"It seems that each cruise line is saying, 'We can top that.'" Here are just some of the unique features on top decks...
Carnival Cruise Line's new ship launching later this year will have an unusual feature perched on top: an 800-foot-long rollercoaster that can zoom along at speeds up to 40mph.
It's a first for a cruise ship, but definitely not the first time an operator has dropped something unexpected on the top deck.
Norwegian Cruise Line introduced a go-kart racetrack three years ago, which keeps close quarters with a laser tag arena. Royal Caribbean International added a skydiving simulator on a new class of ships in 2014, tucked behind the surf simulator it has offered for more than 13 years.
"It seems that each cruise line is saying, 'We can top that,'" says Ralph Santisteban, a travel agent who owns Dream Vacations in Miami.
For mass-market lines - Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian in particular - competition for first-time and repeat customers is fierce. New ships can cost more than $1 billion, and the companies earn billions of dollars in revenue every year. Flashy bells and whistles help lines and new ships stand out in a crowded ocean, Santisteban says.
"We get a lot of customers, particularly families, that will call and say, 'We want the cruise with the racecar track,'" he says. "Or, 'We specifically want the cruise that has the ice skating rink.'"
The quirky features aren't limited to thrill-seekers. Even lines that aren't going for the family crowd look to mix it up beyond the standard theatre, library, restaurants, bars and casino. One, Cunard, has an area on a ship that has (literally) gone to the dogs.
"They love that multigenerational family, so they want people from babies to grandparents on, and (they are) making sure they've got something for everyone," says Michelle Fee, chief executive of the travel agency franchise network Cruise Planners.
1. Tattoo parlour
Definitely not for babies but maybe for more adventurous grandparents, Virgin Voyages - which launches its first ship, Scarlet Lady, later this year - will have two full-time artists working in its tattoo studio, Squid Ink. "Tattooing is a time-honoured seafaring tradition and we're continuing that legacy with rock 'n' roll style by bringing some of the best ink artists to sea," Tom McAlpin, president and chief executive of the operator, said in an announcement in 2018. Also available: body piercings and permanent makeup.
2. An actual park with real plants
Royal Caribbean International's four Oasis-class ships can each carry more than 5,400 passengers. So it should come as no surprise that sometimes people might want to escape to a little bit of nature. Central Park, aptly located in the middle of the ships, is made up of more than 20,000 plants tended to by landscape specialists and gardeners. Speakers pipe in the sounds of birds during the day and crickets at night to complete the ambiance.
3. A Brewery
Three Carnival Cruise Line ships - Vista, Horizon and Panorama - have an onboard brewery, and later this year, Mardi Gras will, too. Using desalinated ocean water, brewers make beers (year-round and seasonal) that are served on the ships, including ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat and ParchedPig Toasted Amber Ale. They also offer behind-the-scenes tours and tastings.
4. A Formula 1 simulator
They don't actually speed down a track, but the Formula 1 cars (nearly full size) on several MSC ships do vibrate and move in the virtual reality simulators. The cars are available on eight ships, but there are two each on Meraviglia, Bellissima and Grandiosa so passengers can "race" each other.
5. A Go-kart track
For passengers who feel the need for speed (up to 30 mph, anyway), Norwegian Cruise Line has go-kart race tracks on three ships: Joy, Bliss and Encore. Drivers hear engine noises as they race, and to make the experience more realistic, there's a viewing platform, pit lane, floodlights and even a checkered flag. The experience comes with some cost: $15.00 for a single session and $199 for unlimited use during a week-long cruise.
6. A Planetarium
The planetarium on Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 has a name, Illuminations, and programming by the American Museum of Natural History. Passengers can watch constellation shows and experience "virtual reality rides through the skies." Two of Viking's ocean ships, Orion and Jupiter, also have a "planetarium-like theatre" called the Explorers' Dome with panoramic space- and sky-related films.
7. A Roller coaster
Those with fear of height need not apply. Bolt, the new roller coaster on Carnival Cruise Line's upcoming Mardi Gras, will be 187 feet above the sea. The motorcycle-inspired ride includes "drops, dips and hairpin turns," but at least passengers will be able to choose their own speed. Cameras will, of course, capture looks of terror.
"Whether guests want to get an adrenaline rush or take it slow and enjoy the breathtaking views, BOLT will have it all," Carnival President Christine Duffy said in a news release.
8. A Snow room
Nothing says cruise vacation like snow flurries. On Norwegian's Bliss, Escape and Encore ships, the spa includes a 14-degree snow room, which is supposed to follow a stint in the sauna. To each their own! Viking's six ocean ships also have "snow grottos" in their spas.
9. A Skydiving simulator
Jumping out of a plane is for some people. And then there are those who want to float without actually falling. That's where RipCord by iFly, described by Royal Caribbean as "a true skydiving experience without the need to jump out of a plane or strap on a parachute," comes in. Four ships - Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, Spectrum of the Seas - and soon a fifth, Odyssey of the Seas, offer the attraction, which involves a serious jumpsuit (and, of course, instructors).
10. Pet kennel
For those who can't bear to leave their doggos or kitties behind, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 has 24 kennels for cats and dogs, a kennel master, a lounge for owners and an outdoor play area for the pets. The historic line has many years of experience with animal passengers: Its pet policy stretches back to 1840.
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