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Independence of the Seas
Eastern Caribbean
Nov. 29 – Dec. 7, 2008

by Mary & Vincent Finelli

The Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Independence of the Seas, with her sister ships Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, are the biggest cruise ships afloat. They will hold this title until December 2009 when the 220,000 tons Oasis of the Seas will be launched! This Saturday morning she sat alongside another renowned cruise ship who previously held the title of “Biggest Cruise Ship”: Queen Mary 2 of the Cunard Line.

Captain Teo Strazicic of Dubrovnik, Croatia is very proud of his beautiful behemoth, which although larger than RCI's Eagle Class (Voyager, Explorer, Navigator, Mariner, and Adventurer of the Seas) she still uses only the same number and types of engines, but more efficiently. Bravo RCI this awesome ship is a true engineering marvel!

EMBARKATION
Saturday noon, the I-95 traffic was bearable and we arrived at Port Everglades at 12:00pm, however, it took thirty minutes to go through traffic control. Many passengers were surprised at this delay, since other ports are more efficiently handling security. Once in port, things moved along more quickly. We were through Check-in in five minutes, but had to wait for another wheel chair for Vincent for twenty minutes. The ramps to the ship were not too steep, but there was a very long one. Mary's motorized wheel chair handled them easily!

We checked on our dining arrangements and found we had a nice table for two at the rear of the Romeo & Juliet Restaurant near the magnificent triple deck staircase. We kept this table because of its proximity to the live music. Now, we were off to the Welcome On Board Buffet: which was overcrowded, but even with courteous assistance we had an unusual dispersal of hot potato soup!

Embarkation was good considering over 3,600 were boarding along with crew members.

SHIP
The Independence was launched May 2008, so it is in pristine condition. Hotel Director Darren Budden (Newfoundland, Canada) has a right to be proud of the Independence: she is immaculate, well run, service is pleasant and immediate. He kindly gave us a book: “Art The Collection” on board. There are 15 decks with many eclectic pieces of art which merit a detailed overview.

Deck 1 is mainly for crew except that the Medical Facility is located aft.

Deck 2 forward has the Alhambra Theatre with a beautiful Austrian crystal beaded curtain. The design has five dark haired Flamenco dancers with their gorgeous ruffled skirts spread: all forming a 13-paneled 28 ft tall by 46 ft wide spectacular display. Midship is the Ice Skating Rink a RCI innovation, which allows passenger skating and show opportunities. There are also staterooms on Deck 2.

Deck 3 again forward is the Alhambra Theatre. Then toward midship is the Labyrinth night club with its Harry Cardross stained glass windows featuring the “Raven of the Tower “ (Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the British Monarchy and the country will fall.) The second window features the “Raven of the Battle.” Midship is Studio B, On air Studio and the Art Gallery. There are also staterooms and aft is the Romeo and Juliet Restaurant. At the entrance is a marvelous all white 3D bust of William Shakespeare, which follows the viewer as s/he walks by. It has the effect of motion. Very cool!

Deck 4 forward has the balcony of the Alhambra Theatre; then towards midship is the Schooner Bar with its nautical décor and a ship model of the “Flora of Tjomo,” one of RCI's founders Gjert Wilhelmsen' first barques. Then there are the upper level of the Labyrinth, the spacious Casino Royal, the Photo Gallery and Shop, and the Boleros Lounge. All the way aft is the Macbeth Restaurant.

Deck 5 forward has the Pyramid Lounge with the entrance flanked by a series of imposing Pharaohs and inside is a stunning black and gold statue of King Tutankhamen based on the one found in the boy King Tut's tomb in the King's Valley, Egypt. Also located here are Clarissa Parish's two frescoes of Egyptian women.

This deck has the unique Royal Promenade with its many shops and eating venues: “Sorrento's Pizzeria” features antipasti, pizzas, garlic toast, and panini, daily; plus Italian biscotti, macaroons and amaretto cookies. There are logo shops, “A Clean Shave” barber's shop, men's and women's boutiques, a perfume shop, a general store, “The Dog & Badger English Pub” and “Ben & Jerry's” ice cream. Also there is “Cafe` Promenade” serving excellent coffee and tea, sandwiches, scones, RCI's terrific cookies and doughnuts.

The star exhibit of the Promenade is the blue 2008 Morgan V6 Roadster hand made on commission by RCI. Aft suspended is Larry Kirkland's Greek Drinking Vessel featuring dolphinsa good omen at sea. Kirkland modeled his huge cup on a 550 BC work by Exekias in Athens. Also here are located the Guest Relations Desk and the Explorations Desk. All the way aft is the King Lear Restaurant, which completes the third tier of the dining complex with a gorgeous crystal chandelier visible from all three tiers.

Decks 6,7,8,9, & 10 are all staterooms and located nearby the aft elevators on each deck are the Business Services, the Library with open stacks, the “Royal Caribbean Online” computer center and the “Concierge Club.”

Deck 11 has many guest facilities. Forward is the State of the Art Fitness Center with beautiful views of the sea while using treadmills, etc. In the Solarium are two huge whirlpools one on each side of the ship, cantilevered over the sea, and a swimming pool just for adults. Near here are two Barsanti Mosaics named “Tigers in the Jungle” based on the works of a French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau. In the forward stairs portside is the Robert Silvers' head of Venus inspired by Botticelli's unforgettable “Birth of Venus.” This artist creates his work by computer using thousands of tiny photographs to form a larger image—you must look at this up close, rather than the usual admonition to “stand back in order to get the full import of a picture.” Here, you must go up close to see how this was made. Amazing!

Deck 12 forward is the Day Spa, the Sky Bar, and the jogging track. Toward aft is Johnny Rockets a 50's style diner and the Challengers Arcade, Adventure Ocean children's area, and the Surf Teen Disco.

Deck 13 has the Rock Climbing Wall, the Sports Court (basketball, volleyball, tennis), the Golf Simulator and the Dunes Mini Golf. The most unique sports opportunity is the Flowrider which allows passengers to surf standing or kneeling.

Deck 14 has the “Olive or Twist & the Viking Crown Lounge, the card and game rooms and Diamond Lounge where we met the Diamond Member Concierge Columella Arandia.

Deck 15 has the nearest thing to heaven on the sea: the Skylight Chapel.

The Independence of the Seas is decorated with art work inspired by the Old Masters, but executed by modern artistsvery interesting.

This ship is huge at 160,000 tons and 208 feet tall (double the height of the Statue of Liberty) and its Royal Promenade is longer than a football field. Its enormous size allows RCI to offer a more diverse vacation.

SERVICE & FOOD
The state of the economy has finally done what years of begging from us could not accomplish. The over abundant portions have finally been reduced to appropriate sized portions. We are so happy not to waste foodwe could rarely finish those too ample entrees. It does not restrict those with gargantuan appetites, since they can still order as much as they want. RCI has brought eating back to normalcy. Thanks to Executive Chef Ivo Jahn, we enjoyed dining in the Romeo & Juliet Restaurant. Maitre D' Dominic Barr gave us a nice table and our Waiter Sabit Majaki and his Asst. Waiter Chantelle John made every night a dining pleasure. Head Waiters Jason D'Silva and Francesco Orlando made us feel special.

Sunday formal night we dined with Captain Teo Strazicic (a very erudite gentleman, who had insightful ideas on education (Vincent & Mary are both university teachers) and other world topics. It was a fantastic dinner only surpassed by Chef Ivo's Almond Brittle Hand Made Chalice filled with wild berries and cream! The food is of good quality and available all over the ship: from Sorrento's Pizzeria on Deck 5, to self serve frozen yogurt on Deck 11 at Sprinkles. We also dined at the Chop's Grille where both food and service were excellent. Food & Beverage Director Joao Mendonca oversees a complex system with dexterity. Bravo! Room Service all week long was prompt, hot and appetizing.

CABIN
Wheelchair accessible cabin #7324 is bright with light pine wood and the RCI trademark blue and aqua colors. When entering on the left there is the oversized bathroom with a 4'x4' shower with safety rails and a fold away seat. There is one sink with a large medicine chest for amenities. Next, there is a sofa and a queen bed flanked by two night stands and reading lamp sconces; the head board is the traditional aqua suede.

When entering on the right, there is a triple armoire with shelves and both high and low cross dowels for hangers and a private safe. This last is the handiest item since cruisers may lock up valuables and go wallet and purse free all week. There is a lighted mirror on the desk/vanity, a LCD TV and a hair dryer in the first of four drawers.

The far wall is all glass and has a door to the extra large balcony with two chairs, a small table and a chaise which our excellent steward Lenore Reid brought for Vincent. Our week was perfectly restful thanks to the lovely Lenore.

ENTERTAINMENT
On the Independence there is no shortage of opportunities to be “amused.” Sunday evening from our balcony there was a beautiful sunset with a clear view of the slenderest crescent moon in the SW sky. Above the moon shone the planets Venus and Jupiter. All three heavenly bodies were close to each otherpicture perfect and brighter than 1st magnitude stars. However, as we looked at other balconies, we were astonished to find that we were the only audience for this phenomenon; so we took a picture of it! This is why we love to cruise.

For other more typical activities, Cruise Director Allan Brooks does his very best. The RCI singers and dancers perform in production shows like “Center Stage” in the Alhambra Theatre along with comedians like Michael James; ballroom dancers Olga & Dimatri have a dance competition. The Ice Show “Strings” with world class performers on ice and an extraordinary violinist from Canada (so sorry we haven't got her name.) This is only the beginning, for the athletic minded the “Flowrider” and the “Rock Climbing Wall” are musts. Don't forget golf, basketball, shuffleboard, ping pong, swimming, Bingo, Casino games and tournaments, etc. etc. Oh, just get out there.

PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale: Sail Away 6:00pm
Day 2. At sea
Day 3. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Arrive 1:30pm, Depart 8:30pm
For first timers this port has an interesting “Old & New San Juan City Tour”(2.5 hrs, $32.) Try the “Fortifications Segway” touring the old city on a Segway (3.5 hrs, $95).
Day 4. St. Thomas, USVI: Arrive 7:00am, Depart 5:00pm
This is one of the best shopping ports in the Caribbean. A tour especially designed for the handicapped is “Accessible Scenic Island Drive and Mountain Top” (2.5 hrs, $64).
Day 5. Philipsburg, St. Maarten: Arrive 6:00am, Depart 5:00pm
One of the most fascinating tours here is the “America's Cup Sailing Regatta” (3 hrs, $89) A sailing competition with famous yachts like Dennis Corner's “Stars & Stripes,”
“Canada II” and “True North.” After the exciting race participants are treated to complimentary rum punch.
Day 6. At sea.
Day 7. Labadee, Haiti: Arrive 8:00am, Depart 4:30pm
This is RCI's private island where passengers may enjoy the white sand beach and swimming or snorkeling in the sparkling clear water. For those who love water sports there are many choices: “Kayak Adventure” ( 1.5 hrs $38.); “Personal Watercraft Experience”, enjoying the thrill of speeding on a Waverunner (1.5 hrs, $95 adults $29 children); “Snorkel Safari” (2 hrs, $46), etc.
Day 8. At sea.
Day 9. Ft. Lauderdale: Arrive 6:00am

DEBARKATION
We had a terrific going home breakfast in the main dining room at 6:30am and went back to our stateroom. At 8:30am a wheelchair came for Vincent and we were taken down and off the ship to baggage pick up, customs and passport control. We were out on the port at 9:00am. This is quite good for the biggest cruise ship with so many passengers.

CONCLUSION
This was another great cruise. As “Frequent Floaters” with 37 cruise credits on RCI ships and Diamond Plus membership in the Crown & Anchor Society, we enjoy all the repeaters benefits aboard, including the use of the Concierge Services, the Diamond Lounge, evening cocktails, reservation for special restaurants and tickets for the ice skating show and other favors. That is the reason RCI is our favorite cruise line. However, we are addicted to cruising and we also cruise on other lines. Until now we have never experienced a bad cruise, although some cruises have been better than others.

Now we look forward to cruising on the Norwegian Pearl on Jan. 4 and on the Ruby Princess on Jan. 24. We have also booked transatlantic crossings on the Celebrity Solstice in April and Queen Mary 2 in May and the Dec 12, 2009 inaugural cruise on the Oasis of the Seas. Happy Cruising!

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