As Icon of the Seas sails her maiden voyages, cruisers down under are asking: could the world’s largest cruise ship, at 364.75 metres, sail in Australia?

And others are asking: should it?

Royal Caribbean is building more big ships – and as the fleet changes trickle down, it is a question for Australasia’s over-stretched ports.

Sydney’s showcase Overseas Passenger Terminal was upgraded 10 years ago to take ships of 280 metres. But Icon of the Seas is 364 metres long.

Even Australia’s newest and largest cruise ship facility at the Port of Brisbane offers a paltry 209-metre-long wharf.

Experts told Cruise Passenger that it would need surveys to check on depth and calculations as to whether the vessel could turn around, let alone dock.

Big benefits

If Icon of the seas did make a port call in Australia, the economic benefits would be huge. Apart from the spending power of several thousand people in shops and restaurants surrounding the lucky ports it would stop at, the ports themselves would literally clean up.

At 7,600 passengers, if every one spent the average $387 a day, that would pump $2.94 million into Sydney’s coffers.

But that’s not all. Cruise ships are charged associated port costs per tonnage. That’s in addition to a fee for every passenger on the manifest.

A quick bar coaster calculation puts the costs of Icon berthing at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal at more than $600,000 for starters. That includes a ports boarding fee of $1474.50, a navigation fee of .8460 cents per gross-ton ($212,176.80), set pilotage fee of .0097 cents per gross-ton ($2432), a dedicated berth at OPT of $44.72 per passenger ($339,872) and an environment services charge at .2938 per gross-ton ($73,685).

Icon is unlikely to head this way soon, given its sole itinerary for the next two years is a 7-day round trip cruise out of PortMiami with either a Western or Eastern Caribbean sail.

And that includes a compulsory stop at the line’s own island resort, Perfect Day at CocoCay, Bahamas, included in all sails.

Other stops on the Icon of the Seas’ Western itinerary include Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico. Ports on the Eastern itinerary, apart from Perfect Day, include Philipsburg, St Maarten and Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas.

It’s not only size that matters

While Ovation of the Seas at 168,666 gross-ton has the potential to carry 4900 passengers, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas at 250,800 gross-ton has a capacity of up to 7600 passengers spread across 20 decks and serviced by up to 2350 crew.

Sister ship Ovation of the Seas, at 348m which would eclipse the height of Sydney Tower (309m) if you stood it on end, has already made regular stops around Australia, including Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal. But as Ovation found when it was forced to port in Sydney last year after being diverted by Cyclone Jasper, sometimes there is little room to move in our congested main ports, especially if there is a change in schedule.

As the Overseas Passenger Terminal was already occupied, Ovation had to anchor in Athol Bay, with the 4000-or-so passengers informed they would be ferried ashore in small tender boats.

Quantum’s smaller size no solace

That included its own vessels, plus engaging private operators for the hours-long process. And that number doesn’t include any of the 2350 crew who may have needed to go ashore. Or those ferrying supplies needed to replenish the ship. The same process happened at a port stop last year for Quantum of the Seas.

It is too big to berth in Cairns, so an estimated 27 return trips would have been needed for the four catamarans to return 4000 passengers to the ship moored off Cairns.

Ports North, which runs Cairns, told Cruise Passenger back then: “The Cairns Shipping Development project completed in 2020 deepened and widened the channel into Cairns to accommodate ships up to 300m. The Quantum of the Seas is 348m and therefore too long to enter the port of Cairns and utilise the Cruise Terminal facilities.”

That also rules out Icon at 364.75m.

Ovation of the Seas, Sydney
Ovation had to anchor in Athol Bay on its last visit.

Reader verdict on Icon of the Seas

And if Icon of the Seas did head our way, those Cruise Passenger readers who did comment were unkind at best.

Said Diane Malone: “I LOVE cruising but how big is too big! Personally I like the smaller ships, Radiance of the Seas etc. On these large ships I feel that you lose the closeness and the individuality of the staff as there are so many of them. I went on the inaugural cruise of the Anthem of the Seas, and yes it’s big, beautiful, exciting and everything is brand new but it’s very easy to get lost in the crowd. You make a new friend but it can be a few days before you spot them again and the same thing with the staff. It can also be difficult to get in to see the shows due to the amount of cruisers. So for me it’s a NO, but that’s just my opinion.”

Reader David Hayworth was even less kind: “This and many other large cruise ships are ugly and are nothing more than floating amusement parks and shopping centres.”

But another reader, Stephen, said he can’t wait to get onboard, albeit in PortMiami. 

“I’ve booked a couple of cruises on her and can’t wait. I’m a little disappointed she doesn’t look larger. Maybe we need to see images of her next to another ship.

“I’ve sailed on various sized ships and found as they get bigger, they seem less crowded as there are more venues and things to do onboard so passengers are spread out more.”

At present there are no plans for Icon of the Seas to head further south anytime soon.

But if you want to book…

But back to Icon. While bookings now appear sold out for 2024, Australians can still secure a cabin for one of the 7-day voyages in 2025 or 2026 via the Royal Caribbean website. The next available is an Interior from A$5303pp departing March 30.

The cheaper sails include those in the middle of the Northern Hemisphere winter starting from $3036pp for a cruise departing January 2026.

See cruises here