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An engineering feat: How Royal Caribbean is adding a water park to a new cruise ship

21 Mar 2023
Elizabeth Wright

Royal Caribbean is making significant process with Icon of the Seas' construction. 


In fact, on March 15, the Meyer Turku shipyard confirmed that the first multi-fuel engine was turned on for the first time!

Building a ship this large and technically advanced, however, is sure to come with some challenges, such as designing the water slides for the Category 6 Water Park. 

"We knew we wanted water water everywhere, so we started there," said Jennifer Goswami, Director, Product Development for Royal Caribbean International, "And then we built the rest of the ship around that."

What is Category 6?

Thrill Island water park render on Icon of the Seas

Thrill Island will be a brand-new neighborhood dedicated to the most adventurous cruisers and home to the largest water park at sea: Category 6

This is not the first new neighborhood on the ship, as families can look forward to Surfside, which will make Icon of the Seas the first cruise ship in the fleet to have an area dedicated to young families.

When done, Category 6 water park will be 17,010 square feet and have six different record breaking slides, including the first family raft slides at sea: Storm Surge and Hurricane Hunter. 

Guests will also find the Pressure Drop, the first open free fall slide at sea. While overlooking a 45 degree angle drop, you will have to gain the courage to push yourself over the edge!

And, of course, the Frightening Bolt, the tallest water slide at sea that will have a 46 foot drop and 360 degree loop. Your ride will begin with you inside of a capsule waiting for the trap door to release. 

Did you know, however, that when Royal Caribbean first starting discussing Icon of the Seas, there were only going to be five slides onboard?  


"One of the interesting stories about the design of Icon of the Seas," said Kelly Gonzalez, Senior Vice President, Architectural Design, Newbuilding for Royal Caribbean Group, "is that we actually this idea of doing quite a number of water slides from the very beginning"

"We actually started with five...[and the name] Category 6 came about also with the decision of adding a sixth water slide."

Importance of collaboration


In total, there is 62% more water surface area on Icon of the Seas than any other Royal Caribbean ship. 

Nobody wanted to compromise on the speed or height of the water slides, so the company had to bring in a lot of experts to help design the water park in a way that it would be technically sound. This meant working with designers, architects, and naval architects. 


"Normally, a ship has maybe a couple of hundred tons or so of water in the pools," said Harri Kulovaara, Executive Vice President, Maritime & Newbuilding for Royal Caribbean Group. They are expecting Icon of the Seas to have closer to one thousand tons of water alone!

From the beginning, they knew that they had to be conscious about how much weight the water would add to the ship, as well as the funnel area in respect to wind and wind turbulence, without compromising the delivery date. 


"We had a weight reservation; we had a water reservation. We always have to work within certain boundaries. We make tradeoffs. We study what we think guests are going to love...," said Jay Schneider, Chief Product Innovation Officer for Royal Caribbean International.


"And really it was working closely with all of the partners throughout the company, including our site office, to make sure that we could push the boundary as really far as we could."

Building the water park


It was important that the slides be handled in a way that they could work with the main structural elements and components that were already built into the skeleton of the ship. 

Since the Category 6 water slides will be so complex and large, they are being built separately from the actual ship. Later, the slides will be barged next to the ship and transferred over to the top deck.  

Of course, Royal Caribbean knew that they were taking risks making this as complicated as they did. 

"I think that there will be so many intricacies, so many complex ways of getting everything that we want on the ship, but that is kind of the Royal Caribbean way as well, right?" said Goswami. 


When it is completed, there will be two towers in the open deck area that the slides will commence from, rather than just one. This design aspect allowed the team to create longer and faster slides for guests to enjoy. And more slides means more water!

There is more to the top decks than just the water park, too. It will be a three-deck high play land with different experiences to appeal to different interests. 

Launching in 2024

Icon of the Seas water park

When Icon of the Seas launches in early 2024, she will become the world's largest cruise ship, surpassing Wonder of the Seas, as well as the cruise line's first new class of ship since 2014. 

Related: 10 things Royal Caribbean got right with Wonder of the Seas

Icon of the Seas will be more than 6% bigger than Wonder of the Seas with the ability to hold up to 7,600 passengers! She will also be stand 20 decks high, measure 1,198 feet long, and weigh 250,800 gross registered tons.

Icon of the Seas' maiden voyage is not scheduled to depart until January 27, 2024 from Miami, Florida. During her first-ever trip, she will sail to Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Perfect Day at CocoCay, Bahamas

Hideaway aerial

Throughout 2024 and early 2025, Icon will be sailing round trip from Miami, Florida to the Eastern and Western Caribbean. 

As of March 21, 2023, the two cheapest sail dates are October 26, 2024 and November 16, 2024. Pricing for both begins at $1,271 per person based on double occupancy in an interior stateroom. Some sailings see an interior cabin start at $2,000 per person!

She will be joined by a second unnamed Icon Class ship in late 2025, as well as a third ship in 2026. Construction on the second ship began in February. 

Elizabeth graduated from New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute with her M.A. in Journalism in May 2023. Growing up, she had the privilege of traveling frequently with her family and fell in love with cruising after sailing on the Oasis of the Seas her freshman year of high school. She wanted to pursue a career that highlighted her passion for travel and strengths as a writer. 

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