Independence of the Seas – Royal Caribbean Educational Trip

Getting to Southampton

We flew from Manchester to Southampton with Flybe. Considering it wasn’t particularly cheap to fly, we decided that to save on journey time, a 40 minute flight would be the best option. We were delayed 1.5 hours on the way and the same on the way back but that’s just one of those things. Flybe themselves were very good. Check in was easy. A straightforward online check in with no passport details needed. Great weather for flying and flight was comfortable with even time for a trolley service for an early morning beverage.

Overall experience of flying down to Southampton I would rate at 7/10. Rated slightly lower due to the delay and lack of information from Flybe leaving us standing at the gate for 30 mins.

On Arrival at Southampton airport

Lovely little airport. Baggage collection very quick with no hassle. There is a taxi office near the exit doors of the terminal. We booked a taxi at the best and they shout you whilst you take a seat in the terminal when the taxi arrives. Taxi arrived promptly and the cost of a journey of approx. 20 mins from the airport to our hotel near the port was £20.00. Overall rating of Southampton terminal and taxi service : 10/10

Our pre cruise night at the Southampton Harbour & Spa

On arrival at the hotel, it certainly had the wow factor. Amazing setting and a newly built hotel in the shape of an actual cruise liner. We were greeted by a lovely gentleman at the door who greeted us and took our bags. Check in was very quick and easy with very polite staff at the reception.  Our room wasn’t ready but we expected that as we did arrive early so they took our mobile number and said they would call us when the room was ready. We stored our bags in a secure room and ventured up to the roof top terrace area.

Spectacular views over the harbour with luxury yachts to watch passing by. We had a drink and to my surprise they were very reasonably priced. Within 45 mins of sipping on a drink on the terrace watching the boats go by, we had a call to say our room was ready.

The room wasn’t as big as what I thought it may have been and set up / layout was along the lines of a good premier inn BUT, what did set it apart was a floor to ceiling window with that same view of the harbour. Fantastic to sit at the table with a drink and look at the views. They provide binoculars also so you really can take in all of the sights. The bed was huge and very comfortable although if you are short (like me) or struggle with any walking difficulties, it is a bit of an effort to get on the bed as it was quite high but nothing a little boost up didn’t fix. We didn’t eat at the hotel in the evening ( I will come to that bit next) and we didn’t use the Spa but it looked fantastic from what we saw.

We took a walks out around we found a restaurant just across the way from the hotel called “Steak of the art”. We decided to book a table and give it a go as it looked a bit quirky and different. We booked a table for 6.30. All I can say is WOW. The service , the food, the steak the ambience meant we agreed it was the best meal we had EVER had. It wasn’t cheap but it was a real one off treat and we frantically googled where our nearest Steak of the art restaurant was but unfortunately, they are all south of the country but if you are in the area then I guarantee you will fall in love with the place and the food. I happily left a tip even after spending a lot on the meal.

We did have a great sleep and the breakfast back up on that roof terrace with an option of indoor / outdoor dining was again spectacular as the sun beamed down on us tucking into a hearty breakfast and there was plenty of choice to suit all tastes. After our breakfast we were ready and set to head to the port. We asked the front desk could they order us a taxi to the cruise port as even though we were close to the port where the vessel was departing, it wasn’t quite walking distance especially with bags so rather than ordering us a taxi, the same man who greeted us the day before, offered to take his own hotel branded car at no charge so that was a very nice touch upon leaving.

Overall a lovely way to start your cruise if only for the views it gives although if I am being over critical, for the price we paid, I wasn’t blown away. The room was over £250.00 for the night which was a one off for us but we did it so that we could experience the hotel and give our opinion for our clients. You are obviously paying for the view and location but then again, if you are heading on a cruise, do you really need the lovely views when you are heading out to sea the next day?

As a treat it’s great but there are other lovely hotels on the area that would probably do the job that’s needed for half the price so for that reason, I would rate the overall hotel experience a 7/10 but had I not had stayed at this hotel then I would not have known about Steak of the art so this gets a mark back cause I would happily give this experience an 11/10

At the Port

Cruise check in was an absolute breeze. Lots of staff on hand to check you in so no long queues. As we had already checked ourselves in online, it was a case of dropping off our bags and heading straight for the ship. They take a photo of you at check in and when you board the ship, they scan / photo you so that security can see that they are allowing the correct person on board. All very well set up and very slick. I rate this experience 10/10

Our Cabin

I really liked our cabin. We had a lovely large balcony and the rooms was very cosy and comfortable. We had a sofa bed that would sleep another two if needed. We said that space would be a bit tight with four people in the cabin. Maybe not quite as modern as I would have thought but we actually liked the fact that it wasn’t modern and more traditional. The usual things that you would expect, a TV showing you a guide to what’s on and you can also keep track of your spending as your on board account shows on the TV.

Our steward was fantastic. Really friendly and a little funny story is that I asked him can he find me an adapter as I had forgotten mine and I wanted to charge my phone. He said to leave it with him and he would be back to me later. A couple of hours passed and still had not heard from him. An hour or so later he knocked at the door and gave me the longest extension lead you could imagine. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I just needed an adapter for the plug and not a 20 ft extension lead.

We laughed as he must have searched the ship high and low for this extension lead. Overall I really can’t fault the cabin or the steward especially for the limited amount of time we spent there so I give it an overall 9/10

The Ship

Outdoors
Not sure where to start as there is so much to see and do on board so I will just mention some of the highlights and negatives that I experienced. The pool areas and kids facilities / slides etc. were fantastic. We noticed so many other sections. When you thought you had seen one pool area, you head up / down some more steps and there is another pool area. It surprised me the amount of sunbeds available yet you never felt crammed in. Plenty of lifeguards for peace of mind.

Plenty of bars as you would expect around the pool and a fantastic fish and chip bar selling the most delicious fish and chips in a cone. Great for a quick snack. Drinks were great. Lots of cocktails and very big measures. If I was to criticise one things that would be that there didn’t seem to be enough bar staff to cater for our group. There was 1500 agents on board but this ship holds over 4000 so I can only assume there would be more staff available when the ship is full so there was waiting times to be served.

A big outdoor cinema screen showing sports and movies in the evening for those who fancy staying on their sunbed watching the sun go down whilst watching a movie. So much to do apart from pools (fantastic kids splash pool area) on deck such as basketball courts , climbing wall , Kids clubs , a selection of lovely warm Jacuzzis on deck. The outdoor experience really does cater for all ages and tastes.

I would give the pool / Deck area a definite 10/10 but I would give the outdoor bar areas a 7/10 due to the lack of staff that seemed to be on board to serve you drinks. Having said that, if you can catch one of the pool waiters, they will bring drinks to you.

Indoors
The highlight for me was the theatre and the show we saw. We went to watch Grease and it was a professional west end style show. It was one of the best shows that I have ever seen and had time allowed, I would have gone to see it for a second time. We also watched a Take That tribute band who were also very good. The theatre and show experience I give 10/10

The restaurants… I suppose this was the only thing that did disappoint me to be honest. The main buffet restaurant for breakfast / evening meal was huge with fantastic views out to sea so you can’t complain about that and the buffet is plenty although nothing special and I had a pick at a few things one evening but tasted quite bland. The one thing that really let things down was the main table service restaurant. It was lovely decor with nice big chandeliers and friendly waiters. I ordered the duck and my wife had a steak.

Although the duck and the steak were quite tasty, the side were very poor. I was give some potato croquets (like the ones you get from the supermarket) and my wife was given a jacket potato which was uncooked and very dry. The veg also wasn’t very well cooked so out of the restaurants that we tried (there are more which we didn’t get chance to go to), I would give the buffet restaurant a 7/10 and the table service restaurant was a disappointing 5/10

The shopping mall…Located on deck 5. This reminded me of walking down one of the malls at The Trafford centre with various bars and shops either side although we did find that there was a lack of choice when it comes to shopping but a good mix of bars to have a drink in from pub type bars , American style bars to swish cocktail and jazz bars. Overall I would rate this a 6/10. Fine if you fancy a drink indoors but not a great choice for shopping and found it very limited.

The one thing that was a bit of a pain was the lift situation. You always seemed to be waiting for a lift and considering the amount of people on board, they weren’t that big although they do move pretty quickly so if you miss one then you aren’t waiting too long for another.

We did a tour of all the different cabins available from the lead-in inside cabins to the grand suites so if anyone needs advice on these then I would be happy to recommend a particular cabin to suit the makeup of the party.

There is so much more to list that I can’t mention every single thing and there was so many things that we didn’t get chance to see / use during our 3 nights on board so I can pretty much guarantee that it would take at least 7 nights to sample all the facilities on board the different decks.

Checking out / Disembarkation

Again, all very easy and smooth as embarkation was. One slight criticism is that there was some confusion when paying our cabin bill. We had bought some presents from the shops at the mall and at the time we were told that we had to pay for them on our card as there was no account set up to charge to our room but when we checked out we were told that we had a bill to pay for the shopping we had bought. I queried this and showed them our card receipts. The assistant made some phone calls to the shops in question and we were told that the payments declined after we had been given a receipt due to an error on board. I still wasn’t happy as my receipts did not show payment declined. After a guarantee and taking the name of the assistant that our card had not been debited, I agreed to pay again but made it clear that they need to sort this as it could cause issues with other passengers. Other than that, we paid our bill and disembarked easily. Overall experience was a 7/10 only let down by the billing situation

Getting back to Southampton

Plenty of taxis available and you can pay by card as we found there was no ATM machine at Southampton so thankfully the majority of the taxis take card and we were taken back to Southampton at the same £23.00 that we paid on the way.

Overall

Having been in travel for 18 years and never really experiencing the cruise ‘bug’. I can safely say that when people tell me that once they cruise they are hooked, I can see why. I loved every minute of it and have already booked for myself and children to go back next Easter without hesitation. Even my wife who is afraid of flying was so happy she managed the short flight to Southampton to experience what we did. We were both blown away by the who experience and even though you always get little niggles, the good far out weighs any bad and then some.

Overall a definite 10/10 and thank you Royal Caribbean.