I sailed on the world's 2 largest cruise ships. The older one was just as good — and $1,000 cheaper.

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I sailed on the world's 2 largest cruise ships. The older one was just as good — and $1,000 cheaper.
  • Royal Caribbean operates many of the cruise industry's biggest ships.
  • Icon of the Seas launched in January, dethroning its predecessor, Wonder of the Seas, as the world's largest.

Icon of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's new mega-cruise ship darling, was deemed a success before it was even built.

In January, the highly anticipated vessel — complete with more than 40 bars and restaurants, a six-slide waterpark, and a waterfall — set sail, dethroning its less than two-year-old precursor, the Wonder of the Seas, as the world's largest cruise ship.

Before its debut, Michael Bayley, the president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, had already repeatedly called Icon its "best-selling product" yet. The company experienced its largest booking day ever when reservations opened for Icon of the Seas more than a year before its launch, it said

Despite all of this fanfare, you might be surprised by how similar it is to its predecessor.

I've sailed on both ships. Let's see how Icon and Wonder compare in six categories: size, neighborhoods, amenities, dining, cabins, and costs.

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Both ships stunt the size of their competitors.

Both ships stunt the size of their competitors.
Icon of the Seas (right) can accommodate 516 more guests than Wonder of the Seas (left). Sharon Yattaw

Wonder of the Seas debuted in 2022 as the then-world's largest cruise liner, measuring 235,600 gross-tons, 1,188 feet-long, and 18 decks-tall. The ship can accommodate up to 9,288 people, including 2,204 crew.

Icon of the Seas is, comparatively, 13,063 gross-tons heavier, eight feet longer, and two decks taller. It can sail up to 9,950 people, including 2,350 crew, although it's 52 feet less wide than its predecessor.

Both vessels feel more like amusement parks than traditional cruise ships.

Both vessels feel more like amusement parks than traditional cruise ships.
Wonder of the Seas' children's water playground and waterslides (left) and Icon of the Seas' waterpark (right).Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Royal Caribbean invited me on complimentary, non-revenue sailings on both ships: two nights on Wonder in late 2022 and three nights on Icon in January.

I spent most of my time lost, overwhelmed, and exhausted.

It's no surprise both ships are operating weeklong itineraries this year. Any less, and you might not have time to experience all the activities and restaurants on your list.

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Like other Royal Caribbean ships, Wonder and Icon have eight 'neighborhoods' that serve separate purposes.

Like other Royal Caribbean ships, Wonder and Icon have eight 'neighborhoods' that serve separate purposes.
Wonder of the Seas (left) and Icon of the Seas (right) share a quiet Central Park neighborhood filled with live plants, high-end stores, and restaurants.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

The new ship shares three of Wonder of the Seas' neighborhoods: Central Park, Royal Promenade, and Suite.

Icon's other five — Thrill Island, Surfside, Hideaway, Chill Island, and AquaDome — are a first for the cruise line.

Many of the ships' amenities overlap, but in differing quantities.

Many of the ships' amenities overlap, but in differing quantities.
Wonder of the Seas (left) has four pools and eight hot tubs. Icon of the Seas (right) has seven and nine, respectively.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Wonder has three waterslides. Icon has a six-slide waterpark complete with rafting and racing options.

Both have increasingly popular cruise amenities like decks-long dry slides, mini-golf courses, rock climbing walls, and playgrounds.

But instead of Wonder of the Seas' zipline, Icon of the Seas has Crown's Edge, a thrilling agility course with a small zipline that leaves travelers dangling 154 feet above the ocean.

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Wonder’s Boardwalk neighborhood was my go-to.

Wonder’s Boardwalk neighborhood was my go-to.
The Boardwalk neighborhood on Wonder of the Seas (left) and the Surfside neighborhood on Icon of the Seas (right).Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Boardwalk delivered exactly as it had promised: an open-air space grounded by wood-planked floors, a hot dog stand, a sweets store, and kitschy, colorful decor.

Icon of the Seas' Surfside, designed for families with young children, felt like its closest dupe.

Both neighborhoods had a carousel, an outdoor playground, and family-friendly dining. But Surfside was more toddler-friendly, as suggested by the children's water play area and nighttime story readings.

On to entertainment: Both mega-ships have ice skating performances and exciting multi-disciplinary shows at the AquaTheater.

On to entertainment: Both mega-ships have ice skating performances and exciting multi-disciplinary shows at the AquaTheater.
Wonder of the Seas (left) and Icon of the Seas (right) have AquaTheaters that host multi-disciplinary shows with divers, dancers, and acrobats. The new ship's theater also has nine-foot-tall robotic arms.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

But travelers who enjoy musicals at sea will want to stick to Icon.

Unlike its predecessor, the new ship shows a rendition of Broadway hit "The Wizard of Oz" — Munchkins, a puppet Toto, and a 16-piece live band included.

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The layout of Icon's amenities were better than its cousin.

The layout of Icon's amenities were better than its cousin.
The mini-golf courses on Wonder of the Seas' (left) and Icon of the Seas (right).Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Some of Wonder of the Seas' enticing outdoor amenities — like the surf simulator, zipline, and mini-golf course — are clustered on the deck above and away from the pools and water slides.

This layout might be difficult for parents with children who bounce from one activity to the next. Wouldn't it be easier to have all of these outdoor extras near each other, or at least on the same deck, for parental supervision purposes?

This is where Icon of the Seas excelled: All its exciting open-air activities were adjacent.

This is where Icon of the Seas excelled: All its exciting open-air activities were adjacent.
Icon of the Seas' waterpark, sports court, mini-golf course, and adult-only pool club are all located nearby.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

The rows of pools flowed perfectly into Thrill Island's waterpark, rock climbing walls, mini-golf course, and Crown's Edge.

The best part? The adult-only Hideaway — which flexes an infinity pool club with a DJ — is right behind Thrill Island, creating a clear separation between parents and their children without being too far from each other.

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'Free' options like the buffet and build-your-own tacos and burritos bar are available on both ships.

'Free' options like the buffet and build-your-own tacos and burritos bar are available on both ships.
Wonder of the Seas (left) and Icon of the Seas (right) both have Sorrento's, a complimentary grab-and-go pizza shop.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

But you won't find the larger vessel's five-stall food hall or mini-golf-adjacent finger food stand on Wonder.

As expected, Icon of the Seas has more dining options than its predecessor, although there are some overlaps.

As expected, Icon of the Seas has more dining options than its predecessor, although there are some overlaps.
Wonder of the Seas' (left) and Icon of the Seas' (right) Captain's Platter at the Hooked Seafood restaurant comes with a lobster tail, a fish fillet, and shrimp.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Wonder of the Seas has 11 bars and 21 dining venues (9 complimentary and 12 upcharged).

Icon of the Seas has eight more bars, four more complimentary restaurants, and three more specialty dining choices.

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Nor will you find the new ship’s plush $200-a-person Empire Supper Club on any other cruise liner.

Nor will you find the new ship’s plush $200-a-person Empire Supper Club on any other cruise liner.
Icon of the Seas' Empire Supper Club (left) and grab-and-go sushi stand (right) are a first for Royal Caribbean.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

The multi-course dinner, paired with cocktails and live music, stunts the cost of either vessel's other dinner options.

But if you love Johnny Rockets, you’ll be disappointed by Icon of the Seas.

But if you love Johnny Rockets, you’ll be disappointed by Icon of the Seas.
Wonder of the Seas' robot bartender-staffed bar (left) and Icon of the Seas' swim-up bar (right) aren't available on the other ship.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

Restaurants like the popular burger chain and Southern comfort-inspired Mason Jar are only on Wonder of the Seas. Fine by me: My fried chicken at Mason Jar was as dry as a desert.

The younger ship doesn't have Wonder's robot bartender-armed bar either. It does, however, have new watering holes with dueling pianos and live jazz.

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Surprisingly, Wonder of the Seas has 65 more cabins than its new cousin.

Surprisingly, Wonder of the Seas has 65 more cabins than its new cousin.
Wonder of the Seas (left, as seen in a rendering) and Icon of the Seas (right) both have palatial multi-floor family suites that can sleep up to 10 and eight people, respectively.Royal Caribbean International, Brittany Chang/Business Insider

But several of Icon's 28 stateroom categories are a first for the cruise line.

This includes the new family infinite balcony cabin, which has a small bunk bed nook for children.

Royal Caribbean assigned me an ocean-view balcony stateroom on both ships.

Royal Caribbean assigned me an ocean-view balcony stateroom on both ships.
My balcony stateroom on Wonder of the Seas (left) and Icon of the Seas (right).Brittany Chang/Business Insider

My Wonder of the Seas' cabin was 20 square-feet smaller than the one on Icon. But my bathroom on the latter was so tiny, I accidentally elbowed the walls at almost every turn.

Sailing on the world's largest cruise ship doesn't mean you'll have the world's largest cabin after all.

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Wonder and Icon are both operating seven-night roundtrip itineraries from Florida to the Caribbean.

Wonder and Icon are both operating seven-night roundtrip itineraries from Florida to the Caribbean.
Wonder of the Seas (left) and Icon of the Seas (right) docked at at Perfect Day at CocoCay.Brittany Chang/Business Insider

In 2024, Wonder of the Seas is scheduled for year-round sailings from Port Canaveral to the Caribbean and Royal Caribbean's private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, starting at $700 per person.

Icon of the Seas is spending its first year in service operating nearly identical itineraries but from Miami instead. The cheapest 2024 option is $1,786 per person.

That's a difference of more than $125 per person per day.

"Bookings and pricing for Icon of the Seas can only be described as 'iconic,'" Naftali Holtz, the CFO of Royal Caribbean Group, told analysts in February.

Icon of the Seas’ name speaks for itself.

Icon of the Seas’ name speaks for itself.
The almost two-year-old Wonder of the Seas (left) and three-month-old Icon of the Seas (right). Brittany Chang/Business Insider

If your family is looking for a jam-packed kid-friendly cruise with enough amenities to stay entertained for a week, both ships are a great option.

But if you're a seasoned mega-ship-cruiser looking to experience something new, Icon of the Seas is your best bet.

They may be similar, but no other behemoth cruise liner has a waterpark for children and a pool club for adults just dozens of feet from each other.

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