We Got a Sneak Peek of the World’s Biggest Cruise Ship—and All We Can Say Is Wow
Outfitted with industry firsts like record-breaking waterslides and the largest pool at sea, the eagerly anticipated Icon of the Seas will take her maiden voyage in January 2024
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As I pulled up to the shipyard in Turku, Finland, and caught my first glance of the under-construction cruise ship everyone’s been waiting for—the Icon of the Seas—it was immediately clear that this enormous vessel would most certainly be living up to her name. Alongside roughly 40 other travel writers from North and South America, the U.K. and Europe, I donned a hard hat and steel-toed boots for a full-day, exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the biggest cruise ship in the world.
As we navigated this active construction site—where upward of 3,000 workers are busy turning Royal Caribbean’s larger-than-life vision into a reality each day—we toured staterooms, restaurants, several of the pools and adventure attractions, the AquaTheater, Central Park and the Bridge, and we were wowed at every turn. Even though she’s currently sitting at roughly 75% completion and is still missing a lot of the eye-catching aesthetics that will be added in the final phase, it’s easy to see why the Icon of the Seas is a monumental feat in an industry constantly pushing the envelope in terms of size, onboard amenities and entertainment, culinary delights and overall guest experience.
When one of the best cruise lines promises a Caribbean cruise of this magnitude, you know it’s going to be in high demand. Cruise aficionados were so excited for the maiden voyage that the first sailing of the Icon of the Seas sold out in less than 24 hours. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of available dates to make your own Icon of the Seas booking for 2024 and 2025. While you truly have to see it to believe it, here’s your sneak peek of what to expect on board the world’s biggest cruise ship.
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Just how big is Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas?
Courtesy Jill Schildhouse
The Icon of the Seas is 1,198 feet long. The current record holder for the world’s biggest cruise ship, which will soon be dethroned, is another Royal Caribbean ship: The Wonder of the Seas measures 1,187.8 feet. So the brand’s latest vessel will be a full 11 feet longer—and that means plenty of extra space for all its cool, new cruise-ship features.
OK, but how big is 1,198 feet, exactly? Really, really big. To put it into perspective, the Icon of the Seas is 3.3 times the length of a single football field.
This ship also boasts 20 decks (two more than the Wonder of the Seas), and 18 of those are for guests. Finally, she weighs in at a hefty 250,800 gross tons, a measurement used to determine the volume of all enclosed spaces on a vessel (read: total internal capacity). The Wonder of the Seas is “only” 236,857 gross tons. In total, the Icon of the Seas is 6% larger than the Wonder of the Seas.
How many passengers can sail on the Icon of the Seas?
The Icon of the Seas can host a maximum of 7,600 guests per sailing, which is significantly more than the Wonder of the Seas‘s capacity of 7,084. There are 2,805 staterooms aboard Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, which is actually a bit less than the Wonder of the Seas‘s 2,867.
Aside from passengers, it also takes a lot of crew to run a ship this size. The Icon of the Seas will also hold 2,350 crew members (compared with the Wonder of the Seas‘s 2,204-member crew). That means that at full capacity, the Icon of the Seas will be carrying just shy of 10,000 people (9,950 to be exact).
What are the ship’s coolest features?
Courtesy Jill Schildhouse
There’s no ship in the world with as many impressive adventure amenities as the Icon of the Seas—unsurprisingly, the world’s biggest cruise ship has thought of everything a guest could ever desire.
There are plenty of reasons this is going to be everyone’s new favorite cruise, and these ocean liner firsts are among them:
- Swim & Tonic, the cruise line’s first swim-up bar at sea
- Royal Bay, the largest pool at sea, with more than 40,000 gallons of water
- Six record-breaking waterslides that make up the largest water park at sea, including the Pressure Drop, the first open free-fall waterslide at sea
- The largest ice-skating arena in the cruise line’s fleet
Not only does the ship have the largest pool at sea, but it also has a lot of options when it comes to taking a dip. There are nine whirlpools on the ship, along with seven pools, including adults-only options, the first suspended infinity pool at sea and a private pool in the Suite Neighborhood.
Courtesy Royal Caribbean
Speaking of Royal Caribbean’s Neighborhoods, its newest ship has eight distinct neighborhoods, each a destination in itself. That means you won’t have to schlep your stuff across this enormous ship when you need a drink or a snack. Each area has plenty of food, drinks and entertainment contained within.
Five of these Neighborhoods are new, including:
- Thrill Island, which holds the water park and Crown’s Edge, a hybrid skywalk, ropes course and thrill ride
- Chill Island, where you’ll find four pools, the swim-up bar and Cloud 17, an adults-only retreat
- Surfside, designed for young families and featuring an arcade, Splashaway Bay, Baby Bay and Social020 for teens
- The Hideaway, a beach club 135 feet above the ocean with views for days
- AquaDome, home of the AquaTheater, an immersive venue featuring a dynamic waterfall and robotics alongside divers and acrobats
Food and drinks
There are plenty of cool restaurants around the world, but what about places to dine while you’re traveling from place to place? You’ll find no shortage of eats and sips aboard this ship.
There are more than 40 restaurants, bars and lounges, including fun concepts like the Lemon Post Bar (with sips for grown-ups and kids), Desserted (gourmet milkshakes, including boozy options), a Dueling Pianos bar and Rye & Bean coffee shop. Of course, you’ll find all your Royal Caribbean favorites too, like Sorento’s pizza, Chops Grille steakhouse and the Windjammer Marketplace.
The flagship entertainment is not to be missed: It’s a 90-minute production of The Wizard of Oz in the Royal Theatre, complete with a digitally created tornado that’s sure to wow audiences.
What are the extra challenges of a ship this size?
Courtesy Jill Schildhouse
If you’ve been on a cruise, then you know there are several “pinch points” around a ship, or areas where you start to feel like it’s a bit too crowded. So managing the flow of people on a vessel with 7,600 passengers took some extra planning.
Guests will be relieved to learn that the Icon of the Seas‘s elevators (a notorious pinch point) will be “destination” style, meaning they will batch groups of passengers all heading to the same destination, so you aren’t stopping on each floor to let people on or off. Instead of walking up to an elevator and hitting a button, you’ll select where you want to go on a panel, and it’ll tell you which elevator you should take. All this works to reduce wait and travel times, so you can spend more time focusing on fun.
Another challenge was building the top deck, which houses Thrill Island and numerous pools. With its latest ship, Royal Caribbean aimed to offer unrivaled water experiences that would help make it the world’s best family vacation, so it designed the ship with 62% more water surface area than previous vessels. This includes the largest water park at sea and six complicated waterslides, which added quite a bit of extra weight. As a result, this aspect of the Icon of the Seas‘s deck plan became one of the biggest tests of engineering, naval architecture and design in the entire construction process. The company brought in numerous experts to ensure the design would be technically sound. At the end of the day, the brand pushed boundaries and delivered on its vision.
Cruise ships also bring environmental concerns, not only to ocean life but also to the destinations they visit. And the bigger the ship, the worse its impact on our planet … right? Not so, as the Icon of the Seas will be the company’s most sustainable to date.
This ship showcases several firsts to help mitigate any negative impact on the planet: It’s Royal Caribbean’s first ship powered by liquefied natural gas, the cleanest-burning marine fuel, and fuel cell technology. It also produces 93% of its freshwater via a reverse osmosis/desalination plant (the newest systems require 65% less energy to operate than earlier generations), and this water is used for drinking, showers, sinks, toilets, kitchen galleys, pools, technical machinery and the spa onboard. Finally, it features a robotic hull cleaner that removes debris and slime when the ship is docked in port, preventing an increase in drag.
Where will the Icon of the Seas sail?
Courtesy Royal Caribbean
The Icon of the Seas will make a home in Miami and focus on seven-day, round-trip Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises. For the Eastern Caribbean itineraries, it’ll sail to such islands as St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Thomas and St. Martin; Western Caribbean itineraries include stops in Honduras and Mexico (Cozumel and Puerto Costa Maya).
All itineraries will include an entire day at Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s exclusive island oasis northwest of Nassau in the Bahamas. Perfect Day at CocoCay is part beach club, part thrilling water park and entirely fun. Entrance and most everything on-site is included with your cruise, so be sure to conquer the tallest water slide in North America, grab a drink at the swim-up bar, enjoy the largest freshwater pool in the Bahamas, take a 1,600-foot zip-line ride, splash around in the wave pool or just chill on the powdery beaches.
What kind of cruising experience is Icon of the Seas geared toward?
The Icon of the Seas is being billed as “the world’s best family vacation,” thanks to its unparalleled combination of all the best elements of any vacation: a resort escape, a theme park adventure, a foodie’s paradise, an entertainment mecca and a beach retreat all rolled into one. (Spoiler: It may give Disney cruises a run for their money!) With eight Neighborhoods filled with a wide array of experiences, entertainment and dining options, there’s something for everyone in your family to enjoy.
Part of the family vacation appeal is that the Icon of the Seas features new next-level accommodations for families and groups of friends. There are 28 different types of rooms, including the brand’s first Infinite Balcony rooms. These ocean-view rooms transform the living space into an extended open-air escape that invites the ocean breeze into your room at the touch of a button. Don’t miss the Family Infinite Ocean View Balcony rooms, which sleep six and have a separate bunk bed alcove for the kids (with their own TVs, of course).
Another notable room type aboard the Icon of the Seas is the Ultimate Family Townhouse, a three-story townhouse that sleeps up to eight and has three full bathrooms, plus a dining room and kitchenette, a perfect solution for multigenerational travel with grandparents. In it, you’ll find a multilevel slide, a patio with table tennis, a whirlpool on a wraparound balcony, a cinema room with a popcorn machine and karaoke, an adorable white picket fence with a mailbox and an exclusive entrance to Surfside (the neighborhood for young families).
Of course, this ship isn’t geared only toward family cruisers; it’s also an ideal couples cruise, what with the Neighborhood design and adults-only amenities like the tranquil Cloud 17 poolside oasis and Cove Pool, which faces the ocean.
How can you score a room on the Icon of the Seas?
Courtesy Jill Schildhouse
Everybody wants to see the Icon of the Seas for themselves—in fact, its debut is so eagerly anticipated that reservations reached a new single-day all-time high in the brand’s 53-year history when it opened Icon of the Seas for booking in October 2022. Thankfully, there are plenty of sailings available, starting in February 2024 and going into April 2025.
As you might expect, pricing for the Icon of the Seas is higher than on previous ships. The average price per person hovers around $1,676 for an inside cabin on a seven-night cruise. By comparison, a similar Eastern or Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Wonder of the Seas (the fleet’s next-newest ship) runs between $801 and $1,055. If your wallet is protesting, there are plenty of ways to save on cruises that’ll help make any booking more affordable.
What other cruises are similar to the Icon of the Seas?
Itching to book a cruise right now? The closest ship to the Icon of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, part of the brand’s Oasis class of ships—and the current title holder of the world’s biggest cruise ship, until the Icon of the Seas sets sail in January 2024.
There are currently five Oasis-class ships in service—Royal Caribbean’s next (and final) Oasis-class ship, the Utopia of the Seas, arrives in spring 2024—and they’re as close to the Icon of the Seas experience as you can get until that ship sets sail:
Wonder of the Seas
Sail to: Eastern and Western Caribbean
The Wonder of the Seas joined the brand’s fleet in 2022 and sails from Cape Canaveral. It has more than 30 dining options, the Perfect Storm waterslide trio, a zip line 10 decks high, a suite neighborhood, a FlowRider surf simulator, an AquaTheater with 30-foot diving platforms, a karaoke bar, ice skating shows, a rock-climbing wall and an underwater-themed park for kids.
Symphony of the Seas
Sail to: Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean, as well as the Bahamas
Since 2018, the Symphony of the Seas has been offering twin FlowRider surf simulators, glow-in-the-dark laser tag, Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade and three stories of waterslide fun.
Harmony of the Seas
Sail to: Eastern and Western Caribbean
The Harmony of the Seas debuted in 2016 and features, among other things, a robot-helmed Bionic Bar with craft cocktails, three waterslides and a zip line.
Allure of the Seas
Sail to: Eastern and Western Caribbean, as well as the Bahamas
One of the most awarded ships in the world, this beauty came on the scene in 2010. The Allure of the Seas has a zip line, rock wall, FlowRider surf simulator and an epic water park.
Oasis of the Seas
Sail to: Caribbean, Bahamas, Mediterranean, Canada and New England