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More than 80% done: How Royal Caribbean will finish work on world's largest cruise ship

12 May 2023
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas is about 80% complete, but they aren't quite at the finish line yet.

Icon of the Seas under construction in May 2023

While touring the brand new cruise ship in Turku, Finland, Royal Caribbean's leadership provided an outline of what to expect between now and when the ship begins sailings with passengers in January.

At a panel question and answer session, one of the most important people in the company's history was present to provide an oversight of what's next.

Harri Kulovaara is the company's Executive Vice President of Maritime & Newbuilding, which means he is responsible for leading the design and construction of its new ships. He's been a part of the new ship build team for decades, and has been with the company for over 40 years.

Panel of speakers

When asked about how far along the work is on Icon, Mr. Kulovaara said, "The ship is ship is more than 70% done. The overall project, which includes also the design and so on, that is more than more than 80% done."

If you've seen the Icon of the Seas construction photos posted on this site, you may think the amount of exposed cabling and open walls doesn't seem like the ship is really that far long, but Mr. Kulovaara explained how the finishing of the work in the final stage really makes the ship look more complete visually, even though it's further along than you might think.

Icon of the Seas under construction in May 2023

"When the ship is coming to 90% level, that's when the panels, the final ceiling panels and the final finishes are coming."

"All the hard work is basically behind the visual panels. So it's in the machinery, it's getting all the air conditioning, all the electric cables, all that complexity. It's actually the technical execution, which is the cumbersome part."

Essentially, we saw the ship in the stage of construction where the wiring and infrastructure behind the walls and above the ceiling get put in, similar to how a new house under construction gets wiring put in before the dry wall is installed.

Icon of the Seas construction - Seaside

Also speaking at the panel was Meyer Werft CEO Tim Meyer, who explained more about the "Lego block" style construction of a cruise ship, "We start with panels, we build sections, we build a block out of this. We have 201 blocks which are then put together in the dock to generate the ship."

"And now we're starting with the machinery, commissioning, we're starting with the systems. And of course what you are seeing visually is then finalizing the public rooms."

Icon of the Seas under construction in May 2023

According to Mr. Kulovaara, the complexity of the work being done on Icon is second to only military projects, "This is the biggest and most complex maritime project outside probably military or oil and gas."

What's next for Icon of the Seas?

Aft of Icon of the Seas under construction

So what sort of work occurs in that final 20-30% yet to be completed?

About 2600 people work on Icon of the Seas every day, and Mr. Kulovaara estimates there's about 2 million working hours left remaining on her going forward.

"We do something a little bit more than 1% of the completion in in every every week."

AquaDome construction

He also outlined the next milestones for Icon of the Seas, such as sea trials "before midsummer".  Ship builder Meyer Turku posted last week they expect sea trials to commence in mid-June.

"Then in the fall, finalizing all the staterooms, finalizing the commissioning, all the all the special features, and then starting not only finishing the ship, but also starting the preparation for for the ship's entry to the service."

Icon of the Seas water park

He admitted that this there is still a large task remaining ahead, but it's something the company is well-versed in historically, "This is a large task. It's well scripted, and it is based on the history, the experience what we have."

Will the ship be ready on time?

Pool aerial on Icon of the Seas

Mr. Kulovaara also said Royal Caribbean has left some padding of time in, just in case there's any problems, "And for that purpose we have also reserved a little bit of time."

"We feel very comfortable at the moment in this situation," he said about Icon and further elaborated that his confidence stems largely from the company's history of ship building.

Icon of the Seas top down aerial

"We have worked on the project six years. The ship is built on relatively short time frame and that all is giving us a very high confidence on the work that we have ahead of us."

"And what helps is the fact that we have been doing this this so many times with Meyer this so many time here in Turku, so that we have a good practice on that."

Continuing the trend

Icon of the Seas is the first in a new class of cruise ship for Royal Caribbean, and it marks arguably the next evolution of the brand.

The Oasis Class ships have been the standard bearer for the line ever since Oasis of the Seas debuted in 2009, and while the Quantum Class was introduced since, the fact Icon of the Seas is larger seems to represent the new flagship.

When asked what will impress guests about Icon, Mr. Kulovaara said, "I think the overall amount of innovation and what has been able to put in one ship and being true for the history, what the brand is and the history, how the the industry has developed and really continuing that trend."

Symphony of the Seas docked

He is alluding to Royal Caribbean's track record of introducing ground-breaking ship after ground-breaking ship.  From the Sovereign Class to the Voyager Class to the Oasis Class, Icon seems to be well-positioned to continue forward.

While Icon is indeed larger than the Oasis Class, it's what the ship offers families that seems to be most important to the company.

Surfside family

Since last fall, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley has been touting how attractive Icon will be for families.  He repeated that claim again at the shipyard, "We're positioning this product as the ultimate family vacation. We think it's going to be the best family vacation in the world and all of the energy and time that's gone into creating this ship is just mind blowing."

That's a bold statement, but the ship looks like it could back up those words with amenities such as a full water park, dedicated neighborhood for young families, full production shows, and new cabin categories that are designed to handle 3 or 4 passengers.

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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