I was one of the first to sail on Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas, and here's what it's like on board.
In 2023, seven of the nine cruises I sailed on carried fewer than 200 people. So you might say that I was a fish out of water on the 7,600-passenger Icon of the Seas during its very first voyage with guests: a three-night preview for travel professionals.
The first and only time I'd traveled with Royal Caribbean before this sailing was on Voyager of the Seas when I was a teenager, and at that time, it was the world's largest cruise ship. Numerous vessels have since earned the superlative — mostly in the Royal Caribbean fleet — and Icon is the latest to take the crown. At 1,198 feet long, 20 decks tall, and 250,800 gross tonnage, this is indeed a massive ship. With so much space, I (somewhat surprisingly) never felt that the ship was too crowded, but it should be noted that we were sailing at partial capacity.
Going into the sailing, I knew a three-night stay wouldn't be nearly enough time to experience everything the ship had to offer, so I spent my days scurrying around trying to sample as many of its amenities as I could. Impressively, it only took me about a day and a half to learn Icon's layout — largely because it's divided into seven thematic "neighborhoods" on board, each with its own attractions, restaurants, and bars. Central Park, for instance, is a lush atrium with fine dining, a jazz bar, and even a walk-up Champagne bar, not to mention more than 30,000 plants.
Icon of the Seas
— This is perhaps the most family-friendly ship at sea, with many spaces designed specifically for children.
— Staterooms are smartly designed with plenty of storage space, and most interior accommodations have windows, though no ocean views.
— With more than 40 restaurants and bars, you'll never get bored with your dining options on a seven-night cruise.
— Entertainment goes above and beyond with immersive, highly sensory shows in specialized venues, like the AquaDome with a 55-foot waterfall.
Though Royal Caribbean is undoubtedly a family-friend cruise line, I was traveling without kids. And as such, I gravitated toward the more adult spaces on the ship. The Hideaway, for instance, is a small, adults-only neighborhood with boozy beach club vibes; pink loungers surround a suspended infinity pool at the stern of the ship, with massive hot tubs to one side and a bar to the left. I also spent quite a bit of time in the Overlook, a serene indoor lounge in the back of the AquaDome with futuristic seating pods that have panoramic ocean views. (It was here that I met Rover, Icon's chief dog office, a Golden Retriever puppy.)
Of course, when you're on a Royal Caribbean ship, you can't help but embrace your inner child. And for me, that was plummeting down a few of the six high-intensity waterslides on board, despite unseasonably cold temperatures. Fortunately, the heated water and the adrenaline rush kept me somewhat warm. It helped that there was always a hot tub nearby for a quick defrost.
Now, as someone who specializes in small-ship expedition cruising, I completely understand why a vessel that can carry more than 10,000 people between guests and crew might not be your cup of tea. The ship is loud, proud, and busy. But here's the thing about Icon — it really is a destination in itself. If I were to book a longer voyage on the ship, I probably wouldn't spend much time ashore at all, choosing to maximize my time on board to explore every nook and cranny, see every live performance, and drink and dine in every bar and restaurant. Long gone are the days when a ship was just a means of transportation; Icon is the star of your vacation.
For more details, check out my full review of Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas below.
There are a whopping 2,805 staterooms that carry up to 7,600 passengers on Icon of the Seas, and they're spread out over 28 room categories. I was in an Ocean View with Large Balcony room, which I found sufficiently spacious for a party of one, but could see how it might be a little more snug for two — and definitely for four, the max capacity of the stateroom. The decor is delightfully muted (but not boring!) compared to the rest of the colorful ship, creating something of a sensory reprieve after an action-packed day. What stood out most to me, though, was the storage space — there was plenty of it, from closets to shelves to baskets for shoes to a dresser. And I loved the little portable end table that could be used as a table or desk for someone seated on the couch. Be warned that amenities are limited to a body wash–shampoo combo and a bar of soap, so pack your own toiletries.
While there are many interior staterooms on Icon of the Seas, most of them aren't windowless — instead, they overlook the atrium spaces of the ship, from the lush Central Park neighborhood to the kid-friendly Surfside neighborhood. Some even have retractable windows for fresh air. On the other end of the spectrum are the large suites. Most are appropriately clustered in the Suite neighborhood, which offers suite-only public areas, from restauraunts to a sun deck with a pool and hot tubs. Here, the decor is elevated with more saturated colors and eye-catching design features, like a wave-like headboard that extends to the ceiling (and there are Malin + Goetz toiletries, too). The most buzzworthy suite, however, is the Family Townhouse Suite, which is located in Surfside: it's a three-story suite with a slide, a game room, and a movie theater room.
For an entry-level room, cruises aboard Icon of the Seas start at $1,700 per person for a seven-night cruise.
Bars and Restaurants
There are more than 40 bars and restaurants on Icon of the Seas, so on a classic seven-night sailing, it would be remarkable if you made it to all of them. Complimentary for all guests are nine eateries, including the new AquaDome Market, a food hall with kiosks for quick bites like mac and cheese, crepes, and Asian-inspired dishes; the Sorrento's pizza joint; and the El Loco Fresh Mexican buffet (the carnitas tacos hit the spot, as did the hot sauce bar). For seated dinners, the three-story Main Dining Room offers both reserved and anytime dining, rotating its menu nightly; the buffet-style Windjammer Café is a more casual affair, but it, too, changes up its dinner offerings each night. Suite guests can dine at two additional complimentary restaurants in their private neighborhood, and all guests can choose to book specialty dining at a surcharge. Unfortunately I wasn't able to dine at the star premium dining venue — the new Empire Supper Club, an elegant affair for date night with live music — but that's definitely the one that intrigued me most.
As for drinks, there's a bar for every style of imbibing. I enjoyed the thoughtful cocktails at 1400 Lobby Bar that paid homage to Royal Caribbean's history, as well as the tropical frozen drinks at the Lime and Coconut bar. Another highlight for me was Rye & Bean, a coffee bar by day and cocktail bar by night, with a great coconut cold brew.
Where Icon of the Seas Sails
Icon sails seven-night itineraries in the Caribbean from Miami, each voyage stopping at a variety of destinations, from Puerto Rico to St. Kitts and Nevis to Cozumel, Mexico. Most will stop at Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas.
My preview sailing only had one stop — Perfect Day at CocoCay — where I visited the new Hideaway Beach. Entry to the adults-only beach club includes access to a protected cove surrounded by plenty of loungers, a massive infinity pool with a swim-up bar and a DJ booth, and a variety of bars and restaurants. (I highly recommend the ceviche from the Hideaway Hut, which has the perfect spicy kick.) You can also book private cabanas for a fee; I would personally choose one of the ones attached to a semi-private infinity pool, since it's a bit quieter on that side of the beach.
Amenities and Entertainment
If I were to name every single amenity on board Icon of the Seas, it might take you a full day to read through this review, so I'll do my best to keep it brief. To start, every "traditional" cruise amenity you'd expect to find on board a mega-ship exists here, and they are all beefed up to the nth degree: water slides (a number of them are at-sea firsts, including an open freefall slide, family raft slides, and mat-racing duo slides), a FlowRider surf simulator, a kid-friendly splash pad, a kids' club, mini-golf, sports courts (including pickleball), a karaoke bar, a comedy club, a casino, boutiques, seven pools (including several infinity-edge options), and an arcade. A few standouts for me included the robust Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade and the relaxing Overlook lounge in the AquaDome, while the one thing that fell short was the spa — the thermal suite was surprisingly small and dull compared to the rest of the ship.
As for entertainment, I think this is where Royal Caribbean really shines. On Icon, the three main entertainment stages are the water-themed AquaDome; the Absolute Zero ice arena; and the Royal Theater. I caught the "The Wizard of Oz" show, and as a big fan of the theater, I was truly impressed by the scale of the production, which included plenty of aerial effects, dazzling costumes, a full orchestra, and the perfect balance between practical set pieces and LED screens. Hats off to the creative team and the artists.
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