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Icon of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's best cruise ship ever, and it's not even close

08 Jul 2024
Matt Hochberg

You have to give credit where credit is due, and Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas is worthy of every accolade attributed to it so far.

Matt thinks Icon of the Seas is the best ship

Icon of the Seas is the world's biggest cruise ship, but size alone doesn't make it necessarily the best. It's the assortment of features, tweaks, and enhancements that really make the new ship stand out from every other Royal Caribbean ship in the fleet.

I sailed on Icon of the Seas last week for the first time since the ship's inaugural voyage in January. I was curious to see now that it's been about six months since her launch, would the novelty have worn off and the ship live up to hype she received earlier this year.

Read more: I took the inaugural cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ship

After spending 7-nights onboard, I'm convinced Icon is not only still worthy of all the praise, but Royal Caribbean raised the bar yet again for what all other cruise ships are judged against.

Crowd management second to none

Matt on Icon of the Seas

It's amazing how a cruise ship that can handle over 7,000 passengers doesn't feel crowded.

When you walk around Icon of the Seas, you'll quickly start to wonder where everyone else is.  Our summer sailing had plenty of kids onboard, and that meant the ship was pretty much maxed out to capacity.

Pool deck on Icon of the Seas

Whether you were on the Royal Promenade, around the pool deck, or going to a show, crowds were few and far between.  I don't want to make it seem like you have the ship to yourself, but compared to other Royal Caribbean cruise ships, crowds were largely absent.

On other ships, the Promenade is a zoo of people (especially on embarkation day).  The pool deck is packed on sea days too.

On Icon, there was much more space to spread people around and it showed.

Destination elevator panel

Royal Caribbean also solved crowding with its destination elevators, which more efficiently assign elevators to passengers.  Waiting for an elevator on a cruise ship is a traditional pain point for guests, and Royal Caribbean referred internally to those wait times as, "microwave minutes" because it feels like the longest wait ever.

If you've cruised on other ships and then try the elevators on Icon, I think you'll find the waits pleasantly better.

Read more: Is the world's largest cruise ship crowded? Not as much as you might fear

Shows you'll want to see again

Aqua Action show

Royal Caribbean has a well-deserved reputation for offering the best entertainment at sea, and once again, they lapped the competition with Icon.

While the shows were not totally ready for the maiden voyage, I got to experience all the shows this time around and it's best collection assembled on one ship.

Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz production show in the Royal Theater is by far the best show on a cruise ship that didn't first begin on Broadway.

An adaptation to the beloved 1939 film, Royal Caribbean crafted a show that combines incredible visuals, a talented cast, and songs the audience knows well.  

As someone that values seeing shows with a plot, it was so nice to see Wizard of Oz on Icon and enjoy Royal Caribbean's version.

Aqua Action

The other signature shows on Icon include Aqua Action! in the AquaTheater and Starbust in Absolute Zero.  While aqua shows and ice performances are not new to Royal Caribbean ships, the versions on Icon of the Seas incorporate the best tricks and lessons learned to date.

Kevin Philip in the pub

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the live music on Icon, because it blew me away. Musicians onboard will change every few months, but we had an all-star lineup on our sailing  Jennifer Hart in the Schooner Bar and Kevin Philip in the Pub were outstanding talents that I went to see every night of the cruise.

The new Dueling Pianos bar is such a fun spot, especially if you can bring a group with you to enjoy.  The two pianists feed off guest participation, and there are as much laughs as songs you know the words to.

When you sail on Icon of the Seas and see your first show, it's going to hook you to want to see the rest.

The best included food in the fleet

Plate of food at Aquadome market

The eternal cruiser debate of if it's worth it to pay for specialty restaurants is quite different on Icon of the Seas because of the superior food options that are included in your cruise fare.

Other Royal Caribbean cruise ships tend to have a few restaurants included that certainly cover the basics, but there isn't a great deal of variety.

With Icon, many passengers remarked how they skipped paying for extra-cost restaurants because they found the included restaurants so much better than they expected.

Read more: Icon of the Seas restaurant and dining guide


There are a few new restaurant concepts, starting with Aquadome Market. This is Royal Caribbean's first foray into a food hall, and it's a revelation.  Five different food cuisines, and a few stay open well into the night offering something other than pizza.

Pearl Cafe has 24-hour grab-and-go snacks that also give you choices of snacks that include healthy and indulgent.

You have enhanced stalwarts of the included food game, such as El Loco Fresh on the pool deck and even a Windjammer buffet that serves steak and lobster.

Read more: What the Food Was Like on Icon of the Seas

I think the destination elevators still get the most attention from those that try Icon, but the included food quality has to be a close second.

Elevated dining worth the $200 price tag

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club

After telling you how good the included food is, I feel obliged to talk about how impressive the Empire Supper Club experience is.

When Royal Caribbean announced Icon of the Seas would have a specialty restaurant that cost $200 per person, it raised a few eyebrows.  But Royal Caribbean was adamant this was not going to be just another new restaurant.

Empire Supper Club is a three hour dining adventure that combines food, cocktails, and entertainment. Supper clubs are about enveloping everyone attending in a performance, and I was surprised how much I really liked it all.

Empire Supper Club seabass

The jazz music was beautiful, and every course is paired with a signature cocktail. It was fun to see what would be served next, and the service was personalized given the limited capacity of the venue. There's just one seating each night.

To put it in perspective how much I enjoyed it, I was invited by Royal Caribbean to try it without any cost the first time, and then I turned around and paid to do it again a week later. 

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club drink

Just like how you might do a fancy night out in a city at a well-known restaurant, I think Empire Supper Club is the sort of night out you could choose to do that you just won't find on another cruise ship.

Icon retains fan favorites

Promenade on Icon of the Seas

While there are a lot of new innovations, Icon of the Seas still has the "Royal Caribbean DNA" that fans of the line will find familiar.

Early in Icon's development, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said Icon of the Seas will feature a combination of "tradition, evolution and revolution", which means it would stay honest to the company's roots while also adding in new ideas.

Boleros on Icon of the Seas

Stalwart restaurants such as Sorrento's Pizza, Chops Grille, and the Windjammer buffet are all here and they are arguably the best versions of each.

You'll find Boleros, the Schooner Bar, and the Lime and Coconut, in addition to the new bars.

The Central Park neighborhood is familiar, yet more refined than the Oasis Class version.

There's always room for improvement

Aft of Icon of the Seas

I am certain if you asked Royal Caribbean, they would acknowledge there are things that could be better on Icon of the Seas. No cruise ship is perfect, and I certainly have my wish list of improvements.

If you're someone who usually stays in a suite, I think the Oasis Class suite offerings are still better because of they are larger and Icon's suite lounge feels very cramped.

Four baskets for clothes in the Spacious Infinite Central Park Balcony Cabin on Icon of the Seas

Speaking of cabins, there seems to be less storage space than on Oasis Class ships too. As an example, the choice of baskets instead of drawers seems like a solution to a problem that never existed.

Read more: What a cabin on Icon of the Seas is like

I also think staggered performance times on the Royal Promenade isn't practical. On many nights, the live music in the Schooner Bar, Pub, or Boleros ended far too early because of noise bleed concerns.  Royal Caribbean wanted a lively Royal Promenade with lots of energy, but I think it's a disservice to passengers.

Ice skating in Absolute Zero

The choice of Absolute Zero having one entrance and exit that flows through Playmakers Sports Bar is another head scratcher.

Whether these issues get sorted out on one of the new Icon Class ships or Icon of the Seas itself, they aren't enough to detract from Icon of the Seas being not only my favorite Royal Caribbean cruise ship, but a generational leap forward within the industry.

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 experts 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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