Independence of the Seas
Fodor’s Expert Review
A Freedom-class ship that entered service in 2008 – upgraded in 2013 with Oasis-like amenities.Read More
Best For People Who Want
A megaship experience with many sports, dining, drinking and entertainment options.
High tech decor dominates the ship – especially in the Royal Promenade and the atriums.
Clean, simple and tasteful, featuring a lot of Art Nouveau influence, seems just right for a ship this size. The atrium boasts the signature piece, hanging many yards from the atrium ceiling and reflecting the laser-like light beams projected onto it. Glass elevators in the vertical atriums at each end of the promenade make for breathtaking views of the interior of the ship.
The Royal Promenade – four decks high, longer than a football field, wider than three lanes of traffic – has no windows to the outside, but several windows to inside (promenade view) staterooms. Those windows are almost always shuttered however, so people on the outside cannot see what is happening on the inside (picture). The mall is always dazzlingly illuminated, unless the lighting effects are turned on for the Mardi Gras-style parades complete with stilt walkers, a swaying inflatable dancer, streamers and confetti.
The enormous Casino Royale, through which passengers must pass on deck four to get to the main show lounge, is gilded to within an inch of its life, with nearly 300 slots and tables for blackjack, craps, roulette and Caribbean Stud Poker. The “Crypt” which is an ’80s style gothic disco pulses into the wee hours. The well-stocked library, which feels like an urban bookshop, provides seating along its glass wall for an overview of the Royal Promenade. The Viking Crown Lounge is perched 14 decks above the ocean. You can get married in port in the ship’s Wedding Chapel, bringing up to 60 of your closest friends and families.
The gorgeous La Scala Theater, a state-of-the-art 1,350-seat show lounge, features such decorative elements as a Murano glass chandelier and a jewel-bedecked velvet stage curtain.
That ice rink you hear so much about is two decks below the atrium and right in the middle of the ship, which means some fancy footwork is sometimes required to get to other public areas. In fact, the great and spacious interior of the ship is almost completely surrounded by private cabins, so to get any look at the ocean at all you’ll have to head for the cluster of lounges on the upper decks or outside on the decks themselves.
Near the Ice Rink is a new area for Karaoke style fun called the “On Air Club.” In addition to Karaoke, they have video toys that will take guests faces and project them onto a screen with cartoon-like bodies doing a variety of dance-like moves. All good fun.
Amply decked out with recliners, the pool areas bustle with activity and also are the staging area for fashion shows and planned games. The real action takes place on the sports deck, where fitness fans work up a sweat playing ping-pong or basketball or rock-climbing. Families flock to the open-air 9-hole miniature golf course.
The best spots for being alone with a book during days at sea are the sea view Seven of Hearts card room and Cloud Nine Lounge on Deck 14. Serious misanthropes can retreat all the way up the curving stairway to Deck 15’s Skylight Chapel, where no one ever ventures, and where no music is piped in.
The most noticeable thing is the boxing ring, a first on a cruise ship with sister ship Freedom. There was actually an staff boxing instructor during our cruise. The ship’s well-equipped gym still draws serious fitness buffs with its full range of state-of-the-art machines. The two-level Steiner Spa, with its winding staircase, looks more like the lobby of a boutique hotel, albeit with a Greek motif. It houses a small attractive thalassotherapy-like pool in an airy glass-enclosed but private semi-circular room. The Solarium’s serene outdoor pool area nestles behind the spa; you’re surrounded there by fountains, foliage, and statues, with a retractable glass ceiling overhead. A obvious addition to this class of ships are the cantilevered jacuzzi spas that actually hang over the sides of the ship. They look most dramatic from the outside than the inside, still, its an interesting novelty.
Royal Caribbean has made a number of improvements to youth and teen programming. One new program is Adventure Theater, developed by Camp Broadway in New York City to give kids an immersion into the performing arts. On each RCI sailing, teens and kids can learn acting fundamentals, vocalization, and dance techniques during a series of three 45-minute Adventure Theater sessions.
Another innovative program is Scratch DJ101 classes, which are available to all ages, along with special two-hour sessions just for teens on Liberty of the Seas. After their lessons, teens can showcase their music mixing knowledge in a graduation performance that friends and family can attend.
RCI has added new activities for those three to five years old in conjunction with Fisher-Price. Some of the new themes include Chefs on Deck, which involves role playing for preschoolers; Dino Adventure; and Train-O-Mania.
Lastly, RCI unveiled a Youth Loyalty Program this summer. Children and teens can now also enjoy Crown & Anchor Society repeat passenger benefits. Rewards for youngsters on their second or more RCI cruise include Crayola Twistable crayons or a Royal Caribbean bag. All repeating youth receive a Youth Ultimate Value Booklet with coloring pages, games and discounts for onboard amenities such as Ben & Jerry’s, Airbrush Tattoo, and arcade games. Parents can enroll their children (if they have already cruised with RCI) via the line’s website: www.royalcaribbean.com/youth.
A new program for infants and toddlers 6 months to 3 years, in partnership with toy maker Fisher-Price, offers 45-minute playgroups for children accompanied by an adult, involving storytelling, creative arts, music and a variety of Fisher-Price learning toys and games.
Private babysitting is offered from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., provided sitters are available, for children from one year old. The rate is usually between $8.00 and $10 per per hour depending on the number of children in the family. Cash payment is made directly to the sitter. Arrange through Guest Services at least 24 hours in advance.
There are two formal nights per cruise. Maybe it’s this ship’s particularly festive reputation that induced most men onboard our sailing to don actual tuxedos for formal nights. A dark suit is just as appropriate. In fact, you will feel slightly out of place if you are not dressed appropriately on formal night. In general, though, this ship offers so much to do onboard that passengers don’t all dress alike.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
People who prefer a quieter, small destination oriented ship.
Liberty of the Seas, at 160,000-ton, is officially one of two of the biggest cruise ships in the world. Indeed, as the sister ship to Freedom of the Seas, Liberty is a virtual clone. Yes, there are subtle differences, but not any that will have a significant impact on your cruise. Both ships are an expanded, though nearly identical version, of RCI’s popular Voyager-class ships, but slightly longer for a more active “Royal Promenade” and with more happening on the top sports and pool decks.
The 2012 Upgrade brought the ship four brand new stage shows, the Cupcake Cupboard and Giovanni’s Table for Italian food. Also – the Royal Tots & Babies Nursery.
One of the first differences you will notice between Liberty and the Voyager-class ships is the H20 Zone, a children’s water park with enormous, brightly colored figurines spouting sprays of water. The adults-only pool area has two cantilevered whirlpools extending out from the side of the ship. Each holds at least a dozen people. There are also four hammocks in this area. The next added attraction is the “FlowRider” a water wave generating machine that sends a constant curl down a hill that an expert surfer can (supposedly) ride until the power runs out. The rock climbing wall is taller than on the earlier ships, with more toe-holds.
At 445 feet long, the Liberty Royal Promenade is a bit longer and a bit wider than the Voyager-class ships. Here you’ll find the boutiques found on the Voyager class vessels, including a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream stand ($2.50 per cone); a wine bar; Seattle’s Finest Coffee ($2.50 per cappuccino) but plenty of delicious free pastry and sandwiches; A Close Shave, charging an outrageous $72 for a shave. The English-style Bull and Bear is for beer lovers, it features a live acoustic guitarist playing favorites, and Sorrento is a pizzeria.
One thing that is different with Liberty from Freedom of the Seas is the Book Nook, with best sellers and guidebooks for sale has been replaced with a “future cruise consultant’s” office. This isn’t really a significant change as both ships still have the library and pulp fiction paperbacks available in the kiosks.
The other significant change from Freedom is the ship’s art. Naturally, art is by definition unique (otherwise, it is just decor). Liberty is full of very interesting pieces mostly reflecting samples and slices of modern media. There are ‘toon cells, and peices that just look like toon cells. There is a wide variety of modern artists represented that would be at home in New York’s East Village, as well as some notably visible pieces by the artist Miguel Chevalier who specializes in mixing colored light projections on broken or hanging canvases that change according to what an “electric eye” sees passing by.
This is a real people-watching ship; even those who can’t do all of what the Liberty offers seem to enjoy watching those who can. The 40-foot-high rock-climbing walls are busy all day. There is an ice-skating rink for recreational skating as well as for Ice Capades-type shows. There’s a three-story dining room, one of among the biggest casinos at sea, and a 9-hole miniature golf course.
There are a full three miles of public corridors, but the hallways are occasionally “jiggered” so you don’t get a sense of the full distance, plus excellent signage precludes anyone getting too grievously lost. However, after a simple “let’s go see the ship!” comment leads you out the door, by the time you return to your cabin you will feel like Marco Polo.
The 500-foot-long, over three-lanes-wide four-deck-high Royal Promenade is somewhat evocative of an onshore mall, but actually leaves you feeling more like you are outdoors on a walking street framed by inviting shops. The “free” food (included with your cruise fare) on the promenade from the 24-hour cafe for pizza and pastries and the Latte’tudes coffee shop make it especially inviting. Or you can visit the champagne bar or gift shops offering ship’s logo items and designer merchandise by Versace, Bulgari, and Lladro inside.
There is a $4.25-per-scoop Ben & Jerry’s. Pay-per-view in-cabin movies are $11.95, and there’s actually a $3.95 admission charge to Johnny Rockets (although the burgers are free, and worth every cent). There’s a $20 surcharge per person for each of two alternative restaurants Portofino’s and Chops Grill. There is a clubby cigar lounge; the nautical-inspired Schooner Bar; a well-stocked library; the Card Room; the Champagne Bar; and the Skylight Wedding Chapel (at the highest point on the ship, on Deck 15). An Internet Center, royalcaribbeanonline, is open 24 hours. (basic charge is 50 cents a minute). Some rooms, if they are close enough to the Internet center, have wireless access available. There is no self-service launderette.
Mouthwatering descriptions on the menus notwithstanding, you just won’t hear people raving about the food. In fact, some of the menu names can be downright deceiving, for example a chocolate fondue came out looking and tasting much more like a vanilla mousse. However, the service is surprisingly efficient for a ship this size.
The ship’s elegant main restaurant features a crystal chandelier a grand, three deck staircase. The three decks it spans are separately named for famous artists; Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Botticelli.
The ship’s second most popular dining venue (though it is more of a lunching venue) is Johnny Rockets, which now carries a $3.95 service charge, and in which you might have to wait to be seated.
The vast Lido deck restaurant for casual buffet-style meals is cleverly designed to look like two individual eateries, minimizing the sense of size and crowds.
Portofino, the alternative Italian restaurant, is a lovely intimately-lit venue, though you might, if you’re not attentive, realize you’ve got your fork in an adjacent diner’s salad; the tables are that close together. The other alternative dining venue, Chop’s, is for grilled meats and large lavish desserts. Both are well worth the service fee, but if one must choose, go with Chops.
More complimentary options including Jade Sushi for Asian-fusion cuisine, Sorrento’s Pizza and Cafe Promenade for coffee and pastries/snacks, and room service.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream on the Promenade offers ice cream at a small price.
The Cupcake Cupboard, a vintage-style gourmet bakery with 30 types of cupcakes – also at a small price.
Giovanni’s Table Italian restaurant.
It’s obvious that the multinational staff and crew enjoy watching their passengers enjoy themselves. They’re uniformly cheerful, knowledgeable, and eager to help. The wait staff in every restaurant is noticeably solicitous and conscientious.
Cabin service staff is efficient but unobtrusive. The purser’s desk is notably responsive, especially in view of how much troubleshooting they must have to do on a ship this size. Room service was surprisingly efficient, usually telling us delivery would be a lot later than it actually was. Be prepared to tip on delivery even though there is nothing to sign.
Royal Caribbean suggests a per person per day gratuity of $3.50 for the stateroom attendant ($5.75 if sailing in a suite); $3.50 for the waiter; $2.50 for the Assistant Waiter; .75 Head Waiter. These gratuities may be paid in cash or charged to your onboard account. For children sailing as third or fourth passenger in the stateroom, tipping is at the parents’ discretion.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.
Complimentary Broadway-style entertainment in the Main Theater now boasts four brand new shows put up in 2012.
Complimentary ice-skating shows in Studio B feature some of the best performers on the ship, often ex-Olympians and performers from Russia and other countries where skating is considered an artform.
10,258 square foot Vegas-style Casino Royale with 273 slots and 13 tables.
22 bars, clubs, and lounges that never have a cover, including Boleros Latin-themed lounge, Dog & Badger English Pub, and Vintages wine bar.
Variety of name-brand, duty-free shopping on the Royal Promenade including jewelry, perfumes, apparel and shopping for teens and kids.
Royal Caribbean is known for small cabins, inside cabins are just about big enough to turn around in. Hats off to Royal Caribbean, though, for not skimping on balcony cabins. Actually, cabins are roomier than elsewhere in RCI’s fleet. Inside cabins do measure a stingy 160 sq. ft; but outside cabins range from 180 to 265 sq. ft. and suites from 610 to 1188 sq. ft. Moreover, there’s lots of storage, especially nice for a ship that is essentially a destination unto itself. Standard amenities include flat panel color TV with CNN and movies; a safe; individual temperature controls for the air conditioning; and RCI’s first hair dryers. There are tubs only in the highest category staterooms’ bathrooms; most have just showers (though unexpectedly large ones).
Some of the more interesting cabins are the inside promenade cabins with (non-opening) windows looking down upon the interior promenade. During the day these add plenty of space to the room, although you have to sit on the couch to look out at the action. The problems occur at night when the light in your stateroom become brighter than what’s outside, essentially making your cabin a fishbowl for the world to watch.
Introduced in 2008, the third and final Freedom-class ship, Independence of the Seas enjoys many of the popular elements of her sister ships and in 2013 received similar enhancements such as an outdoor movie screen on the pool deck, digital signage to make navigating the ship easier, a cupcake cupboard, and a new nursery.
Although they are no longer the world’s largest cruise ships, the Freedom-class vessels live up to Royal Caribbean’s reputation for creative thinking that results in features to stir the imagination and provide a resort-like atmosphere at sea. Whether you are hanging 10 in the surf simulator, going a few rounds in the boxing ring, or strolling the Royal Promenade entertainment boulevard, there’s almost no reason to go ashore. The layout is more intuitive than you might expect on such a gigantic ship. A mall-like promenade is lined with shops and bistros, an ice-skating rink/theater, numerous lounges, and dining options, but these are not simply enlarged Voyager-class ships. With plenty of room, even the most intimate spaces feel uncrowded. A good fit for extended families, these ships have expansive areas devoted to children and teens and enough adults-only spaces to satisfy everyone.
Big, bigger, biggest! Royal Caribbean has the largest modern mega cruise liners in the world, as well as some of the most innovative technology on its newest ships, from robot bartenders to the fastest Wi-Fi at sea. Its fleet of 25 and counting are all-around favorites of passengers—arguably the most multigenerational (and Millennial) crowd at sea—who enjoy traditional cruising ambience with a touch of daring and whimsy. Each ship in the fleet has action-packed activities such as surfing pools, rock-climbing walls, and on the newest ships, skydiving simulators, and 10-story slides.
Expansive multideck atriums and promenades, as well as the generous use of brass and floor-to-ceiling glass windows, give each vessel a sense of spaciousness and style. The action is nonstop in casinos and dance clubs after dark, while daytime hours are filled with poolside games and traditional cruise activities. Port talks tend to lean heavily on shopping recommendations and the sale of shore excursions.
- 15 passenger decks
- 2 specialty restaurants, dining room, buffet, ice cream parlor, pizzeria
- Internet, Wi-Fi, safe, refrigerator, DVD (some)
- 3 pools, children’s pool
- fitness classes, gym, hot tubs, sauna, spa, steam room
- 14 bars, casino, cinema, 2 dance clubs, library, 3 showrooms, video game room
- children’s programs (ages 3–17)
- dry-cleaning, laundry service
- Internet terminal
- no-smoking cabins
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
What to expect on board
Staterooms & Cabins
Although 60% are outside cabins—and 78% of those have balconies—bargain inside cabins, including some with a bowed window overlooking the promenade, are plentiful. Cabins in every category have adequate closet and drawer–shelf storage, as well as bathroom shelves. Family ocean-view cabins with a window sleep up to six people with two twin beds (convertible to queen size), bunk beds in a separate area, a sitting room with a sofa bed, a vanity area, and a shower-only bathroom. At 1,215 square feet, the Presidential suite sleeps 14 people and has an 810-square-foot veranda with a hot tub and bar.
Wood cabinetry, a small refrigerator-minibar, broadband Internet connection, a vanity-desk, a flat-panel TV and DVD player, a safe, a hair dryer, and a seating area with sofa, chair, and table are typical features in all categories. Bathrooms have shampoo and bath gel. Premium beds and bedding complete the package.
Thirty-two staterooms are wheelchair accessible.
Food & Drink
Triple-deck-high dining rooms serve open seating breakfast and lunch; dinner is served in two assigned seatings or open seating. Two specialty restaurants—Portofino, serving Italian, and Chops Grille, a steak house—both charge a supplement and require reservations. The casual Lido buffet offers service nearly around the clock for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Jade, a section in the buffet, serves Asian food. Johnny Rockets (cover charge) is a popular option for casual meals. In the promenade are a complimentary pizzeria and a coffee bar serving regular and specialty coffees (also complimentary, unlike on other lines). There’s also a Cupcake Cupboard and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but they charge a fee. A complimentary ice-cream bar is poolside, as is a juice bar, which charges by the item. Room service is available 24 hours; however, there is a delivery charge after midnight.
Nightlife runs the gamut from Broadway-style production shows to ice-skating extravaganzas on all three and a real Broadway Show—Saturday Night Fever—onLiberty of the Seas. Lounges range from a piano bar and a pub to a wine bar, a Latin-themed dance club, and even a disco. You can end the evening with a movie on the outdoor screen overlooking the pool on all three ships or in the 3-D cinema on Freedom and Liberty.
Spa & Fitness
The full-service spa operated by Steiner Leisure offers an extensive treatment menu including facials, teeth whitening, body wraps and scrubs, massages, rasul, acupuncture, and FDA-approved medi-spa treatments performed by trained physicians. Spa rituals also include treatments designed especially for men and teens. While there are no thermal suites, complimentary saunas and steam rooms are located in men’s and women’s changing rooms.