Sarah Hedley Hymers explores the world’s biggest cruise ship
Key selling points for travel agents:
- World’s biggest cruise ship (for now)
- Dedicated zones for kids aged six and under
- Broadway-standard theatre productions
- Water park with six slides
- Multiple pools and whirlpools
- Huge gym, running track, climbing wall and sports court
- Spa and hair salon
- 40+ restaurants, cafes, food and drink stalls and bars
- Well appointed, comfortable cabins
- The Ultimate Family Townhouse, a fun, kid-friendly top suite
Launched in January 2024, the first of family-focused Royal Caribbean’s Icon class vessels, Icon of the Seas, is currently the world’s largest cruise ship. To help guests navigate its vast proportions, the ship has been divided into eight ‘neighbourhoods’ targeting specifics demographics and tastes, such as adults-only pool bar and deck The Hideaway, and Thrill Island, a veritable fairground at sea with a water park, a climbing wall and new skywalk attraction, the Crown’s Edge.
Highlights onboard Icon of the Seas include full-blown Broadway hits performed at the Royal Theatre (The Wizard of Oz was the most spectacular production I’ve seen on a ship) and the cornucopia of attractions for young kids, including the Ultimate Family Townhouse, a child-friendly penthouse-style pad with a slide connecting the upper and lower floors.
Accommodation: There are 28 room categories. I stayed in an Ocean View Balcony. Comfortable with good quality bedding and clever storage solutions, cabins benefit from thoughtful touches. For example, the corners at the end of the beds are rounded so they’re easier to walk around.
Large wall-mounted TVs are loaded with free movies. There are ample USB and plug sockets. While there’s a fridge to store cold drinks, hot drinks are only available from room service; kettles and coffee machines are not provided.
Cabins with balconies feature pairs of recliners with footrests that can be neatly tucked away under the chairs. In en suite bathrooms, walk-in showers include a seat ledge. A bar of soap and a combined hair-and-body wash are supplied; pack all other toiletries needed.
F&B: There are more than 40 restaurants, cafes, bars and lounges on board. Most offer casual fare, from ice creams at Sprinkles to slices of pizza at Sorrento’s. Catina Fresca was my firm favourite for self-serve nachos with all the toppings and frozen cocktails.
Open seating is available at the cafes, buffet restaurants and the all-day diner, Dining Room. Queues may form at the more popular spots – expect to wait up to 10 minutes for latte at Starbucks. Book well in advance or miss your chance to experience speciality dining. The most premium offering is the eight-course tasting menu at Empire Supper Club where live jazz recitals take centre stage.
For relaxed drinks, Bubbles in leafy Central Park is a walk-up champagne bar with a few seats among the plants. Playmakers sports bar attracts the biggest crowds, particularly when American football play-offs are being screened.
Facilities: Category 6 water park with its multi-coloured spaghetti-like tangle of six slides and the new skywalk-cum-rope course Crown’s Edge, which sees passengers dangling off the side of the deck 18 around 150ft above the ocean, both steal the limelight when facilities are mentioned, but this ship also has an enormous and impressively well-equipped gym with exercise and spin studios, as well as an outdoor jogging track, climbing wall and sports court. There are seven pools and nine whirlpools dotted across the decks, a spa and a hair salon, and lots of shops selling beauty products, art, jewellery and watches, pre-loved designer handbags, essentials and souvenirs. And, of course, there’s a casino.
Surfside, the neighbourhood dedicated to families with kids aged six and under, is fully loaded with child-friendly attractions, including a mini water park and carousel.
Entertainment & Activities: Typical daily programming might include a lecture on how to speed up your metabolism, a pickleball challenge and pub quiz. Prioritise seeing a production at the Royal Theatre. The Wizard of Oz is currently running and it deserves the standing ovations it receives. Other shows can be seen at Absolute Zero where the stage is an ice rink and at AquaDome where the stage is a pool. Arrive 30 minutes early to secure good seats. The Attic and Music Hall are where to catch stand-up comedy and live bands. There’s also a karaoke bar, if that’s your jam.