Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day

We are back home after our whirlwind holiday cruise on Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas. It's taken most of the day but we are finally completely unpacked, the coach has been tidied up, and the needy four-legged mammals have been reassured that we are back home for the foreseeable future.

I will share our thoughts about the cruise in just a moment. For any of our readers who do not care to slog through our tales of the high seas, I will first report that we intend to remain right here at our secret spot in Fort Lauderdale tonight, and will get rolling sometime tomorrow towards Arcadia and the start of the Bussin' 2009 bus conversion rally, where we are both slated to deliver seminars. I will remain in Arcadia through about the 8th, as I will also be teaching at the "Bring Your Own Bus" workshop following the rally, while Louise jets off to California to visit family and friends. She flies out of Tampa but returns to Palm Beach, so Odyssey and I will head that way when the workshop is over.

We had a nice cruise. This was our first on RCI and also on any ship this large; the ship was full, with 4,200 passengers and nearly 1,400 crew. Despite that, it never felt overly crowded and we seldom waited in line for anything. We ended up on this particular cruise simply because it met the criteria of being relatively cheap, extending through Christmas (but not into our rally), having balcony staterooms available, and departing from southeast Florida, where we already were when we booked it.

When I booked this cruise, I took a balcony stateroom "guarantee," which meant we did not get to choose a cabin, but were guaranteed a minimum of the lowest category balcony, with the possibility of ending up with something nicer than that. (Usually that means the possibility of the same size stateroom, but perhaps on a higher deck or better location -- in practice, lines almost never bump a guarantee up to the next "type," such as a mini-suite when only a balcony is guaranteed). What we ended up with was an "accessible" stateroom in the lowest balcony category.

This turned out to be a major score. It's not even possible to book such a stateroom unless one has a verifiable medical need; it had never occurred to me that the line must assign these to their "guarantee" bookings when they have unsold accessible staterooms just a couple weeks before sailing. Our room was literally 150% the size of the "normal" staterooms in our category -- the size, actually, of a mini-suite. While we had the same appointments as any other balcony, we had a lot more room to move around, and our balcony was 50% longer. The only minor annoyances (emphasis on minor) we had to endure were the weird shower arrangement (the bathroom is probably twice the regular size, and the floor is flat all the way into the shower) and a little flip-down "bridge" over the patio door track to facilitate wheelchairs -- we just stepped over it rather than flipping it up and down all the time.

The other major score for us was landing a deuce in the dining room. Immediately after boarding I marched down to the Maitre d' to ask specifically for a table for two, knowing it would be nearly impossible on a full ship. It turned out, though, that we had already been pre-assigned to one, a circumstance I attribute to the fact that couples on this cruise were vastly outnumbered by larger families. We are much more accustomed to sailing on lines where an older demographic makes for intense competition for two-tops; the holiday likely meant this cruise was more family-intensive even for Royal Caribbean.

I have to say that we really liked the ship itself. I was afraid the "Royal Promenade," a four-story tall shopping-mall sort of affair running down the center of the ship, would be too "Las Vegas" tacky, but it turned out to be a really interesting space. We had breakfast nearly every morning at the little cafe right on the promenade, and it was a great place for people-watching. While we did not avail ourselves of the climbing wall, the ice rink (really), the Flowrider boogie-board attraction, the water park (aimed squarely at children) or even the miniature golf, all included, it was nice to know they were there and we enjoyed watching them in use. The ice rink hosts a production "ice show," and a retractable over-ice floor turns the space into a venue for other events such as the hilarious "Quest" game which I will not even attempt to describe, other than to say that you must go if you end up on an RCI ship.

We ate dinner every night in the main dining room, where the service was on par with some of the higher-end lines we've cruised. The food quality in all venues was below what we've experienced on other large-ship lines, but acceptable nonetheless, and some of the selections were outstanding. We generally had lunch in the buffet, although some of our shore excursions forced us to other venues. There is a Johnny Rockets on board, but we skipped it -- it's an extra charge, and, hey, we can eat there ashore. We did enjoy pizza and antipasto available almost any hour of the day from the pizzeria on the promenade, and it was excellent as well as included. Also included was self-serve frozen yogurt on the pool deck, although there was also an extra-fee Ben & Jerry's on the promenade. It sort of stuns us to think that people will pony up to buy food on a cruise ship; we also opted to skip the $25 per-person Portofino and Chops "alternative" dinner restaurants -- our experience is that neither the food quality nor the service warrants such an upcharge.

We really did not have enough at-sea time to fully enjoy the entire ship, with three ports in a row bracketed by only two sea days. We enjoyed some truly wonderful diving in Belize at Turneffe Atoll and in Cozumel on Palancar reef; in hindsight we should have taken the interim day in Costa Maya off completely and just enjoyed the port facility (complete with swimming pool and swim-up bar) and some of the ship amenities. Instead we went on a grueling six-hour excursion to the Biomaya park where two hours were spent in line to zip-line for five minutes. Once we were on the trio of zip-lines, totaling some 1,000 meters or so, we enjoyed it, but that was too much time for so little reward. It was our first time being hoisted up ~100' towers to the zip lines by our harnesses, though -- our previous zip line experiences all involved walking to the first platform.

All in all we had a great time, and someone else did all our holiday decorating, cooking, and cleaning. Plus, we can add RCI to our portfolio of cruising experience, and I think we can honestly say we would do another one should the circumstance arise.


  1. Glad you enjoyed your cruise. We've been on 3 RCI ships and enjoyed all of them. We are looking forward to our 4th one in 2010.

  2. Hey Guys, Glad you had a great cruising holiday. For two Red Cross volunteers," ya'll sure clean up good." Sorta made me wish I wuz there. If you come thru Baton Rouge, we have a full H/U spot in our yard. Yours if you want it. Pat R.

  3. Yes, really... wow... don't ever show up here dressed like that... people might get ideas!!!
    (whatever that meant!!!).
    Glad you had a great time... seems as Karma played it's good role.
    Be well... Ara & Spirit


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