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Is Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas Cruise Ship Really Sustainable?

Is Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas Cruise Ship Really Sustainable?

On Tuesday, in a ceremony that, of course, involved a soccer ball, the Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi pressed a button and a bottle of champagne smashed against the bow of Icon of the Seas, christening the world’s largest cruise ship at its home port of Miami. Like an A-list celebrity stepping onto the red carpet, the arrival of Royal Caribbean’s 250,800-ton ship has captured the world’s attention, with some marveling over its cutting-edge features, like the largest water park at sea, while others criticize the gigantic ship’s potential to damage the environment.

With the capacity to carry nearly 8,000 people, the 20-deck, 1,198-foot-long vessel — whose inaugural cruise with paying passengers departs Jan. 27 — is the size of a small city. There are eight “neighborhoods” packed with amenities that include a 55-foot waterfall, six water slides and more than 40 restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

According to Royal Caribbean, the ship, which is registered in the Bahamas, also sets a new standard for sustainability with the use of energy-efficient technology designed to minimize the ship’s carbon footprint and move closer to the company’s goal of introducing a net-zero ship by 2035.

“We live by one single philosophy, which is to deliver the best vacations responsibly,” said Nick Rose, the vice president of environmental stewardship at Royal Caribbean Group. “And to do that we build with the core principles of sustaining our planet and communities.”

For decades the cruise industry has been criticized for its negative impact on the environment. A 2021 study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin found that despite technical advances, cruising remains a major source of air, water and land pollution affecting fragile habitats and human health.

While environmental groups have welcomed some of the features on Icon of the Seas, like its advanced water treatment system, some say building such huge ships is contrary to the cruise industry’s long-term goals of sustainability and preservation.

“The ships are getting bigger and bigger and that is the wrong direction for the cruise industry to be going,” said Marcie Keever, director of the Oceans and Vessels Program at the environmental organization Friends of the Earth. “If you were really thinking about sustainability and not your bottom line, you would not be building a cruise ship with a capacity of nearly 10,000 people.”

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