I Booked a Trip on the World’s Biggest Cruise Ship—Here’s What It Was Like

It's outfitted with industry firsts like record-breaking waterslides and the largest pool at sea, but is the brand-new Icon of the Seas worth the hype?

World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse

As someone who’s been cruising consistently since the mid-’90s, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the debut of Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Icon of the Seas. There’s a good chance you’ve heard about it too—after all, it is the world’s largest cruise ship, so there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding it. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to sail on this massive ship during a media preview in January 2024, just days before its official launch, and all I have to say is, wow.

Royal Caribbean turned its larger-than-life vision into a reality, and it’s hands down the most impressive ship I’ve ever seen. There’s something for everyone—including the largest pool at sea, first-of-its kind waterslides, entertainment galore, foodie destinations and even private spots for couples—and let’s just say you’ll never get bored. But you’re probably wondering if it’s all a little too much and a little too crowded, as well as how it stacks up against other cruises. I’ve got those answers and more, including what you shouldn’t miss when you book your trip.

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Just how big is Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas?

Icon of the Seas is 1,198 feet long. To put that into perspective, that’s the length of 3.3 football fields. In fact, it’ll take you five full minutes to walk from one end to the other, but frankly, I rarely ever had to do that, thanks to the thoughtful Icon of the Seas deck plan and purposeful “neighborhood” design. (More on that below.)

In case you were wondering, the previous record holder for the world’s biggest cruise ship was another Royal Caribbean ship, Wonder of the Seas, which measures 1,187.8 feet. While that makes Icon of the Seas only 11 feet longer, those extra feet in conjunction with a different design make it feel a lot bigger. Icon boasts 20 decks (two more than Wonder), and 18 of those are for guests. Of course, it also weighs more (250,800 gross tons compared with Wonder‘s 235,857). In total, Icon of the Seas is 6% larger than Wonder of the Seas.

How many passengers can sail on Icon of the Seas?

Icon of the Seas has a capacity of 5,610 at double occupancy, but it can hold a maximum of 7,600 guests per sailing. That difference is largely due to third and fourth guests, often kids sharing a cabin with their parents. However, if you’re sailing before summer 2024, you’ll have even fewer passengers to contend with: Royal Caribbean is planning to run at only 80% capacity for the first few months to ensure that any and all kinks are worked out of their systems prior to moving full steam ahead.

Aside from passengers, it also takes a lot of crew to run a ship this size. Icon of the Seas holds 2,350 crew members, so at full capacity, it will be carrying just shy of 10,000 people (9,950, to be exact).

Does the ship feel crowded?

World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse

Surprisingly, no. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, then you know there are several “pinch points” around a ship, or areas where you start to feel like it’s a bit too crowded. But Royal Caribbean really thought through Icon‘s flow, most noticeably with the elevators and buffet.

This ship boasts the first “destination-style” elevators, which batches passengers in groups based on their intended destination. Instead of walking up to an elevator and hitting a traditional up or down button, you approach an electronic panel, select which deck you want to go to and are then told which elevator to take. That means you don’t have to stop on each deck to let people on or off, which was amazing.

You’ll find another clever design feature in the Windjammer buffet, which uses multi-sided food stations. Rather than waiting on one long line, guests can jump in and out at different points without clogging up the stations or having to wait for other guests to make their selections. Also, each station is clearly labeled with the cuisine or type of food, making navigation easier.

What are the ship’s coolest features?

Royal Caribbean interior as its being builtCourtesy Jill Schildhouse

Unsurprisingly, the world’s biggest cruise ship has thought of nearly everything. And while it’s understandably billed as the ultimate family vacation, there are still some intimate, adults-only spots for couples (like the tranquil Cloud 17 poolside oasis and Cove Pool, which faces the ocean). Here are some of the highlights on board.

One-of-a-kind features

There are plenty of reasons Icon of the Seas might be your new favorite cruise ship, including these ocean-liner firsts:

  • Swim & Tonic, the cruise line’s first swim-up bar at sea
  • Royal Bay, the largest pool at sea, with more than 40,000 gallons of water
  • Six waterslides that make up the largest water park at sea, including the Pressure Drop (the first open free-fall waterslide at sea) and Storm Chasers (the first mat-racing duo at sea)
  • The largest ice-skating arena in the cruise line’s fleet

Pools

Not only does the ship have the largest pool at sea, but it also has a lot of options when it comes to taking a dip. It boasts nine whirlpools and seven pools, including adults-only options, the first suspended infinity pool at sea and a private pool in the Suite neighborhood.

Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods of World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse (2)

The ship has eight distinct neighborhoods, and each is a destination in and of itself. This meant that I didn’t have to schlep across this enormous ship every time I wanted a beverage or a bite to eat, no matter where I was. Each area is basically its own mini community, with plenty of food, drinks and entertainment. Royal Caribbean enthusiasts will already be familiar with Central Park, the Royal Promenade and the Suite neighborhoods, and here are five new additions:

Neighborhoods of World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse (3)

  • Thrill Island, which holds the aforementioned Category 6 water park, FlowRider surf simulator and Crown’s Edge, a hybrid skywalk, ropes course and thrill ride. I watched guests dangle off the side of the ship as the floor beneath their feet gave way and left them hanging 154 feet above the water.
  • Chill Island, where I spent plenty of time chilling at each of the four pools, the swim-up bar and Cloud 17, an adults-only retreat. There are many adorable seating areas on this deck as well, along with a Mexican-food spot, soft-serve ice cream at Sprinkles and a great bar. You’ll also find table tennis, whirlpools, a dry slide and a Windjammer here.
  • Surfside, which is designed for young families and features an arcade, beach-themed carousel and three water experiences. Don’t miss the Lemon Post, which serves up zero-proof kiddie cocktails and alcoholic drinks for their parents, and Pier 7, which services all-day brunch.
  • The Hideaway, a beach club 135 feet above the ocean with 180-degree views. At the center, you’ll find the first suspended infinity pool at sea, surrounded by whirlpools and a dedicated bar.
  • AquaDome, home of the AquaTheater, an immersive venue featuring a dynamic waterfall and robotics alongside divers and acrobats. We were lucky enough to catch a preview show during our sailing and were incredibly impressed with the stage, lights and talent (not to mention the 55-foot-tall water curtain). This is also where you’ll head for AquaDome Market, the brand’s first food hall, and Rye & Bean coffee bar.

Food and drinks

Foods of World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse (3)

With more than 40 restaurants, bars and lounges, if you hit three new options a day for all seven days of your cruise, you’ll still only get through slightly more than half the venues. As a result, I found no shortage of eats and sips aboard this ship, and sometimes found myself choosing a progressive meal (hopping from one venue to another) in order to make sure I had enough time (and room left in my belly!) to try everything.

Some of my favorites were the Lemon Post Bar (with drinks for grown-ups and kids), Desserted (gourmet milkshakes, including boozy options), Dueling Pianos bar and Rye & Bean coffee shop. Of course, you’ll find all your Royal Caribbean favorites too, like Sorento’s pizza, Chops Grille steakhouse, Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar and the Windjammer.

Entertainment

Royal Theatre of World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse

Don’t miss the 90-minute production of The Wizard of Oz in the Royal Theatre. The set design cleverly switches between Dorothy’s black-and-white Kansas life and the splendid colors of Munchkinland and Oz. I especially loved the digitally created tornado, the snow falling from the theater ceiling during the poppy fields scene and the vivid costumes. The best part, however, was the puppeteer controlling Toto—he absolutely stole the show working his magic with a lifelike puppet created by Jim Henson’s team.

There’s a ton of other entertainment of course, including the AquaTheater shows, Absolute Zero ice shows, live music, comedy, a 16-piece orchestra (the largest at sea), karaoke and more.

Where does Icon of the Seas sail?

Royal Caribbean aerial renderingCourtesy Royal Caribbean

Icon of the Seas departs from Miami and focuses on seven-day, round-trip Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises. In the Eastern Caribbean, it sails to islands including St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Thomas and St. Martin; Western Caribbean itineraries include stops in Honduras and Mexico (Cozumel and Puerto Costa Maya).

All itineraries include an entire day at Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s exclusive island oasis northwest of Nassau in the Bahamas. Perfect Day at CocoCay is part beach club, part water park—and entirely fun. Entrance is included with your cruise (though some activities cost extra), and you can conquer the tallest waterslide in North America, enjoy the largest freshwater pool in the Bahamas, take a 1,600-foot zip-line ride or just chill on the powdery beaches.

What are the cabins like?

Rooms of World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse

There are 28 different types of rooms, including Royal Caribbean’s first Infinite Balcony rooms. These ocean-view rooms transform the living space into an extended open-air escape with the touch of a button. The Family Infinite Ocean View Balcony rooms sleep six and have a separate bunk bed alcove for the kids (with their own TVs, of course).

I booked a basic balcony cabin and appreciated the smart layout, which included a full-size desk and sofa, oodles of storage (from shelves and bins to closets and drawers) and ample connectivity (outlets and USB ports). There were multiple lighting settings for quick mood lighting that matched the time of day (literally “morning” and “evening” buttons), excellent blackout curtains and the largest glass-enclosed shower I’ve ever had at sea.

Rooms of World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse (2)

If you’re traveling with a big group, you might want to consider the Ultimate Family Townhouse, a three-story townhouse that sleeps up to eight people and has three full bathrooms, plus a dining room and kitchenette. It also has a multilevel slide, a patio with table tennis, a whirlpool on a wraparound balcony, a cinema room with a popcorn machine and karaoke machine, an adorable white picket fence with a mailbox and an exclusive entrance to Surfside (the neighborhood for young families). It doesn’t get any cooler than that!

How much does Icon of the Seas cost?

The average price per person hovers around $1,800 for an inside cabin on a seven-night cruise, though the further out you book, the better the pricing appears to be. This is higher than other Royal Caribbean ships—a similar Eastern or Western Caribbean cruise aboard Wonder of the Seas (the fleet’s next-newest ship) starts around $867 per person. If your wallet is protesting, there are plenty of ways to save on cruises that’ll help make any booking more affordable.

Would I sail on Icon of the Seas again?

A Lady in front of World's Biggest Cruise Ship Icon of the SeasCourtesy Jill Schildhouse

In a heartbeat! Honestly, my love of Icon surprised me. I tend to gravitate toward smaller- and midsize cruises, and I was expecting to feel overwhelmed, intimidated and perhaps a bit annoyed by all the schlepping around. However, that wasn’t the case at all. Because the ship is divided into eight neighborhoods, and each one offers food, drink and entertainment, you never have to walk very far to get to the things you want. And I was blown away by the ship’s vibrant colors, top-notch service and seemingly endless options for how to spend my time.

As for things I’d do differently next time, I did have a cabin that was toward the front of the ship, so at times it felt a bit inconvenient to make a pit stop in my room. If I book again, I’ll try to secure a mid-ship cabin location. And because this was only a three-day preview sailing, I didn’t have a chance to dine at Empire Supper Club, a multi-course journey paired with live jazz that received rave reviews from other guests. This experience will be a priority on my next sailing.

Icon of the Seas is being billed as “the world’s best family vacation,” thanks to its combination of all the best elements of any vacation rolled into one: a resort escape, a theme-park adventure, a foodie’s paradise, an entertainment mecca and a beach retreat. And truly, there’s something for everyone to enjoy—the only problem you’ll have is trying to fit everything into one week!

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Jill Schildhouse
Jill is an award-winning travel writer and editor with 23 years of experience. She covers travel cruises and hospitality for Reader's Digest and regularly contributes to Travel + Leisure, Brides, TripSavvy, Insider, USA Today, Taste of Home, and Southern Living. An avid traveler, Jill has visited 37 countries but makes her home in Phoenix, where she lives with her fiancé and toy schnauzer.