Massive attack: Icon of the Seas makes its mark

Massive attack: Icon of the Seas makes its mark

Rebecca Barnes gets on board Icon of the Seas to discover the biggest ship in the world’s newness and key selling points

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock over the past few weeks, you’ll no doubt have read or heard about Icon of the Seas‘ recent debut. I flew to Miami for the inaugural sailing and exclusive naming ceremony featuring soccer legend and Icon’s godfather Lionel Messi – ‘the Icon of Icon’ – for the highly anticipated ship which literally stopped traffic when it arrived in the Sunshine State, according to president and CEO Michael Bayley.

Seven years in the making, you may have heard that, at full capacity, the number of passengers aboard the 7,600 guest Icon is greater than the population of the City of London, and that it is longer than the Eiffel Tower is high. And the stats don’t stop there for Royal Caribbean’s most sustainable ship – it has the tallest drop slide at sea, the first swim-up bar at sea, and the first suspended infinity pool at sea, and that’s just for starters…

We know that Icon is big and bold, but what’s it really like on board? Do you get lost? Can you get away from people? I, like many of your clients, had all these questions before I boarded. And I’m pleased to report that the ship seems to be easier to navigate than some others in Royal Caribbean’s fleet and somehow never felt too crowded or overwhelming. Spending just three nights on board, I feel like I got around at least 80 per cent of it.

There’s lots of newness on Icon of the Seas – below are the highlights:

  • Neighbourhoods: AquaDome/ Chill Island/ Thrill Island/ The Hideaway/ Surfside
  • Dining, bars and nightlife: 21 new offerings including The Overlook & Overlook Pods, Empire Supper Club, and Pearl Cafe (more on these later)
  • Thrill & Chill: Category 6 Waterpark/ Hideaway Pool/ Cloud 17/ Royal Bay Pool/ Cove Pool/ Water’s Edge/ Crown’s Edge
  • Accommodation: 14 new places to stay including the Ultimate Family Townhouse, Sunset Suite, Icon Loft and Spacious Infinite Central Park View Balcony. 80 per cent of the staterooms can accommodate families. The hyped 2,523 sq ft Ultimate Family Townhouse is now fully booked for 2024 – this $75,000 a week suite spans three storeys, sleeps up to eight and includes a multilevel slide, musical stairs, table tennis and a whirlpool.
  • Rover, the ship’s first Chief Dog Officer. This gorgeous golden Labrador is, in Michael Bayley’s words, “like a movie star – when she’s ready, she may show up,”

Everybody needs good neighbourhoods

Icon is built around neighbourhoods – eight to be exact, including the five aforementioned new ones and three existing favourites: Central Park, Royal Promenade and Suite Neighbourhood.

Here’s a summary of the new neighbourhoods:

  • AquaDome: By day, you can enjoy a bite to eat in this tranquil oasis with wraparound ocean views. At night it becomes a vibrant hotspot, complete with restaurants and bars like AquaDome Market – Royal Caribbean’s first food hall, and Rye & Bean coffee bar, as well as the AquaTheater. You’ll also find The Overlook with the first-of-their-kind pods at sea.
  • The Hideaway: Evoking the world’s best beach clubs along with uninterrupted ocean views, here you’ll find the first suspended infinity pool at sea, a multilevel terrace, lots of seating an a bar.
  • Surfside: Designed for families with young kids – adults can chill at Water’s Edge pool while keeping an eye on the tots at Splashaway Bay and Baby Bay. Moments away are food and drink options, a beach-themed carousel, an arcade and a range of activities.
  • Thrill Island: Get your adrenalin pumping at Category 6, the largest waterpark at sea and Crown’s Edge, a daring 154ft walk above the ocean in a harness. There’s also favourites such as FlowRider surf simulator, new takes on mini golf at Lost Dunes, and rock climbing. Plus new and casual dining spots for recharging including the Desserted milkshake bar.
  • Chill Island: Here you’ll find a pool for every mood including the first swim-up bar at sea, each with prime ocean views and set over three decks. Spots to eat and drink include The Lime & Coconut, El Loco Fresh & Cantina Fresca, and the good old Windjammer.

Surfside, the first neighbourhood for young families. Image: Rebecca Barnes

Entertainment is next level

While it is getting better all the time, cruise line entertainment isn’t something that I prioritise when I’m sailing. However, being a fan of The Wizard of Oz, I was quite keen to see Royal Caribbean’s take on the classic. And I’m so glad I did. In fact, it blew me away – not quite to Kansas though, mind.

Featuring never-before-seen stage effects, more than 600 costume elements and an original score performed by a new 16-piece orchestra, Royal is the first cruise line to debut the classic tale of Dorothy’s adventure to Oz but with a modern twist.

And from the characters soaring above the audience to the brilliant orchestra, I loved everything about it – the acting was superb, too, and we were only watching the dress rehearsal!

The next-level AquaTheater show was another highlight: more than 75 world-class performers will perform at the AquaDome and its AquaTheater, theRoyal Theater and the Absolute Zero ice arena, which showcase state-of-the-art technology like 3D flying systems and robot arms that act as diving boards for high divers (and more).

Guests will be able to watch Aqua Action! which combines technological and physical feats by Olympic-level high divers, skateboarders, aerialists, slackliners and synchronised swimmers, blurring the lines between live-action movie and theatrical experience.

Beyond the stage, music lovers, comedy fans and everyone in between can enjoy tunes and laughs at every turn. From rhythm and rhyme to a rotating setlist across rock, pop, Caribbean beats, Latin music and more, nine hotspots on Icon play homage to live music – there’s even a karaoke venue.

There’s no place like Icon… Image: Rebecca Barnes

Food and drink is diverse

New and reimagined dining is upping the ante on Icon. There’s more than 20 venues for every occasion, including a new eight-course experience and the line’s first food hall.

From restaurants to walkup windows, casual to elevated, live music to chefs who put on a show, there’s options for every occasion and mood. On the menu are new venues like the upscale Empire Supper Club, a swanky eight-course experience costing $200 a head; AquaDome Market – Royal Caribbean’s first food hall – and Izumi in the Park, an all-day window with fresh sushi and more. There’s also guest favourites ranging from Italian to Japanese and Mexican, including Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar, Izumi and El Loco Fresh.

I loved Pearl Cafe, a new stop for bites such as freshly toasted sandwiches and ready-made salads day or night – it sits between The Pearl and floor-to-ceiling ocean views in Royal Promenade and is a great lunch spot. Another favourite was Vitality Cafe which was on my deck and a great option for a quick freshly squeezed juice or smoothie, and a granola slice.

 

The Pearl Cafe. Image: Royal Caribbean

Perfect Day is a highlight 

Having never visited a cruise line’s private island resort before I had nothing to compare it to, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Perfect Day at CocoCay, even if it was a bit too windy the day we visited to go up in the helium balloon.

Guests can choose their own ultimate beach day by chilling out at one of a few places to unwind, catching some rays along five stretches of powdery beach, elevate their visit with an overwater cabana at Coco Beach Club®, or refuel at the swim-up bar in the largest freshwater pool in The Bahamas.

In true Royal Caribbean style, there’s also adrenalin-pumping experiences like Thrill Water Park, ziplining, a complimentary aquapark and every watersport you can imagine.

There are trams to get you from A to B, freshwater showers, beach chairs and umbrellas, and shops, as well as three complimentary dining venues and nine bars. After a stint at the new Hideaway Beach which is adults only and has lively, Ibiza beach club vibes, I chilled at Harbor Beach which is ideally positioned surrounding Harbor Lagoon, and grabbed lunch at Snack Shack.

Insider tips:

Coco Beach Club day passes and cabanas include an exclusive lunch at the island’s only gourmet restaurant – here you can indulge in favourites like lobster and filet mignon.​

If you’ve purchased a beverage or WiFi package onboard or on Cruise Planner, you can use them on the island too.

Some cabanas come with extra perks, like the cabanas at Thrill Waterpark, which include complimentary entry to all of the slides and activities inside for up to six guests.

 

Hideaway Beach at Perfect Day at CocoCay. Image: Rebecca Barnes

The deal

A seven-night cruise onboard Icon of the Seas in 2024 costs from £1,343 per person. All itineraries visit Perfect Day at CocoCay, and the Eastern or Western Caribbean. The price includes cruise fare, accommodation, some beverages and a range of dining experiences. Flights are extra. royalcaribbean.com

Our editor’s view 9/10

“If your clients are into experiencing the epitome of mega ships with more facilities than three land-resorts put together, introduce them to Icon. This is first-class, contemporary cruising with something for everyone and the fun never stops, from morning to night. The icing on the sunny cake is Perfect Day at CocoCay, which offers an incredible land experience for the ship’s guests. 
Rebecca Barnes

Agent view

I lost count quite early on of how many times I said, ‘WOW’ after stepping on board Icon of the Seas – I’m already looking forward to returning to explore more of the ship. A real highlight was the production of The Wizard of Oz. It was hard to believe we were at sea watching this; the performance easily matched any West End or Broadway performance I’ve seen. In fact, the entertainment in general blew me away. For me, Icon of the Seas has brought a new dynamic to the cruise industry. I think we’re going to see a surge in multi-generational families booking to take advantage of its modern offering that will no doubt satisfy every age group and demographic.
Caroline Donaldson, product & commercial director, Barrhead Travel

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