The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel

Inside the world’s biggest cruise ship

It’s all hands on deck to finish Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas. Chris Leadbeater takes a hard-hat tour of the ship set to break records


You can see it long before you reach the waterfront – a 21st-century behemoth, impossible to miss, its upper decks soaring above the treeline in this relatively urban, south-westerly corner of Finland. There it is, in its immensity, as you pause at the gate and the security checkpoint. Icon of the Seas: the world’s biggest cruise ship.

It is not quite ready. The vessel is due to be guided out of the Meyer Turku shipyard – which sits five miles west of Finland’s sixth biggest city, Turku – on October 26. And its inaugural voyage, with passengers, is not scheduled to depart from Miami until January 27 2024. But when Royal Caribbean’s newest baby takes to the ocean, it will smash all sorts of records.

It will not just be the world’s biggest cruise ship (with a gross tonnage of 250,800), but the longest, too – all 1,198ft (365 metres) of it. It will have the world’s largest pool at sea (“Royal Bay”, able to hold 40,000 gallons of water). Inside, the “AquaDome” will be the largest freestandi­ng dome on the water, a rare feat in glass and steel – rising to 82ft (25 metres) in height and stretching to 164ft (50 metres) in width.

You might go so far as to argue that its delivery date will be the moment the cruise industry puts the pandemic completely behind it. After two years when the future of an entire type of holiday seemed in peril, here is a significan­t step forward. Icon of the Seas will be the first graduate of Royal Caribbean’s “Icon” class – a new breed of mega-ship. The second, already under constructi­on, is due in 2025.

However, not everyone is convinced that big is beautiful. When renderings of the finished ship were published last November, social media was awash with mockery. Some comments decried a vessel that rears to 20 decks – and will carry almost 10,000 people – as “human lasagne”. Others, noticing the multicolou­red tangle of waterslide­s on top of the vessel, referred to garish cakes and children’s birthday parties.

There is no such amusement during a preview tour of the vessel. Building Icon is no laughing matter for those involved, and the Meyer shipyard takes its business seriously. The firm has a long relationsh­ip with Royal Caribbean; Meyer crafted Song of Norway, the line’s first cruise ship, in 1970.

Icon is so huge that it appears to have devoured the shipyard. Certainly, it has taken it over, requiring a 3,000-strong army of shipbuilde­rs. There is enthusiast­ic talk of a “whitepaper ship” – the intimation being that Icon is a blank canvas being filled in, a seafaring game-changer, indebted to no former blueprints.

For the moment, “blank canvas” feels closer to the truth. Indeed, it is difficult to equate the mass of naked steel and tarpaulins, looming over the waterfront, to the finished vessel in those bright renderings. January will pop with champagne corks and ticker tape, but here in June, Icon is still a building site – a dimly lit place where masses of exposed cables extend along corridors. A work in progress, where the air is thick with the smells and sounds of paint, friction, rubber and heavy machinery.

However, appearance­s can be deceptive. Harri Kulovaara, the Finnish naval architect who is also Royal Caribbean’s

executive vice-president of Maritime & Newbuildin­g, says Icon of the Seas is far closer to completion than the casual observer might think.

“The ship is more than 70 per cent done,” he insists. “We have about 2,600 people working on it every day. It is only when a ship is at around a 90 per cent level of completion that the panels and the finishing touches are put in place. All the hard work comes much earlier.”

He adds: “Although it has been six years [since work began], the ship is actually being constructe­d in a short time frame.”

While the pandemic had an inevitable impact on constructi­on, Kulovaara says that the unforeseen interrupti­on also proved helpful. “We used that time to perfect the design,” he adds. “As difficult and as unfortunat­e a period as it was, we were able to use the time in a positive manner.”

For all the hard hats and steel-toed boots still at work, plenty of Icon has already taken shape. You can now walk through “Surfside”, the cavernous space on Deck 7 that will offer splash and paddle zones for families. “Central Park” is already laid out on Deck 8 – an open-air “neighbourh­ood” with boutiques, restaurant­s and a jazz bar.

“Chill Island” has emerged on Decks 15-17, even if its cluster of swimming pools is not yet evident. “Thrill Island”, its partner on Decks 16-17, will be the largest water park at sea. Some of the green, purple and pink tubing of its waterslide­s is already fixed into position. The “AquaDome” is there, too, still full of toolboxes, but visibly the place where singers will hit the high notes, and acrobats will spin.

Royal Caribbean has been keen to emphasise Icon’s “green” credential­s. The ship will make use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a primary fuel source; it will have an onboard desalinati­on plant to produce fresh water; and it will convert waste heat from the engines into energy.

But what about the cost for passengers? The “Ultimate Family Townhouse” – a three-storey hideaway that can sleep up to eight people, and comes complete with a slide between floors – could cost up to US$75,000 (£60,000) per week.

That said, there will always be a wide range of prices on a ship of such proportion­s. And if you fancy hopping aboard next year, you can sign up for a seven-night Eastern Caribbean & Perfect Day voyage – sailing from Miami on November 30, with stops at St Kitts, St Thomas and Royal Caribbean’s exclusive-use Bahamian island, CocoCay – from £1,439pp, excluding flights (0344 493 4005; royal A few cabins are still on offer for the maiden voyage (January 27, same itinerary), from £7,398pp.

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 ?? ?? Private view: Chris takes a tour of the ship The ‘Thrill Island’ waterpark takes shape ‘Surfside’ on Deck 7 will contain splash and paddle zones designed for families
Private view: Chris takes a tour of the ship The ‘Thrill Island’ waterpark takes shape ‘Surfside’ on Deck 7 will contain splash and paddle zones designed for families

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