An Honest Review: My First Cruise Experience on Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, the World’s Largest Ship

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When you think of a cruise vacation, what comes to mind? Breakfast buffets, Elvis trivia and the unlikely but not totally implausible threat of pirates? Same. That is, until I actually went on one.

I was raised by two adventure-loving nomads (who have since settled in New Jersey because, life), so the urge to travel is in my blood. I’ve been lucky enough to ski the mountains of New Mexico, hike the Swiss Alps, trail race around Jackson Hole and safari through Kenya, but in my 30 plus years on this planet, I’ve never taken a cruise. And to be honest, I’ve never really wanted to.

So, how did I, a self-proclaimed land lover, end up on the maiden voyage of the largest ship in the world? It’s simple: Cruises are cool again.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association industry report, 2024 is shaping up to be the year we all go cruising. With post-pandemic bookings steadily rising since 2022, 35.7 million passengers are projected to set sail in 2024, a whopping 20 percent more than in 2019. And with this increased interest comes a whole new customer base. As more millennials and Gen X travelers dip their toes in the proverbial waters, gone are the days of the stereotypical cruiser repping a Hawaiian shirt and a boomer birthday. Plus, with both solo and multi-generational family travel firmly on the rise, cruises seem to be at the top of everyone’s bucket list—not to mention their “For You” page.

Between the nine-month world cruise making waves on social media to a number of new ships launching in 2024, I couldn’t resist kicking off the year with a floating getaway. At the top of my maritime list was Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, the newest kid on the block that everyone (from The New York Times to TikTok) couldn’t stop talking about. Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or a seasoned vet, this ship has a little bit of something for everyone. Here’s my honest review.

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Royal Caribbean

True to its moniker, the world’s largest ship is a stunning behemoth that, upon arrival, made all the other ships casually parked in the port look like bath toys. Powered by liquefied natural gas—a more energy-efficient and cleaner burning fuel source—the Icon of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s most sustainable ship to date. At full capacity, it can house 7,600 passengers with 28 different types of accommodations ranging from an infinite ocean-view balcony to a $100,000 three-story family townhouse.

To keep all those people happy, the ship features seven different pools, nine hot tubs and over 40 restaurants with cuisines ranging from coastal seafood to Japanese hibachi. Marketed as the ultimate family vacation, the ship’s stand-out features shine a light on multigenerational fun, from epic waterslides and mini golf to comedy shows and craft cocktails.

Embarking on a cruise for the first time can be a daunting experience, with a ship sporting 20 decks filled with spots to discover and activities to reserve. Thankfully, the Royal Caribbean application simplifies the process of getting ready for your journey and arranging your itinerary while on the ship. Even though I clocked far more steps than I initially imagined (which was a bonus!), the ship’s design made it feel less intimidating. It was split into eight distinct neighborhoods, each serving a unique purpose and having its own theme, making the overall navigation feel fluid and easy. A combination of many elevators, simple access, and expansive open areas made this possible. Here are a few of my favorite areas on the ship:

Top Deck

Royal Caribbean

Thrill Island: Noteworthy attractions include Category 6, which is the largest waterpark at sea, boasting the highest drop slide and the first family raft slide at sea. Other attractions include Crown’s Edge, a mixture of a ropes course and zip line adventure that dangles passengers over the open ocean, as well as cruise ship classics such as the FlowRider surf simulator, a sports court, a rock-climbing wall, and family-friendly mini golf.

Chill Island: The place to be to have the ultimate lounge day, featuring swim-up bars, whirlpools, and tropical refreshments.

The Hideaway: An adult only (18+) area featuring the first suspended infinity pool at sea with ocean views and a dedicated DJ and bar.

Mid Deck

Royal Caribbean

Surfside: The first neighborhood explicitly constructed for children, Surfside is equipped with everything a young family might need to engage and entertain themselves throughout the day. Facilities include a splash pad, infant pool, arcade, and an underwater-themed merry-go-round, alongside five varied dining options that are suitable for the entire family.

Central Park: An open-air hub that encompasses a significant amount of live greenery which creates a full-themed immersion. The neighborhood mirrors its American counterpart and offers seven distinct bars and restaurants, a blues club, and a Champagne bar that guests can just walk up to.


Royal Caribbean

AquaDome: With panoramic views of the open ocean, the AquaDome is home to the most epic aqua show this writer has ever seen. Hosted at the AquaTheater, the highly anticipated experience features high divers, synchronized swimmers and the first-ever aerial pas de deux (duet dance). It’s weird and wonderful in the most extraordinary way. A must-see for anyone lucky enough to snag a seat.

Royal Promenade: A mainstay in many Royal Caribbean vessels, the Royal Promenade is located at the heart of the ship. In addition to 15 bars, restaurants and lounges, this neighborhood includes a dueling piano bar, music hall and comedy club. At the center of it all is The Pearl, a multi-sensory immersive structure that features kinetic tiles and specialized lighting to mimic the movement of water.

Upon arrival, we made our way to an ocean-view balcony stateroom on the 12th deck, our home away from home for the next few days. At 204 square feet, the room was perfectly suitable for two people. Cozy, inviting and surprisingly quiet, with smart storage options, well-placed charging ports and a good amount of room to move about freely without feeling like you were on top of each other. The en-suite bathroom was on the smaller side, but the spacious shower made up for the crowded toilet and sink area. My favorite part of the room was the outdoor balcony, which felt private and secluded while bringing in tons of natural light.

Royal Caribbean

Though the number of dining options onboard is impressive, the quality at certain locations was a little lackluster. My favorites included Izumi for sushi and hibachi, Sorrento’s for all-you-can-eat thin-crust pizza and Pearl Café for 24-hour snacks, both sweet and savory. I was also pleasantly surprised by the breakfast and lunch buffet options at both Windjammer and Surfside Eatery (which has a menu catered to a much younger age bracket but hey, sometimes you just need a chicken nugget).

The main dining room, however, was a miss for me. A standard in all Royal Caribbean ships, the table service offerings were perfectly fine (I did like my salmon), but largely boring and mass-produced. After ending the meal with a curdled crème brûlée that resembled scrambled eggs, it was a one-and-done experience.

In addition to the standard buffet options, Icon of the Seas also features laidback brunch spots, kid-approved bites and extravagant dining experiences like the Empire Supper Club complete with a live jazz band, an eight-course meal and cocktail pairings.

Royal Caribbean

The specialty cocktails served onboard were remarkably excellent. Every bar prepared its own set of interesting, innovative, and delectable drinks. The 1400 Lobby Bar, located in the Royal Promenade, offers a unique take on traditional cocktails like pineapple pisco sour and a rose and grapefruit Aperol spritz. On the espresso martini trend, Point and Feather and Rye & Bean serve impressive mixes. So, whether it’s Bombay or Bulleit, there is genuinely a drink for everybody, including several zero-proof choices.

Royal Caribbean

For those who are more attracted to the destination than the journey, the Icon of the Seas currently provides six different itineraries, sailing to both the Western and Eastern Caribbean. Destinations include the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten. All return trips leave from Miami, Florida and typically include a stop at Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas. This is a private island resort operated by Royal Caribbean.

Though the cruise I embarked was a compressed version of their standard week-long offer, we spent a few sunny hours on Perfect Day at CocoCay. The island boasts white sandy beaches, several pools, overwater cabanas, and a large waterpark with exciting attractions, including North America’s tallest waterslide. Hideaway Beach, a newly launched adults-only sanctuary with swim-up bars, in-water hammocks, and breathtaking ocean views, was my favorite part of the island.

Being the latest addition to the Royal Caribbean’s naval fleet, holidaying on the Icon of the Seas is not a modest venture. The cost fluctuates based on your preferred travel route, yet a standard week-long journey’s dynamic pricing initiates from $3,600 weekly for a duo residing in an interior cabin when procured straight from Royal Caribbean. Fortunately, the rate also entails meals and drinks at certain eateries, majority of the entertainment choices, and numerous daily activities. However, if you are journeying with several people or desire a larger room with a superior view, be prepared to pay extra.

Royal Caribbean.

To the earnest cruisers out there, I acknowledge your passion. Even though my preference is exploring the globe on my own (endless horizons to explore beyond the port), I honestly admit its attraction. Besides the convenience of unpacking your luggage only once, the perks of holidaying on a cruise are irrefutable. Craving a comedy show tonight? Simple. Fancy spending the day lounging beside the pool? No problem. Have offspring who are too old for kid’s club but too young to roam around in a city alone? Consider boarding them on a ship!

For families or large groups on vacation, cruises are a rational choice, and that rings particularly true when aboard the Icon of the Seas. Like a fully organized holiday requiring minimal effort and providing the advantage of a non-committed itinerary, this ship guarantees something for all ages to cherish (yes, that includes Elvis trivia).


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