On January 27, Royal Caribbean’s newest cruise ship, the Icon of the Seas, officially set sail for its inaugural trip. A week before that, my family of four were lucky enough to be able to experience it first. It was an unforgettable time.
There are plenty of cool things to highlight about Icon. For one, it’s presently the biggest cruise ship in the world, a behemoth with 20 decks at close to 2,000 feet, 365 meters long. There’s even a giant pearl in the middle, which you can see below (more on that shortly!).
Secondly, it’s Royal Caribbean’s most sustainable ship ever, switching from a heavy fuel oil to liquefied natural gas, converting waste into energy and doing away with food waste, aiding in their efforts towards reaching a corporate goal in 2035 to have a net zero ship.
Thirdly, it employs more than 2,300 crew members from all over the world. You may have a server at one of the ship’s 40+ restaurants, bars and lounges who is from Kenya one minute, and then the next, a woman making balloon animals for your kids from the Philippines. Everyone was friendly, everyone was helpful, and the automatic exposure to other cultures is a great thing to introduce young children to.
All of that is great. But when it comes to what I think you want to really know about Icon of the Seas, I’m sure it’s the actual experience. Oh, and the food. To all that I’ll say, there is truly something for every kind of traveler and their tastes on board.
Within eight neighborhoods, there’s plenty to see and do. A waterfall in Aquadome, where at night, performances of Aqua Action! (where professionals perform stunts beneath the shapeshifting waterfall) occur. An actual open-air park called Central Park offers the sight and smells of more than 30,000 plants as well as live music and shopping (Regalia Fine Watches has an amazing collection of timepieces, including Rolex watches by the way).
In Surfside, the first neighborhood for kids, every kind of youth can have a blast. There’s a fully equipped arcade, a carousel, three water experiences and four food spots that serve more than chicken poppers and fries (though they have those too and they’re delicious after spending time running behind your children!). There’s also spots like The Lemon Post that offer a menu for both kids and adults, so kids can have fun while parents can enjoy both alcohol and “zero-proof” libations alongside them.
And accommodations are of a wide variety. In addition to balcony, view and interior staterooms, there are a plethora of suites. I took a peek at the biggest one, the Ultimate Family Townhouse, which can house eight and is 1,772 feet with a slide, stairs that have steps that play piano notes (you can turn that off if you’d like), bunkbeds, a mini theater and more. Icon has more options for families and those traveling in groups who may want to swank up their lodging.
Food and drinks were impressive, too. There were all sorts of options depending on your desired tastes. Want sushi? They have that via Izumi in the Park. Italian? Listen, you will not regret eating at Giovanni’s, which is a familiar eatery for Royal Caribbean cruisers. The Pearl Cafe, a new spot where breakfast and yummy toasted sandwiches and salads, as well as sweets are available, is right next to the massive pearl. The pearl is a grand art installation that is also an architectural structure meant to help bring natural light in the ship via grand windows. It’s a beauty.
Windjammer Cafe offers global cuisine buffet style, while Basecamp provides quick but tasty small bites as you move from one marvel to another. And the drinks are top-tier wherever you go, folks. I was handed a Purple Tide at The Grove (which is a dining spot for suite guests that was opened up for a mixer I attended), and it was one of the first cocktails I’ve been given in a large balloon glass at an event that I stayed behind to finish completely. Delish.
Other gorgeous concoctions include the Snap. Crackle. Pop. found at Dueling Pianos, the Clover Club at Lou’s and the Toaster Marshmallow Old Fashioned from Schooner Bar. In the spirit of Dry January, I was enamored with the many zero-proof options too that were made available at every bar on board. (A crisp Watermelon Mint Limeade at El Loco Fresh made me an instant fan while dining with my kiddos.)
And in addition to the big shows, including The Wizard of Oz at the Royal Theater and Pirates vs. Mermaids at Aquadome, as well as comedians at the The Attic, there were some exceptionally talented musicians all over the place. I caught one British pianist on deck eight who sang rock classics, including “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, like it was as simple as reciting your ABCs. There was also a great guitarist who played in Central Park, and a cover band in the Pearl area who kept my 1-year-old dancing to the delight of folks passing by.
So depending on what you want out of a trip, you can find it on the ship. Want to grab a coffee and read a book in peace? Head to the Pearl Cafe…or the Starbucks across the way. Want to keep up with all the matches and games on TV? Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade was a buzzy spot every night I was on board. (Ask my husband, he was often there…) Not a gym rat but want to burn off the late-night snacks and buffet bites? There’s a running track on deck five for that. Looking to dance the night away? There are fun events like the One Hit Wonder party we checked out that played all the hits of artists who weren’t lucky enough to have longevity.
And if you need to find childcare while you do all of this, young kids will love Adventure Ocean (where we left our sons at the AO Babies and AO Junior clubs) to play amongst other littles. And if you’re looking to take a dip, there are nine whirlpools, and you know, just a 17,000+ square foot waterpark on decks 16 and 17 called Thrill Island. There you can find a few firsts, including the tallest drop slide at 46 feet tall in Frightening Bolt, the first open freefall slide at sea in the Pressure Drop, and the first family raft slides at sea in the Hurricane Hunter and Storm Surge among other attractions. If that’s a bit too intimidating or extra for your energy levels, check out Swim & Tonic, the first ever swim-up bar in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.
All said and done, there are plenty of experiences to have as a family, a whole host to have with your girlfriends, some sweet options as a couple, and fun if you even want to cruise at sea solo. To me, Icon of the Seas felt like a one-of-a-kind world that has everything one might be interested in doing over the span of a few days at sea, and this is all before you get to the Bahamas and enjoy the fun beach getaway at the private Perfect Day at CocoCay (which has a new, and first, adults-only haven by the way).
According to Michael Bayley, CEO of Royal Caribbean, it’s all brought to guests not by coincidence but through research; finding out what people want more of when they vacation and putting that in place on their newest fleets.
“If you look at the classes of ships over time, how they’ve evolved, we do know a lot about the flow of people and we do know how to create an experience that delights the customer,” he says. “We do a lot of work, a lot of study, a lot of analytics, and we’ve got a lot of information from our existing fleet and we utilize it to try to operate this as efficiently as possible, but also make sure people have a great time,” he says.
So yes, it’s a huge ship. But every inch is used to bring joy, ease and wonder to passengers, young and seasoned, escaping the mundane. The result is a cruise experience you’ll be talking about for some time.
Learn more about Icon of the Seas and find the cruise experience that works for you, and your pockets, over at royalcaribbean.com.