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

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.


  • 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


  • 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


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)

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.


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


  • 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.


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


  • 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. 


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


  • 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.


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


  • 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.


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


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

7. Surfside Eatery


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.


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


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

8. 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.


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


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

9. Surfside Bites


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.


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


  • Limited menu
  • No seating

10. Basecamp


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.


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


  • 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."

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

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 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 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

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.


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."


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

Icon of the Seas vs other Royal Caribbean cruise ships

06 Feb 2024

While you'll find some similarities and brand favorites onboard, Icon of the Seas is full of industry firsts and unlike any other vessel at sea. Besides the size, are you wondering what sets the world's largest cruise ship apart? 

Icon of the Seas

The 250,800 gross registered ton vessel officially set sail on January 27, 2024 on a 7-night voyage to the Eastern Caribbean. In total, Icon can hold up to 7,600 passengers and is roughly 10 feet longer than Wonder of the Seas, measuring 1,198 feet in length. 

From the first-ever swim-up bar at sea to the record-breaking Category 6 water park, new neighborhoods, one-of-a-kind dining experiences, and more, there's so much to see and do onboard that one week likely won't be enough time to experience everything! 

Whether you're counting down the days until you step foot onboard or are simply curious as to what the major differences are, here's a guide to help break down all of the features on Icon of the Seas that you won't find on any other ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet. 

Split-level promenade 

Royal Promenade on Icon of the Seas

While the Royal Promenade itself isn't a new feature (it has been around since Voyager of the Seas launched in 1999), they completely redesigned it for Icon. For the first time, the Royal Promenade is a multi-level space, with bars, restaurants, etc., on Decks 5 and 6. 

As soon as you step foot onboard, you'll notice one of the most significant additions: floor-to-ceiling windows. Royal Caribbean sought to make the Promenade more connected to the ocean, so they added windows to let light flood in during the day. 

There are over 15 new and redesigned bars, lounges, and restaurants in the Royal Promenade, including 1400 Lobby Bar, Pearl Café, and Dueling Pianos, the cruise line's first-ever double-pianist bar. Each night, two performers will take requests and involve guests in the musical fun. 

The Pearl


We cannot talk about the Royal Promenade without mentioning The Pearl, an interactive, multi-sensory experience that also serves as structural support. 

In other words, to allow for the giant windows, Royal Caribbean had to figure out a way to support the staterooms above it, as well as Central Park, since a giant chunk of steel would be missing. 

The giant masterpiece changes throughout the day, too. The experience that it offers during the morning will differ from what's offered at night or even when the ship is docked at CocoCay!

Pearl Cafe

Adjacent to The Pearl is the Pearl Café, the revamped version of Cafe Promenade that serves complimentary grab-and-go snacks 24 hours a day, as well as some options for an extra fee. 

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

Destination elevators


Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas has destination elevators onboard to combat crowded cruise ship elevators. 

Rather than simply pressing "up" or "down" in the elevator bank, you'll be required to make a deck selection. Then, you'll be assigned a specific elevator that will take you where you want to go. 

Chief Dog Officer Rover


Perhaps the cutest addition to Icon of the Seas is the ship's Chief Dog Officer, Rover, whose primary job is to bring joy to guests and crew. 

Rover is an adorable six-month-old golden retriever who lives onboard the ship with her handler Alison Hubble, AKA "Rover's Chief of Staff." She loves to play with her ball and even blow bubbles in the clear Bahamian waters while visiting Perfect Day at CocoCay

You never know when you'll spot Rover while onboard, but when you do, do not be afraid to give her some pets! 

Read more: World's largest cruise ship will have a family dog that lives on the ship

AquaDome Neighborhood


Perched atop Decks 14 and 15 is the brand-new AquaDome Neighborhood. In addition to being home to the ship's enclosed AquaTheater, this is also where you'll find other Royal Caribbean firsts, including the Rye & Bean Bar and Overlook Bar & Pods.

This area is outfitted with two stories of floor-to-ceiling windows, making it the place to be when pulling into port or when you want to catch a picture-perfect sunset. 

The pods are ideal for those who want a more relaxed vibe during the day. At night, however, the energy changes as the bars become a hotspot for pre-show drinks. 

Night in Overlook

You'll find three dining experiences within the AquaDome, two of which are brand-new: Celebration Table and AquaDome Market. 

AquaDome Market


In the past, Royal Caribbean has gotten its fair share of criticism regarding the lack of complimentary fast-casual dining options on its ships. They took the feedback to heart and incorporated more options into the design plans of Icon. 

Within the AquaDome, guests will find the AquaDome Market, the cruise line's first-ever food hall. Its location in the front of the ship isn't a coincidence, as it's meant to help disperse crowds from the Windjammer and El Loco Fresh in the aft (back). 


Inside AquaDome Market, you'll find five different stalls, each highlighting a different cuisine or specific food:

  • Mac's (Mac and cheese)
  • Crème de la Crèpe (Crèpes) 
  • Toast & Garden (Sandwiches and salads)
  • GNGR (Asian) 
  • Feta (Mediterranean)

Read more: Icon of the Seas restaurant and dining guide

Empire Supper Club

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club empty

AquaDome Market isn't the only new dining venue onboard Icon. For those looking for a more upscale option, head to Central Park, where you'll find the Empire Supper Club. Dining here will set you back $200 per person; however, you're guaranteed a one-of-a-kind culinary experience that consists of eight unique courses, each of which is paired with a cocktail and live music! 

The menu was inspired by the 1930s era of New York City and features upscale American cuisine— think of items like caviar, wagyu steak, and more. Empire Supper Club is both chic and intimate, with a maximum capacity of 38 guests during each dinner service. 

Note that if you purchase the Unlimited Dining Package, you'll have to pay an additional $130 to eat here.


In Central Park, you'll find Lou's Jazz n' Blues and the walk-up champagne bar called Bubbles. Both venues are perfect for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail! 

There's also the first-ever Izumi to-go window, which allows you to enjoy fresh sushi from anywhere on the ship. 

Surfside Neighborhood


Instead of the Boardwalk found onboard Oasis Class ships, Royal Caribbean created a new neighborhood for families: Surfside. With both complimentary and specialty dining venues, an arcade, carousel, aft pool, kids' splash zone, and more, this is where families are encouraged to stay and play all day.

Rather than having to remove children from the fun, parents can grab a snack at the complimentary Surfside Bites. Even better, there's the Surfside Eatery, a buffet in the heart of the action so you don't have to worry about hauling anyone to the Windjammer upstairs.

Surfside is also home to a new specialty restaurant, Pier 7. For just $14.99, adults can select two plates. Options include shrimp toastads, grilled cheese, caramel waffles, and more. Children 12 and under eat free. 


The Lemon Post Bar is also brand-new and features a curated menu of mocktails for children. It's located close to Splashaway Bay and Baby Bay.

Ultimate Family Townhouse

Ultimate Family Townhouse

There are numerous different stateroom categories for guests who want to be close to Surfside, such as the Surfside Family View Interior and Surfside Family View Balcony cabins, as well as the Surfside Family Suite. However, families wanting the ultimate cabin experience onboard should consider booking the Ultimate Family Townhouse

This three-story mega-suite is equipped with everything from an in-suite slide to a movie room, interactive dining table, and "backyard" that leads directly to Surfside. 

As expected, this room isn't cheap. In fact, it is the most expensive cabin on any Royal Caribbean ship, with prices in 2024 averaging around $80,000 for a week. 

Infinite balcony cabins

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

Icon of the Seas is the first ship in the fleet to feature infinite balconies, a concept that first debuted on Celebrity Cruises' Edge Class. 

Infinite balconies differ from standard cruise ship balcony rooms. Whereas the latter has a door that opens up to a personal outdoor veranda, infinite balconies were designed to bring passengers closer to the ocean by essentially turning the entire stateroom into a balcony.

There's no exterior portion of the stateroom. Instead, there's a large floor-to-ceiling window that opens with the push of a button. 

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.

Shower stalls

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

Capsule showers with sliding doors are common on Royal Caribbean ships. On Icon, however, you'll find a larger shower with an integrated seat that isn't tucked into the corner of the bathroom. 

Moreover, the towel rack isn't located above the toilet. Instead, you'll find it above the seat in the shower, meaning that you're able to dry off before stepping out. 

Another new design aspect you'll find in the cabins is the do not disturb buttons. 

Thrill Island

Thrill Island

It wouldn't be a true Royal Caribbean ship if there weren't a ton of "WOW" factors onboard. 

Adrenaline junkies should look no further than Thrill Island, which is home to the largest water park at sea, as well as the Crown's Edge challenge that's part skywalk, part ropes course, and part zip line. The latter is subject to an additional fee, meaning it isn't included in the cost of your cruise fare

In between all the action, guests can grab a bite to eat at Basecamp or cool down with a specialty milkshake from Desserted, both of which are new to the cruise line. 

Chill Island

Swim and Tonic

The pool deck on Icon was completely reimagined and dubbed "Chill Island." The idea behind the new concept was that guests would have multiple different options on how they wanted to relax by the water. The result? A pool deck that has 62% more water surface area than on Oasis Class ships. 

In addition to the largest pool at sea that's surrounded by hot tubs, there's also the first-ever swim-up bar called "Swim & Tonic." 

Guests can also enjoy The Cove Pool, which has an infinity edge, so families can enjoy time in the water while soaking up incredible ocean views. 

The Hideaway

The Hideaway in the morning

Speaking of infinity pools, passengers 18+ can enjoy the first suspended infinity pool at sea in The Hideaway. 

There isn't a Solarium onboard Icon; however, that doesn't mean that the cruise line took away the adults-only sun deck! In addition to the infinity pool, there's also a private bar and DJ to help curate beach club vibes. 

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

New cocktails


Icon of the Seas has 13 new bars and lounges that feature over 100 new cocktails, 35 of which are zero-proof. These beverages are exclusive to the ship, so you won't find them on any menus while sailing onboard Symphony of the Seas, for example. 

From the "Oh Mai Gawd" cocktail located at The Hideaway Bar to the Jazzy Sass cocktail from Lou's Jazz 'n Blues, you're likely going to venture away from your tried-and-true favorites while on Icon. 

The cocktail glasses are new, too. They aren't the same shape as you will find on other ships in the fleet. 

Read more: I designed 13 new bar menus for the world's largest cruise ship. There's way more than just pina coladas

Icon of the Seas is the first ship in the fleet to be LNG-powered


Traditionally, cruise ships have been powered by diesel. In an effort to be more environmentally friendly, many new builds have begun to run on alternative sources of energy, including Icon of the Seas. 

This ship is powered by liquified natural gas (LNG). This type of fuel is one of the cleanest-burning marine fuels and helps to reduce a cruise ship’s carbon emissions by roughly 30%. 

One Hit Wonders Party (featuring the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man)


The One Hit Wonders Party is a new street dance party that takes place in the Royal Promenade. 

While guests are encouraged to participate, there's also entertainment staff performing choreographed dances to songs like "We Like To Party!" by the Vengabus, "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley, "Closing Time" by Semisonic, and "The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats. 

Two-story Coastal Kitchen


Coastal Kitchen is the suite-only dining room that's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Onboard Icon, it's two stories and overlooks the AquaTheater. On all other ships in the fleet, the venue is just a single story. 

Suite guests also have access to The Grove Suite Sun Deck where they can enjoy a bite to eat at the new fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant.  

If you want to enjoy these amenities, you must book a Sky or Star tier suite within the Royal Suite Class

Crew uniforms

icon crew uniform
icon crew uniform

Above is a picture of the new Officer uniforms that were implemented onboard Icon of the Seas. 

Speaking of crew members, did you know that Royal Caribbean built a crew neighborhood on Icon that spans four decks and features redesigned accommodations to maximize privacy and storage? Plus, the crew Windjammer has actual windows to bring in some natural light! 

Read more: Royal Caribbean is adding the best crew member cabins and areas on its next new cruise ship

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

05 Feb 2024

Icon of the Seas introduced many exciting new restaurants and bars to the Royal Caribbean fleet, including the highly-anticipated Empire Supper Club.

Empire Supper Club on Icon of the Seas

The Empire Supper Club is an eight-course meal described as “an evening of glitz and glamour, where cuisine is an occasion, cocktails are celebrations, and sultry live jazz is your host.” When you step foot in the venue, you will be transported to New York City in the 1930s.

During the inaugural sailing, I had the chance to try all the unique food and cocktail pairings to see whether it was worth the $200 price tag.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club

Of course, this review is highly subjective and based on my personal preferences. Another thing to note before I start the review: I told the restaurant ahead of time that I do not eat seafood. Because of this, I indulged in a few meals that were not listed on the menu.

If you have any food allergies or dietary restrictions, it's extremely important to inform them beforehand so they can prepare different meals for you. Gluten-free, lactose-free, and vegetarian options are available. 

The restaurant was very accommodating and the substitutions, in my opinion, were equally as enticing as the original menu.

What to know before dining at the Empire Supper Club

There are a few important things to know before you book a dinner at the Empire Supper Club.

First, guests with the Unlimited Dining Package can dine here for an additional $130. All other guests will have to pay the $200 cover price. There are no discounts for guests with the Deluxe Beverage Package or Crown and Anchor status. 

The experience includes a specialty cocktail with each course. The price is the same if you opt to have non-alcoholic drinks during the dinner.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club empty

Second, tables are for parties of two to four people. If you are eating with more than four people, you will have to sit at separate tables. There are no age restrictions, as guests under 12 years old are welcome to dine at the Empire Supper Club. A maximum of 38 people can dine here, so it's a small venue. 

Third, the dress code is formal. Many of us who dined at the Empire Supper Club wore black attire, whether it was a dress or jumpsuit. For men, it's required to wear a suit jacket. If you do not have one, Royal Caribbean will apparently lend you one.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club plate

Lastly, the dinner will take three hours. For us, it was from 6 to 9 p.m. Punctuality is required, and doors open 10 minutes before your dining time.

Empire Supper Club review

The Empire Supper Club is located right outside Central Park on deck eight. It makes sense that the venue was placed near the New York-inspired Central Park!

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club

The menu consisted of American cuisine inspired by the 1930s era of New York City. 

As mentioned above, each dish was paired with a special cocktail that you can't find anywhere else on Icon. You can select your main course and dessert, but the appetizers have a set menu.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club menu

Throughout the evening, the American Standards Trio, which consisted of a singer, piano player, and double bass player, performed “sophisticated jazz selections specially curated for the night.”

The music was lovely to hear when we were eating. The music didn’t distract from our table conversation for the most part, but rather, it created a classy atmosphere. My personal favorite music selections included Rhapsody in Blue, Beyond the Sea, and New York, New York.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club

Here’s everything I ate and drank during my evening, along with my thoughts on everything I tasted. Royal Caribbean Blog founder himself, Matt Hochberg, accompanied me during this culinary journey.

Starter #1: Amuse-bouche

This hors d'œuvre resembled a small bagel with cream cheese - it was the perfect way to start the meal. It's meant to be a palate cleanser, and I found it to be very tasty. I requested to not have caviar on top, so mine had onions that looked like caviar. I wish I could’ve had another one!

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club appetizer

Starter #2: Spicy pecan bread with honey

I was very excited to have some bread, but I was slightly worried when I heard it was spicy. I do not like super spicy foods, but I wanted to try it anyway. I am so glad I did because it was warm, pillow-soft, and not too spicy at all - there was just a little zing. The butter was also divine.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club bread

Drink #1: Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut

To celebrate the beginning of a wonderful meal, we all toasted with a glass of champagne. I am not much of a champagne drinker, but I liked this particular champagne!

Empire Supper Club champagne toast

Appetizer #1: Oysters

The oysters are described as: "Crispy oysters Rockefeller, chorizo Bearnaise, sundried Romas, micro basil."

Empire Supper Club oysters

Substitute: Quinoa salad

The quinoa salad included avocado and beets, as well as edible flowers. This is something I never would've ordered for myself, but I am glad I tried it. I had no complaints about it, but it wasn’t my favorite thing to eat.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club salad

Drink #2: Staten Island Spritz

This drink had Tito’s vodka, Campari liqueur, limoncello, orange juice, and champagne. It was a pretty-looking drink, but it wasn’t as sweet as I would’ve liked it. Matt agreed with me that it needed more flavor.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club spritz

Appetizer #2: Raviolo

I liked the raviolo (which had a soft yolk, spinach, crisp guanciale, shaved bottarga, and Parmigiano) much better than the quinoa salad. I wasn’t a fan of the egg yolk when it oozed out from the middle, but I ate around it and it was still tasty.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club raviolo

Drink #3: Blood & Sand

This drink had Dewar’s scotch, cherry Heering, sweet vermouth, and orange juice. I enjoyed this drink, and it was my favorite up until this point. Matt commented how he really liked this drink too!

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club cocktail

Appetizer #3: Langoustine

The lobster is described as: "Butter poached, Champagne, Osetra caviar, basil emulsion."

Empire Supper Club lobster

Substitute: Saffron risotto

The risotto was my favorite appetizer of all of the ones I tried. It was creamy with tomatoes on top. I would’ve liked more of this because I ate it all in less than 10 bites!

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club risotto

Drink #4: East of Houston

This drink had Botanist gin, lemon juice, honey syrup, orange bitters, and champagne. I liked how refreshing it was. It didn’t have a strong alcohol taste, which I appreciated.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club drink

Appetizer #4: Empire Caesar salad

The Caesar salad is described as, "Parmesan tuile, purple orchid, pink peppercorn."

While I didn’t eat the Caesar salad, I do have to say it looked very pretty. Look at that crouton arch!

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club salad

Substitute: Mushroom soup

The soup was great! The bowl was so tiny that I ate it pretty quickly. I thought the soup tasted like the one at Chops Grille, so I asked the waitress and she confirmed it was from Chops Grille.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club soup

Palate cleanser: Sorbet

I found this sorbet to be quite yummy. Although I didn’t know the flavor of it, I guessed it was either strawberry or raspberry. The sorbet also had some boba in it, which I didn’t eat because I am not a boba fan.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club sorbet

Drink #5: New York Sour

This drink had Bulleit Bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg whites, and claret wine. I thought the “E” ice cube was a cute touch. The drink itself was pretty good, but not my favorite compared to drinks #3 and #4.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club sour

Main course: Steak

The Wagyu ribeye was excellent! I got the peppercorn sauce on the side and I think that made the steak even better. The pieces were small, but I savored every bite. I only wish I could’ve had more! 

It was served with fondant potatoes and sauteed morels.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club steak

Matt ordered the rabbit (leg and loin duo, mustard cream, baby carrots, pistachio dust), and I was curious to try it. I thought it tasted similar to chicken but much more chewy. Let's just say I am glad I got the steak!

Empire Supper Club rabbit

Matt was also able to try the seabass (mousseline of parsnip, red beets, candy citrus), which he liked way more than the rabbit.

Empire Supper Club seabass

Drink #6: Toasted Almond

This drink had Tito’s vodka, Kahlua, amaretto, heavy cream, and grated nutmeg. I loved having this drink during dessert. After trying all the drinks, this one was my favorite! I am a big fan of cocktails with Kalua and heavy cream so it makes sense that this was my top pick. This drink paired well with the chocolate desserts.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club cocktail

Dessert #1: Cheesecake

Our waitress said since there were two of us, she typically likes to bring out the cheesecake and beehive so we can try both of them.

I liked the crust of the cheesecake, which was made of white chocolate. Matt commented that he loved the dulce de leche gelato it came with. I agreed, and I would say this cheesecake is even better than the cheesecake at Chops Grille.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club cheesecake

Dessert #2: Chocolate Beehive

This dessert was my absolute favorite. All the ganache layers blended together to create a delicious chocolate delicacy! The mango sauce, salted caramel toffee, and honey tuile made this dessert out of this world. If only I could order just this beehive whenever I wanted!

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club chocolate beehive

Dessert #3: Chocolate Tree

This last dessert was not listed on the menu and was a complete surprise. All the chefs came out carrying these tall plates of cotton candy. When it was set on the table, I noticed it was a chocolate tree with cotton candy as the leaves! I was already so full by this point that I didn’t try all of the chocolates, but what I did have was very good.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club tree

More thoughts on the experience

The meal itself was very enjoyable and I loved the jazz music in the background. Sometimes the music was loud and other times it was quiet - I found that it corresponded with when we were eating versus the downtime between each course/drink. The band did take a break before the main course.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club

The way I would describe the lighting is moody. Each table had a little light that could be adjusted to a different brightness. We had ours on the lowest setting so it gave just a little bit of light when we wanted to look at the menu. 

The lights would turn on during some of the courses and I thought this was on purpose. We asked and it appeared that this wasn’t on purpose - I think they were experimenting with the lighting to see how we would react.

Empire Supper Club seating

If you try to go to the bathroom anytime during the meal, someone will escort you to the bathroom. When Matt left for the bathroom, a waiter came over and replaced the towel that was in his lap with a new one. How fancy!

Another small thing I liked was how I could hang up my bag with the hook they placed on the table instead of putting my bag on the floor or on my chair.

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club purse

Is the Empire Supper Club worth the extra cost?

After leaving the Empire Supper Club, I concluded right away that it was worth $200 per person.

When you account for each drink (assuming they’re $14 each, which is what Royal Caribbean charges for cocktails), that totals $84. The other $116 accounts for all the appetizers, desserts, main course, and entertainment. I would say that is a fair price!

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club menu

I heard a lot of people compare this experience to Chef’s Table, a specialty dining option offered on most Royal Caribbean sailings. At Chef’s Table, you sit at a large table with other people and enjoy a five-course meal with wine pairings. There is no entertainment included. I have personally never done Chef’s Table, but I would assume Empire Supper Club is similar in some ways.

Empire Supper Club menu

With Empire Supper Club, you sit at your own table and listen to jazz music while you eat. It was an intimate experience and it didn't feel like we were on a cruise ship! I've never had an experience like this on land or at sea. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my Empire Supper Club dinner and would recommend it to others. It's the perfect option for those who want to splurge on a special night out with family and friends.

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

05 Feb 2024

The very first cruise on Icon of the Seas is in the books, and going on a maiden voyage of a new ship is unlike other sailings.

Icon of the Seas arrival

Royal Caribbean treats its inaugural cruises like a big party. You'll notice things that stand out from pretty much any other sailing.  This is because a new ship is a really big deal.

As a company, so many resources have been dedicated for years to make the new ship a reality and the culmination of those efforts is welcoming passengers onboard. Plus, it's an excuse to celebrate.

Read more: Icon of the Seas guide

Matt on Icon of the Seas

I've sailed on a few inaugural voyages so far, but Icon's stood out in a few ways. If you're considering trying an inaugural sailing in the future, here's what Royal Caribbean did on Icon.

Champagne when you board

Logo shop on Icon of the Seas

One thing Royal Caribbean does on any inaugural sailing is roll out the red carpet and welcome passengers on the ship.

On any sailing, there will be crew members that will meet you at the embarkation point to say hello and welcome you onboard, but on Icon, there's champagne too.

Crew members offered complimentary glasses of champagne as you entered. Free alcohol on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship is not something that comes regularly, so it's a sign that this is indeed a different kind of cruise.


Swag given away
Photo by Rich Triplett

Another way Royal Caribbean celebrates a new sailing is by giving its passengers free gifts.

Each night of the inaugural sailing, there was something given away for free.  These gifts were left in passengers' staterooms by their cabin attendant, so there's nothing extra anyone needs to do.

On Icon, we received, hats, bags, water bottles, lanyards, rubber ducks, and even a bartender set.

Water bottle
Photo by PG Cruiser

The idea is this is a big celebration where party favors are a way to remember the occasion.

The gifts given on an inaugural cruise will vary, but there's usually at least a few gifts given to guests.

Lots of executives

Nick Weir
Photo by Nick Weir

If you look around, you shouldn't be surprised to find Royal Caribbean's top executives onboard too.

Executives are there primarily to ensure everything is going as planned. With any new ship, getting everything running exactly as it should be is not a simple task, especially on the first in a class.

Executives observe, provide guidance, and even step in to assist to keep everything flowing.


In addition to a support role, executives are there to revel in the experience and interact with guests. They want feedback to evaluate how well things are running.

I saw executives from the Food & Beverage, Entertainment, and Product Development teams around Icon in a variety of roles.  

As an example, Royal Caribbean Senior Vice President of Entertainment Nick Weir was present at every single production show I saw to observe, take notes, and celebrate his team's progress.

Incomplete shows


It's not unusual that every single activity is ready on day one, and that was the case on Icon of the Seas as well.

There was a sign for the escape room, but I don't believe that's ready at all.

Only one show in the Aquatheater was running, and that show wasn't quite 100% complete yet.

Mr. Weir posted on Twitter it will take about a year to get it all right, "FYI we will tinker and tweak and add and subtract for the next twelve months before we consider the show full and finalized. 
A long and enjoyable process that we openly share with our guests. "

Nick Weir tweet

The Wizard of Oz was ready, but it did encounter some technical glitches. One performance on the first night had to be completely cancelled after about 15 minutes and delayed until day six of the sailing.

Shows not being completely ready was also something that happened on the Wonder of the Seas inaugural voyage.

If you go on a maiden sailing, be prepared for not every show to be totally ready for that voyage, but they will be ready as the weeks progress.

Best crew members in the fleet

Crew member on Icon

One of the best aspects of going on an inaugural sailing are the crew members, because Royal Caribbean hand picks the best of the best to go on any new ship.

New ships aren't quite the well-oiled machine that existing ships are, and as a result, procedures and plans need to be worked out. To do that, they need experienced crew members who have demonstrated results under pressure.

I've noticed there's a certain subset of crew members that relish a brand new cruise ship and love jumping in to assist with the start up of a new ship.  I think they regard it as a kind of challenge.


If you cruise Royal Caribbean a lot, you may recognize a few familiar faces from other ships.  

This isn't limited to just the crew that serve you either. Icon had Royal Caribbean's A-list comedians perform all week (instead of just a couple days), along with their best Pub, Schooner Bar, and Dueling Piano players.

Kevin Phillips

Bringing in top crew members sets the ship up for success.

Upgraded buffet on embarkation day

Lobster in windjammer

A new cruise ship has plenty of new things to check out, but don't overlook the buffet on embarkation day.

Upon boarding Icon of the Seas on embarkation day, there was one of the best spreads of food I'd ever seen in a buffet.

Filet mignon, lobster tail, tuna tartare, and crab legs were just some of the choices available and with no limit either.

Ice sculpture

It's a good reminder of how this first cruise is a big deal.

Fireworks and celebrations

Icon of the Seas

Speaking of a big deal, nothing says "we're here to celebrate" quite like fireworks.

Upon departure from Miami, Icon of the Seas enjoyed a fireworks display off the ship's starboard side.

In every port of call Icon visited, foreign dignitaries from that country came onboard Icon to welcome the ship. For these countries, Royal Caribbean selecting their nation to host a ship with as much as notoriety as Icon of the Seas is a badge of honor.

Is going on an inaugural cruise worth it?

Icon arrives in Miami

I once described a new ship's inaugural sailing as a combination of "Woodstock and Prom", and I stand by that description.

It's a giant party, reunion, and celebration rolled into one. There's as much enjoyment of the cruise itself as being able to say, "I was there!" to someone back home.

There can be hiccups, and some aspects of the cruise planning process take much longer than they normally do.  But after years of anticipation, being among the first to walk onboard and experience it all is a pretty neat feeling.

It may not be for someone who wants the ship to be running like clockwork, but if you're flexible, an inaugural voyage can be a real treat.

5 reasons why Royal Caribbean's newest megaship is my favorite yet

02 Feb 2024

From the moment I stepped onboard Icon of the Seas, I was wowed.

Icon favorite ship

I’ve cruised on 18 of Royal Caribbean’s 27 cruise ships, and as someone who typically prefers smaller ships, I was taken aback by just how much I loved the cruise line’s newest ship.

While Icon of the Seas may be the biggest cruise ship in the world, her impressive characteristics go beyond just her size.

Beyond the obvious—stellar entertainment, modern cabins, and a plethora of onboard activities—it was the smaller touches on Icon of the Seas that blew me away. I was impressed by the amount of ocean views, variety of new dining options, and thoughtful design of the ship’s eight neighborhoods.

I had only three days onboard during a media preview cruise, and this was not nearly enough time to experience all the ship had to offer. That being said, my short time onboard easily had me come to the conclusion that Icon of the Seas is my favorite ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.

Related: Our complete guide to Icon of the Seas

From the trendy new food hall to the gorgeous Royal Promenade, here are 5 reasons why the newest Royal Caribbean ship is my favorite—and why I can’t wait to get back onboard.

I loved the The Overlook, which offers unmatched views and ambiance

The Overlook

Of all the brand new areas to explore on Icon of the Seas, I was perhaps most excited to check out The Overlook, a hangout space in the front of the AquaDome.

The AquaDome—an 82-foot-tall glass dome at the forward top of Icon of the Seas—is an impressive feat of engineering within itself. And while the AquaDome is most known for its indoor AquaTheater entertainment venue, my favorite aspect of this area is The Overlook.

If you have sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum or Oasis Class ships, you should be familiar with the ships’ indoor Solariums, which are located in the same area as The Overlook. Yet instead of making this another pool space on Icon of the Seas, the cruise line did something more innovative: they created The Overlook.

The Overlook is an indoor lounge with some of the most breathtaking views you’ll find anywhere on the ship. I found myself drawn to The Overlook during my time onboard. With its comfortable seating, floor-to-ceiling windows, and close proximity to two bars, I could easily spend an entire day in the area with no regrets.

Related: Icon of the Seas AquaDome: What to expect

Overlook Pods AquaDome

If you can snag one of the coveted Overlook Pods, you’re in for a treat. Inside The Overlook are four seating areas—called pods—some of which are elevated off the ground. Not only are these pods an excellent place for that perfect Instagram shot, but they are, without a doubt, a chic hangout space.

Whether you’re imbibing with your travel party or challenging new friends to a game of cards, the pods provide a scenic, semi-private area to relax in the AquaDome neighborhood. As a plus, the pods have several outlets under the seats, which makes them a perfect place to plug in a device if you need to get any work done while onboard.

Family-focused areas are condensed into one place, making the experience wonderful for both kids and adults

Surfside neighborhood

Icon of the Seas was designed to be the ultimate family vacation, and it seems she has lived up to the hype. Not only does the ship have its own waterpark, but Icon features kid-friendly favorites like a carousel, rock climbing wall, baby splash pad, mini golf course, and playground, among other activities.

As a 20-something without kids, I was nervous about just how family-focused Icon of the Seas would be. Although I have loved my cruises on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships, the vessels do not necessarily have a central “hub” for families. I always found them to be slightly overpacked with kids.

Icon of the Seas, on the other hand, has specific neighborhoods designed with families in mind. Surfside, for instance, is designed almost exclusively for young children, with kid-friendly restaurants, an arcade, Splashaway Bay aqua park, and a bar featuring “mommy and me” cocktails and mocktails. Additionally, Thrill Island, home to the Category 6 Waterpark, is another popular area designed for families.

kids playground on Icon of the Seas

Related: Icon of the Seas Surfside neighborhood: What to expect

During my cruise, it appeared that Royal Caribbean’s thorough design of these neighborhoods was successful—they were packed with families and young children.

Some prospective cruisers sailing without kids have been put off by Icon of the Seas’ overt marketing toward families. For my adults-only getaway, though, I found these family-focused neighborhoods to be a plus. Because families were drawn to specific zones of the ship, the rest of the vessel felt much more adult-focused.

The AquaDome Market offers an excellent addition to Royal Caribbean’s dining options

AquaDome market on Icon of the Seas

The industry’s trendiest dining concept in recent ship builds has been the food hall, and Royal Caribbean has caught on to that trend with the launch of the AquaDome Market.

Either in lieu of or in addition to a buffet, cruise lines like Virgin Voyages and Norwegian have debuted a food marketplace on new ships, which offers a selection of made-to-order dishes from individual stands, each offering a different cuisine.

I have to admit I was jealous when I read my coworkers’ reviews of these food halls on our sister site Cruise.Blog. Not only did these food halls look unquestionably cool, but they offered cuisine you’d be hard pressed to find in a traditional buffet, including Spanish tapas and Japanese ramen.

So when I boarded Icon of the Seas, my first stop was the AquaDome Market for lunch. The marketplace, located inside the ship’s AquaDome neighborhood, offers five food stands offering everything from chicken pita wraps to bacon mac n’ cheese and a variety of paninis. This venue is complimentary for guests.

AquaDome market on Icon of the Seas

Related: Icon of the Seas restaurant and dining guide

My favorite station at the AquaDome Market is GNGR, which offers Asian-inspired rice and noodle bowls. Protein options include sweet and sour shrimp, ginger beef, and chicken teriyaki, and bowls are topped with fried vegetable spring rolls. While portions are on the smaller side, this allowed me to try other options in the market as well.

In addition to GNGR, I loved my falafel and hummus bowl at FETA Mediterranean, while fellow Royal Caribbean Blog writer Angie raved about the cheesy selections at MAC’s Mac & Cheese and the Monte Cristo sandwich at Toast & Garden.

AquaDome market on Icon of the Seas

Of course, you can’t eat at AquaDome market without trying a crepe at Crème de la Crêpe. Whether a classic crepe with lemon zest and dusted sugar or the decadent Nutella banana option, you can’t go wrong with any crepe at the AquaDome market—I tried them all!

Although the expansive Windjammer buffet still offers a far greater number of choices compared to the AquaDome Market, I found myself dining at the AquaDome Market far more frequently than the latter. The selection of cuisines, made-to-order dishes, and overall stylish vibe of the venue is sure to make this spot a hit for the new vessel.

The Hideaway is everything I’ve ever wanted in an adults-only hangout space, even if I might miss the indoor Solarium

The Hideaway

Icon of the Seas is the only Royal Caribbean ship without an adults-only Solarium, but there is a neighborhood in its place instead: The Hideaway.

Located in the ship’s aft, The Hideaway is the only designated adults-only area on Icon of the Seas. The space was designed with “Las Vegas pool party” in mind, and it’s a sophisticated, trendy pool space for adults 18 years and older.

Because the Solarium is one of my favorite areas on other Royal Caribbean ships, I was initially disappointed to hear the venue would be replaced with The Hideaway. After all, many Solariums are fully indoors, providing a climate-controlled, shaded area for adults to unwind.

The Hideaway on Icon of the Seas

The Hideaway, on the contrary, does not have much shade and is open to the elements, yet these downsides are overpowered by the sheer coolness of the area. With a suspended infinity pool, comfortable daybeds, two jacuzzis, and The Hideaway Bar, The Hideaway is easily my first choice for a pool day on Icon of the Seas.

Time will tell, however, whether an indoor Solarium is missed by passengers on Icon of the Seas. More often than not, I found myself lounging in the Solarium on other ships without entering a pool or hot tub anyway, so if I’m looking for a quiet, indoor area to relax, I could do that in The Overlook in the AquaDome instead.

Views of the ocean are abundant in the traditionally inward-facing Royal Promenade, and I loved spending time there

Royal Promenade on Icon of the Seas

One of my main complaints about Royal Caribbean’s newest ships has always been the lack of ocean views. Ships like Wonder of the Seas and Odyssey of the Seas are so big that it’s easy to forget you’re on a cruise ship altogether… but truthfully, I don’t want to forget that I’m on a cruise ship.

In particular, the Royal Promenade and Royal Esplanade on Royal Caribbean’s ships have traditionally faced inward, with little to no ocean views. Sure, the Royal Promenade offers ample choice for entertainment, dining, shopping, and activities, but sometimes all I wanted was to sit and relax with a beautiful view.

While designing Icon of the Seas, Royal Caribbean saw this shortcoming and decided to completely rethink the Royal Promenade. Instead of designing venues to face inward, the cruise line went above and beyond with ocean views.

Related: Icon of the Seas Royal Promenade: What to expect

From Pearl Café’s expansive, five-deck high window to the indoor (and outdoor!) views from the newly debuted 1400 Lobby Bar, natural light and ocean views are abundant on Icon’s Royal Promenade.

1400 Lobby Bar

Whereas the Royal Promenade would usually be a place I would avoid during the day in lieu of brighter, ocean-facing venues onboard, I couldn’t get enough of the space during my cruise. In fact, I probably spent more time in the Royal Promenade on Icon of the Seas than during all my cruises on Oasis Class ships combined.

On most other Royal Caribbean ships, the Royal Promenade is simply a place to quickly pass through during the day. On Icon of the Seas, it’s a destination.

While Icon of the Seas is not perfect, it’s pretty darn close

Icon of the Seas The Pearl

It’s impossible to build a “perfect” cruise ship, but Icon of the Seas comes close. The thoughtful design touches, number of new dining and bar concepts, diversity of stateroom options, and countless onboard activities are just a few of the reasons why Icon of the Seas is a game changer for the cruising industry.

Even so, not everything is perfect with Icon of the Seas. It’s hard to overlook the price tag of sailing on the ship, even when comparing it to the second newest ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet, Wonder of the Seas.

You can expect to pay at least $2,000 per person for an interior room on a 7-night Icon of the Seas cruise. Wonder of the Seas is, on average, around half the cost for the same type of cabin.

Interior cruise cabin on Icon of the Seas

Related: How much does a cruise cost? (2024)

Despite the fact that new ships have always come with a high sticker cost, Icon of the Seas has taken Royal Caribbean’s new cruise ship pricing to a new level.

Additionally, the itineraries on Icon of the Seas are extremely limited. As a destination-focused cruiser, I almost exclusively book cruises based on the destination rather than the ship itself. Because Icon of the Seas only offers the same few Caribbean itineraries week after week, the itineraries are not very enticing.

Nonetheless, Icon of the Seas is the first ship I sailed on where I could see myself skipping a port day in order to spend more time onboard. Previously, I used to scoff at the idea of staying onboard instead of exploring a new port, but there is so much to see and experience on Icon of the Seas to justify skipping a port day. I truly never thought I would say that!

Chill Island on Icon of the Seas

Even when keeping these downsides in mind, there’s no denying that Icon of the Seas provides an exceptional vacation experience. I definitely won’t be booking the ship for every cruise vacation I take—my budget would not allow that—but cruising on a ship this magnificent is something every cruiser “Loyal to Royal” should experience at least once.

Interested in cruising on Icon of the Seas? Check out our full ship tour on YouTube here.

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

02 Feb 2024

One of Icon of the Seas’ new neighborhoods is The Hideaway on deck 15. Located in the very back of the ship, The Hideaway is the adults-only area onboard, much like the Solarium on other Royal Caribbean ships.

The Hideaway daybed

Access to this area is complimentary, but guests have the opportunity to rent one of the three daybeds in the Hideaway Pool.

Royal Caribbean describes the daybed as follows: “Premium, full-sized daybeds channel beach club party vibes at the first suspended infinity pool at sea. Settle into plush comfort with energizing beats from the nearby DJ booth as your soundtrack. Whether you're lounging with friends or jamming to the beat, these in-pool daybeds are your haven of comfort onboard. Your exclusive retreat awaits.”

The Hideaway on Icon of the Seas

I was curious to see what renting one of these daybeds would be like, so back in September 2023, I spent $350 to have all-day access to this daybed during the Icon of the Seas inaugural sailing.

What to know before reserving a daybed

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

The first thing you need to know before renting a daybed at The Hideaway is that it’s cheaper to reserve it before you step foot on Icon of the Seas. As I just mentioned, it was $350 when I purchased it pre-cruise. On the ship, it costs $400. This price is per daybed for one full day.

The price also varies whether you select a port day or a sea day. Picking the day bed on a sea day (like I did) is more expensive than a port day. Onboard, the difference is $100.

Hideaway Beds

The daybed can hold a maximum of four guests. You can have less than that, but it makes sense to have the most people you can to save money per person.

The included amenities are meant for four people. Each daybed comes with:

  • A chilled bottle of champagne to share
  • Four towels
  • Four water bottles

The Hideaway only allows guests that are 18 and older. If you have someone between the ages of 18 and 20 on the daybed, they will receive four complimentary mocktails to substitute the champagne the daybed comes with.

My morning experience

According to the app, I was to arrive at the Hideaway Bar at 9 a.m. I got there at about 9:10 a.m., and I was the first daybed to check in for the day. Since I was first, I was able to pick which of the three beds I wanted for the day. I selected the middle one so I could get the best views of the ocean.

The Hideaway in the morning

The other daybeds also offered great views, and really any of them would be a solid option.

After checking in, the attendant said I needed to wait until 10 a.m. to get the daybeds set up. I am not sure why the app said I had to get there at 9 a.m. when it appeared that I could’ve come at 10 a.m. I was told I had the daybed from that point until the pool closed, which was 9 p.m.

The Hideaway Bar check in

At 10 a.m., I was able to sit down on the daybed. On each daybed was a basket with four towels, four water bottles, a Hideaway Bar drink menu, and a bottle of champagne with two cups.

Champagne at The Hideaway

At this time, there weren’t many people in the pool. The music wasn’t too loud either, so it was a more relaxing experience. All of the music tended to be remixes of pop songs, which I really liked because it created a lively atmosphere. There wasn’t a DJ until later in the day.

The Hideaway on Icon of the Seas offers beautiful views

It was about 11 a.m. when the other two daybed groups showed up. Also, between 11 a.m. and noon, it got much busier. As more and more people crammed into the pool, I thought to myself how lucky I was to have my own large daybed with quick access to the pool. In some ways, I felt like a queen on a throne!

The Hideaway is very busy in the afternoon

Many people hovered around the daybeds and put their things on the ledge because there weren't many places to put down their drinks, SeaPass cards, etc.

Sometime around noon, I was hungry for a snack. I went to the closest restaurant, Basecamp, and got a hotdog and tater tots. I assumed I could eat this while sitting on the daybed, but about one minute after I brought the food to the daybed, a lifeguard told me no food was allowed in the pool. I was disappointed by this, but I left and ate my food while standing near the pool.

Food from Basecamp

Matt from Royal Caribbean Blog joined me for about an hour on the daybed. He commented that it felt like “a million degrees” while sitting on the daybed with no shade. I did agree with his comment because I was also getting quite hot by this point.

When Matt joined me, I confirmed that there was more than enough space for two people on the daybed. With four people, I think it would be just about perfect for everyone to sit comfortably.

In an attempt to cool down, I ordered one of the Hideaway Bar drinks, the Castaway Spritz. This drink had Aperol, coconut milk, pineapple juice, mango, vanilla syrup, and prosecco. I definitely enjoyed it and it did quench my thirst.

The Hideaway Bar menu
Castaway Spritz

I thought the pool water was warm and felt very nice. Taking a dip in the pool did help cool me down, but I longed for some shade.

At about 2 p.m., I was so hot that I wanted to go back to my cabin to relax in the air conditioning. I knew I wanted to come back to enjoy the daybed later in the day, so I kept the towels and water bottles on the daybed.

The Hideaway daybed

My night experience

After having some time out of the sun, I decided to come back to the daybed and watch the sunset from the back of the ship. This was a great time to come to the pool, and the sunset was so beautiful!

The Hideaway at sunset

I noticed the music from the DJ was much more upbeat at this time of night. It was also louder and resembled the vibe of Oasis Lagoon at Perfect Day at CocoCay. I enjoy this kind of music, so I thought it was fun.

I assumed it wouldn’t be that busy around 5 p.m. because I thought people would be at dinner, but there were still a lot of people swimming and sunbathing!

The Hideaway at sunset

When I came back to my daybed, I noticed a lot of people put their belongings on the daybed. As soon as I came back and sat down, pretty much everyone moved their things. I did notice this trend throughout the day. When I was there, no one put their things on the daybed, except maybe the ledge. When I wasn’t there, lots of people would put their stuff on the daybed, which is to be expected.

Icon of the Seas The Hideaway

It was about this time that one of the groups on the other daybed left for the day. The other daybed was still being utilized.

Overall thoughts

To truly get your money’s worth, you could theoretically stay on the daybed from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. I utilized the daybed for about six hours, so I didn’t fully maximize my time at The Hideaway, but I felt like I had plenty of time to experience what it was like.

The Hideaway at sunset

I think renting one of these daybeds would be perfect for a group of family or friends. Since I was alone for the majority of the day, it was a different experience. I still enjoyed myself, but I think I would’ve had more fun if I had other people there with me. (When I booked the daybed in September, I knew I had someone who was going to join me, but they weren't able to sail on Icon due to unforeseen circumstances.)

The Hideaway pool was crowded at times

The Hideaway is the adults-only neighborhood onboard, replacing the Solarium. I like the Solarium because it's usually shaded. With The Hideaway, there are not many places to sit in the shade, especially on the daybeds. I probably would’ve stayed longer on the daybed if I had some shade. The sun would come and go behind the clouds, and I was very happy when it would be under some clouds!

The Hideaway wake view

The Hideaway is also a different vibe from the Solarium. Usually, the Solarium is tranquil and calm. This is not the case at The Hideaway where music is bumping all day long. If you want to feel like you’re at a beach party, then you should definitely visit The Hideaway. To take your experience to the next level, renting a daybed could be something you consider. If you want peace and quiet, The Hideaway is not the place for you.

DJ at The Hideaway

Was the daybed worth $350? That would depend on your personal preferences. For me, I am not sure if it was worth it. I think if food and drinks (other than the included champagne) were also a part of that price, it would be more worthwhile.

I would recommend getting a group of four people to go in on the daybed to make it the most cost-effective!

The Hideaway daybed from the front

It could also be worth it for you and your party if you want to solidify a spot all day at The Hideaway. Many of the chairs at The Hideaway were taken by others and they would stay there for a long time.

Busy day at The Hideaway

It's more of a challenge to find an empty place to sit in The Hideaway, so if you want to have the best seat in the house, you should rent one of the daybeds.

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

31 Jan 2024

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

Icon of the Seas sailing away

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

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

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

Icon of the Seas sailing at dusk

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

Icon feels uncrowded


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Really good complimentary restaurants


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

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


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

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

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

Pearl Cafe

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

Wide open spaces

The Pearl

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

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

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

Chill Island pool

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

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

Empire Supper Club

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club

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

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

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

Icon of the Seas Empire Supper Club sour

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

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

Chilean sea bass

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

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

More outlets than ever

Pearl Cafe on Icon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination elevators


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

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

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

Destination elevator panel

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

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

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

Surfside restaurants


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Korean fried chicken

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

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

Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz
Photo by Woofie Al

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

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

Wizard of Oz

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

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

Things I didn't like about Icon of the Seas

St Kitts

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

Staggering of Royal Promenade entertainment


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

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

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

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

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

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

Suite lounge feels cramped

Suite lounge

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

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

Suite lounge

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

Baskets instead of drawers

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

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

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

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

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

Mastering your Icon of the Seas cruise with the best tips

30 Jan 2024

I've spent over a week on Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas and it's an impressive cruise ship, but there are some important things you'll want to do to maximize it all.

Top tips to maximize your time on Icon of the Seas

Royal Caribbean calls Icon of the Seas a "white paper ship", because it was designed from scratch to incorporate the line's best ideas. Suffice to say, I've heard so many great things from other passengers on how impressed they are. Destination elevators, an expansive pool deck neighborhood, more for the kids than ever, and new entertainment venues are just some of the early wins.

I got to thinking how could someone going on Icon truly get the most out of their vacation.  I thought about the ways anyone could save time, money, and their sanity, by embracing a few easy tips to have a better cruise.

Icon is a giant ship, but don't let its size overwhelm you. There's easy ways to make it all work.

Get to know the neighborhoods


Understanding the layout of Icon of the Seas is probably the first thing you should figure out.

Icon borrows the neighborhood concept from the Oasis Class cruise ships, but it's far from a copy-and-paste job. The layout is notably different, and you may find yourself early on trying to figure out which area has which venue.

Hooked is in the AquaDome, the Music Hall is below the Royal Promenade, and Surfside can be accessed from a few decks.

Thrill Island

Neighborhoods have served two purposes.  First, it provides easy navigation aids.  Second, it helps spread passengers out.

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

At the risk of making a shameless plug, we put together a walkthrough video tour that you can watch to easily get a sense of where everything is before the cruise begins.  While deck maps are also available, I think they are not as intuitive to understanding layout and flow.

The Pearl

Once you get on Icon of the Seas, be sure to walk around a lot on the first day so you can get your bearings.

One thing you'll notice is how inviting each neighborhood is, and how you might be drawn in immediately to one area and realize you haven't made it to a different neighborhood yet. Royal Caribbean wanted the ship to offer something for everyone, and I found I would wander into one area and hang out there longer than I anticipated.

You may find yourself drawn into an a lounge, pool, or activity and spend more time there than you anticipated because it's just that endearing. 

You can use the Royal Caribbean app for much more on Icon


Royal Caribbean has introduced new app features first just for Icon of the Seas, so be sure to take advantage of them (so be sure to download the app before the cruise).

In addition to the repertoire of useful functionality, the Royal Caribbean app has new features that you can now use:

Express Boarding pass

Express Boarding

Guests who check-in ahead of time and scan their documents get to go through the “Express Boarding” and breeze through the cruise terminal in minutes

Faster WiFi access

Once shipboard, guests can connect directly to WiFi and their Internet plans through the app (rather than going into their phone settings or dealing with a captive portal).

AI Help

Guests can now get help from a chatbot or chat with a Guest Services agent through the Royal Caribbean app.

The Guest Services team now has a Virtual Queueing system to schedule and manage guest visits.


Dinner reservations

Guests receive push notifications when their tables are ready for main dining, helping reduce the pre-dinner crowds.

Easier photo purchases

And guests can view and purchase photos directly through the app, instead of having to visit and crowd around kiosks.

Pre-book your shows whenever possible

Wizard of Oz

Royal Caribbean allows guests to book tickets to their shows in the weeks leading up to their cruise and this is not just a good idea, it's a must-do.

The hottest ticket on Icon of the Seas are the top shows: Aqua Action, Wizard of Oz, and Starburst. Even the comedy shows are tough to book too.

Theoretically, Royal Caribbean puts its tickets to book 30 days before the cruise from the Cruise Planner website. For at least the first few sailings, the cruise line has needed more time to get its reservations open.

ice show on Icon of the Seas

Regardless of when they're available, book shows to ensure you get in easily.

There will also be tickets made available on the ship. There's a box office you can visit to get reservations on embarkation day, so that's a good back-up option.

Arrive very early for standby shows

Wizard of Oz
Photo by Beci Mahnken

If you don't get a ticket, don't fret, you can still likely get in the show but you'll need to be an early bird.

There is a standby line for each show, and the key is to get in the standby line early. I would recommend getting in line at least 30-45 minutes before the listed start time to be able to be among the first to enter the theater once they admit standby line guests in.

Even if you have a ticket, I'd still recommend getting to the show early.  Seating is limited in many venues, especially the AquaTheater.  Remember, your ticket assures you of a seat, but not necessarily the best seat. So arrive early.

Don't overlook the great included food options

Pearl Cafe on Icon of the Seas

It's so tempting to book specialty restaurants, but the restaurants included with your fare are not bad at all on Icon.

Pearl Cafe has replaced Cafe Promenade, and it offers grab-and-go snacks 24 hours a day. It's a significant upgrade in terms of food quality and selection.


Perhaps the best complimentary restaurant to come out of Royal Caribbean in at least a decade is the Aquadome Market.

This is Royal Caribbean's first food hall, and it is really good. You have the choice of Greek, mac and cheese, crepes, Asian, or salads. It's all freshly made, and it's the kind of food you'll want to go back again to get more.

Greek pita

Surfside might be the new neighborhood for young families, but don't skip the restaurants here. There's two included restaurants that serve up a lot of comfort food: Surfside Bites and Surfside Eatery.  

Of course, you could also grab a slice of pizza at Sorrento's, which was Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley's favorite food on Icon.

There are outlets in so many public venues

Pearl Cafe on Icon

Whether you want to keep your laptop, iPhone, or any electronic device powered up, it's easier on Icon.

There are so many more outlets in public venues than ever before.  On older ships, it's a miracle if you can find a single electric plug to use around the ship because ships were not designed with USB or 120V outlets in mind.

Around Icon, there are lots of outlets you can use.  As more people work remotely from cruise ships (thank you Starlink internet), there's more of a need to have power.  Plus, sometimes you just want to keep your phone going because you used a lot of battery already listening to music.

Pearl Cafe in particular has a ton of outlets, as does the Overlook in the Aquadome.  Most bars have plugs as well that you can use.

Book your cruise early for the best price

Icon of the Seas in Miami with fireworks

If Icon of the Seas sounds like a fantastic cruise ship to sail on, you will want to book it as early as possible.

Cruise prices are dynamic, but as rooms get booked up, inventory drops and prices go up. Demand for Icon of the Seas is so strong right now that you cannot expect a price drop.

Icon of the Seas in Miami

Your best strategy for getting a good price on Icon is to book early, like right now.  The earlier you book, you can lock in the price.

The cruise industry is experiencing unparalleled demand, and you'll see that in the prices.  Icon is a premium ship with premium pricing, so booking early is your best plan (rather than waiting for a last-minute deal).

Read more: 15 ways to get a deal on a cruise

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