Fort Lauderdale and Independence of the Seas

Fort Lauderdale and Independence of the Seas I have just returned from my latest solo adventure, which was a 2 night stay in Fort Lauderdale and an 8 night cruise  aboard Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. This is a freedom class ship based out of Southampton England in the summer  and Fort Lauderdale in the winter months. I arrived in Fort Lauderdale around 8 pm local time,  having had a really good flight with US Airways from London Heathrow (very good airline in my opinion).  Flight was bang on time.  The transatlantic flight was strange, as we only had 93 passengers in an airbus 330 that can carry over 300. We had lots of extra space, and even managed to lie down across 4 chairs and get some sleep;  which meant I felt fresh even after a long 9-hour flight to Charlotte (North Carolina), where I switched planes after a short wait and caught my second flight to Fort Lauderdale. Once I got out of the airport,  I went to catch a cab to my hotel, but unexpectedly there was a huge line for the cabs which was rather annoying,  but it only took about 15 minutes and I was on my way to the hotel. The hotel I chose to stay at was the Courtyard by Marriott Oceanfront, which was only about 6 miles from the airport. http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/fllco-courtyard-fort-lauderdale-beach/ I checked in, which went smoothly, and went to my room up on the 5th floor, which was really nice. Large bed, 2 flat screen TV’s, couch to sit on,  and a really nice bathroom with a good shower. This hotel was not the cheapest, but I wanted something nice and well-located, and this hotel gets good reviews on trip advisor (you must use this before booking a hotel). Only complaint I have about this hotel is the bars are not very well stocked and have no draft beer whatsoever, which for me is not good enough! I had a very nice view from my hotel window which was nice.  I didn’t pay for ocean view, but could still see the sea.
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After unpacking, I was surprisingly feeling ok after my very long journey, so I went out for a little walk down the seafront to find a bar and have a couple of beers. My first thought of the town was it was very nice, but boy was it chilly. It was about 55 degrees, which the locals told me was freezing to them (I could not help laughing seeing people in scarves and hats in Florida, when it was in reality  pretty mild compared to other parts of the US at that time). I found a bar not far away called Dirty Blondes, and was chatting to the bartender.  She was a brunette (irony) who was giving me the low down on the town and where to go and see.  She told me January is their quiet time,  which explained why to be honest the town looked dead not much was going on. After a few drinks and getting something to eat, I headed back to the hotel and slept like a baby in my comfy room. http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g34227-d2701725-Reviews-Dirty_Blondes_Sports_Bar-Fort_Lauderdale_Florida.html The following morning I awoke to a lovely sunny, but still cold, morning and decided to walk around town.  I took  lots of pictures of the beach and the yachts moored up to very expensive homes of the rich and famous that live in Fort Lauderdale.   It’s a very pretty town -  a great place for a beach holiday, and not as busy as its much bigger neighbour Miami. (One tip for getting around, especially if you are only there for one day,  is using the water taxi which you can pick up in fixed locations, and get on and off at your leisure). http://www.watertaxi.com/watertaxi/fort-lauderdale/ While walking around the town, I came across a great bar inside the Bahia Cabana Resort which was nice.  I stayed there a few hours, and again got chatting to a very nice bartender who was good to talk to. She told me this bar got really busy in the evening and is a good spot to hang out, so after I went back to my hotel, I decided to head down there in the evening, and like she said, it was great live music and great atmosphere. I got talking to some girls staying nearby who told me this hotel wasn’t the best to stay in because rooms are rather old and dirty, but the bar and nightlife in the hotel were awesome. I have to recommend this hotel bar to anyone visiting Fort Lauderdale. http://www.bahiacabanaresort.com/ Embarkation Day Boarding day on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the seas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Independence_of_the_Seas
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The following morning, it was time to head of out to sea, so I caught a cab to the cruise port which was only a few miles away, so cab was only like 20 dollars with tip. I took some pictures of the ship before going into the building.  The freedom class ships, which the Independence of the seas is one of three is very pretty I have to say. Let’s hope it’s as good on the inside. As you walk towards the terminal, the baggage crew takes your case and (with a little tip) and they get your baggage to the stateroom for you, which is nice. I checked into the terminal 29 about 10:45 am, and all went pretty smoothly,  as the line moved along well. Before I knew it,  I had my sea pass in hand and was heading for the ship. I boarded the ship and had a quick look around. The ship was very pretty and nice.  I headed for my stateroom 6403 at the back of the ship, a standard inside cabin which was very nice, more than big enough for one person. I dropped off my hand luggage and went exploring. The ship was very big, but easy enough to navigate. I wandered around the ship talking lots of pictures and was very impressed. One thing I really liked about the Indy, (as she is known as for short), is you are able to go right up the front of the ship onto the nose by the heliport and stand right on the bow of the ship,  and you can have your own little titanic moment. 😎 I spent the rest of my first afternoon wandering round the ship, popping into the English pub called the Dog and Badger for a beer. The pub itself is very nice, with a proper English old school feel and a great selection of alcohol and excellent friendly staff like Andre and Hafilia . Regarding alcohol, I paid for the premium drink package before going on the ship,  as I like the odd alcoholic beverage or 10, so thought it would be a good money-saving investment, which it turned out to be. The package itself cost 55 dollars per day, and what I really like is it pretty much includes everything unlike the package on Norwegian Cruise Lines. The only drinks I couldn’t have were certain wines by the glass over 12 dollars.  Apart from that, everything I asked for was included, even red bull which is usually off limits. So generally,  I am very impressed with Royal’s new drinks package and selection of alcohol on the ship. While I was I the pub on the first day,  I made a friend at the bar called Michael from Las Vegas who I spent a lot of time with throughout the cruise, along with Ayana from New York, who I met at my dinner table , who I also spent plenty of time with throughout, and Shalene,  who I also met through Michael. (All of us had either signed up to the singles roll call on the cruise critic’s website or through some other singles groups that were on-board like singlecruise.com). The 4 of us became very good friends and spent much of the cruise together and always ended up dancing the night away in the ship’s nightclub called Labyrinth, which had a very British theme to it, as does the whole ship. Later that evening, I got dressed and went to dinner in the main dining room called Macbeth on deck 4, which had been assigned to me pre-cruise. I was slightly worried about the set dining arrangement, as last time I went on Royal Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas, I had some rather awkward moments where the dining staff did not know where to put me being a solo guest as all the tables were huge taking 12 people. Luckily this time it was much better I had a seat on table 410 right by the window with 3 other people, who were all very friendly and made me feel at ease very quickly. We all enjoyed each other’s company for the 8 nights of the cruise, so I was pleased. Dining Staff and Food I have to say the dining staff on the Indy was amazing. They were extremely helpful, remembered your name and what you had for dinner last night, and quite often my drink was already waiting for me when I got to the table which was a nice touch (I’m rather partial to the odd glass of Moscato or 6). Our waiter was great and even sang us a song on a couple of occasions. He was really good. The food itself was pretty good, but not amazing in my opinion, since I’m hard to please. I went with the steak most of the time, which was ok, but not great. I did try lobster for the first time, which I wasn’t blown away by, but I’m not a big seafood guy. The menu is pretty large, and it gets updated daily with specials which the waiters keep you informed of when ordering.
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Day 1 and 2 Days one and two were both sea days, as we had a long way to go to our first stop the island of St Maarten in the Leeward Islands. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Martin During the first two sea days, I tended to enjoy my days around the Waves pool bar and enjoy the music playing on deck,(Regee band we're excellent) although the first sea day was rather chilly.  Not much sunbathing got done, but it was nice just to unwind and take in the sea air and meet some new friends. I went to the gym pretty much every day on deck 11, which is very impressive. It has a boxing ring (which nobody ever uses) and a good selection of free weights and machines, and as a regular to using gyms, I was impressed. During the evening on the first two days, I would have dinner in the main dining room and then meet up with my three friends I had made (one of which, Ayana was at my table). We would stroll round the ship, do a spot of gambling in the casino and enjoy a drink or 5 in the bars to get in the party mood. Once the evening draws on past 11 pm, and the shows start coming to an end pretty much everyone ends up either in the Casino or the nightclub. We always hit the night club, and we had some good fun in there.  We met some crazy cats that got wild when drunk, and some interesting dance moves were displayed and some grinding if you catch my drift. Only slightly disappointing thing was the DJ would play last song around 02:30, even if the club was still busy.  This  is bizarre as on other ships the DJ plays until the last person leaves the club(this is something that should be addressed RCI). Day 3 St Maarten (Leeward Islands) http://www.st-maarten.com/ On day three, we arrived at St Maarten, which I have been to twice before.  The island is half owned by the French and the other half Dutch. We had a lot of other ships in with us, including my favourite, the Norwegian Epic, along with three others, so the sites were going to be busy today. Going by my previous visits, I suggested to my friends that we go to the world famous Maho Beach, which is a pretty average beach, however it’s famous for being incredibly close to the airport runway, where you get within a few feet of landing aircraft which is an adrenaline rush.  As we were there on a Tuesday, we got to see the main event of the KLM 747 from Holland come in, which it only does twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday). You also get to see the planes taking off and as they come right to the end of the runway wave at everyone on beach and turn round and then sand blast everyone when they push the engines for take-off(really cool indeed). There is a beach bar next to the beach called the Sunset Bar and Grill, where you can sit, enjoy a drink, and watch the planes if you are not brave enough to stand underneath them. http://www.st-maarten.com/index.php/intro-beaches-2/dutch-side-beaches/maho-beach Sadly, while sitting on the beach near the water a renegade wave came crashing in and soaked everything I had including my camera, which no longer works, plus Ayana’s phone was also damaged - so an expensive day.
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When we returned from our day out, we were hungry, so went to Johnny Rockets on the ship which was cool, there is a small cover charge of 5 dollars to eat here,Waiters came out every 15 minutes and did their little dance (it was fun). We went to this place quite a few times during the trip and became regulars. The rest of the day, we pretty much did the same as days before. Went to dinner and hung out at the bars, and then went to the Karaoke, which was surprisingly good (we had some people on-board that could actually sing). Then it was off to the nightclub for some more drunken dancing and some sights that would make your eyes water :-). Day 4 St Kitts (Leeward Islands) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Kitts On day, four we arrived at the lovely British island of St Kitts, which was very pretty.  We had the whole day there, so decided to hit the beach with my friends. we got in a transfer taxi and went across the island to the beach, which was quite a long way and a very bumpy and scary ride. The island is very hilly and the roads are in bad shape (not even finished in some parts) and we had a few close calls along the way (our driver who called himself King was a real character). We finally arrived at Cockleshell Beach and found a nice little spot without any camera-breaking waves, enjoyed a nice bit of sun and went for a dip on the calm waters. It was a very pleasant and not overcrowded. The island is very pretty and worth a visit. We then had to brave the journey back to the ship through the bumpy steep roads (now I know what a rally driver goes through). http://www.stkittstourism.kn/explore-st-kitts-activities-beaches-display.php?business=68 We returned to the ship just in time as the rain came down on the walk to the boat, so got a bit wet. Once back at the ship, I got changed and went for a beer at the English pub to see my favourite two bar staff on the ship, Andre and Hafilia, who entertained me in the pub. They were really nice people, and always got talking to new people at the bar as it was one of my favourite hangouts. Rest of the day was the same,went to dinner,  then hit the casino and bars,  then eventually the nightclub for more mayhem. Day 5 San Juan, Puerto Rico http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Juan,_Puerto_Rico This stop is a bit of a waste of time, because you have to be back on the ship for 2 pm which only gives you a short time to see the town and not enough to go on any major excursions. We choose to just go on the little train ride around the town to have a look around, but it only showed a few little places, so was not so good. Royal Caribbean is working on being allowed a longer stay in the harbour in the future, but at the moment, your visit is only a morning, which just is not long enough as so much to see on the island. So this turned out to be a big disappointment, although the cruise out provided some amazing scenery, so some great photo opportunities. Once back on ship, it was another trip to Johnny Rockets, and enjoyed rest of the afternoon up on the sun deck listening to some music from the band, and just relaxing and taking in some sun. In the evening, it was pretty much the same routine of dinner, bars, Karaoke and off to the Labyrinth nightclub till the early hours. Day 6 Labadee, Haiti http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labadee This is Royal Caribbean’s private resort, and basically it is just a nice beach with all your drinks included as you just show your sea pass at the bar. Also they provided a barbeque so you could get something to eat, again included as this is a private resort just for the guests of the ship. You could also buy a few gifts, as lots of street vendors were there trying to sell you stuff, but they were a little full on and intense for my taste. We had a full day here at the private beach, and it was okay, but I won’t be getting off again at this resort on future cruises. We were supposed to be joined by a second Royal Caribbean ship (Explorer of the Seas), however the ship had an outbreak of some sort of stomach bug, so they cancelled their visit. This meant we had a less crowded beach, so bit of a result for us, but sad for them as they had to return to New York early, where reports say up to 700 people were infected(it’s so important on these ships to keep washing your hands and using the antibacterial products provided all over the ship to avoid this).
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Day 7 Our final day was a sea day heading back to Fort Lauderdale, and the weather had turned rather cool. During the day, I still enjoyed a few drinks at the Waves pool bar, went to the gym and headed to my favourite pub for a few cold ones. Being our last evening, we went to dinner and had our last meal in the main dining room with the group of people I had been eating with all week. We had a little toast and enjoyed our final meal together with the odd glass of wine. During the evening, we hit the bars, went to watch the final of the karaoke (which I felt the wrong person won) and then after a quick trip to the casino, it was time to hit the nightclub for the last time and make the most of our last night together. It always feels really sad at the end of the last night.  Always the same on every cruise I have ever been on. Disembarkation Day I had a late flight, so stayed on the shipship with Shalene as long as possible until finally leaving the ship around 10 am when the staff started hinting it was time to leave. Going through terminal building was pretty easy, with a small line to go through. The security process was generally pretty easy, as was finding transportation to Fort Lauderdale airport. Overview Having been on many cruises before, I can honestly say that the Independence of the Seas is overall a very good ship with excellent staff, and I really enjoyed what was my birthday treat. I cannot find too many faults with this ship, although being a guy that likes to party in the evening till late, I do feel the ship winds down to early, as come 2:30 am, everything is pretty much shut down. I have been on other ships especially from Norwegian Cruise Lines and the party tends to go on in the club a bit later -  generally until the last person leaves, and not just shut down at a set time . As far as the crowd, goes I did think the age group on-board was rather senior (compared with Norwegian), perhaps  because the cruise was in January, but I did still manage to find some people my own age to party with and have a great time. I can say that as far as whether this is a good ship for a solo traveler I would have to say it all depends on the crowd on the ship on that particular week, I got lucky and met some people my own age but I could of been rather alone if they had not had picked that week. So would I recommend the Indy?  Yes, absolutely.  It is a great ship, and I plan on going on it again, maybe this time in Europe on a cruise out of Southampton.        

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