Royal Caribbean levels up entertainment for Florida-bound Icon of the Seas

The man behind the curtain has a much bigger curtain for Royal Caribbean’s forthcoming Icon of the Seas, which will take on the title of world’s largest cruise ship when it debuts from Miami in January 2024.

For entertainment options on board the massive vessel, the main stage show will be a production of “The Wizard of Oz,” but it’s just one of a supersized set of offerings for the largest theatrical venues ever in the cruise line’s fleet, said Nick Weir, the senior vice president for Royal Entertainment.

“The theater has been built to a whole new level,” he said. “We’ve also built in our 3-D aerial rig so we’ve got the performers or elements flying directly over the audience.”

Technology plays a big part across the main theater, but also the largest skating rink on a Royal ship called Absolute Zero, which has been expanded into an oval shape that will let skaters get more speed and do more tricks while also expanding its projection system to cover the rink, stage and back wall.

“We were the first people to bring an ice skating rink to the high seas,” Weir said noting its debut on the line in 1999. “And we’re still the only people to do it because it’s hard.”

The biggest new playground for Weir is the AquaTheater, which has migrated from its normal home of its Oasis-class siblings up to the new AquaDome, a massive glass-and-steel enclosed space atop the front of the ship.

“Now our AquaTheater is underneath a glass dome, which means we can control weather. We can control the production value,” Weir said. “Now 3-D flying, we will be creating the first-ever double system. So we’ll be able to have two artists essentially doing an aerial dance above the heads of our guests.”

The introduction of four robotic arms integral to the performances may be the biggest technological addition.

“Robotics can recreate any sense of force, motion and direction,” Weir said. “We’re going to put a platform on a robot arm, so instead of having springboards, we’re going to have robot arms throwing divers. The robot will have been programmed with the exact same forces of that of a fiberglass springboard. That’s never been done, and that’s all patented.”

Each of the three venues offers two shows.

The big billed version of “The Wizard of Oz” will feature a 16-piece orchestra, a first for the cruise line. That same orchestra will headline a show called “SHOWBAND! Live. Music. Now.” highlighting the musicians’ skills married with visual effects.

The headliner, though, promises to combine nostalgia with modern touches for a unique performance of the story first written in 1900 and made classic by the 1939 film.

“It’s really important that we stay true to the script and true to the music because that’s what people know,” said Christi Coachman-Orengo, assistant VP for entertainment for the cruise line. “We are able to take some creative liberties in the design, for example, the costumes. We have some really unique costumes that you might not really think that we would see in the show. The set design is incredible.”

For the AquaTheater, its two shows will take advantage of the largest cast yet featuring more than 75 performers — a mix of high divers, acrobats, aerialists, slack liners, synchronized swimmers and even skateboarders for the first time. For them, the robotic arms will actually assemble their half pipe in front of the audience before the start of the venue’s main show “Aqua Action!” A second show that’s geared toward families is called “Pirates vs. Mermaids” in which the two teams of performers compete for superiority of the seas in a lighthearted storyline with fairytale-like characters.

For the ice rink, the main show takes on the periodic table of elements. “Starburst: Elemental Beauty” features more tricks and jumps because of the larger rink along with digitally mapped backdrops and vibrant lighting. A second show, once again geared toward families, is called “Once Upon a Time: The King’s Royal Ball” promising a lineup of fairytale characters.

In addition to the three theatrical venues, the ship will feature more than 50 live musicians including performers in new lounge venues Dueling Pianos and Lou’s Jazz ‘n Blues but also in mainstays like the Schooner Bar and English pub Point & Feather.

“There’s always been a desire, an intention, a mission at Royal to create the best experiences, the best vacations in the world,” Weir said. “And if they’re entertainment fans and are thinking about going to Broadway, or to the West End in London or to Las Vegas. We want them to do a double take, and we’ll just go to Royal Caribbean.”

Icon of the Seas remains under construction at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Turku, Finland, having just finished its final set of sea trials. It will be making its transatlantic voyage on Dec. 23 ahead of its series of preview sailings in January.

Its first sailing with normal customers will be on Jan. 28, 2024, as it begins seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages from PortMiami.