Ship Review: Icon of the Seas

Kicking off 2024 with a sailing on Icon of the Seas from Miami, Florida, I learned that this largest ship at sea has been a dream of Royal Caribbean Group for years. President and CEO Jason Liberty, speaking at the ship’s naming ceremony in January, shared: “Icon of the Seas is the culmination of more than 50 years of dreaming, innovating, and living our mission to deliver the world’s best vacation experiences responsibly.”

Throughout the cruise, I had the opportunity to chat with executives and officers to learn more about the sustainability of this 1,198-foot-long, 20-deck ship. “Icon of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s most sustainable ship today,” said Liberty. “Every ship class is getting more efficient. The Oasis class was 20 percent more efficient than the class before, and now the Icon is even better.”  

For more than 30 years, Royal Caribbean Group’s sustainable practices focused on discovering lower-carbon energy solutions. “We launched our ‘SEA the Future’ initiative as both a platform and a pledge to uphold our values.” said Liberty. ‘SEA’ is an acronym for the cruise line’s commitment to Sustain our planet, Energize communities and Accelerate innovation.

The Icon of Icon

On January 25, the largest passenger ship at sea was named by history’s most-decorated fútbol player, Lionel  Messi — seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, World Cup Champion, and now the star member of David Beckham’s Inter Miami soccer team. 

“Mister Messi truly is a global icon,” says Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. And rather than granting Messi the usual title of “godfather,” the line officially refers to him as “the Icon of Icon.” 

Thinking Green

A team of architects and designers built Icon of the Seas to carry up to 7,600 combined guests and crew. I learned that a ship this size has many sustainable innovations from the bow to the stern.

During a day at sea, I met with Nick Rose, Vice-President of Environmental and Sustainability Management for Royal Caribbean. “Throughout the ship, LED lights provide a reduction in energy use and produce less heat,” he said. “The lubrication systems have microscopic bubbles that coat the hull and help to reduce friction for a smoother ride.” 

Another buzzword I heard often throughout the cruise was “LNG”: the ship’s liquefied natural gas-powered engines. “The six dual-engines have the ability to use LNG. This cleaner fuel emits about 25 percent less carbon dioxide than traditional marine fuels,” said Rose. 

The company is also testing biofuels as an alternative fuel in the planning of future ships. Symphony of the Seas became the first ship in the maritime industry to successfully test and use a biofuel blend in Barcelona. The Port of Barcelona is working to become an energy hub, producing and supplying zero-carbon fuels, such as green hydrogen, methanol, and synthetic fuels.

“With the successful trial of biofuels on the Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Apex, the company is hopeful to achieve its goal of net-zero cruising by 2035,” said Rose. 

These biofuel blends were tested and accredited by International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC), a globally recognized organization that ensures sustainability of biofuels and verifies reductions of related emissions. 

“Every kilowatt used is scrutinized for energy efficiencies and reduction in emissions,” said Rose. Excess heat from the engines is repurposed into warm water for the ship. Icon has also been designed to plug into local power grids on shore at ports where it is available, further reducing the ship’s environmental footprint. 

Experience and Energy

Stepping into my spacious stateroom with a balcony, I realized the room was designed with an occupancy-based air conditioning control system. When I opened my balcony door, the air conditioning switched off. This optimizes energy consumption in staterooms.

Another day while at sea, I toured Captain Henrik Loy’s bridge and learned how AI-based technology helps optimize the ship’s routes for maximum efficiency.

Later when I took a tour of the ship’s onboard treatment system and recycling area, I learned that the water is treated above the regulatory standards. The state-of-the-art waste management room has a single-stream recycling process. “We use microwave-assisted pyrolysis technology to turn trash into energy on board,” said Rose. “The ship’s recycling program ensures that more than 90 percent of trash never reaches a landfill.”

The ship also has a desalination plant on board. “After water is treated, one could drink it, it’s that clean,” said Rose. “About 93 percent of the fresh water produced on board is via reverse osmosis.”

Royal Caribbean Group helps protect the sea by collaborating with Save The Waves. Since 1992, they’ve ensured that no solid waste goes overboard. Royal Caribbean Group was the first in the industry to launch a variety of environmental initiatives to help reduce their environmental footprint and protect the ocean communities.

They also partner with scientists at University of Miami’s OceanScope program to collect and share critical ocean data using their ships across the world.

Since partnering with the World Wildlife Fund since 2016, they help track polar bears in the Arctic, and support conservation across the Great Sea Reef region.

For the Cruisers

I also learned that the Royal Caribbean Group reads every passenger’s after-cruise survey. “Passengers have a voice,” said Liberty. “We reach out to our guests to determine how we can improve their cruise experience.”

Since guests want to move easily from the moment they board the ship to the day they disembark, the designers of Icon of the Seas included escalators to help with movement on and off the ship. I will attest that it did make boarding and disembarking safer, easier, and faster. 

Wandering around the ship, I explored most of the 40 different restaurants, bars, and lounges, plus 28 different cabin categories in seven different neighborhoods. Over at the Surfside family-style neighborhood, the stunning three-story 1,772-square-foot Ultimate Family Townhouse is a beach house–style stateroom that sleeps up to eight guests. Not only does this one-of-a-kind suite have an in-suite slide, it also offers a movie-viewing room, gaming area, ensuite primary room, and private Jacuzzi on one of the many terraces. 

The open-air Central Park neighborhood has 20 percent more trees and vegetation giving off oxygen from 33,500 plants. This serene area displays stunning artwork, restaurants, and outdoor bars.

“Couples and families shared on the survey how much they enjoy spending time at the pools and water park,” shared Liberty, “so the Icon of the Seas offers 62 percent more water and seven different swimming pools.”

One of those seven swimming pools is the first suspended infinity pool at sea, located at The Hideaway neighborhood’s beach club. Other outdoor water fun includes a six-slide water park at the largest water park at sea. The new Crowns Edge is where passengers can be harnessed 154 feet above the ocean to follow a thrilling ropes course with standing platforms.

In mid-July 2024, Royal Caribbean is debuting a new Icon-class ship, Utopia of the Seas, sailing into Port Canaveral for shorter getaways on 3-night weekend and 4-night weekday cruises.

Icon of the Seas sails 7-night itineraries from Miami to a variety of Caribbean destinations that include Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, and Cozumel, Mexico. Most of the cruises stop for a perfect day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas.

By Jill Weinlein

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Jill Weinlein is a travel, dining and entertainment writer who has appeared in The Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers, Fodors, NBYnews, Just Luxe and Luxe Beat magazine. She resides in California.