'I just sailed with 7600 people on the world's biggest cruise ship. Here's what it was really like.'

I’ve become a bit of a cruise lover over the past few years. It’s not just because I can sit in a hot tub all day drinking cocktails and then arrive at a fun destination without having to put in any effort (although that is my favourite cruise activity), but it’s the vibe, the fun and the literally hundreds of things to do on board beautiful ships.

So, when I got the chance to cruise on the biggest ship in the world, Royal Caribbean’s $2 billion extravaganza, Icon of the Seas, I quickly packed my favourite lanyard, refillable cruise cup and bingo dabber, and set off to explore. 

I boarded Icon of the Seas for her christening while she was sparkling new (sidenote: her "Godfather" is football’s GOAT, Lionel Messi, but sadly he didn't stay on board!) I fell in love with this ship, and although her size and 365-metre length is certainly impressive, it was the attention to detail that surprised me most. 

Watch: Parents miss cruise ship with children onboard. Post continues below.

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Yes, she was created to give families the ultimate holiday – and she does. But child-free passengers also have their own neighbourhoods to enjoy, and if you do have littles with you, there are new spaces to indulge in me-time while the kids play. Sounds good for everyone, doesn’t it?


You’d need WEEKS to explore everything on offer on board, but here are some standouts for me. 

1. It’s like a small, beautiful city that is easily girl-mathed as a free holiday.

One of the reasons I love cruising is that once you’re on board – and especially if you have the drinks package –everything is free (because you’ve already paid for it). And it feels even free-er on the Icon of the Seas because there is 20 breathtaking decks, seven record-breaking pools, six world-first (terrifying) waterslides and more than 40 bars, restaurants and lounges. The food ranges from Asian street style bites to fine-dining seafood, Japanese and Italian restaurants, three-course gourmet dinners in the Main Dining Room and everything in between. 

2. There's a champagne bar in the open-air Central Park. 

Central Park is a stunning outdoor garden in the middle of the Icon, with the sky visible five-decks above and decorated with more than 30,000 plants, artworks, sculptures and stunning purple orchids. The eight restaurants and bars here include Bubbles, the sweet Parisian-styled champagne bar that was my favourite go-to. The drinks package includes most of the champs served here, however if you have the taste for Dom you will have to pay a little extra. Sit at an ornate table surrounded by greenery, look up at the sky and listen to the live jazz. Your confused brain will try and comprehend if this is actually a cruise ship - and yes, it is.

3. The Aussie contingent is strong. 

Australian Olympian Rachel Presser is onboard Icon of the Seas along with a small cast of Aussies performing in breathtaking productions, from the live orchestra musical theatre of the Wizard of Oz, to dazzling ice-skating at the ice rink and the thrills of AquaAction, where Rachel and fellow synchronised swimmers deliver jaw dropping tricks in a mesmerising high adrenaline show – including the first aerial pas des deux at sea. 


Alison Hubble is a Very Important Aussie onboard, as the minder and trainer of Royal Caribbean’s new Chief Dog Officer, the elusive but very in-demand six-month-old Golden Retriever, Rover. 

Then there's Admiral Awesome - AKA Apollo AKA one of Sophie Monk's final choices in season three of The Bachelorette. Dressed in his red and gold officers’ uniform, Admiral Awesome is the 'fun ambassador' in the family neighbourhood, Surfside, and his fabulous magic shows, story time and general joie de vivre – combined with a huge waterpark, carousel, playground and cafes – make this neighbourhood a very happy place indeed. 

Image: Supplied. 


4. There’s a cocktail bar in the kids’ neighbourhood, and you’re encouraged to enjoy it.

Something else that brings the joy to Surfside is its cocktail bar! One of the eight distinct neighbourhoods on board the Icon of the Seas, Surfside was created as a space for families with small children to spend time together but to also spend time apart…with a cocktail. It’s parallel play, it’s the parenting you do when you’re not parenting – and it just works.

The Lemon Post cocktail bar is right next to the Splashaway Bay waterpark (with dedicated lifeguards on duty), so while the kids are happily swimming you can slowly back away, sit down at the bar and order a special cocktail (the coconut vodka Escape Raft and gin and butterfly pea Shark Attack were my faves) If the kids try to join you just hand them the mocktail menu. Sorted. 

5. There's beach club vibes at Hideaway Bay. 

The blue of the water in the suspended infinity pool caught my eye as I descended the stairs into this adults only retreat that sits over the stern of the ship with views out over the ocean. Once I spotted the hot tubs and cocktail bar on the multi-level sun decks, I secured myself to a sun lounge for an afternoon of sunshine, listening to the DJ and sipping on a delicious Oh Mai Gawd (or two). It's the place to be - and if you have kids, they’ll be living their best lives in Adventure Ocean kids' club or Social 020 teen club so you can totally live it up.


6. Icon’s lead architectural designer is a woman. 

Yeah the girls! Royal Caribbean’s lead architectural designer Holly Hoffman moved to Finland from the United States to oversee the design of the Icon of the Seas. A team of women designed the family spaces and stunning Surfside neighbourhood too, which I reckon is evident in the thoughtful details on every millimetre of the ship. On every deck you’ll find special nooks and lounges, surprising detail like digital aquariums and coveted secret spaces like the elevated pods in the stunning Overlook lounge and bar. And while the ship can carry up to 7,600 people if all the staterooms are fully occupied, the design means there’s actually more room per person than on any other Royal Caribbean ship.

Image: Supplied.


7. There's seven pools and six world-first water slides on board.

That’s one pool for every day of the week, and with the biggest swim-up bar at sea, Swim and Tonic, you don’t even have to get out of the pool to enjoy a cocktail. Favourites in the Chill Island neighbourhood include the biggest pool at sea, the Royal Bay, the secret infinity Cove pool and Cloud 17 (adults only). 

If you’re after some thrills then Thrill Island has six waterslides including the first family raft rides at sea, the tallest drop slide and the first open free fall slide at sea. And if you’re feeling extra daring, walk the plank 50 metres above the ocean, suspended out of the side of the ship by a harness, and zipline back in. They’ll even video you – it’s mortifying but worth it. 

8. The ship is the destination. 

With the abundance of activities, performances, restaurants and bars on board there’s no need to bother with pesky things like getting off the ship at exotic ports - even though Icon even makes this easier with escalators to transport guests to the gangway. You could easily spend weeks here and never run out of things to do…but if you have to get off, every cruise stops at Royal Caribbean’s private island Perfect Day at Coco Cay. Part beach club, part theme park, part ‘Oh my God look at the colour of the water’ this tropical island is stunning. 


9. There was so much light. 

If you’ve cruised before you’d know that sometimes it can feel a little dark in the main areas of the ships because of how ships need to be built. But there's views from every part of the ship through thousands of towering floor to ceiling glass windows. The Royal Promenade’s steel sphere, the stunning colour-changing kinetic sculpture, not only provides a visual feast with her 3000 glass tiles and swirling staircase, but her 175 tonnes  - more weight than a Boeing 737 -  supports the structural changes needed build so many windows. 

So, was there any negatives? 

Honestly, I couldn’t find any except needing more time to explore – I really should have planned ahead to make sure I could get to everything. But then a cruise is also about relaxing, and I did that well too.

The only hard part is getting there from Australia - it's 20 hours flying time from the east coast of Australia to Miami, where the ship departs. But that will give you time to put together a tight itinerary to make sure you see and do it all while you’re onboard. 

My girl math is mathing, and I’ll be back soon. 

Evie Farrell is obsessed with exploring the world and sharing her adventures. You can follow her on Instagram here.

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