The very first cruise on Icon of the Seas is in the books, and going on a maiden voyage of a new ship is unlike other sailings.
Royal Caribbean treats its inaugural cruises like a big party. You'll notice things that stand out from pretty much any other sailing. This is because a new ship is a really big deal.
As a company, so many resources have been dedicated for years to make the new ship a reality and the culmination of those efforts is welcoming passengers onboard. Plus, it's an excuse to celebrate.
Read more: Icon of the Seas guide
I've sailed on a few inaugural voyages so far, but Icon's stood out in a few ways. If you're considering trying an inaugural sailing in the future, here's what Royal Caribbean did on Icon.
Champagne when you board
One thing Royal Caribbean does on any inaugural sailing is roll out the red carpet and welcome passengers on the ship.
On any sailing, there will be crew members that will meet you at the embarkation point to say hello and welcome you onboard, but on Icon, there's champagne too.
Crew members offered complimentary glasses of champagne as you entered. Free alcohol on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship is not something that comes regularly, so it's a sign that this is indeed a different kind of cruise.
Another way Royal Caribbean celebrates a new sailing is by giving its passengers free gifts.
Each night of the inaugural sailing, there was something given away for free. These gifts were left in passengers' staterooms by their cabin attendant, so there's nothing extra anyone needs to do.
On Icon, we received, hats, bags, water bottles, lanyards, rubber ducks, and even a bartender set.
The idea is this is a big celebration where party favors are a way to remember the occasion.
The gifts given on an inaugural cruise will vary, but there's usually at least a few gifts given to guests.
Lots of executives
If you look around, you shouldn't be surprised to find Royal Caribbean's top executives onboard too.
Executives are there primarily to ensure everything is going as planned. With any new ship, getting everything running exactly as it should be is not a simple task, especially on the first in a class.
Executives observe, provide guidance, and even step in to assist to keep everything flowing.
In addition to a support role, executives are there to revel in the experience and interact with guests. They want feedback to evaluate how well things are running.
I saw executives from the Food & Beverage, Entertainment, and Product Development teams around Icon in a variety of roles.
As an example, Royal Caribbean Senior Vice President of Entertainment Nick Weir was present at every single production show I saw to observe, take notes, and celebrate his team's progress.
It's not unusual that every single activity is ready on day one, and that was the case on Icon of the Seas as well.
There was a sign for the escape room, but I don't believe that's ready at all.
Only one show in the Aquatheater was running, and that show wasn't quite 100% complete yet.
Mr. Weir posted on Twitter it will take about a year to get it all right, "FYI we will tinker and tweak and add and subtract for the next twelve months before we consider the show full and finalized.
A long and enjoyable process that we openly share with our guests. "
The Wizard of Oz was ready, but it did encounter some technical glitches. One performance on the first night had to be completely cancelled after about 15 minutes and delayed until day six of the sailing.
Shows not being completely ready was also something that happened on the Wonder of the Seas inaugural voyage.
If you go on a maiden sailing, be prepared for not every show to be totally ready for that voyage, but they will be ready as the weeks progress.
Best crew members in the fleet
One of the best aspects of going on an inaugural sailing are the crew members, because Royal Caribbean hand picks the best of the best to go on any new ship.
New ships aren't quite the well-oiled machine that existing ships are, and as a result, procedures and plans need to be worked out. To do that, they need experienced crew members who have demonstrated results under pressure.
I've noticed there's a certain subset of crew members that relish a brand new cruise ship and love jumping in to assist with the start up of a new ship. I think they regard it as a kind of challenge.
If you cruise Royal Caribbean a lot, you may recognize a few familiar faces from other ships.
This isn't limited to just the crew that serve you either. Icon had Royal Caribbean's A-list comedians perform all week (instead of just a couple days), along with their best Pub, Schooner Bar, and Dueling Piano players.
Bringing in top crew members sets the ship up for success.
Upgraded buffet on embarkation day
A new cruise ship has plenty of new things to check out, but don't overlook the buffet on embarkation day.
Upon boarding Icon of the Seas on embarkation day, there was one of the best spreads of food I'd ever seen in a buffet.
Filet mignon, lobster tail, tuna tartare, and crab legs were just some of the choices available and with no limit either.
It's a good reminder of how this first cruise is a big deal.
Fireworks and celebrations
Speaking of a big deal, nothing says "we're here to celebrate" quite like fireworks.
Upon departure from Miami, Icon of the Seas enjoyed a fireworks display off the ship's starboard side.
In every port of call Icon visited, foreign dignitaries from that country came onboard Icon to welcome the ship. For these countries, Royal Caribbean selecting their nation to host a ship with as much as notoriety as Icon of the Seas is a badge of honor.
Is going on an inaugural cruise worth it?
I once described a new ship's inaugural sailing as a combination of "Woodstock and Prom", and I stand by that description.
It's a giant party, reunion, and celebration rolled into one. There's as much enjoyment of the cruise itself as being able to say, "I was there!" to someone back home.
There can be hiccups, and some aspects of the cruise planning process take much longer than they normally do. But after years of anticipation, being among the first to walk onboard and experience it all is a pretty neat feeling.
It may not be for someone who wants the ship to be running like clockwork, but if you're flexible, an inaugural voyage can be a real treat.