If the words "cruise ship lifeboat" sound scary, don't worry -- today's modern lifeboats are designed for maximum safety in the event of an emergency. They have hard-sided fiberglass construction, are fully enclosed to protect passengers from the elements and have powerful engines capable of getting everyone to safety.
You can see the lifeboats suspended along both sides of the ship, painted bright orange for maximum visibility in an open-ocean emergency. In many cases, the boats are designed to be partially lowered to the level of the Promenade deck for boarding, before being lowered to the water on cable systems. Larger mega-ships may have lifeboats that are boarded in place without the need to lower them to a deck. Soft-sided life rafts stored in large canisters on the sides of the ship are used as backup to the larger lifeboats.
At the beginning of each cruise, all passengers are required to participate in a safety drill or lifeboat drill. You will not be required to board the lifeboats, but you will be directed to a designated place on the ship known as a muster station, where crew members would assist you in the boarding process in an actual emergency. The drill, as well as lifeboat capacity and provisioning are all done in accordance to standards set by the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (or SOLAS).
Cruise lifeboats often double as tender boats, transporting passengers to shore in ports where the ship does not park at a dock. The lifeboats are also sometimes used to transport crew or passengers to shore in the event of medical evacuations. You may see the crew training, testing and maintaining the ship's lifeboats during your cruise.