Royal Caribbean sets a new cruise benchmark with Icon of the Seas

Icon of the Seas guests can get away from the hustle and bustle at The Overlook, enjoying wraparound ocean views. Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

The sounds of rain and thunder washed over Jamie Ross, owner of Moms at Sea, as she walked under the tangle of waterslides on the Icon of the Seas. Lights began flashing around her, resembling lightning, as she felt the occasional drop of water falling on her head.

It was this kind of immersive experience on Royal Caribbean International’s new Icon of the Seas that made Ross compare the ship with a theme park experience.

“It’s much like Disney, how you walk down Main Street and hear the music in the background and smell the bakery,” said the Carmel, Ind.-based advisor. “It’s the magic Royal was going for, and they got it.”

She’s not alone. Advisors on one of the Icon’s two shakedown voyages in mid-January said the first Icon-class ship is positioning itself as a solid competitor to land-based theme parks and resorts, and they wonder if other lines will try to mimic Royal’s approach.

“They’re like a gigantic Disney World-type deal for the kids. But they found that sweet spot of both a Disney for adults and a Disney for kids,” said Anthony Hamawy, president of

Ross, who was on the shakedown cruise and the ship’s first revenue sailing, agreed, adding that while the Icon “truly competes with the theme parks,” its adult areas keep it from swinging too far into the “kid-friendly zone.”

Marc Hayes, co-owner of Cruise Elite in Ormond Beach, Fla., predicted the Icon would inspire other lines to build similar products.

“Everybody’s going to be chasing them,” he said.

Competing with land vacations

Royal Caribbean has long seen itself as competing with land-based vacations rather than cruise lines, said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service. Executives think about Disney and Orlando theme parks, Las Vegas resorts and waterparks as its biggest competitors and contemplate how to take some of their market share, she said.

“We really feel that we’re very competitive with a brand like Disney,” Freed said, adding that Royal’s appeal is broader. “We offer more than just a kids experience, we cater to the entire family from young to old and everyone in between.”

Saying Disney’s sweet spot is 3- to 9-year-olds, Freed said Royal is positioned to capture that demographic as it graduates out of Disney.

But the Icon was also designed to go after that demographic, with Surfside, its first neighborhood purpose-built for families with children ages 6 and under.

With a pool area with ocean views where parents can cool off within eyeshot of their kids in the wet play zone, Surfside also has several food venues, a bar with menus for kids and adults, an arcade and several retail stores to feed and entertain families throughout the day in one corridor.

The challenge for travel advisors will be prepping families for a vacation on the Icon as they would for a theme park, said Kristy Mosolino, owner of Wishes Travel in Birmingham, Ala. She would station young families in rooms near Surfside to minimize long treks across the ship and would advise them to get the Internet package to stay in touch if they split up.

“I would tell my client, ‘You’re going to lose your kid,'” as they might at a theme park, Mosolino said, calling the ship a “theme park on water.”

Waterslides to adult hideaways

Royal doesn’t just compete with land-based vacations: On the Icon, it took inspiration from them.

The ship has a complimentary six-slide waterpark in its Thrill Island neighborhood, which is themed as a deserted island. The colorful 17,000-square-foot area competes with the biggest waterparks, offering experiences such as the Pressure Drop free fall slide and rides guests can do together, including two of the first family raft slides at sea and a pair of racing slides.

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