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8 things I love about Icon of the Seas (and 3 I didn't)

31 Jan 2024
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has out done itself with Icon of the Seas, thanks to new innovations, changes, and a few tweaks.

Icon of the Seas sailing away

Overall, I've enjoyed sailing on the new biggest cruise ship in the world because the ship has so many aspects that really stand out as being important. Subtle changes, such as the pool deck being broken up so it doesn't feel like just another cruise ship pool deck, to adding stairs, escalators, and shortcuts, have really had an effect on the enjoyment factor.

Like any Royal Caribbean ship, I can't help but compare and contrast it to other ships, and I've found a number of things I enjoy and some others I wish they would change.

Being the first ship in the Icon Class, it's impressive how much Royal Caribbean got right out of the gate with this ship. The line spent a great deal of time mocking up venues at their headquarters and utilizing virtual reality to better understand the flow and feel for venues that have never existed.  The result has been fantastic.

Icon of the Seas sailing at dusk

I thought my time on Icon of the Seas and what I've enjoyed about about the ship and what truly stands out.

Icon feels uncrowded


From the day we boarded Icon of the Seas, it became clear crowds have not been an issue and it almost feels weird how uncrowded the ship is.

I'm not saying Icon feels like a private yacht or that there aren't any lines, but it has been remarkable how uncrowded the ship has felt.  It's been especially true in places that I usually expect to find a lot of people, such as the pool deck or Royal Promenade.


On a sea day, I went to try to find a crowd.  The Hideaway and Swim & Tonic bar were were I found the largest crowds, but even that was fairly manageable. 

In many cases, other guests mentioned how empty the ship felt.  


To be fair, the first sailing is not at maximum capacity, but there are about 5,500 passengers along with 2,300 crew members onboard.  That's not a small number of humans on one ship.

I think the reason Icon feels so uncrowded so far is because of how much there is to do that draws people away. 


There's three different theaters, an entire waterpark, live music, 40 bars and restaurants, and seven pools, and a variety of other activities. 

Plus, you have better flow of guests onboard with stairs, escalators, and shortcuts.  It all adds up to help keep passengers moving and the ship really feels emptier than I would have ever expected. 

Really good complimentary restaurants


Royal Caribbean has introduced a lot of specialty restaurants over the last few years, but darn if the food included with your cruise fare isn't really good too.

Besides the Main Dining Room, Sorrento's Pizza, and Windjammer, there are a few other new venues included in your cruise fare that are drawing me back time and time again.


Aquadome Market is a new food hall concept and it's a home run. So much variety, and so good food.  I could eat the Greek gyros every day.

The Surfside neighborhood has three new restaurants, two of which are included.  Surfside Bites and Surfside Eatery might be targeted at kids, but who doesn't love chicken tenders, hot dogs, and quesadillas? 

Basecamp has a majority of extra-cost items, but I'd be remiss if I didn't stop for a complimentary basket of pretzel bites every time I walk by.

Pearl Cafe

And then there's Pearl Cafe, which is a revamped version of Cafe Promenade.  It has grab-and-go snacks available 24 hours a day, new drink dispensers, and a beautiful lounge space.  It's one of the most popular spots to hang out on Icon.

Wide open spaces

The Pearl

Perhaps contributing to the feel that Icon of the Seas is uncrowded are the expanded and open venues.

The Royal Promenade stretches from side to side of the ship and it feels so nice having a space that doesn't remind me of a shopping mall. 

How did they do this? They removed the Promenade facing cabins to add more space in this neighborhood.

Chill Island pool

Chill Island is the de-facto pool deck, but Royal Caribbean has spread out the pools and added so many chairs in the shade and sun that you can roll up to the pool at lunch on a sea day and still get a chair.

By opening up these decks, it really feels like you have more space to spread out.

Empire Supper Club

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club

I wasn't sure if I would like Royal Caribbean's most expensive specialty restaurant, but I ended up loving it.

Empire Supper Club is a new dining experience, and the only comparison I can draw is to Chef's Table.  Chef's Table had three flaws that kept me from ever loving it: you have to sit with strangers, it's paired with a lot of wine, and the food was always a little too frou-frou for my taste.

Empire Supper Club addresses all three of those problems, and includes amazing entertainment.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club sour

It's an intimate dining experience to be sure, but you are seated at your own table, so you don't have to worry about awkward conversations with strangers at the onset of the meal.

Instead of wine pairs, each course is paired with cocktails and I think there's a more universal appeal to cocktails. I certainly liked it better.

Chilean sea bass

As for the food, the entrees are fantastic (try the Chilean Sea Bass) and I found each of the appetizers really tasty as well. Given the pacing, I think there's plenty to eat and it's all very good.

Yes, it's $200 per person to eat at Empire Supper Club, so it's not cheap.  But I do think it's worth trying as a way to celebrate being on vacation and splurging a little bit.

More outlets than ever

Pearl Cafe on Icon

You won't have to go very far to find a power outlet on Icon.

There are more electrical and USB outlets on Icon of the Seas, than I've ever seen on another Royal Caribbean cruise ship. This is so helpful to ensure you can keep your devices charged no matter where you are.

Staterooms have always been where you could find dedicated power, and for the first time there are likely more power and USB outlets than you can possibly use.  For families, this is a really big deal as you don't have to play the game of which device can you disconnect so someone else can get a turn.

Spacious Infinite Central Park Balcony Cabin bed lights on Icon of the Seas

In the cabin, there are outlets on both sides of the bed, as well as by the vanity.  Depending on which room type you have, there are also outlets near the television, storage areas and more.

Around the ship, there are lots of outlets in public venues and that means you can enjoy spending time in these places, rather than having to go back to your room to power up.

In Pearl Cafe and the Overlook, there are outlets at almost every chair. At bars and restaurants, you'll find them too.

Destination elevators


I never thought a new kind of elevator could have such a profound effect on crowds and waiting, but it's been a real win with the destination elevators on Icon.

Instead of traditional elevators, you go to a panel and indicate which floor you'd like to go to and are directed to a particular elevator.

Once in that elevator, there are no buttons to push and the car goes directly to the floors that have been programmed for you.

Destination elevator panel

It may not seem like it would have that big of a difference, but the time spent waiting for an elevator on Icon has been substantially reduced.  Even when there are big crowds, such as when a show lets out, the destination elevators more efficiently get people where they need go with less waiting.

Royal Caribbean changed to destination elevators because the cruise line knew waiting for an elevator was a problem on Oasis Class ships.  Since Icon was going to have more passengers, they needed a better way to move up 7,500 passengers seamlessly.

The result has been a tremendously faster experience, and I think you'll be equally surprised how well the elevators work on Icon.

Surfside restaurants


There are many new bars, restaurants, and lounges on Icon, but I think the least-heralded ones are in Surfside because the area has been written off as "just for kids". 

However, I really think you would be remiss if you didn't stop for the food in Surfside, regardless of if you have children or not with you.


There are two complimentary restaurants, as well as an a la carte restaurant.

Surfside Eatery is a buffet, and while it is intended for kids, there's a lot of good food here. Plenty of adults are picky eaters, but more importantly, plenty of adults like quesadillas, hot dogs, and fruit.

If you're really in a rush, try the popcorn chicken from Surfside Bites next door. 


And the real sleeper hit of Icon of the Seas is Pier 7, which is a new specialty restaurant.

Pier 7 offers brunch and dinner, and the menu is meant to appeal to parents and kids.  Essentially, there should be something for all palates here.

Korean fried chicken

The menu consists of an all-day brunch, tacos, poke bowls, and more. It's priced a la carte, so you pay for you what you order.  If you have the Ultimate Dining Package, you get $20 per person, per day to eat here.

Cruise ship food can get repetitive, so I appreciate that Pier 7 has more variety to consider and it's somewhere else you could go for a meal. Plus, I think having all-day brunch is going to a popular choice for those that like to sleep in but still want breakfast. 

Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz
Photo by Woofie Al

Royal Caribbean has a well-deserved reputation for having the best entertainment at sea, and The Wizard of Oz show might be it's best show yet.

As the signature show on Icon of the Seas, Oz has been highly anticipated and the show matches up nicely.

Wizard of Oz

The production value is off the charts. From the set, to the costumes, to the special effects, this is no musical medley.  It's on par with any stage show you might see in a city (and have to pay extra to see).

While I was disappointed all of the shows aren't available to see on the inaugural cruise, Wizard of Oz alone makes up for it all with its high quality.

Things I didn't like about Icon of the Seas

St Kitts

Nothing in this world is perfect, and I found a few aspects of Icon of the Seas that I think could be improved.

Staggering of Royal Promenade entertainment


One goal Royal Caribbean has had with the Royal Promenade was to make the area have much more energy, so they opened up the venues more so that you can experience a taste of what's happening inside as you walk by.

Nearly all of the venues (except The Attic) are fully open, so music can be heard from all over the Royal Promenade and for it to be more enticing for passengers to want to experience it all.

I love this change, but I'm not sure the timing has been well-thought out.

The issue is they want certain musical acts to be playing when others aren't, and the result is it seems like you have less time to enjoy them all.

As an example, the guitarist in the pub regularly stops performing around 10:45pm so that Boleros (located across the Promenade and above) can perform.  The guitarist in the pub starts earlier, but between shows and dinner, there's wasted time as I have found the pub gets busiest on other ships between 10pm and midnight.

Noise bleed is inevitably going to happen, but I don't think the entertainment needs to grind to a halt during prime time.

Suite lounge feels cramped

Suite lounge

The suite lounge on Icon is a shared space with Coastal Kitchen, but unlike the Oasis Class ships that do the same thing, this area feels far more constricted.

As you enter the Suite Neighborhood, you'll find the suite concierge and the suite lounge hugging the left side of the area, with Coastal Kitchen taking up much of the space.

Suite lounge

I found there just isn't a lot of seating, and what seating is there is very close together.  This is especially true of the tables in Coastal Kitchen. The nice thing about Coastal Kitchen is that it encompasses two floors.

Baskets instead of drawers

This last thing I don't love is purely aesthetic, but I noticed in many standard cabins baskets have essentially replaced a few drawers.

The problem I have with baskets is the contents are visible to someone outside the room.  The baskets are too small to put larger garments in them (such as pants), so I think smaller clothing will inevitably be put in them, such as undergarments.

Regardless of what you put in them, if you have friends come to your room to hang out, the clothing is visible and that bothers me.  Maybe that's just me.

Speaking of storage, there is sufficient room to put your clothes and belongings away, but it feels like there is less space than on Wonder of the Seas.  I think the change is a result of removing the storage that used to be around the bed frame on other ships.  

As I said, there is enough space to put belongings away, but it feels like there is less than you might otherwise have on an Oasis Class ship.

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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