Royal Caribbean's Next-Generation, Wildly Over-the-Top Cruise Ship Is About to Set Sail

Icon of the Seas will be the world's biggest cruise ship when it sets sail.

Welcome to Thrillist 50, your guide to fun and adventure in 2023. Think of it as your comprehensive roadmap for checking out exciting events and new attractions coming over the next 12 months, going on bucket-list trips, reconnecting with yourself and your community, expanding your mind, and of course, experiencing the flavors we're most excited about this year. There are so many reasons to live like there's no tomorrow. Start here.

The largest waterpark at sea. The tallest drop slide ever on a cruise ship. The first suspended infinity pool to sail the ocean… These are just a few of the many, many new attractions set to literally make waves on Royal Caribbean's next-generation cruise ship, Icon of the Seas. The company officially unveiled the floating all-in-one vacation machine—the first of three ships of the new Icon Class—last October, boasting a laundry list of thrills and amenities aimed at pleasing every type of family vacationer.

Before we dig into the details, you might want to grab a flotation device, break out your highest SPF sunscreen, and take a deep breath, because there's a ton to talk about. Here goes nothing.

Icon of the Seas, which is currently finishing up construction at Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland, is slated to debut in late 2023, with guest sailings out of Miami launching in early 2024. The ship will measure 1,198 feet long. It'll have 18 passenger decks (and 20 in total), seven pools, nine whirlpools, six record-breaking waterslides, up to 2,350 crew members, and 5,610 passengers with its 2,805 state rooms at double occupancy (7,600 passengers maximum), according to the company. With a gross tonnage (a ship's total internal volume) of 250,800, the Icon of the Seas will be bigger than the current biggest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas (236,857 GT).

Whew. Are you out of breath yet? Well, hold onto your swimsuit because there's more.

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Icon's restaurants, bars, pools, and other amenities will be spread across eight areas of the ship that Royal Caribbean refers to as "neighborhoods," including five that are brand new to the cruise line and three that have appeared on previous ships. They're all designed to be destinations where you can spend a day or wander among them as you see fit. For example, the "Chill Island" section is all about relaxing vibes with abundant ocean views, an adults-only retreat, a pool that will be the largest at sea, and even Royal Caribbean's first swim-up bar, regrettably dubbed Swim & Tonic. Okay, okay, we actually kind of love that name.

The other seven areas—Thrill Island, Surfside, The Hideaway, AquaDome, Royal Promenade, Suite Neighborhood, and Central Park—are jam-packed with, you guessed it, even more stuff to eat, drink, and do.

This rendering shows an inside look at the Swim & Tonic bar in the Chill Island neighborhood. | Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

"Now more than ever, families and friends are prioritizing experiences where they can bond and enjoy their own adventures," Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International's president and CEO, said in a press release. "We set out to create a vacation that makes all that possible in one place for the thrill-seekers, the chill enthusiasts and everyone in between, without compromise. It's this first-of-its-kind combination that makes Icon the future of family vacations, and that future is here."

Impressive numbers and attractions aside, the ship will also mark a significant milestone in the company's pledge to switch to cleaner energy and fuel sources and its overall goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Icon will be the first ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the first to have fuel cell technology that will power some of the ship's operations—steps in the right direction; however, there's still a long way for it and other cruise lines to go before they can claim these mega-ships are "sustainable." It's an exciting 'first,' nonetheless.

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Of course, there's still a dizzying list of other cool 'firsts' and flashy bells and whistles coming with Icon. Here are a few additional highlights from Royal Caribbean's announcement and a recent press event in Miami, which, full disclosure, Thrillist attended at the company's expense.

  • AquaDome: As you can see in the renderings above, a dome will sit at the head of the ship, kind of like a crown. Inside, passengers will find panoramic ocean views, waterfalls, and plenty of food and drink during the day. At night, the space will turn into an entertainment destination with restaurants and bars, plus the ship's AquaTheater.
  • Surfside: This new neighborhood is dedicated to young families with kids ages six and under, according to the company. Adults will be able to chill at the area's Water's Edge pool while their kids frolic feet away at Splashaway Bay and Baby Bay. There will also be dining, a bar, a carousel, an arcade, and a hangout spot for teens.
  • 28 Room Options: The ship will boast new room options for families of three to five and beyond, including the Family Infinite Balcony, Surfside Family Suite, and even a three-story Ultimate Family Townhouse that will sport a slide down from the second floor, among other over-the-top features.
This rendering shows an inside look at the Ultimate Family Townhouse. | Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

As for sailing, Icon will make seven-night trips from Miami across the eastern and western Caribbean throughout the year. All sailings will include a stop at the company's private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas, which is home to all sorts of other thrills and activities, including the tallest waterslide in North America. New with Icon will be an adults-only alcove on the island, Hideaway Beach, that will have private cabanas, ocean views, and a huge pool. The ship will also visit Cozumel, Mexico; Roatán, Honduras; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.

Bookings for the Icon of the Seas went live in late October and all 2,805 cabins for its first sailing—slated to start its tour of the east Caribbean on January 27, 2024—were sold out within 24 hours, but plenty of additional sailings remain available as of this writing. In February 2024, two seven-night tours of the west Caribbean—one leaving on February 3 and the other on February 17—currently have available accommodations starting at $1,411 per person. Two seven-night tours of the east Caribbean departing on February 10 and February 24 have interior rooms starting at $1,484 and $1,302 per person, respectively. All sailings depart from Miami and additional details are available on the cruise line’s website.

While those dates might still sound a bit far off, the early sellout goes to show that you’ll want to move fast to snatch up the travel dates and specific accommodations and destinations that you are looking for. Also, the above rates represent a 30% discount from their regular price and only apply to select Royal Caribbean sailings booked through January 31, 2023.

The Icon of the Seas' AquaDome will feature elaborate shows in its AquaTheater at night. | Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Ahead of setting sail, Royal Caribbean has been keeping up the Icon of the Seas hype with a steady stream of announcements and behind-the-scenes updates on what future guests have to look forward to aboard the massive ship. Last month, the cruise line dropped the latest video in its “Making an Icon” YouTube series highlighting the construction of and vision behind the ship’s AquaDome, one of its most unique “neighborhoods,” from a napkin sketch to a near-reality.

The AquaDome itself is a major feat of design and engineering in the cruise space. As the video explains, the steel-and-glass dome structure weighs 363 tons and is the largest structure of its type to ever be lowered onto a cruise ship. It was a process that took over 80 hours to complete.

The dome will offer guests 220-degree ocean views as they enjoy food, drink, and entertainment like fountain shows in the daytime and aqua shows featuring divers, aerialists, robotic arms, and elaborate lighting and sound in the evening.

The cruise line also recently announced additional details on family-friendly attractions it is offering in the ship’s Surfside and Thrill Island neighborhoods. Surfside will offer the Surfside Eatery, a family-dedicated buffet, as well as the beach-themed Surfside Carousel. Thrill Island will feature attractions like Lost Dunes, Royal Caribbean’s new take on mini golf, and the Desserted milkshake bar—complete with spiked milkshakes for adults.

So, are you experiencing the rum punch sweats yet? We wouldn't blame you—there's a ton to take in here. And there's somehow still much more to come. Bayley and other Royal Caribbean executives said we can expect additional Icon news in the coming months.

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Tony Merevick is the Managing Editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick and Instagram @tonymerevick.
Joe Erbentraut is the Editorial Director of News at Thrillist. Follow Joe on Twitter.