4 cruise ships to book right now instead of Icon of the Seas

If you haven’t yet heard about Royal Caribbean’s new ship, Icon of the Seas, where have you been? Currently the world’s largest cruise ship, the 7,600-passenger vessel is a floating haven for everyone from families and friend groups to couples and solo travelers. It’s also breathtakingly expensive, thanks to a recent media frenzy and the rules of supply and demand, which have last-minute bookings at record-high prices for Royal Caribbean.

In fact, the ship is so popular that Michael Bayley, the line’s president and CEO, said during a Feb. 1 earnings call that, based on the metrics the cruise line tracks, the response to Icon of the Seas has been three times what it was when the line’s now second-most-epic class of ships — the Oasis Class — rolled out its first vessel, Oasis of the Seas, in 2009.

“We’ve never seen the response that we’ve seen with Icon,” Bayley said. “It’s been genuinely unbelievable from every single metric that you would want to look at. The bookings have been phenomenally strong.”

With so much attention surrounding Icon of the Seas, cabins are selling well in advance. If you’re looking to book a sailing for the summer, you might be either completely out of luck or looking at sky-high prices, even for the most basic accommodations. (It’s a larger trend we’re seeing across the industry as cruising gains popularity, but it’s particularly astounding with Icon.)

I priced out the least expensive June 2024 sailing I could find on Icon of the Seas. Fares for the ship’s seven-night Caribbean and Bahamas voyage, sailing round-trip from Miami, on June 15 start at $3,659 per person, based on double occupancy, for an inside cabin and $4,319 per person for accommodations with a private balcony.

Not only is that crazy expensive, but cabins are selling so rapidly and so far in advance that, when I was gathering prices, fares for both rooms jumped more than $1,000 per person in the span of one hour.

If more than $3,000 per person for an inside cabin or more than $4,000 per person for a balcony room is out of your price range, or you just can’t fathom paying that much for something that’s not all-inclusive, here are four comparable ships you should consider sailing instead.

Wonder of the Seas

Royal Caribbean’s second-largest ship, the 6,988-passenger Wonder of the Seas, debuted in 2022 as the newest member of the line’s aforementioned Oasis Class. If a newer vessel with incredible attractions — waterslides, ice skating rink, an AquaTheater with high-dive shows, a carousel and plenty of areas for dining, drinking and shopping — is what you’re seeking, Wonder of the Seas can scratch that itch at a more affordable price than Icon can.

The ship’s June 16 seven-night Caribbean and Bahamas sailing from Port Canaveral, near Orlando, Florida, will set you back $1,459 per person for an inside cabin or $1,829 per person for a balcony cabin — $2,200 and $2,490 less per person than a comparable voyage on Icon of the Seas.

Symphony of the Seas

If you’d like to save even more while still enjoying the large number of amenities and neighborhood areas the Oasis Class offers — think shopping, surf simulators, a boardwalk and an open-air promenade featuring thousands of real plants — slightly older (2018) Oasis Class vessel Symphony of the Seas could be just the ticket.

You can book a seven-night Bahamas cruise on Symphony of the Seas, departing June 14 from Bayonne, New Jersey, from $1,199 per person for an inside cabin or $1,349 per person for a balcony room — a savings of $2,460 and $2,970 per person over Icon of the Seas’ fares.

Carnival Jubilee

If you like the idea of a ship that’s even newer and less expensive than Wonder of the Seas, and you don’t mind trying a different brand, Carnival Jubilee is a strong choice. The third in Carnival Cruise Line’s Excel Class, the vessel, which began sailing in late 2023, features seven zones, mimicking the neighborhoods you’ll find on both Oasis and Icon Class ships.

The ship offers tons of bars and restaurants, along with a side-facing atrium space that offers sea views by day and shows by night. Activities for both kids and adults include waterslides, miniature golf and outdoor movies, as well as one of only three roller coasters at sea.

You’ll have to make your way to Galveston, Texas, to sail one of the vessel’s weeklong itineraries, but it’s well worth it for the cost savings you’ll receive. A seven-night Caribbean cruise on Carnival Jubilee, departing June 15, costs $1,169 for an inside room or $1,539 per person for balcony digs. That’s $2,490 and $2,780 per person less than what you’d pay for a comparable Icon of the Seas booking.

Disney Wish

Disney Cruise Line is notorious for offering some of the most expensive non-luxury (read: not all-inclusive) cruises in the industry, often setting passengers back several thousand dollars for short sailings of just three to four days.

The line’s latest ship, Disney Wish, which is new as of 2022, offers a different layout from others in the line’s fleet. The ship features character appearances, innovative and interactive games, an award-winning kids club, excellent food, phenomenal entertainment and some of the best service you’ll receive anywhere. Disney adults can even enjoy a no-kids-allowed pool, sun deck, restaurants and themed bars and lounges.

Despite being the newest, largest and flashiest in the fleet, Disney Wish, which sails from Port Canaveral, is still comparable in price to Icon of the Seas. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison since Disney Wish only sails three- and four-night cruises.

However, you can book both the June 14 three-night Bahamas sailing and the subsequent June 17 four-night Bahamas sailing back-to-back to create a weeklong vacation. In that case, you’d pay $1,289 plus $1,859 for inside cabins (for a total of $3,148) or $1,441 plus $2,344 for balcony accommodations (for a total of $3,785) per person. That works out to be a total of $511 less per person for inside accommodations and $534 less for balconies than on Icon of the Seas.

Bottom line

Icon of the Seas is a world-record holder and deserving of the fanfare it’s receiving. However, its pricing has it in competition with the likes of much more expensive cruise lines, such as Disney Cruise line.

If you can’t justify shelling out Icon of the Seas prices for a mainstream cruise, you can save a lot by considering other mega-ships that offer similar levels of dining, entertainment and activity options. Wait until the popularity of this gargantuan new vessel wanes a bit — or until its sister ship, Star of the Seas, debuts in summer 2025 — if you’re hoping for more affordable fares on Icon of the Seas or a nearly identical ship.

And, definitely remember to book early — a year or more in advance — for the lowest rates.

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