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An Aussie mum reviews Icon of the Seas: The world’s largest cruise ship

Evie Farrell and her daughter Emmie discover why the world’s largest cruise ship, Icon of the Seas, is a floating extravaganza made for families

The Icon of the Seas cruise ship © Royal Caribbean
The Icon of the Seas cruise ship © Royal Caribbean

Sitting inside the enormous glass AquaDome Theatre, I watch as water silently bubbles up to cover the retracting stage, creating a deep blue pool. Suddenly, music roars and a 17-metre high-waterfall pours from the dome’s rooftop. Olympic divers soar from platforms; twisting, flipping and narrowly sliding past synchronised swimmers in the pool below as the audience watches in awe.

The largest cruise ship in the world © Royal Caribbean
The largest cruise ship in the world © Royal Caribbean

Just hours earlier, I‘d been clinging to a pink raft as it plunged down a sparkling tube and raced up the side of an enormous green half-dome perched 16 decks above the ocean. I topped off my morning by walking the plank suspended 50 metres above the ocean by a harness. I can’t believe all of this is happening on a cruise ship.

It’s not just any cruise ship though — my 14-year-old daughter Emmie and I are on board the biggest and most anticipated ship in the world, Royal Caribbean International’s seven-year labour of love, the 365-metre-long Icon of the Seas. 

What’s so special about Icon of the Seas?

Evie and Emmie playing mini golf
Evie and Emmie playing mini golf

It cost USD $2 billion to create the ultimate family cruise experience on Icon of the Seas, with more than 40 restaurants, bars and lounges, six record-breaking slides, seven incredible pools (overseen by 36 lifeguards) and 20 decks of fun set across eight neighbourhoods.

While Icon’s size is monumental, it’s the first-of-its-kind experiences and focus on multi-generational families that makes this cruising extravaganza the best on the ocean.

Icon of the Seas also has more family staterooms than any other Royal Caribbean ship — 80 per cent can accommodate families — and 28 room categories.

Thrill Island: The biggest water park at sea

Category 6 water park Storm Surge at Thrill Island © Royal Caribbean
Category 6 water park Storm Surge at Thrill Island © Royal Caribbean

The Thrill Island neighbourhood is home to the largest water park at sea. The colourful tangle of Category 6 has two first-in-the-world family raft slides and four exhilarating solo slides including Frightening Bolt — the tallest drop slide at sea. 

With surfing favourite FlowRider, Lost Dunes nine-hole shipwreck themed mini-golf course, a huge outdoor sports court and the Adrenaline Peak rock-climbing wall, you’d think exhilaration was well covered. But an even bigger test of courage is the Crowns Edge where thrill seekers (and terrified mums like me) traverse a rope course, walk the plank and, when it falls from beneath their feet, zipline 50 metres above the ocean back to the ship.

Family fun at Surfside’s attractions and restaurants

Surfside neighbourhood
Surfside neighbourhood

Families with younger children will love the vibrant, energetic open-air Surfside neighbourhood, created as a space for spending a lot of time together, and a little apart. 

While kids play and enjoy Splashaway Bay aqua park and Baby Bay, parents can keep watch while swimming at the nearby Waters Edge pool, enjoying a cocktail at the Lemon Post (kids can join for a mocktail) or have lunch or dinner at Pier 7 speciality restaurant (an additional charge for adults but kids eat free). This was our favourite restaurant onboard — we recommend the chicken lettuce cups and the burger — but Surfside Eatery Buffet, Surfside Bites, and of course unlimited soft-serve ice-cream will also fill hungry bellies.

Evie at Bubbles champagne bar
Evie at Bubbles champagne bar

Entry to Surfside is down a pink slide or rainbow stairs, under the gaze of a giant pink flamingo. There’s a carousel with colourful figurines selected by kids, playscape for climbing and sliding, and family staterooms above looking down at all the action.

Surfside is also home to Royal Caribbean’s new “Family Fun Ambassador”, Admiral Awesome, with his magic tricks, face painting, games, hilariously inclusive story time where parents and kids are chosen to act out the characters, plus Big Shark Block parties and the Larger-than-Life Family Festival. The real star of the Icon of the Seas however is its beloved “Chief Dog Officer”, Rover, who joined the crew to bring extra happiness to children and families. Rover and her Australian trainer, Allison, can often be found at Surfside saying hello to little guests.

The largest pool and swim-up bar on a cruise ship

The colourful Icon of the Seas cruise ship © Royal Caribbean
The colourful Icon of the Seas cruise ship © Royal Caribbean

If you’re more chill than thrill then the Chill Island neighbourhood is for you, with its three levels of pristine pools and whirlpools, including the biggest pool at sea, Royal Bay, live Caribbean music and an abundance of bars and restaurants, including the colourful Lime and Coconut and Mexican eatery El Loco Fresh.

While the offspring are in Adventure Ocean kids’ club or Social 020 teens’ club, be sure to try the largest swim-up bar at sea, Swim and Tonic, and relax in the Cove infinity-edge pool. If you’re craving adult time, escape to Hideaway Bay, which has a world-first infinity edge pool suspended 41 metres above the sea, whirlpools, a cocktail bar and DJ, or seek out the Overlook within the AquaDome at the front of the ship with its nooks, lounges and elevated pods.

Spacious, not crowded - despite the ship’s capacity

The Ultimate Family Suite © Royal Caribbean
The Ultimate Family Suite © Royal Caribbean

While there is capacity for up to 7600 guests on board the Icon of the Seas, the design of the ship means there’s more space on board per person than the previous Oasis class ships, and with innovations in elevator wait times, customer flow and the neighbourhood design, the ship feels spacious and easy to navigate — and you can always get a sunlounge (staff will remove lingering towels so lounge-bagsers beware!).

Unbelievable family-friendly entertainment

The Wizard of Oz show on Icon of the Seas
The Wizard of Oz show on Icon of the Seas

Family entertainment onboard Icon is also out of this world, with two productions for kids — the Once Upon a Time Fairytale on Ice on the biggest ice-rink at sea (where guests can also skate and play laser tag), and Princesses and Pirates in the state-of-the-art AquaDome, where you’ll also find Olympic divers launching from moving platforms in an impressive, choreographed performance with synchronised swimmers and acrobats. With a 16-piece orchestra, The Wizard of Oz musical is another must-see. I won’t spoil the surprise, but keep an eye out for a flying four poster bed! There’s also an Escape Room, laser tag, family karaoke and a whole lot more.

Icon of the Seas’ most expensive cabin: the Ultimate Family Townhouse

Inside the Ultimate Family Townhouse © Royal Caribbean
Inside the Ultimate Family Townhouse © Royal Caribbean

If you have a spare AU$140,000, you can book the three-storey Ultimate Family Townhouse complete with direct access to Surfside, two full-sized bedrooms and bathrooms (including bath tubs), five bunks (with individual TVs and headsets), a cinema space, karaoke, an outdoor hot tub and a slide that connects the two interior levels! 

Unfortunately, though, you’ll have to wait until 2025, as it’s booked out for the rest of the year. But while staying in the townhouse may be a dream for most of us, just being on board is a magical experience.

Is Icon of the Seas coming to Australia?

Icon of the Seas at Coco Cay © Royal Caribbean
Icon of the Seas at Coco Cay © Royal Caribbean

There are no voyages currently planned for Australia. Icon of the Seas sails out of Miami, Florida in the United States year-round on seven-day voyages to the Caribbean and the Bahamas, with stops at Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at Coco Cay.

Australians can fly with Qantas to Los Angeles and Dallas Fort Worth, then connect with an American Airlines flight to Miami. All Australian travellers are required to apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) to enter the United States of America at least two weeks prior to departure.

More Information

The writer travelled as a guest of Royal Caribbean International

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