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Why are Royal Caribbean cruise ships always so big? Secret strategy explained


Have you wondered why you hear about the newest largest cruise ship in the world every so often? That's because Royal Caribbean constantly strives to outdo themselves, breaking their own record for the largest cruise ship at sea.

Even if you've previously sailed on a similar ship, once the newest one launches, you can no longer say that you've sailed on the largest. For instance, if you cruised onboard Symphony of the Seas in 2019, once Wonder launched in 2022 and stole the title, you would have no longer been on the biggest ship in the world, even if you were at the time. 

Those determined to sail on the latest and greatest are intrigued by what new modifications Royal to each new ship in their fleet. Of course, Icon of the Seas was a completely different ballgame. As the first ship in the long-awaited Icon Class, she's unlike anything that's ever been built before. 

Mega-ships make the most economic sense

Wonder of the Seas Aerial

At the end of the day, Royal Caribbean wants to make a profit, so they have to strategize the best way to increase their earnings. Enter "economy of scale" which argues for reducing the number of crew per passenger to an absolute minimum. 

What exactly does that mean? Well, imagine that 2,000 people are waiting to board a ship in Fort Lauderdale, 1,000 of which are scheduled to sail on Freedom of the Seas, while the other 1,000 are going on Liberty of the Seas (Note that the actual capacities of these ships are much higher; this is simply for illustrative purposes). Each ship will need a Captain, Staff Captain, Chief Engineer, Cruise Director, etc. 

Now, let's say that all 2,000 passengers decide to sail on Freedom of the Seas. The manning requirements per passenger are reduced dramatically, thus reducing the expense of wages that Royal Caribbean must pay. Instead of two Captains, the company only has to hire one. Similarly, there's no need for two Cruise Directors to be onboard. However, there's still enough staff to look after the same number of passengers. 


Plus, since the costs will be spread out over more passengers, the cruise line is able to profit even further. According to Jason Liberty, Royal Caribbean Group CEO, “Newer, larger ships can break even on cash flow at around 35% capacity, while older, smaller ships are closer to 50." 

Even though newer ships are more costly (Icon of the Seas reportedly cost around $2 billion!), they're more cost-effective, as building one larger ship is less expensive than building two smaller ones.

Larger ships with more amenities offer another source of potential revenue 


Thankfully, Royal Caribbean has listened to customer feedback over the years and added more complimentary dining onboard. While you can certainly spend a week onboard Utopia or Icon of the Seas and not spend any extra money on specialty restaurants, some of the experiences are one-of-a-kind, such as Empire Supper Club and Royal Railway - Utopia Station. 

The more they can convince you to spend onboard, the more money goes into their pockets. Things like gambling in the casino, drink packages, spa treatments, specialty dining, etc. all contribute. While there are ways to spend money on smaller ships, the larger the vessel, the more space they can allocate to extra-cost amenities. 

Read more: 16 hidden cruise ship extra charges you should know about (2024)

They love to market the newest, biggest ship in the world


Between 1999 and 2024, Royal Caribbean only lost the title of biggest cruise ship once in 2003 when RMS Queen Mary 2 debuted. Previously, Voyager, Explorer, and Navigator of the Seas consistently maintained the title.

Freedom of the Seas, the namesake ship of Royal Caribbean's Freedom Class, set sail in 2006. Since then, the company has maintained the record for the biggest cruise ship in the world, although other lines have made significant strides in catching up (We're looking at you, MSC!). 

When launched, Freedom measured around 154,000 gross registered tons and marked the beginning of a Freedom Class reign for about three years. She, however, wasn't the first Royal ship to be designated as the largest ship in the world. In fact, Royal Caribbean's title history dates all the way back to 1988, when Sovereign of the Seas set sail as the biggest purpose-built cruise ship. She held the record until 1990 when Princess Cruises' Sun Princess was launched. 

Oasis of the Seas

While Freedom of the Seas lost the title to her sister ship Liberty of the Seas in 2007, who then lost it to Independence in 2009, all three Freedom Class ships were surpassed by the groundbreaking Oasis of the Seas in 2009. 

At 225,282 gross registered tons, Oasis was truly mindblowing. Onboard, guests could find amenities never before offered at sea, including a zip line, mesmerizing AquaTheater, and a "floating" bar. Plus, she was the first ship in the fleet to feature two-story suites, as well as interior-facing balconies that overlooked the brand-new Central Park and Boardwalk Neighborhoods. 

One year later, Royal Caribbean launched their second Oasis Class vessel: Allure of the Seas. While Allure was roughly two inches longer, there wasn't much difference between the two ships. The primary distinction was in the entertainment offerings, as each ship had specific shows that could not be found on one another. Moreover, Allure of the Seas was the first ship in the fleet to feature a Starbucks onboard. 

Wonder Europe

Harmony of the Seas, Royal's third Oasis Class ship, launched in 2016 and featured new amenities that, at the time, could only be found onboard, such as redesigned cabins, the Perfect Storm water slides, and Ultimate Abyss dry slide. Today, many of these features can also be found on Oasis of the Seas due to her Royal Amplification; however, Allure of the Seas' was canceled due to the pandemic. It has been rescheduled for early 2025. 

Harmony didn't hold the record for the world's largest cruise ship as long as Allure did, as Symphony of the Seas entered service in 2018. The last Oasis Class ship to ever hold the title of largest passenger ship was Wonder of the Seas, which debuted in 2022, meaning that upon Utopia of the Seas' launch in July 2024, she will be the first Oasis Class ship to never be called the biggest in the world. 

Read more: Royal Caribbean ships by age — from oldest to newest (2024)


As they had been doing for well over one decade, Royal Caribbean once again redefined the standards of innovation within the cruising industry with Icon of the Seas. At 250,800 gross registered tons, she's now the largest ship in the world and, like Oasis in 2009, features numerous industry firsts, such as the Category 6 Waterpark, Crown's Edge thrill ride, and AquaDome with an enclosed AquaTheater. 

Additionally, some amenities on Icon are new to the cruise line but not the industry as a whole, including their first-ever food hall, swim-up bar, and dedicated piano bar. In order to fit all of these facilities onboard, as well as account for the return of brand favorites, it was impossible to build a vessel the size of an Oasis Class ship; everything simply wouldn't fit! 

Icon is marketed as the "ultimate family vacation," offering something to appeal to a wide array of ages and preferences. The youngest cruisers will enjoy Surfside's Baby Bay, while adults with a refined palette will want to splurge on a meal at Empire Supper Club. Those who love a good adrenaline rush will appreciate the largest waterpark at sea, as well as the thrilling Crown's Edge ride that will take you soaring over the side of the vessel. 


With less available space onboard, smaller ships cannot offer as much. While that doesn't mean you'll have an awful time onboard, if you are traveling with a large multi-generational family, it may be harder to keep everyone happy. 

Read more: I took a cruise on a ship with 107 versus 7000 passengers: here's how they compared

What's the difference between sailing on a smaller Royal Caribbean versus a bigger one?

Larger ships will, usually, cost you more money


Newer and larger ships tend to be more expensive than cruises on ships within Royal Caribbean's Vision, Radiance, Voyager, and Freedom Classes. Sailing on Icon of the Seas in 2024, for instance, will likely set you back at least $2,500 per person for an interior room. Even sailings during the first half of 2025 start at around $2,000 per person. If you want to sail in one of the brand-new infinite veranda cabins, your fare will set you back even more. 

In comparison, you can book a 7-night cruise for as cheap as $400 per person on Brilliance of the Seas in March 2025. Even Adventure of the Seas, a Voyager Class ship with a FlowRider surf simulator, ice skating rink, and water slides onboard, costs as little as $485 per person in January 2025. 

While more affordable than Icon of the Seas, a 6-night cruise on Oasis of the Seas still starts at $776 during the first half of 2025. If you want to cruise on a budget, you'll likely have to put some of Royal's larger ships on the back burner for the foreseeable future. 

Read more: What to know before booking a cheap cruise

Smaller ships have fewer dining options


Unlimited food is included in your cruise fare; however, the options do vary based on the ship. Vision of the Seas, for instance, will have far fewer restaurants onboard than Harmony or Icon of the Seas. 

Smaller ships certainly won't have the newest offerings, either, as they tend to be placed on newer ships first. If they're successful, they are eventually rolled out onto older ships in the fleet. 

Take Hooked Seafood, for example. It was first launched on Symphony of the Seas. Now, it can be found on Symphony, Wonder, Icon, Utopia (2024), and Navigator, which launched in 2002. 

Bigger cruise ships have more cabin variety


Rather than split into separate cabins, some families prefer to book a single stateroom. Unfortunately, the majority of standard cabins can only accommodate four guests. 

Larger cruise ships have more sub-categories to choose from, so whether you're searching for a large suite or simply a family cabin that's able to fit five or six passengers, you're sure to find the right stateroom to meet your needs.

Smaller ships do have suites; however, larger ships will simply give you more options. Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class, for instance, has "spacious" rooms that are bigger than standard interior, ocean view, and balcony cabins. In addition to increased living space, there's also a separate bunk area, so the room can comfortably fit more people. 

Plus, Oasis, Quantum, and Icon Class ships have Royal Caribbean's Royal Suite Class. If you're looking for the ultimate suite experience, you'll want to focus on these ships, as not only are the rooms larger, but they come with better perks, including dining at a suite-only restaurant. 

Read more: Royal Caribbean cabin and suite categories guide

Smaller ships are able to offer more unique itineraries

Seward Royal Caribbean

Have you ever wondered why Royal Caribbean's Quantum Class sails roundtrip of Seattle during the Alaska season, whereas Radiance Class vessels tend to make one-way cruises from Whittier to Anchorage? Size matters when it comes to itinerary, as not every port is able to accommodate larger vessels. 

Voyages on smaller ships usually visit more exotic locations. Royal Caribbean's Icon Class, for instance, exclusively sails to the Eastern and Western Caribbean. Those wanting to sail to the Southern Caribbean islands of St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, etc., will have to look at cruises on other ships. 

Moreover, Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class is unable to tender, so they cannot sail to Grand Cayman or Belize. 

You'll find more onboard activities on larger vessels


FlowRiders, zip lines, and water slides, oh my! Whether you want to lounge on the adult-only sun deck, stay active in the sun, or enjoy a live theatrical production, there are seemingly endless things to do onboard Royal Caribbean's largest ships, making them perfect for a wide array of guests. 

While everyone may not be interested in cruising on a ship with so many activities, they do make for a great family vacation. Younger children likely wouldn't enjoy a ship without any splash pads or water slides. In fact, if you're cruising with an infant it is crucial that you select a ship with a Baby Splash Zone. Otherwise, they will only be able to swim when they're ashore. 

Read more: 40 Fun Things to Do on a Cruise Ship

There's a more intimate cruising experience on smaller ships 


Do you prefer more personalized service? Since smaller ships have a more favorable passenger-to-crew ratio, you'll receive more individualized attention. If you have a favorite waiter, for instance, it'll be easier to locate them. 

Additionally, you'll likely run into the same guests throughout the sailing, so if you're big on forming new friendships, the environment fostered by a small ship makes it easier to do so. 

While that's not to say you won't receive good service on a larger ship, you just won't have the same opportunities to get to know both passengers and crew as well. 

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