In the challenge of attracting new cruise passengers while at the same time keeping veteran cruisers hooked, largest cruise line companies roll out original industry-first activities.
There was a time when limbo, shuffleboard and miniature golf were the craziest activities found on a cruise. But today, thrill-seekers can practice their surfing, go ziplining or strap on a bungee cord, all without leaving the cruise ship. One of the biggest changes is just how many experiences passengers can enjoy these days. The world's largest cruise ships have a mind-boggling array of dazzling entertainment.
The trend started with waterslides, rock climbing walls and ice skating rinks but quickly escalated to levitating cocktail bars, skydiving simulators and the latest high-tech entertainment on board the newest cruise vessels. With fun attractions like these, guests may never want to leave.
Cruises are no longer just sedate affairs, as the following adrenaline-pumping activities can attest. Sea days full of dozing by the pool in an alcohol stupor are over, so let us reveal the WOW side of cruise life with 20 crazy on board experiences that will leave you breathless.
- Cirque Dreams & Dinner. During a Cirque Dreams & Dinner on board Norwegian Epic, passengers get a play with food. The 265-seat theater pairs mealtime with a show that features hula-hooping, acrobatics, aerialists and singing. The entertainers perform circus-style tricks as waiters serve dinner amid the chaos. Norwegian Breakaway followed up with its Jungle Fantasy show. The latest take on NCL dinner theater, Illusionarium, debuted on Getaway. The show comes complete with special effects and magicians.
- Lawn Club. Natural carpet is rolled out with the Lawn Club on Celebrity Cruises and the Central Park on Royal Caribbean's Oasis and Allure of the Seas. It features rambling pathways and abundant flora, including flower beds and shade trees. The floating parkland offers tasteful restaurants and and shops reminding Fifth Avenue. Celebrity's Solstice-class vessels have a half-acre of green grass on their top decks, ideal for bocce or croquet. Passengers can also order baskets and have picnics.
- Formula 1 simulator. If your kids want to take a spin, tell them to go have fun. No time to worry if they crash the car while driving 200 mph. MSC Cruises' Fantasia-class ships give speed lovers permission to enjoy speed in a Formula 1 simulator. Guests climb into the driver's seat of a car that whines, bumps and bounces like the real thing. With Costa Cruises' Grand Prix simulators, guest "drivers" simulate the sensation of zipping around a racecourse from a Grand Prix-style car, tricked out with lots of gadgets, sounds and movements.
- 4D cinema. The 4D theaters, found on Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line, offer real-life sensory shocks as squirts of liquids, pumped-in smells, quivering seats and visuals invading your personal space. Thankfully, all seats come with belts, so not to become part of the on-screen action.
- Planetarium at sea. Cunard's Queen Mary 2 brings the stars out, even on cloudy nights. In the only one at sea planetarium, housed in the Illuminations, stargazers sit beneath a huge dome sparkling with celestial glitter. On a 7-day cruise astro-geeks can explore galaxies with three different shows. Members of the Royal Astronomical Society are at hand on select voyages.
- Magic PlayFloor. Floors and walls come alive, just like in the movie "Fantasia." Go see it for real on Disney Fantasy and Dream. On the Magic PlayFloor, kids stomp around on the virtual game board. The Enchanted Art inspires jumping, but more as a response to artworks which move and talk without warning. Minnie Mouse poses as Mona Lisa, and Mickey Mouse, as Steamboat Willie. Once the show is over, all images go back to their dormant selves.
- Moving Bars. The Rising Tide bar on Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas really is moving. It travels like an elevator between the Central Park and Royal Promenade neighborhoods on Decks 8 and 5, respectively. A roundtrip takes 30 minutes, with 10 minutes reserved for embarkation and debarkation and 20 in motion.
- Ice bars. The temperature inside Norwegian Epic, Breakaway, or Getaway's Svedka ice bar is Arctic. The bars are made of ice, including sculptures and furnishings, which are themed to reflect Miami on Getaway and New York City on Breakaway, and are illuminated by bulbs glowing like the northern lights. The bars provide a rack of gloves and hooded coats to keep hands from freezing to the ice glasses and buttocks from sticking to the ice-cube seats.
- Brewing onboard. Several varieties of German beer are crafted in the microbreweries on AIDAblu, AIDAmar, AIDAsol and AIDAstella. The braumeisters of the German cruise line can produce up to 265 gallons of beer a day. One unexpected ingredient is seawater, minus the salt. Guests can sign up for brewing workshops to receive a "brewing diploma" onboard.
- Waterworks. The AquaTheater, found on Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, could be just another pool on board, until you notice it's 18 feet deep and nearly 21 feet long, with passengers taking scuba lessons in it. The venue shines when the moon comes up and the natural light goes down. Then, the area transforms into a unique 700-seat AquaBroadway. The shows include a choreographed musical, starring divers, aerialists and gymnasts, as well as a trapeze act creating the illusion of Spiderman climbing up water.
- Waterslides. Kids of all ages can't resist the hair-raising steepest waterslide at sea. Both Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend feature the Green Thunder, part of the top-deck water park. Carnival Waterworks also boasts a Twister Waterslide and SplashZone for smaller kids. The AquaDuck water coaster on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy twists and turns for 765 feet over and around ships' pool decks. One elbow of the coaster protrudes 12 feet off the vessel and 150 feet above the sea. The AquaDunk waterslide on Magic offers a 3-story-high thrill ride, including a tumble through a trap door into a translucent tube shooting out 20 feet over the side of the ship. Other notable waterslides include Norwegian's Free Fall (on Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway) with twin "free fall" slides dropping guests at speeds of up to 26 mph; the Speedway Splash on Carnival Sunshine, with 235-ft-long dual chutes and special lighting effects; and MSC Cruises' Vertigo (MSC Preziosa), offering 390 ft of colorful turns and twists, including a spin over ship's edge from 18 decks high.
- Marina Water Sports. Board one of the SeaDream yachts if you are a speed demon. Both offer high-speed watercraft from a retractable watersports platform. The marinas also feature stand-up paddleboards, glass-bottom kayaks and Laser sailboats. Today every decent yacht is equipped with water sports toys likesailing dinghies, jet skis and kayaks. On board SeaDream I and SeaDream II are also experts on hand to give instructions.
- Zip lines: Fly through the air. Passengers aboard Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas can strap on harness and speed up through the air on the intra-ship zip line. Set on the Sports Deck, the Peter Pan-esque activity is not for the acrophobic as the wire is suspended 9 decks up and with a diagonal course of 82 feet across ship's atrium. Don't forget to wear secured footwear: otherwise, fellow cruisers strolling through the Boardwalk below may end up with flip-flops in their ice cream cones.
- Walking the plank. After mastering some challenges on the ropes courses aboard Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway, get ready for The Plank. This extraordinary 15-centimetre-wide board extends 55 metres above the open ocean and 2.5 metres over the side of the cruise ship. But at least the brave ones have to wear a harness.
- FlowRider. The surf's always up on Freedom, Oasis and Quantum-class Royal Caribbean ships. The FlowRider surf simulator generates waves on the top of a cushioned platform. Guests can catch their waves standing up or belly-down. The tide is faux, but humiliation and pain can be real. However, it's fun and challenging - surf conditions are always the best.
- Robot bartenders. One of the greatest novelties aboard Quantum of the Seas is its Bionic Bar, featuring a duo of robot bartenders who dole out drinks to charmed guests. In a "mixology meets technology" futuristic setting, passengers order cocktails from a tablet device. The pair prepares mixed drinks while shaking and stirring, with a system based on the assembly-line technology used to manufacture cars.
- SeaPlex. Royal Caribbean really reached the top with the activities on board its Quantum of the Seas. One of the innovative features is SeaPlex, the biggest indoor active spot at sea that boasts a roller-skating rink, circus school and bumper cars.
- The North Star. Another innovation from Quantum of the Seas (repeated on the Anthem), the North Star observation pod swings passengers away from ship's deck for a 15-minute ride with bird's-eye panorama. The glass-enclosed capsule (modeled on the London Eye), has room for 14. It is attached to a mechanical arm extending to over 300 feet above sea level, and out over the side of the ship, for unparalleled 360-degree views over the vessel, port and sea.
- Skydiving simulator. The innovative Quantum-class ships of Royal Caribbean, including Anthem of the Seas, have rolled out a great deal of industry-firsts. These include such WOWs like RipCord by iFLY, the first skydiving simulator at sea. Thrill-seekers are asked to attend an informational session in order to learn the rules of play. Then they gear up in a flight suit, protective headgear and goggles. It's time to dive on into the glass-enclosed, 23-foot-high vertical window tunnel for a gravity-defying simulated skydiving. The whole time guests will be safe in the hands of a pro so to enjoy the minute-long floating. As a bonus, the instructor usually puts on a show of flying tricks and sensational flips in the air machine.
- If your tastes run more to singing your heart out to win a contest and taking classes in watercolour painting, you can do all that, too :-)