My expectations of Icon of the Seas have been lofty to say the least. She the most highly anticipated ship the cruise industry has launched in years, and she is better than Royal Caribbean promised. Today I boarded the Icon of the Seas for the first time in the Meyer Turku Shipyard in Turku, Finland and was completely blown away. Royal clearly took 50 plus years of passenger feedback, gave its biggest fans and supporters what they asked for and created their new Masterpiece of the Seas. She won’t take her maiden voyage for several months, but the design, ingenuity and dedication to the guest experience was evident in each space I visited. Speaking with upper management in F&B, Entertainment, Design and Sales; it is evident that they understand what their guests are looking for and they are doing all they can to deliver it. My family can’t wait to be some of the first guests onboard to enjoy this incredible take on a family vacation.
Let’s start with The Pearl. Everyone wants to know what it is, and I can’t tell or show you everything, but it is a true architectural achievement. With patents pending, The Pearl holds up the structure of the ship to allow an enormous amount of light and stunning ocean views into the Royal Promenade and Central Park for the first time. It is the WOW factor that will greet you as you enter the ship, but like everything on this ship it is much more than what it may seem at first. With over 3,000 sensory tiles that move along with music and LEDs, the structure connects the lower Royal Promenade on Deck 5 with the upper level of the Royal Promenade on Deck 6. At the top you have the Pearl Café, an elevated version to the Café Promenade.
What really struck me was the ability to move around the ship in new ways that will really connect the ship and make passenger flow better than any mega ship I have seen. The whole ship is connected in innovative and well thought out ways. For example, you can get a quick bite to eat with the kids in Surfside, and then head down the stairs to Adventure Ocean where they can play, learn and party with new friends. You can also slide into Surfside with a dry slide made for the young and the young at heart. This is just one of many new ways Royal has connected the neighborhoods on Icon. You find this all around the ship and the flow makes a lot of sense. With escalators connecting guests quickly from Decks 2 to 5, and much easier access all the way to Deck 8, you can move around the ship without accessing the elevators if you prefer.
Speaking of the elevators, there is an aft bank of twelve elevators, and a forward bank of ten elevators. Royal is introducing a new way to travel vertically to their ships with destination elevators. You press the screen in the elevator lobby to head to the Windjammer, and the screen will tell you which elevator to go to. This will not only speed up the time it takes for you to get there, but should greatly improve elevator experiences in general. Royal is not the first to try this at sea, but with their extensive testing and from my experience onboard, I think they got it right.
As a father of two young kiddos who will be sailing on the Icon in a few months, I believe that Surfside is going to be a homerun. I have always loved the Boardwalk, but it is really an entertainment venue that I often found underutilized during the day. Now it should get a ton of use by younger families who will have their own dedicated spaces, which will make the kids happy and those at the upper deck pools thrilled as well. With a one-year-old and a seven-year-old, we now have places to dine specifically for them, as well as lots of attractions designedfor them. A fun playscape, Splashaway Bay for my daughter, Baby Bay for my son, an infinity view pool in the aft for me, and a great bar for my wife and I overlooking it all. We are also just steps away from our beautifully designed Surfside Family Suite for a nap or to chill.
Suites were on my mind while touring the ship, and we got to explore The Ultimate Family Townhouse, The Royal Loft Suite and a Surfside Family Suite. Star, Sky and Sea Class have been taken to another level, and Harr Travel knows how to help you get the absolute most value for your money when booking these accommodations.
The Ultimate Family Townhouse is in the perfect location on the aft of the ship, with a stairway down to Surfside. With the signature slide going through the middle of the suite, you can get from the bedrooms down to the living room in the most fun way possible. There is a net to chill on, a quiet second bedroom and an incredible amount of private balcony space to relax. Don’t forget your own hot tub looking over the ocean, and a private balcony off the parent’s bedroom.
The Royal Loft is a great evolution of the product. You have great views on the massive balcony of the ocean, over the Swim & Tonic Bar and for the very first time, Central Park. The master bedroom is the most private it has ever been, and I believe fans of the Royal Loft’s on previous ships will give their seal of approval once they get onboard.
The Surfside Family Suites are new to Royal, and well laid out. They don’t have an ocean view, but they do have a few things that are important to families. A split bathroom concept, a great sleeping nook for the kiddos and space for the family to spread out. Most importantly families will have the full Sky Class suite amenities with expedited boarding, access to the delicious two-story Coastal Kitchen Restaurant and many more perks that are critical to making every member of the family happy. Royal has also greatly expanded the Suite Neighborhood by adding a lot more deck space, a bigger pool, hot tubs and a second suite only dining venue The Grove. This is a fast casual experience featuring Mediterranean light bites that should be open from late morning until early evening and is on the sun deck. You can grab a quick snack, or a full meal and keep enjoying your relaxing time in this exclusive space.
I also toured an Infinite Balcony and an Infinite Family Balcony. Both are well designed, and really surprised me in the best way possible. First and foremost, I FIT IN THE SHOWER!! I am 6’6 and don’t always fit in spaces on ships, and there was plenty of clearance above my head, a bench seat and room to move around. With smaller kiddos I really appreciate the infinite balcony area, and can already see it being a fort for them to play or chill in. The Infinite Family Balcony also has the split bathroom concept I love, as well as an ingeniously designed set of bunks with a nook to hide out in, tons of built in storage and a TV for each of them. This bunk concept was actually designed by crew members and will be used in crew quarters. Once again Royal listened to those who mean the most and got it right.
The Icon is filled with firsts for Royal and firsts for the industry, but she also pays homage to what Royal fans love about their ships. Thrill Island is going to provide an enormous amount of fun, but its balanced approach to every member of the family was what I noticed the most. The six slides that make up the Category 6 Waterpark immediately draw your eye when you approach the ship, along with the nearly one hundred and fifty foot high Crown & Anchor logo that dominates the view near the top of the ship. Both are new versions of Royal favorites and the size alone gets you excited. In the waterpark, Royal is launching the first family raft slide at sea, so families can share in the fun. It will be a thrill, as the acrylic bottom will let you see the sea below as you take a slingshot ride over the side of the ship. The drop slide is also acrylic at the top to make you really feel that rush, but the real adrenaline pumping feature I can’t wait to try is the Crown’s Edge. Guests will walk the plank and have the floor drop out from under them as they whoosh over the edge of the ship for a zipline style ride.
Royal also brought back the sport court, their signature rock climbing wall the Flowrider surf simulator and what looks to be the coolest themed mini golf course at sea. All of this is great, but they have gone to lengths to make sure that all spaces can be utilized for more than a quick visit. Basecamp will also provide a delicious looking food and beverage venue with complimentary and upsell items, and a large bar where parents can unwind and the kids can check in throughout the fun. This is something that you will see on this ship that I think is genius. So many cruise ship venues have a relatively short usage time throughout the day, and if you are going to keep seven thousand plus cruisers happy they are going to need to spread out. One of the spots that Royal expects to be popular with adults is The Hideaway.
The Hideaway is another one of the spots that Royal has designed to function from the morning all the way into the evening. It consists of lots of space to get some sun or shade, while taking in my favorite views from the aft of the ship. You are steps away from Basecamp where you can get a bite to eat, but you also have a beautiful bar venue and the first ever suspended pool at sea. My guess is there will be a ton of shots from this pool making their way onto Instagram, and many will feature sunsets at sea as Icon makes her way around the Caribbean with Vegas beach club style DJs spinning tunes late into the evening.
As you move forward on the ship, you will see colors in the hallways, elevator banks and public spaces shift so you always know what part of the ship you are on. Heading forward from Thrill Island, you get to Chill Island where thing are bit more mellow, relaxing and expansive. Royal promises to have Caribbean music jamming poolside and more water than on any ship in the world. I was able to step into the Royal Bay pool and the pictures don’t really do it justice as the biggest pool at sea. This compliments The Cove Pool, Cloud 17 Pool and the brand new Swim & Tonic pool with the largest swim-up bar at sea. A mix of adult only area and several different vibes, allows guests to choose how they want to spend their day onboard and even shift throughout the day however they choose. Royal has tripled down on the Lime & Coconut bar concept and even upped their game to the first Frozen Lime & Coconut bar, sure to be a hit with every member of the family looking for some refreshing cocktails and mocktails in the Caribbean sun. All of this brilliantly transitions into the Aquadome neighborhood, where they share dining space.
The Aquadome is all about entertainment, but creatively it is also a great place to eat and find a quiet spot throughout the day. On Oasis Class ships, I love the Aqua Theater, but have always found it a bit underutilized throughout the day and even early in the night before the shows start. By adding in Royal’s first food hall experience and the stunning Overlook, I believe they will accomplish their goal to get utilization around the clock. All that said, the star of the Aquadome is the theater. I got a preview of Aqua Action, the show that should set the new entertainment standard at sea. The fifty-foot waterfall feature coming from the ceiling will draw your eye immediately, and from that space divers will dive nearly seventy feet from there to the bottom of the pool. In addition, Royal has robot arms that will assemble a half pipe used by professional skaters, throw divers from its moveable diving boards and dance along to the music. A cast of 27 will dazzle guests with dives, flips, slack line stunts and much more. There will also be a second show called Pirates and Mermaids, that I know my kids will love. I think my favorite part of the day was having the one and only Nick Weir, SVP of Entertainment for Royal show off this venue and beam from ear to ear with pride about its development. The team started to develop the show and venue in 2017, and I know he will he beyond proud to share it with the world nearly seven years after it was conceptualized.
There are several places where you can also get views of the Aquadome and its shows. They will be broadcast to the front of the ship in The Overlook, where you will also be able to hear the music. There are views from the two-story Coastal Kitchen, the Rye & Bean coffeeshop/bar and the delicious Hooked Seafood. The space will transition from day to night, and I believe help Royal spread guests out with a diversity of options.
Now let’s talk about Central Park. The most noticeable difference from previous versions is that whether you enter from the forward or aft sections of the ship, your first site will be lush foliage. The space is wider and a bit bigger, but also more accessible. Chops is back with a new modern décor but will now also offer small bites at the Trellis Bar nearby. Delicious sliders and truffle fries sound good to me. My favorite restaurant Izumi Hibachi & Sushi will relocate here with a twist. The space is quite a bit bigger than on any other Royal vessel and will include more hibachi tables and even a new walk-up window concept. The Park Café will be back to serve breakfast, lunch and an early dinner; with the new Bubbles Champagne bar right next to it for a mimosa or wide variety of champagne focused beverages. On previous ships Royal has expanded Jazz in the Park and here they are going all in with Lous’s Jazz & Blues lounge and club. All of these features should allow guests to use this space from sunrise to late in the evening.
As mentioned earlier, the Royal Promenade has been completely reinvented. There will be parades, parties and funs but by making both Decks 5 and 6 open, bright and filled with fun, this venue is also perfect around the clock. Up on Deck 6 you have Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar. The menu is diverse and delicious, whether going for a full meal or just charcuterie and wine. It’s open façade allows views of The Pearl and the ocean to the port side, and floor to ceiling windows on the Starboard. Up on Deck 6 you will also find my favorite bar on the ship, The Schooner Bar. Piano tunes and good times with friends can be found in this nautical bar, and directly across is Boleros. You can dance the night away to Latin sounds, and it is a great relaxing lounge during the day. Right down the hall aft you have Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade for delicious bites and sixty-three televisions to watch the big game.
All the way aft is Absolute Zero, the ice-skating rink that the skaters have been asking for all along. With a larger, oval surface, these entertainers and athletes will be able to dazzle with the dazzling jumps that they have not been able to perform on the rectangular rinks that came before. All the way forward you will find a much larger Attic Comedy Club where Royal will put on family friendly shows in the evening, and then adults only laughs later into the night. You will also find Dueling Pianos where you can sing along to your favorite tunes. This is not the first time Royal has produced a show like this, but it is the first time there will be a dedicated venue and shows daily. It has a walk up bar from the Royal Promenade where you can listen in, and most likely be drawn to stay a bit longer.
On the lower level of the Royal Promenade find more classic Royal venues that are expanded along with new concepts. The new spot I am most excited about is the 1400 Bar. Named after the hull number of the Icon, this indoor/outdoor venue is the perfect place to get a drink with views from master mixologists. The Point & Feather is the pub, and the name pays tribute to the addition of darts to the space. I love the open layout and always enjoy the music in the evenings. Sorrento’s Pizza is a must any time of the day, and I know I have had my fair share late into the night and early in the morning. Starbucks is always a popular spot and you may find me destroying eardrums at Spotlight Karaoke. I know that Royal fans will get more use out of these spaces than ever before due to the openness and connectivity.
One major treat for me was touring the new Empire Supper Club. This is significantly higher end than anything Royal has done before, and if you are a foodie, it will be the ultimate dining experience onboard. Touring the space with Linken D’Souza, Royal’s VP of F&B, concept architect was a real treat. I am hearing the price point for this elevated dinner and a show experience will start in the $200 per person range. Guests will be dazzled with an intimate space that holds less than 40 guests, has fine dining service, and the most expensive and sought after ingredients Royal has ever used. Think Wagyu, caviar, small batch honey, gold garnishes and a top shelf cocktail tasting menu. All of this will be paired with a trio of top-notch musicians and what looks to be a single seating each day. As always, a new concept like this will be a work in progress, but I can’t wait to make a reservation for my wife and I while the kiddos have their fun at Adventure Ocean.
They last area that we toured that I wanted to touch on was the Port Gangway area. There are now three separate areas for guests to embark and disembark, and the areas are expanded, air conditioned and have more ways to get to the higher decks. To me it is a little reminiscent of Celebrity’s Destination Gateway. I noticed several touches from the Infinite Balconies to the elevated food service that seems to be a cross over from Royal’s sister brand, and I love it. When something works, lean in and embrace it.
I haven’t come close to touching on all there is to do on the Icon of the Seas, but you better believe we will cover it all when we get onboard to sail for the first time and film our ship tour, along with all the rooms and suites. We can’t wait to share this ship with you, sail ourselves and join the iconic club of cruisers who get to experience all the vessel has to offer. Icon has been our top seller at Harr Travel for nearly a year now, and I think once the word of mouth gets out, the FOMO is going to make you wish you booked! Don’t worry, steel has already been cut in Icon 2, and they are already talking about future concepts because that is what Royal does. Right now, our biggest issue with Royal at Harr Travel is trying to find space on their ships so our guests can enjoy their magnificent vessels. We are here and ready to make your cruise dreams a reality whenever you are!