Gone are the days when the height of cruise entertainment was limited to poolside lounging and fancy evening soirees.
Sure, you can still do both of those things, but today's cruise ships are more like mini-cities equipped with all the fixings for a day at a theme park or a night on Broadway. Even though travelers have come to expect the works from cruise liners, there are still a few things about a vacation at sea that may come as a surprise.
Here are a few of the more unexpected (and in one case, undesirable) ways to pass your time on the open ocean.
Has a fear of heights kept you from trying your hand at skydiving? Aboard Royal Caribbean's newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, there's no excuse to stay grounded.
You can go skydiving
Cruisers looking to add a shot of adrenaline to their voyage need only look to the Quantum of the Seas, which embarks on its inaugural sailing in November. Royal Caribbean's newest ship boasts amenities never before seen aboard the line's fleet — including the RipCord by iFly. This 23-foot-tall snazzy glass chamber simulates a skydiving experience (without the parachute) by creating a wind tunnel that suspends participants in the air. The currents created by four powerful fans provide travelers with the free-fall feeling without all the dangers associated with actual skydiving. Other unique features of the Quantum of the Seas include the North Star (an enclosed pod that suspends passengers 300 feet in the air for 360-degree views of the sea and the ship) and the Seaplex, an indoor gaming center with bumper cars, roller skating and a circus school complete with a flying trapeze.
You can ice skate
Strapping on a set of blades may not sound that strange for those cruising to Alaska, Canada or Antarctica, but if you're sailing to the Caribbean, the last thing you would expect to find (or even want to find) is ice. But aboard several Royal Caribbean ships — including the Allure of the Seas, the Freedom of the Seas and the Voyager of the Seas — you can lace up and do your best impression of Scott Hamilton or Kristi Yamaguchi at the indoor arena. Skate rentals and lessons are free for all passengers, as is participation in special ice events like family and rock 'n' roll skating sessions. Royal Caribbean's ice rinks sometimes host ice shows and performances by professional skaters, which are also free to attend.
Looking for love, or maybe just a date for the evening? Several cruise lines offer Gentlemen Hosts for female travelers.
You can go on a blind date
"The Love Boat soon will be making another run; The Love Boat promises something for everyone." OK, maybe not everyone, but certainly single ladies ages 50 and older traveling on adult-oriented cruise lines like Azamara, Crystal, Oceania and Silversea. Aboard all four of these cruise lines, Gentlemen Hosts are ready to sweep women cruising solo off their feet during an elegant evening of drinks, dining and dancing. The Gentleman Host program pairs independent female travelers with dashing companions who can take the lead on the Foxtrot and carry on witty, charming conversation. Though chances are slim that an evening with a Gentleman Host will turn into a lasting partnership, women who request the presence of one of these classy companions are guaranteed a memorable evening, and the company comes free of charge. The Gentlemen Host program also partners with Cunard, Regent Seven Seas, SeaDream Yacht Club and Windstar.
You can party like (and with) a rock star
Most cruises feature some sort of evening entertainment, be it Broadway-style musicals, movie screenings or fancy balls. But cruisers looking to live large will find their expectations met aboard a music-themed voyage. Cruise lines partner with a number of famous musicians to offer rocking itineraries: In 2014, Carnival will be bringing rock bands Styx, Kansas, Gavin DeGraw and REO Speedwagon on board to perform. Meanwhile, Kid Rock entertains travelers with concerts aboard Norwegian ships. Several cruise lines also take it to the next level, hosting entire music festivals. In April, the MSC Divina will host "The Moody Blues Cruise: Return to the Isle of Wight" with featured acts including The Moody Blues, Roger Daltrey, The Zombies and Little River Band. And Holland America's ms Eurodam will lay down some nostalgic tracks in November, during the Malt Shop Memories Cruise, which will feature such favorites as The Temptations, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas and Brenda Lee.
You can purchase artwork
When it comes to souvenir shopping, you have a couple of options: You can amass trinkets from the many merchants who flock to your cruise's different ports of call, or you can spend your money on something more refined, like artwork. Princess Cruises is just one of the several cruise lines to offer onboard art auctions, but what sets Princess apart from other auction-toting fleets — such as Carnival, Celebrity or Disney — is that the line features its own in-house auction division. The members of Princess' auction team curate a collection specific to each cruise; cruisers do not need to register to participate in the onboard auctions, and all pieces are insured and mailed to your home by Princess staff. Should you prefer browsing to buying, you are welcome to visit the auction area (which doubles as a gallery space) throughout your voyage.
You can learn a new language
Not all cruisers are content lying by the pool — for those looking to absorb more than rays on vacation, Crystal Cruises' Creative Learning Institute will keep your brainwaves rolling at sea. Through the Creative Learning Institute, cruisers are welcome to try their hand (or tongue) at Spanish, Russian, Portuguese or French — among other languages — depending on the region you're visiting. Crystal Cruises' language instruction is offered through Berlitz, a company that specializes in fast-pace language learning using vocabulary and pronunciation training. Like all of the enrichment programs at Crystal's Creative Learning Institute — which include tai chi, art history and computer classes — the Berlitz language instruction is covered in your cruise fare. This means you can worry less about your budget and focus more on your verb conjugations.
You can go to cruise jail
Believe it or not, "cruise jail" really does exist. Cruises, like cities, boast a wide array of things to do and places to eat, but they also feature rules to which passengers must adhere. The consequences for breaking those rules vary depending on the severity: Should a cruiser's actions pose a threat to other passengers, the offender will likely be placed in "cruise jail" more formally known as the brig — a small holding cell with little to no furnishings. Depending on captain's orders, a trip to the brig will either result in lockdown for the remainder of the cruise followed by a fine or arrest upon return; or, the captain may decide to simply leave the unruly passenger with local authorities at the next port of call. Neither option sounds like as much fun as ice skating or skydiving, so be sure to hold on to some of your inhibitions while sailing the high seas.
By Miriam B. Weiner / U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT
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