Is Cruising Officially Back? A New, 7,600-Passenger Ship Says It Is

When “Icon of the Seas”—which will be the world’s largest cruise ship when it launches in 2024—opened for reservations, Royal Caribbean had its single largest booking day in its 53-year history.

Over-the-top water features will abound on the new <i>Icon of the Seas</i>, including the largest waterpark at sea and no fewer than seven pools.

Over-the-top water features will abound on the new Icon of the Seas, including the largest water park at sea and no fewer than seven pools.

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

If anyone has doubted whether cruising has recovered from its COVID-19 pandemic shutdown and slow-start aftermath, they perhaps need doubt no longer. Royal Caribbean this month announced a late January 2024 launch for what will be the world’s largest cruise ship, Icon of the Seas, the first in a new class of vessels able to carry nearly 10,000 passengers and crew. And on October 25, the day reservations for the ship opened, the cruise line reported its single largest booking day in its 53-year history (exact numbers were not disclosed).

Clearly, a lot of people want to get on a 250,800-gross-ton ship and mingle with up to 7,599 fellow passengers while checking out such features as a full-fledged water park with six slides, a 55-foot waterfall, and a different pool for every day of the week.

Fans of intimate, small ships will want to look elsewhere. But for those who like the idea of a Miami beach club scene, Vegas attractions, the convenience of all-inclusive resorts, and the thrill of theme parks all rolled into one, they will find plenty to like.

The cruise line is so sure it’s got a winner in Icon of the Seas, currently under construction in Finland, it is promoting the ship as the greatest family vacation ever.

Icon of the Seas is what dreams are made of,” Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, tells AFAR. “It’s where every type of family and family member, parents, grandparents, and kids alike, can make memories that they’ll cherish forever without compromise.”

Neighborhood hopping

The AquaDome neighborhood will serve as a relaxing outpost during the day and at night will host "aqua shows."

The AquaDome neighborhood will serve as a relaxing outpost during the day and at night will host “aqua shows.”

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

As with the vessel it will usurp for the title of world’s largest cruise ship (Royal Caribbean’s recently inaugurated Wonder of the Seas, which carries a max of 7,084 passengers), Icon of the Seas is divided into eight neighborhoods. New names hint at new features.

At Thrill Island, the calling card will be the action on six waterslides, such as Pressure Drop, with a 66-degree incline, billed as the industry’s “first open free-fall slide.” The 46-foot Frightening Bolt is “the tallest drop slide at sea,” and two slides for families involve four-person rafts. Nearby will be an attraction that will allow passengers to swing off the ship (while wearing a harness) above the sea 154 feet below.

Chill Island will be home to four of the ship’s seven pools—one with a swim-up bar, Swim & Tonic, and another promoted as the largest pool at sea. Passengers will be able to get away from the crowds (in theory) in the Hideaway neighborhood, designed for a beach club experience, with the first suspended infinity pool at sea at its core.

Surfside, with pool and splash areas, a carousel and arcade, is intended to serve as a stay-all-day hangout for families with young kids, especially children age 6 and under. Family-friendly dining options (details are yet to come) will be among the features, and there will be a bar for the grown-ups, too. Nearby will be the indoor, supervised Adventure Ocean club for ages 3 to 12 and Social020 club for teens.

The AquaDome neighborhood, high on the ship, will be a relaxing poolside spot with 55-foot waterfall. At night, the ship’s AquaTheater will host performances by high divers, synchronized swimmers, and aerialists.

Royal Caribbean’s Royal Promenade main street, a popular thoroughfare on the line’s Oasis-class ships (such as Wonder), will be included on Icon of the Seas but with the added benefit of ocean views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Main street will be home to 15 restaurants, cafés, bars, and lounges. More restaurants, bars, and entertainment will be found in the ship’s Central Park area, an actual park with real plants and trees that will be about 20 percent larger on Icon than on earlier ships.

Icon will also have the largest ice-skating rink of the fleet (other ships have them, too); it will be open for free-skating and will host shows featuring professional skaters.

No shortage of cabins and suites to choose from

Cruise-loving families can go big with the Ultimate Family Townhouse, a three-level suite with a slide and cinema space, and private access to the Surfside neighborhood.

Cruise-loving families can go big with the Ultimate Family Townhouse, a three-level suite with a slide and cinema space and private access to the Surfside neighborhood.

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

With a huge ship comes a huge choice of accommodations. On Icon there will be 28 cabin categories, including a whole Suite Neighborhood that will include private sundecks, a pool, restaurant, and a lounge on four decks in the aft of the ship. Fourteen new categories include cabins with “infinite balconies,” a concept first introduced on the latest ships of sister brand Celebrity Cruises—rather than a step-out balcony, passengers open the top half of a floor-to-ceiling window to turn their room into an open-air space.

Family accommodations are a focus for parties of three to six. The more affordable Family Infinite Oceanview Balconies accommodations will have a TV-equipped bunk alcove for kids at one end of the room and a split bathroom design (shower and sink on one side, sink and toilet on the other). They will sleep up to six people. At the high end, the three-story Ultimate Family Townhouse will have areas for karaoke and to watch movies, two private balconies, a private entrance to the Surfside neighborhood, and its own white picket fence and mailbox.

Thinking greener

While sustainability and gargantuan cruise ships typically don’t go hand in hand, Royal Caribbean says Icon of the Seas will be its most sustainable vessel to date. For one, it will be the first ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet to operate on liquified natural gas (LNG), currently the cleanest burning marine fuel. The ship will also have an ecomode for all accommodations that will automatically reduce energy output when guests are on shore and will turn back on as soon as they return to the ship. In addition, the ship will be able to hook up to shore-based power (when available) and will have waste-heat recovery systems.

Sail away

Icon of the Seas will sail from Miami on seven-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries. All will include a stop at Royal Caribbean’s private Bahamas island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, home to its own extravagant water park. Cruises start at $981 per person.

Fran Golden is an award-winning travel writer who has sailed on some 170 ships to destinations around the world.
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