So I’m finally able to sit down and write a little bit about or amazing family vacation across the Atlantic in early November on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. As documented in a previous post, the family including my mom otherwise known as Baba, joined us for a thirteen night trip from Southampton England and onto Port Canaveral Florida.
This turned out to be a really really great vacation for us, it was to be our kids first cruise when we booked it back in January, but at the last minute in September my wife and “S” went on a Disney cruise. Thank you Mommy’s work for providing them this amazing trip. This alleviated one fear though, that we wouldn’t know till we got somewhere across the Atlantic if she would get seasick. Thankfully that was not an issue for us, yippee. The only problem it created was the expectation of Cinderella, Nemo and all her Disney palls would be on this ship too.
This was our first time on this vessel, but our second time on a Freedom class ship. She was born in 2008 and spends half the year in Europe and the other in the Caribbean. In April this ship went under an extensive refurbishment. During this downtime they added a couple of really cool features from adding a new specialty restaurant called Giovanni’s Table (this replaced Portofino), an outdoor movie screen on the pool deck, the Cupcake Cupboard and I’m sure a few more bells and whistles. But the big one for us as parents was Royal Babies and Tots, a day care service for kids under three. Now Royal has a really great free kids program (or so I’ve been told) called Adventure Ocean, and also in room babysitting at a fee of $15 per hour up to three kids of any age up to 16 I think. But if you have a little Princess like we do, under three only some ships have the Babies and Tots program, and this was one of the ships that had it. In fact that was specifically why we choose this boat. Unfortunately it’s not free but was between $6-8 per hour, depending on the time of day, and it was open from 9 AM to Midnight. Whoo Hoo.
Since there were only 19 kids under three on the boat, we didn’t have to reserve time or worry about the 10 hours per child maximum or the eight kid max in the center at a time. We were just lucky that there weren’t that many kids and had the flexibility to drop her off when we wanted too. The program was really great and the people working the center were also great too. They gave us a cell phone so we could check in when we wanted to and vice versa, plus they really seemed to enjoy their jobs and care for our kid. We didn’t purposely spy on them, but when we came back and peered through the door, every time our kid was enjoying herself, playing with toys or the staff. They were really loving towards her and even when we saw them monitoring the H2O water zone, they made a point to say hi to us. It was little touches like this that will make us do another cruise with our kid sometime in the future.
So this was an interesting cruise it was 13 nights with the first nine being sea days, to cross the Atlantic. The weather in England was cool probably in the low 50’s, but since we only spent five hours there it was not a matter. Granted we were probably in cooler waters for the first two nights. The pools were closed but the water park was open and so was mini golf, ice skating and the basketball courts. Unfortunately Flowrider, no not the singer, the surf machine was closed for the first couple days and so was the rock wall, but soon enough these activities were open too.
Until the Oasis of the Seas debuted in December 2009 this class of ship was the largest in the world, so the amenities on a new modern ship are pretty amazing, you’ll be hard pressed to find a resort on land with so many of these kinds of activities. The only downside and this really can be hit or miss is the amount of passengers and staff on the ship. At full occupancy it’s close to 6000 people including staff. But at over 1100 feet long and 150 foot beam and 14 stories, it’s a big resort.
The only reason that the large amount of people ever mattered, was when we got on and off the ship on embarkation and disembarkation day and on the few roughs sea days after leaving England. Since there was a good bit of wind and wave I think 10 foot swells, which really is nothing, the outdoor decks were empty and that taxed the open spaces inside the ship. This just meant a bit if a struggle to find a spot to hang in certain areas. But hey this was really not that bad, and by day three or four, this was not an issue.
So what do you do on a ship like this with nothing but sea and nine days of free time, mostly without internet and cell service. You relax of course, being on a cruise ship of this size that’s modern has all the amenities of any fine land resort. That to me is the best part of cruising. Years ago, just like air travel you were really separated from the rest of the world, you were unplugged. Very few ships had internet let alone wireless and phone calls from your room were like 8 bucks a minute, forget using your cell phone, of course times have changed and you get all the connectivity you want but for a price. I know I sound old and crotchety, but I liked being unplugged.
Back to what did we do, we relaxed. We spend hours at the pool, which was warm and by day three temps were up to the mid 70’s and getting warmer by the day. Besides that we spent lots of time playing with “S” in the kids play area, Royal has partnered with Fisher Price, and had a play area on deck 12 that had tons of toys, games and lots of activities you could do with your kids. This just gave us plenty of time to play with our kid, which is tough to do at home when we both work and I spend so much time on the road. This vacation was exactly what we all needed two weeks of being a family spending tons of time together and even getting a chance to hang with Baba, for an extended amount of time. I think the last time I went on vacation with her was probably 10 years ago.
I’ve only cruised on two cruise lines, but I imagine to some degree activities are the same, each night we’d get a cruise compass which outlined what kinds of activities for the following day. There were activities as mundane as Bingo to things like dancing, napkin folding, ring toss, basketball, trivia’s, Broadway shows, comedy acts, ice shows and lots of casino tournaments. There was something for everyone or just lost of relaxing. It was easy to make a day of breakfast, lunch, pool time and naps. I mean what else can you ask for.
Some of the other things people obsess about or think is signature on a cruise ship would be food and entertainment. In the case of the food there was something like 12 outlets to try, besides the two specialty dining restaurants they had a Johnny Rockets, Ben and Jerry’s, a coffee shop, pizza joint, juice bar, three dining rooms and a buffet. There was little chance of starving, the biggest issue was where and when to eat. If that’s the toughest decision I have to make then I think I’m ok. Most breakfasts and Dinners we ate in the dining room, it offered the best pace for us and most meal options, for a us. Besides the Windjammer (buffet) is jut snot my speed, and sure Ice Cream and Burgers are great bit not for every meal. Regardless, we never starved and really enjoyed the meals, the worst part was coming home and seeing prices on the menu. Ouch.
Well finally after nine nights at sea we hit our first port, St. Martin with additional stops in Puerto Rico and their private island Coco Cay, I’ll save these posts for another post soon, but wanted to share a little bit about our trip and a few pictures of the vessel and the amazing time we had. Stay tuned for another post on our ports coming soon.