Pools, spas, dancing, shows, never-ending ice-cream buffets … they’re all fun and integral parts of the standard cruise, but who wants a vacation that’s just typical? Cruises are about way more than that. No matter which ship you’re on, you’ll find silly activities just waiting to inject a little zaniness into your sailing. Give one of these offbeat experiences a try, and you may just find that it’s the most memorable portion of your cruise.
Activities: Weird Themes
Where the wild themes are: Cruises focusing on a central theme have been popular for years, but some of those concepts are a tad out of the ordinary. The wackiest we’ve seen are the Nickelodeon at Sea cruises, where you can meet characters from the Nickelodeon TV network and take part in its famous slimy game shows. A less family-friendly option is the surprisingly popular "cougar cruise," where — you guessed it — mature women are encouraged to bring along (or meet) young male consorts.
Go "boing!": It’s not quite the same thing as jumping off a bridge with cords attached to your ankles — in fact, it’s almost the reverse — but it still packs an immense thrill. Several cruise lines allow passengers to fling themselves up into the air almost 200 feet above the water, safely tethered to the deck by bungee cords. Britain’s P&O Cruises, in fact, offers these aerial adventures as part of an entire circus-skills training program.
Big-Screen Video Games
Big-time gaming: If you really, really like video games, then a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship is the place to be. Several of the fleet’s ships feature Wii systems attached to a two-story screen in the atrium, letting you be part of the virtual action. What could be better than watching your 15-foot-tall avatar bowl a perfect strike?
The Rising Tide Bar
An elevating experience: This watering hole really rises to the occasion — and descends, too. The Rising Tide Bar is a feature on the Royal Caribbean ships Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, moving up and down among three different decks. You don’t have to worry that all that movement will endanger your drink, as the bar — which is certified as an elevator — keeps the scenery-changing at a gentle pace.
Glass is in session: What, you didn’t realize that a cruise is a great place to watch fine artisans at work? On many Celebrity Cruises, you can observe glass-blowing and learn all about glass art from the gaffers (glass artists) themselves, who are associated with New York’s Corning Museum of Glass, the world’s largest glass museum. In addition, plenty of cruise lines offer art auctions and other opportunities to purchase art — a most sophisticated memento of your vacation.
Keep it on ice: Ice bars have been coming into vogue as a trendy and offbeat way to enjoy a cold one — and while there are still only a few ice bars scattered around the globe, this one can actually go around the world, as it’s located on the Norwegian Epic. The bar, walls and furniture are all made of ice, kept frozen at a chill-inducing 17 degrees. Fortunately, faux-fur coats are on hand to keep you cozy and warm.
More cold stuff: Care for a spin across an onboard ice arena? Rinks might seem more suited to winter-sports towns, but they’re becoming standard on many cruise ships, especially in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. By day, lace up those blades and learn to skate; by night, get comfy in the arena’s seats and enjoy professional ice shows.
Beyond the flume ride: There are roller coasters, there are flume rides … and then there’s the AquaDuck. Billed as a “water coaster,” this ride — part of the new Disney Dream ship, set to launch next January — sends riders hurtling up, down and around the top deck through a clear acrylic tube. It even takes you right out over the water, providing an unobstructed view of the ocean waves 150 feet below. If you don’t feel like waiting till January, you can make a splash now at the WaterWorks Park that’s available on the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet.
Zip trips: Zip lines have long been a popular shore-excursion activity, but now Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships offer this adventure on the vessels themselves. You’ll zip more than 80 feet from one end of the ship to the other, nine decks above its Boardwalk area. Cowabunga!
Like tennis, but weirder: That’s paddle tennis, a sport that’s been around for more than a century. The court is smaller than a typical tennis court’s, and the net is lower, but the real difference is the paddle: It’s solid and looks like a giant ping-pong paddle, rather than a strung tennis racquet. We’re not sure what this enduring but obscure sport is doing on cruise ships, but you can find it on lines such as Crystal Cruises.
Baking in the Galley
Someone’s in the kitchen: For most adults, the one room you probably don’t think about at all while on a cruise is the kitchen. After all, isn’t one of the points of a cruise not having to cook? But for your kids, nothing could be more fun than taking over the ship’s giant galley, donning a chef’s hat and whipping out delicacies just like the parental units. Many cruises offer chances for children to get busy in the kitchen — and who knows, the budding chefs just might help cook when you get home, too.
Way better than shuffleboard: Croquet may be the ultimate symbol of proper English-countryside gentility, so we won’t blame you if seeing a croquet game on a rambunctious cruise ship — with a real lawn, no less — makes you do a double-take. Celebrity Cruises, among others, has jumped on the croquet bandwagon, even hosting croquet tournaments on the top deck. Next thing you know you’ll be wanting a spot of tea and saluting the queen.