"We believe we've created the world's best family vacation,” said Royal Caribbean International’s President and CEO Michael Bayley. “It's been an exciting journey getting to this point with this incredible ship.”
As passengers, media and VIP guests huddled together in the AquaTheatre of the all-new AquaDome – the single largest glass and steel structure ever to be lifted onto a cruise ship – officials from Royal Caribbean named its new vessel, Icon of the Seas, at a star-studded celebration in Miami, Florida on Tuesday (Jan. 23).
The naming ceremony – traditionally held to bring good fortune and safety to a new ship, its crew, and passengers – was emceed by actor Mario Lopez (of Saved by the Bell fame) and attended by star fútbol (soccer) player Lionel Messi, the official “Icon of Icon of the Seas.”
Wearing an Inter Miami CF pink hoodie, it was Messi’s job to place a soccer ball atop a stand to activate an oversize 15-litre bottle of Champagne to crash into the ship’s bow (the smash was broadcasted on a screen), sparking a shower of glitter over the audience.
Meanwhile, moments earlier, the floor of the AquaTheatre seamlessly transitioned from stage to pool, cueing a waterfall, and a cast of Olympic-level high divers, aerialists, synchronized swimmers and dancers, blurring the lines between live-action movie and theatrical show.
On what is now the world’s largest cruise ship, over-the-stop moments are to be expected.
An engineering marvel
Icon Of The Seas is Royal Caribbean’s newest two-billion (U.S.) dollar megaship.
Boasting twenty decks, more than forty restaurants, bars and lounges, 28 different types of accommodations, and with a maximum capacity for 7,600 passengers, the sprawling, first-of-its-class vessel is an engineering marvel, as PAX has (so far) observed on a three-day preview sailing happening this week.
“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. A product that pushes the boundaries of human ingenuity, makes a widespread impact and forever changes the status quo,” said Jason Liberty, president and CEO for Royal Caribbean Group, addressing the audience at yesterday’s naming event, which unfolded as Icon was docked at Royal Caribbean’s Miami port.
“Today is that day as we launch a new era of multi-generational family experiences.”
Liberty said the amenity-filled vessel, which is larger than its sister ship, Wonder of the Seas, is a combination of “over 50 years of dreaming, innovating and living our mission every day to deliver the world’s best vacations.”
He’s right about the dreaming part.
Liberty explained how the design for the futuristic AquaTheatre began as a doodle on a napkin, years back, drawn by Richard Fain, the company’s former CEO, who’s now Chair of The Board of Directors.
(Fain, fittingly, was in the audience yesterday).
“We all looked at that and laughed, and said, ‘How is that actually going to be done, on any structure, let alone one that floats on water? Of course, here we are today,” Liberty said.
Prepare to get lost
Demand for cruises is at an all-time high and Icon’s first official ocean voyage, set for Jan. 27, quickly sold out in October of 2022.
There isn’t a camera lens big enough to capture all that Icon has to offer. And yes, getting lost on embarkation day is part of the experience (and part of the fun).
Set across eight colourful “neighbourhoods” are firsts and favourites, including six waterslides at Category 6 and the Crown’s Edge experience at 154 feet above the ocean, as well as new ways to chill at seven pools – one for every day of the week. This includes the first suspended infinity pool at sea.
Inside, Icon is a feast for the senses.
One stand-out feature is a glowing, golf ball-like sphere, called The Pearl, featuring a modern staircase cut through the middle, that’s plopped in the centre of the ship’s 362-foot long, two-deck Royal Promenade, which has a ceiling of multi-coloured lights that are reminiscent of Las Vegas' Fremont Street.
It’s a three-deck high, multi-sensory installation, featuring 3,000 kinetic panels and integrated lighting to create a sense of water and light.
Beyond its eye-popping allure, The Pearl is, in fact, an architectural necessity, providing structural support for the ship.
There’s also a new lineup of full-scale shows across four signature “stages” – air, ice, water and theatre – offering more live music and comedy.
Among the many productions, there’s The Wizard of Oz (Royal Caribbean is the first cruise line to debut the classic tale), and new venues, like Lou’s Jazz ‘n Blues and Dueling Pianos.
Dueling Pianos, for one, has quickly emerged as a guest favourite – the bar with piano key walls, last night, was packed with gleeful guests, who were seen joyfully singing along to a piano cover of “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” by the Beastie Boys, which was performed by two pianists on a stage.
The crowd couldn't get enough of this place, spilling out of the bar into the Promenade's walkway, late into the night.
Expect high-production surprises on Icon. Last night, a fabulous parade featuring vikings, navy officers, Sailor Moon-like characters, Arabian warriors and flamboyant Top Gun dancers erupted out on the Royal Promenade, followed by a balloon drop to celebrate Icon's launch.
As for the ship’s comfy accommodations, more than 75 per cent of staterooms on Icon can accommodate families of three or more, which is 60 per cent more than any other ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.
There are new layouts made for families of three, four, five and more, like the Family Infinite Balcony and Surfside Family Suite – with kids alcoves tucked away from the adults – and the three-story Ultimate Family Townhouse (which is already sold out for the year, we were told).
“Tons of room”
PAX has already spotted several Canadian travel pros on Icon this week, taking it all in.
Lindsay Pearlman, senior vice-president at the Travel Leaders Network, summed up his first impressions with one word: “Wow.”
“The Pearl is outrageously cool,” Pearlman told PAX.
He appreciates how there’s “tons of room” on board, despite Icon’s mammoth size.
“A lot of times you get on big ships and it feels a little crowded. But this is wide open,” he said.
Icon is an example of Royal Caribbean “stepping it up a bit,” with a more premium offer that’s geared towards families, Pearlman added.
“They have two more ships of this category coming down the pipe. I think they know what they’re doing,” he said.
“It’s like Las Vegas, on water”
Charismatic TravelOnly advisor Pat Probert of the Bob Family Travel team – seen wearing a shirt resembling a map of the world – told PAX that Icon of the Seas is “one of the best ships I’ve ever been on.”
“And it’s my 93rd cruise!” he remarked.
When Probert stepped on board, he was hit with an “instant wow factor.”
“I’ve been on almost every cruise line around. This is great for kids, but it’s also an adults’ paradise. It’s got everything. It’s like Las Vegas, on water,” he said.
Probert, who has clients sailing on Icon next month, joined travel advisors in touring some of the ship’s staterooms yesterday, and he fell in love with the “Corner Suite”
“It’s where I’m going to be booking myself. It has a wrap-around balcony. I can’t believe how awesome it is,” he said.
Terry Declare, also with TravelOnly, was also spotted in the mix. He told PAX that Icon is the perfect ship for multi-generational travel.
“From two-year-olds to senior citizens, there’s something to do for everyone,” he said.
Renata Grant of Direct Travel called the ship "truly amazing."
"There are so many new things, and familiar things, which is nice," she said.
And while the ship looks massive from the street, "it's not crowded," Grant added.
"For a ship that holds so many passengers, the areas are so well laid out," she said.
First time on a ship
For others, experiencing Icon has been a travel rite of passage.
Emma Madsen, director of business development at TRAVELSAVERS CANADA, revealed to PAX that this week’s Icon preview was her first cruise ever.
“Everything is so grand and over the top,” Madsen told PAX. “For my first time, the bar has been set very high.”
Stay tuned for more of PAX’s coverage of this week’s preview of Icon of the Seas, which includes a visit to Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas, where the private island’s first adults-only escape, Hideaway Beach, recently opened.