Highland pipers and Celtic dancers led the celebrations as Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas was christened April 30 in Southampton, United Kingdom, its homeport for the summer months. Richard Fain, the cruise line’s chairman, called the ship ”the largest, most innovative cruise ship ever to sail from these shores.”
Royal Caribbean’s decision to inaugurate and homeport its newest and largest vessel in the UK is a testament to the growing strength of the local market. Several years ago when Freedom of the Seas was introduced in Southampton, sales increased by 280 percent for the company. The UK is now the line’s second largest market behind the U.S.
As the third Royal Caribbean Freedom-class ship, Independence is pretty much a cookie-cutter version of its sisters, Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas. But there are differences.
With the ship operating from Southampton and drawing mostly British customers, some service changes were made. These include the addition of kettles for tea and coffee in all staterooms, the heating of outdoor pools and the inclusion of some British-style entertainment.
Another difference is the ship’s 6,500 piece, $7.7 million art collection, which is themed on how the masters continue to influence today’s artists. Nevertheless, the one piece getting the most attention is Kylix — a gigantic golden bowl with two handles that soars over the Royal Promenade. Created by artist Larry Kirkland, it was inspired by the ancient Athenian artist Exekaias and recreates a wine-drinking cup decorated with a scene from the Greek god Dionysus.
Perhaps the biggest and most important change on the vessel is that it will burn 6 percent less fuel than its sister ships. Royal Caribbean says the reduction in fuel consumption is made possible thanks to new “foul release coating” technology along with new construction techniques that pared down rivets on the ship’s hull all of which reduce water resistance.
Artwork and technology aside, Independence’s guests will greatly appreciate their comfy quarters during their cruise. As with all Freedom-class ships, Independence offers several cabin categories, ranging from inside cabins to suites. Of the 1,817 staterooms, 842 have private balconies and 172 have promenade views. All cabins are compact but very cozy beds offer thick pillow-top mattresses, fluffy pillows, and duvets. Additionally, each stateroom has a flat-screen television, mini-bar, ample storage space, a large closet with lots of hangers and a bathroom with a shower stall.
The balconies on standard veranda staterooms are larger and deeper than most cruise ships and offer chairs and table for al fresco relaxation. The top of the line Presidential Suite is 1,215 square feet and offers four bedrooms and four baths and there is an additional 800-square-foot balcony with a whirlpool, bar and dining area.
Lots to do
Independence has more facilities than a small town. There’s an ice rink, a nine-hole miniature golf course, a 43-foot-high rock-climbing wall and a full-size boxing ring. There are three pools, a full-size water park, the wave-generating FlowRider for surfing, and two cantilevered whirlpools that are suspended 112 feet above the ocean.
Passengers can also visit the Royal Promenade, a 445-foot boulevard for shopping, dining and entertainment that looks like an atrium mall and hosts nightly street parades with performers, music and a laser light show. And for fitness buffs, Independence’s large fitness-and-spa center offers many options for rejuvenation and refreshment.
Those who like to take their entertainment sitting down can visit the enormous casino or listen to the live bands that can be found in various venues around the ship. There is also a theater with excellent professional entertainment. Not to be missed is the ship’s nightly ice show with professional figure skaters.
As befits a ship this size, there are many dining options. There is a Johnny Rockets hamburger joint near the pool deck, and the Royal Promenade hosts a Seattle’s Best Coffee cafe, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, the Dog and Badger pub, and Sorrento’s pizzeria. The ship offers the usual two nightly seatings, with assigned tables and tablemates, in its three-deck-high main restaurant; each level is named for a famous Shakespeare play (King Lear, Romeo & Juliet, and Othello).
For those wishing to dine on buffet fare, there is Windjammer Café, the ship’s buffet venue. It is arranged like a food court, which really helps to keep the passenger traffic flowing. There are three additional dining venues within Windjammer Café: Jade, serving Asian-fusion cuisine; Chops Grille, serving steaks and seafood; and Portofino, serving Italian fare (Chops and Portofino require reservations and have a $20 cover charge.)
Passengers who like an active vacation will love Independence of the Seas. It’s a real family ship and there’s literally something for everyone.
If you go
Independence of the Seas will offer 14- and 10-night Mediterranean cruises departing from Southampton for the summer months. In September, Independence will offer 11-night Canary Island cruises from Southampton. In November, the ship will reposition to Fort Lauderdale where it will sail alternate itineraries between the Eastern and Western Caribbean.
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