Royal Caribbean and the shipbuilders tackling what will be the world’s largest cruise ship performed a Herculean task to get the most prevalent feature in place for the Florida-bound Icon of the Seas.
The massive AquaDome is a new neighborhood on board the 20-deck, 250,800-gross-ton cruise ship that will surpass the size of Oasis-class ships like Wonder of the Seas when it debuts out of Miami in just over a year.
A major shift from the Oasis class, though, was migrating the AquaTheater from the aft of the ship on Deck 6 so that it now sits atop the vessel enclosed in a 363-ton dome with 673 glass and 712 aluminum panels.
Getting the dome into place required an intricate battle plan late last year at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Turku, Finland.
“The higher up you lift the weight, the more impact it brings on the ship stability and the center of gravity within the ship,” said Kelly Gonzalez, senior vice president for architectural design for Royal Caribbean Group. “Even though it’s a similar concept, going from outdoor to indoor, the AquaTheater plus the dome and then lifting it up to the forward top end of the ship was quite a lot of challenge to the engineers that were working on this.”
It took more than 80 hours to install what Royal Caribbean officials said is the largest single glass and steel structure to be lifted onto a cruise ship, standing at 82 feet tall and 164 feet wide.
“Just that much weight on the top of the ship from a water and weight perspective is in and of itself an engineering marvel,” said Jay Schneider, chief product innovation officer for Royal Caribbean
Shipbuilders used a 155-ton rig with 1,640 feet of suspension cables to get it into place, having to wait for good weather for the precise operation.
The idea to shift an iconic feature to the new location allows for the company to build out a more inviting space around what has been one of the most popular theatrical offerings on the cruise line.
“We were thinking this is one of the elements which we really want to take forward in the design. We wanted to maintain the water feature and the entertainment feature, but we didn’t want to have only a space which is an entertainment theater, but a space which is interesting,” said Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president for maritime and newbuilding with Royal Caribbean Group.
So while the theatrical component will stay, it won’t be dead space during the day. The space will have what designers said would be similar to Venice’s Spanish Steps in addition to other more traditional seating options around the neighborhood that also offers 220-degree views out onto the ocean. Meant to be a relaxing option in daylight hours, the centerpiece will be the 55-foot-tall waterfall, which will also be part of the theatrical show.
“It really is a transformational entertainment venue and neighborhood with [food and beverage] infused throughout it,” Schneider said. “It’s not just a one-time thing you do at night. It’s meant to be activated throughout the day.”
The show, though, will still bring on the crowds at night, and Royal’s senior vice president for entertainment, Nick Weir, is excited for the new opportunities the venue provides.
“AquaTheaters are always in the open. Not anymore,” he said. “Now our AquaTheater is underneath, which means we can control our weather. We can control the production values, the lighting, the smoke effects. It’s all now at the touch of a button. We’ve built this theater from the ground up — everything we’ve learned over the last 15 years has been applied to the design.”
The shows combine diving, slack lines and aerialists.
“This is our opportunity to put a flying artist in any position in three-dimensional space using very clever computers and winches,” he said. “We will be creating the first ever double system. So we’ll be able to have two artists essentially doing an aerial pas de deux, an aerial dance above the heads of our guests.”
The new stage design features four robotic arms that will be incorporated into the performance as well, as Weir explains the controlled interior space will allow them to use all sorts of equipment not previously possible.
While the dome was fitted into place last November, the ship itself was not floated out for its first taste of water until last month, eight months after the first steel was cut.
Construction now continues on the interior spaces and top-deck features before delivery to the cruise line at the end of 2023. It’s the first of three announced ships in the Icon class with the next two set to be delivered in 2025 and 2026.
The ship is slated to begin seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages from PortMiami on Jan. 28, 2024 Sailings are open for booking beginning Tuesday at royalcaribbean.com.