Cruise ship water parks are the sort of attractions that often end up being feature around which you base your entire cruise game plan -- particularly for families. Cruisers often fall into two categories when it comes to water parks on cruise ships -- either you and your gang must have slides and splash parks onboard, or you have never given them much thought at all. Either way, knowing which cruise ship water parks rise above the rest can be an important factor in your hunt for the perfect cruise vacation.
Cruise ship water parks, usually topped by a jumble of cascading tubes in brilliant colors, are an especially attractive diversion on cruise itineraries in the Bahamas, Caribbean, and other warm-weather destinations offered by most cruise lines. And the onboard water park game grows more daring, more techno-oriented, and frankly, more fun each year, with features and attractions that rival those on land. When it comes to the best cruise ship water parks at sea, five cruise lines stand out because of their impressive aquatic chops. Here are our favorites.
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. Each of Carnival's cruise ships feature at least one spiraling waterslide, but more than half have a version of Carnival's more extravagant WaterWorks aqua park, which includes, at minimum, a 300-foot slide and side-by-side racing slides among other water features.
The newest water parks are on Carnival's newest cruise ships, Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration, both of which feature a pair of see-through spiral racing slides, Blue Lightning and Orange Thunder, plus the line’s signature Twister waterslide. Add in a giant dumping bucket and an enormous splash space and you’ve got a floating paradise for water park lovers. Plus, all that wet fun is topped off on both vessels with the addition of Bolt, by the only rollercoaster at sea.
Carnival Breeze, Carnival Magic and Carnival Dream offer Twister and DrainPipe, a 104-foot tube that empties into a giant funnel. Carnival Breeze and Carnival Magic also have PowerDrencher tipping buckets, mini-racers and splash parks.
The WaterWorks area onboard Carnival 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.
Carnival Vista and Carnival Panorama, meanwhile, feature 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.
Carnival Horizon features the cruise line's only Dr. Seuss-themed WaterWorks, with a striped Cat in the Hat slide, a polka-dotted Fun Things slide featuring special effects, and of course buckets, mini-racers and a splash area.
Mediterranean cruise line MSC Cruises aims to be family friendly, and it has solidified -- or, rather, liquefied -- this promise with a variety of water parks onboard its ships.
One of the line's newest vessels, MSC Seascape, aims to entertain the North American cruise market with its Pirate’s Cove Aqua Park, with an obvious pirate ship theme enhanced by virtual reality. Connected to the ship’s main pool, Pirate’s Cove has four water slides, water cannons, and climbing features.
Near-sister ship MSC Seaside, meanwhile, entices cruise travelers with a state-of-the-art Forest Aquaventure water park. Deep greens, blues and browns come together in a jungle atmosphere. The area includes 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.
And onboard MSC Meraviglia, the theme shifts to snow and ice in the Polar Aquapark, where cruisers can race down three slides amid wading pools and water cannons adorned with statues of polar aquatic animals like orcas and walrus.
Other water park offerings on MSC ships include an AquaPlay and AquaSpray park for young cruisers.
It’s no surprise that Disney Cruise Line would infuse its onboard water parks with a bit of Disney entertainment.
All of Disney's cruise ships feature an aquatic ride of some sort. Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream have 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. Both ships also have Mickey’s Slide and Mr. Ray’s Slide in the Nemo’s Reef area for the 8 and under cruisers.
Disney Magic 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 clear tube that extends 20 feet over the side of the ship, so it's not for Mouseketeers with vertigo. Sister ship Disney Wonder has a Twist ‘n’ Spout, a looping, 250-foot slide for the whole family, with a minimum ridership height of only 38 inches.
The newest of the primo slides Disney offers is onboard Disney Wish, where Aqua Mouse starts with a story on screens inside the beginning of the 760-foot two-seater tube ride. Wish also has Slide-a-saurus Rex and toddler Toy Story slides.
It’s possible to cruise on different ships across NCL’s fleet experiencing different waterslides on each ship, while some of the line's oldest vessels don't offer waterparks onboard at all. If this is an important feature to you, be sure to consult your ship's deck plans first, or read our detailed reviews.
NCL’s newest ship, Norwegian Prima, debuts a new class of ships for the line, along with a new waterslide – a single-rider tube ride called The Wave. A kid’s splash and play zone is nearby. And though they aren’t water slides, Norwegian Prima has two thrillingly fast dry slide attractions – The Drop, which is exactly as it sounds, a 10-story free fall down the side of the ship; and The Rush, a pair of intertwined racing slides also covering ten stories.
Meanwhile, fleemate Norwegian Escape’s water 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 has 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.
Dedicated to maximizing time spent outside among sun and sea, Breakaway-class ships Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian 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.
Norwegian Bliss features a freefall waterslide called Ocean Loops that drops two loops -- both extending over the side of the ship with sections of see-through tubing. Norwegian Epic has a 200-foot Epic Plunge, beginning four stories above its pool deck and ending in a giant orange bowl.
Flow Rider surfing simulators have become synonymous with water fun onboard Royal Caribbean cruise ships. All but the line’s smallest classes of ships now include one or two Flow Riders. Add in the lines’ signature waterslides, and there’s plenty of fun for everyone. The mainstay across much of the fleet is called Perfect Storm, consisting of a pair of racing slides called Cyclone and Typhoon, with a third slide – a bowl-shaped slide called Super Cell added on some ships, including Wonder of the Seas.
The line’s water parks also include well-designed splash areas for young cruisers. Allure, Anthem, Freedom, Independence, Oasis and Quantum of the Seas feature the H2O Zone, which is perfect for babies and toddlers.
Adventure, Freedom, Harmony, Independence, Liberty, Oasis, Ovation, Spectrum, Symphony, and Wonder of the Seas cater to kiddos with a few smaller waterslides and more substantial water features at Splashaway Bay.
And although it's not a waterslide, to catch even more speed and thrills, head to the Ultimate Abyss, a dry slide on Harmony, Oasis, Symphony and Wonder of the Seas to whiz down ten decks, ending on the Boardwalk.