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?
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.
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.
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.
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: 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?
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 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.
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 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.
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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