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Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, rendered above, will be the largest cruise ship in the world, weighing 250,800 gross tons and measuring 1,198 feet in length.

Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, rendered above, will be the largest cruise ship in the world, weighing 250,800 gross tons and measuring 1,198 feet in length. (Royal Caribbean/TNS)

Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas will get the title of world’s largest cruise ship when it debuts, sailing out of Miami in 2024, but that’s beside the point.

“It’s purposeful. It’s not like we start with each ship and we say, ‘OK, this one’s going to be the biggest in the world.’ That actually isn’t the purpose,” said Jay Schneider, chief product innovation officer for Royal Caribbean. “It really comes down to going through the creative process and the customer insight process to say what are we really seeking out to achieve?”

So while the 20-deck ship’s 250,800 gross tons and 1,198 feet in length bests the most recent Oasis-class ship and current world’s largest ship Wonder of the Seas’ 235,600 gross tons and 1,188-foot-length, Icon of the Seas will actually have less passenger capacity based on double occupancy — 5,610 compared to Wonder’s 5,734.

“We are providing more space for people than we’ve ever done before, so even though we take great pride that the Oasis class was the most space, this ship is designed to give more space to everybody both in public spaces as well as in staterooms,” Schneider said.

The size of the rooms and the expected growth of family traveling, though, means Icon of the Seas’ maximum capacity of 7,600 exceeds Wonder’s 7,084.

“Every stateroom except interiors is bigger than any other stateroom that we’ve had before,” he said. “They are bigger but are laid out in a unique and creative way that we’ve never done before.”

He said the line didn’t want to compromise on venue space, though.

“So you’ll find facades that are open for the first time in a grand way,” he said. “You’ll find connectivity between decks that we’ve never done before, and a lot of that design and ingenuity came from this notion of giving people more space. As you kind of put the pieces and parts together, you suddenly find yourself with a fairly large footprint.”

That footprint, while similar to that of the Oasis class, allowed designers more room to play with familiar spaces such as the Royal Promenade, the open-air Central Park and what will be the largest exclusive area for suite guests to date for the line, covering three decks.

But it’s the new spaces that have ship designers excited, and company officials detailed some, but not all, of the ship’s new features in a recent media preview at its headquarters in Miami, including a virtual 3D tour of the spaces at its Innovation Lab.

Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas is the first ship to feature an AquaDome, a geodesic dome, rendered above, that will transform from an oasis for guests with wraparound ocean views and a waterfall. At night, it will offer aqua shows in the AquaTheater.

Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas is the first ship to feature an AquaDome, a geodesic dome, rendered above, that will transform from an oasis for guests with wraparound ocean views and a waterfall. At night, it will offer aqua shows in the AquaTheater. (Royal Caribbean/TNS)

Inside the dome

The most iconic feature of Icon of the Seas is the massive geodesic dome that lords over the bow of the ship’s top decks. This is the AquaDome, and the centerpiece of what’s inside is familiar to Royal fans as it’s home to the new version of the AquaTheater where diving and aerialist performances will take place in the evening, but now in a controlled atmosphere that allows for more digital lighting and other special effects including the addition of four robotic arms to the production stage.

Throughout the day, a 55-foot-tall waterfall will flow as cruisers enjoy dining and get wraparound views through the glass enclosure. The space’s bars and restaurants will allow for even more people to view the shows at night.

Surfside, rendered above, is a new neighborhood at the aft of the ship made for young families that includes the Water’s Edge pool for adults along with Splashaway Bay and Baby Bay for kids with slides, fountains, water cannons, a drench bucket and more. 

Surfside, rendered above, is a new neighborhood at the aft of the ship made for young families that includes the Water’s Edge pool for adults along with Splashaway Bay and Baby Bay for kids with slides, fountains, water cannons, a drench bucket and more.  (Royal Caribbean/TNS)

Walking the Boardwalk

The migration of the AquaTheater to the top deck means it’s no longer at the aft of the ship at the end of The Boardwalk neighborhood like on Oasis-class vessels. The Jersey Shore-inspired space makes its way to a more whimsical neighborhood called Surfside that targets families. Don’t worry, though; the Zoltar fortune telling machine will find a home somewhere, officials promised.

There’s also still a carousel, but instead of classic amusement park horses, people will get to ride on a narwhal, an octopus, a giraffe or in a Volkswagen bus, among other choices. Surfside is also still home to the Sugar Beach ice cream and candy venue — perfect for the target demographic of 6 and under — but it’s also designed to keep mom and dad happy so they can relax in a pool, lounge and bar while the kids run around Splashaway Bay. The neighborhood also is adjacent to an arcade, the kids Adventure Ocean club and teen spaces.

“Surfside is specifically designed for young families,” said Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley. “We think that once we get that message out to that demographic that we’ll see a lot more new-to-cruise coming to Icon.”

It includes the line’s largest, and most expensive, suite on board, the three-story Ultimate Family Townhouse, which has its own slide and private access to Surfside.

Category 6, rendered above, is the largest water park at sea with six slides: the industry’s first open free-fall slide;  the tallest drop slide at sea; the first two family raft slides at sea with four riders per raft; and cruising’s first mat-racing duo. 

Category 6, rendered above, is the largest water park at sea with six slides: the industry’s first open free-fall slide; the tallest drop slide at sea; the first two family raft slides at sea with four riders per raft; and cruising’s first mat-racing duo.  (Royal Caribbean/TNS)

Slipping and sliding

It used to be that Royal Caribbean didn’t deal in water slides, but now they’re a signature fixture, especially on the Oasis class, which all have three intense options. Icon of the Seas has doubled that, offering six slides on two towers for what will be the largest water park at sea called Category 6.

“We’ve called the classic Oasis-class The Perfect Storm,” Schneider said. “We’ve used storm metaphors. We kind of had this aha moment of you know we had six waterslides and so if you think of this storm experience and Royal creating experiences the world has never seen before, it’s kind of a Cat 6 experience.”

It’s the prime offering of a neighborhood called Thrill Island that includes the free-fall slides Pressure Drop and Frightening Bolt; Storm Surge and Hurricane Hunter, which are the first family raft slides for the line that can sport four riders per raft; and a pair of mat racer slides called Storm Chasers.

“We’ve given ourselves a generous space reservation,” Schneider said. “We didn’t want to make it feel like it was congested. So one of the things we studied very carefully as a company was the flow of guests throughout Thrill Island. ... We don’t want to wait a very long time so we’re very cautious of how many slides we needed, how long people would have to wait.”

As a full neighborhood, Thrill Island will allow for more space as well, so families can base their time there while people enjoy the water park and other features of the neighborhood including a feature not for the faint of heart.

Flying over the ocean

Another iconic feature of Royal Caribbean ships is the company logo, the crown and anchor, propped up for all to see on the side of the ship. Icon of the Seas has the largest in the fleet with one on either side of the vessel. On one side, though, you might just hear some people screaming because they chose to go on an adventure trail of sorts called the Crown’s Edge.

“I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not a ropes course,” Schneider said. “It’s not a zip line. It’s really a never-been-done-before experience.”

Thrill seekers may enjoy the key part of the experience, or not.

“So you’ll harness up in kind of a unique harness, tethered. ... There’s a series of obstacle-esque sort of experiences you can kind of move around because you’re tethered in case you do fall, and then you walk out, and then as you get to the end, just to mess with you we will drop the floor out from underneath you and you will then — we’ll call it fly for a better way to say it.”

This all happens 154 feet over the open ocean.

“You choose to go on the experience. You can’t skip this. You can skip it by not doing it,” he said. “This is a one-way experience.”

Drinking in the pool

The ship features seven pools on board including four in a terraced neighborhood called Chill Island. One of those named the Swim & Tonic will be the line’s first ever swim-up bar at sea.

It’s adjacent to the largest pool on a cruise ship, the Royal Bay Pool, and a margarita glass hot tub, one of nine whirlpools on board, on the Caribbean-themed pool deck with a variety of lounging options that have been rolled out to other ships in the fleet. It will also be home to some of the Lime & Coconut bars, of which there are four shipwide.

“We really talk about this mantra of water, water everywhere,” Schneider said. “We’ve really tried to redefine as many pools as possible facing outward — glass facades that give you vast, breathtaking views of the ocean — and really driving that connection to the water.”

A different neighborhood called The Hideaway is home to a suspended infinity pool 135 feet above the ocean along with a multi-level sun terrace, more whirlpools and a bar.

Yet to be revealed

Of the eight neighborhoods on board, five are new — Surfside, AquaDome, Chill Island, Thrill Island and The Hideaway while Central Park, The Royal Promenade and the Suite Neighborhood exist on other ships in the fleet. Just what features will be offered up in some of those spaces, though, have yet to be revealed.

One item that’s been partially revealed is something the line calls The Pearl, which is a 36-by-95-foot window smack dab in the middle of the ship that acts as the first thing people will see when they get on board, and is the centerpiece to the Royal Promenade.

“As we think of the arrival experience, all of our ships have what you would call a mic drop arrival moment. We set up to create that. We wanted to create a mic drop, jaw-dropping arrival experience,” Schneider said. “So that is both in the location and position of The Pearl. The experience and expanse you see as you walk onto the ship, as you come through the airlock, you see the beauty of The Pearl, and so it serves a lot of different purposes.”

Schneider, though, teased that many of the details are under wraps for now.

“I keep telling people it will be the largest kinetic experience on the planet,” he said. “We’re not really talking about what that means, but if you google the word ‘kinetic’ it will kind of give you a sense of where we’re heading. And there’s a Starbucks as you walk in. That’s important.”

What he did reveal is that the space will change for all seven days of the sailing in some manner and play into travelers’ emotions.

The ship is slated to begin seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages from Port Miami on Jan. 28, 2024, but will arrive in Florida in December 2023. Bookings are open at royalcaribbean.com.

It’s the first of three announced ships in the Icon class with the next two set to be delivered in 2025 and 2026. It’s the first in the line to be powered by liquefied natural gas, which is a cleaner burning fuel that’s part of an industry-wide effort to reduce carbon emissions.

“This is our first in class in 10 years,” Schneider said. “So when you take first in class, with 23 [food & beverage] venues, 15 new kinds of experiences that we’ve never done before, new neighborhoods ... the orchestration and choreography of that, we’re going to knock out of the park, so we’re taking our time to make this the most amazing vacation experience.”

Details about those features, though, will be rolled out over the next year as construction continues at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland with the ship’s float out — aka its first taste of water — expected in December and sea trials not until next summer.

“You only saw about 20% of Icon,” Bayley said. “One of the challenges of Icon is there is a lot to talk about, and over the coming months, we’re going to reveal more and more of the elements and components and experiences of Icon ... There’s a few things that we have that are really top secret.”

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