Cruise Ships

Why Did Royal Caribbean Put a 50 Foot Orb on Its New Ship?

Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Icon of the Seas, features many new attractions never seen on a cruise ship, like a full water park and the largest pool at sea. But during construction, eagle-eyed cruise fans noticed an odd feature of the ship…an enormous steel ball right in the middle. What exactly is this ball, and why is it there?

the pearl in warehouse

An ingenious solution to a structural dilemma

Royal Caribbean didn’t start out with the idea of putting a large orb in the center of the ship. Instead, it was a novel solution to a much bigger problem.

windows on royal promenade
The massive glass wall bring much-needed light into the Royal Promenade.

With Icon of the Seas, Royal Caribbean wanted to introduce natural sunlight and ocean views into the ordinarily dark and mall-like Royal Promenade. They designed 4-deck high windows to line the promenade and bring the outside in. But structurally, that created a problem. Usually, these windows would be steel that would support the weight of the cabins and the Central Park area above it. 

2nd level of penrose atrium
Norwegian Prima has huge glass windows in the atrium, but you can barely see them because of how they designed the support structures.

Traditionally, the way to solve this problem is to install load-bearing beams further in the ship to hold the weight. Other ships like the Norwegian Prima and Carnival Celebration have 3-story glass windows and support steel nearby to hold things up. But that steel divides the space and eliminates the impressive views provided by the windows. When you step foot on both of those ships, you have no glimpse of the outside at all. 

Royal Caribbean wanted something more elegant that kept the space open and airy. Their team of engineers looked at possible solutions and brainstormed designs that would still allow the natural light to flow in and the space to feel open. 

the pearl structural drawings
The Pearl itself is used to support the weight from the deck above.

At first, they imagined using a large orb to hide support beams, but then they thought, “What if the sphere itself WAS the support?” Royal Caribbean eventually decided on a sphere shape that would be built into the ship’s superstructure. So The Pearl isn’t just an art piece or attraction; it’s critical to the structural integrity of the Icon of the Seas. 

the pearl render from entrance
Because of the Pearl’s footprint, the views can be appreciated as soon as you step on board Icon of the Seas.

The Pearl: a dynamic experience

So now Royal Caribbean had a large sphere in the middle of the Royal Promenade, but how could they make it more exciting? 

the sphere las vegas
Originally, people thought the Pearl would be covered in an LED screen like The Sphere in Las Vegas.

At first, people theorized it would be like the new MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, a massive video screen that provides incredible visual effects throughout the day and night. In early pictures, guests saw step structures in the middle, so people guessed it would be bleacher-style seating for immersive shows. When Royal Caribbean finally released more information about The Pearl, we saw that most people were wrong in their assumptions. 

the pearl inside
The Pearl’s is a dynamic walkway from one level of the Royal Promenade to another.

The Pearl wouldn’t be an attraction or theater in itself; instead, it’s super-sized artwork. Through the center of The Pearl is a large set of stairs that connects the Royal Promenade to the Pearl Cafe, Icon of the Seas’ version of Cafe Promenade. Those stairs will routinely be scaled by thousands of passengers each day over the course of their day. 

kinetic panels by breakfast
3,000 kinetic panels line the inside of The Pearl.

Royal Caribbean worked with Breakfast, a kinetic art studio, to outfit the inside of the Pearl. The inside of the ship is coated with 3,000 kinetic panels attached to articulating motors that reflect light. Combining those panels with lighting creates dynamic designs that “feel” alive, like the walls themselves are moving. 

the pearl exterior
The exterior of The Pearl doesn’t move or change color itself, but reflects the lights of the area.

The exterior of the sphere is coated in glossy white triangles that don’t move or light up. Instead, they are illuminated with soft lights hidden in the ceiling to provide a more subdued effect. It’s a smart move. If they had chosen to cover the outside in an LED video screen, it could have felt more like a billboard in Times Square. Instead, it creates a unique and impressive visual effect that guests will see as soon as they board the ship. 

How will The Pearl be received?

When Royal Caribbean first released the renders of The Pearl, it was exciting, but it wasn’t clear how that would translate in real life. Now that they’ve released the video, we can see The Pearl is an impressive installation. 

the pearl on royal promenade

One concern, though, is people. All the videos and renders show a handful of people walking through The Pearl on the way to their adventures on the ship. But what will it be like when 6,000 people are on board? Will the stairs be clogged with people trying to take selfies to post on Instagram? Will the stairs be a place people end up sitting, making it impossible to get through? 

We’ll see when the Icon of the Seas launches in a few weeks. 

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Randy Young

Randy Young is the founder and editor-in-chief at Cruise Spotlight. He has been in marketing for 19 years and has been cruising for just as long. Over the years, he's worked with products like TVs, copiers, light bulbs, and EV chargers, but cruising has always been his passion. There's nothing Randy likes more than the first couple of hours on a ship, exploring every nook and cranny and seeing how it's different from everything else out there. He's known for providing detailed and analytical coverage of cruising to help cruisers get a comprehensive picture of a ship's offerings.