I’ve always had reservations about cruising as a holiday destination, but those reservations have been founded on a basic ignorance of what is involved in a cruise. My preconceptions included that only old people cruised, that passengers were rushed from destination to destination, that I would be trapped with too many people I didn’t like on a small boat. How could I possible enjoy cruising?
Those preconceptions were more than blown out of the water by a visit to the Royal Caribbean ship, the Independence of the Seas, while it was docked at Southampton between two trips to the Norwegian fjords. I could see the ship from the Railway station and it looked huge. It looked absolutely massive when I was alongside and looking up at it.
The ship holds between 3,500 and 4,000 passengers, but it is so big that you certainly do not get the impression that passengers are squeezed on like sardines.
A little bit about the Royal Caribbean International. Their strap line is ‘Where extraordinary happens”, and the first site of the ship really does give that impression. And those feelings just increase as you go inside and start to see some of the extraordinary features it has. RCI has a fleet of 25 Cruise ships and travels pretty much all of the seas of the world, from Asia to Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the Mediterranean to the Baltic, North America and the Caribbean, as well as the South Pacific.
Just as the grandest houses have grand staircases, so too do grand sea liners. How about this for an entrance:
We started our tour in one of the café’s with a welcome cup of coffee with pastries and biscuits. We then headed to the Presidential suite, housing up to 14 guests, and is apparently ideal for stag or hen party groups as well as extended families. The suite has bedrooms, shower rooms, lounge, an extended balcony with dining table and private hot tub. Other private suites come with a private bar (with accompanying butler) or a self playing piano.
Suites for everyone else come at a comfortable size, in varying layouts, from double beds to two single beds, to bunk beds for children. The ship also boasts a number of suites for those less mobile, and include wet rooms, with everything laid out at a comfortable height.
It is not just the family configured rooms which demonstrate that cruising is not just for older people. The entertainment is very family orientated, with the pool area, so called the H2O zone, complete with fountains and water cannons, as well as crazy golf, a climbing wall, the flowrider which is a surfing simulator. A running track flows along the perimeter of the deck, and there is a basketball court and sports court.
The Independence of the Seas improves the cruising experience with an Ice Rink , a Theatre with West End style shows (including Grease while I was visiting), a casino, a library and of course a spa.
FOOD AND DRINK
No holiday is complete without food and drink. The Independence of the Seas boasts a number of restaurants, including a Grill, a Tuscany themed restaurant, a pizzeria, a Johnny Rockets diner and of course the impressive Main Dining Room, where I had a lobster salad starter, a baked Halibut and followed with a Baileys Creme Brule.
Throw in some pubs, cafes and shops, and you will soon experience the Royal Caribbean style of cruising.
I’m sold on the idea now. The only problem is where to start, in the Med, or the Caribbean? Or what about a gentle river cruise, drifting through the vineyards of the Rhine or through the astonishing Mekon River. And there is still the Antarctic to be explored!