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?
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Updated January 8, 2020
Sea day-dreading travelers, take heart. In addition to hooting at the hairy chest contest, 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. Many Royal Caribbean ships sport surf pools, interactive water parks for kids and zero-entry pools for wading. Disney's pool decks -- with special pools for adults and little kids -- are encircled by water coaster rides or peppered with water slides. Carnival and Norwegian also 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 favorite cruise ship 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, working out in a state-of-the-art gym can be one of the many perks of a cruise vacation. MSC Cruises' Seaside and Seaview have some of the best onboard gyms with rowers, a heavy bag and gymnastics rings, plus lots of Technogym equipment. 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 on select ships. Beyond the gym, Crystal Cruises offers special Walk-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 cruises for fitness.
3. Bliss Out at the Spa
On the other hand, maybe you planned to indulge in a little pampering during your time off. Steiner Leisure operates the majority of cruise line spas, so the offerings are the same across the board, though Canyon Ranch SpaClub has now partnered with several cruise lines, as well.
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.
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, Bonsai Sushi, Guy Fieri's burger and barbecue joints, 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 lines like Princess and Royal Caribbean.
Get those salivary glands going with these cruise ship alternative restaurants.
5. Learn Something
Toss the trashy novel, and make your brain do a bit of work on your cruise. We're not just talking about the fierce team trivia competitions for bragging rights to a logo cap or bag. Learn to cook in the show kitchens of Holland America and Oceania, make scrapbooks on Celebrity or learn to find constellations at a Stargazing with Discovery at Sea event on Princess.
Several lines offer computer and digital photography classes, so you can come home with the most sophisticated vacation photo presentations ever. The luxury lines often offer lecture programs with famous guests or subject matter experts entertaining and educating passengers on sea days.
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 even 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. Or join in the life-size renditions of popular board games during its Hasbro, The Game Show. 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 OK to show off your rusty dance moves or cheer loudly for your favorite -- you will likely never see any of your shipmates again.
What other fun will you find onboard? Get the lowdown in fun cruise ship games and contests that bring out your inner kid.
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 toe-tapping tunes 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 the best cruise lines 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. Trained counselors wrangle the little tykes and keep an eye on teens, so kids and adults can pursue their favorite activities in peace.
Disney leads the pack with playrooms straight out of its hit movies, like "Toy Story" and "Monsters Inc.," and cutting-edge, digital play spaces inspired by "Marvel" and "Star Wars" movies. Royal Caribbean reaches out to the youngest cruisers with its Royal Babies and Tots Nurseries, providing age-appropriate activities for interactive play sessions, as well as care for kids as young as 6 months to 3 years.
For our recommendations on which ships will be a hit with your family, see our picks for the best kids clubs on cruises.
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's and Carnival's ropes courses. 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 off ship on your next cruise? Check out the best cruise destinations 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 the attentive services of Serenity Stewards. Lines from Holland America and Seabourn to Celebrity 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.