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ahecht

Independence of the Seas 2-10-2013 6-night pictures and review

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My girlfriend and I took our first cruise on Independence of the Seas from 2-10-2013 to 2-16-2013. I thought I would post my pictures and a review to offer a first-timer's perspective.

 

First, a little background. My girlfriend and I had been thinking of taking a cruise for some time after seeing the great trip reports from Royal Caribbean ships posted at ThemeParkReview.com. We mostly do our major travels to destinations we can do general sight-seeing and visit theme parks -- between us, we've visited over 40 different theme parks and ridden over 200 different roller coasters. We also make an annual trip to an Appalachian Mountain Club facility in New Hampshire that is in many ways similar to being on a cruise ship (all meals and activities are included in one price, meals are served communally by the same waiter each night, you're stuck with the same group of people all week, and cell phone use is discouraged).

 

When we saw a low price on a balcony cabin for a cruise during the week of both Valentine's Day and Marti Gras we jumped on it. After much back-and-forth over hump cabins, front bubble cabins, and aft cabins, we settled on deck-10 aft facing balcony 1704. In the nine moths between booking the cruise and embarkation, I spent lots of time here on Cruise Critic learning as much as I could so that I would be as prepared as possible.

 

I am still sorting through 6 cameras full of pictures, so I apologize for the large gaps between posts here.

 

Day -3 is in the next post.

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Okay, I lied. I'll start with Day -2. Before I do that, I wanted to mention that I have posted all of the compasses and menus to https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=300858D26087A5BF!124

 

Independence of the Seas 6-night Cruise Compasses

 

Independence of the Seas 6-night Menus and Food (including Portofino and Room Service)

 

Day -2: Thursday, February 7th, 2013

 

Our original plan was to fly from Manchester, NH to Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday morning, rent a car, and spend Saturday doing shopping and the beach before our cruise on Sunday. We had a late flight out after the cruise, so we planed to rent a car for the day and drive out to the Sawgrass Recreation Park to do an airboat ride. Because we had a 1-day buffer before the cruise and a late flight after the cruise, we purchased trip insurance that didn't include cancellation coverage.

 

On Thursday morning I saw an alert from Southwest Airlines about the impending blizzard and quickly moved our flights to Friday evening and booked the Crowne Plaza for Friday night. I also discovered on Thursday that the work schedule for both me and my girlfriend had opened up after the cruise, so we decided to do a last minute extension to visit Discover Cove, Sea World Orlando, and Busch Gardens Tampa.

 

While I was at work, I found out that our Friday evening flight had been cancelled, so I had to fight with a supervisor at Southwest to let us fly to Baltimore at 7am Friday morning, spend all day in the airport, and fly to Ft. Lauderdale via Tampa late that evening. Since I was going to miss Friday, I ended up staying at work until midnight. When I got home, I had to quickly book the Orlando/Tampa leg of the trip and pack. I didn't end up getting any sleep.

 

That brings us to

 

Day -1: Friday, February 8th, 2013

I was so sleep deprived, I don't remember much of this day. When we got to the Manchester Airport, this is the view that greeted us:

 

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Fortunately, planes were still taking off, we we were quickly deiced and on our way:

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We spent most of the day in Baltimore napping. We went standby on a few flights, but weren't able to get on anything earlier. We flew out just in time to catch the sunset from the air:

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We arrived in Tampa only to find that our flight out was delayed due to a mechanical problem with the plane, so we took the time to have dinner at Shula Burger in the airport. The burger was very good, and the bun was branded with their logo.

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We finally arrived in Ft. Lauderdale and found that our bags hadn't made it out of Baltimore. Since they wouldn't be there until the next day we boarded the bus for the Crowne Plaza. A word of warning here: if you book the Crowne Plaza, don't use their shuttle if you are in a hurry. The shuttle driver circled the airport for thirty minutes, stopping at each terminal 3 times, before leaving for the hotel. We arrived at the hotel after midnight. The room itself was great, with lots of space and a quirky modern decor.

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Edited by ahecht

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Day 0: Saturday, February 9th, 2013

 

Not too much to post here since we slept in before doing a late check-out from the Crowne Plaza. This is the view that greeted us when we finally woke up:

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We tried to take the Crowne Plaza's shuttle back to the airport to get our bags and pick up our originally reserved rental car. However the shuttle driver never actually came into the lobby where we were supposed to wait, so one of the hotel staff had to drive us. Again, don't count on the Crowne Plaza airport shuttle if you need to be somewhere on time (note that the Hertz location in the Crowne Plaza uses their own separate shuttles). When we got to the airport we found that our bags had missed the first flight, so we took the car and headed out.

 

We first stopped for lunch at Gilbert's for a couple of amazing burgers and a great slice of key lime pie. The service was very good, the owner was out and about talking to customers, and her son was working the cash registers. Still, it was a pricey meal for hamburgers -- two burgers, fries, drinks, and a slice of pie came to $40 with tip. The burgers were huge though, and kept us full the rest of the day.

 

Here is my burger with fresh mozzarella and tomato:

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Here is my girlfriend's Harvarti Bacon Burger on Toasted Garlic English Muffin:

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I didn't get a picture of the pie. After eating, we walked to Total Wines to pick up a couple bottles for the cruise and next door to Publix to pick up a case of water and headed to the Sea Beach Plaza to check in.

 

The Sea Beach Plaza Hotel was a dump, but it was cheap and walking distance from the beach. The staff was friendly, but the maintenance was pretty bad. The tile surfaces and doorknobs were covered with paint splatters, the microwave was cracked, there was no doorknob on the bathroom door, and the toilet seat was a different shape than the toilet bowl. Our air conditioner made a very loud clicking noise, but a maintenance person was able to quickly fix that.

 

The room itself, however, was very spacious:

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We headed to the beach and swam for a bit before heading back to the airport to get our bags. We quickly unpacked and headed to Il Mulino for dinner. I had heard great things about Il Mulino from chowhound, and a coupon we found in the Great Locations Travel Guide available from the brochure rack at the Crowne Plaza sweetened the deal.

 

Il Mulino makes all their own pasta and sauces from scratch. I ordered a penne dish with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes that was very good:

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My girlfriend ordered a chicken-cranberry anelli, and while the anelli was nothing special, the side of home-made tortellini Alfredo was amazing:

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We had lots of leftovers since we had had a large lunch, which we ate for breakfast the next day.

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Day 1: Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - Part 1

Our plan was to drop our bags at the port early, return the rental car to Avis, and take Avis's shuttle back to the ship in time to get in line at 10:30am. Dropping the bags was no problem, and we had some extra time so we decided to stop at Marnelli Park (located just before the Eller Drive exit to the port area) to see if there was any sea life in the warm water canal coming out of the powerplant.

 

Here is the entrance to the park:

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We did see a couple of dolphins swimming in the canal, but I wasn't fast enough with my camera to catch any pictures of them. There's also a nice statue of Columbus and a bunch of memorials scattered around the park:

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Here's another important warning: If you go to Marnelli Park, you must exit the port and re-enter through security. We made the mistake of making a U-turn, and got pulled over by port police (although they let us off with a warning).

 

After dropping our bags, we headed to the Avis location at the Hyatt Pier 66. However, between me forgetting to return the key to the hotel and forgetting to fill up the rental car with gas before returning, we weren't able to get a shuttle back to the port until 10:45. The was a notice on the shuttle that "Gratutities" were accepted, which we all found amusing:

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We got back to the port just before 11am. The first sight of the ship was imposing. This thing is huge!

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There was some interesting art on the trashcans (I don't know why it said "Bassoon", but as a bassoonist I had to get a picture):

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Here is the line inside at 11:00am. It took about half an hour to get through the line, get through security, check in, get our SeaPasses, and have our picture taken:

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Day 1: Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - Part 2

 

Before we knew it, we were heading to the ship:

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We found ourselves on the Royal Promenade in a daze. Not knowing where to go, we headed for the Cafe Promenade and ordered a cookie. The fact that we could go up to a counter, ask for a cookie, and someone would just hand us one for free was quite a novel experience.

 

We took the elevator up to deck 11, quickly checked out the ice and fruit sculptures in Windjammer, and headed out to the pool deck to try to get in the water before the weather turned bad.

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Edited by ahecht

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Day 1: Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - Part 3

Here are the two main pools:

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And here is the kids area:

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As you can see, the weather was starting to get threatening, so we skipped the pools and headed for the famous cantilevered hot tubs, which hang out over the side of the ship. Here is a view from above:

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The water was very hot, and we enjoyed the hot tubs knowing that this was probably the only time we would have them to ourselves (later in the week they were often filled to capacity). The hot tubs had a great view of the mangroves in John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, and we sat there watching the pelicans chase the fishing boats.

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Edited by ahecht

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Day 1: Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - Part 4

 

We also wanted to get on the Flowrider before the lines got too long, but it didn't open until 2pm. The cabins weren't open yet, so we set off to explore the area near our cabin. We went back to Windjammer to check out the view, and caught them cleaning the windows:

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The port area was virtually empty at 1:20pm:

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We tried some Honey Stung chicken while we were there. It was nice and juicy dark meat, but the breading was soggy and a bit flavorless. We didn't get any other food since we had more exploring to do.

 

We headed up into the Viking Crown to the Seven Hearts lounge where lots of board games were available:

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Here is the rest of the lounge:

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We then headed into Olive or Twist. It has a nice view during the day, but it is spectacular location at night. It was also the closest bar to our stateroom, so I made a few quick trips here to get wine glasses or drinks to enjoy on our balcony. One of my big regrets is that we never had time to go up here for a late night drink.

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This is the performance area. A string quartet performed here after the second seating of dinner each night:

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Awesome review so far..we leave on the Independence this sat. so can't wait to read more of what's in store.

 

How was the onboard music...pool bar, pub, schooners,etc?

Edited by crusinpeg

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Day 1: Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - Part 5

 

We continued our tour up to the chapel:

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It's the highest passenger accessible space on the ship, but it has no windows other than the skylight.

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I'm going to take a moment here to talk about the art on the ship. The ship's art collection was amazing, mostly featuring modern artists (everyone from Warhol to Christo and Jeanne-Claude). One of the aft stairwells featured photographs inspired by famous works of art. Here was a photograph of toys arranged to represent a Picasso:

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Some of the other art was a little too modern for me. This is a framed blue square:

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Soon it was time for the staterooms to open. On our way to the stateroom we saw some of our luggage waiting in the hallway, so we grabbed it and headed to the back of the ship. We were soon chased down by our stateroom attendant who introduced herself and welcomed us to our room.

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I'll get to more pictures and reviews of the room in a bit, but since it was now almost 2:00 we quickly dropped our stuff and headed to the Flowrider.

 

When we got there the staff were reluctant to start up the Flowrider due to the cold, but eventually they opened. We had it to ourselves for about half an hour before other people showed up. Once I got the hang of it (and I had plenty of chances to try), the Flowrider was a lot of fun. I even managed to kneel on the board a couple of times. However the wipeouts can be brutal, and we were both very sore and bruised for the rest of the cruise as a result.

 

After a while of having it to ourselves, another man joined us. He had apparently chosen this ship specifically because of the Flowrider and performed a number of advanced tricks before the Sports Staff pulled him aside and told him that such tricks weren't allowed (apparently they hadn't gotten the memo released a few days before that tricks were allowed again, although they did get it later in the week and we saw the same guy doing tricks with the Sports Staff cheering him on).

 

My waterproof camera was in my checked luggage, so the only Flowrider picture I got was of it dry:

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Awesome review so far..we leave on the Independence this sat. so can't wait to read more of what's in store.

 

How was the onboard music...pool bar, pub, schooners,etc?

 

I didn't care much for the singers at the pub or the piano guy at the Schooner Bar, but they seemed to get a large crowd. The band at the pool (the Extra Band) were good, and did mostly Caribbean-sounding versions of pop songs. There was a string trio (the Elegance Trio) that performed in the MDR during the late seating and then in Olive or Twist afterwards that added a nice ambiance. The Prestige Band, who performed latin music in Boleros, were also very good. I never got to hear the band that performs in the Pyramid lounge (Synergy).

 

I hope you show us pictures of Discovery Cove, too! That's one of my favorite places in all the world :D

I'll post some pictures, but I wasn't planning to go into as much detail as I am about the cruise.

 

Love the review. I'm scheduled to cruise on the Indy next year. Do you know if the ship has the Coke freestyle machines? :)

 

I didn't see them, but then again I wasn't really looking for them as we didn't have a soda package.

Edited by ahecht

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Enjoying reading your review. We were on the Indy along with you. Brings back memories of our cruise. We had such great weather once we set sail. We enjoyed our time on the Indy.

 

Did you by chance get a picture of the artwork hanging in the promenade (front area I think)) that was made out of the thread spools? I didn't see it until almost the end of the cruise, and didn't have my camera with me. I forgot to get a picture, and would like one, if you have it. Thanks!

 

Looking forward to reading the rest of your review!

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Thanks for the review. We sail on Indy this Saturday (can't wait!), and your excellent photos are whetting my appetite!

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Thanks for your review so far! We are looking at Independence of the Seas as a possible contender for our January 2014 cruise.

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Did you by chance get a picture of the artwork hanging in the promenade (front area I think)) that was made out of the thread spools? I didn't see it until almost the end of the cruise, and didn't have my camera with me. I forgot to get a picture, and would like one, if you have it. Thanks!

 

I took several pictures later in the week, but I haven't gone through those yet. I'll make sure to post it when I get there.

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Day 1: Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - Part 6

 

Okay, back to the stateroom. I had more trepidation about the stateroom than any other part of the cruise. How tiny would it be? Would the steel wall and windjammer overhang make the balcony too dark and stuffy? Would we have problems with soot or chain-smoking neighbors? Would we be allowed to have lounge chairs on the balcony? Would there be enough storage for our suitcases? Stay tuned for these answers and more...

 

The room was bigger than I thought it would be after hearing all the comments on here. You can see the picture above of it empty, and here is a picture of it with all our suitcases (actually all but the largest one that we were still waiting for):

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And here it is after we unpacked. All the suitcases fit under the beds or in the bottom of the closet:

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Of course, the big attraction in an aft cabin is the balcony. I was pleased to find two regular chairs, two lounge chairs, and a small table already on the balcony:

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Here's the best picture of the bathroom I could get. It was tiny but usable. The shower had the "star trek" style sliding doors, not a curtain.

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We unpacked as much as we could, but it was soon time for the muster drill. I didn't get any pictures of the drill, but the process was very easy. We didn't need to bring life jackets or anything other than our SeaPass. There were crew members throughout the hallway to guide you to the correct place. We were crammed in like sardines for about 15 minutes while the cruise director, Joff Eaton, read through the instructions, and then we were free to go. I got this picture of the boarding bridge on the way to the drill. On the way back, I noticed that the boarding bridge was being retracted -- we had passed the point of no return:

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We headed back to the room to catch sailaway from our balcony:

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Edited by ahecht

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Day 1: Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - Part 7

 

Before I get into sailaway, I wanted to post a brief warning about aft balconies. Our balcony looked down on the balconies for 9706 and 9708. We had seen the cleaning crew hosing down the balconies and superstructure in the aft when we were in Windjammer earlier, and it appears that a lot of water had pooled along the flat surfaces on the aft superstructure. When they released the mooring ropes and the ship rolled slightly, a huge amount of water came pouring down on the 9706 balcony (fortunately the people on that balcony ran for cover). You can kind of see the water in this picture, but it didn't show up on camera very well:

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We had a gorgeous sunset as we sailed away (the curvy railing is an artifact of stitching together multiple pictures in a panorama -- it didn't really look like that):

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The Port Everglades Webcam even caught us waving (we hung a green banner on the railing):

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Day 1: Sunday, February 10th, 2013 - Part 8

 

The sun finally set, so I took one last picture before heading to the Welcome Aboard show.

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The theater was very impressive, but the projection screen on the right (the greenish yellow one) had a message up the entire week that the bulb needed to be changed. The screen was supposed to be blue and white when the picture was taken.

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The show opened with the Independence of the Seas orchestra, who were very good:

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The orchestra played a couple of songs before being joined by the Singers and Dancers for "Come Sailing Away". The singers were good, but the dancers were a bit amateurish. After the singers and dancers, the cruise director Joff Eaton introduced himself and did a bit of standup. Joff was followed by the comedian, who was very very funny. However, despite the constant promises from Joff and the comedian that the show would end before the 8:30 dinner seating, the show ran late. When the singers and dancers came back on at about 8:40 we left for dinner.

 

I could've sworn that I had taken a picture of the main dining room, but I can't find it anywhere. There are plenty of other pictures online so I won't sweat it too much. We found our table and met our waiter Eduardo (who I also can't find a picture of). Eduardo was a great waiter, and very funny.

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I won't post too many food pictures in this thread (mostly because I only took my phone to dinner and the camera on it isn't great), but all my menus and food pictures are from Day 1 area available at https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=300858d26087a5bf&id=300858D26087A5BF!135#cid=300858D26087A5BF&id=300858D26087A5BF!125

 

We both had the Vidalia Onion Tart as a starter, and it lived up to the hype. I'll miss it on the new menu. We also had the Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup and Tortilla Soup. Both soups were very salty to the point that we couldn't finish them. For entrees, I had the catch of the day (the fish was just okay, but the lentils underneath it were very good) and my girlfriend had the Mediterranean Quesadilla which she liked. For dessert we both had the Strawberry Pavlova which was good but way too sweet.

 

After dinner we stopped by the Labyrinth night club which was an awesome space, but we were too tired to stay until things picked up.

 

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Which brings us to the end of Day 1. *Whew* Days 1 and 2 have lots of pictures from exploring the ship, the rest won't be as long. I'll post Day 2 tomorrow.

 

Edited by ahecht

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I just saw the Royal Caribbean commercial during the Oscars that starts with an aft-facing shot of the sunset over the wake of a ship and it really brought me back.

 

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More tomorrow...

Edited by ahecht

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Enjoying reading your review. We were on the Indy along with you. Brings back memories of our cruise. We had such great weather once we set sail. We enjoyed our time on the Indy.

 

Did you by chance get a picture of the artwork hanging in the promenade (front area I think)) that was made out of the thread spools? I didn't see it until almost the end of the cruise, and didn't have my camera with me. I forgot to get a picture, and would like one, if you have it. Thanks!

 

Looking forward to reading the rest of your review!

 

Not meaning to thread hijack, but here's one I took... it's not a great angle, as I only spotted it last minute too!

 

Bobbins.jpg[/img]

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We will be on the Independence March 16.

 

We are renting from Avis at the airport and suppose to return it there. I did not know about Hyatt Pier 66 office. Did you have any problems returning the car to the hotel office instead of the airport. How often is the shuttle?

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Thanks for the review! We were on this same cruise a few weeks ago, and I didn't notice several of the pieces of art you took photos of.

 

I wish the staff on Independence would do an art tour of the ship!

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Thanks for the pics and review. We'll be sailing on the IOS on Saturday for the 8 day Eastern so I very much appreciate the effort.

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Not meaning to thread hijack, but here's one I took... it's not a great angle, as I only spotted it last minute too!

Thanks. Here are the pictures I got -- the light was low so they're not great (I kept forgetting to take one during the day).

 

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Thanks for the review! We were on this same cruise a few weeks ago, and I didn't notice several of the pieces of art you took photos of.

 

I wish the staff on Independence would do an art tour of the ship!

 

There was an "Art Walking Tour" on Day 3 (February 12th) that departed from the Champagne Bar at 4:15. However, we were feeling too tired to do a bunch of walking after spending the day snorkeling in Grand Cayman.

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Day 2: Monday, February 11th, 2013 - Part 1

 

Before I get into Day 2, I want to mention one very important thing about Day 1: ship motion. Given the huge size of the ship and the relatively calm waters between Florida and the Caribbean, I hadn't expected much in the way of ship motion. However, by the time the sun set the ship had started really rocking and rolling. Despite the size of the ship, the movement was more of a left-and-right jerking motion, not a gentle rolling. During the welcome aboard show, Joff kept making comments about how smooth the seas were as the curtains swayed back and forth violently behind him. It was at this point that I started having my doubts about cruising -- I didn't think I could take a week of this.

 

However, we woke up the next morning to glassy smooth seas and almost no detectable motion. Since I had to be up early to get Ice Show tickets, I caught the gorgeous sunrise from out balcony (in fact, since the ship made a U-Turn around the western point of Cuba this day, we saw both the sunrise and sunset directly off our balcony).

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Once there was enough light, we could see Havana, Cuba off in the distance. It was hazy, so I had to do some image tweaking to make it visible:

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Ice Show tickets were supposed to be distributed at 8:30 on the Royal Promenade in front of Sorrentos. When I got there at 8:15, the line stretched about 2/3 of the way down the promenade (almost to the moving bridge).

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Since there was already a line, they started distributing tickets early at 8:20, and by 8:15 I had my tickets and had grabbed a white chocolate donut from the Cafe Promenade. Tickets were free, only one person from each party needed to be there, and they didn't need to see SeaPasses or anything.

 

After I got back to the room, we headed to a wonderful relaxing breakfast in the Main Dining Room. The fruit and granola buffet was great, especially the fresh figs (recommended by a table-mate), and the Eggs Benedict and Crab-cake Benedict were very good as well. Much better than the offerings in Windjammer.

 

After breakfast, we set off to explore the ship more. Our first stop was the Helipad. It was here that we discovered that the rough seas of the night before had been replaced with 55mph winds. Since we were traveling at 18 knots into the wind, the apparent wind speed was over 75mph (that's hurricane force!). We braved the winds anyway and got some great views of the water and the coast of Cuba.

 

Here is the view of the Helipad looking back at the front of the ship:

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Of course, we had to do the "King of the World" bit from Titanic. I couldn't get a shot of both of us together as I didn't trust my tripod in the wind:

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See, I told you it was windy:

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I'll post the rest of the day when I get home this evening...

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Thanks so much for taking the time to post the review. We are 12 days and counting before boarding IOS! Looking forward to reading about your snorkeling experience in Cayman.

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Since there was already a line, they started distributing tickets early at 8:20, and by 8:15 I had my tickets and had grabbed a white chocolate donut from the Cafe Promenade. Tickets were free, only one person from each party needed to be there, and they didn't need to see SeaPasses or anything.

 

CORRECTION: I had my tickets by 8:25, not 8:15. The line moved fast and took about 5 minutes.

Edited by ahecht

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Do you remember what the times of the ice shows were? Were they on sea days?

I posted a link to the compasses in the first post, so you can find all the schedules there. The ice shows were at 3:15pm and 5:15pm on Day 2 (Sea Day) and at 7pm and 9pm on Day 4 (Jamaica). The show is called "Freeze Frame" on the 6-night cruises, but there is supposedly a different show for the 8-night cruises.

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I am loving the review. Our Indy cruise ended the day you started. Sounds like you enjoyed it as much as we did.

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Great review and pictures! It's always fun to read in-depth trip reports from first time cruisers and yours is no exception. Looking forward to the rest!

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