Cruise Review: Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas Is Even Bigger, Bolder, and Better Than I Expected 

Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas takes a big swing and comes out a winner.
The Category 6 Waterpark on Icon of the Seas is the world's largest at sea (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
The Category 6 Waterpark on Icon of the Seas is the world's largest at sea (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Much has been made about the size of Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Icon of the Seas. It isn’t just big—it’s the biggest cruise ship ever built. And it isn’t just the same-old, same-old, either. From the dining and entertainment to the play areas and water slides, everything about Icon is intended to drive home the fact that it’s bigger and bolder than anything you’ve ever experienced at sea before. In fact, it’s been marketed so well that you could be forgiven for wondering if it’s all maybe too much of a good thing?

Icon is 20 decks high and almost four football fields long. It can accommodate nearly 10,000 people (passengers and crew). Stacked up against many other cruise ships, it feels a bit like the Star Destroyer at the beginning of the original Star Wars—it just keeps going and going and going. 

But here’s the funny thing about the world’s biggest cruise ship. Somehow, it’s not overwhelming—not even a little. I’m just back from a three-day preview sailing aboard Icon of the Seas, and what sticks with me most is not the ship’s sheer size so much as the many, many options its impressive size provides for dining, entertainment, and relaxation.


You can't fully appreciate the size of Icon of the Seas until you see it beside a typical ship (Photo: Josh Roberts)
You can’t fully appreciate the size of Icon of the Seas until you see it beside a typical ship (Photo: Josh Roberts)

Family-Centered Neighborhoods on Icon of the Seas

While there’s always something to see or do or eat on Icon of the Seas, everything feels smartly spaced. I think that’s because the ship makes such good use of its eight distinct neighborhoods, including Thrill Island (home to the world’s largest cruise ship water park), Chill Island (with four pools and endless spaces to lounge), and Surfside (a new neighborhood designed for families vacationing with toddlers and little kids). Adults have their own private Hideaway on Deck 15, complete with a luxurious infinity pool destined to spawn a million Instagram posts. 

But it’s Surfside, Thrill Island, and Chill Island that will most interest families with kids. 

Thrill Island

Spread across decks 16 and 17, Thrill Island is a big kid’s dream: Its 17,000-square-foot Category 6 water park has the tallest drop slide at sea, the first open freefall slide, and the first family raft rides on a cruise ship. One of these raft rides, Hurricane Hunter, even dips out over the ocean before spinning back around. Beyond the water park, Thrill Island also has mini golf, a climbing wall, a FlowRider surf simulator, and the already famous Crown’s Edge walkway that dangles out over the edge of the ship. 


Surfside, meanwhile, is an all-new space designed exclusively for families with younger kids. Located on deck 7, it’s home to Splashaway Bay (for young kids) and Baby Bay (for the littlest family members). But what really seals the deal is the oceanview Water’s Edge pool, which is a perfect spot for parents to hang out and relax while the kids splash and play. It’s something you don’t often see in a kids’ area—a nice space for supervising parents. Surfside also boasts an arcade, a carousal, and plenty of quick food options with menu items that appeal to both kids and parents. 

Chill Island

Chill Island quickly became my favorite spot on Icon of the Seas. Spread across decks 15, 16, and 17, it’s a massive four-pool paradise with loads of lounge spaces, restaurants and bars, and (notably for this pale New Englander) plenty of shady spots to sit, sip, and read a good book. On a multigenerational family vacation, grandparents are likely to find this space the most enjoyable hangout area onboard.

Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas
Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Family Time on Icon of the Seas

While there’s plenty of adults-only entertainment and spaces onboard, Icon of the Seas is a family cruise ship through and through. That’s clear not just in the almost urban-planning-like care and thoughtfulness that went into the ship’s design and layout, but also in the onboard entertainment and family programming.

When I spoke with Erin Stransky, who overseas Royal Caribbean’s family entertainment strategy, she stressed that Icon is all about together time. “Many parents aren’t looking to just drop off their kids at Adventure Ocean [the line’s kids club], they also want opportunities to spend quality time together on vacation.” Those opportunities include activities like a “Steel Pan Family Jam,” a lively family festival, a family block party, bed time stories, mini golf, a sports court, an escape room, laser tag, and even ice skating. 

Family shows and entertainment abound as well. Icon of the Seas is debuting a brand new and technologically dazzling Broadway-style production of The Wizard of Oz that raises the bar for live theatrical special effects. The water-based Aqua Action show and the ice skating Starbust performances are equally over-the-top crowd pleasers. 

Couple that with more than 40 restaurants, lounges, and bars, and dozens of stateroom combinations (including many specifically designed for families and multigenerational groups), and the lingering takeaway from my inaugural season voyage is that Icon of the Seas delivers entirely on its promise as the ultimate family vacation at sea. 

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Josh Roberts
Josh Roberts is the Editorial Director and Co-Founder of FamilyVacationist. He is the former Senior Executive Editor at Tripadvisor, SmarterTravel, Airfarewatchdog, and FamilyVacationCritic. He has been recognized with multiple awards for excellence in travel journalism from the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA). His work has also appeared in Insider, Yahoo, USA Today, Tripadvisor, and many other publications.