World's largest cruise ship Icon of the Seas designed to feel like 'walk in neighbourhood'

The National speaks to a Royal Caribbean VP about the new ship's curated artworks, family-friendly cabins and Category 6 water park

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The Royal Caribbean’s most ambitious ship, Icon of the Seas, will set sail on its maiden voyage on Saturday. The world’s largest cruise ship, at 365 metres long, will ferry passengers around the Caribbean from Miami for seven nights at a time.

When it was first announced in October 2022, Icon of the Seas made waves for its flamboyant features – from having the largest water park at sea and its own waterfall, to the first suspended infinity pool on a cruise ship.

And then there’s the flamingo in slippers.

Art of design

“It’s huge, and children will love it,” Sascha Lang says of the gigantic installation.

Lang, the vice president of architecture and design for Newbuild & Innovation at the Royal Caribbean Group, adds: “The art curation on Icon of the Seas has taken tremendous focus, as each tailor-made concept is inspired strongly by the ‘neighbourhood’ where it resides.”

The neighbourhoods refer to the various themed sections of the ship, from Thrill Island, which features six waterslides, to "roof-level" AquaDome, with the aforementioned waterfall and wraparound ocean views.

“With each of our ships, we pay close attention to the flow of guests, ensuring that the layout encourages people to spread out and explore,” explains Lang. “On Icon, guests will explore the borderless connectivity of our neighbourhoods. For example, from the Royal Promenade you can walk to Surfside or up to Central Park, which are all connected with stairs, giving you the feeling of walking through a city neighbourhood, without using the lift cores.”

“Each neighbourhood is also designed with an interior to match the purpose behind the space,” he says. “For example, the family-focused Surfside is filled with bright, eye-catching colours and imagery that complete the adventure aesthetic.”

Accordingly, the flamingo is placed at the entrance to Surfside, which also houses a surf simulator, a soft-play centre, an arcade and a carousel.

Another artwork, of a life-size Bowhead whale, is suspended in the air over Pearl Cafe. “It hangs in space and is visible from the outside through a three-storey glass super-cove,” says Lang. “Between the funnels, is a massive 3D installation, the Kaos star, which shines over the open deck.”

Cabin pleasure

Icon of the Seas has 28 room categories, which range from standard rooms and suites, to what Lang calls “new layouts”.

“These are designed for families of three, four, five, six or even more, so as to accommodate every type of guest, with more choices than ever before,” he says.

One such offering is the Family Infinite Balcony. Lang says: “Here a family of up to six can be together but also find that precious me time. Tucked away at the other end of the room, children can escape to their own bunk alcove complete with TVs, beds and a hangout space. The bathroom also features a split design, to make it a little bit easier for families to get ready for whatever adventures they have in store each day.”

The most lavish cabin on-board, meanwhile, is the Ultimate Family Townhouse.

“It is the first three-storey, adventure-filled pad for up to eight people and comes with a slide, movie room, karaoke equipment, table tennis and private patio with its own entrance to the Surfside neighbourhood,” says Lang. “It is honestly standout, and the ultimate place to stay for any family on vacation.”

Tight ship

Designing a ship to be at once comfortable, practical and luxurious is a tall order, and building the world’s largest in its category was challenging, admits Lang, especially given the end game.

“When we set out to create Icon, we simply wanted to make the world’s greatest holiday. The main challenge of this build was making our vision a reality,” he says.

“Working with external suppliers meant there were occasions we were told something couldn’t be done. For example, we were originally advised that four waterslides were the maximum any ship could hold. “However, instead of accepting defeat, we collaborated to work out how to make these amazing firsts possible. Icon now has six record-breaking slides in its Category 6 water park.”

It's been seven years in the making, Lang adds, but “our designers, industrial engineers, architects, marine architects and an array of artistic teams have finally made a bold and game-changing vision a reality”.

Updated: February 07, 2024, 6:48 AM