The best (and worst) activities on the world’s biggest cruise ship

by Сашка

Broadway-caliber shows, swimming pools and a dueling-piano bar were all highlights on Royal Caribbean’s new ship

If you have the stamina, you can go from morning till after midnight on Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship. Every day, the ship’s Cruise Compass guide releases its schedule of events. The activities cover two full pages — tiny print and single-spaced.

I am active but not an ultramarathoner. For the inaugural cruise on Jan. 27, I could not try everything. Instead, I focused on the ship’s signature activities and amenities while avoiding such cruising mainstays as trivia contests and climbing walls. I broke my no-cheesy pledge only once, to cheer on the contestants in the “world’s sexiest man” competition.

Here are my reviews of the good, the meh and the awful, based on a scale of 1 to 10.

Marquee shows: 10/10

The Icon has a packed roster of entertainers. On my voyage, we had comedians, an a cappella group and a joking juggler. The headliners change, but the three marquee productions — “The Wizard of Oz,” “Aqua Action!” and “Starburst: Elemental Beauty” — are fixtures. They are also phenomenal.

‘The Wizard of Oz’

This show sticks to the original script, with the exception of a few modern diversions. The opening scene of Dorothy sitting in her bedroom, bent over a smartphone, confounded several people near me. Some of us wondered whether we had the wrong starting time. But once the familiar plot kicked in — A tornado is coming! The witch is dead! — the audience stopped fidgeting and fell silent.

Every aspect was Broadway-caliber: the creative costumes, the elaborate choreography, the fanciful set design, the 16-piece orchestra. The action didn’t stay onstage, either. Dorothy flew overhead in a bed that rivaled “The Phantom of the Opera’s” crashing chandelier. A puppet played the role of Toto, but the puppeteer was a star on his own — method acting at its finest.

‘Aqua Action!’

Royal Caribbean introduced this highflying AquaTheater show in the Oasis class of ships. The Icon takes the performance to greater heights — and depths — in its new venue, starring divers, dancers, slackliners, artistic swimmers and aerialists. The enclosed space (earlier iterations were open-air) features high-diving platforms, a 55-foot-tall water curtain, and robotic arms that resemble Transformers’ limbs and are part of the ensemble. The show has the superhuman dexterity and steampunk edginess of Cirque du Soleil.

‘Starburst: Elemental Beauty’

This performance, which takes place on the largest ice skating rink at sea, is a mad-scientist version of Ice Capades. The show is a whimsical, sometimes trippy exploration of the periodic table and celestial sky. The costumes are clever (Day-Glo outfits for neon, for instance), and the soundtrack (“Titanium,” “Diamonds,” “Neutron Dance”) is spot-on. The athletes perform with the grace of ice dancers and the muscle of gymnasts. As if I were watching the Winter Olympics, I held my breath until they nailed their landings.

Category 6 water park: 9/10

Disclaimer: I tried only two of the rides at the Category 6 water park, because I was solo — and chicken. So, my ranking is primarily for Storm Chasers.

Hurricane Hunter and Storm Surge require at least two people per raft. Pressure Drop, the first open free-fall slide at sea, scared me after I met a Floridian who said she sprained her ankle on the ride. However, I did watch a guy sail off the precipice and exit without hobbling. The key is to keep your arms and legs crossed.

Frightening Bolt, the tallest drop slide at sea, resembled a pneumatic tube that transports humans instead of mail. The line was shorter than the one for Storm Chasers, but I saw several repeat riders.

For Storm Chasers, I rode face-first on a purple mat that careened down twisty tunnels with disco lights. A crew member had advised me to keep my head low, so I never swallowed any water. I landed with a splash and blinked at the race clock to discover that I had lost the race against a rival rider on my first try, but I won on the second. My only qualm is that I wish the ride were longer, so I could spend more time barreling down and not standing in line on the stairs.

Crown’s Edge adventure course: 2/10

Crown’s Edge, the cruise ship equivalent of a ropes course, is one of the few onboard attractions with a price tag. I paid $39 on a port day; the price increases when the ship is at sea. The per-minute expense of this short, anticlimactic ride didn’t seem worth it.

Read also:
6 Caribbean vacations that check every travel style

Before our group of four was allowed to step onto the Edge, we had to put on a jumpsuit, harness and helmet. We also watched a short instructional video. At the start of the course, a crew member explained the route and what to do. I only caught “look toward the photographer.”

The platform was made up of X’s and O’s with gaps in between. I walked carefully to avoid slipping and freaking out the people below. I heard someone shouting at me to swivel and smile. I never saw my photo, but I imagine I looked more annoyed than frightened.

I had only a few milliseconds to gaze at the ocean and CocoCay, the cruise line’s private Bahamian island, when the floor dropped. I hovered 154 feet over the water, then swung around the corner like dry cleaning on an automated rack. A crew member reminded me to bend my knees for the landing. I arrived with a thud.

The guide asked our group whether we wanted to take another spin. Only one of us said yes, and it wasn’t me.

Music and parades on the Royal Promenade: 9/10

Depending on the hour and occasion, the Royal Promenade feels like Fifth Avenue (especially on Dress Your Best night), Disney’s Main Street, U.S.A. or Nashville’s Broadway. Most of the big public events take place here, such as the 10,000-balloon drop on the first night; the Ships Ahoy parade, which features floats and an eclectic cast of pirates, snake charmers, Venetian gondoliers and other characters; and the One Hit Wonders dance party, with a guest appearance by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

The crew members go all out for these charmingly hokey shows. However, I should have arrived earlier to secure a better viewing spot. For the parade, I had to crouch down and watch the action between people’s legs. For the One Hit Wonders party, I wedged myself between two other passengers along the railing, leaving little room to dance to “C’mon N’ Ride It (the Train).”

Several bars with live music line the concourse, such as the Schooner Bar (piano), Boleros (Latin music) and Point & Feather (acoustic guitar). A rotating cast of bands and soloists also performs on a balcony overlooking the promenade.

The musicians are equally talented but give off different vibes. Some command your rapt attention, while others encourage boisterous participation. At the Dueling Pianos, for example, Sarah and Tim pounded out such singalong tunes as “Piano Man,” “Toxic” and “Sweet Caroline.” The bar was always raucous.

None of the spots have doors, so the music spills out into the central arcade. If you have sensitive ears, you might be better off in the Central Park neighborhood, where the soundtrack is a mix of recorded birdsong and an acoustic guitarist.

Swimming pools: 7/10

Each of the seven pools has its own personality. The Royal Bay pool on Deck 15 is the most social. You can listen to live music or a DJ here, take a water aerobics class, or watch the coronation of the world’s sexiest man (according to a panel of opinionated female passengers). During peak times, the best seating was often occupied, so I had to sit in the outer ring.

The pools in the kid-friendly Surfside neighborhood cater to little tadpoles. Parents can grab a stool at the Lemon Post and watch their children splash around while they nurse a specialty cocktail. Swim & Tonic has a swim-up bar, but sober swimmers are welcome, too.

My least-favorite pool was the Hideaway. The adult-only infinity pool was as crowded as a seal colony. Another guest sniffed at its murky water. I stood at a safe distance, just as I would in an area teeming with wildlife.

My No. 1 pick for pools was Cloud 17, on the highest deck. I could peer through the glass wall and imagine I was swimming in the ocean, far from the masses.

More cruise news

Living at sea: Travelers on a 9-month world cruise are going viral on social media. For some travelers, not even nine months was enough time on a ship; they sold cars, moved out of their homes and prepared to set sail for three years. That plan fell apart, but a 3.5-year version is waiting in the wings.

Passengers beware: It’s not all buffets and dance contests. Crime data reported by cruise lines show that the number of sex crimes has increased compared to previous years. And though man-overboard cases are rare, they are usually deadly.

The more you know: If you’re cruise-curious, here are six tips from a newcomer. Remember that in most cases, extra fees and add-ons will increase the seemingly cheap price of a sailing. And if you happen to get sick, know what to expect on board.

Related Posts