Cruise ship sun decks are more than a place to take a dip and relax in the sun with a tropical drink. Nowadays, they can feature water parks with slides and splash zones, outdoor movie screens, plus active pursuits like ropes courses, zip lines, rock climbing walls and surf simulators. And if your goal onboard is to escape crowds and/or children, many ships have serene adults-only lounge spaces designed for the kind of pampering you took a cruise for.
With just a few exceptions, cruise pool deck activities and attractions are included in the cruise fare, and to top things off, sun decks are usually home to some of the best snack food onboard.
If outdoor relaxation and entertainment are priorities when choosing a cruise, check out our favorite cruise ship pool decks.
Royal Caribbean's newest ships, and even its older “amplified” ships like Navigator of the Seas all ensure there's swimming, splashing and sunning options for everyone.
Pool activities are often split between multiple pools. Think one dedicated to swimming and another for sports like pool volleyball. Whirlpools are always nearby for a hot-water soak. Oasis, Allure, Harmony, Symphony and Wonder of the Seas also have "zero entry" pools that are great for gradually wading into deeper water. Most ships in these classes also have water slides, like the Perfect Storm twin racing tubes.
Cabanas near the pool are available to rent by the day on several ships, including Navigator of the Seas, Freedom of the Seasm/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=358), Oasis of the Seas, Odyssey of the Seas, and Wonder of the Seas. These make an ideal family gathering spot both during sea days and while in port.
Splashaway Bay is for kids only. The expansive area is fitted with a kids' pool, water cannon and colorful sculpture fountains. Adults have their own play place in the kid-free Solarium even on the line’s smallest ships, touting a pool, lounge beds and whirlpools, some of which hang over the side of the ship, providing incredible ocean view.
Royal Caribbean's signature sun deck attraction on Voyager, Freedom, Oasis, and Quantum-class ships is the FlowRider, a surf simulator on which passengers can try their boogie-boarding and surfing skills.
Ships in the Oasis and Quantum classes also offer cutting-edge outdoor pursuits like skydiving and ziplining (Oasis only). What's more, Oasis-class ships (except Allure) feature the 10-story Ultimate Abyss dry slide. For sun deck dining, the Windjammer buffet is always nearby, the Solarium has a small cafe, and some ships have takeaway eateries on the pool deck itself. Pool decks on all classes of Royal Caribbean ships offer free frozen yogurt.
Sun Decks on Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship, Norwegian Prima, have taken the line’s sun decks to a new level of fun and entertainment, both wet and dry. Infinity Beach on the Deck 8 Ocean Boulevard features two infinity pools, one on each side of the ship, putting guests closer to the water’s edge than ever before. Norwegian Prima is topped by three 10-story dry slides, and the line’s newest water slide, The Wave, where guests ride the waves in innertubes. Oh, and let’s not forget the longer, larger, and faster Speedway.
On Norwegian Epic, Breakaway and Getaway, the sun decks begin with the typical pair of pools, surrounded by fountains and an ocean of loungers, but it doesn't end there. Little ones have their own place to frolic in the Splash and Play Zone, a shaded oasis of fountains, wading pools and animal sculptures. This kiddie area is tucked under the water slides of Epic's mammoth Aqua Park. The main attraction there is the Epic Plunge, in which tube-riders zip into a giant funnel before dropping through a 200-foot-long chute into a pool below.
On Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway, passengers will also find ropes courses -- complete with planks that jut out over the sides of the ships -- next to the water slides, one deck up. On Norwegian Escape, passengers will find the largest ropes course at sea; Aqua Park, a giant water park; a two-story bar; and two huge LED screens.
Norwegian Bliss, Joy and Encore feature thrilling activities like laser tag and go-kart racing on its outdoor decks, in addition to a splash zone and a freefall water slide called Ocean Loops.
For a quieter retreat, head to Spice H2O (on Norwegian Bliss, Breakaway, Epic, Escape, Getaway and Norwegian Joy), a tiered, stage-like space that serves as a complimentary adults-only pool during the day, complete with the huge outdoor LED screen that's become a staple of cruise ship sun decks. Another peaceful spot is the nearly hidden, unfrequented sun deck aft on Deck 18.
For more exclusive sunbathing, try Norwegian's Vibe Beach Club, where staff are on hand to bring sunbathers chilled towels, spritz them with Evian water on hot days and take/deliver drink orders. Vibe is found on Norwegian Bliss, Breakaway, Encore, Escape, Getaway, Joy, and Norwegian Prima. Private and semi-private cabanas are available to rent by the day or by the week in Vibe.
But the real VIPs are the ones who book suites in The Haven, which allow access to the Haven Courtyard sun deck with pool, whirlpools and comfy sun loungers.
If it's food you're after, the Grill, off the pool deck, offers limited breakfast items and typical grilled lunch items, such as hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken, as well as salad and dessert.
Princess Cruises' Grand- and Royal-class ships (i.e., the fleet's largest) are the best for fun in the sun. If you want to be in the heart of the action, stick to the Calypso Reef and Neptune's Reef areas midship. Key components include large pools, hot tubs, bars, silly pool games, musical entertainment and dining options. Plus, many of these ships feature sliding-glass roofs that cover the Calypso Reef pools, useful during inclement weather.
Caribbean Princess is the only ship to offer the Reef Family Splash Zone, added during a 2019 drydock. It's a family-friendly area that features a kiddie pool and interactive water playground, as well as lounging space, a kid-friendly bar serving cocktails and mocktails, and games such as bean bag toss, Jenga and Connect Four.
The Sanctuary is an adults-only haven with cabana rentals and pampering services (cabana massage, anyone?) and at-your-deck-chair drink and snack delivery. Five Princess ships offer Sanctuary cabanas, including Royal Princess, Regal Princess, Sky Princess, Enchanted Princess, and Discovery Princess.
If you want to kick back and relax without paying a premium, there's also the Terrace pool area -- definitely off the big-ship beaten path -- tucked away aft.
When you're feeling peckish, the burgers and such are just a few steps away at the Salty Dog Grill or Trident Grill, depending on the ship. Pizza is offered at Slice or Prego Pizzeria. At the Sanctuary, healthful fare, such as tuna pate and smoothies, is available for a small service fee.
At night, the Calypso area is transformed into a swim-in cinema with Princess' signature Movies Under the Stars feature. On Regal and Royal Princess, evening brings a fountain show, with water sprays and colored lights choreographed to music at the Fountain Pool.
First, and foremost, you won’t find pool decks crowded with children -- because there aren’t any on Virgin Voyages. And while Virgin’s pool areas aren’t extremely different from what you’d find on other cruise lines, they do create a vibe that sets the tone throughout the ship. The Aquatic Club main pool on Deck 15, is surrounded by daybeds at the water’s edge. Beyond those are paired lounge chairs and round daybeds. The circular Well Being pool, also on fifteen, is surrounded by more loungers.
Suite guests are treated to the VIP pool deck experience known as Richard’s Rooftop (as in Richard Branson), on Deck 16 featuring a variety of hot tubs and a selection of cushy lounge furniture. Also on sixteen, are private cabanas and brilliant red basket loungers for rental. Each sundeck area has its own bar, many also serving snacks.
For the clothing optional crowd, Virgin allows topless sunbathing at The Perch on seaday afternoons. It’s located on Deck 17 forward. How’s that for putting the fun back into pool decks?
On the line's Edge-class ships, (Celebrity Edge, Apex, and Beyond) the pool has a resort feel and is bookended by stylish sculptures that make the perfect photo backdrop. Along one side of the pool are extra-fee cabanas, while the other side is lined with plush loungers. Towering over the pool are Edge's two martini-shaped hot tubs. Covered in LED lights, they light up at night, giving the entire pool deck a funky vibe.
One deck up and toward the back of the ship is the Rooftop Garden, a large outdoor park with lots of alcoves and bench seating. There's real greenery mixed with metallic tree sculptures. During the day, it's a chill place to relax, while the evenings liven up with live music or movies on the big screen at the front of the Garden. On all Solstice- and Edge-class ships, the Mast Grill and Bar serves up favorites like tacos, nachos, hot dogs, brats, burgers, fries and onion rings.
On the outdoor pool decks of Celebrity's Solstice-class ships, kids and grown-ups alike can enjoy splashing through the "dancing" fountains next to the family and sports pools. The adults-only Solarium is a beautiful space, featuring a lap pool, whirlpools, glass walls and roof (with solar panels, to boot) and a water feature that lights up at night. The top-of-ship Lawn Club is carpeted with actual living grass. Passengers can soak up the sun while playing bocce, putting golf balls or picnicking on the grass. Celebrity also offers a glass-blowing studio, open for free demonstrations and extra-fee classes at select times on Celebrity Eclipse, Equinox and Solstice.
On Celebrity Silhouette and Reflection, the glass-blowing studio has been replaced by an outdoor interactive grill venue, and on those two ships, plus Celebrity Solstice, there are eight cabana-style alcoves available for rent by the day.
Carnival has long been known for its candy-colored, high-energy sun decks -- featuring corkscrew water slides, adults-only havens and casual dining options -- but Carnival Horizon, Carnival Breeze, Carnival Vista, Carnival Panorama, Carnival Sunrise, Carnival Sunshine and the line’s newest ships, Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration boast the line's best ship-toppers.
All eight ships offer SportSquare, an outdoor activity hub with attractions like mini-golf, mini-bowling, alfresco billiards and foosball tables. They each also have the SkyCourse, on which harnessed passengers navigate a series of wobbly planks, dangling ropes and other vertigo-inducing challenges.
The WaterWorks aqua park features corkscrew slides, a host of water-spraying apparatuses and the Power Drencher, a dump bucket that reverses poles at regular intervals, sending forth a torrent of water on yelping, mock-shocked passengers.
These ships also offer the adults-only Serenity, a private enclave with wicker loungers, clamshells and hammocks. And for those who really crave sun deck access, select Carnival ships feature Havana staterooms with exclusive use of the Havana sundeck and pool, many with private patio-like cabanas outside their cabins.
The midship main pool on all ships features Carnival's signature Seaside Theater, a giant screen that airs TV episodes, movies and sporting events.
Carnival Vista, Horizon and Panorama are the only ships to offer SkyRide, the cruise industry's "first pedal-powered open-air aerial attraction." It's a hanging pod that you pedal around the deck, while suspended in midair.
Casual eats rule the pool areas on Carnival ships. At the main pool, Guy's Burger Joint serves juicy burgers (with all the toppings) designed by Food Network stalwart Guy Fieri. Across from Guy's is the BlueIguana Cantina, which specializes in rolled-to-order burritos and tacos alongside a salsa and hot sauce bar. The stern-situated Tides Pool on Breeze, Sunrise, Vista, Horizon, Panorama and Celebration features Carnival's staple pizzerias, serving made-to-order mini-pies.
Holland America's pool decks offer a soothing, laid-back environment. The main mid-ship Lido pools offer an abundance of plush loungers and daybeds. The pools and accompanying whirlpools are all covered by a retractable magrodome roof, allowing pool lounge time even in inclement weather. The second Sea View pool is located aft. This adults-only pool features two hot tubs and plenty of deck space with a view of the open sea and the wake.
Those looking for a more secluded getaway can rent a cabana at The Retreat. Inside your private tent, you'll find wicker couches and chairs, Evian spray misters, a special menu for lunch service and complimentary snacks like fruit skewers. Cabanas can be rented by the day or by the week.
Dive In, on all ships, serves up burgers, dogs and fries by the Lido Pool. On Rotterdam, Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, New York Deli and Pizza offers pizza and made-to-order deli sandwiches near the Sea View pool, and on Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam, you can cool down on a hot afternoon with sweet-treat spot Gelato.
The pool areas on all Disney Cruise Line ships are great for kids but also stylish enough for adults. In fact, we love that the three quite distinctive pool areas -- which all occupy the same deck, allowing you to easily walk from one to the other -- are targeted at specific demographics.
Mickey's Pool, which boasts a water slide, is for young kids. Goofy's Family Pool (Donald's Pool on Dream), in the center, is for folks of all ages and is the site for major musical entertainment. The Quiet Cove is for mom and dad -- no kids allowed.
Disney Wish features the line’s most innovative water feature – a splashy two-seat tube ride with a pre-adventure told on screens inside the first part of the ride.
Disney Magic is the only ship with the see-through body slide AquaDunk, as well as AquaLab -- a Huey, Dewey and Louie-themed splash area that offers dump buckets, sprayers and a kid-friendly water slide.
The larger Disney Dream's and Disney Fantasy's pool areas feature the AquaDuck water coaster: a transparent acrylic tube that propels riders along on a raft, up and down four decks of the ship -- at one point swinging out 13 feet over the side and 150 feet above the ocean.
Nemo's Reef is a small water park area for the youngest passengers. Disney also utilizes its pool areas for fabulous deck parties, often involving fireworks.
For hungry families, there is plenty of poolside dining, though venues vary by ship. Pinocchio's Pizzeria (by Goofy's Pool), Daisy's De-Lites (sandwiches and salads), Duck-in Diner (Middle Eastern) and Pete's Boiler Bites (for grill fare) are terrific alfresco options. On Dream and Fantasy, Flo's Cafe is an all-in-one pit stop with a grill, pizzeria, salad bar and sandwich spot. And don't forget the Eye Scream self-serve station for frozen goodness.
The sun decks on the three MSC cruise ships which are primarily based in U.S. ports are awash with fun, both wet and dry.
On the newest, MSC Seascape, look for the main pool on Deck 18 aft, with an open-air feel not normally found on cruise ship pool decks. It’s surrounded by waters-edge daybeds, lending it the vibe of an upscale Miami rooftop pool. For those who prefer to stay out of the sun or on inclement weather days, there’s the Jungle Pool beneath a retractable roof. Pirates Cove Aquapark features five different slides, a splash and play area, water cannons and dump buckets. To escape the crowds and for stunning views of the ship’s wake, try the Infinity pool on Deck 8 aft. Yacht Club suite-within-a-suite guests have their own private pool and whirlpools, with the expected feel of a luxury yacht.
MSC Seascape also features the first robotic amusement ride at sea. Three passengers at a time, strap into roller coaster-style seats to be swung over the deck, flipped, and spun during a ride preprogrammed to the guests’ desired intensity.
MSC Seaside is all about outdoor time, and its sun deck spaces aren't limited to the highest decks. The main Miami Beach Pool, a zero-entry pool; family-friendly Jungle Pool, with its retractable roof; and Yacht Club Pool, are up top, but the adults-only South Beach Pool is down on Deck 7 aft. If you're not afraid of heights, stroll along the glass Bridge of Sighs platform and you can gaze down from the main pool deck to the ocean and the South Beach Pool below.
For a bit of sundeck adrenaline, Seaside offers the Forest AquaVenture water park, encompassing four water slides (including one with colored lights) and a wading pool with fountains, water sprayers and a dump bucket. There's also a giant climbing structure and two extra-fee ziplines.
MSC Meraviglia stacks its pools up top, with three pools on Deck 15 and a fourth square-shaped pool all the way at the back of the ship with lovely aft views. The exclusive Yacht Club pool is on Deck 19.
On MSC Meraviglia, you'll find the Himalayan Ropes Course and the Polar Aqua Park at the back of the ship. The ropes course includes two tracks side by side, one trickier than the other and neither for the fainthearted. The Polar Aqua Park is a kids' splash park, with spray guns, water dunkers and a small slide. Above it are three water slides, which are open to all ages.
Food is only steps away on MSC Seaside, no matter which sun deck area you choose. Up top by the Miami Beach Pool, the Biscayne Bay buffet serves lunch and keeps its pizzeria and grill going between meals. Down by the South Beach Pool, the Venchi Gelateria and Creperie beckons with waffles and crepes, and the Yacht Club Pool has its own grill and juice and ice cream bar. Munchies on MSC Seascape and MSC Meraviglia, are a bit of a hike from all but Seascape’s Infinity pool or the Yacht Club pools on either ship.
Updated December 19, 2022