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Royal Caribbean takes ownership of the world’s biggest cruise ship

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The world’s biggest cruise ship is now in­­ the hands of its new owner, with Royal Caribbean accepting delivery of the 1,198-foot Icon of the Seas this week.

The 20-deck, 250,800-tonne ship was officially handed over to the cruise company at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Turku, Finland, on November 27. Its inaugural voyage is set to depart from Miami, Florida on January 27, 2024 and will tour the Caribbean for seven days.

According to a news release issued by Royal Caribbean, it took 900 days to build Icon of the Seas, which has the capacity to hold a whopping 7,600 guests and 2,350 crew members. That’s nearly 10,000 people – the population of a small town.

“Today, we are celebrating more than a new ship; it’s also the celebration of the culmination of more than 50 years of innovation and dreaming at Royal Caribbean to create the ultimate vacation experience,” said Royal Caribbean Group president and CEO Jason Liberty during a ceremony at the shipyard on Monday.

When it sets sail in late January, Icon of the Seas will have eight different neighborhoods for travelers to explore, and some 40 bars and dining options.

Among these is Thrill Island, which will feature Category 6, the world’s largest waterpark at sea. This neighborhood will also have a ropes course/thrill ride that lets guests swing 154 feet above the ocean, a FlowRider wave simulator and a mini golf course.

On the opposite end of the vacation spectrum is Chill Island, which will have four of Icon’s seven pools and an adults-only zone.

Over in the AquaDome, guests will find a 55-foot-tall water curtain and the AquaTheater, which has a cast of robots, skateboarders, divers and more.

The Hideaway is where travelers will find the world’s first suspended infinity pool at sea.

And that’s barely scratching the surface.

In terms of sleeping options, guests can choose from 28 different styles of cabins and suites including the three-level Ultimate Family Townhouse.

Royal Caribbean says Icon of the Seas is the cruise line’s first ship that can be powered by liquefied natural gas and will have the first waste-to-energy plant at sea.

It was originally scheduled for delivery in early 2022, but the Covid pandemic created delays.

According to the cruise line, Icon of the Seas is now on its way to Cadiz, Spain for some final touches before it sets sail for its new home in Florida.

Viral photo creates a buzz

Much has been said about Icon of the Seas in the months leading up to its delivery, proving once again that cruises are a polarizing travel topic – particularly when mega ships are involved.

A colorful, extremely detailed image of Icon’s stern section went viral in July – and the reaction was far from positive.

It got billed as a “monstrosity,” a “pile of decadence,” and one user suggested a better name for it would be “Icon of Disease.”

But some experts CNN spoke with said this was not out of the ordinary.

“Images of Royal Caribbean’s ships have often elicited strong responses,” cruise expert Stewart Chiron told CNN Travel when questioned about the reaction in August.

“The negative responses to Icon of the Sea are evidently from non-cruisers. The current image is quite colorful and depicts a ship with lots of options. The positive responses far outweigh the others.”

A Royal Caribbean spokesperson, when contacted by CNN several months ago, did not comment on the feedback to this specific image, but said that since the Icon of the Seas was revealed in October 2022 there has been an “incredible reaction,” which has led to the highest volume booking week in the company’s history when sales opened.

The current “world’s largest cruise ship” title holder is another vessel in the Royal Caribbean fleet, Wonder of the Seas, which made its inaugural voyage in 2022. Slightly smaller than Icon of the Seas, it stretches 1,188 feet in length and has 18 decks to explore.

Includes reporting from CNN’s Jacopo Prisco.

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