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Icon of the Seas sought to make boarding day experience less lousy and feel more like vacation

In:
23 Feb 2024

Arguably the most stressful day of any cruise is the first day when you're trying to get onboard and get so many things done.

icon-of-the-seas-royal-promenade-hero

Royal Caribbean wants its vacations to be as relaxing and enjoyable as possible, but the reality is the embarkation experience for the first few hours is less than ideal as many passengers use this time to essentially run errands onboard to set themselves up for the rest of the cruise.

Is it a necessary evil or something that could be improved? Royal Caribbean thinks its newest cruise ship can remedy the situation.

Icon of the Seas was designed to be a ship that can take a leap forward in nearly every aspect of the cruise experience. It has new neighborhoods, easier means to get between decks, integration of technology, and lots of new ways to think about traditional experiences onboard.

Icon of the Seas aft

Before Icon of the Seas entered service, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President and Chief Product Innovation Officer Jay Schneider, talked about how Icon would re-think boarding day so that it would be less stressful and easier overall. 

The goal is simple: reduce or eliminated crowds and friction for guests.

"Make it easier"

Two decks on the Royal Promenade

Speaking at Royal Caribbean headquarters in Miami at a meeting in October 2023, Mr. Schneider identified one of the goals of the Royal Promenade on Icon of the Seas was to make the first day of a cruise just as fun as day two through seven.

Up until Icon, the Royal Promenade served as a place for guests to deal with issues that Mr. Schneider referred to as, "transactional" because they were things guests wanted to solve. Issues such as someone forgetting to buy something, set up their internet access, or a question for Guest Services.

"We spent a lot of time researching with guests what their day one experience is," Mr. Schneider explained.

"And what we've learned in that journey is that there is a lot of heavy lifting that the Royal Promenade today takes, that we wish it didn't."

Royal Promenade on Symphony of the Seas

Specifically, Royal Caribbean's feedback from their research was passengers wanted a simpler first day, "The feedback from guests as we did the research to prep for boarding day was that make it easier and easier for me not to have to go to the the booths that you create on only day one that don't exist on day two."

Essentially, the first day had so much going on that it didn't feel like a vacation until day two. Royal Caribbean wants its customers to feel like they are on vacation and enjoying it all from the moment they step onboard.

"They want to start their vacation. They don't want to go find a Voom desk," Mr. Schneider pointed out.

Voom desk

The solution is to allow guests to do more pre-cruise so there's less to do once they board, "The more services that our guests say they naturally would prefer to do pre arrival than do on day one, that we can remove off the Promenade automatically helps."

For about a year, Royal Caribbean had teams looking at how they could leverage technology to remove the first day hassle and make it feel more like day two through six.

Is boarding day better on Icon?

With those goals in place, here's how Royal Caribbean implemented fixes for the issues their research identified.

Easier way to connect to the internet

App

Buying an internet package is becoming more popular on Royal Caribbean ships, especially with the advent of Starlink internet that brings true high-speed internet to its ships.

Some guests struggle with how exactly to access the internet due to a cumbersome process of first creating an account and then logging in.

The Royal Caribbean app on Icon of the Seas features better app internet connectivity. Specifically, if you have purchased the internet package and you have the Royal Caribbean app installed and set up, there's no more captive portal. You instantaneously are connected to Wi-Fi and you don't have to do anything.

While the traditional way of creating an account still exists, I did notice a few times when I returned to the ship after being on shore, the Royal Caribbean app would open immediately to a screen alerting me that I was connected, with the option of purchasing additional device plans.

Guest services chat

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Royal Caribbean is using AI to make it less likely that you'll need to wait in line at Guest Services.

Within the Royal Caribbean app is a chat feature that can help answer issues guests may have. The chat feature interacts with an AI bot, who could help reduce the lengthy Guest Services line. 

Read more: Royal Caribbean's clever idea using AI to get help on the world's largest cruise ship

The way it works is you can ask the bot simple questions. You can can ask an AI bot certain questions like "What can my SeaPass do?" and "How do I access Wi-Fi?"

Icon of the Seas lit up

It will also tell you how much the drink package costs, as well as help you add a registered user to your account and opt out of gratuities.

If it can't answer it for you, then it will connect you with an actual agent.

"Being able to text someone from your pool deck chair or your swim-up bar seat is where we'd much rather you be [on vacation]," said Schneider. 

According to Schneider, the new chat system "works beautifully." 

Pre-book restaurants with a dining package

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The one improvement I cannot wait for Royal Caribbean to implement is the new option to pre-book restaurants if you have a dining package.

Traditionally if you bought a dining package, you'd have to wait until you got onboard the cruise ship to make an actual reservation. 

Mr. Schneider pointed out the issue of how this makes the first day less enjoyable, "If you book a dine package with us, you can't actually reserve those restaurants ahead of time. So you have to run around on day one of your vacation to figure it out."

Royal Promenade on Icon of the Seas

The plan is for all dining packages to be reservable so that guests don't have to do go make reservations on the first day. Essentially, it creates the same experience for people with a dining package and those that pre-book a specific specialty restaurant.

This upgrade is not available yet on any ship, but Royal Caribbean says it's a top priority and they hope, "to get it into market as soon as possible, but we don't have a date yet."

Once implemented, expect it on the Icon Class ships and Utopia of the Seas first, with the rest of the fleet getting it later.

Shore excursion desk

Behind the pearl

How you book and manage a shore excursion on Icon of the Seas is also different.

Instead of dedicating space to kiosks to book a shore excursion, Icon has removed that.  Mr. Schneider pointed out these spaces, like the one on Freedom of the Seas, are largely empty most of the time because guests are pre-booking tours before the cruise or on the Royal Caribbean app.

"If you think of the evolution of spaces, spaces that were really important 15 years ago are no longer important today. And so the notion of transactional kiosks, when everybody books their shore excursion on their phone or pre-arrival, isn't needed."

However, Royal Caribbean didn't get rid of the shore excursion team all together. 

Behind the Pearl on the Royal Promenade is a service lounge experience, where you can go to talk to someone about an excursion. It's run similar to stores on land where you are seated and a customer service agent comes up to you to address your concern or need.

When you walk up, you're entered into their system for the first available crew member to assist you. Your name is even listed on a screen to show where you are in the queue. There's no physical line, so you can sit down and relax until it's your turn.

Shore excursion area on Icon

On my cruise, there was no one else there so I did not need to wait at all, but not having a formal queue seems like it would be easier, especially for families.  

Order photos from the app

New photo option in Royal Caribbean app

A favorite tradition on any cruise is getting your photos taken. While the memories captured through these photos are a fun, going to the photo gallery to order prints was not.

Royal Caribbean recently implemented new functionality within the Royal Caribbean app to be able to review photos you've taken and order them, all within the app.

Just like the shore excursions, there's no digital kiosks on Icon to preview photos. Next to the shore excursion desk is the photo gallery desk to assist with concerns you might have.

8 things Royal Caribbean didn't copy from other cruise ships on Icon of the Seas

In:
22 Feb 2024

Royal Caribbean incorporated many tried-and-true venues, features, and concepts from previous cruise ships, but it also dropped a few that didn't make the final cut for Icon of the Seas.

Icon of the Seas in Miami

Icon of the Seas is a blend of innovation and tradition, which means it brought some features from existing ships to this new ship. 

With Icon being a brand new class of ship, it's interesting to note what Royal Caribbean decided to copy from existing ships and which did not. Some have been things you'd find on ships for years, and others were just newer features.

After sailing on Icon of the Seas, I noticed a number of amenities that had been standard on Royal Caribbean's other newer ships were not on Icon. I find it interesting to see trends in the cruise line, and see what direction they're going. Plus, it's a sign of what we can expect with future ships or even upcoming refurbishments.

Digital key

Opening door with app

Royal Caribbean's app has gotten more features over the years, but you won't be able to open your cabin door with the app.

While the app does allow you to control the air conditioning settings and even operate the television, the option to unlock your stateroom door isn't there on Icon.

Open door with app

Spectrum of the Seas was the first Royal Caribbean ship to offer a digital key and control the stateroom television from the app. Most recently, this is a feature available on Wonder of the Seas and Odyssey of the Seas.

Admittedly, I always forgot to ever use the digital key to open my door, but it was a nice option to have as a backup if you ever accidentally locked yourself out of your cabin. 

Bionic Bar

Bionic Bar on Ovation of the Seas

You won't find robot bartenders on Icon of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean had made a name for itself with the Bionic Bar ever since they were added to Quantum of the Seas in 2014.  Since then, every new ship had a Bionic Bar onboard. They were even adding it to older Oasis Class ships when they went in for refurbishment.

The Bionic Bar allowed guests to use a tablet to order drinks. They could customize the drink order to their liking, and then submit it for a pair of robot arms to create.

The robots were able to grab a cup, dispense the precise amount of liquor and mix, and then serve it on a conveyer belt back to the guest.

Alas, the Bionic Bar was left behind for Icon. Not only is there no Bionic Bar on Icon, but it's not coming to Utopia of the Seas either.

Like all technology, it ages and new fads come and go. The Bionic Bar was always intriguing to watch and try once, but its repeat value seemed to diminish quickly.

Digital Wayfinders

Another piece of tech that has seemingly reached the end of its life are digital wayfinders.

On every new and refurbished Royal Caribbean cruise ship over the last decade or more, there are large screens at every elevator lobby where guests can view activities, get directions to a particular venue, and other features. 

These interactive kiosks made it so you could walk up to one while on your way to the elevator and get where you needed to go.

Wayfinder

Wayfinders were first installed on Royal Caribbean's Oasis and Allure of the Seas ships, and were upgraded over the years as they made their way to other ships. 

You won't find wayfinders on Icon of the Seas, probably because that functionality is included in the more robust Royal Caribbean app we can all use today.  Moreover, app and smartphone use are far more ubiquitous than in past years.

Self-service convenience machines

Vending machine

When I forgot to pack shaving cream I realized Icon of the Seas did not have the vending machines that Royal Caribbean's newer ships have.

On some ships, there are self-service vending machines where you can buy toiletries, beauty products, accessories and more.  There's no fuss with them and rarely a line.

I never relied on the machines, but it was nice to have in a pinch.

Stream to your TV

TV on Icon of the Seas

Of all the things on this list, I probably missed the ability to stream from my phone to my stateroom television the most.

While the televisions in your cabin do have a number of useful features, you cannot stream via Chromecast to your television.

On an evening where you wanted to take it easy and watch a movie or binge a TV show from your room, it was nice to be able to play it on the television instead of my device.

Virtual balcony

Virtual balcony room

Another Quantum Class era innovation didn't come to Icon of the Seas with the virtual balcony cabin.

A virtual balcony cabin was meant to be an upgrade from a regular inside room (as opposed to a real balcony cabin).  Virtual balconies are 80-inch LED televisions that are in inside staterooms on select Royal Caribbean ships that provide live HD views from outside the cruise ship, right into your stateroom.

Read more: Everything you wanted to know about a virtual balcony

It's a neat idea (and something Royal Caribbean admitted they copied from Disney Cruise Line), but like the digital wayfinders, was an aging technology and guest trends had changed.

Moreover, Royal Caribbean introduced a different kind of balcony on Icon of the Seas: the infinite balcony.

Based on the infinite verandas from sister brand Celebrity Cruises, infinite balconies are a twist on the tradition balcony by having the balcony space become more useful living space when an opening to the outside isn't in use.

New restaurant concepts

Mason Jar restaurant

Any new Royal Caribbean cruise ship will have a different specialty restaurants, but I was surprised certain newer concepts didn't end up on Icon too.

Royal Caribbean works hard to innovate and push boundaries with its dining choices. If there's been one constant over the years, it's the Food & Beverage team has looked for ways to introduce new cuisines, cooking styles, and concepts to its assortment of dining choices.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club

Some of these new restaurants seem to be heralded by the cruise line as a big deal, and it's not uncommon for a new restaurant to be quickly copied over to many other ships. Playmakers Sports Bar is a great example of this, and Empire Supper Club is already slated to be copied to the rest of the new Icon Class ships coming down the pike.

Portside BBQ

While Playmakers and Hooked were added to Icon, Mason Jar and Portside BBQ did not. Both of these were new restaurants that were met with much fanfare, but are not on Icon of the Seas.

Of course, Royal Caribbean managed to add a variety of new restaurants on Icon, such as Pier 7, Empire Supper Club, Surfside Bites, and more.

Read more: Icon of the Seas restaurant and dining guide

Traditional bow design

Icon of the Seas sea trials

Icon of the Seas is the first Royal Caribbean cruise ship to implement a parabolic bow instead of a traditional one.

A parabolic bow is a functional design element that creates a curved indentation in the bottom of the vessel’s hull. 

This new bow design helps increase overall stability of the vessel by shifting the center of gravity forward. In addition, parabolic bows allow the ship to be less likely to capsize or heel. This is due to the bow creating an area of low pressure beneath the ship’s hull. 

Star of the Seas and Icon of the Seas

I expect the traditional bow will be a thing of the past for any new ships going forward, given the improvements in efficiencies that a parabolic bow provides.

Did I miss any features that Royal Caribbean left off Icon? Let me know in the comments!

I spent $7,800 for a seven-night cruise on Icon of the Seas. Here's what everything cost, from $700 airfare to $1,000 in onboard expenses

In:
21 Feb 2024

Sailing on the inaugural cruise of the largest ship in the world has a premium price tag. After all, to be one of the first people to sail on a brand-new ship comes at a big price.

How much it cost to sail on Icon of the Seas

From the initial cost of the cabin, plus airfare, many rideshares, a hotel, and onboard purchases, this once-in-a-lifetime trip came out to be almost $8,000.

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

Here’s what everything cost during my seven-night Eastern Caribbean & Perfect Day cruise on Icon of the Seas, as well as how much I spent to get to and from Miami, Florida.

I originally spent $631.21 on airfare, but ended up spending $715.62

Let’s just say it was quite an ordeal for me to get to Miami!

When looking at all of my options from my home in the Midwest to Miami, it appeared that flying to Fort Lauderdale was the cheapest option. I prefer to fly to Fort Lauderdale too, as I have traveled through this airport numerous times. In fact, for all of my recent Miami cruises, I have flown through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

So, I booked my flights on United for $578.21, plus I had a 50-pound bag that needed to be checked, and that was another $60 roundtrip. The flight total was $638.21.

Read more: Guide to cruises from Miami

United plane at Fort Lauderdale airport

Upon arriving at the airport, it was a chilly January morning. I checked my bag, went through security, and boarded the plane like normal. Everyone had boarded the plane and we were ready to take off when the captain suddenly announced that we had to all get off because the plane needed to be thawed. Well, after a few hours, we later found out that the tank was completely frozen! This caused a six-hour delay.

I had missed my original connection through Denver, so I tried to get on the later connection, but after the extensive delay, I was going to miss that one too. While all of this was happening, I tried to get my checked bag off the plane, but they were not going to open the doors to get everyone’s luggage off.

At this point, my options were limited to Miami/Fort Lauderdale, so ultimately, I decided to book a late flight on Allegiant instead of United. Luckily, this was a direct flight to Fort Lauderdale, so I didn't have to worry about a tight connection.

Allegiant airplane

This last-minute flight cost $416.02. Allegiant is known for offering dirt-cheap flights, but because this was so last minute, it was much more expensive than usual. I would’ve had to pay for a checked bag too, but since I couldn't get it off the United plane, I had to travel without it.

All of this chaos also messed up my return flight home. Because I didn't fly United to Fort Lauderdale, my seat was forfeited on the way home from Fort Lauderdale. After trying to get back on my original flight home, the options were not looking good, so I once again booked a last-minute flight, this time on Delta for $299.60.

Delta planes

This was the most hectic flight experience I’ve had in a while, but I am thankful everything worked out and I was able to get to Icon of the Seas.

I stayed with family before the inaugural cruise, so I took the Brightline train for $168

Brightline train car

Since I had prior engagements in Miami before the inaugural cruise, I had a few free days and decided to go see family in Orlando. When looking at options to get from Miami to Orlando, the Brightline was the most enticing.

The Brightline Smart fare (the cheapest option) was $59 each way; this included a carry-on and my backpack as my personal item. I had my 50-pound bag too, so I had to pay $25 each way to get that checked. The total was $168 roundtrip from Miami to Orlando.

Seats on the Brightline train

The train ride each way was three and a half hours, but it went by fast because I was able to use the free Wi-Fi to get work done. I thought the ride was smooth and comfortable, so I would definitely do another Brightline trip in the future!

Read more: I took the Brightline train from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale for my cruise. Here's what it was like

I took the Brightline back to Miami so I could stay in a hotel the night before my cruise. This was $260.73

Miami downtown night

It is highly encouraged to get to your embarkation city the day before your cruise just in case of travel delays or cancelations. Because of this, I arrived back in Miami on January 26, the day before the inaugural sailing of Icon of the Seas.

While there are lots of hotel options in Miami, I chose Courtyard Miami Airport. This hotel is perfect for those flying in and out of the Miami International Airport because of its close location. I chose this hotel because it was the cheapest option for me: $260.73. This price included my dinner, which was $17.78.

I had to use many rideshares throughout my trip, and this totaled $405.84

Whenever I had to get somewhere like the airport, hotel, train station, or cruise port, I used the rideshare Lyft.

The rides that cost the most were the ones from the Orlando train station to my family’s house and vice versa. Each of these rides cost $90, including a tip, since it was a nearly 50-mile drive.

Another costly trip was going from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Miami and vice versa. Both of these trips cost between $50 and $60, including a tip, and were 27 miles of driving. I still prefer to fly in and out of the Fort Lauderdale airport over the Miami International Airport, even though the ride is 30-40 minutes between the two cities.

The rides within Miami (like from the hotel to the cruise port or the train station to the hotel) were close and only cost around $20 each way. 

The cost of my Spacious Infinite Central Park View Balcony cabin was $5,179.62

Spacious Infinite Central Park Balcony Cabin on Icon of the Seas

I booked a cabin on Icon of the Seas as soon as they were available back in October 2022.

I chose a Spacious Infinite Central Park View Balcony on deck 10, midship. This cabin cost $5,179.62 for two people, including pre-paid gratuities. Of course, this was the largest expense during my inaugural trip.

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

Icon of the Seas is the first ship in the Royal Caribbean International fleet to have infinite verandas, so that was the main reason why I selected this type of cabin. For research purposes, I wanted to see if an infinite balcony cabin was different from a traditional balcony cabin, and after sailing on Icon, I definitely think they are.

Infinite veranda area in the Spacious Infinite Central Park Balcony Cabin on Icon of the Seas

While I liked being able to open and close the veranda, I much prefer to have an actual balcony where I can fully step outside. The veranda did allow me to get some fresh air, but it just wasn't the same as a regular balcony.

You can take a photo tour of my cabin by clicking here!

Read more: I stayed in a 200-square-foot room on the world's largest cruise ship, where there's a new kind of balcony. Here's what it's like inside.

I had several onboard purchases during my week on Icon, and this totaled $1,014.17

Icon of the Seas docked at CocoCay

When you go on a cruise, you can choose to not spend anything extra. It is possible to not spend an additional dime on cruise add-ons, but while on Icon of the Seas, I made a number of onboard purchases.

Before the cruise, I purchased Wi-Fi for one device. This was $23.99 per day, or $167.93 for seven days. If I had purchased the Wi-Fi more in advance, I probably could've gotten a better deal. While onboard, I thought that the Wi-Fi was quick; I had no problems streaming videos or posting on social media.

The Pearl on Icon of the Seas

I splurged on two specialty dining experiences while on Icon: Dinner at Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen and dinner at the new Empire Supper Club.

Since I am a Diamond Plus cruiser, I was able to utilize my BOGO offer when I dined at Giovanni’s on the first night of the cruise. The total for my meal was $37.44, and it was well worth it!

Carbonara at Giovannis on Icon of the Seas

On the second night, I dined at the snazzy Empire Supper Club. This meal was pre-paid and cost $200. This is the most expensive restaurant in the Royal Caribbean fleet.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club trio

During this formal dinner, I enjoyed four appetizers, a main course, three desserts, six cocktails, and other starters and palate cleansers not listed on the menu. Throughout the meal, the American Standards Trio played jazz music which was lovely to listen to while I was eating my many courses. You can read my full review of the Empire Supper Club here!

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club chocolate beehive

Read more: I dined at Royal Caribbean’s most expensive restaurant: I didn't expect to like it as much as I did

After attending the Ladies Pamper Party on the second day of the cruise, I decided to treat myself to a massage at the Vitality Spa. Because I attended the party, I got $50 off a Swedish massage (along with other “mini” massages that focused on my arms, shoulders, etc.) that was originally $210. Again because I am a Diamond Plus cruiser, I also got a complimentary add-on spa treatment, so I opted for a foot exfoliation. In total, the massage cost $188.80. This included a service charge of $39.80.

Spa room on Icon of the Seas

Another brand-new experience I wanted to try was renting one of the daybeds at The Hideaway, the adults-only area onboard Icon of the Seas. Before the cruise, I purchased a daybed for a sea day, and this cost $350. The cost is an all-day rental and can hold a maximum of four people.

The Hideaway on Icon of the Seas daybeds include towels, water, and champagne

The cost does fluctuate depending on when you buy the rental and whether you choose a sea day or port day (port days are cheaper). You can read about my daybed experience here!

Read more: I tried the $350 in-pool daybed rental on Icon of the Seas. It was pricey, but you get a prime spot

My sister collects Starbucks mugs from around the world, so I bought the exclusive Icon of the Seas mug for her, which cost $20.

Starbucks mugs on Icon of the Seas

My last expense was tips for various crew members, including my cabin steward, and this totaled around $50

I went on one excursion to St. John for $85

Trunk Bay at St. John

During the seven-night cruise, we visited St. Kitts, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at CocoCay. While docked in St. Thomas, I decided to purchase an excursion to St. John. This excursion was called “St. John On Your Own.”

This excursion cost $50 and covered the cost of a ferry that took me between St. Thomas and St. John. The two islands are close, so the ferry ride was fairly quick and took around 20-30 minutes.

We were docked in St. Thomas from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., so everyone on the excursion had to meet at the Royal Theater at 7:30 a.m. and get on the ferry around 8 a.m. By the time we got off the ferry in St. John, found a taxi to the beach, and then had to allocate time to get back to the ship, we were at the beach for only an hour and a half.

Trunk Bay at St. John

Once the ferry arrived in St. John, I took a taxi to Trunk Bay. The taxi ride cost $20 roundtrip, including a tip. Upon arrival to Trunk Bay, I had to pay a $5 admission fee. I also wanted a beach chair, and this cost $10.

The beach was stunning and the water was a perfect temperature. I loved this short beach getaway. I wish we had more time docked in St. Thomas so I could've stayed at Trunk Bay longer!

In total, I spent $7,828.98 to sail on the inaugural cruise of Icon of the Seas

Angie at The Hideaway on Icon of the Seas

I knew that my trip on Icon of the Seas would cost a lot, but I didn't think it would be almost $8,000!

The largest expense was the cost of the cabin at $5,180, and when looking at prices throughout the year and into 2025, it appears that I got a decent price. For example, looking at the same itinerary in the same cabin for January 2025, my Infinite Central Park cabin would cost $7,360 - more than $2,000 more!

Icon of the Seas infinite balcony cabin

There were many times when I could’ve saved money, like saying no to specialty restaurants, Wi-Fi, or the spa treatment. But, these cruise add-ons made my trip more enjoyable.

Angie selfie with Icon of the Seas

I really liked a lot of the free entertainment onboard Icon of the Seas, including The Wizard of Oz, the ice skating show, Starburst, and the diving show, Aqua Action! I also took advantage of the many free dining options, like AquaDome Market and Park Café, for most of my meals which I thought were delicious.

Wizard of Oz on Icon of the Seas

Overall, I had a blast onboard the maiden voyage of Icon of the Seas. I can now say that I was one of the first people to sail on the world's largest cruise ship! It was an experience I will never forget.

Photos show the cabin a dog lives in on the world's largest cruise ship

In:
19 Feb 2024

Did you know a dog lives on Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship?

Icon of the Seas has many innovative firsts in the cruising industry including a furry, four-legged friend named Rover!

Rover Cabin

Rover, a golden retriever puppy, has been chosen to permanently live onboard Icon of the Seas as the Chief Dog Officer. Her only job on the ship is to bring joy, love and happiness to guests sailing on the world’s newest and biggest cruise ship.

As Icon of the Seas sails around the Caribbean, Rover is able to explore the ports of call while also trotting all around the ship itself. Icon’s Chief Dog Officer is cared for by her handler, Alison Hubble, who has been working for Royal Caribbean for six years.

Under Alison’s attentive care, Rover lives quite the adventurous - and luxurious - life! Alison’s official job title is “Rover’s Chief of Staff.” Talk about a dream job!

Rover Promenade

On Rover’s official Instagram, @chiefdogrover, Alison shared an exclusive look into her and Rover’s special cabin onboard Icon of the Seas. With her own built-in-crate and extra living space, the stateroom has everything Rover needs for a comfortable stay.

The stateroom for Rover is unlike any cabin we’ve seen on a Royal Caribbean ship. Take a rare look inside Rover and Alison’s oceanview cabin, which appears to be specifically designed to comfortably accommodate Icon’s Chief Dog Officer. As if Rover wasn’t cute enough, the video is narrated from the pup’s point of view.

In a heartwarming video "narrated" by Rover, the Chief Dog Officer welcomes viewers into her cruise cabin.

Rover Cabin

The beginning of the cabin tour shows Rover politely sitting on one of her many dog beds. She says, “Welcome to my room tour! This is where I chill out when I am not roaming around the ship.”

According to the Instagram video, Rover’s cabin appears to be a one-bedroom cabin with a living room and couch, large vanity with cabinets, office, separate bedroom and bathroom. In the background, there is also a large crate for Rover to use in the living room.

Having plenty of space for Rover was likely a priority of designing her cabin, as a standard cruise stateroom only has around 150 to 200 square feet. In addition, most crew members live in double occupancy cabins for only 120 square feet. Either of these options would likely be too cramped for a large breed dog.

Rover Cabin

The cabin tour shows a large countertop with cabinets for storage. It looks like there are three large cabinets above the counter and three drawers below. A sliding door unveils an open space with a dog bowl of food for Rover with a plushy green bed for her to use too.

Rover Cabin

Rover also shows off her many different dog beds during the cabin tour. The video pans to Rover playfully chomping on one of her toys, in which she shares with followers, “I have a different bed for every vibe - whether I want to play, lounge or binge Netflix!”

Rover Cabin

Rover's tour on Instagram also shows the cabin's living room area, which is opposite of the desk space in the stateroom. You can see the living room features a couch, mounted TV on the wall and more cabinets for storage.

Rover’s stateroom tour continues by showing the large desk for her handler to use.

Rover Cabin

During the Instagram video, Rover shares how she likes to "scroll on Instagram" while her Chief of Staff works on the computer at the desk. The design of the desk area in Rover’s cabin looks similar to the vanities that can be found in standard cabins on Icon of the Seas.

However, Rover’s cabin has a large leather desk chair for her handler, Alison, to use while in the stateroom. Comparatively, Icon’s standard cabins have a smaller and more decorative desk chair for guests to use at their vanity.

Icon of the Seas infinite balcony cabin

(Infinite balcony cabin on Icon of the Seas shows a similar desk with different chair compared to Rover's cabin)

There is a large mirror, illuminated by a ring light, above the desk. Rover’s cabin has no shortage of storage either, as there are three more drawers under the desk as well. There is natural light coming through a porthole window next to the desk.

Rover Cabin

During the Instagram cabin tour, Rover also shares with viewers how she loves to nap while watching the sunset from her cabin. Based on the proximity of the sea, Rover’s cabin looks to be located on a lower deck onboard Icon of the Seas. 

Read more: Guide to Icon of the Seas cabins and suites

One of the coolest aspects of Rover’s cabin is her crate, which was specifically designed for Icon’s Chief Dog Officer.

Panning back to the cabinets near the stateroom’s entrance, Rover shares with followers how her crate was specifically designed for her! She says, “Then I also have this crate made specially for me, where I usually sleep for the night. I also order room service from here and play with my toys!”

At this point, we can see Rover hanging out in her built-in crate. Her aforementioned "room service" looks to be a bowl of dog food. Rover’s crate is located under the stateroom’s cabinets with a clear door that encloses the space. In her crate, Rover can eat dinner, play with toys and relax.

Based on this, it appears that Rover’s handler has been crate training the golden retriever pup. This is unsurprising, as crate training has many benefits for both canines and owners. In particular, crate training provides Rover with a safe, comfortable and familiar place to rest when she is apart from Alison.

The video tour also shows Rover surrounded by a plethora of toys! She proclaims, “The toys always appear from some magic drawer, but I am not tall enough to see it. So, I don’t really know!”

Rover shares the cabin with Alison, who has a separate bedroom to use.

Continuing her cabin tour, Rover brings followers into Alison’s bedroom next to the living room. This space looks very similar to Icon’s standard cabins with similar aesthetics, decoration and coloring.

In the video, Rover playfully burrows under the bed with a pink ball in her mouth. Rover says to followers, “My favorite spot is under my Chief of Staff’s bed. It’s so cozy down here!” Followers can also see two more dog beds for Rover to use in Alison’s room. Rover is not lying when she says she has a dog bed for every vibe!

The bedroom does not appear to have a window, although the living space appears to have two portholes. The bedroom also has closet space for Alison’s personal use, as Rover’s necessities seem to be mostly kept in the living room area.

Connected to the bedroom is a bathroom, which looks similar to most of Icon of the Seas’ cabins onboard the new cruise ship.

Rover Cabin

Rover proceeds to show viewers a look at her cabin’s bathroom. This area looks the most similar to any other cabin on Icon of the Seas. We can see the design is essentially the same as a standard cabin on Icon of the Seas with a large walk-in shower, toilet and sink with shelving above and below.

“Across the way is the bathroom, where I like to do spa days after the beach,” says Rover as she snuggles into the shower.

One of the biggest improvements in cabin design for newer cruise ships is having a larger bathroom with more space in the shower. Royal Caribbean took this a step further by adding a seat in the shower for added convenience and comfort.

Rover-CocoCay

I am sure Alison appreciates having the extra space in her cabin’s shower to clean Rover. This is especially helpful after Rover enjoys the sandy beaches each week at Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Rover also shows off her many different accessories, including multiple pink collars and a lifejacket.

Rover Cabin

After showing off her bathroom, Rover shows Instagram viewers all of her pink collars and harnesses hanging from the wall. “I also have a spot for all of my accessories, and another one for my lifejacket.”

The video tour shows three pink collars hanging on the built-in hooks on the wall of her cabin. Looks like Rover might need to get some magnetic hooks for her cabin walls if she expands her collar collection!

Rover Cabin

Continuing with her stateroom tour, we can see where Rover keeps her lifejacket. One of the cabinets looks to be the space where Alison keeps Rover’s lifejacket. Rover proceeds to model her lifejacket for viewers, saying that, "everyone laughs when she puts on her lifejacket."

Rover Cabin

Sporting her yellow lifejacket, Rover clarifies, “It is for safety guys! It’s not even funny! But, I do look pretty cute, right?”

There’s no denying that Rover’s home is one of the most unique cabins in Royal Caribbean’s fleet!

Rover Cabin

Although Rover might live an atypical life for a pup, she is cruising in style onboard Icon of the Seas. It’s endearing to see Royal Caribbean has designed a special cabin particularly for Rover and Alison. Safety was also clearly taken into account with plenty of room for Rover to have enough space and constructing a built-in crate.

Compared to a standard cabin on Icon of the Seas, Rover and Alison’s cabin appears to have more space than most inside, oceanview or balcony staterooms. In addition, Rover’s cabin is likely bigger than most crew cabins onboard the cruise ship.

Rover’s cabin is filled with toys and dog beds for her to use each day! During the tour, we can see at least four different dog beds throughout the cabin for Rover to lay in.

Rover is one of the cutest crew members on Icon of the Seas - and her only job is to bring joy to fellow passengers.

Rover

Having a dog onboard a cruise ship is distinct to Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas. Never before has the cruise line had a dog as a permanent resident onboard one of its cruise ships. The furry friend has already made herself at home onboard the 248,663 gross ton cruise ship.

Dogs are typically only welcomed onboard cruise ships if they are service dogs. The only cruise line that allows non-service dogs is Cunard’s Queen Mary II, which has a dog-boarding facility onboard its oceanic voyages. The kennels book years in advance, mostly from travelers who are moving abroad between England and the United States.

In contrast, Royal Caribbean has also clarified that Rover is not a service dog. Instead, she is considered a crew member whose job is to bring happiness and joy to guests and fellow crew members onboard.

icon-rover

Rover is always under the care of Alison. Royal Caribbean shared on Instagram, “Alison is always by Rover’s side to make every day fun and make sure she has plenty of naps and never misses out on any treats!”

Guests are encouraged to give Rover all the belly rubs if they see her onboard Icon of the Seas. You can find Rover enjoying the breeze of the pool deck, playing fetch in the Promenade or out exploring the ports of call. Sometimes Rover can even be found on the bridge with Captain Henrik Loy!

Alison was chosen as Rover’s Chief of Staff after a lengthy interview process.

ALison

Apparently, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley thought it would be a good idea to have a dog onboard Icon of the Seas for crew members and guests. Royal Caribbean sent an email to employees that the company was looking for a caretaker for a dog living onboard a cruise ship.

After applying for the position, Alison was chosen to be Rover’s handler. Alison shared that she considers this her dream job. Before boarding Icon of the Seas, Alison and Rover first boarded Freedom of the Seas to earn her sea legs!

Rover

According to Alison, Rover loves to chase her tail, which she finds to be hilarious! Rover also loves people and toys. Alison said she loves to see crew members and guests light up when they meet Rover. In fact, Alison always leaves her cabin a few minutes early to allocate enough time for people along the way to interact with Rover.

In addition, Rover determines her own schedule with plenty of naps throughout the day! There are no scheduled meet and greets with Rover. Alison also shared that she tries to spend ample time in the crew quarters, as many fellow crew members have been missing their dogs back home for months.

For now, Icon of the Seas is the only ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet where you can find a dog onboard. However, many would love to see all of Royal Caribbean’s ships should have one! Until then, Rover is the one and only - and she is clearly pampered as such!

Royal Caribbean Crown's Edge Review: Worth it or waste of money?

In:
19 Feb 2024

I tried Royal Caribbean’s latest thrilling attraction at sea, and while it had my adrenaline pumping, I’m not convinced it is worth the cost.

side by side image of Crown's Edge on Icon of the Seas

With the launch of Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Icon of the Seas, came the launch of a brand new attraction for the cruise line: Crown’s Edge.

Marketed as a mix between an obstacle course and ropes course, participants of Crown’s Edge navigate a series of suspended platforms that hang off the ship of the cruise ship. At the end of the course, the platform below their feet drops, sending guests flying on a zip line over the ocean and back to the ship.

From the moment I heard about Crown’s Edge, it piqued my interest, although I felt hesitant to book the experience. At the time, the cost of Crown’s Edge was $90 per person, but aside from the cost, I have to admit I was scared.

Crowns Edge Icon of the Seas

Just thinking of hanging over the side of the ship with nothing but the ocean below was enough to make my palms sweat… would I really be able to complete the course if I tried it?

But what’s life without a challenge? Feeling courageous once I got onboard, I booked Crown’s Edge on a whim, despite my hesitations.

Here’s what Royal Caribbean’s newest—and most frightening—activity is like, and whether or not it is worth the price.

I was nervous when I showed up to my booking, although the activity appeared much shorter than I imagined

Crowns Edge check-in desk on Icon of the Seas

“Why am I doing this?!”

As fellow staff member Angie and I left the safety and comfort of our Icon of the Seas cabin to head to Crown’s Edge, I couldn’t help but ask myself what I had gotten myself into.

Not only did I book a time slot for Crown’s Edge, but the only time available was at 7:30 PM, which meant I would be walking over the side of the ship in the dark. Could there be anything scarier? I wasn’t really sure.

Upon arrival at the check-in desk for Crown’s Edge, I was brought into a small room with other participants. Here we changed into the “uniform” for Crown’s Edge—a long-sleeve bodysuit and hard hat. Closed toed shoes are required for the activity, so make sure to wear these as well.

Jenna and Angie smiling at Crown's Edge on Icon of the Seas

Related: Icon of the Seas Cruise Ship: Review, Photos

We were also required to watch a brief safety video, and then it was time to put my skills to the test.

If anything helped calm my nerves, it was the length of the Crown’s Edge experience. Despite researching Crown’s Edge prior to my cruise, it didn’t hit me how short the ride was until I got onboard and saw it for myself.

I have to admit I expected a ropes course to be longer than just a few steps off the side of the ship, but I was grateful for the shorter length when it came time to put on my harness and start the course.

The beginning of Crown’s Edge was an easy warmup for the more terrifying sections later on

Walking across a bridge on Crown's Edge

I first walked across a short overhung bridge, which was not all that scary, despite the large gaps between pieces of the bridge. In fact, the left side of the bridge does not have any gaps on the bridge, making this section of Crown’s Edge an easy start to the attraction.

Once across the bridge, I stepped onto the first of five oval platforms, which are suspended approximately fifteen feet above the ship’s deck.

Platforms on Crown's Edge

Again, I did not find this section of Crown’s Edge particularly frightening, even if a large step was necessary to make it from one platform to another. I was comforted by the fact that I was not yet hanging off the side of the ship.

Next up was the more nerve-racking part of Crown’s Edge, and my fear quickly took over

X shaped platforms on Crowns Edge

After successfully walking across all five oval platforms, I reached what I found to be the scariest part of Crown’s Edge: the x-shaped platforms, which are suspended over the ocean.

There are four of these x-shaped platforms on the course, which take you from walking above the ship to walking off the edge of Icon of the Seas. I found this section challenging, both physically and mentally, as it not only required more careful footwork, but walking off the edge of a cruise ship is pretty terrifying, to say the least.

I couldn’t decide whether trying Crown’s Edge at night was a better choice than during the day. Perhaps it was easier to block out the fact that I was standing over the open ocean at night, but it was hard to not be afraid of the dark abyss below.

Nonetheless, I took a deep breath and made it across.

I had one more hurdle on Crown’s Edge: the drop

Crown's Edge drop to zipline part

The final part of Crown’s Edge involves walking onto a platform and waiting for the platform to drop beneath your feet, leaving you dangling over the ocean by your harness After the drop, you will ride a zip line back to the starting point.

Allowing yourself to step onto a platform that will drop and leave you hanging over the ocean requires a great deal of trust in both the ride’s engineering and safety harnesses, but I felt fairly confident I would not fall into the ocean below.

As I stood on the platform waiting to drop, I was surprisingly not as panicked as I thought I would be. I had, after all, gotten myself into this situation, and the sooner the platform dropped, the sooner I could get back to the safety of the ship.

girl zip lining on Crown's Edge

What I didn’t expect was that the crew members would surprise participants with when the platform would drop. During one ride, I witnessed a crew member trick the participant by saying he had to come over to her and fix her harness. As he began walking over, though, he pressed the button to drop the platform, sending her into a terrifying flight back to the ship!

Fortunately, there were no tricks played on my turn, and I courageously dropped off the platform and rode back to the ship.

Crown’s Edge was certainly thrilling, but for such a short ride, it comes with a hefty price

Angie and Jenna smiling on Crown's Edge

When Royal Caribbean first announced that Crown’s Edge was available to book on the Cruise Planner site, they were charging $90 for the activity. Since then, it appears Royal Caribbean has lowered the price of Crown’s Edge on certain sailings, with some guests reporting pricing closer to $50 instead.

After trying Crown’s Edge myself, I would not pay $90 for the experience, but I could see paying $50. Personally, I would say the experience is worth about $30, but I don’t think the cruise line will have any trouble selling it at a higher price.

Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had at sea, but it is simply way too short to justify the original price tag of $90. Honestly, I found the thrill of Crown’s Edge quite similar to the zip line on Oasis Class ships, which is included in guests’ cruise fares.

Crown's Edge on Icon of the Seas

This isn’t the first activity to come with an extra charge on Royal Caribbean, however, but most other extra-cost activities provide a more lengthy experience.

Related: Top 30 extra cruise costs that are not included

The cruise line’s escape rooms, for example, cost $40 per person, but the activity lasts an hour. Likewise, booking The North Star observation pod on a sea day will run guests around $30 for a 15-minute ride, although it’s free on port days.

And even though RipCord by iFLY, Royal Caribbean’s indoor skydiving simulator, costs $50 for a 2-minute flying experience, a complimentary 1-minute ride is also offered onboard for those who do not want to pay extra.

There is no complimentary offering of Crown’s Edge, and, if excluding the prep time for the activity, you’re looking at spending around $1 per second of the ride.

If you simply can’t sail on Icon of the Seas without trying an activity as unique as Crown’s Edge, I would recommend giving it a try. That being said, you shouldn’t feel like you are missing out on anything by skipping it.

Am I glad I tried Crown’s Edge? Sure, and I think the demand is there for the attraction to be successful. Nonetheless, it was definitely a “one and done” experience for me, as there are more than enough other thrilling activities onboard Icon of the Seas to try that do not cost anything extra.

5 things that surprised me on Icon of the Seas

In:
16 Feb 2024

No matter how much research you do beforehand, there will always be a few surprises once you board a cruise ship, and this was certainly the case on my recent Icon of the Seas cruise.

Icon of the Seas side by side image

Royal Caribbean’s newest and largest cruise ship was at the forefront of the cruise line’s marketing ever since its official announcement in fall 2022. After over a year of writing about the new vessel, I assumed I would not have any surprises once onboard. After all, what could surprise me when I, presumably, already knew everything about the ship?

Needless to say, despite my thorough research, I still found myself encountering surprises once onboard Icon of the Seas. Most of these surprises were positive, like the variety of global cuisine available to try throughout the ship, but others were negative, such as the curious choice of color scheme in my cabin.

Here are the 5 things that surprised me on Icon of the Seas.

I thought the ship would feel huge, so I was surprised that it felt somewhat similar to the size of an Oasis Class ship

Surfside

As the new biggest cruise ship in the world, I expected Icon of the Seas to feel drastically bigger than older Royal Caribbean ships.

Most of Icon of the Seas’ marketing revolved around the ship being the world’s biggest, and offering the ultimate vacation experience for families. This marketing led myself, and many other cruise fans, to picture the ship to be significantly larger than other ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.

Related: See how Royal Caribbean ships stack up by size (2024)

Yet when I saw a picture of Icon of the Seas docked next to Wonder of the Seas, an Oasis Class ship, at Perfect Day at CocoCay, I realized the two ships weren’t drastically different in size. And when I got onboard myself a few days later, I felt much less overwhelmed with the ship’s size than I initially thought I would be.

Central Park on Icon of the Seas

Icon of the Seas does not feel small by any means, and it does feel larger than Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships, but not by much. The ship never felt unmanageable, and there appeared to be more than enough distinct areas around the vessel that no particular venue ever felt too crowded.

The impressive passenger flow of the vessel from neighborhood to neighborhood and new destination elevators made getting around the ship a breeze. While I can understand some cruisers being put off by the size of Icon of the Seas, it really doesn’t feel that much different from ships like Wonder of the Seas when you’re onboard.

I was surprised by the light-colored furniture in my cabin, and I’m not sure this will hold up well over time

Although I enjoyed my comfortable balcony cabin on Icon of the Seas, I found the choice of furnishings to be… risky, to say the least.

If you’ve sailed on older cruise ships before, you’ve likely seen wear and tear on the furniture in your cruise cabin. While Royal Caribbean keeps their cabins in relatively good condition—even on the oldest ships—you may occasionally notice stains on couches, chairs, and other soft surfaces in the room.

Related: The 5 best cabin locations on a cruise ship

Stains are best concealed on dark-colored furniture, so I was surprised by the light tan couch in my Icon of the Seas cabin. All it takes is one spill or mishap to stain these furnishings, instantly lowering the cabin’s condition.

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

At the risk of embarrassing myself, I’ll admit I accidentally spilled a small amount of chocolate mousse I brought back from Pearl Cafe on the carpet in my cabin. I panicked when I saw the splatters of brown stain all over the floor, and it took a lot of stressful scrubbing to remove the stain.

While I (fortunately) got the stain out, I can’t imagine what this carpet and furniture will look like in a few years. I generally prefer the look of lighter-colored wood and decor, but it’s probably not the smartest option for a cruise ship cabin.

I was surprised and pleased by the new global cuisine options onboard, a huge improvement from older ships

Buddha bowl

Royal Caribbean has upped its game with international cuisine options on Icon of the Seas, and I was happy to see it.

Whenever I read my coworkers’ articles about Virgin Voyages’ Korean BBQ restaurant or Norwegian Cruise Line's food hall on our sister site Cruise.blog, I felt a sting of jealousy about these diverse dining options.

Because I usually sail on Royal Caribbean, I find myself dining at the same types of restaurants over and over again, whether Italian, Japanese, or a standard American steakhouse.

Therefore, I was surprised to see the variety of dining venues that launched on Icon of the Seas. Most notably, the new AquaDome Market is home to five varied food stalls, which offer everything from Mediterranean wraps to Chinese noodle bowls and Nutella crepes.

aquadome-icon-1

Related: I ate at every new restaurant on Icon of the Seas and here's how I would rank them

Outside of the AquaDome market were Baja fish tacos at Pier 7, curry chicken sandwiches at Pearl Cafe, and expanded to-go items at Izumi in the Park. Old favorites are found onboard, too, from the all-you-can-eat Mexican food at El Loco Fresh to hand-tossed pizzas at Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen.

Whether a complimentary falafel and hummus pita for lunch or extra-cost Korean bibimbap bowl for dinner, I appreciated just how many options were available on Icon of the Seas. I’m still holding out for a Thai restaurant on Royal Caribbean (I can dream, right?), but the new options available easily satisfied my culinary cravings.

I was surprised Royal Caribbean didn't put The Mason Jar on Icon of the Seas

Brunch at Mason Jar

Icon of the Seas has a whopping 20+ dining venues onboard, but one restaurant I’m surprised didn’t make the cut is The Mason Jar.

The Mason Jar is one of Royal Caribbean’s newer specialty dining venues that first launched in 2022 on Wonder of the Seas. The restaurant serves dishes from around the American South, with brunch and dinner options including crab beignets, chicken and waffles, and the classic po’boy.

Related: The Mason Jar Southern food restaurant review on Wonder of the Seas

Adjacent to the restaurant is The Mason Jar Bar, which offers southern-inspired cocktails and a live band.

The Mason Jar Bar

Currently, Wonder of the Seas is the only ship in the fleet to feature the venue. Given its popularity on that ship, I initially assumed Royal Caribbean would add it to Icon of the Seas as well.

I could easily see The Mason Jar replacing a venue like Hooked Seafood, which is found in the ship’s AquaDome neighborhood. At the same time, though, perhaps adding more live music to the ship was not necessary, given the amount of new venues like Lou’s Jazz n’ Blues and Dueling Pianos.

Nonetheless, I’m still thinking about the restaurant’s decadent red velvet pancakes I ate two years ago, and I wish this venue could have been onboard Icon of the Seas.

I was surprised by the amount of new bars and cocktails available, and the live music was spectacular

1400 Lobby Bar

Because Icon of the Seas is the first ship in the Icon Class, I expected there to be a few new bars and lounges onboard, but I was surprised by the amount of new venues that launched on the vessel.

1400 Lobby Bar was one of my favorites on the ship, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, elegant decor, and outdoor seating. The bar’s central location in the Royal Promenade makes it a convenient hangout space, and the lack of live music at the bar means you can better hold a conversation with your travel party.

One of the bar’s signature cocktails, The Fourteen Hundred, combines Casamigos Blanco tequila, Italicus liqueur, pearl shimmer syrup, and lemon sour, and it’s topped with a citrus bubble that pops when you take your first sip.

Related: I tried the new cocktails on Icon of the Seas

cocktail 1400 lobby bar

Additionally, two intriguing music venues launched on the vessel: Dueling Pianos in the Royal Promenade and Lou’s Jazz n’ Blues in Central Park. Not only do these venues provide stellar musical performances, but they also come with a host of new cocktails.

Guests can listen to live jazz music while sipping on a B-Flat Negroni, which combines Hendrick’s gin, Suze liqueur, and dry vermouth. Or, for those cheering on the pianists at Dueling Pianos, they can try the signature cocktail, Snap, Crackle, Pop! This sweet beverage combines gin with lime juice, simple syrup, grenadine, and pineapple juice with a bag of Pop Rocks, making the drink literally “pop” in your mouth!

Dueling Pianos

I found the new bar concepts to be a nice change of pace for Royal Caribbean, and I especially appreciated having more innovative bar concepts on the Royal Promenade. On Oasis Class ships, for instance, the robotic Bionic Bar takes up a large space in the Promenade.

While watching robotic bartenders craft a drink is interesting the first time you try it, I have never found this venue appealing for a regular hangout space. Somewhere like Dueling Pianos or the 1400 Lobby Bar, on the other hand, makes for a much more aesthetic and entertaining space.

Have you sailed on Icon of the Seas? If so, what surprised you about your time onboard? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Top 10 Icon of the Seas hidden secrets

In:
14 Feb 2024

Ready to take a cruise on Icon of the Seas, but want to know the best kept insider secrets about this game-changing cruise ship?

Icon of the Seas in CocoCay

Royal Caribbean has put together an incredible new ship that offers more for families to do than ever before, and it's the first in the Icon Class. There are so many choices for dining, activities, and ways to relax.

If you're like me, you want maximize your vacation and take advantage of every tip and trick so you can have the best possible vacation. If I've learned anything from cruising a lot, it's that there are usually a handful of secrets you can rely on to get ahead of everyone else.

Read more: Guide to Icon of the Seas

I spent over a week on Icon of the Seas to track down the best tidbits to share with you. Here are the 10 hidden secrets to know before going on Icon of the Seas.

Rye and Bean is secret place for coffee in the morning

Rye and Bean

Everyone loves a latte, cappuccino, or macchiato in the morning, but the line for it at Pearl Cafe can get pretty long.

Instead of waiting in line for your premium coffee drink (which is included in a Royal Caribbean drink package), go to the Rye and Bean in the Aquadome instead.

Rye and Bean is a coffee bar that is best known for its coffee-based cocktails.  But it has an espresso machine and is open in the morning too, and can make your favorite coffee drinks without the giant line that Pearl Cafe usually gets.

rye-&-beam-sweet-foam

In my experience, I found most people have no idea Rye and Bean is open in the morning or that it can make your coffee drink too, and the lack of a line was proof of that.

Speaking of Rye and Bean, you should make plans to go there later in the day for a cocktail too, because their espresso martinis and cocktails are top notch.

USB plugs and outlets at the bars

Outlet

If you've ever gone on a cruise and lamented the lack of ways to keep your devices charged, Icon of the Seas does not contribute to that stereotype.

Many bars have USB charging plugs and even standard electric outlets available for guests to use, including Pearl Cafe, The Overlook, and Playmakers.

I've seen USB outlets at certain bars on Royal Caribbean ships before, but electric outlets too is so helpful for using laptops. Given how inviting Pearl Cafe and The Overlook are to spending many hours there, it's a great spot for conducting remote work.

Given how useful the Royal Caribbean app is onboard a ship, you might end up going through battery power faster than at home, so it's convenient to have ways to charge your devices.

Secret homage to Royal Caribbean's history

Manhole cover

Royal Caribbean likes to include subtle nods to its past on its cruise ships, and if you look closely, you'll spot one on Icon of the Seas.

If you're a Royal Caribbean super fan, you'll want to keep an eye out for a nod to the ship's leadership located in the Royal Promenade.

There's artwork on one end of the Promenade that has a manhole cover, which can easily be overlooked.  However, it lists the sewer cover company manufacturer as, "Fain, Liberty, Bayley, Kulovaara & Co.".

Michael Bayley and Jason Liberty

These are the last names of Royal Caribbean's top leadership responsible for Icon of the Seas becoming a reality.

  • Richard Fain is the Chairman of the Royal Caribbean Group board, and was Royal Caribbean Group's CEO for much of the project's time before stepping down.
  • Jason Liberty is the current President and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group.
  • Michael Bayley is the President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.
  • Harri Kulovaara is the Executive Vice President of Maritime & Newbuilding, and is responsible for leading the design and construction of its new ships. 

Color coding for the direction of where you are on the deck

Icon of the Seas cabin number

Getting around a ship as big as Icon of the Seas is not easy off the bat, but Royal Caribbean color coded the decks to make it easier.

As you walk up or down of the corridors where staterooms are located, you may notice the color of the cabin nameplate changes.

A light teal, indicates you are in the forward section of the ship.  A darker shade of blue means you are aft, and a blend of the two means you are in the middle.

Icon of the Seas cabin number
Icon of the Seas cabin number
Icon of the Seas cabin number

The idea is to provide a reference for where you are.  Perhaps you forgot exactly the cabin number you're looking for, but the visual cue of the color may spark your memory quicker.

Trellis bar has food

Trellis Bar

It's rare to find a bar on a Royal Caribbean ship that also serves food, but you should be aware there is a secret food menu at the Trellis Bar.

The Trellis Bar is not a new venue to Royal Caribbean. It's been the signature bar for Central Park on all of Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships, but those bars only served drinks.

Trellis Bar menu

On Icon of the Seas, there is a food menu too, where you can order mac & cheese poppers, steak bites, and fries. Perfect for noshing while you enjoy a few cocktails!

Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen menu items at Giovanni’s Wine Bar

Giovannis

Speaking of food at a bar, you might be interested to know you can order food from Giovanni's Italian Kitchen while seated at the bar.

This is more than just a way to snack like you can at the Trellis Bar, it's actually a hack to get around the restaurant being booked up.

If there's no reservations left for lunch or dinner because Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen is booked up, you can go to the bar and order the same food without any reservations required.

Walk to the back of the Windjammer for quieter seats

icon-windjammer

With a ship as big as Icon of the Seas, Royal Caribbean made the Windjammer buffet as big as possible too.

It can certainly get crowded (especially for breakfast), and seats get taken up quickly.

If you walk all the way to the back of the Windjammer, though, you will find a smaller seating area that tends to be much less crowded.

Pier 7 is free for kids

Pier 7

The sit-down specialty restaurant in the Surfside Neighborhood has one important difference from any other specialty restaurant.

Kids under the age of 12 are totally free, which means you only have to pay for the adults in your group (as well as any teenagers).

This makes it a far more affordable family dinner out if you don't have to worry about paying for the kids.

How to get a seat at Dueling Pianos

Dueling Pianos

Dueling Pianos is one of the most popular venues on Icon of the Seas and you'll quickly notice the place gets very busy to the point every single chair is taken up.

If you'd like to have seats and a table for your group, the key is to arrive early.  My advice is show up at least 30 minutes before the scheduled performance time to get a seat.  There will be people that arrive even earlier than that, especially for the earlier show times.

Dueling Pianos

If there is a performance at 11pm or later, it tends to be less busy and even people that have a table will start to head out as it gets closer to midnight.

Nonetheless, grab a table a half hour before show time (or earlier) just to be safe.

Binoculars

Binoculars

Hidden around Icon of the Seas are binoculars you can use to check out what's around.

Royal Caribbean wanted Icon of the Seas to be more outward facing than Oasis Class ships, and to that point, they added binoculars around the ship.

Binoculars

There's no cost to the binoculars. This is a fun activity for kids or adults to try to find them all and it is one of those hidden gems many guests simply overlook.

Did we miss any Icon of the Seas secrets? Share them in our comments!

I ate at every new restaurant on Icon of the Seas and here's how I would rank them

In:
12 Feb 2024

Icon of the Seas introduced new restaurants that serve up different cuisines, with some complimentary and others costing extra.

I tried Icon of the Seas restaurants

The first Icon Class ship has more than 20 dining venues onboard, and I was eager to try out all the new options. After all, it's an opportunity to see Royal Caribbean's take on these restaurants.

After sailing on Icon of the Seas for more than 10 days, I was able to visit the restaurants that did not previously exist on any other Royal Caribbean ship until Icon. If you want to see all the restaurants on Icon of the Seas, check out our list.

In this post, I've ranked each of the new restaurants in order of my preference. Of course, food is subjective and I am certain not everyone will agree with my opinions. 

1. Empire Supper Club

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club empty

As the most expensive specialty restaurant that Royal Caribbean has ever developed, you would probably have lofty expectations for the Empire Supper Club and I'm happy to say it matches up more than I could have expected.

Empire Supper Club is more than just another extra-cost restaurant, it's an entire dining experience that includes an 8-course meal, matching cocktails, and evening entertainment in one. The experience takes about three hours, and it has a formal dress requirement where men need to wear a jacket (yes, it's actually enforced).

Chilean sea bass

Inside the restaurant, you'll be serenaded by a jazz trio that perform musical standards synonymous with the first half of the 20th century in New York City. Gershwin, Sinatra, and the sort.

The music matches up with each course and cocktail you are served in an intimate dining experience. Unlike Chef's Table, you are not seated with others, but tables are very close. The entire restaurant can only accommodate 38 guests per night and there's just one seating.

While not inexpensive by any means, Empire Supper Club delivered a dining experience unlike anything we've had on a cruise ship and the food and cocktails were really darn good too.

Pros:

  • Fine cuisine. The Chilean Sea Bass might have been the best food I ate on Icon
  • Cocktails are varied and included in the cost
  • Entertainment adds so much to the dinner experience

Cons:

  • Three hour meal
  • Kids allowed, but no discounted pricing
  • Formal attire required
  • Most expensive restaurant you'll find on Icon of the Seas

2. Aquadome Market

aquadome-icon-5

Royal Caribbean's first food hall concept is located in the Aquadome neighborhood and it's instantly my new favorite complimentary restaurant.

The AquaDome Market has five stalls that offer different quick-serve cuisines, and it's a new concept to the cruise line. Royal Caribbean has had buffets and grab-and-go locations, but never a food hall.

The choices are:

  • Creme de la Crepe (French crepes)
  • Mac's (Macaroni and cheese)
  • Feta Mediterranean (Greek cuisine)
  • GNGR (Asian cuisine)
  • Toast and Garden (Sandwiches and salads)
aquadome-icon-1

You simply walk up to any of the food stalls and order what you'd like. There's no limit and all the menu options are included in your cruise fare.

By far Feta and Creme de la Crepe are the two best options available. The food is made fresh, and assembled exactly the way you'd like it.

Mac's and Toast and Garden are quite good too, if you're in the mood for that cuisine.  GNGR was a disappointment in the sense I felt the quality of food here was the same as the Windjammer buffet, whereas it felt like the rest of the stations had something different to offer.

Pros:

  • No extra cost
  • Added food variety that you cannot find elsewhere on the ship
  • Customizable food choices

Cons:

  • Not convenient to get to in most cases
  • Can get very busy, leading to long lines

3. Pier 7

Buddha bowl

If you're skipping the restaurants in the neighborhood dedicated to young families because you aren't cruising with kids, you're really missing out.

Pier 7 is a new specialty restaurant in the Surfside neighborhood that costs extra for adults, but is complimentary for kids under the age of 12.

Royal Caribbean calls the food at Pier 7, "California-inspired dishes," but I appreciate anytime we can get something more than just the usual cruise ship fare. You'll find surf-and-turf tacos, smoked salmon benedict and sharable platters. The Korean fried chicken and Buddha bowls were both favorites when I dined here.

Pier 7

The lunch and dinner menus differ, and there are brunch options too, if you're a late riser.

Kids under the age of 12 eat free, and everyone else pays a $14.99 cover charge for two plates in any category.

Pros:

  • Different cuisine choices that go well beyond burgers, hot dogs, and pizza
  • Kids are free
  • Brunch options

Cons:

  • Guests without kids may not enjoy venturing into Surfside
  • Outdoor seating is loud

4. Pearl Cafe

Pearl Cafe

Royal Caribbean replaced Cafe Promenade with an upgraded concept in Pearl Cafe. Think of Pearl Cafe as Cafe Promenade 3.0, as it builds on every aspect of this favorite venue.

Located behind The Pearl on the Royal Promenade, you'll find an assortment of grab-and-go options available 24 hours a day.  Plus, there are snacks you can pick up from ordering at the counter.  All the food here is included.

Pearl Cafe also includes complimentary coffee, tea, and other beverages.  There are extra-cost premium coffees available to order as well (and included in a drink package).

Pearl Cafe choices

The grab-and-go food is a revelation, as it makes it so easy to have a snack to enjoy immediately or bring back to your cabin to eat later. Plus, the snacks served behind the counter are significant upgrades in food quality from the ho-hum choices at Cafe Promenade.

Just as compelling as the food is the seating, as Royal Caribbean added giant glass windows that allow guests to enjoy a beautiful view with their coffee and snack. Plus, there are outlets underneath every single seat so you never have an excuse to leave. 

Pros:

  • Beautiful views
  • Convenient grab-and-go snacks offered 24 hours per day
  • Comfortable seating

Cons:

  • Coffee lines get long in the morning
  • Noise from Royal Promenade can impact enjoying this venue

5. Izumi in the Park

Izumi sushi from window on Icon of the Seas

In addition to the tried-and-true favorites at Izumi, Royal Caribbean has added a third dining option.

Izumi in the Park adds a walk-up window to get sushi and desserts without the fuss of reservations. A selection of sushi is made available, and you can purchase these items and take the food to eat in Central Park, in your cabin, or anywhere on the ship.

The concept is simple, and it's perfect for when you're in the mood for sushi but maybe the restaurant isn't open, or you just want something small to snack on.

Bubble cone

Don't overlook the Bubble Cones, which are soft waffles curved to hold ice cream and it's really darn good.

Pros:

  • Convenient way to eat sushi
  • Bubble cones are really good

Cons:

  • Not included in any dining package
  • Limited sushi choices compared to the sit down restaurant

6. The Grove

Food from The Grove

If you're a suite guest, there's a new dining venue exclusively available to you in the Suite Neighborhood.

The Grove is a buffet, but it's notable different from the Windjammer. You'll find "casual Mediterranean food" just steps away from the Suite Sundeck. This means there's a convenient dining choice if you're spending the day sunning yourself on one of the many loungers or in the whirlpool.

There's many different foods to pick from, including hot dogs wrapped in pretzels, caprese salad, watermelon and plenty of antipasto.

The grove

Essentially, this is to give anyone who spends their day in the suite area something to enjoy while still in their bathing suit and it's aways good to have more choices.

Pros:

  • Convenient for someone in the suite sun deck
  • Different and healthy food choices available

Cons:

  • Only available to suite guests
  • Probably not a restaurant you'll go out of your way to eat at

7. Surfside Eatery

surfside-icon-1

I think it's a genius idea to have a buffet that caters to kids, and that's exactly what Royal Caribbean has in Surfside.

Surfside Eatery ensures no kids (or their parents) go hungry with a buffet that offers more simple and kid-approved foods than you'll ever find at the Windjammer.

It's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it's a smorgasbord of chicken nuggets, quesadillas, hot dogs, pizza, and more. 

There's also food here for adults to enjoy that Royal Caribbean calls a twist on kids classics.

Pros:

  • More kid-friendly food than anywhere else
  • No added cost
  • Indoor and outdoor seating

Cons:

  • Kid food means don't expect high quality food
  • Outdoor seating is loud from Surfside

8. Desserted

Desserted

If you're in the mood for over-the-top desserts on Icon, head up to Desserted Milkshake Bar.

The menu consists of the most decadent desserts you can imagine, including milkshakes that have alcohol in them for the adults.

It's a creative menu, with the glasses they come in adorned with candy and toppings too.

There's also basic milkshakes you can order that cost less, as well as soda floats.

Pros:

  • Decadent desserts you won't find anywhere else
  • Located near pools for convenient break from a hot day
  • Option to add alcohol

Cons:

  • Not included with any drink package or dining package
  • Expensive

9. Surfside Bites

surfside-icon-8

If a buffet requires too much time, Royal Caribbean has your back with Surfside Bites.

Surfside Bites is next-door to the Surfside Eatery and it's a walk-up window where you can get on-demand snacks.

The menu includes burgers, popcorn chicken, cinnamon-sugar donut holes and more.

There's no frills here, just grab it and be on your way. This is the kind of food to get when your kids get hungry running around Splashaway Bay, but they don't want to leave the pool either.

Pros:

  • Very fast and convenient
  • Perfect for getting food to your kids before a full hangry meltdown occurs

Cons:

  • Limited menu
  • No seating

10. Basecamp

basecamp-icon

Basecamp is located in Thrill Island and it offers mostly extra-cost food in a convenient location for anyone who is enjoying Thrill Island or The Hideaway.

There are a few complimentary items on the menu, but they're limited and I doubt anyone will be able to subsist on those choices for a meal. A hot dog, tater tots, and pretzel bites are the only choices that cost nothing extra.

The rest of the menu is priced a la carte, and it includes a burger, chicken sandwich, cheese curds and more. The waffle chicken nuggets and cheese curds are really good.

Basecamp menu

Essentially, Basecamp is about being convenient.  It's closer than the Windjammer on the other side of the ship, and you can grab something here while in a bathing suit and then be able to go right back to the water slides or adults-only pool.

Pros:

  • Convenient to Thrill Island and The Hideaway neighborhoods
  • A few complimentary choices for a snack

Cons:

  • Extra-cost items are expensive

What about Celebration Table?

Celebration Table on Icon of the Seas
Photo by Beci Mahnken

Unfortunately, I did not get an opportunity to eat at Celebration Table, so I cannot include it in my rankings.

While I did not eat there, Beci Mahnken, President and CEO of MEI Travel, did get a chance to try it and I asked her for her quick synopsis.

"Recognizing the importance of intimate gatherings, Royal Caribbean has curated a unique dining experience onboard the Icon of the Seas, named the Celebration Table. With sophisticated decor and excellent service, it's an ideal setting for special occasions. "

"Whether it's a birthday, anniversary, or any celebration, Royal Caribbean has created a space for making cherished memories in a relaxed, private setting."

Salmon
Photo by Beci Mahnken

Celebration Table is a new choice where you pay to rent out the venue for you and up to 12 of your friends and family.

You have the choice of four different menus, and it's essentially a semi-private venue to book if you have a birthday, anniversary, or general party.

  • The American menu lays out comforting classics like crispy fried onion rings, coconut shrimp, Cajun chicken breast, BBQ meatloaf and peach cobbler.
  • The Asian menu offers an eclectic selection, such as chicken satay, vegetable rice, Korean-style grilled short ribs, chicken cashew, and sweet donuts.
  • The Italian Menu delivers well-known rustic delicacies, including bruschetta, meatballs with polenta, cavatappi sugo rossa, rigatoni all’amatriciana and tiramisu.
  • The Seafood Menu includes fresh and sumptuous faves like fried calamari, garlic mussels, shrimp alfredo, baked salmon and a Meyer lemon tarte.

The price starts at $999.99 for the rental.

10 side-by-side photos show Icon of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, at day and night

In:
09 Feb 2024

Icon of the Seas is truly a beautiful ship at both day and night.

Thrill Island and Surfside at day and night

In the morning, you can have breakfast in Central Park, take a dip in one of the seven pools or nine whirlpools, or attend a round of trivia.

At night, grab a bite to eat at one of the many new restaurants, check out a comedy show, or cheers with a drink while watching the sunset.

No matter what time of day, there’s so much to do and see on the world’s largest ship!

Here’s what some of the neighborhoods look like during the day and night onboard Icon of the Seas.

Chill Island

Chill Island on Icon of the Seas

Spread out across decks 15, 16, and 17, Chill Island features four of the seven pools onboard Icon of the Seas.

These pools include Royal Bay, the largest pool on Icon, Swim & Tonic, the first swim-up bar at sea, Cove Pool, and Cloud 17, both offering infinity ocean views. During the day, you’ll find many people relaxing in one of these pools. There are also so many chairs and loungers that you will have no problem finding one to call yours for the day.

Need a drink? Chill Island has three Lime & Coconut bars, and one of them has a new frozen cocktail bar. If you want a snack, El Loco Fresh and Cantina Fresca isn’t far!

Chill Island on Icon of the Seas

The pools at Chill Island are not busy at night (because a lot of them do close around 7 or 8 p.m., although Cloud 17 is usually open until 11 p.m.), but that doesn’t mean this neighborhood isn’t the place to go when the sun goes down.

To get the night started, there’s a bandstand and DJ that plays tunes during the sailaway parties.

The whirlpools are open 24 hours a day, so this is a great place to wind down for the day. And, there was a time or two during my cruise when there were late-night parties on the pool deck, like the “Too Wet Feet with a Caribbean Beat” party at Royal Bay.

Oftentimes, Chill Island was very much a chill place at night.

Central Park

Central Park on Icon of the Seas

Perhaps the most peaceful place on Icon of the Seas is Central Park on deck eight.

With four plant walls that are five decks high, Central Park is stunning. There’s a total of 30,550 plants to admire! I enjoyed having an infinite balcony cabin that overlooked this gorgeous neighborhood.

Read more: I stayed in a 200-square-foot room on the world's largest cruise ship, where there's a new kind of balcony. Here's what it's like inside.

There are a few specialty restaurants located here, like Chops Grille, Izumi, and Empire Supper Club, as well as bars like Lou’s Jazz ‘n Blues, Bubbles, and Trellis Bar.

Some mornings, I would stop by the Park Café for breakfast. The egg sandwiches, bagel bar, and fresh fruit were all a great way to start my day. There was another afternoon when I tried the cookies & cream bubble cone at Izumi in the Park. It was so good and one of my favorite treats onboard Icon of the Seas!

I believe at night is when Central Park comes to life. One night, I sat at the Trellis Bar with a cocktail and just watched what was going on around me. It was calming and I couldn’t get over how beautiful the whole neighborhood was.

During the inaugural sailing, I was able to enjoy dinner at both Izumi and Empire Supper Club. Both dinners were excellent and worth the upcharge, in my opinion.

Read more: I dined at Royal Caribbean’s most expensive restaurant: I didn't expect to like it as much as I did

Surfside

Surfside on Icon of the Seas

Surfside is a brand new neighborhood for young families that was introduced on Icon of the Seas.

Located on deck seven, families will find three water experiences at Surfside, including Water’s Edge for adults and Splashaway Bay and Baby Bay for kids. In addition to pools, you’ll find places to eat, like Surfside Eatery, Surfside Bites, Pier 7, and Sugar Beach. There’s also a bar with drinks for kids and adults called The Lemon Post.

What’s great about Surfside is that it’s conveniently located by Adventure Ocean, the kids club found on every Royal Caribbean ship.

As you can imagine, this neighborhood is much busier in the day. The few times I stopped by at night, there was hardly anyone there! I think that is because the kids were probably in bed by then.

During the day, kids can stop by the arcade (which is open 24 hours), take a ride on the carousel, and crawl around on the Playscape jungle gym. At night, there were a few events that took place, such as “Once Upon a Bedtime Story” and the “Family Dance Party,” but most events were during the day.

Overall, I found that this neighborhood was never really that busy. This could be because I sailed at the end of January when kids are typically in school - this will probably change as time goes on, especially during the summer months.

Royal Promenade

Royal Promenade on Icon of the Seas

The Royal Promenade on Icon of the Seas is the first to feature floor-to-ceiling windows and two connecting decks (decks five and six).

While the Royal Promenade is found on many Royal Caribbean ships, the promenade on Icon of the Seas has lots of new venues, like Dueling Pianos, 1400 Lobby Bar, The Pearl, Spotlight Karaoke, and more.

Both day and night, you will find so much to do and experience in the Royal Promenade! 

In the morning, you will often find a long line at Starbucks, people shopping for Icon of the Seas merchandise, or grabbing something to eat at The Pearl Café. The Pearl Café is a beautiful spot to sit and watch the ocean, so be sure to stop here at least once on your cruise.

At night, The Royal Promenade is bustling! I found that the busiest places were Dueling Pianos, the Point & Feather pub, and The Attic comedy club. Because these venues are not super big, I highly recommend getting to all of the shows extra early to secure a spot, and be sure to make reservations as soon as you can for all of the shows that require one.

Read more: Mastering your Icon of the Seas cruise with the best tips

AquaDome

AquaDome on Icon of the Seas

The AquaDome neighborhood includes more than just the AquaTheatre. Here you will also find The Overlook, Rye & Bean coffee bar, Hooked Seafood, and the first food hall for Royal Caribbean: the AquaDome Market.

The busiest time in the AquaDome was at night when “Aqua Action!” was being performed. This show is breathtaking and a must-see onboard Icon of the Seas. This was the only aqua show being performed during the inaugural sailing, but down the road, there will be another one called “Pirates vs Mermaids.”

I ate at the AquaDome Market frequently during my cruise. I usually went for dinner, and it was hardly ever busy. But, Crème de la Crepe was popular at night for a late-night snack! If you want to avoid the lines, I would recommend coming to the AquaDome Market at night.

The Overlook on Icon of the Seas

The Overlook is a unique spot on Icon of the Seas. This area is usually busier during the daytime because people can view the ocean from one of the pods. But, the Overlook bar is open until 9 p.m. and if you’re lucky enough to snag one of the pods, this is a great place to enjoy a cocktail. 

Thrill Island

Thrill Island on Icon of the Seas

The highlight of Thrill Island is Category 6, the largest waterpark at sea at more than 17,000 square feet, which consists of six waterslides. The Category 6 waterpark is open until 9 p.m., but I found that it was busiest during the day.

During my cruise, I tried Frightening Bolt, the tallest drop slide at sea, and Pressure Drop, the first open freefall slide at sea. They were both exhilarating! Neither of them had long lines, but I saw the family raft slides (Hurrican Hunter and Storm Surge) had long lines.

Guests will also find Crown’s Edge near the waterpark. Crown’s Edge is a ropes course that hangs over the side of the ship and has a drop that is 154 feet above the ocean. I conquered Crown’s Edge at night, which was a fun and somewhat scary experience. I think it would be even more thrilling to do during the day!

Also at Thrill Island is the classic FlowRider surf simulator, mini golf (called Lost Dunes), and rock climbing (called Adrenaline Peak). These activities are most popular during the day.

The Hideaway

The Hideaway on Icon of the Seas

The Hideaway is the adults-only area on Icon of the Seas. You can come here to enjoy some fun music from the DJ, relax in one of the two hot tubs, or swim in the first suspended infinity pool at sea.

During my cruise, I had the opportunity to rent one of the Hideaway Pool daybeds for the entire day. While there, I got an idea of how busy The Hideaway was throughout the day.

Read more: I tried the $350 in-pool daybed rental on Icon of the Seas. It was pricey, but you get a prime spot

The Hideaway was not busy in the early morning. The pool opened at 10 a.m., and there were a few people either in the pool or grabbing loungers. By the afternoon, the entire Hideaway was hopping! Lots of people were in the pool, almost every chair was claimed, and the DJ was busting upbeat tunes.

Even around dinner time (5 p.m.), there were people still swimming and lounging in the chairs. I didn’t think it would be busy at this time, but as it got closer to closing (9 p.m.), not many people were there anymore.

If you want to enjoy The Hideaway with fewer people, I would recommend getting there close to opening at 10 a.m. or after dinner around 7 or 8 p.m.

Where is your favorite place, day or night, on Icon of the Seas? Let us know in the comments!

How over 6,000 people are served meals every day on the world's largest cruise ship

In:
07 Feb 2024

Cruise ships are a lot of mini-cities, including having to feed thousands of people during the course of a voyage.

Galley tour

Every week, up to 7,600 people vacation on Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, which holds the title of the world's largest cruise ship. That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in-between.

There are 23 total kitchens (referred to as galleys on a cruise ship) to serve 27 restaurants.

icon-main-dining-room

At the heart of Icon's meal service is the Main Dining Room, which serves 6,000 guests in a three and a half hour time frame. There are 425 chefs onboard Icon of the Seas, with 45 people working in the Main Dining Room galley on deck 3 alone.

Supplying, prepping, and serving that many meals every day is not a simple feat. Royal Caribbean has to have enough food so it doesn't run out without over ordering and wasting food. Then it has to get supplies in place every week, and sometimes the demographics for one sailing may require different amounts of food than another.

All of the ship's food is sourced from the ship's homeport in Miami. 

Icon arrives in Miami

In fact, there's enough food on Icon of the Seas not just for one cruise, but three cruises. The idea is there is enough food on hand in case the ship needs to go in a different direction so there is enough for extra days.

Every week new supplies are brought onboard, but some items may only be sourced every two weeks. Cheeses, herbs, and berries are examples of food that is brought onboard every week because those do not last as long.

Frozen items, such as prime rib or fish, are brough every two or three weeks.

Icon of the Seas galley

So what happens if they end up running short on one item? The ship can call to headquarters to assist in re-supplying at one of the ports of call the ship is visiting. 

The actual food is sourced from all around the world, including locally. Royal Caribbean Vice President Food & Beverage, Linken D'Souza, describes it as a very complex operation, "We are always looking to source local. And so the last couple of years we've shifted a lot of our purchasing very domestically within marketplace."

"Fresh ingredients have always been the case, but now we've really shifted, whether it's here or in Europe and Australia and China, my team goes out and we go out to the marketplace and we'll literally go and match products against our US products and say, okay, what works for us? How do we buy locally?"

Galley tour

All of this isn't cheap to do.  Royal Caribbean wouldn't share numbers, but suffice to say, Mr. D'Souza referred to the number as being, "a lot."

"We've got crew members and guests on board. On a full sailing, over 10,000 people on board the ship. We spend a lot of money to make sure we look after the guests from food and beverage standpoint and supplies."

Food is the second highest expense for Royal Caribbean after fuel. According to Royal Caribbean Group's financial disclosures, the company spent $307 million on fuel in the first quarter of 2024.

How much food is brought on a cruise ship?

Chef in Action

Ever wonder which foods are the most popular on a cruise ship? 

Icon of the Seas needs enough food for all of its recipes, as well as food to be available on its own.  A tomato can be cut up and served individually or as part of a stew, sauce, or salad.

According to Royal Caribbean's executive chefs, rice, potato, lobster, tenderloin, filet mignon and especially prime rib are the most popular items on Icon of the Seas.

Tomahawk steak

About 20,000 lbs of rice, and 2,500 lbs of prime rib are used every cruise.

In an effort to better predict how much food the ship will need, the Food & Beverage team looks at the demographic of who is booked and guest count for the next sailing. Meaning, if there's more guests from Mexico on a given sailing, the crew will plan to offer more Mexican food onboard.

The exact quantity of food depends on amount of guests and demographic.

Icon of the Seas has the best kitchens yet

Icon of the Seas galley

One of the benefits of being a brand new cruise ship is having access to the best of the best, including machinery.

Icon has plenty of guest-facing innovations, and that trend applies to the kitchens too, "If you go to the production areas, the equipment that we've introduced here for the first time, never seen on our ships before," said Mr. D'Souza.

"Things like machines that can take a whole piece of steak, cut it into portions, cut fish into portions, vegetable slicers, things that we just haven't had historically on ship."

Galley

These machines replace functions that were traditionally done by hand.

On the upcoming Utopia of the Seas, Mr. D'Souza indicated will have a laser guided water gun that uses high pressure water to cut pieces of cake.

This technology makes the work easier for crew members, and he believes that moves crew members closer to the guest experience and that adds value to the guest experience.

"We're bringing some pretty new and exciting, innovative technology to really take even our back of the house processes up from what we've historically done."

The most highly regulated food service operation on the planet

Icon of the Seas galley

With an operation as large as Icon of the Seas, food safety is paramount to the cruise line.

Mr. D'Souza said cruise ship kitchens are the most regulated food service operation that you'll find, "we are the most highly regulated food service operation on the planet."

The United States Public Health Service has a division known as the Vessel Sanitation Program, which acts as a cooperative activity with the cruise ship industry.

"When we get inspected for food safety, we have 7 to 8 uniformed officers that board the vessel and they do a full inspection top to bottom."

Icon galley tour

Mr. D'Souza is quite proud of the work his culinary team does and says there's nothing like it at any restaurant near you, "You will never find a restaurant on land that looks like this. Top to bottom, stainless steel, spotless floors, clean. Everything is in order."

"You don't see this on land, because we have very high standards for our guests, and you have very high standards from a government agency body to make sure that we have the highest quality execution, cleanest kitchens, high quality safe food, hand holding equipment, etc."

War on food waste

Reducing food waste serves two primary purposes: it ensures there is less food that ends up in a garbage can and it saves Royal Caribbean money.

The cruise line introduced a program called, "Win on Waste", which serves to evaluate food consumption on a cruise ship and make adjustments so there is less food used that doesn't end up consumed.

Royal Caribbean Group has previously announced it will reduce food waste across the fleet by 50% by 2025. In summer 2023, Royal Caribbean Group reported it already has been able to achieve a 24% reduction in food waste by focusing on the front end of the food system, which prevents and addresses many of the main causes of food waste, including inventory management and over-preparing.

Cruise ship galley

With this new program, chefs can see what's been produced, consumed, wasted, and even repurposed. It helps give better data to the chefs, so they can understand how to make adjustments for the next production. 

Royal Caribbean is actually leveraging AI to take into account unused food scrap weight and predict how much food the ship will need for the next sailing.

Read more: Royal Caribbean's clever idea using AI to get help on the world's largest cruise ship

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