The wait is over. The long-anticipated Icon of the Seas has arrived in Miami. Before the ship’s inaugural cruise, Heidi and I were invited to a 3-day preview sailing. This short cruise gave us a glimpse of everything the ship offers. So, before the ship sets sail on its inaugural voyage, we wanted to share our first impressions of Icon of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship!
Don’t worry; we will have a complete review soon, as we are also on the upcoming inaugural voyage!
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Our First Impressions of Icon of the Seas
Getting Around Icon of the Seas
To say Icon of the Seas is just an upgraded Oasis-class vessel would be underselling this mega-ship. While the ship is only 10% bigger than Wonder of the Seas, it has been completely reimagined to maximize space. Having sailed on all of the Oasis-class ships, many of them several times, Icon of the Seas felt very different.
Icon of the Seas does have a similar footprint, with eight themed neighborhoods featuring all of the public venues spread over 20 decks. While there are some familiar aspects, several neighborhoods are brand new or completely redesigned, like the Royal Promenade.
Overall, many of the design changes offer better flow and help to improve crowd management. Icon of the Seas does a much better job of making each neighborhood distinct. In fact, Jay Schneider, the company’s Chief Product Innovation Officer, indicated that was precisely the point. Whether swapping out venues or adding new eateries and entertainment offerings, these changes were meant to make each neighborhood “inhabitable” for the entire day.
We could easily see how families could spend the entire day at the Surfside neighborhood. Or, how those seeking a more tranquil space could stay nestled in Central Park throughout the day. After all, the Park Café now offers evening tapas! There’s also new additions like Izumi in the Park and Lou’s Jazz ‘N Blues.
While there are several new spaces, guests can take comfort in many familiar favorites too. Most of the tweaks to staple Royal Caribbean venues elevated this elegant ship to the next level.
With a vibrant décor and modern design, Icon of the Seas is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated ships in the fleet. We definitely get Celebrity Edge class and Norwegian Prima class vibes even though this ship is designed specifically for families.
Soaking Up Some Sun on Icon of the Seas
Perhaps the most striking update on Icon of the Seas is the pool deck. The outdoor spaces are home to three distinct neighborhoods: Chill Island, Thrill Island, and The Hideaway. Not to mention all the way forward is the new interior AquaDome neighborhood.
Thrill Island is an enhanced sports deck that now offers additional amenities so more active cruisers can spend the entire day at the aft of the ship. Besides mini-golf, the Flowrider, and a rock-climbing wall, thrill seekers can experience Category 6, the largest waterpark at sea with 6 waterslides. There’s also the new Crown’s Edge for those who are brave enough to dangle 154 feet above the ocean.
While not everyone wants that “amusement park at sea”, those who want a more chill vibe can relax in Chill Island. This neighborhood features four distinct pools, including the most expansive pool at sea and Royal Caribbean’s first swim-up bar at sea. Not to mention, there are four Lime and Coconut bars and plenty of comfortable seating to soak up the sun.
There’s also The Hideaway completely aft on Deck 15. Just recently, the cruise line decided to position this area as adults-only. With no Solarium, the Cloud 17 sundeck was initially labeled as the adults-only space. We are glad that the cruise line made this last minute switch as The Hideaway features a perfectly situated suspended infinity pool and a bar with some great cocktails.
This new adults-only area is leaps and bounds better than the traditional forward, covered Solarium. Although, it is relatively small for a ship of this size. So, we will have to see how it functions on a full sailing, as our preview sailing had only approximately 4,500 onboard. The ship’s double occupancy is 5,600, with a max capacity of over 7,000.
Honestly, given the weather and duration of the trip, we never donned bathing suits nor did many other cruisers.
Although, according to President and CEO Michael Bayley, the cruise line doesn’t anticipate any problems with crowding in these outdoor neighborhoods. For example, the Category 6 waterpark can process up to 1500 cruisers in about an hour. So, you and your family should be able to ride all the slides and not spend all your time waiting in line.
Testing out these new outdoor neighborhoods is certainly on our agenda for the upcoming cruise.
Of note, while it is possible to go from one neighborhood to the next, it does take some maneuvering which is a change for those loyal Royal cruisers.
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A Reconfigured Hub of Activity
While Royal Caribbean purposely broke up the outdoor spaces, it did the exact opposite to the interior neighborhoods. Now, traversing between the three main interior neighborhoods is more fluent. Thus, to go from Central Park to the Royal Promenade or Surfside is effortless.
Given that these neighborhoods are the ship’s hub of activity, especially at night, quickly getting from one place to the other is a welcome reprieve. For instance, there are stairs that lead from the Royal Promenade directly to Central Park. You can also walk down directly from Central Park to Surfside.
Even though we don’t have kids, we still did like the new Surfside neighborhood. Designed for “young families”, we can see this area being busy in the summer. But, those who want to avoid all the kiddos can easily do so. This neighborhood sees the addition of a family buffet, new Surfside bites, the casual Pier 7 specialty restaurant, and The Lemon Post bar.
Central Park is the most familiar neighborhood yet it certainly feels more open and inviting. With lush greenery and views of the nighttime sky, this is the perfect location for many of the specialty restaurants on the ship.
Some changes include the relocation of Izumi Hibachi and Sushi here, along with a new Izumi in the Park takeout window. The Trellis Bar has also been expanded and there’s now a Bubbles walk-up champagne bar. The new Lou’s Jazz ‘N Blues lounge is a great addition to this space filling this tranquil area with light tunes in the evenings.
Perhaps the most striking update though is the Royal Promenade. While Icon of the Seas is somewhat broader, its Promenade feels twice as wide and much more open.
The cruise line enhanced this new two-story Promenade by reclaiming over 30% of “dead space.” This was accomplished by moving some backhouse offices and technical areas. Plus, this new posh hub wouldn’t be possible without The Pearl.
The largest kinetic sculpture in the world is not only a beautifully artistic focal point, but this superstructure can sustain the weight of the 3 decks above it. This Royal Caribbean staple now has more of everything while feeling even more spacious.
We like the new location of The Attic on Deck 6. It is across from what is bound to be the most popular bar, the Dueling Pianos. Even with this reduced-capacity cruise, getting a seat here was difficult.
Staples like Boleros, the Schooner Bar, and Point and Feather Pub received minor facelifts. The 1400 Lobby Bar is also a welcomed addition to this space. This bar opens the promenade to the outdoors for the first time with outdoor seating. Not to mention, many of the bar menus have also been enhanced.
Upgraded Dining on Icon of the Seas
Royal Caribbean boasts that Icon of the Seas has over “40 ways to dine and drink”. Like many elements of Icon of the Seas, the ship blends staple Royal Caribbean offerings with new concepts.
For us, Basecamp was an excellent addition to the outdoor decks. This all-day snack shack is great for a quick bite, some of which are complimentary and some are an up-charge. Although, aside from maybe the shrimp bao buns, we don’t think any of the other offerings were worth the added fee. It’s essentially a way to make cruisers pay a premium for not walking down a deck to get something similar from the Windjammer.
The new Surfside Eatery and Surfside Bites offer family-friendly casual dining options. This mostly means items such as popcorn chicken and French fries. Though, don’t knock it until you try it.
A sure home run is the AquaDome Market. This quick service spot is a blend of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Indulge Food Hall and Virgin Voyages’ Galley. You could dine here almost daily and not eat the same thing twice. There are five food stalls each offering a unique menu of small plates.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade though is the Pearl Café. The 24-hour spot features elevated sandwiches and snacks that are much better than the Café Promenade found on other ships in the fleet. Again, taking nods from other cruise lines, the venue offers several grab-and-go options as well. These are perfect for a quick bite after spending all day ashore.
Still, cruisers can rely on the main dining room to offer elegant 3-course dinners with the same rotational menu found throughout the fleet. The ship’s Windjammer buffet is still home to various freshly prepared items throughout the day. And cruisers can still get some late-night pizza at Sorrento’s.
It is true cruisers don’t have to spend money on food while onboard with all of the complimentary dining. But, we suspect many will be tempted to dine at one of the several specialty restaurants.
Many of these are priced a la carte. So, you might not feel bad splurging for a milkshake at Desserted or some chicken wings while watching the game at Playmakers. Likewise, the new Pier 7 boasts a sea day brunch and dinner menu. This is definitely on our list to try during the inaugural sailing.
The Empire Super Club is perhaps the most intriguing new offering. This 8-course dinner pairs live music with cocktails in a sophisticated setting. This is one of the most exclusive and expensive experiences on any contemporary cruise ship. Given the fixed menu and Heidi’s picky palette, we won’t be dining here any time soon.
Of course, guests can also upgrade their dinner experiences at Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen, Hooked Seafood, and more.
Where Icon of the Seas Didn’t Measure Up
Icon of the Seas offers over two dozen different stateroom categories, including new family options and infinite balconies similar to Celebrity Cruises’ Edge Class. But, the cruise line’s claim that these staterooms are “next-level” feels like a bit of a stretch.
We stayed in a traditional balcony cabin that felt pretty ordinary. Yes, the decor and design felt refreshed and there were the most power outlets we’ve ever seen in a cruise cabin. There were also some strategically located storage spaces.
Also, Royal Caribbean has enhanced the bathrooms on Icon of the Seas. Similar to other new cruise ships from competitor brands, the showers feature a glass door and more space with an innovative new setup.
Yet, given all of the updates and modifications throughout the rest of the ship, we expected more. Compared to other balcony cabins on ships like Norwegian Prima/Viva, these rooms felt small. There was just enough space to walk between the bed and the wall housing the television. The closet was rather small too.
It will be interesting to see if we can fit all our clothes and gear for our weeklong cruise in a similar accommodation.
The Verdict is Still out on Icon of the Seas
Overall, we like the new design of the ship. The modern and vibrant public venues feel more like a resort than a cruise ship. While not drastically bigger than Wonder of the Seas or other Oasis class ships, Icon of the Seas just feels more open.
Featuring 8 dramatically different neighborhoods, Icon of the Seas really is the “combination of the best of every vacation”. This makes the ship perfect for multi-generational families and groups.
When compared to other ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet, several staples have been elevated to the next level, like the transformation of Cafe Promenade to Pearl Cafe. Many of the new additions already seem to be hits as well, like the Dueling Pianos, Empire Supper Club, and the new AquaDome.
Given that we didn’t have enough time to spend on the ship, we couldn’t test everything. So, we can’t speak to all of the dining or many of the activities and entertainment just yet. Though, Royal Caribbean is known for having the best entertainment at sea, and we don’t expect Icon of the Seas to be any different. Heidi really enjoyed the Wizard of Oz, and we can’t wait to see the aqua and ice shows.
We popped into a few bars to listen to some musicians’ sets and tested a few of the new cocktails. But, there’s still plenty more to try.
Going into this cruise, we were concerned that Icon of the Seas would have a “Prima Problem” with crowding. While we love that NCL tried to incorporate new venues and intimate spaces in its new class of ships, many ended up feeling too small and always too crowded to enjoy. So far, we did not experience this on Icon of the Seas as this megaship seemed to disperse crowds fairly well.
Though, it is still possible that Icon of the Seas could suffer a similar fate as our preview cruise was not a full sailing and the weather was not ideal. The real test will be its inaugural cruise, and we will be back onboard for this sailing as well. So, stay tuned as we continue to report on the “best of every vacation” in the coming weeks.
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Do you have plans to sail on Royal Caribbean’s newest mega-ship? What do you think of our first impressions of Icon of the Seas? Drop us an anchor below with your first impressions of Royal Caribbean’s latest record-breaking cruise ship.
Appeared first on: Eatsleepcruise.com