When Royal Caribbean's gargantuan and game-changing Oasis of the Seas debuted as the then-world's largest ship in 2009, people wondered if anyone would bother to get off the ship in port, as it could take a week to try out all the onboard activities. With 24 dining options, 21 pools and hot tubs, multiple live performance venues (including an ice rink and AquaTheater for high-diving shows) and seven "neighborhoods," the ship practically guarantees that no one will have trouble finding something to do.
But you don't need to sail on a 5,400-passenger ship to get the most from your days at sea. Any ship will do if you're content to spend your onboard time passed out on a sun lounger. But if you want the right mix of activity and relaxation options, it's key to pick the right ship with enough onboard attractions and programming to keep you entertained from sun-up to sun-down.
Here's our selection of the best ships for days at sea, chosen based on their variety of indoor and outdoor pursuits, plus plenty of daytime dining options.
On Deck: Norwegian Escape is on a mission to keep passengers entertained, and there's no reason to give up the sun to have some fun on Norwegian's largest cruise ship. Adrenaline junkies should head to decks 16 to 19, where they can try out the Aqua Racer (for tandem inner tube races), the super-fast Free Fall or the fun-for-the-whole-clan Family Slide in the ship's Aqua Park. (Little ones have their own expanded Kid's Aqua Park.) Drier adventures await at the rock climbing wall, mini-golf course and basketball or bocce courts, as well as the largest ropes course at sea where you can navigate 99 challenges, like swinging on one of five zip lines or walking the "plank," two of which come cantilevered over the side of the ship.
Escape has redesigned pool-lounge-hot tub areas, which include a bi-level bar, large LED screens and an open area for sunbathing. It also features the adults-only Vibe Beach Club with hot tubs and chaise loungers, and the Ibiza-inspired Spice H2O with a huge LED screen, bar and waterfall grottoes.
Indoor Fun: The Mandara Spa on Norwegian Escape offers all the usual treatments but also has a thermal suite that features a hydrotherapy pool, a steam room, a dry sauna, a hot tub, heated mosaic loungers, a salt room (for improving respiratory and skin problems) and even a snow room (where an ice-cold environment is said to help stimulate circulation). The large fitness center has all you need for working off those sea-day snacks. Classes include options like TRX, Norwegian Fight Klub and a body-sculpting boot camp.
At the crossroads of entertainment and dining, Wine Lovers the Musical is produced as a lunchtime spectacle in the Supper Club where passengers can sample a half-dozen wines while watching a musical comedy about "the joys of wine and love." Wine lovers can also indulge at The Cellars -- A Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar; beer aficionados will find their match at The District Brew House, serving 24 draft beers on tap (and 50 more in bottles), including an exclusive brew for Escape; and cocktail fans will find their pleasure at Tobacco Road, an at-sea outpost of Miami's oldest and most storied watering hole. The casino is Norwegian's largest and best equipped, to boot.
Norwegian's huge kids club (for ages 3 to 12) features a circus school in addition to games, sports, arts and crafts and play areas, while teens get a separate lounge-style hangout packed with couches, foosball, flat-screen TVs and a dance floor. Look, too, for the first-ever Norwegian nursery, catering to wee ones ages 6 months to 2 years, complete with an active room for playtime and a quiet room for sleep and rest.
For video games, drop by the video arcade or try the ship's atrium with its giant, two-story LED screen with scheduled times for Wii games.
All-Day Dining: Norwegian's Freestyle Dining concept means passengers can find plenty of food at all hours of the day, and Escape has 27 dining options. There's always Norwegian's indoor-outdoor buffet area, and O'Sheehans doles out hot breakfast items and typical pub food with a side of (mini) bowling, billiards or darts. One of the complimentary main dining rooms will also offer a sit-down lunch each day, or you can try Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea (the first-ever on a cruise ship), serving casual fare like burgers and salads alongside killer margaritas. Don't miss the Pincho Tapas Bar, a new specialty restaurant from Iron Chef Jose Garces; there's also the Food Republic food hall, dishing out a global smorgasbord, with items like Peruvian ceviche, Japanese sushi and Chinese noodles. Or, enjoy a drink or some housemade gelato on The Waterfront, a quarter-mile oceanfront promenade.
Sisters: Escape, which debuted in 2015, is the first ship in Norwegian's Breakaway Plus class; sister Norwegian Bliss launched in 2018. Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Epic were our previous sea-day winners for Norwegian and, along with Norwegian Getaway (sister ship to Breakaway), are still top choices for onboard fun.
On Deck: The coolest feature on Carnival Vista's upper decks is SportSquare, an outdoor workout-and-play area. It includes the innovative SkyRide suspended "aerial cycling course" (it's elevated above the ship and follows an 800-foot-long track), a two-level mini-golf course, outdoor cardio stations, volleyball/soccer and basketball courts and a running track. It also includes the SkyCourse, where passengers don harnesses and run, swing and tiptoe through eight segments of an elevated ropes course. The adjacent indoor Clubhouse area comes with mini-bowling, Ping-Pong, billiards and foosball tables, arcade-style basketball and shuffleboard.
If you're looking to get wet and wild, hang out by one of the three pools. The midship "beach pool" has a large screen that shows concerts, sporting events and other programming overhead throughout the day; Havana stateroom residents get the Havana pool all to themselves until 5 p.m.; and the Tides pool at the ship's aft touts great ocean views. Better yet, head to WaterWorks where tots can waddle around a splash park, speed demons can choose from two water slides (including the new 445-foot-long inner-tube Kaleid-O-Slide) and everyone can cool down with the Power Drencher, a massive bucket that, when full of water, dumps its contents on folks waiting below. Adults looking for respite can relax in the kid-free Serenity area, with its own bar, whirlpools, shaded double loungers and hammocks.
Indoor Fun: Carnival's ships emphasize outdoor activities, but Ocean Plaza is the hub for indoor fun on Carnival Vista. Groove to some live music, or compete for a Ship on a Stick plastic trophy during trivia games at the stage. If you get the munchies or the thirsties, the Plaza Cafe patisserie and Plaza Bar will meet your needs.
Or, dip into the Carnival Multiplex, featuring the first IMAX Theatre at sea with a three-deck-high screen, as well as the multisensory 5D Thrill Theater. Hasbro, The Game Show, is another family-friendly diversion featuring an interactive live action game show based on larger-than-life Hasbro games like Connect 4 basketball and Yahtzee bowling. Kids can dip into age-appropriate clubs (Club O2 for ages 15 to 17, Circle "C" for ages 12 to 14 or Camp Ocean for ages 2 to 11), and the youngest travelers will appreciate the Dr. Seuss-inspired story time, character parade, Green Eggs and Ham breakfast and vibrant Bookville family reading venue.
Adults, meanwhile, can wet their whistles with a cold brew and a brewery tour with the ship's brew master in the RedFrog Pub & Brewery, or catch some live music with a frothy drink in hand on the Lido Deck at the poolside RedFrog Rum Bar or BlueIguana Tequila Bar.
Otherwise, you can sneak away to the Cloud 9 Spa for some "me" time, where there is a thermal suite -- in addition to the salon and treatment rooms.
All-Day Dining: Carnival's Lido Deck buffet is one of the best around. Food stations include a comfort food setup (mac 'n' cheese, meatloaf) and a New York-style deli (featuring made-to-order sandwiches). Above the buffet is Carnival's Italian venue, Cucina del Capitano, which offers a free pasta bar at lunch, along with a Mongolian wok station that is part of Ji Ji Asian Kitchen during lunchtime. Also on the pool deck, find Guy's Burger Joint, with its calorie-laden burgers and fries; the BlueIguana Cantina, serving burritos and tacos; a 24-hour pizza parlor; and the Vista-exclusive, for-fee Seafood Shack, touting seafood bites like lobster rolls, oysters and clam chowder.
On sea days, the main dining rooms offer open seating for the complimentary Sea Day Brunch, serving up brunch favorites like omelets, French toast and eggs Benedict; the Bloody Mary bar rounds things off. (Note that drinks are charged.)
On Deck 5, even more eateries await. The expanded Bonsai Sushi is a sit-down sushi venue, while the RedFrog Pub & Brewery offers Caribbean bites (like grouper fingers and Jamaican-style chicken wings) and beers brewed on-site. Don't miss Cherry on Top, with its new (fee) ice cream venue and indoor/outdoor seating.
Sisters: Carnival Horizon is Vista's only sister in the Vista class. Otherwise, Dream-class sister ships Carnival Breeze, Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic have many of Vista's attractions, but are missing some of the aforementioned amenities and dining and drinking establishments.
On Deck: One of the world's largest cruise ships, Harmony of the Seas, challenges anyone to be bored onboard, given its large variety of on-ship activities and attractions designated within seven themed "neighborhoods." The "Pool and Sports Zone," concentrated on the ship's upper decks, has four pools (including a sloped-entry pool and one for games like in-pool basketball) and the interactive water play area Splashaway Bay for kids and tots, with features like sea creature water cannons, slides and a giant drench bucket. Six whirlpools (including four that are cantilevered over the ship's side) can be found in the glass-covered, adults-only Solarium.
Harmony introduces some Royal Caribbean firsts: The Perfect Storm trio of multistory water slides, along with the Ultimate Abyss, a side-by-side pair of the tallest dry slides at sea, which plummet 10 stories. The ultimate in water fun is the ship's two FlowRider surf simulation pools for standup surfing and boogie-boarding. If you're not up for public humiliation, grab a drink, find a bleacher seat and enjoy the wipeouts in shaded comfort. Harmony also sports a zipline, two rock climbing walls and a sports deck for basketball, volleyball, soccer, Ping-Pong and mini-golf.
The deep AquaTheater pool (technically part of the Boardwalk neighborhood) does double duty as a venue for scuba lessons and stage for whimsical performances that feature acrobats and divers (held both day and night).
Indoor Fun: Harmony's neighborhood concept also includes three areas that are technically within the ship but open to the sky. Take a nature stroll through Central Park at the center of the vessel, a football-field-length strip that is covered in some 12,000 plants and trees. You can pop into shops like the Cartier store and a Bvlgari boutique, and grab a bite at the Park Cafe or a drink at the two-story Dazzles lounge. Or head to the more boisterous indoor-outdoor Boardwalk, with its Starbucks, arcade, tequila bar and various casual eateries (see below). One lovely touch there is the handmade carousel, which is free to ride.
For more shopping and imbibing, the Royal Promenade is sized like a real mall -- it runs the length of a football field. There you'll find tax- and duty-free shops for liquor and jewelry purchases, the Rising Tide Bar (which travels up and down three decks between the Royal Promenade and Central Park), the futuristic Bionic Bar (helmed by robot bartenders), a Kate Spade store and other retail and food-and-beverage options. Activities like flash-mob dance classes and parades with DreamWorks characters in colorful costumes take place there.
Other daytime entertainment options include recent 3D movies from the DreamWorks cache, an interactive group Puzzle Break game, dance classes, alcohol tastings, DreamWorks character meet-and-greets and ice skating in Studio B.
For more laid-back offerings, retreat to the Vitality Spa at Sea, featuring 29 treatment rooms and a thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, saunas and steam rooms. Or work off those buffet calories at the fitness center, packed with cardio and resistance equipment, and the site of spinning, yoga, Pilates and kickboxing classes.
Kids, meanwhile, can indulge in the Youth Zone, with features like the Adventure Ocean kids club (for ages 3 to 11) touting activities like puppet theater and dance parties; there are also teen-only spaces (Fuel Disco and The Living Room), as well as the Royal Babies and Royal Tots nursery program for infants and toddlers ages 6 months to 2 years.
All-Day Dining: You can't go hungry on Harmony of the Seas, what with 20-plus dining options. Beyond lunch in the Windjammer Marketplace buffet and the main tri-level dining room, passengers can find midday eats at Sorrento's pizzeria; the Park Cafe, serving up salads and sandwiches; the Boardwalk Dog House with its seven varieties of wieners; Mini Bites for sliders and other grab-and-go snacks served near the pools; the Vitality Cafe or Solarium Bistro for yogurt parfaits, healthy sandwiches and other light fare; Johnny Rockets, a fast-food burger joint; Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar for Mexican; and the Cafe Promenade for snacks and sandwiches.
Also worth seeking out are Jamie's Italian, from British Chef Jamie Oliver; 150 Central Park, with a seasonal "farm to ship" menu designed by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz; and Izumi Hibachi and Sushi (note all three of these venues charge a supplement). And don't forget all the empty calories you can consume with midday cravings for ice cream, doughnuts and cupcakes.
Sisters: Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and 2018-debuted Symphony of the Seas are also part of the Oasis-class fleet. They're nearly identical to Harmony, minus a few variations on features. Also worth a shoutout are the line's high-tech Quantum-class ships, including Anthem of the Seas, with fun features like a skydiving simulator, the extendable North Star observation arm (it reaches 300 feet above sea level), bumper cars and even robot bartenders in the Bionic Bar.
On Deck: The much ballyhooed main attraction of Fantasy's upper decks is the AquaDuck, a tubular water coaster. It's more kiddie fun than big thrills, despite the track's precipitous swing 13 feet out from the side of the ship -- and its 42-inch height requirement that leaves little siblings pouting. Behind the Duck's entrance is a water play area called the AquaLab, guaranteed to leave you soaking wet.
Fantasy's pool areas have something for everyone. The Mickey Pool with mini-water slide is kid heaven, Donald's Pool gives front-row seats to the giant outdoor movie screen, Nemo's Reef is the toddler splash area for the diapered set, and Quiet Cove is the adults-only pool area. An additional adults-only sun deck features a splash pool and rain curtain. The requisite all-purpose sports court, mini-golf, walking track and Ping-Pong tables make an appearance on the Sports Deck.
Indoor Fun: You might have a serendipitous run-in with your favorite Disney character or princess, or you can find them at scheduled meet-and-greets. The whole family can play detective with a mystery game that places clues in hallway art that magically comes to life when you pass by; on Fantasy, there's a version that features the lovable Muppets.
Disney's kids clubs are some of the biggest and best in the industry, keeping the under-18s from whining too much on sea days. The Oceaneer's Club and Oceaneer Lab have play areas straight out of Pixar movies, such as "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc.," interactive high-tech MagicPlay Floors, an animator's studio and a sound studio. Tweens can hang out in the ship's faux funnel where there's an 18-foot-tall video wall, video karaoke and computers with a ship-specific social media app. Teens get a 9,000-square-foot club that includes a fountain bar and its own outdoor space with a sun deck and wading pools. Even the Senses Spa -- which offers the usual adult pampering treatments -- has a teens-only area with age-appropriate treatments.
Kiddos with credit cards (or generous parents) can go for sea-day splurges at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. At this salon-cum-costume shop, tykes can be transformed into princesses and pirates -- with hair-styling, makeup and wardrobe -- for a fee. (Advance reservations are recommended.)
All-Day Dining: Cabanas, on Deck 11, is the all-day buffet, while Flo's Cafe has quick eats like burgers, chicken fingers, wraps and pizza. For a more formal, sit-down repast, try the Versailles-inspired Enchanted Garden. Grown-ups can sneak away to brunch at Palo, which offers a cold buffet (meats and cheese, shrimp, salads, desserts) and a selection of hot made-to-order items (omelets, fish); afternoon tea is served there, as well.
Sisters: Disney Dream, Fantasy's elder sibling, is a near twin, but Dream has some slight variations in the realizations of some of its public spaces (for instance, the adults-only nightlife area is The District on Dream compared to Europa on Fantasy), as well as some features that are all its own (like for-fee ice cream at its Vanellope's Sweets & Treats shop, and the Millennium Falcon-themed kids' club).
On Deck: With much of its time spent sailing back and forth across the Atlantic, Queen Mary 2 can offer lots of sea days -- but the weather won't always be the best for top-deck sunning. Still, the ship does have multiple pools, including the adults-only Terrace Pool, the all-weather Pavilion Pool with a retractable dome and the Minnows Pool for kids.
Sports facilities include a mini-golf range, paddle-tennis court and Ping-Pong table. Or get old-school with shuffleboard and deck quoits. The promenade deck loops around the ship for a midday walk.
Indoor Fun: While you can certainly laze around all day, QM2 makes it possible to imbue your sea days with culture and learning opportunities, offering an excellent enrichment program with activities like watercolor painting, wine tasting or ballroom dancing.
Cunard Insights explores historical and contemporary issues presented by explorers, academics, former politicians, actors, musicians, historians and filmmakers. Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts actors teach acting workshops onboard. You can even stargaze during the day with a film in its planetarium, Illuminations.
If you'd rather pamper your body, QM2 is home to a Canyon Ranch SpaClub. The two-deck facility includes the spa and salon, where you can indulge in massages, pedicures and other, more exotic treatments. One of the highlights of the space is the Aqua Therapy Centre, which is equipped with an aqua therapy pool, whirlpool, reflexology basin, sensory showers, Finnish sauna, aromatic steam room, herbal sauna and ice fountain. You can get your heart racing with a variety of gym equipment at the Fitness Centre across the way.
All-Day Dining: Passengers can enjoy daytime dining in their assigned main dining rooms (Britannia, Princess Grill or Queens Grill). Britannia is open seating at lunch, while Grill passengers have assigned tables (though no fixed times to dine), with an increased number of tables for two.
The buffet restaurant, Kings Court, is located on Deck 7 instead of by the pool. By the pool, you can dine on typical grill fare at the Boardwalk or soups and sandwiches at the Pavilion.
For a lunch splurge, the Verandah restaurant is an extra-fee American-style steakhouse. Another popular but free alternative dining area is the ship's Golden Lion Pub, serving authentic pub food like bangers and mash, fish and chips and shepherd's pie. There's also the Carinthia Lounge, offering light fare for lunch along with specialty coffees (for a fee) and a patisserie counter.
Traditional tea service can be found in the Queens Room, where waiters and waitresses serve tea, finger sandwiches, pastries and, of course, scones with clotted cream.
Sisters: Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth share some of QM2's dedication to enrichment programming, but they don't have all the bells and whistles (no planetarium, for example).
On Deck: Celebrity Reflection -- and its Solstice-class sisters -- put a new spin on top-deck fun with the first real grass lawns at sea. The Lawn Club on Reflection is the perfect spot for a sea-day picnic, a game of bocce or oversized Jenga or a barefooted stroll, feeling the grass between your toes. Plus, eight private cabana alcoves are available for rent for those who want shade and a bit more privacy.
Reflection also has one of cruising's most inviting pool decks. Parents can take the kids into the shallow family pool, while everyone can join the games in the sports pool. Vertical fountain jets spray visitors to the Wet Zone, a fun place for water play or a quick cool-down. The adults-only Solarium invites with a circular spa pool, a swim pool and two whirlpools, as well as comfy padded loungers, circular daybeds and hammocks. Hot tubs are scattered throughout.
Indoor Fun: Foodies can learn about wine-and-food pairings, compete in culinary contests and join expert-led wine-tastings -- or independent ones. Passengers can conduct do-it-yourself wine-tastings at the Cellar Masters wine bar with its automatic wine dispensers.
If you like to kick it at a convivial watering hole, the Martini Bar is a great sea-day afternoon hangout. The enthusiastic bartenders will mix you brightly colored concoctions while juggling martini shakers and performing other fun tricks. (Hint: Order two "flights" to find out exactly how many martinis your bartenders can pour at one time.)
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub offers a wide range of treatments and a Persian Garden area with heated ceramic tile loungers, a steam room and tropical rain showers. The gym at the spa offers all the newest fitness machines as well as a serpentine jogging track. Work out on your own, or sign up for a class in yoga, aerobics and the like.
All-Day Dining: Celebrity has one of the best buffets in the biz, and the Oceanview Cafe is an expansive multistation venue for lunch and all-day snacking. Choices include a carving station and taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other specialty stops. For less healthy fare, pick up some burgers and hot dogs at the Mast Grill; for healthier choices, drop by the AquaSpa Cafe in the Solarium for salads and grilled seafood.
If you don't mind forking over a few bucks for your lunch, Sushi on Five serves a la carte Japanese favorites like sushi and sashimi. The Porch, located in the Lawn Club, provides pressed sandwiches and soups at a la carte pricing. If you've got a sweet tooth, hit the Cafe al Bacio & Gelateria for a sweet ending to your meal.
Sisters: Reflection is the last in the Solstice Class; Solstice, Equinox, Silhouette and Eclipse are all great sea-day choices. The biggest differences are in the specialty dining venues and Lawn Club attractions. Celebrity Edge, the line's newest ship and first in the Edge Class, trades the Lawn Club for the Rooftop Garden, with greenery but not grass.
On Deck: You can choose whether you want your in-the-sun lounge time to be active and fun or quiet and calming aboard Regal Princess. If you like a little action with your tan, the main pool area on Deck 16 is for you. At the Fountain Pool, you can be a joiner with fun activities such as ice-carving demonstrations and silly games, or rock out to the music performances. You'll also find lots of lounge chairs here, perfect for taking in a movie or music video with the giant Movies Under the Stars screen looming above.
For a more Zen sea day, shell out for a coveted spot in the Sanctuary, the adults-only sun deck. You can recline on an extra-plush lounger or rent a private cabana while stewards fetch drinks and healthy snacks for you (private spa treatments can also be arranged). Forgot your iPod? Borrow an MP3 player with Bose headphones that's loaded with playlists.
There are also two pools onboard that are quieter than the main pool deck venues. The adults-only Retreat Pool features a pool and two hot tubs, while the tiny Terrace Pool overlooks the ocean at the very aft of the ship and is a calming place for a dip.
Indoor Fun: The heart of Regal Princess is the Piazza, the atrium where street performers sing, dance, juggle, do magic tricks and perform acrobatics while you chill with a coffee, cocktail or cookie.
Princess' ScholarShip@Sea program doesn't take itself as seriously as the "edutainment" offerings of lines like Cunard or Crystal. Sure, you can learn about computers and art history, but the program also encompasses scrapbooking, wine-tastings, cooking demos and dance classes. The ship also features a newer partnership with the Discovery network dubbed Discovery at Sea, which expands to interactive onboard activities (like Shark Week trivia games), all influenced by the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and Science Channel TV brands.
And there's always the Lotus Spa. Relax with a massage or facial, or get high-tech with acupuncture, Botox treatments, detoxifying wraps or teeth-whitening. For some indoor relaxation, head to the thermal suite, with its sauna, aromatherapy steam rooms and hot-rock beds.
All-Day Dining: One of the more original lunch options on Regal Princess is the English-style pub lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar. The menu offers cottage pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, or a ploughman's lunch. Lunch is free, but you'll need to pay to wash it down with a Guinness.
Looking for a main dining room experience for breakfast or lunch? You'll find it in the Concerto dining room. You can also find casual dining options in the Piazza. On Deck 6, there's Alfredo's with its selection of tasty thin-crust pizzas, salads and pastas. One deck down, the International Cafe has the feel of a European sidewalk cafe, and offers coffee, morning pastries, tea sandwiches, light salads and snacks. Food is free, unless you want a gourmet coffee or a fancy dessert, like chocolate fondue with fruit for dipping, chocolate-covered strawberries or gelato (all for a small fee). Sweet-toothed penny-pinchers need not fret: Every afternoon there's a free cookies-and-milk break. (Don't want to leave the pool? The crew bring cookies by the pool deck, too.)
Balcony cabin residents can sleep in and order the Champagne Balcony Breakfast ($28 per person), complete with pastries, fresh fruit, quiche and a split of Champagne. It's elegantly served on your private balcony.
Other daytime dining venues include the Horizon Court and Horizon Bistro buffets; the Trident Grill for burgers, hot dogs or chicken sandwiches; and poolside venues for pizza and ice cream.
Sisters: Royal Princess is almost identical to Regal Princess but does not have the aft pool. An outdoor play area for kids takes up that aft space on Royal.
Updated October 19, 2022