From pulse-racing thrills to cool technology and unique spaces that make you whip out your cellphone camera, cruise ships have been outdoing themselves over the past few decades to offer the latest and greatest in amenities.
It used to be that onboard ice skating rinks and climbing walls were huge draws; but while those activities are still popular, today's ships offer skydiving, go-kart tracks and onboard planetariums.
Read on to get the lowdown on the best cruise ship amenities -- some of which are so cool, you might never even be tempted to leave your ship.
Cruisers with the need for speed will find a lot to love on several Norwegian Cruise Line ships, all outfitted with go-kart race tracks that zig and zag on the ships' top decks, including jutting out over the edge of the ship. Drivers can race at 30 miles per hour for maximum thrills.
If you're more into bashing and crashing, you can even drive your own bumper car on select Royal Caribbean ships.
If you've always dreamed of skydiving but haven't yet been brave enough to try the real jumping-out-of-an-airplane experience, you can go for a mini-skydive with RipCord by iFly. Available on Royal Caribbean's Anthem, Quantum and Ovation of the Seas, this brief, 60-second experience "flying" in a wind tunnel is one of the free perks of sailing on a Quantum-class ship. Suit up for a brief demo and then enjoy the feeling of floating while sailing to your next port of call.
Though the most famous cruise ship bartender might still be Isaac Washington from "The Love Boat," the one most people are talking about right now doesn't even have a face. The Bionic Bar, available on several Royal Caribbean ships, is staffed by two robotic machines that take your drink order from a touch screen and prepare it for you, assembly-line style, utilizing mechanically measured shots from liquor bottles suspended from the ceiling.
Though you sacrifice the human touch, you have to admit it's cool to watch this futuristic display. Some Bionic Bars showcase interesting trivia on oversized screens at the bar, such as the most popular drinks ordered by different passenger demographics.
For people who want to explore the ocean in new ways aboard their cruise ship, several cruise lines are rising to the occasion with new vantages and views. Princess Cruises' SeaWalk (available on Royal Princess, Regal Princess and Sky Princess) is a glass-enclosed walkway that gives passengers an unobstructed view of the ocean 128 feet above the water, circling out 28 feet from the ship's edge.
Get an eagle eye, 360-degree panoramic view from Royal Caribbean's NorthStar, a glass-enclosed pod attached to a mechanical arm that extends up and over the ocean, delivering passengers incredible views of the coastlines of Alaska, China and Singapore on Anthem, Quantum and Ovation of the Seas.
An even more up-close ocean view is available inside the Blue Eye Undersea Lounge on Ponant, a French luxury cruise line. Underwater portholes allow passengers to peek out at sea creatures while sipping cocktails.
Some cruise lines, taking advantage of the beautiful night sky views far from light pollution, offer stargazing programs. But a few ships take star appreciation to the next level with onboard planetariums.
Viking Orion and Cunard's Queen Mary 2 both offer these domed auditoriums, along with regularly scheduled programming that educates passengers about the constellations and cosmos. The ships are often staffed with onboard astronomers who can share their insight.
Cruise lines are continually building bigger and more daring onboard attractions, like water slides that swirl riders right over the ocean and dry slides with serious tummy-clenching drops.
Billed as the world's tallest slide at sea, the Ultimate Abyss on Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class cruise ships is best served with a warning of "do not look down," as you spiral down 10 stories on this dry slide.
For people who like a splash with their thrills, Royal Caribbean's Tidal Wave on Liberty of the Seas is the first boomerang-style slide (not for the faint of heart), while the company's The Blaster aqua coaster on Navigator of the Seas currently holds the record for being the longest waterslide at sea.
Norwegian and Disney have water slides and rides that curve out over the ocean. Carnival has at least one water slide on each of its ships; some ships have multiple slides (including one that ends in a giant funnel, an enclosed slide with colorful lights inside and little kid slides), splash areas, drenching dump buckets and Dr. Seuss-themed water parks.
Sure, you might think of Caribbean beaches when you think of cruising, but a few ships offer the polar opposite experience onboard: snow- and ice-filled spaces that provide the ultimate chill.
Check out the Svedka Ice Bar on select Norwegian Cruise Line ships, where the room is kept at a frosty 15 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain everything inside the bar: the walls, glasses, seats and sculptures are all made of ice.
Another cool experience takes place aboard all Viking Ocean Cruise ships. There you'll find a Snow Grotto, a snowy cave inside the ships' thermal suite. Based on the Scandinavian ritual of "winter bathing," you can go from a steam sauna to the snowy chamber and back again to wake up your senses.
The newest Norwegian Cruise Line ships, Escape and Encore, also both have similar snow rooms in their spas.
Do you feel like challenging your family to solve a mystery together and escape from a Phantom Bridge, which responds in real time to your decisions as you travel to different time periods in an immersive multimedia experience? Check out the escape room experience on Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess, which has more than 700 resulting scenarios based on your individual game.
Escape room games are also available on Norwegian and Royal Caribbean ships.
Cruise ships rarely feel stagnant, and this innovation is one way that ensures a ship is never the same from day to day: Celebrity's Magic Carpet on Edge-class ships is a moving deck that can perform a variety of functions and serve as an extension of the pool deck, an exclusive dining space or a hot bar and lounge area.
Few restaurant experiences are as special as walking into Animator's Palate on a Disney cruise, where the walls become alive with Disney artwork over the course of your meal. Dinner shows expand upon this multisensory experience: on select sailings of Disney Magic, Wonder and Fantasy, artwork that you draw becomes part of the show. While on Disney Dream and Fantasy, you can have a dinnertime chat with an animated Crush the Turtle from Finding Nemo.
On select Royal Caribbean ships, Wonderland Restaurant is an Alice in Wonderland-inspired journey, complete with decor straight out of the rabbit hole and waiters dressed as Mad Hatters. The menu ink disappears and reappears at the stroke of a magical paintbrush and each course arrives with unexpected flavors, textures and even smoke.
Another whimsical dining experience aided by mind-blowing technology takes place at Celebrity's Le Petit Chef specialty dining experience, where a 3D projected tiny chef creates each course while cruisers watch -- and then enjoy the real life meal presented to them.
Updated January 14, 2020