That’s all. The lumbering, drooling, glowering predator of the cruise industry, weighing 250,000 tons and 1,198 feet long: Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in history.
It has taken many years to develop and now, finally, it is truly at sea. And, to be honest, so do I.
The experience, when I board in Miami for the maiden voyage, is overwhelming. In front of me is a piece of art that resembles 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 of, for some reason, a dog relieving himself on a light post.
My short trip coincides with the launch of a partnership between Royal Caribbean and the Inter Miami soccer team, whose roster includes one Lionel Messi. It is an irresistible couple. The best footballer of all time adopted by the greatest cruiser of all time. Unsurprisingly, Royal Caribbean has taken to calling Messi “the Icon of the Icon.”
Thomas W. Hodgkinson enjoys a drink with his book while lounging by the pool on board
Weighing nearly 300,000 tons and 1,198 feet long, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas is the largest cruise ship in history.
With the size, hyperbole, and sheer weirdness, it takes 24 hours to acclimatize. At first I barely know where I’m looking. And when I get my bearings, I don’t flinch one bit when I see a huge plastic flamingo, nor when, upon entering the all-you-can-eat buffet, I’m assaulted by two exuberant Mexicans in surplices that look like a donut and a fried egg.
‘How did you sleep?’ asks the Donut in a sing-song falsetto. Not bad, I say. ‘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 breakfast cocktail? Help himself. Basketball? No problem. A climbing wall? A shopping center? We’ve got you covered, sir.
Rule 2. Join. There are so many activities available that it would be a crime not to try them. It’s an opportunity to do things you love and some you’ve never done before.
I explore the water slides, which stretch across the upper deck like bleeding organs. Turns out the pressure drop isn’t a big deal. But the Dread Ray is in full swing.
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 of the huge ship.
Icon of the Seas features the world’s largest floating water park and infinity pool
The Ultimate Family Townhouse is spread over three floors, sleeps eight, has a musical staircase and a slide. It can be yours for £70,000 a week
That afternoon, I join a napkin folding class. Because I wonder: if not now, when? At the event there was a mistake and there was no teacher. Luckily, another punter, Mike, from Dallas, works in the restaurant industry and takes the class. I soon feel absurdly proud of my Diamond Fold. Upon returning to my room, I fold all the bedding and towels into diamond shapes.
By the way, my “cabin” is nice. It’s not huge, but it’s elegantly designed, with a balcony and sea views. All for around £2,600 a week.
For big spenders, there’s the Ultimate Family Townhouse. Distributed over three floors and with capacity for 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, with the world’s largest suspended infinity pool in the sea and the world’s largest floating water park (and so on), it is not convincing when Royal Caribbean claims to have no obsession with the size. “The size issue happened by accident,” insists Jay Schneider, the company’s director of product innovation. ‘We never set out to build the largest ship in the world. “We just wanted it to be the most iconic.”
You can have whatever you want. A breakfast cocktail? Help himself. Basketball? No problem. A climbing wall? A shopping center? We’ve got you covered, sir.
A bar on board the liner. Jay Schneider, Royal Caribbean’s director of product innovation, said: “We never set out to make the largest ship in the world. We just wanted it to be the most iconic.”
A cabin on a luxury cruise ship, with sea views, costs £2,600 a week
However, every few years, the company makes a boat a few meters longer than the previous one. Wow, we did it again.
More convincing is the company’s claim to have created the world’s largest children’s party. Forget Disneyland Paris. This theme park floats. For the little ones it will be a true paradise.
They might even find themselves playing pickleball against some of the best soccer players in the world. At the end of my trip, for the naming ceremony, the entire Inter Miami team, including Luis Suárez and Messi himself, appears on the boat with their pink stripes. As a reward, they receive vouchers that allow them and their family members to go on a cruise whenever they want.
Which must be some consolation for Messi, who is estimated to have earned $1.15bn (£900m) in his career so far, according to Forbes.
This is followed by a suitably crazy show at the spectacular Aqua Dome. There’s a bagpipe performance by a rock band called the Red Hot Chilli Pipers; blessings from a rabbi and a priest. Then the great Lionel Messi obediently smashes a tub of Veuve Clicquot against the hull and declares: “I call this ship Icon of the Seas.”
And that’s it, until the next largest cruise ship in the world arrives.