Cruise ships have all the trappings of major megaresorts. Each vessel is a floating city with its own brand of theme park. From plunging waterslides and restaurant-lined boardwalks to Broadway shows and Feng-Shui-style spas, the on-board amenities are as varied as what one finds on the Las Vegas Strip. Annual cruise industry revenue for the U.S. economy is roughly $37.85 billion, and since 1980 there has been an annual average growth rate of 7.4%. In other words, cruising is one of the most popular types of vacations. Modern ship decks, with their multi-pool complexes, waterslides (fun decks), and adult’s only retreats, are a far cry from the “one pool, one deck” mindset of the 1990s. While port-of-call excursions are an integral part of the cruising experience, once you dive into one of these pools, you might be reluctant to get out. Here are 10 of the coolest cruise ship pools.
10. Disney Cruise Lines: Disney Dream
While nobody over the age of five is going to find Mickey’s Pool, one of three family-friendly freshwater pools on the Disney Dream, particularly “cool,” water-winged tykes are going to love the fact that the 2-foot deep swimming pool is shaped like Mickey Mouse. Donald and Goofy have their own pools too, which means choosing a pool on a Disney Cruise is akin to choosing a favorite Disney character.
However, the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream, which debuted in January 2011, also features the AquaDuck, a 745-foot waterslide. Four decks high and extending over the edge of the ship, the slide is the first of its kind on a cruise ship, and with twists, turns, and drops it has all the hallmarks of a classic rollercoaster.
9. Sanctuary Retreats: Sun Boat III
The Sun Boat III is an elegant, 36 guest river yacht that specializes in luxury Nile cruises. Modeled on the opulent era of the 1920s and ‘30s, the Sun Boat III has been voted among the Top 100 Most Beautiful Boats in the World by Conde Nast readers. Aptly named “Cleopatra’s Oasis,” the upper-level sun deck has a pool fringed with live palm tress and flowers.
Canopied daybeds and an open-air bar make this the perfect place to view the ancient temples along the riverbank. The Sun Boat III stops at the Temple of Hathor and the Temple of Abydos, among other attractions.
With custom-designed vessels in Europe, Russia, Asia and Africa, AmaWaterways has led the way in the river cruise industry since 2002. It’s uncommon for river vessels to have a pool at all, but the AmaWaterways’ European fleet, which includes the AmaCerto, AmaSonata, AmaReina, AmaVista and AmaSerena, don’t just have luxurious heated pools, but swim-up bars with Caribbean-style in-water seating.
The 164-passenger AmaCerto was the first of AmaWaterways’ ships to feature a heated pool and swim-up bar. It debuted in 2012 on a “Tulip Time” cruise through Holland, Belgium, and Germany. “She truly represents a new generation of ship design,” said Rudi Schreiner, president of AmaWaterways, “with a distinctive exterior and interior that surpasses any other vessel ever seen on European rivers.”
7. Royal Caribbean: Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas
There is theme park grandeur to the popular pools on Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. At nearly 18-feet deep, the kidney-shaped pools are the deepest pools at sea, and afternoon scuba diving lessons are held there daily. The pools are surrounded by tiered, sunbathing platforms that are packed with plush lounge chairs and hammocks; however, when the sun goes down the platforms are transformed into the AquaTheater.
Aerial and water-acrobats, high-divers, and synchronized swimmers put on Circus du Soleil style entertainment. There is also a synchronized fountain show; choreographed arcs of water shoot 65-feet in the air, creating a Bellagio-like experience on the open water.
6. Viking Cruises
Formed in 2013, Viking Cruises is an operating company with a trio of oceangoing vessels embarking on maiden voyages in Scandinavia, the Baltic, and the Western and Eastern Mediterranean in 2015 and 2016. The Viking Star, Viking Sky, and Viking Sea will each feature an infinity pool, which is a rarity in the cruise ship industry.
Most infinity pools overlook tropical paradises, the skyline of a big city, or even a sweeping expanse of a desert oasis. Viking Cruises’ infinity pools are backed by glass and cantilever over the ships’ stern, creating the visual effect of water extending to the horizon and allowing passengers to fully immersive themselves in the surroundings.
5. Princess Cruises: Royal Princess and Regal Princess
Princess Cruises debuted “Movies Under the Stars” poolside cinema in 2004, and it is now a hallmark feature on all of their cruise ships. However, the Royal Princess and Regal Princess have the biggest movie screens of all the vessels.
The Times Square-style LED screens are more than 300 square feet and powered by a 69,000-watt sound system. From family fare and sporting events to Academy Award winning films, concerts, and video game tournaments, the poolside theaters are the focal point of the ships. “Movies Under the Stars” combines the best of a day at the pool with a night at a drive-in movie theater.
4. Royal Caribbean: Brilliance of the Seas
Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas features a combination of six swimming pools and whirlpools, but the Solarium Pool, an adult’s only sanctuary, is the centerpiece for R & R. The Solarium Pool area is an Asian-jungle inspired retreat complete with towering palm trees and verdant foliage, whimsical water features, statuary, and hammocks.
The Solarium has a retractable glass roof. The cantilevered, glass-enclosed whirlpools extend twelve feet beyond the sides of the ship.
3. Oceania Cruises: Marina and Riviera
Marina and Riviera are classy, mid-sized twin ships. Each boat has a sleek pool area that looks like a mix between a Balinese Tiki bar and an upscale urban lounge. The teak decks are fringed with greenery and boast a duo of whirlpools and a pool bar.
A water fountain feature adds to the Tiki bar effect while a built-in TV screen emphasizes the urban lounge feel. As cool as the pool area is during the daytime hours, the space is transformed in the evening, when blue LED lights make the pool glow with an ethereal, nocturnal ambiance.
2. Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Epic
Travel Weekly voted the Norwegian Epic the “Best Overall Individual Cruise Ship” in 2011 and 2012. The vessel is known for its family friendly innovations, particularly the state-of-the-art Aqua Park. The water entertainment bonanza includes two main pools, five hot tubs, a wading pool, and a kiddy pool adorned with playful sculptures and water effects that illuminate in the evening.
However, the ship’s claim to fame is the Epic Plunge, a thrilling, 200-foot water ride that combines the best of inner-tubing with a loop-de-loop bowl slide. According to Caribbean Travel+Life, “the entrance towers over the deck, and the tube shoots you out into that human-washing-machine-style drain that will leave your head spinning — and wanting more.”
1. MSC Cruises: MSC Divina
U.S. News and World Report (Travel) ranked the MSC Divina #1 out of 12 MSC cruise ships. Launched in May 2012, the vessel is not only the largest ship in the MSC fleet, but it also features the most ultra-luxurious amenities. Guest favorites include the Formula 1 racing simulator, 4D cinema, and exclusive MSC yacht club.
However, those 5-star attractions pale in comparison to the spectacular adult’s only infinity pool. The Zen-inspired Garden Pool has a tranquil, minimalist design. The pool features four Buddhist-like sculptures; each emits sounds from nature, so as passengers watch the edge of the pool seamlessly vanish into the horizon, they can also enjoy the Om-inducing relaxation provided by birdsong and waterfalls.