That’s it. The cruise industry’s apex predator, heavy, slaving and menacing, weighing 250,000 tons and 1,198 feet long – Royal Caribbean’s icon of the seas, the largest cruise ship in history.
It took many years to prepare it – and now it is finally truly at sea. And so am I, to be honest.
The experience when I embarked in Miami for the inaugural navigation was overwhelming. In front of me is a piece of art resembling a giant golf ball and a swarm of Royal Caribbean employees, all in orange T-shirts, standing. Nearby, a man holds a clipboard next to a life-size bronze sculpture depicting, for some reason, a dog relieving itself on a lamp post.
My short trip coincides with the launch of a partnership between Royal Caribbean and the Inter Miami soccer team, whose roster includes a Lionel Messi. It’s an irresistible pairing. The greatest footballer of all time adopted by the greatest cruise ship of all time. Quite predictably, Royal Caribbean has taken to calling Messi “the icon of the icon.”
Thomas W. Hodgkinson enjoys a drink with his book as he lounges by the pool on board
Weighing nearly 300,000 tons and measuring 1,198 feet long, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas is the largest cruise ship in history.
With the size, hyperbole and strangeness, it takes 24 hours to acclimate. At first I barely know which direction I am in. And when I get my bearings, I don’t flinch at the sight of a huge plastic pink flamingo, nor when, upon entering the all-you-can-eat buffet, I am assailed by two exuberant Mexicans wearing surplices that look like a donut and to a fried egg.
” How did you sleep ? » asks the Donut in a lilting falsetto. Not bad, I said. “Don’t forget to wash your hands!” » chimes in the fried egg.
This colorful madness is a world in itself. Barely affected by the waves, it moves according to its own rhythms and rules.
Rule 1. You can have whatever you want. A cocktail for breakfast? Help yourself. Basketball? No problem. A climbing wall? A mall? We have what you need, sir.
Rule 2. Participate. There are so many activities on offer that it would be a crime not to try them. It’s an opportunity to do things you love, and a few you’ve never done before.
I explore the water slides that spread across the upper deck like bleeding organs. It turns out that the pressure drop is not serious. But the Frightening Bolt is on full blast.
One morning I try the fastest growing game in America. Pickleball is played on a small court, with a small plastic bat and a plastic ball. It’s easy to learn and a lot of fun.
Thomas practices his short game on a crazy golf course on the sunny deck aboard the huge ship
Icon of the Seas has the world’s largest floating water park and infinity pool.
The Ultimate Family Townhouse spans three floors, can accommodate eight people, has a musical staircase and a slide. It can be yours for £70,000 a week
That afternoon, I joined a napkin folding class. Because I say to myself: if not now, when? In this case, there was a mix-up and there was no teacher. Luckily, another punter – Mike from Dallas – works in the restaurant industry and steps in to take the course. Soon I was absurdly proud of my Diamond Fold. Back in my room, I fold all the sheets and towels into a diamond shape.
Besides, my “cabin” is pleasant. Not huge, but smartly appointed, with balcony and sea views. All for around £2,600 per week.
For bigger spenders, there’s the Ultimate Family Townhouse. Spread over three floors and able to accommodate eight people, it has a musical staircase and a slide. It can be yours for £70,000 a week.
Having built the world’s largest passenger ship, boasting the largest suspended infinity pool at sea and the world’s largest floating water park (and so on), it’s unconvincing when Royal Caribbean claims it doesn’t have no obsession with size. “The size issue happened by accident,” insists Jay Schneider, the company’s director of product innovation. “We never aimed to build the largest ship in the world. We just wanted it to be the most iconic.
You can have whatever you want. A cocktail for breakfast? Help yourself. Basketball? No problem. A climbing wall? A mall? We have what you need, sir
A bar on board the liner. Jay Schneider, Royal Caribbean’s director of product innovation, said: “It was never our goal to make the largest ship in the world. We just wanted it to be the most iconic.
A state room on the luxury liner, with sea views, costs £2,600 per week
However, every few years the company makes a vessel a few feet longer than the last. It’s oops, we started again.
More compelling is the company’s claim that it has created the world’s greatest vacation for children. Forget Disneyland Paris. This theme park floats. For the little ones, it will be a real paradise.
They might even find themselves playing pickleball against some of the greatest soccer players in the world. At the end of my trip, for the nomination ceremony, the entire Inter Miami team, including Luis Suarez and Messi himself, shows up on the ship in their pink uniforms. As a reward, they receive vouchers allowing them and their family members to enjoy a cruise at any time.
Which must be some comfort to Messi – who is estimated to have earned $1.15 billion (£900 million) in his career so far, according to Forbes.
What follows is a truly crazy extravaganza in the spectacular Aqua Dome. There’s a bagpipe performance by a rock band called Red Hot Chilli Pipers; blessings from a rabbi and a priest. Then the great Lionel Messi dutifully crushes a vat of Veuve Clicquot against the hull, declaring: “I call this ship Icon of the Seas”.
And the job is done – until the world’s next largest cruise ship arrives.