In my relatively short cruising history I admit I have only cruised on one ship. It is no coincidence then that she happens to be one of the biggest, and her name, Independence of the Seas.
When my wife first cajoled me into going on a cruise, my requirements for which ship we went on were quite specific. I admit back then I had an ill-informed, stereotyped opinion of what a cruise would be like and wanted to avoid that type of cruise at all costs.
So, in order to find the perfect ship we gathered every brochure that’s ever been printed, completely clearing out most local travel agent’s shelves. Endless hours were spent on the laptop researching all the cruise lines and different ships. We studied review after review, picture after picture and deck plan after deck plan. My early favourite was later rejected on many grounds. I think I had initially been swayed by the fact it had a full scale Formula 1 racing car simulator on-board and I envisaged spending many hours relieving the perceived “boredom” at sea in it!
Studying all the itineraries, my wife and I realised that several of the cruise lines that were scoring big points for us, all happened to have ships that sailed from a port just a few minutes’ drive away. Suddenly, sailing from Southampton became an extra attraction and a top priority. Focussing on just the Southampton based ships made the choice much easier too – but unfortunately ruled out the MSC ships with the F1 simulator!
Right from the start we had decided we wanted something less traditional, a bit more modern and fun. I also decided that I wanted to go on a big ship because I wanted plenty of open spaces and didn’t want to feel cooped up when we were at sea. Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas soon started to emerge as the favourite.
Now four cruises on her later, I can safely say she is firmly our favourite and we chose very well. We haven’t yet sailed on anything else, but have been on day visits on two smaller ships. Studying layouts, pictures and reviews of other cruise ships has now also turned into something of a hobby – well, obsession maybe.
For those that don’t know her so well, Independence is currently the joint 3rd biggest cruise ship in the world, sharing the accolade with her two Freedom class sisters. She is an enormous ship; approximately 154,000 gross tonnes, 1112 ft long and 127 ft wide and carries 3600 passengers. Her size enables her to cope admirably with the masses, the key to this being her layout and open spaces.
Like the other big Royal Caribbean ships in the Freedom, Voyager and Oasis classes, the Royal Promenade, as its known, runs straight through the middle of the ship acting as the main thoroughfare. It gets people from the entertainment facilities to the restaurants, from front to back with minimal fuss or obstruction. Lined with bars, shops and eateries it feels like you are in a sprawling shopping mall. At night it comes alive with vibrant lighting, music, fun street parties, and parades and hosts the Captain’s welcome. Not bad for what is essentially a corridor through the middle of the ship.
Another simple pleasure that I now take for granted on Independence of the Seas is the ability to get outside and take a relaxed stroll on the promenade deck around the whole of the ship or to sit on a bench on the helipad at the bow. I like being able to get somewhere away from the busier pool and resort decks. Somewhere quiet and somewhere I can be at one with the sea, where I can taste the salty sea air and feel the spray on my face.
These days it seems that many cruise ships don’t have such accessible outside lower decks and some don’t have particularly big, open areas outside on the upper decks either. Pool decks can be quite sheltered and closed in, promenade decks are often flanked by hanging lifeboats restricting or in some cases completely blocking any sea view. It also seems that there aren’t many ships where you can get right to the pointy end and do the Titanic pose if you so dare (and if you are a first time cruiser reading this; please don’t do it, it just isn’t cool – oh, go on then, we’ve all done it, haven’t we?!).
On Independence of the Seas it’s possible to do a complete lap of the ship from the the very front of the bow, all the way along one side, right around the stern and back down the other side with a completely unobstructed sea view from only a few decks above the water line. It’s close enough to see the whites of the dolphin’s eyes as they jump through the bow wave. And with the stroll around the perimeter coming in at approximately ¾ km, it is a great way to burn off some of the excess calories from that second pudding at dinner.
Meanwhile, high up on Deck 12 you can get all the way around the open upper decks too without tripping over sun loungers or having to cut through, up or over other parts of the ship. If walking the colossal decks isn’t energetic enough, there’s always the jogging track which winds its way around the pool deck and forward superstructure where 3 laps equal a kilometre.
These things are as important to me as the entertainment, dining options, dress codes and all the other usual considerations, if not slightly more so. I don’t want to feel like I am just in a big hotel that is swaying a bit from side to side. When I’m on a ship, I want to feel that I’m on a ship. I don’t want to be confined to being inside or to be viewing the ocean from afar. I want to be able to get out there, explore every corner of my ship and fully experience being out in the ocean with the sea breeze in my hair and be able to see the waves crashing against the side of the ship just a few feet below me. I want to take in all the sights, sounds, smells and wonders of being at sea. For me, that is best on a big ship and just some of the reasons why I love Indy, as she is now affectionately known, so much.
However, I do have some sad news. Having just completed cruise number 4 on her, the wife and I have decided it is time to go our separate ways. We are going to spend some time apart, move on and take a little break to re-assess our feelings, us and the ship that is. Indy is leaving us in November to go back to the Caribbean for the winter and will then be having a little bit of a makeover before coming back fresh faced and revitalised next summer. In the meantime, we have decided it is time to see other ships. We’re about to have a little fling with another big beautiful ship; P&O’s Ventura and will then be turning our attentions to a holiday romance with Celebrity Eclipse next year. Our romance with Indy is far from over and she will remain firmly in our hearts and we know we will one day be reunited with her in the not too distant future….in fact, it is actually booked already!