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Cruise ship water parks are a top-deck jumble of cascading tubes in Crayola colors, cartoon characters playfully spraying into kiddie pools, and delighted screams that splash out of slides and from behind water cannons. Warm-weather itineraries touted year-round by most cruise lines make water playgrounds an attractive proposition for anyone in the family. However, the "best in class" of cruise ship water parks are being quickly one-upped by the "first in class" as cruise lines get creative with their brand-new ships. Innovative slides that thrill riders with drop-out floors, two-person floats and spiraling funnels will now include dazzling light effects, and expansive top-deck areas will add even more square footage and water features as cruise lines roll out their largest water parks to date.
Plus, the popularity of water parks on mega-ships means more cruise lines are adding them. Royal Caribbean unveiled its first waterslide ever on Harmony of the Seas, the third Oasis-class vessel in the fleet. Harmony launched in spring 2016 with three multilevel waterslides that twist and turn 10 decks above Central Park, a main thoroughfare.
In today's world of water parks at sea, four cruise lines stand out, not only because of their impressive and existing aquatic chops, but also because most have big plans for these exhilarating decks on future ships. Here are our favorites.
Mediterranean cruise line MSC Cruises aims to be family friendly, and it has solidified -- or, rather, liquefied -- this promise with an impressive water park atop its 2013 vessel, MSC Preziosa. Upon its debut, Preziosa claimed the longest single-rider body waterslide at sea, known as Vertigo. At 394 feet long and 42 feet high, Vertigo includes a 30-foot transparent stretch over the side of the ship, quite possibly inducing its namesake. For children under 47 inches, the Doremi (think: "Sound of Music") water playground on Deck 16 features sprays, fountains, water pistols and a "drenching bucket" that is likely to elicit surprised screams from wet, unsuspecting victims.
Announced for late 2017, MSC Seaside is already living up to its name with an emphasis on the ocean below and a state-of-the-art water park to top off it off. The aquatic area will include five waterslides: two high-speed racing slides with clear loops that extend over one side of the ship; Aquatube, an innertube slide; a flume slide for families; and an interactive Slideboarding tube, which combines video games, lights and music with a 367-foot waterslide. How will it work? We'll have to wait to find out. Other water park offerings include an AquaPlay and AquaSpray park for young cruisers. Nearby, passengers tempting fate to stay dry can climb the Adventure Trail, a ropes course that will include spray cannons.
Offering the largest fleet of water parks at sea by far, Carnival Cruise Line is known for keeping things fun and light, even while drenched head to toe. Twenty-one of the line's 26 cruise ships feature at least one screwy waterslide, and 10 have versions of the WaterWorks aqua park. Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration feature WaterWorks, each with a 300-foot slide and side-by-side racing slides among other water features. Carnival Breeze, Carnival Magic and Carnival Dream offer a 312-foot-long Twister waterslide and DrainPipe, a 104-foot tube that empties into a giant funnel. Breeze and Magic also have PowerDrencher tipping buckets, mini-racers and splash parks. The WaterWorks onboard Sunshine edges out the other slides with a 334-foot-long Twister waterslide, twin 235-foot-long slides that are part of Speedway Splash, mini-racers, a splash park, PowerDrencher and a total of 40 interactive water features.
Not to be outdone, Carnival Vista, which debuted in May 2016, features the fleet's largest WaterWorks water park to date, including an enclosed water tube Kaleid-O-Slide, on which riders make their way around 455 feet of twists and turns on one- or two-person rafts. As if that weren't dizzying enough, the Kaleid-O-Slide actually looks like a kaleidoscope, with colorful rotating lights and trippy visual effects.
Although Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy feature the water park fan-favorite AquaDuck -- an elevated two-person-raft "water coaster," made up of a 765-foot-long tube that veers out over the side of the ship -- Disney Magic arguably steps it up with AquaDunk, a more edgy slide version of its predecessor. The ride on this three-story body slide begins when a trap door opens beneath your feet. The drop sends you through a tube that extends 20 feet over the side of the ship, so it's not for every Mouseketeer. More mellow ways to get wet include the ship's three pools and the AquaLab, a kids-only water play area blending a mad science theme with water jets, geysers, bubblers and a freshwater pool. The area also includes the Twist n' Spout Slide and the Nephews' Splash Zone, a water playground safe for the younger-than-3 set (who needn't be toilet-trained, as long as they wear swim diapers).
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Dedicated to maximizing time spent outside among sun and sea, Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway each have up to five multistory waterslides, including the scream-inducing Free Fall. A playful splash area for the babes keeps company with gentle water features, while nearby, full-grown adults build up the courage to take on Free Fall with an unsettling countdown until the floor drops beneath your feet (a 250-foot fall straight down -- whoosh!). Two side-by-side racing slides, known as The Whip, twist sharply into pools below and, of course, there's a family-friendly slide for the littlest splashers.
When Norwegian Escape debuted in late 2015, Norwegian Cruise Line claimed the largest water park at sea. The aqua park includes a Free Fall waterslide, plus a feature called the Aqua Racer slide, a tandem set of waterslides in which competitors can race side by side in tubes. The water park also includes four slides total, including a family-friendly enclosed tube slide near the dedicated kids play area, a two-story climbing structure, and water cannons and buckets that deliver "surprise drenchings." A multistory tower, a rope bridge and lookout platform are among the areas that kids can explore. They'll find spray jets to interact with along the way.