a few items we’ll be researching (have a request, reach out to me on Twitter and I’ll see what we can do), there will be lots of over-indulgence, Grease, and by total accident, we’ll spend some time with friends that we found out are staying in the stateroom next door.  I’ll also be keeping an eye out to identify differences between our recent sailing on Indy’s sister ship, Freedom of the Seas, and looking for anything special Royal Caribbean might be doing for the Thanksgiving holiday.  If I had to guess where I’ll be spending most of my time, I’d say the Solarium and the Schooner bar.

What’s Next

First, be sure you follow me on social media.  On Twitter and Periscope I’m @CruiseHabit, and you can bet I’ll be Periscoping quite a bit.  On Thursday morning we’ll be arriving to the port at around 1000 EST.  Be sure to follow along here for all of my live blogs.  

Remember, you have to read them all to find out just how much cake and scotch I can handle before my daily reviews become nothing but crooked pictures of food and incoherent ramblings.