They say you can’t please all the people all of the time. Perhaps the naval architects at Royal Caribbean International didn’t get that memo. Because there is surely something to keep just about anyone happy on board the Icon of the Seas, the new class of ship unveiled recently by RCI, the world’s largest cruise line by revenue.
And the new vessel is nothing short of astonishing. But, purists look away now. Because when Icon of the Seas floats out in late 2023 it will look less like a ship and more as if someone bundled an entire resort onto a floating pontoon and pushed it out to sea. It’s a Technicolor fever dream of distraction, with vast open-air decks filled with just about any entertainment you can think of.
“With each new ship, we raise the bar in the travel industry,” said Jason Liberty, president and CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group. “With Icon of the Seas, we’ve taken this to a new level and made the ultimate family vacation.”
In keeping with Royal Caribbean’s successful approach, this is a ship where bigger is always better. To start, it’s 365-metres long — a shade longer than Royal Caribbean’s already-gargantuan Oasis class. For perspective that also nearly 100-metres longer than the MSC Sinfonia, which sails its popular summer schedule out of Durban.
Across 20 decks Icon will offer 2,805 staterooms — including the three-story Ultimate Family Townhouse, complete with its white picket fence and mailbox — sailing with a maximum of 5,610 guests. If you don’t like crowds, perhaps Icon of the Seas is not for you.
To keep them all entertained there’s an endless array of activities and, as you’d expect from Royal Caribbean, it’s a ship of breathless superlatives.
Dozens of restaurants and bars are gathered into immersive on-board ‘neighbourhoods’ — Central Park comes planted with real trees — while activities range from rock climbing at Adrenaline Peak to ice-skating in Royal Caribbean’s largest floating ice arena.
Atop the Icon you’ll find AquaDome, complete with 16-metre waterfall and the AquaTheater, which plays host to nightly aquatic theatre shows. In The Hideaway, the centrepiece is the first suspended infinity pool at sea, while at the heart of Thrill Island is Category 6 — the largest water park at sea. That will offer six record-breaking slides, including the first open free-fall slide at sea, the tallest drop slide at sea, the first family-raft slide at sea, and the first mat-racing duo at sea. You get the idea.
Prefer chills to thrills? Chill Island will house three of the seven pools on board, including Royal Bay Pool which will be — yup, you guessed it — the largest swimming pool at sea.
“We set out to create a vacation that makes all that possible in one place for the thrill-seekers, the chill enthusiasts and everyone in between, without compromise,” said Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. “It’s this first-of-its-kind combination that makes Icon the future of family vacations, and that future is here.”
“When I think of Icon of the Seas, I picture a resort holiday in Mauritius with the liveliness of Vegas, all in one cruise,” adds Charlene Krog, cruise travel expert at Flight Centre Fourways Mall.
But it also all begs a question: is this the right way forward for the travel industry? In a world of #flygskam, carbon offsets and climate change do we need to build behemoths like Icon?
Admittedly, despite its size, new-build ships allow for newer greener technology to be embedded into the design, and on that score Icon of the Seas comes with improved sustainability street-cred.
The ship will be the first in the Royal Caribbean fleet to be powered by liquefied natural gas, the cleanest-burning marine fuel that offers large reductions in sulphur and particulate emissions. Icon will also sail with fuel cell technology for on-board power, waste-heat recovery systems and shore-power connections that minimise fuel burn in port. That’s the environmental side, but what about over-tourism? It remains an issue, though the ports this floating town will call at on its standard seven-day sailings in the Western Caribbean are likely geared up for the regular daylong influx of mega-ships.
When Icon of the Seas sets sail on its inaugural voyage it will offer a certain kind of holiday to a certain kind of traveller. If you’re looking for local colour and authentic experiences ashore, then Icon is not for you. But for a one-stop vacation where there’s little need to ever leave the resort — sorry, I mean ship — then get your booking in early. Because when reservations opened for Icon in October, it sparked the single largest booking day in Royal Caribbean’s 53-year history. The future is coming. Will you be on board?