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I went on Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship and saw why the surging hype is real

11 May 2024
Calista Kiper

You've probably heard lots about Icon of the Seas by now, but what makes the ship so highly celebrated?

I sailed on Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship this month on a 7-night Western Caribbean sailing.

I wanted to see exactly why this ship has been so hyped over the past few months, and if all the praise is deserved.

Initially, I expected the ship to feel like a bigger version of an Oasis-Class ship, with tons of amenities and huge crowds.

Other than knowing about the ship's size and focus on providing a fun experience for younger families, I didn't know what to expect.

But by the end of the sailing, I think I was just as impressed as everyone else. Icon of the Seas felt more like a mix between an Oasis-Class and a Quantum-Class ship.

Yes, she's big, but the vessel has more to offer than just size.

From the moment you step on board, it's evident that Royal Caribbean wanted to improve upon previous problems while creating an entirely new class of ship.

Read more14 improvements Royal Caribbean developed just for Icon of the Seas

What justifies all the hype around this ship is that the improvements and new ideas are well-designed, well-executed, and extremely celebrated throughout your time onboard.

The size makes you feel like you're not on a cruise ship at all

Icon of the Seas docked at CocoCay

Of course, Icon's size cannot be overlooked.

Since the vessel debuted, I've seen graphics and photos of how large the ship is. However, it's hard to comprehend once you're onboard.

Especially with the wide-open public spaces, it hardly feels like you're on a cruise ship.


Icon of the Seas feels more like a small city.

Part of her novelty is that you can almost forget you're floating in the ocean (until you glance outside, that is).

I think Royal Caribbean wanted to lean into this aspect because, at the beginning of the cruise, they announced that there wouldn't be any daily event announcements or updates from the captain.


Without a direct connection to the bridge, the ship felt less like a cruise ship and more like a theme park.

I won't say that everyone will enjoy this aspect, but it made for a unique and interesting experience that you can't get anywhere else.

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

The ship's design is the perfect mix of elegant and fun

When I first walked up the gangway, and onto deck 5, I was immediately struck by the bright colors and cheerful style of decoration.

This is most evident in Surfside neighborhood, an area focused on families with young kids that pops with neon colors and bright pinks and blues.

However, all areas around the cruise ships are filled with these vibrant colors.


I even mentioned it to our stateroom attendant, and she agreed.

"It's so cheerful!"

However, the playful colors were combined with elegant designs onboard.

For example, art pieces were in every corner of the ship.


The Pearl brought a smooth, graceful atmosphere to the Royal Promenade.

The entire design of the ship, from decorations to layout to art pieces, perfectly mixed the vibe of young and old, fun and elegant.

Read more: I took the inaugural cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ship. It was a giant party, but not everything was totally ready

Extra space, stairs, and seating helped move crowds along

The biggest difference I noticed from other large Royal Caribbean ships I've sailed on was the lack of crowds.

Of course, you could still tell there were a large amount of people onboard. But the ship's layout ensured that no one would ever be squished into one place, and we never ran into any traffic jams.

I noticed that high-traffic areas, like the Royal Promenade and the Windjammer, were built a little wider than usual, helping to create space for a large amount of people.

Destination elevators on Icon of the Seas

There was also a ton of seating everywhere on the ship, so everyone found a place to sit and rest.

I also really liked the large amount of central staircases onboard, such as in the Royal Promenade, going up to Central Park, or down to Surfside neighborhood.

Lastly, the destination elevators helped to alleviate crowds as well.

These all helped to ease foot traffic and calm crowds.

The ship was intentionally celebrated

Excitement is contagious, and I think that's another part of why Icon has been so heavily hyped.

Even though it's been a few months since the ship's inaugural sailing, crew members and cruisers were still extremely excited about being onboard.

Wherever we went, staff welcomed us, saying: "Have an Iconic cruise!"

My cruise embarked the day after Royal Caribbean's partnership with Hard Rock Casinos was announced, so we were greeted at the port with live music, dancers, and free T-shirts!

Hard Rock resort

Throughout the cruise, I saw everyone wearing their "Hard Rock 'n' Royal" T-shirts. A common uniform is a great way to build camaraderie, so this move also added to the energy onboard.

Not only that but on night one, the ship's cruise director, Gemma Hugo, made a speech to everyone gathered on the Royal Promenade for the balloon drop.

She made everyone solemnly swear to have fun and eat tons of food while onboard.

Such intentionality and care lends itself to an infectious air of excitement.

A focus on families with young children creates a playful atmosphere

Even as someone who doesn't have kids, I could tell that Icon of the Seas was the perfect ship for families with young children.

A lot of fun areas focused on families with young kids, like the Surfside neighborhood, water slides, and even a playground on deck 15.

Icon of the Seas provides an awesome family experience, and I could tell when I was onboard.


Kids were included in tons of events onboard, like silent discos or being allowed to compete in trivia games.

One night in the Main Dining Room, I saw a waiter bring two kids a lobster folded out of dinner napkins! They were overjoyed.

I loved how much kids were included in the fun onboard—it lent a vibrant, playful atmosphere to the cruise.

Seeing babies dance at the silent parties and children sing at "finish the lyric" challenges genuinely warmed my heart.

Calista Kiper graduated from Wheaton College, IL, with a B.A. in English Writing. 

Growing up traveling around the world, she developed a passion for diversity and cross-cultural communication. From her first cruise on Wonder of the Seas, she has delighted in the intersection between travel, diversity, and writing in the cruising world.

Calista spends her free time reading, cooking, and researching the latest human-interest stories. 

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