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8 Best Cruise Ships for Sea Days (Photo: Cruise Critic)

8 Best Cruise Ships for Sea Days

Updated July 5, 2018

When Royal Caribbean's gargantuan and game-changing Oasis of the Seas debuted as the then-world's largest ship in 2009, people wondered if anyone would bother to get off the ship in port, as it could take a week to try out all the onboard activities. With 24 dining options, 21 pools and hot tubs, multiple live performance venues (including an ice rink and AquaTheater for high-diving shows) and seven "neighborhoods," the ship practically guarantees that no one will have trouble finding something to do.

But you don't need to sail on a 5,400-passenger ship to get the most from your days at sea. Any ship will do if you're content to spend your onboard time passed out on a sun lounger. But if you want the right mix of activity and relaxation options, it's key to pick the right ship -- and the right itinerary. It would be a shame to get all psyched up for sea days, only to find out your cruise only has one. Look for a good balance of sea and port days, and if you truly love time at sea, book an ocean crossing for a whole string of consecutive sea days.

Now that you know what to look for itinerary-wise, here's our selection of the best ships for days at sea. We chose our favourites based on their variety of onboard attractions, both indoors and out, to keep folks entertained. They also include plenty of daytime dining options. And if you need more inspiration, check out our companion piece: Top 10 Things to Do on Sea Days.

1. Norwegian Breakaway



On Deck: Norwegian Breakaway is on a mission to keep passengers entertained, and there's no reason to give up the sun to have some fun on the first of Norwegian's ground breaking Breakaway class of ships, which will be based in Denmark for summer 2018. Adrenaline junkies should head to the upper decks where you'll find an Aqua Park with two water slides that send you into a 360-degree spin before dumping you into the pool; and two side-by-side Free Fall slides in which daredevils are dropped 250 feet into a looping tunnel. A splash area for kids is located next door to the main water park.

Drier adventures await at the rock climbing wall, mini-golf course and basketball or bocce courts, as well as the amazing Sky Trail, a vertigo-inducing ropes course that includes a bungee trampoline, zipwire and an 8-foot-long "plank" that extends over the side of the ship. 

Breakaway began the whole "bringing the ship closer to the ocean"-concept, so you'll find a large number of venues are al fresco, meaning you can dine or drink under the stars on the Waterfront (or Promenade) deck, which is lovely when the nights are warm.

Indoor Fun: The Mandara Spa on Norwegian Escape offers all the usual treatments but also has a thermal suite that features a hydrotherapy pool, a steam room, a dry sauna, a hot tub, heated mosaic loungers and a salt room (for improving respiratory and skin problems). The large fitness centre has all you need for working off those sea-day snacks. Classes include options like TRX, Norwegian Fight Klub and a body-sculpting boot camp.

At the crossroads of entertainment and dining, Wine Lovers the Musical is produced as a lunchtime spectacle in the Supper Club where passengers can sample a half-dozen wines while watching a musical comedy about "the joys of wine and love." Beer aficionados should head to Maltings, a convivial spot along the Waterfront, offering indoor and outdoor seating. 
And you can't miss the gimmicky – but fun -- Svedka Ice Bar, where the temperature's a frosty 17 degrees Fahrenheit. The bar features New York-inspired drinks made of vodka and/or Inniskillen ice wine. The cover charge ($20 per person) includes two drinks -- and the use of a warm parka.

Norwegian's huge kids club (for ages 3 to 12) features a circus school in addition to games, sports, arts and crafts and play areas, while teens get a separate lounge-style hangout packed with couches, foosball, flat-screen TVs and a dance floor.

For video games, drop by the video arcade or try the ship's atrium with its giant, two-storey LED screen with scheduled times for Wii games.

All-Day Dining: Norwegian's Freestyle Dining concept means passengers can find plenty of food at all hours of the day, and Breakaway has 20 dining options. There's always Norwegian's indoor-outdoor buffet area, and O' Sheehan's doles out hot breakfast items and typical pub food with a side of (mini) bowling, billiards or darts. One of the complimentary main dining rooms will also offer a sit-down lunch each day, or you can try the Uptown Grill, a smaller buffet venue focuses on comfort foods, like sweet and savory pies, sausages, grilled burgers and fried eggs. 

2. MSC Meraviglia



On Deck: MSC Meraviglia is the line's biggest ship to date and has an enormous number of things to do onboard for all age groups.

The midship pool deck is always busy with sunbathers and pool games; there's also an aft pool surrounded by an ampitheatre. For a bit of quiet, head into the solarium adjacent to the main pool. At the back of the ship, you'll find the Sportplex, which is a multi-use facility for basketball, tennis and volleyball.

If you're looking to get wet and wild, The Polar Aqua Park is a kids' splash park at the top of the ship, with spray guns, water dunkers and a small slide. Above it are three waterslides. Two involve sitting in tubes that take you down to a big splash via numerous twists and turns, sometimes in the dark; the other is the Champagne Glass because after a very fast slide, you end up spinning round an open circular glass-shaped space.

Indoor Fun: Meraviglia's centrepiece is the "Galleria," an 80-metre-long promenade, complete with ever changing ceiling and shops, bars and restaurants on either side. This is a great place to hang out day and night. Grab a drink in the Brass Anchor pub or the stunning Champagne Bar in the main atrium, indulge in some retail therapy in the high-end shops, or perhaps get a chocolate shoe sculpted for you in the patisserie.

Meraviglia debuts an Amusement Park, which includes two F1 simulators, a bowling alley with two lanes, a 4D cinema, a flight simulator and a video games arcade. It's a lot of fun, but expensive.

If you want some "me" time, head to the Aurea Spa, the biggest on any MSC ship, with 20 treatment rooms and a wonderful thermal suite. The emphasis is on Balinese treatments, but everything you might expect is available, including facials and traditional Balinese massage techniques, as well as Thai massage, a candle massage and the signature Aurea del Mare treatment with shells. The Thermal Suite offers two steam rooms, two saunas, a salt room, two relaxation rooms, two aromatherapy rooms, a snow grotto, a walk-through shower and two thalassotherapy pools.

Adjoining the spa is the Jean Louis David salon, which offers men's and women's grooming.

Meraviglia has the largest Yacht Club of the fleet, an exclusive triple-deck "ship-within-a-ship" complex, which has its own top-deck pool, dining room and bar for those staying in one of the suites.

All-Day Dining: One thing is guaranteed onboard this ship: you won't go hungry. The line has forged link-ups with a number of big-name chefs, as well as Eataly, an Italian marketplace/restaurant which offers up the freshest of breads, pasta, cheese and cured meats. Two other excellent dining options are Butcher's Cut for prime steaks and Kaito Teppanyaki & Sushi Bar for outstanding Asian cuisine. 

If you're feeling indulgent, try the Chef's Table, which, though pricey, includes seven dishes and seven wines, as well as your own chef and your own sommelier to talk you through it all.

3. Harmony of the Seas



On Deck: The world's largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, challenges anyone to be bored onboard, given its large variety of on-ship activities and attractions designated within seven themed "neighbourhoods." The "Pool and Sports Zone," concentrated on the ship's upper decks, has four pools (including a sloped-entry pool and one for games like in-pool basketball) and the interactive water play area Splashaway Bay for kids and tots, with features like sea creature water cannons, slides and a giant drench bucket. Six whirlpools -- including four that are cantilevered over the ship's side -- can be found in the glass-covered adults-only Solarium.

Harmony introduces some Royal Caribbean firsts: The Perfect Storm trio of multi-storey waterslides, along with the Ultimate Abyss, a side-by-side pair of the tallest dry slides at sea, which plummet 10 decks. The ultimate in water fun are the ship's two FlowRider surf simulation pools for surfing and boogie-boarding. Harmony also sports a zipwire, two rock climbing walls and a sports deck for basketball, volleyball, football, Ping-Pong and mini-golf.

The deep AquaTheater pool (technically part of the Boardwalk neighbourhood) does double duty as a venue for scuba lessons and stage for whimsical performances that feature acrobats and divers (held both day and night).

Indoor Fun: Harmony's neighbourhood concept also includes three areas that are technically within the ship but open to the sky. Take a nature stroll through Central Park at the centre of the vessel, a football-pitch-length strip that is covered in some 12,000 plants and trees. You can pop into shops like the Cartier store and a Bulgari boutique, and grab a bite at the Park Cafe or a drink at the two-storey Dazzles lounge. Or head to the more boisterous indoor-outdoor Boardwalk, with its Starbucks, arcade, tequila bar and various casual eateries (see below). One lovely touch there is the handmade carousel, which is free to ride.

For more shopping and imbibing, the Royal Promenade is sized like a real mall -- it also runs the length of a football pitch. There you'll find tax- and duty-free shops for liquor and jewellery purchases, the Rising Tide Bar (which travels up and down three decks between the Royal Promenade and Central Park), the futuristic Bionic Bar (helmed by robot bartenders), a Kate Spade store and other retail and food-and-beverage options. Activities like flash-mob dance classes and parades with DreamWorks characters in colourful costumes take place there.

Other daytime entertainment options include recent 3D movies from the DreamWorks cache, an interactive group Puzzle Break game, dance classes, alcohol tastings, DreamWorks character meet-and-greets and ice skating in Studio B.

For more laid-back offerings, retreat to the Vitality Spa at Sea, featuring 29 treatment rooms and a thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, saunas and steam rooms. Or work off those buffet calories at the fitness centre, packed with cardio and resistance equipment, and the site of spinning, yoga, Pilates and kickboxing classes.

Kids, meanwhile, can indulge in the Youth Zone, with features like the Adventure Ocean kids club (for ages 3 to 11) touting activities like puppet theatre and dance parties; there are also teen-only spaces (Fuel Disco and The Living Room), as well as the Royal Babies and Royal Tots nursery program for infants and toddlers ages 6 months to 2 years.

All-Day Dining: You can't go hungry on Harmony of the Seas, which offers more than 20 dining options. Beyond lunch in the Windjammer Marketplace buffet and the main tri-level dining room, passengers can find midday eats at Sorrento's pizzeria; the Park Cafe, serving up salads and sandwiches; the Boardwalk Dog House with its seven varieties of wieners; Mini Bites for sliders and other grab-and-go snacks served near the pools; the Vitality Cafe or Solarium Bistro for yoghurt parfaits, healthy sandwiches and other light fare; Johnny Rockets, a fast-food burger joint; Sabor Taqueria & Tequila Bar for Mexican; and Cafe Promenade for snacks and sandwiches.

Also worth seeking out are Jamie's Italian, from British Chef Jamie Oliver; 150 Central Park, with a seasonal "farm to ship" menu designed by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz; and Izumi Hibachi and Sushi. (Note that all three of these venues charge a supplement.) And don't forget all the empty calories you can consume with midday cravings for ice cream, doughnuts and cupcakes.

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4. Disney Fantasy



On Deck: The much ballyhooed main attraction of Fantasy's upper decks is the AquaDuck, a tubular water coaster. It's more kiddie fun than big thrills, despite the track's precipitous swing 13 feet out from the side of the ship -- and its 42-inch height requirement that leaves little siblings pouting. Behind the Duck's entrance is a water play area called the AquaLab, guaranteed to leave you soaking wet.

Fantasy's pool areas have something for everyone. The Mickey Pool with mini-water slide is kid heaven, Donald's Pool gives front-row seats to the giant outdoor cinema screen, Nemo's Reef is the toddler splash area for the diapered set, and Quiet Cove is the adults-only pool area. An additional adults-only sun deck features a splash pool and rain curtain. The requisite all-purpose sports court, mini-golf, walking track and Ping-Pong tables make an appearance on the Sports Deck.

Indoor Fun: You might have a serendipitous run-in with your favourite Disney character or princess, or you can find them at scheduled meet-and-greets. The whole family can play detective with a mystery game that places clues in hallway art that magically comes to life when you pass by; on Fantasy, there's a version that features the lovable Muppets.

Disney's kids clubs are some of the biggest and best in the industry, keeping the under-18s from whining too much on sea days. The Oceaneer's Club and Oceaneer Lab have play areas straight out of Pixar movies, such as "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc.," interactive high-tech MagicPlay Floors, an animator's studio and a sound studio. Tweens can hang out in the ship's faux funnel where there's an 18-foot-tall video wall, video karaoke and computers with a ship-specific social media app. Teens get a 9,000-square-foot club that includes a fountain bar and its own outdoor space with a sun deck and wading pools. Even the Senses Spa -- which offers the usual adult pampering treatments -- has a teens-only area with age-appropriate treatments.

Kiddos with credit cards (or generous parents) can go for sea-day splurges at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. At this salon-cum-costume shop, tykes can be transformed into princesses and pirates -- with hair-styling, makeup and wardrobe -- for a fee. (Advance reservations are recommended.)

All-Day Dining: Cabanas, on Deck 11, is the all-day buffet, while Flo's Cafe has quick eats like burgers, chicken fingers, wraps and pizza. For a more formal, sit-down repast, try the Versailles-inspired Enchanted Garden. Grown-ups can sneak away to brunch at Palo, which offers a cold buffet (meats and cheese, shrimp, salads, desserts) and a selection of hot made-to-order items (omelettes, fish); afternoon tea is served there, as well.


5. Queen Mary 2

QM2 Planetarium

On Deck: With much of its time spent sailing back and forth across the Atlantic, Queen Mary 2 offers plenty of sea days (five straight on every crossing) -- but the weather won't always be the best for top-deck sunning. Still, the ship does have multiple pools, including the Terrace Pool, the Sun Deck Splash Pool on the top of the ship, the all-weather Pavilion Pool with a retractable dome and the Minnows Pool for kids.

Sports facilities include a basketball court, a paddle-tennis court and a Ping-Pong table in the Pavilion pool area. Or get old-school with shuffleboard and deck quoits. The promenade deck loops around the ship for a midday walk.

Indoor Fun: While you can certainly laze around all day, QM2 makes it possible to imbue your sea days with culture and learning opportunities, offering an excellent enrichment program with activities like watercolour painting, wine tasting or ballroom dancing. Cunard Insights explores historical and contemporary issues presented by explorers, academics, former politicians, actors, musicians, historians and filmmakers. Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts actors teach acting workshops on board, while presenters from the Royal Astronomical Society talk stars and solar systems; you can even stargaze during the day with a film in Illuminations, the only planetarium at sea.

Not enough for you? Cunard ConneXions is the connectivity hub with computer and meeting rooms and a wide variety of computer workshops. Plus, you can join a shipwide book club for literary discussions or just browse in the well-stocked library onboard. If you'd rather pamper your body, QM2 is home to one of just a handful of Canyon Ranch SpaClubs at sea. The two-deck facility includes the spa itself, where you can indulge in massages and other, more exotic treatments. One of the highlights of the space is the Aqua Therapy Centre, which is equipped with an aqua therapy pool, whirlpool, reflexology basin, sensory showers, Finnish sauna, aromatic steam room, herbal sauna and ice fountain. Stylists at the Beauty & Skin Care Centre will beautify your hair and nails as you gaze out to sea, and you can get your heart racing with a variety of gym equipment at the Fitness Centre.

All-Day Dining: Passengers can enjoy daytime dining in their assigned main dining rooms (Britannia, Princess Grill or Queens Grill). Britannia is open seating at lunch, while Grilld passengers have assigned tables (though no fixed times to dine), with an increased number of tables for two. The buffet restaurant, Kings Court, is located on Deck 7 instead of by the pool. There are actually five different themed areas in Kings Court: La Piazza (Italian), Bamboo (Asian), Aztec (Mexican), Coriander (Indian) and Smokehouse (American barbecue). By the pool, you can dine on typical grill fare at the Boardwalk or soups and sandwiches at the Pavilion.

For a lunch splurge, the Verandah restaurant serves up sophisticated southern France-inspired fare for $20 a person. Another popular but free alternative dining area is the ship's Golden Lion Pub, serving authentic pub food like bangers and mash, fish and chips, and shepherd's pie. There's also the newer Carinthia Lounge, offering light New American fare for lunch along with speciality coffees (for a fee) and a patisserie counter.

Traditional tea service can be found in the Queens Room, where waiters and waitresses serve tea, finger sandwiches, pastries and, of course, scones with clotted cream. You can also find a more casual, self-service afternoon tea in Bamboo at Kings Court, and Grills passengers can take tea at the exclusive Queens Grill Lounge.


6. Marella Explorer

Bud's Diner Show on Marella Explorer

On Deck: Marella Explorer is a great ship for sun-worshippers, offering a large outdoor pool that's split into two sections, as well as three whirlpools. There's also plenty of open deck space with loungers for working on your tan. One notable area is the Veranda, a space for cruisers 16 and older, providing solace from potentially rambunctious youngsters.

On deck throughout the day, passengers will find music, crew-led activities and a poolside cinema that shows movies, concerts and sporting events.

Indoor Fun: In addition to standard offerings like bingo and quizzes, Marella Explorer boasts the first at-sea outpost of luxury spa brand Champneys. Treatment options are extensive, as are the facilities. They comprise relaxation rooms, saunas and steam rooms, a Persian garden, a Turkish bath and a fitness centre with a variety of machines and personalised classes, as well as a salon that features hair and nail services.

In the evenings, The Lounge piano bar heats up. Passengers can belly up to the colour-changing counter for drinks as they listen to a musician tickle the ivories. Later on, cruisers can head to the theatre to catch one of 13 production shows that include themes like cinema favourites, steampunk and '50s Americana with a modern twist.

All-Day Dining: The ship boasts 10 dining venues, several of which offer food around the clock. The Market Place buffet offers an eclectic mix of international foods from around the world, as well as a stir-fry station, and Latitude 53 serves as the main dining room, both offering daily breakfast, lunch and dinner. Snack Shack, also found on the line's Discovery ships, reprises its role, offering British seaside fare perfect for between-meal snacking. All three of these venues are free.

Noteworthy for-fee options include Kora La and Surf & Turf, which are housed in the same space. The former specialises in artfully prepared Asian dishes, including sushi served over dry ice, as well as curries and noodles. The latter, the ship's steakhouse, serves up quality meats. In addition to dinner, brunch is offered there on sea days.

Also for an extra fee, cruisers can test out Scoops, a vintage cart that serves homemade ice cream in flavours like strawberry, salted caramel, gin and tonic, and pina colada -- perfect for whiling away a sunny sea day.


7. Celebrity Silhouette



On Deck: Celebrity Silhouette -- and its Solstice-class sisters -- put a new spin on top-deck fun with the first real grass lawns at sea. The Lawn Club on Silhouette is the perfect spot for a sea-day picnic, a game of bocce or oversized Jenga, or a barefooted stroll, feeling the grass between your toes. Plus, eight private cabana alcoves are available for rent for those who want shade and a bit more privacy.

Silhouette also has one of cruising's most inviting pool decks. Parents can take the kids into the shallow family pool, while everyone can join the games in the sports pool. Vertical fountain jets spray visitors to the Wet Zone, a fun place for water play or a quick cool-down. The adults-only Solarium invites with a circular spa pool, a swim pool and two whirlpools, as well as comfy padded loungers, circular daybeds and hammocks. Hot tubs are scattered throughout.

Indoor Fun: Celebrity's enrichment program, CelebrityLife, runs the gamut from intellectual lectures by Smithsonian Journeys speakers to less serious mixology and dance classes. On the brainy side, take advantage of Celebrity's partnership with onboard Apple geniuses for computer and technology workshops. The library onboard is small picturesque; above it is the Hideaway, where you can grab a comfy chair and lose yourself in a book.

Foodies can learn about wine-and-food pairings, compete in culinary contests and join expert-led wine-tastings -- or stage independent ones. Passengers can conduct do-it-yourself wine-tastings at the Cellar Masters wine bar with its automatic wine dispensers. If you like to kick it at a convivial watering hole, the Martini Bar is a great sea-day afternoon hangout. The enthusiastic bartenders will mix you brightly coloured concoctions while juggling martini shakers and performing other fun tricks. (Hint: Order two "flights" to find out exactly how many martinis your bartenders can pour at one time.)

The Canyon Ranch SpaClub offers a wide range of treatments and a Persian Garden area with heated ceramic tile loungers, a steam room and tropical rain showers. The gym at the spa offers all the newest fitness machines, as well as a serpentine jogging track. Work out on your own, or sign up for a class in yoga, aerobics and the like.

All-Day Dining: Celebrity has one of the best buffets in the biz, and the Oceanview Cafe is an expansive multi-station venue for lunch and all-day snacking. Choices include a carving station and taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other speciality stops. For less healthy fare, pick up some burgers and hot dogs at the Mast Grill; for healthier choices, drop by the AquaSpa Cafe in the Solarium for salads and grilled seafood.

If you don't mind forking over a few bucks for your lunch, Sushi on Five serves a la carte Japanese favourites like sushi and sashimi. The Porch, located in the Lawn Club, provides pressed sandwiches and soups at a la carte pricing. If you've got a sweet tooth, hit the Cafe al Bacio & Gelateria for a sweet ending to your meal.


8. Royal Princess



On Deck: Royal Princess is back in the UK for the summer season 2018 for the first time since it's launch in 2013. If you like a little action with your tan, the main pool area on Deck 16 is for you. At the Fountain Pool, you can be a joiner with fun activities such as ice-carving demonstrations and silly games, or rock out to the music performances. You'll also find lots of lounge chairs here, perfect for taking in a movie or music video with the giant Movies Under the Stars screen looming above.

For a more Zen sea day, shell out for a coveted spot in the Sanctuary, the adults-only sun deck. You can recline on an extra-plush lounger or rent a private cabana while stewards fetch drinks and healthy snacks for you (private spa treatments can also be arranged). Forgot your iPod? Borrow an MP3 player with Bose headphones that's loaded with playlists.

For a quieter swim, the adults-only Retreat Pool features a pool and two hot tubs.

Indoor Fun: The heart of Royal Princess is the Piazza, the atrium where street performers sing, dance, juggle, do magic tricks and perform acrobatics while you chill with a coffee, cocktail or cookie.

Princess' ScholarShip@Sea program doesn't take itself as seriously as the "edutainment" offerings of lines like Cunard or Crystal. Sure, you can learn about computers and art history, but the program also encompasses scrapbooking, wine-tastings, cooking demos and dance classes. The ship also features a newer partnership with the Discovery network dubbed Discovery at Sea, which expands to interactive onboard activities (like Shark Week quiz games), all influenced by the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and Science Channel TV brands.

And there's always the Lotus Spa. Relax with a massage or facial, or get high-tech with acupuncture, Botox treatments, detoxifying wraps or teeth-whitening. For some indoor relaxation, head to the thermal suite, with its sauna, aromatherapy steam rooms and hot-rock beds.

All-Day Dining: One of the more original lunch options on Royal Princess is the English-style pub lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar. The menu offers cottage pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, or a ploughman's lunch. Lunch is free, but you'll need to pay to wash it down with a Guinness.

Looking for a main dining room experience for breakfast or lunch? You'll find it in the Concerto dining room. You can also find casual dining options in the Piazza. On Deck 6, there's Alfredo's with its selection of tasty thin-crust pizzas, salads and pastas. One deck down, the International Cafe has the feel of a European sidewalk cafe, and offers coffee, morning pastries, tea sandwiches, light salads and snacks. Food is free, unless you want a gourmet coffee or a fancy dessert, like chocolate fondue with fruit for dipping, chocolate-covered strawberries or gelato (all for a small fee). Sweet-toothed penny-pinchers need not fret: Every afternoon there's a free cookies-and-milk break. (Don't want to leave the pool? The crew bring cookies by the pool deck, too.)

Balcony cabin residents can sleep in and order the Champagne Balcony Breakfast ($28 per person), complete with pastries, fresh fruit, quiche and a split of Champagne. It's elegantly served on your private balcony.

Other daytime dining venues include the Horizon Court and Horizon Bistro buffets; the Trident Grill for burgers, hot dogs or chicken sandwiches; and poolside venues for pizza and ice cream.

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