Royal Caribbean's Next-Gen, Wildly Over-the-Top Cruise Ship Is Almost Ready

The newly viral Icon of the Seas will be the world’s biggest cruise ship when it sets sail in January 2024.

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 just finished its initial round of sea trials in June, is slated to welcome its first guest sailing (which is already sold-out) out of Miami on January 27, 2024. The ship is massive, and it measures 1,198 feet long. It has 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 is bigger than the current biggest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas (236,857 GT).

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

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

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 2022 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.

All things considered, it isn't at all surprising that such a record-breaking ship went viral on social media—and received some negative commentary from it as well. On Twitter, after a viral pic of the ship made the rounds, many users expressed their concern towards the Icon of the Seas. Some of them called it "hell on water," and more than one person referred to its size as a monstrosity, claiming it is actually anxiety-inducing. 

However, that doesn't mean that travelers were less keen to get tickets for the new ship sensation. 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 $3,075 per person. There are also tours of the eastern Caribbean with multiple dates available, and the lowest rate is currently set at $1,998 for the trip departing on February 22. The same goes for western Caribbean trips, where prices start at $1,958 as of this writing. 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. 

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. Late last year, the cruise line dropped a 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.

Another showstopper—and signature feature—will be the Icon's Royal Promenade, which, compared to prior versions on other Royal Caribbean ships, is set to be much larger, active, and filled with entertainment options. According to a new "Making an Icon" behind-the-scenes video shared last week, upon stepping foot on the ship, guests will be welcomed by the promenade itself, which flaunts sea views (a first in Royal Caribbean's promenade history), venues, restaurants, and shops. Think of it as NYC's 5th Avenue or LA's Hollywood Boulevard, but on a ship.

We know there's a ton to take in here, and there's somehow still much more to come. Even if Icon's maiden voyage is fast approaching, there is still a good amount of news set to come up as the date gets closer—and we have got your back! Make sure to check in with Thrillist over the next few months for all the most recent updates on this truly record-breaking new cruise ship.

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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.