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January 28, 2013

The Ultimate Guide To Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas

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Best-Cruise1

Why We Love RCL

Egypt-NightMy wife and I have traveled to many countries and every continent over the past 50 years.  We have visited some of the most amazing places in the world and have been on many cruises, of all types.

There were the wonderful river cruises we took,  one of our best river cruises was down the Nile River in Egypt.  We also took one down the Amazon River, but that was more about avoiding bites from all sorts of bugs then anything else, see my Amazon adventure here.

We have also done so many cruises  on the big and the smaller ships. Our cruise to Alaska, the Panama Canal (on the Brilliance of the Seas) and the Mediterranean all come to the top of my list of the most memorable ones .

Things have changed a great deal over these past 50 years and ships have also changed. Cruising is no longer about the destinations, but in many cases, really about the ships you cruise on.

Being a photojournalist married to a travel agency owner, means we both had many opportunities to travel and cruise.  We have cruised with most of the major and many of the smaller cruise lines and we still keep coming back to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

Is it the RCL ships we love so much?  Could it be the friendly staff?  The great food? The activities and shows?  I think it is all these things.  You can see my article and video on the Voyager class ship the Navigator of the Seas that I published in 2011. RCL and my family go back a long way.

Freedom (43)Now we truly loved this ship, it had everything. We were familiar with this ship because we had cruised on its sister ship the Freedom of the Seas in June 2006, only one month after it was launched.  That cruise was also a six day cruise for VIP’s,  travel agents and the media. We were excited to see, what was then, the largest passenger ship on the seas.  I ran through the ship and visited all the staterooms and facilities they listed on our tour guide. I was able to take some wonderful photos of the ship, including some of their executive suites.

You will actually see some of those photos in my video of this ship. You see, we couldn’t gain access to the larger suites on this cruise because, all the suites were occupied.  You will see one of the executive suites that we were able to film. We waited until the end of the cruise when the passengers had vacated the suite.  Housekeeping got on it and made it up so we could get it on camera before we had to leave the ship.   There are three “Freedom Class Ships” in the RCL fleet and the second one built was the Liberty of the Seas, launched in 2007.  Each ship is basically the same, but the interiors have subtle decorating changes and they all have cruise itineraries. In the winter, all of them head back to Florida for Caribbean Cruises.

This year, we had planned to go to Florida to visit my son and his family during the Holiday weeks. I decided it would be a wonderful opportunity to contact RCL and do an extensive video and article for IMPress.  I looked at the availability and found that the Independence of the Seas had a nice Western Caribbean cruise going out on January 7th for 6 days.  This would be perfect and I contacted Lyan-Sierra Caro who is a Senior Acct. Executive and our media contact at RCL.   I told her of my plans to video tape the officers on the ship as they talk about their duties, background and the ship and we started to plan the trip.

The Ships Officers Narrate The Video

I would normally do a casual video of the ships we cruise on with loads of photos and some video clips. I usually try to get a few of the officers and crew in those videos, but this project was going to be different.

I wanted the officers and the crew to narrate this video. I wanted you to know who they are, what their background was and why they loved being part of the RCL team.  I didn’t want to do a voice over or do another slide/video show with some random photos and video clips.

Lyan made the arrangements for us and with the on board help of Ingrid Ruiz de Castilla the ships group coordinator, we were able to get everyone “on board” with my plan.  Ingrid arranged interview times for me with everyone and was so helpful and so pleasant that I am not sure this project would have turned out as well as it did. You will meet Ingrid in our video.  Her friend Alma Aguilar, their international ambassador on the ship also helped me with my interview of Captain Teo.  Every member of the staff and crew, were so supportive and willing to help make this project a success.

Now as I have said, we have cruised a great deal and I have reviewed and photographed many ships that we have been on.  Over the past year, and with the launch of IMPress late in 2011, my focus as publisher of IMPress, has been to learn how to produce professional video results with a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR).  Most of us at IPA are photographers and shooting video is something new and a little taunting to most of us.  This past year my mission was to Learn By Doing, our organizations mantra.  I have to prove to our photographers at IPA and IMPress how important it is to start to shoot video with their current DSLR cameras, because multi-media and YouTube has become an important part of our lives and offers new financial opportunties to our members.

If you read some of our product reviews and articles on IMPress you will see the transition from where we were only a year ago to what we are doing today.  On our site there are a number of articles about the process of relearning these new video techniques.  We have stepped up our game and are now shooting full HD video and not using a video camera to do it.  What you see in this video was shot using a Nikon D7000 camera, the one I also use to shoot my still images.  I thing you will enjoy watching our complete 30 minute movie that is what some have called the Ultimate Guide,.  For some of you, the ones that can only handle a 5 minute web video, you will have the option to go to the portions of the video you are most interested in.  For those that want to see it all, sit back at your computer, grab a cup of coffee or a cold drink and enjoy this unique approach to our review of the Independence of the Seas.

An RCL Supported Project

As I mentioned earlier in this article, this project was produced with the cooperation and support of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.  Since I was going to cover the cruise, I wanted to be sure I would be ready to shoot it properly and packed everything from my tripods, mics and cameras to my iPad which proved invaluable when I wanted to show the staff what their interviews looked like and how they did on camera.  Having the support of the entire team at RCL, made my job so much easier, I want to thank them for their help and cooperation.

empty shipOur industry term, for someone like me is  a one-man-band.   As a one-man-band I have complete creative and technical control over my projects from start to finish.   This enabled me to work with the staff on the ship and direct them so, I was able to get their interviews in many cases, on one take and in their own words. Understand this is not a scripted video one that the advertising, sales or public relations department controlled.

My wife assisted me on this assignment and we never got off the ship to visit Jamaica or the Grand Cayman. We did take a 30 minute break in Jamaica to run out and get some things for our grandchildren in the RCL shopping center on the pier they built in Jamaica.

Since we had visited the same destinations last year on another cruise and I had a number of photos from that trip, I wanted to spend my time was shooting what I needed on this ship without passengers, which enabled me to get some of these beautiful photos and videos of this magnificent ship.  It was actually quite nice having the ship to myself on those two days.

The video gives you a look into how this enormous ship can host over 4,000 passengers and 1300 crew members and do it so well.  In this six day cruise video you will have the opportunity to meet many of the ships officers including: Captain Teo, Kevin Thorogood their Hotel Director, Joff Eaton the Cruise Director, Executive Chef Kenneth Johanson, Guest Relations Director Al Kearse, and many other crew members and staff who will take you on a tour of the ship. So I will ask you to watch the video and return to this article for some of our comments about the ship and the cruise.

Watch The Video Now and Return To This Article

I have divided the video into sections. This will enable you to view those sections you are most interested in. You will see this time line on the bottom of the video as it plays and you can scan through the video if you prefer and find the spots you want to watch, it is your option.  Be sure to select the 720p HD Mode and the larger viewing screen for maximum enjoyment.

  1. The Ship  (Start – 6:56)
  2. The Hotel • (6:57 – 10:13)
  3. Housekeeping • (10:14 – 11:37)
  4. Guest Services • (11:38-  13.21)
  5. Adventure Ocean  • (13:21 – 13:56)
  6. Entertainment  • (13:57 – 17:15)
  7. Shopping • (15:17 – 18:35)
  8. The Spa • (18:37 – 19:32)
  9. Restaurants • (19:33 – 22:40)
  10. Food Preparation • (22:41 – 24:27)
  11. Activities • (24:28 – 25:32)
  12. The Passengers • (25:33 – End)

This video runs 28 minutes. If you don’t have the time to watch it all now, select the chapters you are most interested in now and come back when you have more time to view it all. Feel free to scan through it with your mouse, you can see small thumbnails from the video as you do.

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Why I Have Rated This A “Best Cruise”

The Food

Romeo and Juliet Dining Room - Click For Larger View

Romeo and Juliet Dining Room – Click For Larger View

I personally love to cruise because I find it so relaxing and at the same time exciting.  There are so many activities and lots of entertainment going on every minute of every day.  The food is really secondary to me and I never eat much during the day, but usually let myself go at night, which is not a good thing to keep ones weight in check.  However, I found the food better then I had imagined.  Feeding over 5,000 people on a ship, three meals, snacks, and also running the specialty restaurants including  Johnny Rockets is not an easy task, but somehow, they seem to pull it off each day.

The executive chef Kennith Johanson took us on the tour of their galley.  I could understand after the tour,  how they were able to accomplish this Herculean task each day.  We enjoyed our dinner at Chops,  their optional dining restaurant and steak house. The cost is only $30 per person to dine there and well worth the extra cost when they delivered my 10 ounce perfectly cooked filet mignon, my wife’s huge T-Bone steak and a ton of side dishes.

We also dined one night at Portofino which they bill as an authentic Italian restaurant. From their menu selections and the food we ate, that was not the case.Their menu included marinated Tuna steak, skewer of Maine lobster, scallops and salmon, roasted lamp ch0ps, grilled T-bone steak, Beef tenderloin and thinly sliced veal wrapped in sage and prosciutto.  Hey guys, how about a nice bowl of linguine with white clam sauce or Fruto De Mar

fruto de mar

For illustration only, this is what I would have liked to see at Portofino’s

Portofino was only $20 per person, but there were none of the traditional Italian dishes offered, not even a bowl of pasta with white clam sauce.  Coming from New York and New Jersey, and visiting Italy a number of times over the years, this food was more continental then Italian. I understand that when they “refresh” the ship in May 2013, they will be changing the name and the menu of Portofino and it will become a true Italian Restaurant.

sorrento's

Sorrento’s on the Promenade. Fast and easy way to get a snack, between meals or at night.- Click For Larger View

We dined three of the 6 nights in the Romeo and Juliet Dining Room. It is huge, luxurious and our waiter Joao (pronounced Joe) was wonderful.  The broiled sea bass on the first night was really quite good. The steaks and lobster tails, also very nice indeed and the breads were always my weakness on a cruise. As you have seen in the video, they bake 24 hours a day and the pastries and breads are always fresh and tasty.  So working on this cruise, didn’t give me an opportunity to sit down for regular meals and I found myself hitting Sorrento’s Pizzaria during the days for a couple of slices of pizza in between my interviews.

Remember, you will never, ever go hungry on this ship.  Snacks galore all day long and into the evening. Room Service is included too.

I like desserts and for lunch, when I had lunch at the Windjammer, I  would have something light to eat. I would then grab some great cookies and some fresh fruit to keep me going.  Now here is an important tip about eating on this ship.  Lose a few pounds before you get on the ship.  You know you will be relaxing once on board and eating three or four or five times each day.  Then when you get home, gradually get back to your former weight. I didn’t get on the scale for a week after my return :-)

The Accommodations and Staff

Our stateroom was quite nice when we got on board, but I really wanted to film one of the junior suites or executive suites if possible.  I was told that once they sailed and did a final guest count they would let me know if one was available.  At 7 PM on our first day of the cruise, Ingrid called with news that a  junior suite was available. Apparently, the passengers assigned for that suite didn’t show.  Probably bad for them, but good for us.  The junior suite was very similar to the stateroom with balcony that we had, but larger and a bathtub/shower in the bathroom instead of a stall shower. I had more room to spread out all of my equipment and prepare for each days shooting.

our suite

Our Junior Suite – Wonderful Balcony too with two lounge chairs and two regular chairs. – Click For Larger View

The housekeeping is superb and our cabin steward was so accommodating.  When we got back to our cabin after dinner on our first night,  I had seen that all the clothing I left all over the room, was neatly folded and put on our sofa for me to put away in the closet.  Over the next few days we received dozens of complimentary chocolate dipped strawberries delivered to our room each day.

Tree

Our Strawberry Tree Hand Dipped In Chocolate – Click For Larger View

When we toured the galley with the executive chef, he showed us how they make these trays of dipped strawberries.  We saw them also making the strawberries to look like a strawberry tree.  I mentioned to chef Kenneth that I had received the plates of strawberries every day, but never got the tree. I was actually joking with him, but that night room service delivered a tree to our stateroom, compliments of the executive chef.

Joff Eaton their cruise director, is amazing and one of the best cruise directors I have seen or worked with over the years.  He is simply great at what he does. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to record the shows and share them with you because of copyrights and other restrictions, but watch some of the clips I did get while Joff talks about his role on this ship and watch for some of the photos I was able to take in their fantastic Alhambra Theater.  It seats close over 1400 passengers and is simply a beautiful theater as you can see in our video.

As you have heard every guest I interviewed or spoke to raved about the staff. As you saw in the video, most have been with Royal Caribbean for many years, there must be a good reason they have stayed.  Whenever I see a large turnover of staff at any company, I know that something has to be wrong at the top of the company.  Well something is very right at RCL.

The Activities

the wall

The Wall – Click For Larger View

As you saw in the video, there are simply so many activities. I don’t rock climb and you won’t find me on the Flowrider, but you will see my wife on deck in the Zumba class. We are not big on pools per se, but we love the adult Solarium’s pool because it was heated to just the right temperature for us.

The chaise lounges in the Solarium are also heavily padded for added comfort and we joined some other guest in the hot tubs too.  This was my simple moment of relaxation. Relaxation for my wife however came when she went to the spa for a facial and a relaxing massage.

If you really want to add some excitement to your cruise, there are many opportunities to do just that.  The Spa and Fitness Center on this ship was the biggest one I have seen on land or sea.  The Fitness Center has a boxing ring and they even offer boxing lessons.

I watched as one of their instructors was talking to a group of women about proper nutrition. So the Fitness Center is not only about sweating, it is about health and proper nutrition too.

Now if you like to gamble, Las Vegas style, then their casino is the place to go. Lots of modern slots, games of chance and some of those strange Caribbean card games, that I never understood.

During the day you could have a quiet, relaxing moment in some of the lounges on board the ship. Their library is a wonderful restful spot and you can borrow any book there, while on board.  If you want to check your email, their internet cafe has loads of computers and internet access too. Expect to pay a hefty fee for this satellite access to the web, and don’t expect broadband speed that we have become used to, but for those of us that simply need to be in touch it may be a necessity.

If you want to ice skate or just watch others, go to Studio B on Deck 3 and you can Disco skate, family skate or teen skate there too.

Each day you receive their Cruise Compass, that is the schedule of things going on both day and night for that day.

If you have children or teens, this is a great ship for them too. You have seen the H2O water park, the miniature golf course and the many activities and lounges for the children from the young ones through the teens. Their arcade reminds me of some I have been to at Point Pleasant, New Jersey, complete with their Skee Ball alleys.  There is something for every age group and we were told,  in the very near future the program will even include infants from six months up.  Imagine taking a cruise with the entire family and never having to worry about the children.  That’s a vacation.

The People You Meet and Our Visit To Labadee

wellness

These lovely ladies all work for a salon in Indiana and were on a Wellness cruise. What a great place to work. – Click For Larger View

Cruising is also about the people you meet. Because we were on an assignment, most of the people we met were the officers and crew on the ship. They all new us and we got to know many of them.  What a delightful group. I can truly see that working for RCL is not such a bad life. I understood why so many loved their jobs and kept renewing their work contracts as each one would expire.

If we had our choice we would have selected Any Time Dining as opposed to the two set dining options. On our first night on the ship my wife and I were the only two at our dinner table.  The next night they added another couple and then we dined alone for two nights at the specialty restaurants and when we returned to the main dining room on night five, they had moved a family to our table, so we at least got to know them and interview them for our video.

Now on anytime dining you can go to the King Lear dining room anytime they are serving. King Lear is on deck 5, overlooking Romeo and Juliet’s main dining area on Deck 3.  When you arrive at King Lear, you will  get shown to an available table with other people.  You can meet new people each night, or if you like the people you were with on a previous meal, you can arrange to sit with them on the other nights too.  It does offer you the best opportunity to meet new people and have the flexibility to dine when you want.

You will meet people at the pools, in the hot tubs at the Fitness Center, just about anywhere on the ship. Remember, there are 4,000 guests on the ship, find a few and make new friends.

Our third stop on the itinerary was Labadee is a port located on the northern coast of Haiti. It is a private resort leased to Royal Caribbean International until 2050. The ship set up a huge picnic for all the passengers on the island. When we were there another RCL ship had also docked and there had to be at least 5,000 plus guests on the beach and eating lunch there. Was a windy day on the ocean side of the beach, but we found a really nice little cove that was protected on three sides and we spent the rest of the day there.

labadee

The Cove AT Labadee -Click To Enlarge

If you love to dance or just sit around having a cocktail and listen sing along a piano bar or maybe even try your hand at Karaoke, you can.  There are so many places and night clubs on the ship, it is hard not to have a great time or meet people, anytime of the day or night.

The Lounges and Night Clubs

If you love to dance, have a few cocktails or simply enjoy the ships nightlife, you will love some of these clubs.

Viking Crown Lounge 360 degree view of the scenery…at night they have live jazz and lots of parties.

On Air Club which is their Karaoke club and you can even record yourself in a private booth during the day, at night it is true Karaoke time.

The Crypt, is a Gothic themed dance club, dare I say a disco, two floors with bars on each level.

Schooner Bar -filled with ships riggings and it really looks like a ship, but it is a nice piano bar where you can dance and enjoy singing along too.

The Screening Room…is for those that simply must see a movie, after the refresh they will also be offering 3D movies too.

The Connoisseur Club, not for everyone, but if you love to light up a cigar every now and then this is for you. I am told that the ventilation system in this lounge is so good that even non-smokers can enjoy the lounge too.

Olive or Twist Lounge, great view during the day, music, cocktails and dancing in the evenings.

Pyramid Lounge, a stage and a great little theater where they have their own Game Shows and other entertainment.

The Labyrinth, Deck 3, want to go to a singles mixer after the main show at the Alhambra Theater?  Drop by here for different events each night.

On Air, the Karaoke lounge. Lots of fun in the evening and you can do your own private karaoke in their private booths during the day.

Cinderella

 The Entertainment

If you watched the video, you will see I attempted to show you some of the many entertainment options on the ship.  Joff Eaton, does an incredible job running the activities on the ship. From the Broadway style productions in the Alhambra Theater to the fantastic Ice Shows in Studio B,  the production value in these shows are as good as you will find anywhere.  I must say that RCL’s shows blow away their competition.  This year,  in cooperation with Dreamworks, they have stepped it up a few notches. They are now adding 3D Theaters to their refreshed ships, Dreamwork’s characters will be on board from their film Madagascar and other movies.  So they have a lot coming in the next few months.

Here is a partial list of  some of the entertainment on the ship that is available all day into the night.

Adult Karaoke • Music Trivia  Games • Piano Bar • Latin and Pop with Prestige (Boleros) • Music in the Living Room Lounge • Rock Band in the Pyramid Lounge • Music in the Olive • Broadway Shows • Comics • Singers • Dancers • The Quest Show • Love & Marriage Game  Show • Bingo • Shuffle Board • Table Tennis • Volley Ball • Basketball • Belly Flop Contest • Movie Time • Caribbean Music at the Poolside, So much more…

Everyone we met on the ship from the officers to the crew loved working for RCL and it shows in the happy faces of the people we met that were cruising with us.  I know the video is a long one and I originally hoped I would cut it into two parts no more then 15 minutes each, but as I got nto the editing phase, I thought I would take the chance that those interested in cruising with RCL and a vacation on the Independence of the Seas would be interested enough to watch the entire video.  I welcome your comments on the video and this article and you can email me directly to ask me questions about the cruise or give me your feedback on this project. It will only help me make the next one even better.

Visit the Royal Caribbean website and find out more about this amazing ship and all the others in the fleet including their newest and biggest ships the Oasis and Allure of the Seas.

 

 Special Thanks to these Supporting Companies who’s equipment I used on this assignment:

Please visit their websites to see their exciting line of photo and audio products.

 

Photographers and videographers, look for my next article on How I Shot This Video and the equipment and techniques I used, coming soon.


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About the Author

Len Rapoport
Len Rapoport
IPA Editor-In-Chief, ID: 1000 • I am an internationally published photographer and the founder of International Press Association. As president and editor-in-chief, my duties at IPA are extensive. For over 40 years I have written articles, had my photos published in millions of publications, record album covers, books, and in the digital media. I was senior marketing and sales executive for major corporations, including my own and as a corporate communications consultant. I have taught photography and formed IPA 20 years ago. I currently work from my home office and continue to actively cover media events in addition to all of my other IPA and IMPress responsibilities.




 
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2 Comments


  1. Lisa Burrows
    Lisa Burrows

    Wow! What an amazing cruise ship! It looks absolutely fantastic and I hope that one day I can experience a holiday on it too!



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