When it comes to sea days, you either love 'em or hate 'em. While some might wax poetic about languid afternoons in the spa or by the pool, others are constantly flipping through the daily schedule, desperate for something -- anything -- to do until reaching the next port. Napkin folding? Beanbag toss? Line dancing? Done, done and done. What else can you do, apart from throwing your vacation dollars into a slot machine or onto a card table?
So it's great news to all sea day-dreading travelers that cruise lines are ever increasing the number and variety of sea day activities. Heck, the daily newsletters for Royal Caribbean's Oasis and Allure of the Seas are now as long as a Harry Potter novel, even in four-point type. No one is taking the Hairy Chest contest away, but now you can also master digital photography, splash down a water slide, practice your best pretzel in a yoga class or dangle from ropes many, many decks above the waves. Those in need of more mellow pursuits can hide out in a thermal suite, cabana, hammock, lounge chair... even a lawn chair on Celebrity's grass-growing Solstice-class ships. And don't forget the afternoon version of the pub crawl or restaurant dine-around.
Want to start prepping for your sea day fun in advance? Here are our picks for the top 10 things to do on sea days.
1. Hang out by the pools
What's the quintessential activity onboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean? Sunbathing, of course! While every major cruise ship has the requisite pool, hot tub and rows of lounge chairs, some take pool time to new heights. Royal Caribbean's Freedom-, Oasis- and Quantum-class ships sport surf pools, interactive water parks for kids and zero-entry pools for wading. Disney Dream's pool deck -- with special pools for adults and little kids -- is circled by a water coaster ride. Carnival and Norwegian compete on the water slide front, while Celebrity's Solstice-class ships go a more Zen route with beautiful adults-only solariums that offer lap pools and retractable roofs.
Planning to spend your day on the sun deck? Read about our favorites in the Top Cruise Line Sun Decks.
2. Work out
When the closest you come to getting exercise during the workweek is speed-walking from your desk to the printer or running for the bus, time to work out in a state-of-the-art gym can be one of the many perks of vacation. Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class and Freedom-class ships have huge fitness centers with boxing rings and Pilates reformer machines, while Seabourn's Odyssey-class ships have Kinesis walls to improve flexibility and muscle tone. While most onboard fitness centers are located top-of-ship with sea views through floor-to-ceiling windows, Carnival takes workouts alfresco in its SportSquare. Beyond the gym, Crystal offers special Walking on Water (WOW) vests and LEKI walking poles for power strolls, Princess features swim-against-the-current pools and Royal Caribbean and Norwegian boast rock climbing walls.
Want to burn calories onboard? Try these Best Cruises for Fitness.
3. Find your bliss
On the other hand, maybe you planned to indulge in a little pampering during your time off. The majority of cruise line spas are operated by Steiner Leisure, so the offerings are the same across the board. But beyond the massages, facials and mani-pedis, passengers can book Botox injections and teeth-whitening treatments, fancy shaves for men, special teen treatments, couple's mud baths and a variety of gooey wraps that claim to do wonders for your skin, circulation and general well-being. Some of the best spas go beyond the treatment rooms. Many, like the spas on Norwegian and Celebrity ships, have thermal suites with saunas, steam rooms and heated relaxation chairs. Oceania, Carnival, Costa and Cunard offer thalassotherapy pools for therapeutic dips. For the ultimate splurge, book a spa villa on Seabourn's and Disney's ships for your own personal spa retreat with ocean views.
Seek nirvana at sea with the Best Cruise Ship Spas.
4. Eat, drink and be merry
Eating and drinking make up a large fraction of time spent onboard. Perhaps you're fond of the smorgasbord approach, picking this and that from the Mongolian Wok, Tandoor Indian food, New York-style deli or the pizza, pasta, and burrito bars on Carnival. Or maybe you like a leisurely sea day lunch at upscale Holland America's Pinnacle Grill or a Champagne brunch at Disney's adults-only Palo. Those predisposed to a liquid diet can kick back with buckets of beer and fruity cocktails from poolside bars, glasses of wine with lunch or even milkshakes on Oceania and fruit smoothies on Royal Caribbean.
Get those salivary glands going with Best Cruise Ship Alternative Restaurants.
5. Learn something
Toss the trashy novel, and make your brain do a bit of work on your cruise. And we're not talking about the fierce team trivia competitions for bragging rights to a logo cap or bag. Learn a new language on Crystal or Celebrity, learn to cook in the show kitchens of Holland America and Oceania, make scrapbooks on Celebrity or participate in a Discovery at Sea scavenger hunt on Princess. Several lines offer computer and digital photography classes, so you can come home with the most sophisticated vacation photo presentations ever.
Brainiacs and wannabes should check out our guide to the Best Enrichment Cruises.
6. Get silly
It's perfectly acceptable to drop your workweek formality and get a little silly on a cruise. Some might say that you're missing out on the true cruise experience if you don't get off your high horse and get into the onboard fun and games. Carnival has perfected the art of pool games with events like the Hairy Chest Competition, Rubber Chicken Olympics and Battle of the Sexes. Royal Caribbean is known for impromptu dance parties on the Royal Promenade, while Disney enlists its famous characters to round everyone up for fun. Join in the life-size renditions of popular board games on Carnival's Hasbro, The Game Show. It's OK to show off your rusty dance moves or cheer loudly for your favorite -- you will very likely never see any of your shipmates again.
What other fun will you find onboard? Get the lowdown in our What to Expect on a Cruise: Daytime Activities.
7. Be entertained
Matinee performance, anyone? While mainstream ships always have some sort of evening performance scheduled, some entertainment-focused lines keep their theaters full on sea day afternoons. Royal Caribbean tops the leaderboard on this one with matinees of its ice skating and Aquatheater shows, as well as midday showings of its Broadway shows, like "Hairspray." It's also known for afternoon parades through its ships' Promenades, complete with Dreamworks characters and colorful costumes. Norwegian Getaway and Escape get loose with "Wine Lovers The Musical," a daytime wine-tasting comedy show experience.
For the latest trends in onboard entertainment, read all about Best Cruise Ships for Entertainment.
8. Go to camp
If you're a kid, that is. Knowing that the under-18 set doesn't want to play bingo with mom and dad all day, cruise lines have built elaborate kids' recreation areas that will have adults wishing they could turn back time and join in the fun. Think mocktail bars for sodas and smoothies, Internet and video game consoles, piles of board games and toys and some hands-on crafts projects -- plus shipwide scavenger hunts, pizza parties and karaoke contests. Disney leads the pack with playrooms straight out of its hit movies, like Toy Story and Monsters Inc., and cutting-edge, computer-generated, interactive game floors inspired by brands like Marvel and Star Wars. Royal Caribbean reaches out to the youngest cruisers with a Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, providing age-appropriate activities for interactive play sessions, as well as care for kids as young as six months to three years. Trained counselors wrangle the little tykes and keep an eye on teens, so kids and adults can pursue their favorite activities in harmony.
For our recommendations on which ships will be a hit with your family, see our picks for the Best Cruise Ships for Families.
9. Seek out thrills
Move over, chair hogs. A new breed of cruiser has abandoned poolside vegging for high-octane pursuits onboard. They're skydiving on Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships and ziplining several decks above sea level on its Oasis Class. They're dangling from great heights on Norwegian Escape's largest ropes course at sea. And, to cool off after all that exertion, they speed down any number of onboard water slides ... again and again and again.
Are there chances for thrill seeking on your next cruise? Check out our 10 Best Cruises for Active Travelers.
10. Retreat from the world
You're on vacation, and a little peace and quiet would be nice. Unfortunately, your 3,000-plus shipmates might have other ideas, making a ruckus on the lido deck while poolside movie screens blare rock concerts. You could retreat to your cabin... or seek solace on a serenity deck. Princess pioneered the concept with its adults-only Sanctuary sun decks, where you can buy a day pass to plush lounge chairs, alfresco massages, Evian misters and even MP3 players loaded with New Age selections. Lines from Holland America and Oceania to Carnival and Norwegian rent out private cabanas, where you can draw the curtains on the world as you savor fruit skewers and chilled towels. If nothing else, look for adults-only sun decks to avoid the little splashers who often take over the main pools.
Get away from it all with our recommendations for the Best Adults-Only Cruise Sun Decks.
--By Erica Silverstein, Features Editor; updated by Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor