May 26, 2024
Icon of the Seas: The Best Dining, Amenities and More on Royal Caribbean’s New Ship

Icon of the Seas: The Best Dining, Amenities and More on Royal Caribbean’s New Ship

Key Takeaways

  • Icon of the Seas is the largest cruise ship in the world, with 18 passenger-accessible decks, eight different neighborhoods and 2,805 staterooms.
  • Think of Icon of the Seas as an all-in-one adventure vacation contained on a ship. Young families and energetic travelers will enjoy it most.
  • Itineraries originate from Miami, sail to destinations around the Caribbean and include a stop at Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay.

If you have any degree of interest in traveling or cruising, chances are you’ve heard the buzz around Icon of the Seas. Another record-breaking ship by Royal Caribbean International, Icon of the Seas debuted on Jan. 27, 2024, as the largest cruise ship in the world. It is epic in every sense, featuring 18 cruiser-accessible decks and stretching 1,196 feet from bow to stern.

With greatest-of-all-time soccer player Lionel Messi as the ship’s godfather, the Icon of the Seas is truly iconic. Messi brought the entire Inter Miami team along for the opening ceremony and the big reveal of the team’s new Royal Caribbean-sponsored jerseys. I was fortunate enough to attend this star-studded ceremony as part of the press preview sailing in the days leading up to the ship’s grand debut to the public. It was everything I thought it would be and more, and nobody could have been more appropriate than Messi to send this ship on her maiden voyage.

Boarding a ship of this size can seem overwhelming, but not when you understand the layout. Icon of the Seas is broken up into eight distinct neighborhoods: AquaDome, Central Park, Thrill Island, Chill Island, Royal Promenade, The Hideaway, Suite Neighborhood and Surfside, a neighborhood built for young families looking for nonstop fun and kid-approved eats and treats.

In addition to these public areas, there are 2,805 staterooms spread across 12 decks. Icon of the Seas’ capacity maxes out at 7,600 passengers and 2,350 crew members, but with the plethora of public spaces and variety of things to do and see, you can choose your own adventure without encountering more crowds than you want to.

Royal Caribbean International's newest ship, Icon of the Seas.

Skye Sherman

Icon of the Seas itinerary

During its inaugural 2024-2025 cruising season, Icon of the Seas offers seven-night eastern or western Caribbean adventures from Miami, stopping at a variety of tropical destinations. All sailings include a stop at Royal Caribbean’s award-winning private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, in the Bahamas. Other destinations include Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis; Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico.

No matter your Icon of the Seas itinerary, you’ll visit beautiful places – but you can expect to feel torn about spending any time off the ship, because it’s just that jampacked with things to do.

Royal Caribbean International's newest ship, Icon of the Seas.

Skye Sherman

Who should sail on Icon of the Seas?

Icon of the Seas appeals not so much to a demographic as to a psychographic; you’re going to need to be someone who likes to live life in all caps. Royal Caribbean set out to create “the world’s best vacation” contained on a ship, so Icon of the Seas is for anyone who would enjoy the combination of a beach trip, a resort stay, a water park adventure and island-hopping.

Fun-loving travelers and families with kids of varying ages will do best on this ship; it feels a little bit like Disney World with over-the-top everything and a truly massive sprawl. Older travelers who prefer a more quiet, refined experience may want to opt for a less kid-friendly ship. Still, even couples without children will find plenty of fun adult-friendly things to do and romantic places to tuck in.

The Royal Promenade can be quite loud and buzzy, but simply relocating to another onboard neighborhood can completely shift the vibe. Also, keep in mind that the ship really is huge, and walking from end to end can be a hike, so those with limited mobility or endurance might want to look into a smaller ship.

Icon of the Seas prices are high in its opening season, but cruisers with big dreams and small budgets can expect rates to drop by the time the next ship in the series debuts.

Royal Caribbean International's newest ship, Icon of the Seas.

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

The stateroom

With a ship this overstimulating, it’s imperative that your stateroom is a haven. Luckily, Icon of the Seas offers peaceful rooms, many of which feature ocean or Central Park neighborhood views. Cruise ship accommodations are stereotypically compact – even cramped – but the floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows in Icon of the Seas’ cabins (with the exception of the windowless interior rooms) lend an airy, open feel. The cabin layouts are also optimized to provide the maximum amount of storage, floor space and comfort.

Stateroom decor is mildly nautical- and tropical-themed, with calming hues that mimic the scenery outside your window (think blues, beiges and whites). High-tech elements include smart TVs, LED mirrors and the ability to control many aspects of your room from an app.

My husband and I stayed in an Ocean View Large Balcony Stateroom, a 204-square-foot refuge from the hustle and bustle of the ship (the balcony adds another 65 to 70 square feet). This room type can sleep up to four people with a sofa bed for one or two; the room also features twin beds that convert to a king bed for couples.

My husband is 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and we were comfortable in our room, even though our quarters included a large bed, a bathroom, a sofa and a desk. We loved sitting on our private balcony and watching the deep blues of the Atlantic Ocean flow by.

If money is no object, the Ultimate Family Townhouse – an over-the-top eight-guest, three-story pad with a private whirlpool on the balcony, three bathrooms, a slide that connects the second and main levels, an in-suite cinema, a dining room and a kitchenette – looks epic. But keep in mind, it costs nearly $100,000 for the week.

The Sunset Corner Suites (about one-fifth of the cost of the Ultimate Family Townhouse, but still expensive) are also pretty sweet, with a wraparound balcony and a bed facing the sea.

Luckily, not all rooms break the bank; with four main stateroom categories (suite, balcony, ocean view and inside) and 28 subcategories, there’s something for everyone.

Royal Caribbean International's newest ship, Icon of the Seas.

Skye Sherman

Best amenities on Icon of the Seas

It’s almost impossible to run out of things to do aboard Icon of the Seas.

For thrill-seekers, the largest water park at sea – Category 6 – features the Frightening Bolt (the tallest waterslide on a ship) and the Pressure Drop (the first open freefall waterslide on a cruise vessel).

If you’ve tired of the seven swimming pools, six waterslides, laser tag, mini-golf, rock climbing wall, escape room, sports courts, outdoor decks, theater, spa and all-day programming, simply take a stroll down the Royal Promenade for Las Vegas-style people-watching. The Royal Promenade has 15 restaurants, bars and lounges, as well as a Starbucks that seems to have a line no matter what time you go. The neighborhood feels a bit like a shopping mall … if a shopping mall had floor-to-ceiling ocean views made possible by the world’s largest kinetic art sculpture.

The Pearl, a feat of engineering, is one of the most unique aspects of the ship’s design. This art piece is actually a load-bearing structure supporting three decks, but it looks and feels like an interactive art experience designed solely for the enjoyment of guests. The multisensory immersive structure has 3,000 kinetic panels and moody ever-changing lighting. It is one of the first things guests will see when they walk on board, as it stretches from the Royal Promenade up to Central Park.

My husband and I spent most of our time at the FlowRider surf simulator – his favorite amenity – but we made sure to leave time for Taylor Swift trivia at Spotlight Karaoke and the superhuman stunts of the Aqua Theater show, a must on any Icon of the Seas voyage. The ship even has a massive ice arena called Absolute Zero for ice skating (the 20-minute sessions are complimentary) and impressive shows.

We also loved lounging in The Overlook Bar & Pods, an area at the very front of the ship (behind the AquaDome) that features two levels of floor-to-ceiling wraparound windows. It felt airy and open, which can’t be said about many cruise ship interiors.

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Royal Caribbean International's newest ship, Icon of the Seas.

Skye Sherman

Best dining venues on Icon of the Seas

There are more dining options aboard Icon of the Seas than you can fit in on a seven-night cruise – but you can give it the old college try. Thirteen of the dining venues are complimentary, while 14 are specialty restaurants (which cost extra; fees vary). There are also 18 bars and lounges.

The best meal we experienced on the ship was at the Chops Grille specialty eatery. When we spotted Royal Caribbean CEO Jason Liberty and a group of bigwigs at a table next to us, we knew we were in the right place. We loved sitting outside and enjoying the breezes of Central Park while we chowed down, but you can eat indoors for an elegant steakhouse experience and a view of the open kitchen and butcher’s display, which shows off specialty cuts like high-grade wagyu and bone-in tomahawks.

While I’d never turn down a swanky steak dinner, grabbing quick poolside bites at El Loco Fresh and indulging in some food hall-style grazing at AquaDome Market were equally enjoyable. We also had no complaints eating several meals at Windjammer, the classic complimentary cruise ship buffet.

Even though we don’t have children, we stopped into Surfside Bites for a very kid-friendly meal, complete with soft serve ice cream cones from Sprinkles (because no cruise is complete without soft serve). We didn’t try anything from the open-air, lemonade stand-inspired Lemon Post bar, but its menu of cocktails and mocktails looked delicious.

And since you’re on vacation, be sure to check out the milkshake bar Desserted, where the sugary creations are as photo-worthy as they are decadent. They’re worth the upcharge.

Royal Caribbean International's newest ship, Icon of the Seas.

Skye Sherman

Best excursions on Icon of the Seas

Depending on what’s on your Icon of the Seas itinerary, you may be able to book activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, tropical jungle adventures, visits to Mayan ruins, volcano hikes, rainforest zip lining, relaxing beach days or cultural immersion tours.

Note that Royal Caribbean features the same options on many of its other Caribbean cruises; none of the excursions on offer are exclusive to Icon of the Seas.

Because our press preview sailing only visited Perfect Day at CocoCay, we did not experience any of the shore excursions. Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas was plenty of fun, even though we didn’t plan anything in advance.

If we had made plans, we would have liked to check out the Up, Up and Away tethered hot air balloon, which wasn’t running that day, and the overwater cabanas at Coco Beach Club, which were all booked. Thrill Waterpark (which features the tallest waterslide in North America), Oasis Lagoon (the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean) and the adults-only Hideaway Beach are other highlights of Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Royal Caribbean International's newest ship, Icon of the Seas.

Skye Sherman

Overall impressions of Icon of the Seas

Royal Caribbean seems to be focused on superlatives. It has the biggest, best, tallest, largest and most of everything – especially when it comes to Icon of the Seas. If you like jampacked, adventurous vacations that squeeze a lot of adventure and relaxation into one memorable week, Icon of the Seas is probably for you.

While I love seeing Royal Caribbean push the limits of what cruises can be, the ship may almost be too big for some. It’s an all-out Vegas-esque vessel that feels more like a floating city; you will probably forget (more than once) that you’re not on dry land.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if Icon of the Seas looks fun to you, it probably will be – but my husband and I tend to gravitate more toward authentic, immersive, on-the-ground cultural experiences when we travel. While Icon of the Seas is a lot of things, it’s not that. We had a fantastic time and have already started planning a future Royal Caribbean cruise with a group of friends and family, but we also sympathize with the anticruisers of the world. Vacationing does not a traveler make.

Still, the shows are entertaining, the service is attentive, the music is jamming, and the architecture and design are incredibly impressive. I have no real complaints and suspect that most cruisers will have the time of their lives on Icon of the Seas – exactly as the minds at Royal Caribbean envisioned when they dreamed up this iconic ship.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Skye Sherman has been cruising since childhood, when her parents took her on her first cruise through the Caribbean. She has sailed various ocean cruise lines, gone off the grid for a six-day riverboat expedition deep into the Amazon River and even planned a European river cruise with 48 of her closest family and friends. She’s a fourth-generation Floridian and hopes to visit every country in the world during her lifetime. She covers travel and lifestyle topics for major publications including U.S. News & World Report.

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