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Canadian Travel Advisors Sing Praises Of Royal Caribbean’s Icon

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If you want an honest opinion of something, a child is a great place to start.

As Ensemble Senior VP Operations Kristina Boyce explored Royal Caribbean International’s new Icon of the Seas with her mother and her six- and eight-year-old children, they took a stroll through Central Park, the plant- and flower-filled open-air space with walkways lined with restaurants and bars.

“We had entered Central Park and started walking through, and one of the kids looked confused and said: ‘Hey, when did we leave the ship?’ That’s when I knew, this is special. I’m here with three generations, and everybody is very happy,” said Boyce.

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Canadian and U.S Ensemble members aboard Icon of the Seas. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

“Travelling with six- and eight-year-olds enables me to see the product through a totally different lens. They’re having a blast. They love Surfside, which is purpose-built for them,” Boyce added. “And it’s not just us, all of the Ensemble members who have come aboard are really impressed.”

“Everybody is very happy” captures the vibe on the three-night naming ceremony cruise for the new world’s largest cruise ship, attended by TravelPulse Canada. The guests aboard were mostly travel advisors, along with travel media, influencers and RCI suppliers.

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Christine James, VP Travel Leaders Network Canada, is flanked by Roger Block (left), President, Travel Leaders Network, and John Lovell, President, Travel Leaders Group. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

Football great Lionel Messi – one of the world’s best-known people – helped name Icon of the Seas in a ceremony in the impressive new AquaDome, a tranquil oasis by day and a buzzing hotspot by night. But even Messi’s star power was eclipsed by the $2 billion worth of innovative hardware that is Icon.

“This is a whole new level for adult cruising, family cruising, multi-generational cruising. The food is endless and amazing. There’s something for everyone on this ship, said Pat Probert of Bob Family Travel, a TravelOnly member.

During the Common Ground session, where travel advisors were invited to pose questions to Royal Caribbean executives, most chose to offer compliments instead, praising the immense variety of dining, drinking, entertainment and relaxation options aboard.

 “Thank you for building a ship I can bring my whole hometown on,” said an agent from Arkansas.

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Left to right: TripCentral.ca’s Carole Vanderlubbe and Richard Vanderlubbe, Pam deHaan and Mike deHaan. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

Pam deHann, Director of Business Development for TripCentral.ca, said Icon presents an opportunity to attract new-to-cruise clients, including all-inclusive resort lovers.

“A huge part of our business is ITC, but this is a product with appeal to all ages and demographics. Combined with Perfect Day at Coco Cay, it’s an amazing experience.”

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Bob Family Travel and TravelOnly top-sellers Robert Pittelli and Pat Probert aboard Icon of the Seas. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

Robert Pittelli, a colleague of Probert at Bob Family Travel and the recent winner of ‘Personality of the Year’ for TravelOnly, was blown away not just by the ship, but the incredible recovery of the cruise industry overall, post-pandemic 

“Cruising was the only industry not allowed to operate during the pandemic. And yet it has bounced back faster than any other industry. This is a product people want,” Pittelli told TravelPulse Canada.

“People lost 2.5 years of travel. They want to go and they’re willing to pay. They’re moving up categories. They want that better experience. And they want to go now, because you never know when you’re going to get a chance to do this again,” Pittelli added.

Royal Caribbean is billing Icon of the Seas’ offering as “the ultimate family vacation.” But Beth Butzlaff, Senior VP Global Partner Relations for Ensemble, was travelling solo, and shared another perspective.

“They’re covering all the bases. The activities alone are amazing, and new choices like the Hideaway Beach adults-only area at Perfect Day are great for solo travellers,” Butzlaff said.

TripCentral.ca president Richard Vanderlubbe identified another group that would have a blast on Icon.  “This ship is so well-suited for teenagers, there’s so much for them to do.”

“I’m impressed by the feeling of space on this ship, and the amazing uses of that space,” Vanderlubbe added.

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The Travel Agent Next Door’s Flemming and Rhonda Friisdahl dined with Royal Caribbean’s Lisa Connell and Jeff Carpenter at the Empire Supper Club on Icon of the Seas. (Photo Credit: Flemming Friisdahl)

The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) founder Flemming Friisdahl was aboard Icon on a previous introductory sailing, and more than two dozen TTAND advisors have experienced Icon over the past couple of weeks.

“They really loved it. The feedback has been astounding,” said Friisdahl. “You don’t feel like you’re on the world’s biggest cruise ship. You just feel like you’re in a great place.”

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Royal Caribbean International’s Director of Sales Canada Lisa Connell is like a proud parent aboard Icon of the Seas. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

Lisa Connell, Royal Caribbean International’s Director of Sales, Canada, has spent more than 33 years with Royal Caribbean. Sitting down with TravelPulse Canada over an espresso martini at the light-filled Rye & Bean bar in the AquaDome, she described her pride at the company’s strides since she joined back in Sovereign Class days.

 “This ship has exceeded every expectation. I think it’s the ultimate vacation, period,” Connell said. “Every person in this company is so impressed and so proud. My sales team is very proud. There’s nowhere else they want to be. And their accounts are over the moon, seeing an opportunity to sell this great ship and make more money.”

Connell says there’s lots more excitement to come, with the final Oasis Class ship – Utopia of the Seas – joining the fleet later this year, and a second Icon Class ship – Star of the Seas — coming in Q2 2025.

“I could see this product in every market. Everyone will want it. It absolutely delivers,” said Connell, while advising agents to secure bookings for their clients much further in advance than in the past, to lock in pricing. Icon is about 70% sold for 2024 already, with strong 2025 reservations already in the books.

After nearly two weeks on the ship, getting to know it and hosting hundreds of Canadian travel advisors, Connell is a little weary, but she says the reactions of partners make it all worthwhile.

“I grew up with this company, in different roles. People ask: ‘When are you thinking of retiring?’ My answer is: When I stop having fun.”


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