From fruit carving, napkin folding and belly flop contests on big, mainstream cruise ships to lectures, ballroom dance lessons and computer classes on smaller expedition or luxury ships, there's no lack of things to do onboard.
Depending on the cruise line, you can expect cooking classes, liquor tastings, lecture series, crafts, trivia, game shows, bingo, pool games, dance classes, galley tours, ropes courses, fitness classes, movies, casino tournaments and plenty of live music throughout the day. Don't forget surfing, skating, ziplining, laser tag, go-kart racing, escape rooms and even skydiving. Expect to find more options on sea days than on port days. Don't forget to take advantage of the fitness facilities, spas and sun decks onboard, as well.
Small ships and expedition and river cruise lines tend to spend more time in port than at sea, offering less in the way of on-ship entertainment.
Your daily cruise planner, which is delivered to your cabin nightly by your room steward, will be your cruise activities bible. This is the place to look for everything going on around the ship, along with times and locations. Some cruise lines are now putting the daily schedule on their phone apps for paper-free access.
No matter which itinerary you're sailing or how long you are sailing for, your cruise director (the person in charge of all activities onboard) and his or her activities staff are prepared to entertain you on sunny days or in choppy seas. Pools, hot tubs and water parks are fabulous outdoor options, but they might not be available during poor weather. A limited number of ships have retractable roofs that offer protection for some pool and hot tub areas (though not for any waterslides). Indoor options include trivia, crafts, wine tastings and more.
Outdoor options are less pervasive on river cruise ships, but some -- like Viking -- provide shuffleboard courts, putting greens, giant chess sets and loungers on the top sun decks. Some river cruise lines offer pools and/or hot tubs. A few are even indoors like those found on some ships of Crystal, Uniworld and Emerald. Lines with outdoor pools or hot tubs on some ships include AmaWaterways, Tauck and Scenic.
No. This is your cruise vacation, and you can do as much or as little as you wish. Run from event to event with your daily planner in hand like a checklist, spend the day in the spa relaxing your cares away or retreat from the world in the privacy of your stateroom. It's entirely your choice.
Every major cruise line has a kids club onboard along with a club for teens. These fully staffed facilities arrange their own age-appropriate activities during the day. There are also specially designated pools and splash zones just for kids on many big cruise ships. On smaller ships and luxury lines, there might not be a designated kids club, but there could be a game room onboard. For more information about daytime kids activities, check out What To Expect on a Cruise: Activities for Kids.
Most large cruise ships have adults-only sun decks, and some even provide a pool strictly for those 18 years and older. There are age restrictions in gyms and in spas, so you're unlikely to find young children in either one. Similarly, most bars are open during the day, and while they might be situated in busy public areas, kids are discouraged from sitting at the bars themselves.
Most onboard activities are free, including music around the ship, trivia contests, Ping-Pong, use of the basketball and sports courts and more. Activities that carry a fee include tastings (wine, beer, whiskey), bingo and some interactive classes like cooking or cupcake decorating. On newer ships, activities like go-karts, laser tag, escape rooms and virtual-reality game play might cost extra. Some of these activities also require reservations; check your daily planner for specifics.
Use of the pools and fitness facilities is free, but certain classes, such as yoga, might carry a cost. All spa treatments incur a charge.
With a few exceptions where ships overnight in certain ports, cruise ships sail during the nighttime hours, leaving your evenings free to explore all that the ship has to offer. Obviously, dinner is one activity most everyone will participate in as the centerpiece of the evening. Evening entertainment can include lavish production shows in the main theater, live music performances and even crew talent shows. Beyond the main entertainment, look for casinos, dance parties, piano bars, music trivia, movies, star gazing parties, and late-night adult games and comedy shows.
For more on what to do on a cruise ship at night, see What to Expect on a Cruise: Nighttime Activities.
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The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise, and visiting ports of call on your cruise.
Updated January 08, 2020