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First look Inside the World's Biggest Cruise Marvel, Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas

12 Jan 2024
Matt Hochberg

We knew Royal Caribbean's next new cruise ship was going to be impressive, but it's pretty darn incredible how they can push the boundaries of what we expect on a ship.

The Pearl

The words, "wow", "I can't believe it", and "amazing" were swirling through my head as I had a brief day visit tour of the biggest cruise ship in the world, Icon of the Seas.

The 20-deck high ship comes in at 250,800 tons, winning the title of biggest cruise ship in the world from sister vessel, Wonder of the Seas.  In fact, it will be the first time in about 5 years that an Oasis Class ship hasn't been the biggest in the world.

The ship appeals to a wide range of cruisers, with a growing focus on the family cruise market. Like a new bride, it borrow the traditions of the past, while forging its own destiny. All new cruise ships build on the progress made by ships of the past, but it is clear to me that Icon of the Seas takes a jump ahead. If there's one thing apparent about Royal Caribbean's new ship, it's that it's anything but ordinary.

Surfside seats

With just weeks to go until the first paying passengers board the ship, I had a day to run around and explore as much of Icon of the Seas as I could squeeze in and share with you what this new ship is all about.

Icon is a brand new class of ship, so that means Royal Caribbean started from scratch. They incorporated ideas from existing ships while creating new ideas and reworking others. Don't be surprised when you see something that is similar to an existing ship. While they may have borrowed the concept, they've also built upon it and iterated it as well.


A great example is when you walk onboard the Royal Promenade.  Icon is not the first ship to have a Royal Promenade, but it is the first one to have a wide-open Royal Promenade that has windows, shops, and certain venues. 

The Pearl

There's sunlight, new restaurants and The Pearl. Much was made of The Pearl at a time when we knew next to nothing about Icon, and it might have been overinflated in terms of significance, but it delivers on making your jaw drop when you first walk onto the ship and that's the first thing you see.

It's three decks high, has a beautiful interior made up of kinetic tiles, and I'm told there will be certain events that occur in there related to sound and sight. You might not want to visit The Pearl every day, but I challenge you not to go there at least once and marvel at it.

Pearl Cafe

Another step up for Royal Caribbean is behind The Pearl with Pearl Cafe.  The replacement to Cafe Promenade on other ships, Pearl Cafe has grab-and-go snacks for guests on the run, as well as specialty coffees.  Best of all, it has many tables and large windows.  It reminds me a lot of Cafe al bacio in some ways, and I would love to sit and people watch from there.

Schooner Bar

Throughout the Promenade you'll find familiar places with fresh looks. Giovanni's Table has a home here, while Schooner Bar has a beautiful nautical motif. 

Dueling Pianos

The new Dueling Pianos bar has the potential to be one of the top nightlife locations, and I really like the seating arrangements in the Point & Feather pub.


The AquaDome


I wasn't sure where to go first once I boarded, but I really wanted to the AquaDome neighborhood. 

The AquaDome is one of those staggering places that you can't help but revel in the magnitude of the space. From the theater in the middle, to the Overlook seating in front, to the food hall, I never thought I would want to spend as much time here as I did once I walked it.

If you've been on the Oasis Class ships, then you know how cool the shows are and I didn't see any of them. Even without its signature attraction on the day I visited, I loved being in this space more than I thought I would.

The giant glass dome encompasses places to chill, eat, and be entertained. Plus, there are cabins within this neighborhood too.

When I get back onboard, I'll look forward to the shows that are performed in the AquaDome. "Aqua Nation!" and "Pirates vs Mermaids" are the two shows you can see.


The Overlook is a sleeper hit of the ship because it has fantastic seating, especially in the pods. It's first-come, first-seated, and I think a lot of people will love to hang out here on a sea day, especially with bar service.

My favorite spot for a bite to eat is easily the AquaDome Market. Royal Caribbean incorporated its first food hall concept, and I want to eat here every day.

Aquadome market
Aquadome Market

Greek, Asian, French, and... whatever Mac and Cheese constitutes is found here. It's complimentary, freshly made, and I could eat it every day. I'm curious to see how it handles rush hour at lunch, but I love the concept.

Top deck looks really fun

Pool deck on Icon

There's still plenty of work to do on Icon of the Seas before the first revenue sailing, and that was the case with the pool deck.

Not to worry, Royal Caribbean says it will all be good to by the time paying guests get onboard. On the day I visited, there was work being done to set everything up. No construction, just finishing touches and deliveries and set up of furnishings.

Even with some areas inaccessible, I think this pool deck is going to be a real winner for the line. 

Swim and Tonic
Swim and Tonic

The Swim & Tonic pool is easily going to be the most popular pool on the ship with its swim-up bar and in-pool seating.

Royal Bay Pool is slated to be the largest pool at sea, and all the hot tubs strewn around the deck should find plenty of customers. Royal Bay is enormous and looks like it takes up half the length of the deck.

Chill Island

But the Category 6 looks like it will deliver a true waterpark experience on a cruise ship.  There's so many slides, and I know it's where my kids will want to go on a sea day.

It will have a drop slide, the tallest drop slide at sea, family raft slides and two mat-racing slides.

I used to think three slides was a big deal, but six seems to be what I always needed but never knew I did.


The weather was overcast and slightly drizzly and hardly worthy of a Miami television commercial, but the one place I really regretted not bringing my bathing suit was The Hideaway.

Hideaway chairs
Hideaway hot tub

Located on the back of the ship, it's the first suspended infinity pool at sea and I wanted to go right in. I had a great plan to tell all of you my camera "died" and I had no other way to capture content as an excuse to go spend the afternoon in the infinity pool. Alas, my sense of responsibility (and the fact I didn't pack a bathing suit) won out.

Hideaway pool

I like variety in my cruise ships, because one day I might prefer one pool and another day a different one. There's plenty of choices with the pools on Icon.

Central Park


Central Park isn't a new concept at all, but it's amazing what a few tweaks, additions, and restructuring can do to dramatically improve an area.


I was ready to walk through Central Park and write off the place as a copy of the Oasis Class, but I found it beautiful and the changes the perfect blend of old and new.


I've always been a big fan of Izumi, and what Royal Caribbean has done with this specialty restaurant on Icon is astonishing. It's been given the necessary space to house all of Royal Caribbean's best ideas in one. There are lots of hibachi tables, sushi tables, a VIP hibachi table, and even a walk-up window where you can get sushi as late as 10pm.


Walking around the park, the colors of the balcony shutters above you combined with the flora and color choices of the park really stood out as a lovely area to be in. 

Bubbles champagne bar

The new champagne window, Bubbles, wasn't open on my visit, but I think it will be popular with the mimosa and Bellini crowd.

Yes, I met Rover


I couldn't believe how much attention the family dog Royal Caribbean is introducing on Icon of the Seas received when it was announced, but it makes total sense once you see Rover in action.

I was on Icon for about 7 hours, and I relegated myself to the fact I wouldn't see Rover until I saw her on the Royal Promenade playing fetch.

Alison is Rover's Chief of Staff and it's her job to take care of Rover while onboard.


If you're wondering if Rover can be as cute as the photos show, you'd be correct. She is adorable and you will wish there was a sign up program to have the dog sleep in your cabin for just one night.

Rover is a symbol for the fun and family-centric nature Icon of the Seas was designed to deliver. Obviously no one is booking a cruise just to see a dog, but it's a really nice touch.


In case you're wondering, no, Rover serves no other function.  She's not a drug sniffing dog and she's not a service animal either.  So Rover isn't allowed in the restaurants.

Family, family, family


I've always thought of Royal Caribbean as the best family cruise line already, but I wish we had Surfside when my kids were under the age of 10.

Imagine the Boardwalk neighborhood layout from the Oasis Class ships completely re-designed to provide family fun for the six and under crowd, along with their parents. Royal Caribbean says 6 and under is the ideal age, but I could see 8 and 9 year olds enjoying some of the spaces too.


Splashaway Bay, Baby Bay, and the adults pool look great and I think parents will appreciate having a place to bring the kids that's more contained than the pool deck without compromising on what there is for the parents.

I was blown away by how many dining venues there are: Lemon Post, Pier 7, Sugar Beach, and Surfside Eatery provide plenty of choices and they're all right there in one area. 


Good luck convincing those kids it's time to leave when there's pools, a carousel, mac and cheese, and Shirley Temples all around you.

Adventure Ocean
Adventure Ocean
Adventure Ocean

The really smart choice here was putting Adventure Ocean just one staircase away. On every other Royal Caribbean ship, the kids club is on a top deck and feels like diametrically opposed from everything else going on onboard. Having Adventure Ocean adjacent to Surfside is brilliant.

Teen club
Teen club
Teen club
Teen club

As usual, I was envious of the teen club because of how chill this place looks. There's lots of space to spread out and enjoy TV, games, and more.

Familiar and new dining


Royal Caribbean has always said they wanted to embrace their past while forging ahead to the future, and that is definitely the case with its dining.

There's a good array of specialty and complimentary food on Icon, with new restaurants mixed in with returning favorites.  But don't overlook the restaurants you may have dined at on other ships, because many of them have new looks.


Starting with Izumi, Royal Caribbean has outdone itself with the revamp of this Japanese specialty restaurant. It's expansive and beautiful.


The new Empire Supper Club is a high-end dinner experience where the phrase, "going out" really has a new meaning.  It's not cheap ($200 per person), but Royal Caribbean wants to offer a truly elevated and distinguished meal for those seeking more than just another specialty restaurant.


I was equally impressed by how many dining venues there are in Surfside. Surfside Eatery, Pier 7, and Surfside Bites all look good and I think it's going to be a boon for families to have so many family-friendly (read: picky eater) choices in close proximity.


The restaurant I was most excited to try while on Icon was the AquaDome Market. When lunch came around, this was the restaurant I wanted to try first.  


The food hall delivered exactly what I hoped for: quick and casual food from a variety of cuisines. I'll be curious to see how it works with a full guest load onboard, but the food quality won't be a problem.

Speaking of grab and go, I managed to stop by Basecamp in Thrill Island for an early dinner before disembarking the ship.

Chicken sandwich
Pretzel bites

Basecamp has a mix of complimentary and extra-cost food. I went with the grilled chicken sandwich ($9) and warm pretzel bites (complimentary). 

I think the idea here is to have something convenient when you're riding water slides and don't want to go all the way back to the Windjammer for something to eat.  Convenience is king on cruise ships.


Then there's Giovanni's, Chops, Hooked, and other grab-and-go restaurants. I'm excited to try these when I sail on Icon, but suffice to say, there's no shortage of dining.

The best ship casino yet?

Casino on Icon

Cruise ship casinos tend to be an afterthought in terms of design. Cram as many tables and slot machines into a space and you're done, right?

The casino on Icon really seems to more spread out and I like the flow a lot more than on other ships.

Casino on Icon

In speaking with the casino hosts onboard (Hi Chris), they indicated Icon's casino is about the same square footage as Wonder of the Seas, but the layout is more rectangular than square. 

It felt like a bigger space to me, and I just liked the flow a lot more.

Just a glimpse with more to come

Main Dining Room

I can't encapsulate everything Royal Caribbean has up its sleeve in just one post. Heck, I didn't have enough time to experience it all either. But I'm more excited than ever to get back onboard.

My father's favorite movie might be "Family Man" starring Nicholas Cage, where the central figure is magically transported to a new life that he falls in love with and pleads with the angel at the end of the film not to return him back to his regular life.  I kind of felt that way when my time on Icon came to a close, because I didn't want to get off the ship yet.

Top deck on Icon of the Seas

There's plenty of takeaways from Icon, but one I really think is just how much there is to do to keep guests moving.  When you hear there as many as 7,000 guests onboard, it can sound like that's a lot, but when I think about all the activities on the pool deck, Surfside, Royal Promenade, and AquaDome, I think crowd management won't be a problem for this ship.

When you're onboard, the scale of Royal Caribbean's ambitions becomes apparent, and I think there's lots of space to handle all the people Royal Caribbean hopes will sail with them every week.

Overlooking Central Park

With every neighborhood I walked through, I thought "This is where I want to spend my day". Until I got to the next neighborhood, and then thought the same thing.  

Coastal Kitchen

I think part of the design process for Icon was to create compelling spaces that draw guests to them for different reasons. I'm certainly not suggesting there won't be lines or a crowd on Icon, but I do think there's enough happening around the ship to keep everyone from congregating in one area.

In my brief day visit to Icon, I saw as much as I could. I can summarize it best by paraphrasing Anthony Bourdain: I write, I walked all over Icon, and I'm hungry for more.

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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