Cruise ship sun decks offer all the convenience of loungers, hot tubs and beverage service -- and all the headaches of screaming children, rock concerts on poolside screens and live bands playing "Hot Hot Hot" for the 20th time. Adults-only sun decks offer all the former in a much more serene environment.
We have nothing against kids, but even on the most family-friendly cruise ships, an area explicitly excluding children gives parents a valuable hour or two of "me time," while maintaining the sanity of fellow cruisers who came on vacation for peace, quiet and minimal crying.
Adults-only sun decks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many have amenities not available in the main deck areas and nicer loungers or sun beds; some also require an entry fee. If the only "whining" you want comes with dining, then consider the following six sun decks that maintain a strict adults-only ambiance.
1. Princess Cruises' The Sanctuary
Where to Find Serenity: Fleetwide, except for Pacific Princess
Pampering Elements: Princess has got the concept of an exclusive adults-only sun deck, dedicated to quiet relaxation and attentive service, down pat. At The Sanctuary, the lounges are upscale and plush, and Serenity stewards provide cooling Evian misters, chilled face towels, rental MP3 players with noise-canceling headphones and healthy and refreshing drinks and snacks like fruit skewers, spring rolls and smoothies.
The ships' Lotus Spas also have outposts there in two private cabanas, where various massages are offered. (But, on warm breeze-free days, the enclosed cabanas can get rather sticky.) You can even take part in a sunset yoga session right on the deck. Cabanas can be rented separately for a fee.
On Royal Princess, Regal Princess and Majestic Princess, The Sanctuary area is 20 percent larger than on the line's other ships, which leaves room for additional landscaping (like rock gardens) and four more private Sanctuary cabanas. These offer personal TVs, a welcome cocktail and sofa seating. The three ships also feature an adjacent adults-only Retreat Pool area, with cabanas available for rent; that space transforms into a lounge area each evening.
Serenity Secret: Book an outdoor massage, and you'll be able to enjoy The Sanctuary free of charge for an hour after the treatment. (Outdoor massages are not available on Island Princess, Coral Princess, Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sea Princess or Sun Princess.)
If you're tired of your own musical choices, you can rent an MP3 player for use in The Sanctuary; 10 preloaded playlists include calming island, new age, soft pop and country music selections, among other genres.
Doing some scenic sailing through the Panama Canal or around the glaciers of Alaska? Book a Scenic Sanctuary package that includes a private viewing area for the day, along with special goodies.
Reality Intrudes: Use of The Sanctuary costs $20. Passengers can choose between an 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. pass, or a 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (or later) pass. Scenic sailing packages are offered at a per-day rate.
Personal Evian misters bear a nominal fee, though you can enjoy a gratis spritz from the Sanctuary stewards periodically throughout the day. Drinks from The Sanctuary menu also cost extra, though you can expect to pay less than you would at other bars around the ship. Snacks themselves are free, but a small food delivery surcharge applies to all orders.
2. Carnival Cruise Line's Serenity
Where to Find Serenity: Fleetwide
Pampering Elements: Unlike most of Carnival's outdoor public spaces, Serenity deck zones are entirely kid-free; passengers must be 21 or older to use the area. Location and amenities vary by ship, but Serenity features plush loungers, oversized shade umbrellas and pools and/or whirlpools. (Carnival Splendor only has a deck area without a pool or hot tub.) Carnival Sunshine's Serenity space spans three decks and features a waterfall.
Waiters provide bar service for sunbathers looking to cool off with an icy drink or frozen cocktail, and a variety of music is played throughout the day. The Serenity deck on Carnival's newest ships, Vista, Horizon and Panorama, also has a chopped salad station that serves up basic and specialty salads on sea days, free of charge.
Serenity Secret: It's free to use.
Reality Intrudes: Because the area does not charge a usage fee, loungers are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Depending on the time of day and popularity of the area, the Serenity deck may feel more or less serene. Although the area is accessible 24/7, whirlpool and bar are closed after hours. Be sure to check once you're onboard, as it can vary.
3. MSC Cruises' Top Deck Solarium
Where to Find Serenity: Deck 18 on MSC Fantasia, MSC Divina, MSC Preziosa and MSC Splendida, known as the Top 18 Solarium; Deck 19 on MSC Seaside, MSC Seaview and MSC Meraviglia, known as the Top 19 Solarium
Pampering Elements: While officially "adults preferred" (since kids are technically allowed to be there), MSC Cruises' Top 18 and 19 Solariums do skew toward an adult clientele, with dedicated spa services, bar menus and complimentary fruit skewers.
Enjoy express 20-minute reflexology and facial treatments or massages, available from the Solarium's private massage chairs. Then, head to the Tiki bar for a smoothie or a frozen cocktail. A private entrance and chilled towels upon arrival set the mood for sunning and seclusion. Watch the sunset from one of two private hot tubs in the area.
On MSC Divina, there's also the free-to-use, adults-only, lounge chair-fringed infinity pool on Deck 15 aft, where passengers can order signature cocktails from the Disaronno Bar or have a dip in the whirlpool. Meanwhile, MSC Seaside touts a glamorous, 16-and-older South Beach pool and sun deck (dubbed Sunset Beach pool and sun deck on Seaview), tucked away at the back of the ship on Deck 7. Although there are no hot tubs on the South Beach sun deck, loungers do have access to a bar as well as a gelateria and creperie for ice cream, waffles and crepes.
Serenity Secret: At Top 18 and 19, wide-brimmed relaxation pods can be made available if you prefer to take in your ocean views from the shade.
Reality Intrudes: Entry fees for the these sun decks vary based on which piece of furniture is being used and how long it's needed. Depending on ship and itinerary, this European line may charge by the euro; check your onboard currency before sailing. The adults-only pools on MSC Divina, MSC Seaside and MSC Meraviglia are free to use; drinks and food from the gelateria and creperie cost extra.
4. Disney Cruise Line's Satellite Sun Deck
Where to Find Serenity: Deck 13 forward on Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream
Pampering Elements: In addition to the Quiet Cove Pool and much-needed adults-only area found on all Disney ships, Fantasy and Dream feature another dazzling adults-exclusive space called Satellite Sun Deck. It's centered on the Satellite Falls water feature, a circular splash pool with benches and a "cascading rain curtain" that sets apart this area from the rest of a kiddo-ridden cruise ship. Anyone 18 years or older can take advantage of this relaxation area with loungers on the top deck.
Serenity Secret: The Satellite Sun Deck area might be the exclusive spot to go on Fantasy and Dream but if you crave variety, the upper deck of the Quiet Cove Pool and Cove Bar has poolside loungers, protective canopies and a small wading pool. Happily, all of these adults-exclusive areas are free to use.
Reality Intrudes: Disney passengers cruising on Disney Magic or Disney Wonder will only have the Quiet Cove area to seek out as a refuge for some adults-only sun time, missing out entirely on the ample deck space of the Satellite Sun Deck.
5. The Solarium on Royal Caribbean
Where to Find Serenity: Fleetwide, except Majesty of the Seas
Pampering Elements: The Solarium varies by ship, but you will typically find complimentary use of padded loungers, hot tubs and wading pools in a calm setting (use is restricted to those age 16 and up). A bar and eatery is located here so you can spend the day among the peaceful oasis without leaving for a meal. The Solarium Bistro serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a Mediterranean flair -- free of charge.
Onboard Symphony of the Seas, a staggering art installation called "Big Wonder" adds ambient sound and light to the space.
Serenity Secret: While this is the only non-open-air sun deck on the list, the glass-enclosed Solarium lets tons of light in and is usually one of the warmest places on the ship (plus no wind chill). The Solarium on Vision-class ships is located mid-deck, but it's all the way forward on every other ship, providing better views.
Reality Intrudes: Solarium access is limited to suite guests in a Grand Suite or above, and Crown & Anchor Society loyalty club Diamond members and above, on Quantum of the Seas and Spectrum of the Seas (for China sailings only); there are also no age restrictions on these sailings. On Harmony of the Seas, there is no dedicated Solarium pool.
6. Norwegian Cruise Line's Posh, Vibe and Spice H2O
Where to Find Serenity: Posh Beach Club on Norwegian Epic; Vibe on Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Encore; Spice H2O on all aforementioned ships, except Encore
Pampering Elements: Spice H2O is a kids-free lounge area, located on Decks 15 and 16 aboard Norwegian Epic, Deck 16 on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, and Deck 17 aboard Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss. (There's no Spice H2O on Norwegian Encore.)
During the day, the area serves as a quiet escape, complete with hot tubs, loungers and a serene waterfall. Just don't expect serenity at night, when the space is converted into an open-air dance club.
Passengers reach Norwegian Epic's exclusive Posh Beach Club by private glass elevator. The area has a Mediterranean flair with cushioned daybeds, a full bar, water spritzers, cold towels and fruit skewers. It's complimentary to passengers staying in Villas.
Aboard Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore, the Vibe Beach Club -- which features ocean views, an oversized hot tub and chaise-style loungers -- functions similarly to Posh and offers the same amenities. A full-service bar, water spritzers and chilled towels are available.
Serenity Secret: Only a limited number of passes for Vibe and Posh are available, so you'll want to purchase them as early as possible.
Reality Intrudes: There's no fee for Spice H2O, but Posh and Vibe will cost you. Passengers can purchase one-day, one-week or 10-day passes to Posh, with access for weekly and longer passes beginning the second day of the cruise. For Vibe, daily passes are available; passengers also can rent a cabana for two.
While Posh is free for Villa suite passengers, Haven suite cruisers on Norwegian's newest ships will have to pay the standard rates to gain access to Vibe.