From real grass lawns to gold leaf facials, modern cruise companies are going out of their way to offer some extraordinarily decadent and quirky experiences at sea. We asked Liz Jarvis, Editor of Cruise International, to select some of her faves...
Totally over the top things to do on a cruise
Ten fabulously OTT things you can do on a cruise
Love adventures at sea? Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas features the world’s tallest slide at sea, towering 150 feet above sea level and offering a thrilling 100-foot drop. The Ultimate Abyss is not for the faint-hearted and allows guests to take one last look at the Boardwalk 10 decks below before climbing onto a mat and taking the plunge.
If you've ever dreamed of being waited on hand and foot, butlers are becoming increasingly popular on cruise lines, particularly on ships which have a 'cruise within a cruise' option, where you stay in a more exclusive area of the vessel, such as MSC Cruises' Yacht Club. Your butler will arrange for your dry-cleaning to be done, bring you breakfast in bed, polish your shoes and pretty much anything else you need.
Celebrity chef cruises are all the rage. Take P&O Cruises' ships, for example, which boast gala menus created by Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar's Sindhu restaurants. But perhaps the grandest dining experience is the Queens Grill restaurant on board the Cunard's Queen Mary 2, a sophisticated setting with dishes fit for royalty. Lobster with cognac and truffle washed down with champers, anyone?
Fancy skydiving at sea? On Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas you can experience the thrill of skydiving on the deep blue ocean. Ripcord by iFly allows cruisers of all ages to fly and enjoy an exhilarating thrill of a lifetime. The 23-foot tall indoor vertical wind tunnel creates a feeling of freefall as you float several feet in the air above four powerful fans. Guests are even given a training course where they're taught flight positions and hand signals.
There is something deliciously decadent about having a pampering session at sea – treatment rooms usually look out on the ocean and ship spa menus tend to be very creative, with treatments ranging from gold leaf facials to ancient Arabian cleansing rituals and couples' full body massages. Seabourn's 24-karat gold facial is the ultimate in luxury spa treatments.
The first IMAX theatre at sea includes a three-deck-high screen that offers an immersive cinema experience featuring the latest Hollywood blockbusters, family favourites and IMAX documentary content. Located on Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Vista, the 187-seat IMAX Theatre is part of the Carnival Multiplex, which also includes the Thrill Theatre, a multi-dimensional experience where seats move back and forth and side to side and viewers are sprayed with water and bubbles to make them feel like they’re part of the feature.
Well, not quite. But Princess Cruises' Royal Princess and Regal Princess ships offer the SeaWalk – an enclosed glass bottom-walkway extending from the top deck more than 20 feet over the side of the ship. It allows you to see the ocean 128 feet below while taking a dramatic stroll along the 60-foot-long walkway.
Hit the surf at sea with Royal Caribbean's FlowRider surf simulator, which sends water at a very high speed across a small area that mimics what it is like to surf on the ocean. Guests can ride it as many times as they like during their cruise and can try traditional stand-up surfing or boogie boarding.
The majestic Penthouse Suite on P&O Cruises' Aurora, Azura and Ventura has a baby grand piano, plus a spiral staircase. Think of the parties you could throw. And if your repertoire only extends to Chopsticks, no one will judge you. It's your suite.
Guests on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 can view the Northern and Southern hemisphere's astronomical delights from the comfort of a 150-seat illuminated Planetarium with a domed ceiling. Guest presenters will tell you everything you need to know about the wonders of the night sky and in the evenings you get to go to the top deck to check out the sky and put your knowledge to the test.
The Bionic Bar on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas is a bartender like no other. Run by two bionic mixologists, the exciting drinking experience allows you to watch as the the robot arms get to work, shaking, stirring and straining two drinks in just one-minute. There is even a resident DJ playing upbeat and contemporary music, and you can order favourites, such as martinis and mojitos, from the e-menu.
Some smaller luxury ships, for example Windstar Cruises' Star Breeze, have their own retractable water sports marinas which bring you down to sea level so you can go diving, snorkelling, sailing, windsurfing or kayaking, right from the ship. Pretty cool.
On some ships you can enjoy martinis at the perfect temperature. Freezing. Particularly useful if you happen to be cruising somewhere hot. The SVEDKA Ice Bar aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines' Breakaway and Epic ships comes complete with ice statues and faux fur accessories.
Love a show tune? Big cruise ships all boast huge-capacity theatres where you can see high-calibre shows, including many West End and Broadway hits – often only slightly truncated versions of the originals. We challenge you to fault one of the amazing shows on board Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Lines' ships, for example. Musicals include everything from Mamma Mia! to Rock of Ages.
Zip-lining through the rainforest in Costa Rica is one thing but did you ever imagine whizzing across a cruise ship? Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas features the first zip line on a cruise ship, a thrilling 82-foot ride in the Sports Zone, suspended nine decks above the Boardwalk. It's the perfect ride for thrill-seekers.
Celebrity Cruises has the largest wine collection at sea, offering over 400 varieties including choices from every major wine-producing region in South America, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Portugal and South Africa. The remarkably tall Wine Tower, which is a two-story structure of glass and steel, holds 1,800 bottles of wine at the perfect serving temperature. All Solstice Class ships have the tower, as well as sommeliers, servers and cellar masters who are readily available to make suggestions and assist with wine pairing. Cheers to that!
Experience icy temperatures in Viking Cruises' snow grotto at sea: a frosty room set at -10C, where snow flakes fall from the ceiling. The Snow Grotto, on Viking Star, allows you to partake in the Scandinavian ritual of going from hot to cold temperature extremes (also known as contrast bathing). Nordic bathing traditions dictate that you sit in the sauna for as long as possible before rolling around in the snow or pouring a bucket of ice-cold water over yourself, all in the name of giving your circulatory system a boost.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Explorer has one of the largest suites at sea at over 3,875 square feet. The Regent Suite is as luxurious as a cruise cabin gets, with two plush bedrooms and an in-room spa retreat (a first at sea) which combines a personal sauna, steam room and treatment area. The suite also features an outdoor, glass-enclosed sitting area aptly named the Vista Garden where you can enjoy magnificent, unobstructed 270-degree views over the ship’s bow and towards the horizon.
On MSC Cruises' ships, including MSC Meraviglia, you can put your racing skills to the test in the high-tech Formula 1 simulators. Just step into a sleek, powerful Formula 1 car to live out the thrills of a fast-paced race while at sea. 'Drivers' race around a series of tracks on the screen in front and can also experience a 5D cinema, a flight simulator and fun arcade games in the Super Amusement Park which houses the latest in entertainment.
With Princess Cruises, you can have a Chef's Table experience which takes interested diners behind the scenes during the height of dinner preparation where you can enjoy Champagne and hors d'oeuvres, followed by a special multi-course tasting dinner paired with selected wines in the dining room. You'll observe the bustle of dinner-hour preparations and meet the executive chef, before indulging in a multi-course menu specially created by the chef and not offered anywhere else on the ship.