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Independence - 14th-28th July Med - Live(ish) Blog


hayley_bopp
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C minus 1 day

One day before we embark upon our second RC cruise on Independence of the Seas. Packing’s all done, documents are good to go, so I thought I’d kick off my first Live Blog with a bit of a pre-amble:

Our History

I’ll be sailing with my husband, we’re both in our 30s (just about for one of us!), from England and this will be our third cruise in total. My husband used to be in the Royal Navy and loves being at sea, but since leaving the Navy, had always fancied sailing in a bit more luxury than on a warship. My mum had always wanted to try a cruise so we booked a family one – me, husband, mum, step-dad – for her 60th in 2016 on Navigator of the Seas doing a 14 Night Western Med from Southampton. Long and short of it, we all loved it! Husband and I loved it so much we went on another family cruise in 2017, this time with my dad, his wife, my sister and my auntie. It was a 7 night Scandinavian itinerary on Crown Princess from Southampton. It too was a great cruise and whilst there were some things we felt were better on Princess (pool deck layout, rooms ready on arrival at 11am, more large  lounges), overall, my husband and I preferred the experience on RC.

We have this cruise booked on IoS and then we have another family cruise, this time with mother-in-law booked for next year on P&O’s Azura.

 

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Ship & Itinerary

Husband was adamant he wanted to go from Southampton as it’s so much less hassle than flying, and that he wanted to go somewhere hot. We also wanted a good balance of sea days and port days so that we’ve got time to relax and enjoy the ship as well as to explore the ports. We also wanted to try a different ship and needed to sail during my holiday from school (I’m a teacher) so Independence fits the bill. We booked it before we knew about the refurb it was getting so it was a bonus to hear about the new added features.

The ports we’ll visit are:

Gibraltar – having done the tour of ‘The Rock’ last time, we’re planning on visiting the siege tunnels

Ville Franche – our only tender port. Last time we visited Monaco, this time we’re heading for Nice and have booked a transfer with RC

Civitavecchia – we don’t plan to visit Rome as we’d like to go for a weekend to see all the sites. Last time we went on a wine tasting tour which was ok but not something we’d want to repeat so we’ll be staying on board to make the most of the slides with no queues, although we might take a stroll to the nearby beach.

Livorno – last time we visited Pisa so this time we’re heading for Florence and again have booked a transfer with RC.

Toulon – We don’t have any firm plans, we’re just going to get off the ship and explore the port.

Barcelona – I’ve been to Barcelona twice before and my Husband once but not as a cruise port. It’s a beautiful city and we’re looking forward to going back. Again we don’t really have any firm plans, although I’m keen to explore the gothic quarter as I didn’t see much of this when I visited before. We may or may not book a bike or Segway tour.

Lisbon – We visited this port on our first cruise and loved it so we’re looking forward to returning. We did a tuk-tuk tour last time which was great fun so we’ve booked another but this time it’s a food tour with stops to try different local delicacies!

Vigo – our final port and again we plan just to explore the town.

We booked a GTY Balcony as it was quite a bit cheaper than choosing a balcony and our room was allocated a week or so after final payment – we got 6666: apparently lots of people are reluctant to book the 666 cabins but it doesn’t bother us and we’re happy with the overall location. It’s above the top floor of the MDR so I don’t anticipate there being much noise when we’re sleeping.

On our previous 2 cruises, we had MTD with the same waiters each evening which we enjoyed. This time, as it’s just the two of us, we’ve opted to try the traditional dining so that we’ve got other people to talk to! We’ve gone for the late sitting as we usually eat quite late and wanted to have enough time to get ready for dinner after days in port.

We have both bought the Ultimate Drinks Package. We definitely got value out of it before – it will interesting to see if we still do with it just being the two of us. We’ll certainly give it our best shot!

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On-board Activities

Despite having the drinks package, we’ve booked a wine tasting for our first sea day as we both enjoy wines and have participated in several wine tastings before and found them to be informative. There were a few dates available, all sea days, but we decided to go for the first day so that we’re more educated about the wines on offer on board and can then take full advantage of the Vintages wine list throughout the rest of the cruise!

We’ve also booked a ‘behind the scenes tour’. This is more for my husband than me due to his nautical background. I had the idea of buying the experience as a gift for his birthday but I foolishly told my mother about the idea. She then hijacked it and bought it as her gift to him so I had to go back to the drawing board! Oh well, he’s very excited about it.

I’ve also booked chef’s table for us on what I think will be our final formal night. Husband doesn’t know about this – it’s my thank you to him for paying for the cruise.

I hope to also try Giovanni’s Table as we didn’t try this restaurant on Navigator. We may well try it for lunch on a sea day as lasagne is possibly my favourite food (if it’s possible to choose just one!) and I’ve heard so many good things about it from Matt that I’m keen to try it.

I think that’s enough for the pre-amble. Time to go to bed now ready to drive down to Southampton tomorrow before sailing on Saturday. I’ll post again tomorrow and will attempt to periscope the ships leaving port (weather permitting – our 50 day heatwave is threatening rain for tomorrow afternoon) but I don’t have a fancy mic and have never scoped before so please bear with me…

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Pre-Embarkation Day

So today we travelled down to Southampton from our home in the Midlands. Blogging will now be done via my phone so please excuse any typos!

Although it's only a 2.5hr drive, we decided to book a 'stay and park' with Holiday Inn for a more relaxed start to our cruise than driving down on embarkation day - we're doubly glad we did as there were a couple of accidents and very heavy traffic that made our journey over 3.5 hrs long today! At one point Waze diverted us around a gridlocked motorway down an unclassified road. Cleary we weren't the only ones making use of this diversion and we ended up in a traffic jam on a single track road!

When we finally arrived, I was extremely excited about the view from our room as Cunard's Queen Elizabeth was there to greet us. 

After unloading the car, we went to get a drink and some food as we were famished after our drive. My husband enjoys craft beer and I'd found a brewery near to the hotel called 'The Dancing Man' . Unfortunately they weren't serving food so we just had a drink and some bar snacks - IPA for him, lager for me. 

As we were leaving in search of more substantial food, we noticed that QE was just pulling away so I took the opportunity to do my first periscope! Thanks to @Lovetocruise2002 for tuning in. 

After watching her sail away, we found a lovely traditional pub for food, The Duke of Wellington. The prices were good, the portions were huge and the service was friendly. It really hit the spot. 

Feeling stuffed, we took a stroll down to the Ocean Village Marina to walk off dinner and have a look at some not-too-shabby yachts. I've yet to spot the newly launched super-yacht Elandess which has been in the area today but I'll keep an eye out tomorrow. 

We're now back at the hotel bar having a quick drink before getting an early night and hoping that excitement doesn't keep us from sleeping! Hopefully, when we wake up in the morning, we'll be able to see Independence from our window...

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34 minutes ago, hayley_bopp said:

As we were leaving in search of more substantial food, we noticed that QE was just pulling away so I took the opportunity to do my first periscope! Thanks to @Lovetocruise2002 for tuning in. 

Just watched the replay of your scope. You and @DocLC are going to be tricky for me to watch, since you'll probably be broadcasting most often when I'm still logged in to work and nowhere near my lunch hour. But at least replays are an option for when I'm in the clear (like right now).

And always fun to finally put a voice to the writer! Now when I read your posts I'll hear your voice in my head. ?

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11 minutes ago, Lovetocruise2002 said:

Wow!  You have a great view of the port from your hotel room!  Seems like it's right next door...literally.

It is. We'll still.be getting a taxi to the port in the morning though because

a) it's included in the cost of our deal

and

b) husband says there's no way he's hauling 'all my luggage' on foot! ?

 

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@hayley_bopp So sorry I missed your  posts and first live scopes. Been off line for a week or so and have some catching up to do. But I do have to say after watching the replay--OMG, how I love your accent!! I mean that in the best possible way and although to you, I'd be the one with an accent, I think I could listen to you all day!

Safe travels, happy sailing, etc. etc. Looking forward to the rest of your blog and scopes.

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On 7/13/2018 at 2:05 AM, accio7 said:

 Looking forward to your live review as three of your ports (Livorno, Villefranche, Civitavecchia) are on my Western Mediterranean cruise next June from Barcelona ? 

All 3 are great ports in terms of where you can visit but Villefranche is beautiful! We'd like to spend some time just sitting next to the harbour there but our tour time didn't allow for that last time. Fingers crossed for this time...

If you have any questions about the ports let me know and I'll do my best too answer them. 

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Embarkation Day - Morning

Woke up to an awesome view this morning! Well, I say 'woke up to' but I doubt she was there when I actually awoke at 5:13am (too excited to get back to sleep!) but when I finally allowed myself to get up at 7, she was there and I could see the poor unfortunates who were having to disembark!

Have just been for a quick 30min session in the hotel's gym - my strategy for helping to balance the cruise calories. Time to get ready for breakfast then our taxi for the long trek to the port is booked for 10:30

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Embarkation Day - We're on board!?

After a short queue getting through the terminal,  we were onboard and in the Schooner bar with a drink in hand by 11:36 - Tom Collins for me and a Heineken for The Captain. 

There's no 'drink package' sticker on our sea pass cards and when I asked at check-in the lady there said the 'DX' code printrd on them 'might' mean drinks package and to check at a bar on-board. We duly headed straight for the first bar and weren't asked to sign for anything so hopefully that means our packages are loaded correctly but I'll double-check when we can get into the cabins which today will be at 2pm. 

We're just in Playmakers where we're pleased to see they're showingthe England vs Belgium play-off and the Wimbledon finals. 

They've also just made an announcement that the deck 3 MDR will be open for buffet lunch until 12:30 today. Cruise is sold out so I'm wondering if that's why to help control the crowds. 

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16 minutes ago, twangster said:

In the terminal do you recall seeing various queues for different C&A levels?  Was there a separate entrance for suites?  Very much of a waiting area once checked in?

It's not that important, just trying to discern any differences how Southampton is operated.

There were separate queues for platinum and above - they were even taken out of the line that was outside the terminal building and taken straight to the front of that queue. Think suites were also a part of that. 

There is a fairly sizeable waiting area once you're checked in with a kiosk to get drinks but we were straight on to the ship after check-in so can't confirm if there was a separate lounge for higher tiers/suites. 

 

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Happy Cruising hayley_bopp, following with interest as were on Indy in a couple of weeks and it’s our first ever cruise. 

I was just wondering what the plug situation was on like board - Is it both European and US sockets? 

Also did you embark as per your arrival appointment - our set sail pass says 11:30 till 12 and whilst I’ve read on hear a few times that this is just a suggestion it says in the ticket booklet that due to limited seating any guests arriving before this time will be asked to return at their assigned check in time. 

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On 7/14/2018 at 5:22 PM, Wilmsta said:

I was just wondering what the plug situation was on like board - Is it both European and US ?

Mainly US but there is one European socket by the dressing table. 

On 7/14/2018 at 5:22 PM, Wilmsta said:

Also did you embark as per your arrival appointment - our set sail pass says 11:30 till 12 and whilst I’ve read on hear a few times that this is just a suggestion it says in the ticket booklet that due to limited seating any guests arriving before this time will be asked to return at their assigned check in time. 

No - our assigned time was 2pm but we were at the terminal at 10:55 and were straight on. 

 

I think you've chosen a great ship for your first cruise. Have fun!

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Embarkation Day - Concluded 

I promised a Live(ish) blog because  I don't plan to greet Voom as I can use my normal phone package in European port s so updates will only be on port days. Anyway, now that we're docked in Gibtaltar,  I can fill you in on what's happened since we set sail:

We were late to sailaway by almost an hour as apparently there was a lot of baggage to get loaded. It didn't matter though as the drinks were flowing and the sun was shining. 

As we sailed past the Isle of Wight,  we spotted the brand new £75 million super-yacht Elandess which is owned by Lloyd Dorfmann, the owner of Telex and was launched a coupleof weeks ago. 

After sailing past that,  we headed back up to the cabin where our bags had arrived did we were able to unpack and change for dinner. 

We then headed down to the Ale & Anchor Pub for a pre-dinner drink. There was a guy playing piano on the promenade - kind of a 'duelling pianos' style but there was only him playing. 


At 8:15 we strolled down towards the dining room but the doors were closed so we thought we might as well grab a drink from the champagne bar to take in with us; cucumber martini might be my new favourite drink. 

On this cruise we've gone for late traditional dining. Our table is in deck 4, on the port side right next to the balcony and has a great view of what's going on in the restaurant. We're at a table for 6 but none of our tablemates showed up lastnight. We had a great dinner regardless and or waiter Johnson and assistant waiter Brendan were very friendly. 

After dinner we had a couple of drinks in the Schooner bar singing along with the piano. We then went up tothe Royal Promenade to watch the Olympia Parade which we didn't really understand the significance of  but the costumes and the person on stilts were impressive. 

After that it was time to call it a night ready for our first Sea day. 
 

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Day 2 - Sea Day

We got up nice and early as I'd booked in for the 7:30am yoga class in the gym. It cost $12 +18% gratuity. I love yoga and have been practising it for several years so thought it would be an energising way to start my day. The class was ok; it was a more static style than I'm used to and the instructor didn't seem very experienced as his postures weren't very good but I've got enough experience so that I was able to get a good workout. Holding the poses whilst on a moving ship was also a lot more challenging than doing it on land! (Although the after-effects of the drinks package might also have played a part in that!) I've signed up for tomorrow's class as well but I'm not sure whether or not I'll go yet - you don't get charged unless you acrtually attend so I've got nothing to lose by not going. 

After yoga it was time for breakfast in the Windjammer. It was 8:30 and although it was busy, there were plenty of seats. We then got some coffee from Cafe Promenade before going to collect tickets for the 2 different ice shows that will be performed during or cruise. 

It was then time top head up to the Solarium to relax and have a nap. 

Lunch was at the WJ. We got there at about 13:15 and it was very busy but we managed to find a table after one lap and there was still an amazing variety of food - nothing seemed to be running out. 

We then went back to our cabin to relax before our Wine Tasting event. This was held in the deck 3 MDR and was hosted by one of the 5 wine waiters they have onboard - 3 work in the MDR and 2 in Vintages. We got to sample 2 whites, 2 reds and a sparkling which is made by Chandon especially for RC. The tasting was accompanied by a selection of cheeses and fruits to complement the wines and we were told how to properly smell and taste the wine. There were about 30 people attending the event. Most on tables of 2 but we were on a shared table. It was a fun, informative event and a good opportunity to speak to some other passengers. I'd booked this in advance via the cruise planner and I think it cost £13 per person. 

After the wine tasting we went to Playmakers to watch the first half of the world cup final before going to watch Strings Ice Show in Studio B. The show was fantastic - it amazes me how they can do the stunts they do on such a small rink. It was also incredible how the violinist walked on the ice in incredibly high heels. 

It was then time to get ready for formal night. We went to the Captain's gala on the Royal Promenade and were impressed to see Captain Teo descend from the heavens to the tune of Skyfall. Unfortunately they didn't give numbers of passengers and nationalities onboard etc. When we boarded it said the cruise was sold out but our waiter told us they're not at full occupancy although they were on  the last cruise. 

Dinner was in the MDR and this time 2 of our 4 tablemates also showed up. They're a couple about our age from Ireland and they were really good company. 

After dinner we grabbed an espresso martini from the Champagne Bar and took that into the Theatre to watch a tribute band called The Take That Experience. They're a tribute to Take That who were a 'boy band' who were huge when I was a teenager (think New Kids on The Block era-ish) and who reformed about 6 years ago and have had even bigger success. The tribute band were fantastic and had everyone waving their hands in the air and clapping along. 

With that it was time for bed ready for our 2nd sea day. 

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Day 3 - Sea Day

Today was a very relaxed day. We got up early to use the gym (I decided not to go to yoga) before breakfast in the WJ and then coffee from Cafe Promenade. Then we headed up to the pool deck for a game of mini-golf. There were lots of people playing but it was easy to get the equipment and we only had to wait for a couple of minutes for our turn to start playing. Husband was convinced her would beat me but in the end the score was 28 to him, 23 to me! ? I'm sure I'll be challenged to a rematch at some point. 

We then continued the games theme with a couple of rounds of shuffleboard where we won one game each- this tournament will definitely be  continued...

Bolero's was next for a drink and watching the start of one of the art auction. 

Lunch was in the MDR today where they had a hot buffet as well as the Tutti Salad station and menu offerings. I had the salad and husband had the hot buffet. 

Next we headed to the pub for some afternoon music and a drink but the music wasn't very good so we took our drinks out to the promenade deck and found a seat out there in the sun. 

When we lost the sun over the top of the ship, we headed back to the cabin for a nap. Then at about 4pm, we went up to the Solarium to have a dip in the hot tub (grabbing an ice-cream as we passed the soft-serve station). It was our first time in the cantilever hot tubs and it was a good experience. The water was also hot instead of lukewarm which was nice. We then managed to find a lounger in the sun for me and one in the shade for my husband and we relaxed with a lavaflow with Kraken rum for a while before going to get changed for dinner. 

Before dinner, we met up with our tablemates for the general knowledge quiz in the Schooner Bar where we did terribly scoring only 6/20! Dinner again was in the MDR and our other 2 tablemates are still MIA. 

After dinner there was an adult comedy show in the theatre with a comedian called Josh Daniels. He was very good doing usual stand-up as well as playing guitar and singing entertaining parodies. 

After that it was time for bed ready for our first port day in Gibraltar. 

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Was Really enjoying your blog until you mention the fact you went for coffee!!!!!

Shocked ! Even dissapointed ! ?

Us brits have a reputation for being hardened drinkers and your letting the side down ?

Joking apart, glad to see you are your other half are having a great time enjoy the rest of your cruise and stay off the coffee ?

 

???

 

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