Surfing on a Cruise Ship: We Try the FlowRider on Royal Caribbean

December 7, 2016
FlowRider surf simulator

If you're an active traveler who's considering a cruise, there's no line more suitable than Royal Caribbean. With its onboard rock-climbing walls, skydiving simulators, ice skating rinks, sport courts, state-of-the-art gyms, and ziplines, you'll never be bored. But perhaps no active at-sea pursuit is more impressive than cruise ship surfing. If you've been itching to try the FlowRider, Royal Caribbean has got you covered, offering chances to try the surf simulator on the upper decks of many of its vessels.

Cruise Critic first tried the FlowRider on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas in late 2009, just after the ship launched. As you can tell from the first video, it didn't go so well. Six years later, we gave it another go aboard slightly smaller fleetmate Freedom of the Seas. We're impressed with our progress, having had no practice in between. (At this rate, we figure we should be pro in about 20 years or so.)

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What It Is

FlowRider is a surf simulator that allows participants to "bodyboard" (boogie board) or "flowboard" (same concept as surfing but with a smaller board), even if they're nowhere near the ocean. Royal Caribbean has the simulators on several of its ships, meaning that you are near the ocean, but you're surfing many stories above it, rather than in it. The simulator comprises a wedge-shaped area that's covered in thin padding (similar to a wrestling mat). Powerful jets spray a continuous stream of water over the surface, which is where passengers can hang ten. There are set chunks of time scheduled for boogie boarding only and surfing only. Sometimes the area is separated into two sections. No more than one person is able to use a section at one time. A team of crew members (usually two) assists novices with stepping into the simulator and onto their boards.

Our Experience

Our experience the first time around was much more relaxed. Since we hadn't tried the FlowRider before, we were fearless. "This looks easy," we told ourselves. Nope. It's difficult to stay balanced, and before we knew it, the front of our board turned sideways, and we fell hard on our rear end, swallowing about half of the water and smacking our head on the mat. (We nursed a headache for two days afterward.)

First FlowRider attempt in 2009

Our second time around, we had butterflies and felt far more nervous than excited. We knew how difficult it was and how much it hurt (both our head and our pride) last time. After waiting about 15 minutes in line, we stepped onto the board with the assistance of a member of the staff and listened to her pointers. For the first couple of seconds, our legs and upper body felt like they were operating completely in their own vacuums. We wobbled and teetered and eventually found a rhythm; then we zoned out and started to panic over how to maintain it (which, by some miracle, we actually managed to do).

Ultimately we quintupled the amount of time we were able to stay upright on the latter try -- from two seconds to 10. Part of that can be directly attributed to the voice in our head, which reminded us of two things: People were watching, and, due to time constraints, it was our only shot to redeem our previous performance. (Luckily we anticipated the fall this time, which allowed us to wipe out on our side instead of our back.)

Second FlowRider attempt in 2016

Overall, it wasn't what we'd call a stellar performance, but we were pleased with our improvement -- and the applause we received from onlookers after our spill.

Worth a Try?

Yes! If you like trying adventurous new things, definitely give it a whirl. One of the best parts of the FlowRider is that it's free to anyone who meets the height requirements and is willing to try it. For those interested in improving their skills with instruction from the ship's sports staff, group lessons are offered for $69 per person. (A minimum of four people is required for the sessions to take place, and the maximum allowed per session is eight.)

What we don't think is necessarily worth the price, however, is FlowRider rental. For $345, passengers who are already skilled at FlowRiding (and who are able to load themselves onto the simulator without assistance) can book the entire simulator for exclusive use by their party for an allotted period of time. (It does include supervision by staff but not assistance or instruction.) A more expensive rental package ($552) is available for parties who require instruction and/or assistance getting onto the FlowRider. Unless you have a particularly large group who loves to surf or boogie board, we don't think it's worth the cost.

FlowRider surf simulator

Things to Note

Surfing -- whether real or simulated -- can be dangerous, so anyone wishing to try the FlowRider must first sign a waiver and obtain a wristband. A height requirement of at least 58 inches applies for surfing (52 inches for boogie boarding).

A couple of other passengers, who we noticed were fairly skilled, kindly offered us advice: All weight should be on your back foot (which should be your dominant foot -- right foot if you're right-handed, left foot if you're left-handed) to put pressure on the back of the board. Knees should be slightly bent, and arms should stay straight out at your sides with your non-dominant arm always in line with the front of the board (both of which should face the front of the FlowRider). If you're a beginner, and your board turns sideways, you're likely to take a spill like we did in the first video.

Also worth mentioning is that, due to the force of the water, participants have only a 50 percent chance of keeping their bathing suits on when they fall (according to Royal Caribbean staff). If you're a guy, tie those trunks tight. If you're a girl, consider wearing a one-piece suit, or try a pair of leggings with a sports bra instead. Wooden benches surround the FlowRider area, so you're probably going to have an audience.

Finally, wait times can be long, so don't show up during the last half hour and expect to get more than one turn.

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