Freshly christened by Lionel Messi, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas set to get to work

The world’s largest cruise ship welcomed the man that many would say is the world’s best soccer player to officially christen the vessel in Miami with just days left before its first voyage with paying customers.

Lionel Messi took the role of godfather for Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas during a ceremony Tuesday within its marquee new feature called the AquaDome, a massive steel-and-glass structure at the top of the massive ship.

Speaking in Spanish, he gave the ship the traditional christening blessing as a massive champagne bottle was slung and shattered against the hull of the 20-deck, 250,800-gross-ton, 1,198-foot-long cruise ship.

Messi, who now stars on Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami squad, brought his talents to South Florida last year after years starring for Spanish club Barcelona, French club Paris Saint-Germain and leading his home country of Argentina to a World Cup title in 2022. He has been awarded the Ballon d’Or as the year’s best soccer player a record eight times.

The ship is now on its final preview sailing before it begins its regular sailings of seven-night Caribbean itineraries from Miami starting Saturday. It arrived in Miami earlier this month making a festive entrance that generated 17 official noise complaints, according to Royal Caribbean executives.

“We came in unapologetically very loud,” said Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley during a media sailing this week. “We put like $100,000 worth of speakers on the side of the ship. And we woke up Miami.”

Icon of the Seas is Royal’s new class of ship that is about 30,000 more gross tons than the five Oasis-class vessels that have each held the title of world’s largest cruise ship as they each debuted since Oasis of the Seas began sailing in 2009. Icon is the first of three planned ships in the larger class with the second named Star of the Seas, which is headed to Port Canaveral when it debuts in 2025.

“We built the biggest, baddest ship on the planet,” Bayley said. “It’s really exciting when you introduce a new class of ship, but it’s even more exciting when it seems to be really spot on.”

While laid out similarly to Oasis-class ships, it has a spate of new features among its eight neighborhoods.

The AquaDome neighborhood is home to perhaps the most jaw-dropping feature on board, the AquaTheater where teams continue to get all facets of the planned show titled “Aqua Action! Range of Emotion” in place. During the media sailing, about 40% of the show was performed, said Nick Weir, senior vice president for Royal Entertainment who has been working on the show since 2017.

“We have been working on the concept for years. We’ve been rehearsing the show in Miami for about eight months, but we’ve only had water in this pool for a week,” Weir said. “You are really watching history because there is no roadmap for what we’re doing in this venue.

“We designed it from scratch. We’ve spent the last three years building it. … It is literally us every day in here working through all of the challenges to come up with something the likes of which nobody has ever seen.”

The water-based shows that also feature on Oasis-class vessels incorporate high divers, slackliners, aerialists and others amid a choreographed, music-driven storyline. For “Aqua Action,” Weir is bringing on board skateboarders for another layer, although that part of the show was still in the works. The introduction of four massive robotic arms augments the humans’ range of motion is also raising the show’s bar.

His crowning achievement for the venue, though, is what he said is the first aerial pas de deux performance ever performed, citing the history of the duet dance having begun in the 1700s, and then performed on ice by the late 1800s.

The ship’s entertainment also hits high marks on the largest ice rink ever put on a Royal ship, this one an oval compared to the more rectangular surfaces found elsewhere in the fleet. Its signature show is called Starburst, and features not just skaters, but a celebrated juggler Viktor Kee under a year contract to sail on Icon.

The show further incorporates the vivid projection technology Royal has introduced on past ships, but this time blasting out celestial phenomenon as the show celebrates the elements that make up the universe.

The main stage, though, is home to a mashup production of “The Wizard of Oz” that incorporates songs from both the 1939 film and the Broadway show from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams utilizing a 16-piece orchestra.

“This is the jewel in the crown,” Weir said. “I remember thinking about 18 months ago we’re going to have to get something iconic, and for families, and for people of all walks of life.”

The three theatrical productions add to the identity of Icon of the Seas just as much as its new six-waterslide waterpark called Category 6, the adrenaline rush zipline off the side of the ship ride Crown’s Edge or the massive superstructure called The Pearl that literally holds up the middle of the ship.

Icon lets go of some features found on other Royal ships. Cruisers won’t find things like the Bionic Bar, modern cuisine restaurant Wonderland or the 10-deck dry slide Ultimate Abyss, for instance.

Also gone is the Jersey Shore-themed Boardwalk space on the Aft. Instead, Icon of the Seas has a family-friendly replacement called Surfside, although still home to an arcade and carousel, but now with its own water park aimed at younger children.

The waterpark and zipline are on the top deck in a new neighborhood called Thrill Island that’s also home to mini golf, the Flowrider surf simulator and rock climbing wall.

Adjacent to that is Chill Island, home to four of the ship’s seven pools, although one of the best pool offerings on board, is tucked way behind the water park with an infinity-edge pool in an area called the Hideaway that’s for adults only.

Icon still has the Promenade where new and popular bar offering Dueling Pianos can be found. And it has the Central Park neighborhood embedded in an outdoor space within the core of the ship. This is where new bar Lou’s Jazz and Blues can be found.

It’s also adjacent to a new thematic high-end dining experience called Empire Supper Club, a three-hour, eight-course meal with cocktail pairings themed to 1920s New York complete with a live trio of piano, stand-up bass and singer crooning out classic standards including “New York, New York.”

In the end, the ship may be bigger, but Royal teams have spent a lot of time trying to solve crowd control problems. That includes a new elevator approach where cruisers walk up to one of many kiosks adjacent the elevator doors and press the floor they want to go to before being directed to one of 12 elevator cars. Once in the elevator, they don’t touch anything, and are carted up to their desired floor.

While new guests took a few hours to get used to the new approach, most agreed it solved some headaches found on other cruise ships.

Icon of the Seas has one more unique feature not found on any of the other ships in the fleet. Her name is Rover, and she’s officially part of the crew with the title of CDO — Chief Dog Officer.

“Rover is like a movie star. When she’s ready she may show up. There’s no schedule,” Bayley said. “When you see Rover, you’re gonna just fall madly in love with Rover. I’m already in love with her.”