By Sara Macefield
Sara Macefield looks at the array of new on-board activities currently being offered by cruise lines.
Deck activities on cruise ships used to consist of nothing more energetic than taking a brisk stroll to imbibe the fresh sea air or indulging in a gentle game of deck quoits.
How different it is today. Cruisers can fly through the air on a zipwire; scale the side of the funnel on a climbing wall or throw themselves down a water slide. On sea days, in particular, it is the ship that becomes the main attraction. In fact, some of the largest vessels are more like floating theme parks, their expansive decks packed with diversions that dispel any notions of boredom.
Even smaller vessels have moved with the times, and while traditionalists can still enjoy time-honoured pursuits, there are many other activities to choose from. Several, if not most, ships have mini-golf courses or driving nets, plus table-tennis equipment, and larger vessels have full-sized sports courts.
Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth has a croquet lawn and a paddle-tennis court in country club-style surroundings, while Celebrity Cruises’ newer Solstice-class ships feature a real grass lawn where guests can play bowls, try their hand at putting or simply picnic. Three of its ships also have a glass-blowing studio, with demonstrations of how its molten creations take shape.
Even that most basic of on-board amenities — the swimming pool — has altered dramatically. Medium-sized and larger ships often have several — from family pools or water play areas to adult-only or spa pools, complete with a resistance current.
Increasingly, on newer ships, one pool will have a retractable roof, ensuring that passengers can swim in any weather. And, of course, any self-respecting vessel has at least one or two hot tubs, while on larger ships these are sprinkled across the decks.
On the three clipper-style ships owned by boutique line Star Clippers, would-be sailors can assist the crew by heaving on ropes to unfurl the sails or join informal sessions to brush up their knowledge of knot-tying or celestial navigation. But the most eye-popping activity is the chance to climb 70ft up the mast to the crow’s nest. Alternatively, passengers who don’t have a head for heights can lounge in the bowsprit nets above the prow and enjoy the breeze as the ship cuts through the waves.
At the other end of the scale are Royal Caribbean International’s mega-ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. As you might expect, the world’s largest liners have a mind-boggling array of deck diversions — from a zipwire stretching 80ft over the deck to dual climbing walls, FlowRider surf simulators and a full-sized carousel surrounded on some days by colourful stalls that lend a fairground feel. A number of Royal Caribbean ships offer similar facilities, including the H2O Zone — a children’s water park full of water spouts, fountains and waterfalls — and the Royal Promenade shopping “street”.
Norwegian Cruise Line is another contender for on-deck derring-do. Its largest ship, Norwegian Epic, has three water slides and the Spice H2O pool bar, which at night transforms into an alfresco Ibiza-style nightclub complete with live DJs.
Carnival Cruise Lines offers a similarly lively mix. Its so-called “fun ships” have water slides, water parks and even a ropes course suspended across the deck. Not to be outdone, Disney Cruise Line last year debuted the first water-coaster at sea — a fun-filled flume that snakes across the deck, taking riders through a transparent tube that swings them out over the ship’s side and back along the decks before plunging them through a funnel and into the pool.
Such adrenalin-fuelled activities may leave you wanting to catch your breath, but even relaxing is no longer simply a matter of sprawling on the nearest sunbed. Plush Balinese daybeds adorn the decks on Oceania Cruises’ ships, while Seabourn passengers can enjoy “massage moments” on deck with a spa therapist who offers complimentary 15-minute treatments.
Holland America Line and Celebrity Cruises have introduced deck cabanas that can be booked for a fee and come complete with seating and sunbeds, plus amenities including snacks and iPods uploaded with music.
Princess Cruises even has a plush VIP deck area called the Sanctuary where, for US$10 per half-day, guests can lounge on sumptuous chaise-longue sunbeds and enjoy butler service and (for an extra fee) outdoor spa treatments. The US line is also the pioneer of on-deck big screens, with its Movies Under the Stars attraction. Films are shown day and night on a screen above the pool, and in the evening passengers are given blankets (in cooler climates) and boxes of popcorn to complete the experience.
Other lines such as Costa, MSC Cruises, P&O Cruises and Disney Cruise Line have since followed suit, installing their own big screens on deck. With so much to do, winding down with a late-night film is an ideal way to relax at the end of a hectic day on board — after all, you are on holiday.