While Icon became the largest cruise ship ever to launch on 27 January – which is indeed newsworthy – it’s also fair to surmise the sheer scale of the ship could act as a disincentive to book for a significant cohort of Aussies.
There are plenty of travel agents around the country who can attest to the resistance that Aussies can mount to stepping aboard giant cruise ships, many of whom fear the prospect of being crammed like sardines aboard a crowded sailing.
While there is substance to this fear, so much really hinges on the design of the vessel and how traffic is funnelled throughout her decks.
While travelBulletin was recently aboard Icon for a special preview sailing from Miami, it was clear that Royal executives were keen to play down her impressive girth – which for the record accommodates around 5,610 passengers – and instead were hyping the wealth of experiences aboard for all ages.
Propsective travellers won’t find many references to Icon’s size in Royal’s marketing collateral either, perhaps for the reasons mentioned above, and according to Royal the line definitely never set out to create the world’s largest ship for the sake of it.
Rather the requirements of space ballooned in its quest to take the cruise line’s family appeal to new and innovative levels.
When I asked one of Royal’s masterminds behind guest experience at the cruise line, Jay Schnieder (pictured), about the headlines the size of the ship had attracted, he confirmed that planning meetings never incorporated chat about breaking any word records.
“Size was never the purpose,” Schneider clarified.
“There will be no reason to make Star of the Seas [Royal’s next Icon-class ship] bigger and make the world’s largest ship from the world’s largest ship, we don’t feel the need to do that right now, maybe we’ll change our minds – never say never – but right now it is not the design intent for Icon-class.
“That design intent has always been to create the most iconic and best family vacation experience possible,” he added.
To be fair, on the experiential front Royal is being true to its word. There is a very long list of fun to be had aboard across food (more than 40 eateries), entertainment, wellness, bars and pools, to name just a few.
The impressive Aqua Dome (pictured) is certainly one of these selling points.
The large open space and intelligent lighting/water technology enable the cruise line to commission really interesting acrobatic art performances which are sure to woo crowds in her debut season.
Another major plus is the evolution of the neighbourhood concept to incorporate eight distinctly different worlds catering to all age demographics.
It should also be noted that despite the larger size, there is actually more room on Icon on a per passenger basis, a welcome design trait that means even at full capacity the vessel should never make passengers feel overly confined.
It is also clear that Royal’s design team invested a great deal of energy into passenger flow. From the ubiquitous nooks and crannies to keep people moving in different directions to the smart lift system which more effectively distributes traffic, these important touches will likely pay big dividends when it comes to passenger comfort in the long run.
On my recent three-day sailing I failed to get through close to half of my to-do list, there were still many more shows to check out and places to dine, but alas I was only able to scratch the surface of each of the eight themed neighbourhoods on board in only three days.
The big incentive to book:
This is a great ship for multigenerational bookings. There are so many attractions that combine activities for the kids alongside more stimulating adult activities. The Surfside neighbourhood for example features water and land rides, arcades and children’s entertainers intermingled with some really tasty eateries and cool bars for the parents.
The drawback for Aussies:
For me (and I’m sure many Aussies) it was the lack of quality coffee on board. Starbucks has the contract so be prepared for a drop off in the standard of beans that your cleints might typically expect to enjoy on dry land in Australia.
The quiet highlight:
The smart lighting in the cabins was surprisingly useful. Passengers can adjust to pleasant morning and night settings at the touch of a button, or if sitting back to watch a film on the TV, a tailored movie lighting feature that dims to just the right level of mood darkness.
The loud highlight:
The music! There are beats going on everywhere aboard Icon so if you’re not a music fan perhaps bring some comfortable earmuffs. Bands provide ambience in many areas on most decks, while the Dueling Pianos bar will provide a chance to chill and absorb some genuine talent. When passengers are done with listening to the skilled artisans, they can also have a crack themselves in the always-popular Karaoke lounge or simply watch a fellow passenger butcher Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You instead. March to the beat of your own drum.