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Independence of the Seas Cruise Report - 2 Jan 2020 - 7 Jan 2020


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So a while back I started posting my cruise reports on the DISboards. And I figured that since I'm trying to be more active here that I might try and to a little cross posting. Hope you enjoy!

(Note: When I do these things I write. A lot. I try to inject humour (and pics/gifs) into what amounts to a very long essay, and that seems to break up the monotony.)

Usually, my go-to cruise time is in the summer. Given that I have kids, this makes sense, as I don’t have to deal with any issues associated with missing class during the semester. And yet, here I am, doing a pre-cruise post about a cruise in January. Why? Well, there’s a long story associated with taking this cruise.

On my last cruise, part of a restroom ended up on top of my wife’s foot. While not serious (my wife might disagree), Royal did express concern - consistently - for the rest of the trip. They offered a few incentives to my wife, who decided not to accept any of them. But, at the end of our cruise, they gave us future cruise certificate of roughly $450 CDN to apply to another cruise. So after some clarification as to how the application worked (they agreed that we simply needed to apply the certificate to a cruise prior to the 1 year expiry date), we booked a 4 night Navigator of the Seas cruise out of Miami for January 2020.

Now, you’ll notice that the title of this report says Independence, not Navigator. And that is because in early January 2019 we received the bad news that our cruise had been chartered. For the “Friendship Festival Cruise”, which appears to be an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) festival. We were given the option of moving to the cruise immediately following, but being a bit wary of boarding after a charter cruise, we decided to book Independence for a 5 night out of Fort Lauderdale instead. For rebooking, we received $200 OBC + $75 based on the booking offers at the time.

Ordinarily, you’d think that this would be the end of it, but in March my TA sent me an email saying that my Independence cruise had been chartered - this time for “70,000 Tons of Metal”. Which is an amazing name for a theme cruise, so kudos to them.

This time, the offer allowed us to rebook to a 5 night preceding the metal cruise, and given that this fit our schedule better (kids only miss a couple of school days), we decided to take it. As with the previous cancellation, we received an additional $200 OBC. $475 in OBC is a lot, even after you subtract gratuities from that amount.

Hopefully nothing else delays or cancels this trip. Like, say, 12 inches of snow.
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Ahem. Moving on.

Flights
As per usual, I start looking at flights once I get my cruise booked or they become available, whichever comes last. So I suppose it’s fortunate that I hadn’t booked a flight at the time of cancellations, although I would’ve gotten a change fee credit from Royal if I had booked flights. But the less paperwork the better.

The interesting part about the flights to FLL from Toronto was that departures were cheaper on New Year’s Eve (would be a 2 night stay in Florida) than New Year’s Day (1 night stay). Conversely, hotels were more expensive on New Year’s Eve. Go figure. So it was a bit of a dilemma, but this was resolved in part by my starting a new job, and not having any vacation for the end of year. And thus, we are leaving New Year’s Day, and just staying the one night before the cruise.

Hotels
I’m currently booked at one of the more popular cruise hotels, Hyatt Place 17th Street. As usual, I booked via Valuetrips, although the discount at this time of year is not as large as it is in the summer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a better deal, but the proximity to various restaurants, shops, grocery stores and Port Everglades made it an appealing place to stay.

Excursions
The cruise has two stops - Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

We’ve been to Grand Cayman once, off Disney Fantasy, and it was a fun beach day along seven mile. Well except for the part where my brother went into the water with his phone in his pocket. Good times.

This time around, we are doing something we wouldn’t normally do - swimming with stingrays. After doing my research, I decided to sign up with the well regarded Stingray Sailing and their sister company, Cayman Eco Adventures. Both appear to be focused on small tours (max 25 people) and being kind to the rays, which seems quite appealing to me.

For Cozumel, we currently have no plans. With only one other boat docked with us, We will probably try out Paradise Beach, since they have a low entry fee and a $10pp minimum food charge.

Onboard
Neither my wife nor I are big drinkers, and as a result the drink package isn’t something that provides a lot of value for us. The argument could be made that one could also find value by purchasing coffees, juices and bottled water in addition to alcoholic beverages. And you’d be right, but here’s the thing - without the package there isn’t much incentive to buy bottled water or fresh squeezed juices. Coffee… well, maybe, and to that end I’ve purchased the coffee card, as we can take that with us onto Symphony in the summer if there are still unused credits. 

We did purchase the photo package (Black Friday discount). Hopefully I’ll be able to include some of the shots, but time will tell.

Boarding will be a different experience. I checked in via the app, and thus have Expedited Arrival privileges. It will be my first time with this, and I’m excited to try this out.

Our room is a 1D Oceanview Balcony. We will be right by the “bump” on the ship so I expect some of our peripheral view to be a bit obstructed but we shall see. I did put in a RoyalUp bid for a Suite, at the minimum cost, and we’ll see if that’s accepted. It be nice if it was, but I'm not counting on it.

For now, it’s less than one week until we get on that plane. Can't wait.

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Welcome from the DIS boards and from a fellow Disney Nut.  Looking forward to your journey as it will add some excitement and anticipation for my Oasis sailing on the 12th of January.

Just sailed on the Fantasy myself in September and have finally decided it was time to try something new as the price increases are insane anymore with DCL.  

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Nice!

I've done 3 trips on Allure, 1 on Harmony and an upcoming cruise on Symphony. Only 1 DCL trip but it was fun. Also 1 trip on the old Regal Princess (now Pacific Dawn).

Oasis class is quite different from DCL's Dream class but once you adjust to the different style of ship you'll enjoy it.

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  • KWong changed the title to Independence of the Seas Cruise Report - 2 Jan 2020 - 7 Jan 2020

Day 0 - Travel Day

As many people do, we tend to get to the port city the day before the cruise. There have been a couple of exceptions, but overall we’d rather pay for a night at a hotel than be concerned over potential delays flying in the day of.

Being Canadians with fairly frequent travel to the US, we’ve invested in the NEXUS pass, which grants us expedited entry between Canada and the US as well as Global Entry and TSA precheck. And flying out of Toronto Pearson, it’s well worth the cost - I’d estimate that on a busy day it saves at least 45 minutes, and maybe 15 minutes on a light day. Bottom line, if you’re Canadian and fly out of an airport with US pre-clearance, it might be the best $50USD you’ll spend on an airplane-related item.

Back on topic, flying the day before meant that we were flying on New Year’s Day. No big deal for us, as we simply haven’t been big New Year’s Eve partygoers after having kids. There is the nice bonus of not having to deal with any sort of traffic.

Bag drop, customs and the flight were all uneventful. We did notice a bit of a line for folks looking to preclear customs (several Canadian airports have a US departures area complete with CBP officials, so that we don’t have to go through customs when we arrive) but with the NEXUS cards, we were through in about 10 minutes.

After arrival and baggage claim, we took a taxi over to our hotel, the Hyatt Place 17th Street. We’ve stayed at this hotel a few times now, not necessarily out of brand loyalty but because the prices are usually quite good, via a dodgy-looking third party website. It’s also close to a variety of restaurants and shops, in case you forgot something or need to buy wine.

Speaking of which, we effectively checked in, dropped our stuff off in the room, and went to eat a late lunch/early dinner. Based on our experience a couple of years ago, we headed to Kelly’s Landing, which specializes in New England-style seafood. And considering that it was New Year’s Day, with no Boston-related games on, at 3 in the afternoon, the place was quite busy. We ate quite a bit of fried stuff – calamari (my younger one is a sucker for this. Every time, every place), Ipswich clams, crab cakes and clam chowder (or is that chowdah?). The clams for me were the highlight, as they were full bodied clams that were fried very nicely.

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After that bit of gluttony, we shopped at Ross and TJ Maxx because my girls didn’t bring any fancy(ish) shoes. And in fairness, Hannah, my older one, had outgrown all of hers so this was not an unexpected occurrence. We managed to find some nice shoes, bought some water and some ibuprofen from Publix and it was back to the hotel for a nap.

 After the nap, the kids were a bit peckish so I went to a nearby takeaway to grab some American-style lo mein. And also to get some wine for the trip.

 After this, the kids went to bed, and I did a little reorganizing to get ourselves ready for embarkation day.

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7 hours ago, WAAAYTOOO said:

Oh....that seafood looks delicious.  Even at 0100 hours.  Enjoying your blog very much.  

Thanks! One year, we did a road trip out to Maine/Boston. Did a side trip out to Cape Cod and had some amazing fried clam bellies. I'm kind of surprised that places stick with clam strips instead of the whole clam, but maybe Sysco doesn't supply breaded whole clams? 😛

40 minutes ago, NerdDad said:

Have a great cruise! Glad it all worked out after all the charterizing. 😂 Excited to read along!

All the chartering was funny in a way. And realistically, I can't complain about effectively having my gratuities covered by the cruise line.

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Day 1 - Embarkation Day

Whether it’s your first time or your 100th time, boarding your ship on that first day gives you that feeling that “it’s happening”. For me, it’s similar to when I finish checking in at a resort or open the door to my Airbnb. Nothing has really happened yet, but you Just Know that you’re ready for it.

As always, we got the complimentary Hyatt Place breakfast, ensured that we were ready with our carry-on gear, visited the “cruise tag station” (a stand with two staplers some pens and tape and ...waited. Because we’re always ready a wee bit too early.

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No matter. We called an Uber around 10:15 and headed out to the terminal. We arrived at the terminal around 10:30, where it looked like there were people still getting out of customs. And it was early enough that few of the baggage carts were loaded up. This… was really early for us.

Naturally we squandered that because we couldn’t find the big sign that said “Expedited Arrival”. I’d checked in via the app, and 3 of us were given Expedited Arrival. My wife, inexplicably, did not. No matter. After about 5 minutes, we were good to go and over to security, which was fast and efficient. A couple of obligatory “heading onboard” pictures and it was up to the ship. On board before 11:00, an estimated 25 brisk minutes from car to ship.

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We headed up to Windjammer to grab some lunch and… the sign said it opens at noon. Oops. 

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The good news is that it gave me some time to explore Deck 11 and 12. Not having been on a Freedom class ship before, I was curious to see the layout. I liked it.

Splashaway Bay has a layout similar to what I saw on Harmony, with the addition of a kiddie pool that hopefully wouldn’t be a “kid soup” pool similar to DCL’s Mickey pool. If you’ve been on DCL, you know what I’m talking about.

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The sides of the deck even had some windows open, to let in some air. 

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The main pool area had a couple of pools bisected by a deck area, with a few hot tubs surrounding it. There was also a large video screen for movies.

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Further back was Solarium, which was actually a nice layout.

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In the bar, I noticed a BOGO deal on the drink package. Still more expensive than in the Cruise Planner, but hey, better than paying full price, if one were so inclined to purchase the package (I was not).

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In the adjoining terminal, we could see the Majesty, set to sail out that day as well.

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There was another reason for staying on Deck 11. Despite the sign indicating a noon start, I figured that Windjammer would open early, and it would be good to get in before the crowds did. And it was!

 I have to say that I like the entrance layout of the Windjammer on Independence. Not only do they have the ubiquitous antibacterial dispensers, but the sides are lined with wash stations, making it easy to clean your hands before entering. The last ship I was on, Allure, didn’t have that. The space feels more open as well, but that might be because we didn’t seem to eat at the absolute peak time for Windjammer, which was the case for us on Harmony and DCL Fantasy. In fact, it was the logjam on Fantasy that led me to try and avoid the main buffet if I could.

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After eating, there was still some time before staterooms were open, so Olivia (my younger one) decided to do some swimming. As we left the Windjammer, we noticed that the lines were way out the door.

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After the swim, the rooms were opened so we went down to check our room out. We had a standard Oceanview balcony on deck 7, but it was right at the end of Independence’s “hump” so there was a wee bit more room there. And if I recall correctly, this was the first time that we had a single room with a bathroom/couch/bed setup – we’d gotten bathroom/bed/couch all our other times, or in one case a connecting room. No biggie, just a new thing for us.

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After changing back into our regular clothes we decided to explore the ship a bit more. Deck 7 turned out to be quite an advantageous position as it was a short trip down to the Promenade, and a short trip up to the pool deck.

 We started down on the Promenade. I might be mistaken, but the Promenade on Independence is actually longer than that on the Oasis class ships. Granted, the promenade is certainly wider on Oasis class, but it certainly felt as if there wasn’t as much length. Perhaps I should’ve chalked that up to recency bias?

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Our next stop was the sports deck. Kids tried out the sky climber, and we took a look at the Flow Rider and SkyPads, which at that point had already closed the line due to the upcoming muster drill. We gave the swinging benches a go, and then it was time for the muster drill. We headed down to our room first, and our luggage was waiting in the hall. Nice!

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(This picture was not taken on the ship. But you can probably guess how we were able to spot our luggage)

Muster drill was what it was. We had some folks who may have taken full advantage of the drink package, and we were outside facing west, so that was… interesting.

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After watching the sail away from the balcony, we did some unpacking, and then it was time for dinner. We did get the early seating (5:30 on Independence), and our servers were Ryan and Mutsam (I may have his name wrong). Mutsam was fairly new, and this was in fact his first contract. I thought they did a good job over the course of the cruise. Nothing spectacular, but everything was done competently.

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My first night main was the Caribbean Jerk Pork Chop. Cooked very nicely, although perhaps not enough jerk flavour. We also asked for extra vegetables for our table. Seems weird, but we do eat a lot of veg, so this worked out for us.

After dinner, we wandered around the promenade a bit. They had singers and musicians doing some standards – it was nice.

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(So much better than two singers and an iPad)

We then went to register Olivia in Adventure Ocean. Hannah (my older one) was 12 so she went to look in on the Teen club meet and greet, but the kids there were mostly older teens, so she didn’t want to join in. She’s actually quite sociable, but I could definitely understand her apprehension.

After this, I think that we experienced a first day adrenaline dump, as we all felt quite tired. I’d planned on doing some more first night exploring, but, well, sleep beckoned, and tomorrow would be a new day.

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Day 2 - At Sea

When I last posted, I talked about an adrenaline dump. Well, that must have left me more tired than normal, as this guy, who wakes up at 6am nearly every day, woke up closer to 8. And as everyone was waking up, we got news that the ship had actually turned around and was heading to Key West due to a medical emergency. Obviously disappointing, as it would delay our arrival into Grand Cayman, but clearly, not the biggest concern here. But apparently the coast guard or a medical boat was able to get out to the ship once we were close enough to transfer the patient, so we were able to turn around and resume course after a few hours.

While we were heading back to Key West, we decided to eat breakfast in the Main Dining Room, since my wife wanted an omelette to order and we knew you could get one there. Setup was familiar – seating on deck 3 with a small buffet and waffle iron in the centre. Apart from Olivia (who I should mention had gotten braces just before Christmas and it was affecting her appetite) we ordered off the menu and it was atypically slow for what I’m accustomed to on Royal – maybe 20 minutes where a breakfast order normally takes 10. At the end of the day, it’s not that concerting, seeing as we weren’t in a rush to go anywhere, but still, strange.

Today’s plan was to take Olivia to Adventure Ocean, and for Hannah to see if any tweens showed up at the Living Room. We went up to Adventure Ocean at 9 and… no kids yet. Seemed a bit strange, given the long-ish lineups to register for the program, but at the same time, this cruise was crossing over into the start of school after Christmas break. No matter – this gave us some time to scope out the pool deck and see where the best places to relax were. (spoiler alert: Unless you’re a smoker, it’s on the starboard side, along the glass.)

After looking around, we went back up to Adventure Ocean and there were a few kids there, so Olivia happily went in. A quick peek into the Living Room showed that it was not open yet. So the rest of us headed over to Sky Pad.

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Hannah and I gave this a shot with the VR unit on and it was quite the experience. As one might expect, the VR unit blocks your vision from seeing anything but the animation, and it’s quite a trip doing the bouncing while travelling along this virtual path. It’s actually funny how, when you’re watching people, you wonder how they could possibly bounce off the trampolines, but once you’re strapped in you can feel when you’re getting close to the edges. Lots of fun, and on a longer cruise, I might have been inclined to try it a few more times. But for this trip, we were one and one, in part because we wanted to sign up for some ice skating. This was being done down in Studio B, and so Hannah and my wife went to soak in some more rays up top, I headed all the way down to Deck 3 to do the signup.

On the way back down, we took another look into the Living Room, which was now opened. It was empty. 

Because I like to multitask, I also visited the adjoining Focus photo area to sign the photo waivers and ensure that our photo package was ready to go. It’s a pretty nice area despite being in the bowels of the ship, and a bit surprising to me as they appeared to be 100% digital with no stacks of photo binders in sight. Surprising, but nice to see.

Sign up was pretty quick. Since I didn’t have the kids’ Sea Passes with me, I could only sign the waiver and have their cards punched later. Since I was signing up for the afternoon skate and not the one happening right after, this was fine.

But for now, it was time for lunch. After a trip upstairs to grab Olivia we headed back downstairs to the MDR for lunch. We like the MDR because they have a menu, but also a limited buffet and the infamous tutti salad station. IMG_5642.thumb.JPG.9f571c5ee591afa5e4f5ac2d8af8602b.JPG

 

And while we did order from the menu, Hannah and I couldn’t resist the call of the tutti, which may or may not sound like this:

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Ahem. Anyway, this lunch was a bit of a fail. The steak sandwich was tasty, but the pappardelle was way overcooked, the yakitori was bland, and the “Singapore noodles” did not look like this:

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Instead they looked more like this:

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and tasted akin to a very ketchupy pad Thai. There was a waiter who was walking around asking about the food and service, so we did tell her about the noodles. She actually agreed, although being from Thailand she did not agree with my pad Thai comparison. Go figure

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After lunch the kids went back to the room for a nap, while my wife went back up to the pool deck to… nap. I went to the promenade to grab a coffee and a latte (for my wife – we got a coffee card) and relaxed on the balcony.

 A little before 3pm, we headed down for our skate session. Seeing as we flew in from Toronto, we wore our “travel” clothing on the ice. I hadn’t done any proper skating in about 4 years, so despite the skates not being a great fit (as to be expected with rentals) it was a lot of fun – like riding a bike. Other folks were not having as much of a good time – as you can see in the photos some were having issues just trying to skate, which if it was one of your first times, is not unexpected.

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Tonight’s dinner was formal night, and as such we took a little extra time to get ready so we could get some photos taken.

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The show tonight was Grease. Olivia and my wife were a little tired so Hannah and I went to watch. We figured getting to the theatre 15 minutes early would be sufficient for us to get some decent seats. We were wrong. Check out the crowd! And that pillar right in front of me! 

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Believe it or not, this was the first time I’d seen a production of Grease from start to finish, and I thought the cast did a pretty good job with it. And I know that the musical has some themes that might be considered too mature for kids, but I wasn’t much older than Hannah when I started watching Degrassi Junior High, so I didn’t think this had anything that she couldn’t handle.

 After the musical, Hannah went back to the room and I decided to try my luck at some blackjack. And to say that I had no luck would be understating things. I don’t play with a huge buy-in, but I lost my stake in about 30 minutes thanks to a combination of dealer blackjacks and players that consistently stayed on 14/15 against a 10. I can usually grind myself back to even, but on this night I had no shot.

 With my wallet a slight bit lighter, I went up to grab a couple of slices from Sorrento’s. And was actually surprised as the pizza was better than I’ve had on other Royal ships. Not sure I’d have more than a couple of slices at any one time, but I’d definitely eat it over Big Chain pizza.

 After the pizza and some water, it was time for bed.

 The next day would be our first port – Grand Cayman.

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  • KWong changed the title to Independence of the Seas Cruise Report - 2 Jan 2020 - 7 Jan 2020 (Updated with Day 2)

About the photo - I chose a pic where I look the least fat. Ha!

I should also note that formal night dress (for those that are curious) ran the gauntlet for guys. I think "worst" was jeans and a polo, while "best" was full tux. My look here was basically my work clothes plus a jacket. Nothing too fancy, I think. 

14 minutes ago, WannaCruise said:

DH and I were Independence last December (in the Ben & Jerry cow-but room) and really enjoyed the ship.  

I've always been curious as to how loud those Promenade rooms get with all the activity you can see. 

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5 hours ago, KWong said:

I've always been curious as to how loud those Promenade rooms get with all the activity you can see. 

We like the promenade rooms and generally only find one or two times in the evening when it gets loud such as the 70s party.  With our B&J room on Independence, it was a lot of fun...The 70s performers are on the bridge right outside of the room and they waved to us a few times.  So lots of fun.

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18 hours ago, Lovetocruise2002 said:

That is still all sorts of wrong lol.

17 hours ago, KWong said:

Yes, yes it is.

As a big fan of Singapore noodles, seeing that stock photo of the actual final product almost literally made my cry. And I'm betting my local place doesn't even do them 100% proper justice, although I guess I'd have to go to Singapore proper to really know.

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Day 3 - George Town, Grand Cayman

We’d only been to Grand Cayman once, on a Disney cruise, and we used that time to have a beach day. This time around, we decided to do something we’d never tried before - swimming with Stingrays. After a lot of research, I signed up with Stingray Sailing and their sister company, Cayman Eco Adventures. They have a very good reputation and do excursions with small groups, so I was willing to go with them despite their tour not being the least expensive.

Unfortunately, fate had other things in mind for us. Because of the diversion back to Key West we arrived to Georgetown around 8:00. At this point we’d already eaten breakfast in the MDR but were unable to finagle our way onto one of the first tenders (which went out around 8:30) out to the terminal. Which if things proceeded apace would not have been a huge issue, but after the first two tenders winds and waves caused a temporary stop to the boats. And since it was looking like we wouldn’t be off before 10, I emailed Stingray Sailing (I’d been in contact with them throughout the morning) notifying them that we would have to cancel our tour.

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To the credit of the company, they refunded our deposit even though they did not have to based on the contract language. So while I cannot comment on the tour itself, I have to commend the customer service and will more than likely give them another go if and when we come back.

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So with the tour cancelled, we went with our backup plan – Calico Jack’s and Public Beach. Public Beach is one of the well known locations along the Seven Mile Beach, and Calico Jack’s has been an institution there… but apparently they’re leaving. Don’t know what this means for the area, but I’m sure they’ll be missed.

 Seven Mile is also where my brother once went into the water with a cellphone in his pocket. Oops. But thanks to that incident, I now bring those airtight cellphone pouches (several variations can be found on Amazon) with me, just in case.

 Cab/Minibus fare over to Public Beach was $6 per person, and once there, we rented chairs and an umbrella for $20. And with that, we hit the water. What I love about Grand Cayman is that the beaches have some incredibly clear water, and it’s beautiful.

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We also had some lunch. Kept it simple and had chicken tenders and pan-fried grouper. I’m fairly certain the grouper was previously frozen, but whatever spices they use on it make up for that – very tasty!

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After a few hours at the beach we headed back to the ship. An interesting note was that on the way back our minibus had members of the Grease cast. Interesting because it seemed like they were mostly from the British Isles or Australia – I have to say that their onstage accents really fooled me, so kudos to them!

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Once back on the ship we headed to Sorrento’s to grab a couple of slices. Didn’t feel right to overeat at Windjammer when a slice or two would do the trick. And after the snack it we had just enough time to see the Texans win, shower, change and head down for dinner.

Dinner on this day was probably the slowest that I’ve seen on a ship. Ryan had mentioned that this was a new menu combination so it’s possible that the kitchen staff were working the kinks out. It does make me wonder if this was why the dinner was my least favourite of the cruise. I had the sole and everyone else, the short rib, and both seemed heavily reliant on underwhelming sauces to carry them. So I’ll say that if you were on Independence and saw this menu, I’d recommend taking this day to do a specialty restaurant.

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The show tonight was the ice show, Freeze Frame. Based on our experience with Grease, Hannah and I got there early, and managed to nab some decent seats.

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As always, the performers worked hard and generally did a good job with a few tumbles here and there. The highlight was when one of the women did a spin that featured something similar to this:

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This is what I call a crazy trick.

The plot of the show was a trip through the various dance and music styles from the 40’s to the 70’s. I don’t know that it entirely worked for me. There were some fun moments (for example skating around with handlebars during “Bicycle Race”) but I wasn’t really feeling it.

After the show Hannah went off to sleep while I went down to Playmakers to catch the end of the Patriots-Titans football game. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the crowd was firmly anti-Patriots (I’m sure there were some Titans fans, but people REALLY wanted the Patriots to lose). Not having a horse in this race (I’m a Texans fan, and while I expected us to get smushed, last weekend was a step beyond smushed.), it was fun to watch.

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Overall, we didn’t get to do what we’d planned, but the pivot to the beach still made for a nice day.

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  • KWong changed the title to Independence of the Seas Cruise Report - 2 Jan 2020 - 7 Jan 2020

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