When Royal Caribbean’s new ship, Icon of the Seas, sets sail next year it will house more than 7,500 passengers (7,600 at maximum capacity, to be exact).
For now, however, more than 2,600 people each day can be found on board, working diligently to ready the ship for its January 2024 debut.
On May 10, PAX joined more than 50 travel journalists from around the world in getting a behind-the-scenes look at Icon’s construction at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland.
The culmination of a six-year-long project, which is now 70 per cent complete, Icon of the Seas is set to become the largest cruise ship in the world, overtaking its sister ship, Wonder of the Seas, which launched in March 2022.
Interactive 3D renderings were used to help site visitors envision what Icon will look like when its construction is finished in less than seven months.
The first of the new Icon Class, the ship will feature eight neighbourhoods, over 40 restaurants, seven pools, and 28 types of accommodation – 14 of which are new for the brand.
“The totality of the whole experience – everything about Icon is just unbelievable,” said Michael Bayley, president & CEO, Royal Caribbean International, speaking at a press conference at Meyer Turku shipyard.
When bookings for Icon of the Seas opened in October 2022, it smashed Royal Caribbean’s booking records, marking what was at that time the single largest booking day in the company’s history.
“For the travel agency community, for our loyalty members, for just travel gurus of the world, seeing something like this come to life, I think is drawing a lot of demand,” said Jason Liberty, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group.
"The ultimate family vacation”
“We’re positioning this product as the ultimate family vacation and we think it's going to be the best family vacation in the world,” said Bayley.
From the staterooms to the entertainment, this focus on families was evident during the ship tour, with visitors getting a sneak peek at one of the new Family Infinite Ocean View Balcony suites as well as new family-oriented neighbourhood, Surfside.
Over 75 per cent of staterooms on Icon can accommodate families of three or more, which is 60 per cent more than any other ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.
Although the fixtures and finishes had yet to be added, site visitors got a first-hand look at a Family Infinite Ocean View Balcony suite and the brand’s first “infinite balconies,” which can be opened to act as a traditional balcony or transformed into an extension of the stateroom when closed.
These suites also feature split bathrooms that separate the shower and toilet.
Site visitors also toured the future Surfside neighbourhood, which is geared towards millennial parents and children.
In addition to three pools, a carousel, and an arcade, Surfside includes a new family-friendly buffet, Surfside Eatery, and Lemon Post bar.
“Lemon Post is the first ever bar that I know of, whether it's on land or at sea, created for families,” explained Linken D'Souza, global head – vice president, food and beverage, Royal Caribbean Group.
“We have alcoholic cocktails made specifically for the adults and we've got kid versions of cocktails made specifically for the kids. We’ve also laid in these activations for young families to enjoy together, like colour-changing cocktails,” he added.
More family-friendly activities await at Thrill Island, which is home to the largest waterpark at sea; and Chill Island, which features the largest pool at sea.
“Whether you're travelling with your spouse; your spouse and your kids; or you’re travelling with your parents and your spouse and your kids – being able to cater to delivering these “wow” moments for all these different generations, I think that’s drawing everybody in,” said Liberty.
Making a connection
“Everything that we do is very informed – we use not only our experience, knowledge, and our interaction with our customers over time, but we use a vast amount of data,” said Bayley.
This research led Royal Caribbean to emphasize a theme of connection throughout the ship.
This sense of connection means easy guest movement, with staircases, slides, escalators, and elevators – including Royal Caribbean’s first destination elevators – creating many options for traversing the ship.
This theme of connection also plays out as a connection to the water, with the Icon’s Royal Promenade featuring the brand’s first floor-to-ceiling ocean view windows. These three-deck-high windows are made possible by the Pearl, a superstructure sphere that provides support.
Site visitors got a preview of the Pearl’s visual and sound effect capabilities, which guests will experience as they board the ship.
“The Pearl – that infrastructure allowed us to really open up the ship to the water and that's a technical marvel in itself,” said Liberty.
Connection also means strong Wi-Fi, which is touted as now extending out to the balconies in staterooms, making it possible for guests to feel connected to their ocean surroundings while also staying connected to what’s going on at home.
Old meets new
Icon brings back many concepts that regular Royal Caribbean cruisers will recognize – some in familiar ways and others in new formats.
“The respect for tradition is ensuring that we deliver experiences that our loyal customers expect from Royal Caribbean and love about Royal Caribbean,” explained Bayley.
“Then when you think about the other set of expectations, it's an expectation that we are constantly innovating, that we're constantly creating excitement and vibrancy and new concepts. I think that's what you see with Icon.”
For example, while nightlife on the Royal Promenade is a familiar feature, Icon is structured with no staterooms set directly above this neighbourhood so the late-night fun won’t disturb guests who may be trying to sleep.
Like other ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, Icon will host live performances at its AquaTheater.
This iteration of the theatre, however, sits within the new AquaDome neighbourhood, which includes 220-degree ocean views and a 55-foot-tall waterfall.
“When you walk in and you see the scale of it all and then you realize all the incredible experiences and memories that are going to be built in that area – it's going to be game-changing,” said Liberty of the AquaDome.
Liberty notes that the evolution of Royal Caribbean’s ships also means striving towards more sustainable cruising. “As obsessed as we are with the vacation experience, we are as obsessed on how to make a better impact,” he said.
“Our goal is to get to net zero.”
Icon is touted as the brand’s most sustainable ship yet, powered by fuel cell technology and liquefied natural gas (LNG), which Royal Caribbean describes as “the cleanest-burning marine fuel to date.”
“I think that the DNA of Royal Caribbean is quite powerful and I think innovation, creation, and everything that we've learned over all of these decades has powerfully informed how we look into the future,” said Bayley.
Icon of the Seas will sail year-round from Miami on seven-night Caribbean cruises that include destinations like St. Maarten and St. Kitts, with all ships stopping at Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, Perfect Day at CocoCay.
“All of the energy and time that's gone into creating this ship is just mind blowing. It's still in construction so it doesn't really have all of the vibe and the feelings that it will ultimately have,” said Bayley.
“As I walk around the ship, I'm delighted and excited.”