A buzz of anticipation hung around Southampton’s City Cruise docks. It was cruise ship turnaround day, and we’d been invited to spend a few hours visiting the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas, before she headed off on a cruise around the Mediterranean. The family friendly cruise ship has gone through a multi-million pound upgrade. Over 4,000 guests can sail on The Independence Of the Seas, and she’s popular with families. I was keen to see all the new features designed to keep youngsters and their parents entertained.
My son and I drove down from London, equipped with a towel, swimsuits and plenty of excitement. I’d already seen inside another Royal Caribbean cruise ship: the Oasis of the Seas. My son, on the other hand, had never stepped foot on a cruise ship before. He was eager to find out what all the fuss was about.
This is the verdict, from eight-year-old Austin*:
“I really loved this amazing experience! The staff were lovely, and the food was delicious! I will highly recommend the Skypad bungee trampoline with the virtual reality headset on. When you put on the headset it takes you into a game. To move in the game you have to jump quite high, and to get to the ground on top of you, you have to jump really high.
There is a surfing machine. You need to be over six, and 52 inches high for the boogie board, and any age for the surf board, but you need to be 58 inches tall. They have lots of things for children to do, and child friendly meals. My favourite part was surely the Skypad! My mum gave it a 10/10 and I gave it an 11/10! I wish I could come back!”
Family friendly dining in the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas Windjammer restaurant
We ate lunch in the Windjammer. As it was turnaround day, not all the eateries were open yet, so I didn’t experience the meals anywhere else on board. But if the Windjammer was anything to go by – oh, boy. A family friendly cruise ship has to cater for all different tastes. The Windjammer did just that.
We walked in to see a huge four foot-long cake decorated with strawberries, chocolate and the words ‘Welcome on board’. Behind the cake lay the bar, where mixologists concocted delicious-looking drinks. It was only 11.30am, but waiters walked round the restaurant with trays of the pretty cocktails, bellowing, “It’s never too early to relax when you’re on holidays!” But we had swimming to do, so instead I joined Austin in grabbing a refreshing lemonade crammed full of ice.
The first treat inside the Windjammer restaurant was the piquant scent of Asian food. Noodles were being tossed up in woks, together with stir-fried chicken, soya or shrimp. Around the corner, a chef carved slices off an enormous hunk of beef – which guests loaded onto their plates, along with a choice of about six different vegetables, crisp roast potatoes and gravy. Austin made a b-line for the American section, choosing a couple of plump sausages, together with a tasty looking cheeseburger in a fresh brioche bun.
Austin and I ate our meal next to the restaurant’s panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows. Southampton looked fetching in the sunshine, but I can imagine the Med, or the Caribbean, would be a heavenly backdrop for lunch. Mine came from the large gluten-free section, which was packed with healthy options, like salads and soups. I ate a piece of tender swordfish, accompanied by rice and a fava bean stew. But any attempt at virtue was thrown out of the window when I saw the cakes lined up on the counter. We were on holiday for the day, right?
The Perfect Storm waterslides on the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas
After dashing to the changing rooms to put on our swimming kit, Austin and I climbed up to the top of the three-storey Perfect Storm waterslides. The staff on board the Independence of the Seas take the safety of passengers very seriously, and a lifeguard asked me to put my GoPro back in my bag. That was fair enough – it’s better to be safe, and nobody would have wanted a rogue GoPro rattling around inside the waterslides. It just meant I had to capture the experience in my head, rather than on camera.
The new Typhoon and Cyclone waterslides whirled and twisted around, and my son and I floated down at a pleasantly gentle pace. We rode in tandem. One of the waterslides was dark, with jazzy stripes that flashed as you slid down. Both had see-through sections. It was thrilling to look down fifteen storeys through the clear perspex, to the water below. After splashing out at the end, Austin and I headed straight back up for another go. Four times. It was so much fun.
FlowRider on the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas
Independence of the Seas’ FlowRider is a surf simulation, which went through a refurb when the rest of the work was done on the ship. Austin was the first in line to try it out – and he loved every minute. He wasn’t quite tall enough for the surf board, but the friendly instructor helped him onto the boogie board, and gave him a gentle push out into the path of the simulated wave.
Austin did take a tumble off the boogie board at one point, but it didn’t hurt. The water was so shallow he managed to get back onto the board with only a little help from the instructor. A proud moment for this Mum!
Skypad on the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas
The Skypad was Austin’s favourite experience. The new virtual reality trampoline park is open to children over seven with the VR headsets, or those over five who just want to bounce. Set at the top of the ship, the views from the bungee trampoline park were spectacular enough. But Austin told me the game he played was THE most fun. Burly minders made sure he was bouncing in the centre of the trampoline, as he made his way past green dancing figures, down a dark hall, bouncing higher when the game told him to. Skypad runs three different games through its headsets, so game-heads like Austin would have plenty of variety. The smile on his face at the end was almost as broad as the Channel.
After the Skypad, we chilled out for a few moments underneath, on the tangerine and citron coloured hammocks. Austin then decided to go monkeying around in the netted climbing frame. Safer than a crow’s nest, but with equally spectacular views out to sea!
Splashaway Bay on the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas
With slides, hot tubs, water fountains and cannons, and a huge yellow bucket that tipped water onto people’s heads, Splashaway Bay was a fiesta of water play. It all felt very safe. The fountains and slides were in clear sight, right in the middle of the deck. This area of the family friendly cruise ship had a Fish and Chips bar in one corner, a bottomless ice cream machine in the other, and brightly coloured loungers all around. I went into a little fantasy about sitting, cocktail in hand, while my two children played and splashed around nearby. The reality, though, was that Austin told me I just HAD to join him in the fantastic hot tubs. He was right: it was a lovely place to sit for a few minutes, with the water bubbling away under the sunny blue sky.
Laser tag, Escape Room and mini golf on the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas
As well as all the water-based action, after a quick round of mini golf, Austin and I headed to the cool laser tag room. We’d boarded the ship in sandals. Players need to wear covered shoes, so instead we watched from the galley while the aliens battled it out with the robots, stalking each other with laser guns through an inflatable neon maze.
Even though we crammed a lot into a few short hours, one day just wasn’t enough to experience everything for families on the Independence of the Seas. If we had another chance to see the ship, I’d like to check out the new escape room, and the shows at the theatre. Grease is on the line-up for 2018. D would enjoy hanging out in Playmakers Sports Bar. And I’m sure Austin and Gwen would be in heaven in the Sugar Bay Candy Store. A whole room, just filled with sweeties!
For a family friendly cruise ship, The Independence of the Seas was mega-exciting. I can’t comment on the accommodation, as there simply wasn’t time to see and do everything. But Skypad, the Perfect Storm waterslides, FlowRider and Splashaway Bay alone were enough to keep our children happy for days.
For more details of the attractions on board The Independence of the Seas, the sailing schedule, prices and destinations, check out the Royal Caribbean website.
*Austin isn’t my son’s real name. The children learn at school not to use their real names online. In our family that includes the blog!
We were invited on board The Independence of the Seas for the purpose of this review, and I was compensated for my time. All views are my own.
Pin for later: