My First-Ever Cruise Was on the Largest Ship in the World—Here’s My Honest Review of Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas

The good, the bad, the bougie

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Royal Caribbean

When you think of a cruise vacation, what comes to mind? Breakfast buffets, Elvis trivia and the unlikely but not totally implausible threat of pirates? Same. That is, until I actually went on one.

I was raised by two adventure-loving nomads (who have since settled in New Jersey because, life), so the urge to travel is in my blood. I’ve been lucky enough to ski the mountains of New Mexico, hike the Swiss Alps, trail race around Jackson Hole and safari through Kenya, but in my 30 plus years on this planet, I’ve never taken a cruise. And to be honest, I’ve never really wanted to.

So, how did I, a self-proclaimed land lover, end up on the maiden voyage of the largest ship in the world? It’s simple: Cruises are cool again.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association industry report, 2024 is shaping up to be the year we all go cruising. With post-pandemic bookings steadily rising since 2022, 35.7 million passengers are projected to set sail in 2024, a whopping 20 percent more than in 2019. And with this increased interest comes a whole new customer base. As more millennials and Gen X travelers dip their toes in the proverbial waters, gone are the days of the stereotypical cruiser repping a Hawaiian shirt and a boomer birthday. Plus, with both solo and multi-generational family travel firmly on the rise, cruises seem to be at the top of everyone’s bucket list—not to mention their “For You” page.

Between the nine-month world cruise making waves on social media to a number of new ships launching in 2024, I couldn’t resist kicking off the year with a floating getaway. At the top of my maritime list was Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, the newest kid on the block that everyone (from The New York Times to TikTok) couldn’t stop talking about. Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or a seasoned vet, this ship has a little bit of something for everyone. Here’s my honest review.

exterior royal caribbean icon of the seas review
Royal Caribbean

Ship Features & Onboard Activities

True to its moniker, the world’s largest ship is a stunning behemoth that, upon arrival, made all the other ships casually parked in the port look like bath toys. Powered by liquefied natural gas—a more energy-efficient and cleaner burning fuel source—the Icon of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s most sustainable ship to date. At full capacity, it can house 7,600 passengers with 28 different types of accommodations ranging from an infinite ocean-view balcony to a $100,000 three-story family townhouse.

To keep all those people happy, the ship features seven different pools, nine hot tubs and over 40 restaurants with cuisines ranging from coastal seafood to Japanese hibachi. Marketed as the ultimate family vacation, the ship’s stand-out features shine a light on multigenerational fun, from epic waterslides and mini golf to comedy shows and craft cocktails.

As a first-time cruiser, the boat can be overwhelming with 20 decks full of places to explore and activities to book. Luckily, the Royal Caribbean app makes it easy to both prep for your trip prior to leaving and organize your stay while on board. Though I logged way more steps than I ever anticipated (a plus!), the ship’s layout made its size feel less daunting. Divided into eight different neighborhoods each with their own unique function and theme, the overall flow felt seamless and convenient with numerous elevators, easy accessibility and tons of open space. Here are a few of my favorite neighborhoods onboard:

chill island royal caribbean icon of the seas review e98785
Royal Caribbean

Top Deck

  • Thrill Island: Highlights include Category 6 (the largest waterpark at sea featuring the tallest drop slide and the first family raft slide at sea), Crown’s Edge (a part ropes course, part zip line experience that suspends passengers out over the open ocean), as well as cruise classics like the FlowRider surf simulator, a sport court, a rock-climbing wall and family-friendly mini golf.
  • Chill Island: The place to be to have the ultimate lounge day, featuring swim-up bars, whirlpools and tropical refreshments.
  • The Hideaway: An adult only (18+) area featuring the first suspended infinity pool at sea with ocean views and a dedicated DJ and bar.
Royal Caribbean

Mid Deck

  • Surfside: As the first neighborhood designed specifically for kids, Surfside has everything young families would need to stay and play all day, including a splash pad, a baby pool, an arcade and an underwater-themed carousel, plus five different dining options the whole family can enjoy.
  • Central Park: This open-air hub features tons of live greenery for a full-theme immersion. Similar to its stateside namesake, there are seven unique bars and restaurants that call this neighborhood home, including a blues club and a walk-up Champagne bar.
Royal Caribbean


  • AquaDome: With panoramic views of the open ocean, the AquaDome is home to the most epic aqua show this writer has ever seen. Hosted at the AquaTheater, the highly anticipated experience features high divers, synchronized swimmers and the first-ever aerial pas de deux (duet dance). It’s weird and wonderful in the most extraordinary way. A must-see for anyone lucky enough to snag a seat.
  • Royal Promenade: A mainstay in many Royal Caribbean vessels, the Royal Promenade is located at the heart of the ship. In addition to 15 bars, restaurants and lounges, this neighborhood includes a dueling piano bar, music hall and comedy club. At the center of it all is The Pearl, a multi-sensory immersive structure that features kinetic tiles and specialized lighting to mimic the movement of water.

Stateroom Accommodations

Upon arrival, we made our way to an ocean-view balcony stateroom on the 12th deck, our home away from home for the next few days. At 204 square feet, the room was perfectly suitable for two people. Cozy, inviting and surprisingly quiet, with smart storage options, well-placed charging ports and a good amount of room to move about freely without feeling like you were on top of each other. The on-suite bathroom was on the smaller side, but the spacious shower made up for the crowded toilet and sink area. My favorite part of the room was the outdoor balcony, which felt private and secluded while bringing in tons of natural light.

Royal Caribbean

Food & Drink

Though the number of dining options onboard is impressive, the quality at certain locations was a little lackluster. My favorites included Izumi for sushi and hibachi, Sorrento’s for all-you-can-eat thin-crust pizza and Pearl Café for 24-hour snacks, both sweet and savory. I was also pleasantly surprised by the breakfast and lunch buffet options at both Windjammer and Surfside Eatery (which has a menu catered to a much younger age bracket but hey, sometimes you just need a chicken nugget).

The main dining room, however, was a miss for me. A standard in all Royal Caribbean ships, the table service offerings were perfectly fine (I did like my salmon), but largely boring and mass-produced. After ending the meal with a curdled crème brûlée that resembled scrambled eggs, it was a one-and-done experience.

In addition to the standard buffet options, Icon of the Seas also features laidback brunch spots, kid-approved bites and extravagant dining experiences like the Empire Supper Club complete with a live jazz band, an eight-course meal and cocktail pairings.

Royal Caribbean

Unlike some of the food offerings, the specialty cocktails on board were a memorable highlight. Each bar has its own curated list of libations that are intriguing and innovative—not to mention delicious. The 1400 Lobby Bar, a mainstay in the Royal Promenade, features unique twists on classic cocktails like a pineapple pisco sour and a rose and grapefruit Aperol spritz. And if you’re still on the espresso martini train (no shame) both Point and Feather and Rye & Bean offer top-notch blends. So whether you like Bombay or Bulleit, there’s truly something for everyone—including a handful of zero-proof options.

perfect day at cococay royal caribbean icon of the seas review
Royal Caribbean

Destinations & Pricing

More interested in the destination than the journey? The Icon of the Seas currently offers six different routes sailing to both the Western and Eastern Caribbean with highlights including the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. All round-trip voyages depart from Miami, Florida, and most include a stop at Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas—a private island resort owned by Royal Caribbean.

Though the cruise I went on was a shortened version of their standard week-long package, we did spend a few sunny hours on Perfect Day at CocoCay, which features white sand beaches, tons of pools, overwater cabanas and a massive waterpark with heart-pounding thrills (including the tallest waterslide in North America). My favorite part of the island had to be Hideaway Beach, the brand-new adults-only oasis with swim-up bars, in-water hammocks and stunning views of the ocean.

As the newest vessel in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, a vacation on the Icon of the Seas does not come cheap. Prices vary depending on your preferred travel route, but for a standard seven-day cruise, dynamic pricing starts at $3,600 per week for two people in an interior stateroom when booked directly through Royal Caribbean. Luckily, this price also includes meals and beverages at select restaurants, most entertainment options and a number of daily activities, but if you’re traveling with multiple people or are looking for a bigger room with a better view, prepare to shell out even more.

Royal Caribbean

Final Thoughts

What We Like

  • the ship is the star of the show—it’s both the main attraction and the destination
  • great for large groups and young families
  • tons of dining and entertainment options
  • excellent craft cocktails

What We Don't Like

  • pricey
  • lackluster food
  • limited destinations and departure port

To all the hardcore cruisers out there, I see you. Though I still prefer exploring the world on my own two feet (there’s so much to see beyond the port), I can honestly say that I understand the appeal. Aside from only having to unpack once, the benefits of vacationing on a cruise are undeniable. Feel like hitting a comedy show tonight? Done. Prefer to spend the day lounging by the pool? Easy. Offspring too old for the kid club but too young to wander around a city on their own? Stick ‘em on a boat!

If you’re traveling as a family or in a large group, cruises just make sense, and that’s especially true on the Icon of the Seas. Like a fully planned vacation with minimal effort and the added bonus of a zero-commitment itinerary, this ship offers something for every generation to enjoy (yes, even Elvis trivia).

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Executive Managing Editor

Catrina oversees content production across all PureWow verticals. When she's not managing editorial schedules, digital issues or newsletter production, you can find her...