When it comes to sea days, you either love 'em or hate 'em -- and, I'll admit, I'm a hater. While friends and colleagues wax poetic about languid afternoons in the spa or by the pool, I'm constantly flipping through the daily schedule, desperate for something -- anything -- to do until we reach the next port. Napkin folding? Done it. Beanbag toss? I've got no aim, but I'm game. Line-dancing? This Boston-born girl does a mean Achy Breaky Heart. It's all because I'm trying to keep myself from getting so bored that I start throwing my vacation dollars at Bingo cards.
So it's great news to me and all my sea day-dreading brethren 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 waterslide, 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.
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- and Oasis-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 NCL compete on the waterslide front, while Celebrity's Solstice-class ships go a more Zen route with beautiful adults-only solariums that offer lap pools and retractable roofs.
When the closest you come to getting exercise during the work week 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 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 Magic takes the 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 NCL boast rock-climbing walls.
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 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 newest ships for your own personal spa retreat with ocean views.
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, NY-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.
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 paint pottery on Princess. Several lines offer computer and digital photography classes in their onboard Internet cafes, so you can come home with the most sophisticated vacation photo presentations ever.
It's perfectly acceptable to drop your work-week 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. It's okay to show off your rusty dance moves or cheer loudly for your favorite beanbag-tossers -- you will very likely never see any of your shipmates again.
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 Epic, which offers everything from dueling pianos to comedians and celebrity impersonators at night, livens up the daylight hours with a Murder Mystery Lunch, featuring its improv partner, Second City.
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. Royal Caribbean reaches out to the youngest cruisers with age-appropriate activities like baby gymnastics and sing-alongs for the 6-month to 3-year-old set, in conjunction with Fisher-Price. Trained counselors wrangle the little tykes and keep an eye on teens, so kids and adults can pursue their favorite activities in harmony.
Move over, chair hogs. A new breed of cruiser has abandoned poolside vegging for high-octane pursuits onboard. They're zip-lining several decks above sea level on Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships and boogie-boarding on the line's Freedom-class trio. They're dangling from great heights on Carnival Magic's first-ever ropes course at sea. And they're climbing up and rappelling down rock walls on Norwegian Epic. And, to cool off after all that exertion, they speed down any number of onboard waterslides ... again and again and again.
Are there chances for thrill-seeking on your next cruise? Read our ship reviews to find out.
Retreat from the world.
You're on vacation, and a little peace and quiet would be nice. Unfortunately, your 3,000+ shipmates may have other ideas, making a ruckus at Hairy Legs contests 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. Holland America and Oceania 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.