You can get a good preview of the cruise ahead of you by lingering at the pool deck buffet on embarkation day. At lunch on Royal Caribbean‘s Independence of the Seas, I sat a few tables away from a large group of women toasting each other with drinks before bursting out with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” I lost count of the number of groups I saw wearing matching T-shirts, most proclaiming family reunions, milestone birthdays and bachelorette parties.
I didn’t see the actual bride, who’d boarded earlier. Presumably, she was still at her wedding reception in a private location. (I found out later three couples got married during my sailing.)
The crowd was young on my long-weekend Bahamas cruise. I saw a lot of folks in their 20s and 30s, as well as families with kids on a last hurrah before school started. But the reunion groups spanned at least three generations (possibly four?). The crowd was culturally diverse, and I heard a lot of Spanish on this sailing, but the vast majority hailed from Florida.
They all had one thing in common — a desire to have the most fun possible on a quick three-day trip. The ship and its smiling crew were happy to accommodate, serving up drinks, leading wild competitions and doling out cone after cone of soft-serve ice cream on hot Bahamian afternoons.
For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.
Some trips are for seeing the sights or experiencing a new culture. A quick cruise on Independence of the Seas is all about letting the good times roll with some fun in the sun. On that promise, the ship totally delivers.
Overview of Independence of the Seas
The 154,407-ton Independence of the Seas is 15 decks high and carries 3,864 passengers at double occupancy (or 4,627 at maximum occupancy) in 1,932 cabins. It was built in 2008, and its last major refurbishment was in 2018. Currently, it’s deployed on short three- and four-night itineraries out of Florida to the Bahamas.
The ship is part of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom class, the precursor to the line’s beloved yet notoriously giant Oasis class. When they debuted, Independence of the Seas and its Freedom-class sisters (Freedom and Liberty — sense a theme?) were the world’s largest ships. They introduced new concepts to the cruise line, including the FlowRider surf simulator, oversized hot tubs cantilevered off the sides of the ship and a water park for kids.
Reward your inbox with the TPG Daily newsletter
Join over 700,000 readers for breaking news, in-depth guides and exclusive deals from TPG’s experts
Fun fact: The ship’s fitness center originally had a large boxing ring in the center and boxing workouts, but the ring has since been removed.
More than a decade later, the ship is no longer the biggest or the most innovative, the Wipeout Bar is gone and the water park has been revamped. Yet it still has all the hallmarks of a modern megaship with multiple dining and drinking venues, wow-factor entertainment (including a Broadway musical), plenty of active fun and room to sunbathe.
The ship still makes the top 40 hit list of biggest ships in the world, beating out much more recently built vessels such as Disney Wish, Discovery Princess and Norwegian Prima. It can accommodate all kinds of travelers, from budget-conscious vacationers staying in inside cabins to well-off families booking the largest suites, and offers activities for folks who like to stay active, those who want to lounge in the sun and partiers looking for a great time.
With so much to do on board, you won’t feel like you’re on an old ship. You’ll feel like you’re on an action-packed ship — one that might be the perfect size for active friends and family looking to have outsized fun on a quick getaway.
What I loved about Independence of the Seas
The ship’s energy is high
Short cruises don’t always have the best reputation. “They’re party cruises,” people sneer, as if the megaship is one humongous den of debauchery with thousands of wasted weekend warriors on board. That’s not at all what a short sailing on Independence of the Seas is like.
What a short cruise really translates into is a high-energy sailing because your shipmates know they have only a limited time to make the most of the ship’s amenities and time in port. Onboard events will be packed with guests all-in on the fun, whether that’s cheering on contestants in a game show or singing along with a musician in a bar. People screamed for their favorites at the “Finish the Lyric” game like it was a college football game, and I watched three, if not four, generations of families dancing the merengue together at the Latin bar Boleros.
You’ll also encounter a ton of groups — birthday celebrations, bachelor and bachelorette parties, family reunions, anniversaries, even onboard weddings. The upshot is that the whole sailing takes on a celebratory vibe, even when you’re not part of a group. The sense of fun is contagious, and you find yourself wanting to join in wherever the people are because you know you’ll have a good time.
I’m sure that people got drunk on my cruise (stay away from the swim-up and floating bars on Royal Caribbean’s private island if you wish to avoid them). But I didn’t see any sloppy drunk guests stumbling through the public decks or getting sick in cabin hallways. Maybe that’s because I went to bed at a reasonable hour. Mostly, I encountered groups of people ready to have the best time at every event around the ship, whose energy was infectious and made all the activities a bit more high-octane and fun.
Independence of the Seas doesn’t feel huge or overly crowded
Royal Caribbean excels at passenger flow on its ships, which makes its megaships feel manageable. Independence of the Seas is easy to navigate, and I rarely had the “you can’t get there from here” experience I’ve had on other cruise lines.
The ship is divided into three sections, top to bottom. The upper decks (11 to 15) are where you’ll find all the outdoor fun and activities, as well as the buffet and spa. The middle decks (6 to 10) contain exclusively cabins and suites, so you can ignore all of these except the deck where your room is located. (You’ll find a smattering of accommodations on the top and lower decks.) The bottom decks (3 to 5) feature the Promenade with its bars and shops and the main indoor attractions — the dining room, the casino, the theater and ice rink.
I quickly learned where everything was located, essential on a short cruise. Better yet, I didn’t encounter any bottlenecks where too many people were forced into too small a corridor or transit space. The Promenade was always bustling but never shoulder to shoulder. I always found a seat in the performance spaces, even when they were packed.
In short, I never felt like I was trapped in a mass of humanity in the middle of the ocean with no escape.
The buffet is well designed with great choices
As I’ve written about before, I’m not a huge fan of the cruise ship buffet. But for a mass-market cruise ship, Independence of the Seas has a pretty great buffet.
Related to my point above, I never felt that “trapped in a crowd” feeling at the buffet. Sure, it was bustling and busy. Sometimes I had to look around for a table for two. But the size of the venue and the station layout (versus one long buffet line) meant that people could move freely and select their dishes without waiting in slow-moving queues.
I also appreciated that the buffet had a lot of choices at dinner time. I’ve been on Carnival Cruise Line and MSC Cruises ships, where I found the options limited at dinner. Independence had as much variety in the evening as at lunchtime, with gluten-free and interesting international (mostly Asian and Indian) stations, as well as a well-stocked salad bar and always-available burgers and hot dogs. Daily-rotating themed stations offered interesting options, such as Jamaican food on the night I stopped by.
The breakfast options had everything you’d expect to find, as well as an unexpected international station with Indian breakfast dishes. I admit I didn’t put the made-to-order omelet counter through timed trials, but the steam-tray scrambled eggs were actually pretty moist for bulk-made eggs.
I was sad that I didn’t have time to eat at the buffet for dinner, and that’s a thought I rarely have when cruising!
What I didn’t love about Independence of the Seas
The ship is showing its age
Independence of the Seas had a major refurbishment in 2018, but in the five years since then, its cabins have seen a lot of wear and tear.
My balcony cabin was comfortable, with all the space I needed, but you didn’t need a magnifying glass to tell it had been well-used. The couch was stained, the mirrored bathroom cabinets chipped, the picture frames scratched — and there was a gap between the bottom of one of the nightstand drawers and the front edge where small items could fall through. When I was putting my toiletries away, one of the triangular shelves fell down, even though I had only put a few items on it.
The cabin decor doesn’t feel modern either, with a green leaf-patterned carpet, blonde wood furniture and striped curtains.
None of these quibbles impacted my enjoyment of the cruise, but set your expectations if you’re hoping for a pristine, Insta-worthy room.
The drink menu is boring
I’m not a big drinker, but I love a craft cocktail — partly because they’re interesting and partly because I can never think of what drink to order and I prefer to select from a preset menu. I’ve been loving going to bars on ships like Carnival Celebration and Oceania’s Vista and checking out all the creative drink options.
So imagine my disappointment when I asked for the cocktail menu at Independence of the Seas’ two specialty restaurants, Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table, and was handed the same cocktail menu found at every generic bar on board. No, I don’t want a pina colada with my fancy steak, thank you very much. Where were the fun cocktails themed to each restaurant like I found at the Mason Jar restaurant on sister ship Wonder of the Seas?
I did find a more interesting drink menu at the Schooner Bar (desert pear margarita, anyone?), but that was the only time I saw a different cocktail list. For a ship that loves to party, I was disappointed that Royal Caribbean hasn’t hopped on the creative cocktail trend like some of its competitor cruise lines. I’ve since learned the Schooner Bar menu is new, so if it’s successful, perhaps Royal Caribbean will add new cocktail menus to other bars on board.
Independence of the Seas cabins and suites
Independence of the Seas offers four main types of cabins: windowless inside cabins, ocean-view rooms with picture windows that don’t open, balcony cabins with private verandas and bigger suites. The latter range from 364-square-foot junior suites to the humongous 1,649-square-foot Royal Suite (sizes include balcony space).
Some of the more unusual accommodations on this ship include inside-facing cabins with windows overlooking the Royal Promenade indoor mall and Panoramic Ocean-view cabins and suites on decks 11 and 12, which have wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows.
Note that if you book Promenade Interior cabin 6305, your view will be blocked by the butts of the cow statues above the ship’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor. To apologize for the obstruction, Royal Caribbean gives this room’s residents one complimentary Ben & Jerry’s ice cream every day of the sailing.
My room on Independence of the Seas was just down the hall but facing the sea. I had a balcony cabin, the most popular room type on most ships. It offered plenty of room for two people, and I don’t think it would be a problem with an extra person sleeping on the pullout sofa.
The room has two twin beds that can be pushed together into a queen-sized bed. Bedside lamps with focused reading lights and one-drawer, one-shelf nightstands flank the beds. The living area features a long sofa that could seat three or four (and transform into a bed) and a glass coffee table.
Opposite is a large desk/vanity with a lighted mirror, six medium and three shallow drawers (one for the hair dryer) and an empty mini-fridge. Small shelves are hidden behind the two narrow side mirrors, with another glass shelf above the flat-screen TV.
The TV is not interactive. It has roughly 30 channels of sports, news, movies and kids programming, plus a bunch of cruise ship-sponsored channels.
A two-door closet looked small but had ample hanging space for two people on a three-night cruise, plus five shelves and a safe tucked into the corner. I appreciated the full-length mirror and metal hooks by the door for hanging jackets or hats.
The bathroom is small but serviceable. The round shower has two sliding doors, and I didn’t hurt myself when I dropped my conditioner bottle and had to retrieve it off the floor mid-shower. The shower has two metal shelves and a movable wand showerhead.
1 of 2
Balcony cabin bathroom on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Storage includes three towel racks and four hooks on the back of the door. The corner mirror hides a three-shelf vanity, and there’s a long shelf below the sink.
Bathrooms are stocked with bath and hand towels, wash cloths, one bar soap, a pump dispenser of a shampoo-body wash combo in the shower and tiny bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion.
On such a short cruise, I did not spend much time on my balcony, other than to dry wet bathing suits. It has two upright chairs (with one level of recline) and a round table that could easily accommodate a room service breakfast order.
The decor, as mentioned earlier, is rather dated and showing some wear. The room is clearly ready for a refresh, as stains, chips and dings in the furnishings are visible. These minor details didn’t bother me, but if you’re expecting new and modern, please readjust your expectations.
What did bother me was the connecting door to the cabin next door. It was not open but sound carried — and this included my neighbor hacking and coughing loudly whenever I was trying to go to sleep. To compare, I couldn’t hear anything from the cabin on the other side without a connecting door.
If you wish to upgrade and book a suite on Independence of the Seas, you have a choice of Royal, Owner’s, Grand, Panoramic and Junior Suite options. Different suite types come with different Royal Suite Class perks, which may include access to the Suite Lounge on Deck 14 (just off the Viking Crown Lounge).
Independence of the Seas restaurants and bars
Independence of the Seas offers plenty of restaurant and bar choices, especially since it’s currently sailing short cruises. It has a good mix of free and extra-fee, casual and fancy dining options. I enjoyed all my meals on board, but most of them didn’t blow me away. I appreciated the varied personality of the many bars. You could find your favorite and return night after night or try someplace new with every drink.
The heart of Independence of the Seas’ dining lineup is its three-deck-high main dining room, with a Shakespearean decor theme. You’ll be assigned a table location based on your group size and dining time selection.
If you choose early or late dining (where you’ll have the same table location, tablemates and waiters each night), you’ll be assigned to a table on deck 3, 4 or 5 for a 5:30 p.m. dinner or on deck 4 or 5 at 8 p.m. with Choose My Time Dining, the line’s flexible dining option. You can ask for a table on Deck 3 anytime between 6:45 and 9 p.m. and change up your dining time nightly. (If you want to eat at 6 p.m., you’re out of luck, apparently.)
Deck 3 is also where breakfast and lunch are served (not offered every day so check the app for times). Breakfast is a similar selection to the buffet, but made to order and waiter-served. More out of the ordinary options include a breakfast power wrap, breakfast burrito and a market vegetable breakfast bowl. Lunch is a three-course affair with appetizers, entrees and dessert. Entrees might be a lamb pita, BBQ pulled pork sandwich, butternut squash risotto or roasted Atlantic cod.
1 of 5
Main dining room on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Dinner might be themed (such as Taste of the Caribbean) with an on-theme chef’s recommended three-course meal. Entrees will include seafood, chicken, beef, pasta and a vegetarian option. One Indian dish is offered nightly, usually meat-based with a vegetarian option available upon request. You can order premium selections, such as Maine lobster tail, surf and turf or a filet mignon from the ship’s Chops Grille steakhouse, for an extra fee (ranging from $16.99 to $34.99).
Wine, soda and cocktails are available for an extra fee.
I dined here on Jamaican night and enjoyed a jerk chicken dish that had more spice and flavor than your average cruise ship entree. The waiters were friendly and ready with suggestions of the best choices that evening. After two long dinners the previous night, I didn’t feel a need to linger over my meal, and the dining room staff was accommodating of my request to be out in time for a 7:30 show.
1 of 4
Main dining room cuisine on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Cruise ship buffets don’t always have the best reputation, but I’ve been impressed with Independence of the Seas’ Windjammer Cafe. Found on Deck 11 aft, the expansive dining area is well set up to accommodate the crowds. I easily found tables on all visits (including embarkation day) and never waited in line, thanks to multiple food stations scattered throughout the space. There’s no outdoor seating, but there are plenty of windows. The aft stations are different from the side stations, so do a loop before choosing.
Breakfast has all the obvious options: hot and cold cereal, breakfast breads and pastries, waffles and pancakes, eggs and omelets, breakfast meat, yogurt and fruit. A small Asian section has less typical choices (not just at breakfast but at all three meals). Lunch features American and Continental hot dishes, a salad bar, a burger and hot dog bar, an Asian station and dessert.
1 of 8
Windjammer Cafe on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Dinner has just as extensive a menu as lunch and often has a theme. In addition to the standard hot entrees, burger bar, meat carving station, salad bar and dessert, I saw counters serving Jamaican specialties, some made fresh at the buffet, and was tempted to skip the main dining room to sample some of the dishes.
There’s also a gluten-free counter at lunch and dinner for folks with dietary restrictions.
Independence of the Seas has three marquee, extra-fee specialty restaurants and a host of fee-free and a la carte casual options. They’re often emptiest on the first night, but I didn’t see any discount offers for booking on night one.
The ultimate date night restaurant is the ship’s American steakhouse, Chops Grille. You can choose from four steak options, four seafood dishes (including Maine lobster), roast chicken or rack of lamb (our choice — it was very flavorful). Vegetarians will have to request something off menu.
1 of 7
Chops Grille on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Your protein comes naked on the plate, so dress it up with sauces and sides, not to mention appetizers, soups, salads and dessert. The pretzel mini-baguettes and mushroom soup are not to be missed. Dessert was enjoyable but no huge wow factor. A meal costs $62.99 for dinner ($14.99 for kids ages 6-12) and $26.99 for lunch.
If you’re going to splurge on dinner, I’d recommend the ship’s Italian eatery Giovanni’s Table instead. It’s a tad cheaper at $47.99 per person for dinner ($14.99 for kids) or $22.99 for lunch, and I thought my meal there was nicer than the one at Chops.
Everything I ordered was delicious, from the bright green arugula salad starter to the gnocchi gorgonzola pasta (save your stomach and order a half portion!) and perfectly cooked branzino fish. You could probably skip dessert here, but a companion and I enjoyed the chocolate-hazelnut cake and panna cotta with strawberry and basil flavors.
1 of 6
Giovanni’s Table on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Both Chops and Giovanni’s are located across from each other by the entrance to the Windjammer Cafe buffet. Lunch is not always offered on every cruise in these venues so check the app for dining times for your sailing.
The third specialty restaurant Izumi is tucked away in an easily missed spot on Deck 4 by the Schooner Bar. It’s got five hibachi tables that can seat up to 10 people each. Choose your protein and be ready for a dinner performance that will have food flying, people singing and you in stitches. Alternatively, come for sushi at the bar or scattered two-tops. Don’t like eating seafood raw? You can order other Japanese favorites, such as beef or chicken teriyaki, ramen, miso soup and gyoza dumplings.
1 of 2
ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Sushi seating can only be done on board in person at the restaurant. Pricing is a la carte, though you can pay a flat rate of $39.99 and receive half rolls with each order. Hibachi reservations should be made as far in advance as possible. Pricing ranges from $54.99 to $59.99 per person ($14.99 for kids) depending on your protein selection. Sushi is an additional cost.
The Promenade features a number of casual dining venues. Sorrento’s is the late-night pizza parlor, open until 2 or 3 a.m. nightly. Eat all the pizza you want; it’s included in your cruise fare. Cheese and pepperoni are always available, with a third flavor that changes daily. You can always request vegetarian, gluten-free or dairy-free pizzas to be made special for you.
Follow up your pie with a scoop of ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, which offers 10 flavors in cups or cones for $2.50 to $4. Shakes are also available.
1 of 4
Sorrento’s Pizza on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
One of the most popular venues on the Promenade is the Cafe Promenade. It does double duty as your morning Starbucks outlet (it opens at 6 a.m.) and late-night snack venue (mini sandwiches and pastries are served until 5 a.m.) If you’re cool with the free stuff, skip the line and head to the self-service coffee and tea station on the far wall.
Put blinders on your kids when you walk by Sugar Beach, the ship’s rainbow-colored bulk candy store. Between the free Froot Loops and cookies elsewhere on the ship, I wouldn’t think you need to spend money on more sweets, but if you need a jelly bean fix, you know where to go.
Playmakers Sports Bar offers a limited a la carte menu of bar favorites – nachos, chicken tenders and wings, sliders and meal-sized burgers and worth-the-money desserts (the Campfire Cookie is my fave, but a group could go to town on the Touchdown Sundae with five scoops of Ben & Jerry’s). You can bring your kids to this bar.
1 of 2
Fish & Ships on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Up by Splashaway Bay, Fish & Ships serves a limited menu of fried fish, shrimp and chicken and fries for free, as well as a fried lobster tail basket for $12. One deck up by the kids clubs, Johnny Rockets will fuel your play with burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and the venue’s signature milkshakes (a la carte pricing). Come at the right point and catch the waiters singing and dancing.
Finally, room service costs $7.95 per order, occasionally with an 18% gratuity added in certain unspecified ports. Continental breakfast (juice, coffee, tea, pastries and bread, cereal, fruit and yogurt) is complimentary from 6 to 11 a.m. Hot American breakfast (pancakes, eggs, potatoes and bacon/sausage) incurs the fee.
The regular room service menu is available from 11 a.m. all the way through until 6 a.m. and includes soup, salad, sandwiches, favorites (quesadillas, grilled salmon, pasta, pizza, chicken wings and tenders), dessert and a kids menu.
Your evening bar crawl won’t earn you many steps as the ship’s main watering holes are found on decks 4 and 5.
Starting on the lower deck, Boleros is the line’s signature Latin bar, where there’s often an all-ages crowd dancing merengue, salsa and more and singing along to popular tunes. Next door is Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade where you can watch all the games or play pool, foosball, skeeball or Super Shot basketball while downing beers. (Warn your kids — there are no video games at this arcade.)
1 of 2
Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
The casino has its own bar in the center of the action. Become a regular and you might start getting drinks for free. On the other side of the casino, the nautical-themed Schooner’s is the place to go for piano singalongs and trivia (usually catering to an older crowd). The desert pear margarita is popular, though I preferred the lavender martini.
One deck up on the Promenade, Ale & Anchor is the ship’s British-style pub. Come for a lager and the game, stay for energetic singalongs with the resident guitarist. (The Ellie Finnerty’s Taylor Swift singalong was standing room only, with the indoor and out-on-the-Promenade seating full up.) Across the street, so to speak, is Vintages, your go-to for a sophisticated glass of wine. The venue also hosts wine tastings.
1 of 4
Vintages wine bar. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
The most understated bar on the ship is the Champagne Bar, just across from the shore excursions desk. If you like bubbly, you can relax on the comfy couches here and toast your vacation success.
1 of 2
ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
But don’t worry — if you’re sunning or sweating on the upper decks, you’ll find plenty of watering holes to wet your whistle. The ship has three pool deck bars: the pool bar by the main pools, the Sky Lounge serving guests lounging just above on Deck 12 and the solarium bar in the adult section.
The Plaza Bar in the Windjammer keeps you hydrated during meals with morning coffee drinks and mimosas and beer, wine and cocktails with your buffet lunches and dinners.
For a sophisticated drink with a view, head to the Olive or Twist Bar in Royal Caribbean’s signature Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 14 midship. Floor-to-ceiling windows in a 180-degree semicircle overlook the ship’s Splashaway Bay kiddie zone and the sea. It’s a good spot to watch sailaway if you don’t want to be out in the sun. Upper-tier loyalty members and suite guests can get their drink on for free at their respective lounges adjacent to Olive or Twist.
If your idea of a bar is a soda machine, you can find Coke machines by Sorrento’s on the Promenade and on either side of the buffet. They only work with your drinks package-affiliated reusable cup. In addition to soda, you can pour out juice, seltzer water, sports drinks and smart water.
Independence of the Seas activities
A short cruise is all about fun in the sun, making the Deck 11 pool deck a popular spot on Independence of the Seas. The deck is divided into three sections. Forward is the adults-only solarium, aft is the kid-centric Splashaway Bay water play area and center is the main pool area.
The main pool area features two pools, three hot tubs, a bar, a bandstand and dance space, and a movie screen. Beginning swimmers can borrow life jackets from the nearby racks. Grab your blue pool towels from the towel station between the main pool and solarium. You’ll need to sign towels in and out with your key card; fail to return one and you’ll be charged $25 so keep track of your used towels!
1 of 4
Independence of the Seas pool deck. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Lounge chairs cover nearly every available surface on decks 11, 12 and 13, with many in the direct sunlight. The quietest spots might be on deck 13 forward.
Forward of the main pools, the solarium features two minipools, bar, shaded lounge space and two oversized hot tubs cantilevered over the sides of the ship — all reserved for adults ages 16+. Unlike on other Royal Caribbean ships, it does not have a retractable roof.
1 of 4
Independence of the Seas solarium. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Aft of the main pools is Splashaway Bay. It’s a kiddie water play area complete with junior slides, water sprayers and a dump bucket that soaks everyone nearby, a shallow swimming pool and a separate play area for tots in swim diapers. Two hot tubs here are perfect vantage points for parents — if the kids haven’t taken them over. Not surprisingly, the soft-serve ice cream station and a counter serving fried fish and chicken flank this deck area.
1 of 4
Splashaway Bay on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Adrenaline junkies can set up camp on Deck 13 aft where they’ll find a multipurpose sports court (basketball, pickleball, floor hockey), FlowRider surf simulator, rock-climbing wall and entrance to the two Perfect Storm waterslides. You must be at least 4 feet tall and no more than 250 pounds to ride the Cyclone (220 pounds for the Typhoon); children 12 and under must be supervised by an adult. Both are three-deck-high tube twister slides.
If you dare to boogie board or stand-up surf know that your successes and failures will be cheered by onlookers hanging out in the stadium seating surrounding the FlowRider. Tucker out little cruisers in the Sky Climber, a cat-tree-esque jungle gym for kids, encased in netting.
1 of 4
FlowRider on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
That weird circular object by the waterslides is the Sky Pad, which used to be a bungee trampoline but no longer. It wasn’t clear what it’s used for now, though I saw open-play archery scheduled there.
A running track weaves around the deck chairs above the main pools on Deck 12. Six laps equal a mile. The only realistic times to run are early morning or in the evening; watch out for wet decking in the morning.
Independence Dunes, the mini-golf course on Deck 13 forward, has a fun seaside theme with a lighthouse, whale’s tail and VW bus selfie spot. Cool off with arched misters nearby.
1 of 3
Independence Dunes mini-golf course. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Kick it old school with a game of shuffleboard on the Deck 4 outdoor decks.
If serenity is what you seek, the spa is located on Deck 12 forward, directly above the fitness center. Get your hair and nails done in the salon or melt away your work-life stress with a massage or facial. Acupuncture, medispa treatments (such as Restylane fillers), men’s shaves, waxing and teeth whitening are also on offer. For free stress relief, you’ll find saunas and steam rooms in the men’s and women’s locker rooms.
The expansive gym has rows of cardio machines, Life Fitness resistance stations and free weights. One side of the gym is reserved for spin class, while a workout studio is home to both group classes (yoga, boot camp and more, for a fee) and spa seminars. (Guess what? Based on your footprint analysis, you will need insoles!)
1 of 3
Fitness center on Independence of the Seas. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
The daily schedule is packed with activities, including trivia, audience-participation games and competitions, art auctions and seminars in the Deck 3 art gallery, sushi or cupcake making classes, wine or alcohol tasting seminars, silent dance parties and behind-the-scenes ship tours. If you’re over 18, don’t miss the late-night Quest game show, which is decidedly not PG and is absolutely hilarious.
For some retail therapy, browse the shops on the Promenade for souvenirs such as logowear, liquor, beauty products, purses, fine watches and jewelry. The photo gallery and portrait studio is on Deck 3; look up photos on touch screens using your cabin number (we’ve moved on from searching through hundreds of printouts).
The Deck 4 Casino Royale has a special subway-style entrance from the Promenade. Try your luck at the slots and gaming tables. The casino is a popular evening spot, so you’ll have plenty of company to cheer your wins and console your losses.
All the fun isn’t just for adults. The kids rule the school on Deck 12 aft, with all the kids hangout spaces conveniently grouped around Johnny Rockets and the arcade. You’ll find numerous table tennis set-ups in the deck areas around the kid spaces.
The Royal Babies & Tots Nursery entertains the youngest cruisers for a fee, but kids ages 3 and up can enjoy supervised fun for free at Adventure Ocean. The different groups of kids — Aquanauts (ages 3-5), Explorers (6-8) and Voyagers (9-11) — have their own play space, but depending on the number of children on board, they might get play time in another age group’s space. Tweens and teens ages 12 to 17 can play video games and hang out in The Living Room and show off their dance moves in the Fuel teen nightclub.
1 of 7
Royal Babies and Tots Nursery. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY
Note: Kids ages 17 and under must be in their cabins by 1 a.m.
By day, Studio B offers both open ice skating sessions and glow-in-the-dark laser tag (both require advance signups). Feeling cerebral? Sign up for the Escape Room, which has a scientific observatory theme. It’s pricy at $35 per person (minimum age 12), and there weren’t as many puzzles to solve as in commercial escape rooms on land. It is a fun way to meet and interact with other guests, but I wouldn’t prioritize it.
Guest services, the shore excursions desk and future cruise sales are all located on the aft end of the Promenade, near the dining room. If you’re looking for a quiet space away from all the hubbub, sneak away to the library on Deck 5 aft. It’s hidden within the Star Lounge lobby, but once inside, you can borrow a book, check email on the computer stations or hide out from the crowds (or your kids, you never know).
Independence of the Seas shows
The resident Broadway musical at the Royal Theater on decks 3 and 4 is a 90-minute version of “Grease.” If that’s not the show you want for some summer lovin’, you can enjoy guest acts, such as comedians and ventriloquists on the other nights.
Don’t confuse the main theater with the Deck 5 Star Lounge, which is a secondary performance space. Here, you’ll find karaoke and audience-participation games such as “Finish That Lyric.”
Royal Caribbean’s ice shows are always a good time and Independence of the Seas’ trip through the decades, called “Freeze Frame,” is no exception. You’ll be impressed as much by the numerous costume changes as what the skaters manage to accomplish on a tiny ice rink. Bring a sweater.
I did not have to make reservations for either “Grease” or “Freeze Frame” in advance on this cruise, as I’ve done for shows on other Royal Caribbean ships. Check the app when you’re on board, but unless this changes from cruise to cruise, you’ll only need to show up 15 to 20 minutes in advance to get the best seats.
If you’ve been on other ships in the fleet, please note that the Promenade on Independence of the Seas does not stage parades or concerts. A few themed parties were listed on the daily schedule, but usually it meant that a DJ was playing louder-than-normal music with nothing else special going on.
Independence of the Seas itineraries and pricing
Independence of the Seas currently sails three- and four-night sailings from Port Canaveral, Florida (near Orlando) to Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, and Nassau, Bahamas.
However, in late October 2023, the ship will reposition to Miami, where it will sail a mix of four-night Eastern and five-night Western Caribbean cruises, as well as three- and four-night Bahamas sailings.
The majority of the ship’s five-night Western Caribbean cruises visit CocoCay and Cozumel, Mexico, while a handful go to Nassau, Grand Cayman Island or Falmouth, Jamaica instead. The four-night Eastern Caribbean sailings call on Royal Caribbean’s private beach in Labadee, Haiti, with two days at sea.
Rates start at the following prices:
- $223 per person for an inside cabin or $385 for a balcony cabin on four-night Eastern Caribbean cruises
- $290 per person for an inside cabin or $442 for a balcony cabin on three-night Bahamas cruises from Miami
- $320 per person for an inside cabin or $431 for a balcony cabin on four-night Bahamas cruises from Miami
- $333 per person for an inside cabin or $521 for a balcony cabin on five-night Western Caribbean cruises
What to know before you go
Since Independence of the Seas is currently sailing round-trip from Florida, U.S. citizens can sail with either a current passport or an official copy of their birth certificate and a driver’s license or other government-issued photo I.D. Passports must be valid for at least six months.
The name on your reservation must be the same as what’s printed on your passport or other official proof of nationality. Double-check if you’ve recently gotten married or go by a different version of your name.
The room stewards and dining staff on Independence of the Seas are friendly and helpful and deserve an extra thank-you. Royal Caribbean makes that easy by charging you an automatic gratuity of $16 to $18.50 per person per day, depending on your cabin category, added to your onboard account and final bill. You are allowed to adjust this amount at the Guest Services desk before disembarking, but please don’t — even if you are disappointed by the service. Gratuities are an important part of crewmembers’ paychecks.
An 18% gratuity is added to bar, specialty dining and spa/salon bills. You should not feel pressured to add an additional tip.
Royal Caribbean has one of the fastest Wi-Fi systems at sea, called Voom, and you can take advantage of this on Independence of the Seas. Currently, Wi-Fi packages with streaming bandwidth start at $26.99 per day for one device (or $20.99 per day per device for packages accommodating two, three or four devices), though prices do change over time. You can also purchase 24-hour access for a flat rate of $29.99.
Often you can get the best discounts on onboard Wi-Fi by purchasing your plans online in advance of your cruise. Members of Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society cruise loyalty program may also be eligible for discounts on Wi-Fi packages.
Certain suite guests and upper-tier loyalty program members receive complimentary Wi-Fi, so know your included perks before you sign up for a package.
Having trouble logging in? A Voom help desk on the Promenade (outside The Collection store) is staffed daily.
Carry-on drinks policy
Royal Caribbean guests of legal drinking age can bring one bottle of wine or Champagne onto Independence of the Seas at boarding, plus up to a dozen standard cans, bottles or cartons of nonalcoholic drinks such as sodas.
If you want to toast your good fortune in your cabin, you’re good, but if you want to bring your preferred vintage to a restaurant or lounge, you’ll need to pay a $15 corkage fee.
Smoking (including e-cigarette smoking) is forbidden in cabins and on cabin balconies, and those who violate this rule will face a $250 cleaning fee.
Passengers can smoke in Independence of the Seas’ casino (cigarettes only) and designated outdoor lounges on decks 4 and 11 portside. The Deck 11 smoking area is adjacent to the seating for Fish & Ships. The casino does offer nonsmoking tables, but the cigarette smoke from the smoking section tends to waft throughout the entire space, and even into the Playmakers Sports Bar next door.
Independence of the Seas does not offer self-service launderettes. Passengers can pay extra for laundry, pressing and dry cleaning services.
You’ll find two North American-style 110-volt outlets and one European-style 220-volt outlet by the desk/vanity in your cabin. You will not find outlets by the bed or in the bathroom (other than a shavers-only outlet — look up by the mirror as it’s not easy to spot).
The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar, but you won’t need cash on the ship. You’ll receive a SeaPass card that functions as your shipboard ID, room key and credit card. You’ll charge shipboard purchases (drinks, souvenirs, extra-fee meals, shore excursions and so on) to your onboard account, and Royal Caribbean will charge your credit card on file once the cruise ends. You can check your onboard bill in the cruise line’s app or at Guest Services.
The shops on CocoCay also take your SeaPass card.
You must be 21 to consume alcohol on Independence of the Seas.
During the day, people dress casually. T-shirts, shorts, athletic wear, casual sundresses and bathing suits are commonly worn on board and ashore. Bring a cover-up to go from the pool back indoors.
In the evening, the ship does have a suggested dress code. On my cruise, the themes were resort casual, dress-to-impress and tropical. Specialty restaurants state their dress codes are smart casual (Giovanni’s and Izumi) or formal (Chops), but on a three-night cruise, the only dress code is nearly anything goes.
I ate at Chops Grille on dress-to-impress night, and I can say that Royal Caribbean cruisers have varied notions of how to impress with their fashion. In Chops, I saw men wearing both shorts and jeans though most were wearing collared polo or button-down tropical-style shirts.
Around the ship on dress-to-impress night, I saw a couple in full-on pirate attire, a group in an across-the-decades theme (one woman wore go-go boots and a mini dress, another wore an ’80s Jazzercise outfit and a man had a ’70s-style shirt and vest with a peace-sign necklace) and several guys in loud tropical-style outfits with matching shirts, shorts and hats. I also saw plenty of guests in floor-length gowns, sparkly dresses and suits.
Figure that the only thing that will get you side eye from the crew in the main dining room and specialty restaurants will be swimwear, bare feet, pajamas and athletic-style tank tops.
Related: Ultimate cruise packing list
Independence of the Seas helps vacationers pack a lot of activity into a quick getaway. The vibe is upbeat and fun, and the ship is large enough to accommodate all types of travelers but not so big as to feel overwhelming on a short cruise. Whether you’re a family with kids, a couple or group of family and friends, you’ll find your happy place on this ship.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories: