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Aircraft carrier vs cruise ship: Which is bigger?


Mega cruise ships like Icon of the Seas and massive aircraft carriers are engineering marvels. These impressive vessels can carry thousands of people and feature an array of amenities that rival small towns. However, cruise ships and aircraft carriers serve different purposes. 

While both are bigger than standard pontoon boats, the operational focus and facilities are tailored to their specific functions. Instead of multi-story dining rooms and expansive buffets, for example, aircraft carriers have traditional mess halls. 

Similarly, the latter doesn't feature luxurious suites outfitted with expansive balconies. Standard living quarters on aircraft carriers are designed to accommodate military personnel, rather than cater to leisure travelers. 


Even taking their differences into consideration, it's hard to deny the sheer size of the vessels. With some cruise ships and aircraft carriers measuring over 1,000 feet in length, they represent monumental achievements in maritime engineering. Though many carriers and cruise ships are a similar length, cruises tend to be far heavier, some weighing over 200,000 gross registered tons (GRT). 

Read more: Top 25 Biggest Cruise Ships in the World

Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas is the largest cruise ship in the world


Measuring 248,663 GRT, 213 feet wide, and 1,198 feet long, Icon of the Seas isn't just a giant—it's the giant of cruise ships. Icon can hold over 5,600 guests at double occupancy and 2,350 crew members, bringing the total number of people onboard to nearly 8,000. Many rooms, however, are equipped to hold more than two guests, so the maximum capacity is closer to 9,950. 

As one might expect with the largest cruise ship in the world, there's no shortage of amenities onboard, from the brand-new AquaDome to Royal Caribbean's first-ever swim-up bar, the biggest ice skating rink at sea, and so much more. 

Behind Icon is Utopia of the Seas. Though part of the fan-favorite Oasis Class, Utopia of the Seas is unlike its predecessors. Not only is it Royal Caribbean's first cruise ship to enter service catering to the short cruise market, but it's the first to feature the new immersive train car specialty restaurant, as well as the tropical Pesky Parrot bar in the Royal Promenade and complimentary poolside "food truck." 

Read more: 5 things I loved (and 4 I hated) about my vacation on the world's biggest cruise ship


Utopia isn't much smaller than Icon of the Seas. According to Royal Caribbean's fact sheet, Utopia measures 236,473 GRT, 1,188 feet long, and 211 feet wide. 

Both ships were expensive to build; however, Icon of the Seas was more costly. The mega cruise ship cost the company $2 billion, while Utopia cost around $1.35 billion. 

Other cruise ships over 200,000 GRT include Wonder of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, and MSC World Europa. Star of the Seas and MSC World America will be large, too. They're both set to launch in 2025. 

Read more: I spent 7 nights on the world's largest cruise ship in the smallest room

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is the largest aircraft carrier in the world


According to the U.S. government, "The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is the most capable, adaptable, and lethal combat platform in the world, maintaining the Navy's capacity to project power on a global scale through sustained operations at sea." Compared to the Nimitz Class carriers, the ship features a slew of new technologies, such as electromagnetic catapults and advanced weapon elevators. 

It's the lead ship of its class and was formally commissioned into the United States Navy in July 2017. The 1,092-foot-long ship cost about $13 billion, surpassing Icon's $2 billion price tag. However, the USS Gerald R. Ford weighs about 100,000 tons, falling short of Icon's nearly 250,000 GRT. Aircraft carriers aren't supposed to be as heavy as mega-ships, though. 

Rather than focusing solely on size, they're also designed with speed in mind. The USS Gerald R. Ford can travel over 30 knots an hour, while Icon's maximum speed is about 24 knots. Icon of the Seas exclusively sails in the Caribbean, while U.S. aircraft carriers operate globally.

Read more: How Far Can a Cruise Ship Travel in a Day


The capacity of the USS Gerald R. Ford is less than Icon of the Seas, too. The world's largest aircraft carrier can carry 4,297 crew, which is less than Nimitz Class carriers. 

Typically, cruise lines want ships with more paying customers onboard. According to Jason Liberty, Royal Caribbean Group's CEO, “Newer, larger ships can break even on cash flow at around 35% capacity, while older, smaller ships are closer to 50." So while the initial cost for larger ships is higher, they're more cost-effective over time, as building one mega-ship is less expensive than two smaller ones. 

However, the fewer crew onboard government ships, the lower the operational costs are. Streamlining operations is critical for maximizing efficiency and reducing military expenses. 

There are cruise ships smaller than aircraft carriers


Carnival Elation, one of the two remaining Fantasy Class ships in service, measures 71,909 GRT and is 855 feet long. Similarly, Royal Caribbean's oldest ship at sea—Grandeur of the Seas—is just 73,817 GRT. In terms of new builds, however, cruise ships tend to be larger than aircraft carriers, especially when comparing tonnage. 

Even companies like Carnival and Virgin Voyages that don't care about having the largest ship at sea build newer vessels over 100,000 GRT. Carnival Celebration, for example, measures 183,521 GRT, while Virgin's Scarlet Lady is 110,000 GRT. Both ships are less than five years old. 

Length varies more. Though Scarlet Lady's tonnage is higher than the USS Gerald R. Ford, the ship is just 909 feet long. 

The longest ship ever constructed was the Seawise Giant

(Photo retrieved from Wikipedia on July 8, 2024. Originally uploaded by user Lev. Anthony and taken by Nils Koch, license CC BY-SA 4.0)

While Icon of the Seas holds the record for the largest ship cruise ship in the world, it's not the longest vessel ever built. The Seawise Giant, which launched in 1979, possessed the greatest deadweight tonnage ever recorded. Fully laden, the vessel measured 657,019 tons and was over 1,500 feet long. 

In comparison, the ship was longer than many of the tallest buildings in the world, including Petronas Tower 1 in Kuala Lumpur and One Vanderbilt in New York City. 

After undergoing four name changes from 1991 to 2009, the Seawise Giant was finally scrapped in 2010.

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