Cruise ships continue to become more creative, with fun features like bowling alleys, ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls, and circus-like performances. Royal Caribbean leads the way with out-of-the-box amenities but other cruise lines have been releasing new vessels with innovative rides, hot-glass shows, sky walks, and ice bars.
Oasis of the Seas Aquatheater
Royal Caribbean made headlines when unveiling the Oasis of the Seas, both for its size (it can hold 5,400 passengers at double-occupancy capacity), and for its dare-to-dream amenities. One dream turned reality is the Aquatheather, the first-ever amphitheater at sea that showcases a high-diving show with music, lights, gymnastics and professional divers.
Celebrity Solstice's Lawn Club
For those seeking a bit of land at sea, the top aft deck of the Celebrity Solstice boasts a half-acre lawn (with real grass), a putting green, and bocce ball. A patio cafe and bar provides snacks, while the adjacent hot glass-blowing studio showcases performances from the Corning Museum of Glass.
Queen Mary 2's planetarium
Designed for trans-Atlantic crossings between New York City and Southampton, the regal Queen Mary 2 is the only ship to be fitted with a planetarium, which is also a lecture host to informative talks and other events.
Paul Gauguin's marina
For the ultimate romantic cruise, luxury cruise line Paul Gauguin offers voyages throughout the dazzling waters of Tahiti. The M/S Paul Gauguin was specifically designed to sail the shallow waters surrounding the islands and the ship is even fitted with a retractable marina. The smaller vessel anchors in remote coves, and passengers can take part in windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, or scuba diving — right from the stern of the vessel.
Carnival Sunshine's live game show
After undergoing a massive renovation, the Carnival Destiny has re-emerged as a new vessel: the Carnival Sunshine. Several of Carnival's ships (including the Sunshine) are offering an alternative to traditional evening shows by introducing live-action games shows. Passengers can participate in Hasbro, the giant version of Sorry, Connect 4 basketball, and other favorites to compete for games and prizes in front of a live audience.
Disney's animated characters in unexpected places
In true Disney style, there are number of innovative touches that bring the magic on board the ships. On the Dream and Fantasy, interior cabins are suddenly the desired category as animate porthole windows give kids a glimpse of the ocean – with guest appearance from their favorite characters. During a dinner show aboard the Fantasy, guests draw their favorite characters which are then "brought to life" on the big screen and become a part of the performance.
The Norwegian Epic's ice bar
Ice bars have been a novelty in Canada and Norway, and when NCL debuted the Epic as a competitor vessel to the Oasis of the Seas, they rolled out the first-ever ice bar at sea. Bar patrons are issued a faux fur coat when they enter the 17-degree watering hole that glistens from top to bottom in ice. Bring snow pants: even the bar stools are frozen.
Allure of the Seas' zip line
The Allure and its sister ship, the Oasis, are both fitted with a zip line that is located nine decks in the air across the center opening of the vessel. Spanning 85 feet, the zip line isn't as long as most on land, but the thrill factor is looking down upon the moving carousel and boardwalk, while cruising to a tropical island.
Royal Princess SeaWalk
Christened by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge in June 2013, Royal Princess is the newest addition to upscale Princess Cruises. Among the "first ever" features is a sea walk that extends out 128 feet over the water that is illuminated at night, and matching bar with glass floors for equally-stunning views.
Oasis of the Seas' Central Park
It's true that the debut of the Oasis was a game changer (and therefore makes our list twice), but Central Park is stunning. The middle of the vessel is left wide open so balcony cabins can face the ocean or the living, breathing, park as passengers stroll along restaurants, gardens, and shopping venues below.
By Amber Nolan, USA Today ("10 Most Gee-Whiz Features At Sea", Sept. 26, 2013)
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