Anthony Pearce joins Independence of the Seas for a short sailing and tries out the new additions intended to keep it in line with Royal Caribbean’s newer vessels
Royal Caribbean International innovates at a dizzying pace, bringing ever more outlandish ideas to the high seas. But in an attempt to leave its rivals in its wake, the line also runs the risk of creating a gulf in class between its newest ships and its older ones. The most impressive features of Royal’s Oasis and Quantum-class ships are now so well-known that guests will be expecting them on board – which is why Royal has put aside $900m to refit its Freedom-class and Voyager-class ships, as well as Oasis and Allure of the Seas. Within the former group sits Independence of the Seas, which Royal claims is the UK’s most popular ship. Since its refit and return last month to its summer homeport of Southampton, it’s certainly like no other currently sailing regularly from British shores.
About 2,500 travel agents and a few dozen members of the cruise media joined a short sailing in May to explore the new additions to Indie, as it is affectionately known. As well as more than 100 extra cabins – including panoramic staterooms – the headline-grabbers include the Sky Pad, an innovative bungee-meets-trampoline experience, where players wear virtual-reality goggles and play games.
Elsewhere is the fascinating Escape the Room, a windowless space that was once the ship’s chapel. Guests have the chance to test their lateral thinking by solving a series of puzzles against the clock. But at $20pp, it may prove a bit steep – and may prove too difficult for children (not to mention, apparently, adults).
Best of all is the Battle for Planet Z laser tag, which is held in Studio B, a venue that doubles up as an ice rink, nightclub (where former TOWIE star Mark Wright was DJing) and more.
Fish and Ships (fish’n’chips, obviously) and Izumi (sushi) are also new, as well as Playmakers Sports Bar, which boasts widescreen TVs, pool tables, basketball simulators and table-top games. In fact, there are few places you can go on this ship where there aren’t things to do: there’s crazy golf, table tennis, an aquapark, a surf simulator and a climbing wall.
There are some calmer spaces – such as Giovanni’s, a cosy Italian – but this is not a ship for quiet reflection. This is all about fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that.