Icon of The Seas: Our Seven-Year Journey of Firsts and Biggests at Sea

February 29, 2024

“Providing unsurpassed entertainment experiences where activity and thrills exceed all expectations, Icon has taken this wow factor to a new level with the unveiling of unique and audacious venues. With Marquee Shows rated 10/10 by the Washington Post, Icon draws praise and wonderment from all who have been on board.”

For the past 26 years, Wilson Butler Architects (WBA) has partnered with Royal Caribbean International to create the most groundbreaking entertainment and vacation experiences at sea. That includes the cruiseline’s fleet of 23 seminal, industry-defining ships, culminating with the latest and greatest Icon of the Seas.

Our Icon of the Seas journey began in the fall of 2016 when Royal Caribbean’s New building and Innovation team asked WBA to master plan a new prototype for what would become the largest and most anticipated passenger ship ever built. With the biggest capacity in their fleet, and Royal Caribbean’s bold vision for unparalleled design and programming, Icon has truly fulfilled their mission to provide the “Best Family Vacation on the Planet”. In the tradition of previous ships, Icon provides unsurpassed entertainment experiences where activity and thrills exceed all expectations. Yet, Icon has taken this wow factor to a new level with the unveiling of unique and audacious venues, drawing praise and wonderment from all who have been on board.

WBA is proud to be a partner with Royal Caribbean throughout the design and execution of this captivating ship and its most iconic and recognizable features. During our master plan phase, we worked closely with Royal Caribbean’s Product and Operations Teams, to lay the foundation for creating a relaxing environment, where guests can intuitively navigate eight distinct neighborhoods, managing the plethora of enticing options to create a personalized family vacation.

Our greatest challenge, following the delivery of five Oasis class ships, was to help design an even richer variety of dining, entertainment, and recreational opportunities. This led to five new neighborhood conceptsAquaDome, Thrill Island, Chill Island, Surfside, and The Hideawayeach one appealing to a new market segment by pushing creative boundaries to realize innovations such as Thrill Island’s Cat 6, the first true waterpark at sea, and an immersive, enclosed 57-meter glass dome, home to the Aqua Theater’s breathtaking performances and the Overlook Bar’s panoramic views.

While the size of this “city at sea” is unprecedented, WBA’s master planning emphasized the smooth flow of guests and goal to minimize wait times and crowding.

The Icon is massive and caters to the masses. Even so, I could carve out an experience that aligned with my preferences and travel style. The public spaces are large and airy, with views of the sea and sky, so I never felt claustrophobic.” Washington Post.

Having set the stage with the Icon of the Seas master plan, WBA relished the opportunity to design many of the spaces and venues onboard that would go on to draw superlatives from both national and international press.

WBA’s Venue highlights

  • The PearlThe instantly iconic feature­, greeting guests upon arrival, is a blend of structural genius and sculpture, wowing passengers with a 53-ft-diameter kinetic art installation. This eye-catching feature doubles as a load-bearing superstructure supporting the nine decks above, allowing for the three-deck-high by 95-foot-wide panoramic window, flooding the Royal Promenade with natural light.
  • The AquadomeThis immediately recognizable dome has become the signature venue for the ship. This colossal super structure spans the 57-meter of the ship while enveloping the inner dome of the 700-seat AquaTheater, as well as bars, lounges, restaurants, and retail. The AquaTheater amazes with 17-meter diving from the oculus of the dome, 189 kinetic projection screen panels, 7 underwater stage lifts, a waterfall, more than 130 dynamic water features, dual flying, slacklines, and four robot stagehands.
  • Absolute Zero – The biggest ice arena in Royal Caribbean’s fleet was designed to feel like an expansive winter icescape down to the smallest details. This transformable 794-seat venue boasts immersive projections and a retractable ice cover for multipurpose programing, including laser tag and a late night’s dance club. Its deliberate oval shape with Glice® entry ramps allow performers to gain amazing speed and execute triple jumps adding to the breathtaking show experience.
  • Royal TheaterA rich and glamorous 1,220-seat Broadway theater with a modern aesthetic and a four-section orchestra lift. Multiple stages flanked by full height LED digital screens break the bounds of the Proscenium immersing the audience in dazzling spectacle.
  • Central Park – The reborn Central Park on Icon of the Seas, designed in collaboration with Urban Robot, brings more lushness and greenery than the previous class with more than 33,000 plants. It also amazes with views by the Pearl through to the Ocean. Restaurants, bars,  and a jazz club dot the paths throughout this neighborhood providing plenty of reasons to linger.
  • Royal Promenade – The main gathering space and the heart of the ship now boasts two full levels of restaurants, bars, shops, and entertainment while natural light floods in from the largest panoramic window at sea. Gangway access and escalators from the lower boarding decks deliver passengers opposite the Pearl. Guests flow seamlessly up monumental stairs to Surfside and Central Park neighborhoods without ever needing to get on an elevator.

The level of ambition and complexity of Icon of the Seas gave us the extraordinary opportunity to work very closely and collaboratively with Meyer Turku Shipyard, Royal Caribbean’s Site Office, multiple design firms, and an amazing team of outfitters and special consultants. Our partners on this journey included:

Royal Caribbean Group – Newbuilding & Innovation

RCI Entertainment

RCI Hotel Operations

RCI Food & Beverage

RCG Turku Site Office

Meyer Turku Shipyard

3Deluxe (Collaborating Designer – AquaDome)

Ambius (Central Park Landscape)

Breakfast NYC (The Pearl Art Installation)

CharcoalBlue (Theater Consultant)

Control AV (Entertainment Lighting & Sound)

Crystal Fountains (Water Features)

Entertainment Project Services (Theatrical Rigging)

Fly by Foy (Aerial Rigging)

Handling Specialties (Underwater Lifts)

Kone Elevators

Merima Oy (Outfitting Contractor – Theater and Aquadome)

Mobimar (Specialty Contractor – Pearl and the Aquadome)

Novum Structures (Aquadome Glass Structure)

Project International (Architectural Lighting)

Robert Soldo Design (Collaborating Designer – Thrill Island)

Urban Robot (Collaborating Designers – Royal Promenade & Central Park)