Innovations at sea: Cruise lines up the ante for onboard entertainment

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Indoor activities are as plentiful as outdoor ones. Norwegian made a big splash with the first bowling alley at sea on the Norwegian Pearl. The ship's rocking doesn't affect the bowling balls much, but you can blame your gutterballs on it anyway.

Other incredible activities include ice skating on Royal Caribbean's indoor rinks and simulated race-car driving on the Costa Concordia. (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on December 26, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Costa Cruises, cruise, Erica Silverstein, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess, Royal Caribbean Cruises, spa.

The neon-orange bowling ball had the right heft, so I strode forward, released, and watched the ball roll away from the glowing pins and straight into the gutter. From the red velvet seats at the end of the lane, my teammates shouted encouragement. "We swear, the ship just rolled to the left," they said. "We're going to call the captain and tell him to stop messing up your game." I returned to find solace in my margarita and spring rolls.

Last year, who'd have thought I'd be bowling onboard a cruise ship? Come to think of it, I never imagined that cruisers would be surfing, boxing, or living in the spa, either. As 2006 comes to a close, passengers can do all of the above while at sea. These innovations enhance your onboard experience and ensure that sea days will never be dull.

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Think cruising is staid and old-fashioned? Think again. Costa, Princess, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean have introduced cutting-edge amenities to their ships over the past year that will blow your mind. Whether you like a lot of onboard activities or prefer to bliss out while sailing, you can find a ship that caters to your personality in ways you never thought possible.

Costa: Race-car driving simulator and Spa Sanctuary cabins

The Costa Concordia debuted this spring with innovations to please both genders. While anyone can take advantage of any onboard amenity, guys are flocking to the Grand Prix race-car driving simulator, while women are spending their money at the largest spa at sea.

The driving simulator is the same size as an actual Grand Prix car, and lets guests test their high-speed racing skills. The car moves and shakes in response to the movements of the steering wheel. Participants choose one of three levels of difficulty, and race against virtual competitors that they can see on plasma TV panels. Friends can watch the "race" from the Bar Scuderia Costa and shout encouragement. To use the simulator, guests are charged 15 euros (about $20, see xe.com for the latest exchange rates) for three minutes, 28 euros for seven minutes, 33 euros for 10 minutes, or 38 euros for 13 minutes.

The ship's Samsara Spa is currently the largest at sea. The most innovative aspects of the spa are the 55 Spa Sanctuary cabins and 12 suites that have direct private access to the spa. These rooms are designed differently from typical cabins, and feature flat-screen TVs and special Elemis bath products. In addition, guests in the spa rooms receive unlimited access to the Thalassotherapy pool, two free fitness classes, a wellness consultation, two treatments, two sun-lamp sessions in the Solarium, and an invitation to a tea ceremony. This spa package is included in the cost of the cruise, and upgrades are available.

Norwegian: Onboard bowling

The Bliss Ultra Lounge on the Norwegian Pearl is unlike any bowling alley you've ever been to. Mood lighting, velvet lounge chairs and beds, and a full bar have replaced the harsh lights, plastic benches, and cheap beer for which most bowling alleys are infamous. A sparkling dance floor takes center stage in this bordello-themed room, and divided among the two sides of the room are four bowling lanes offering 10-pin fun.

Unless the ship is rocking hard, your bowling game won't be affected by the rolling of the seas (although you can always blame your gutter balls on the ship, like my teammates did). Neon-colored bowling balls come in a variety of weights, and red-and-blue bowling shoes complete the experience. The pins glow in the black light and music videos play at the end of each lane. A computerized scoring system means no one has to keep tally and no one can be accused of cheating. Each game costs $5 per person.

On my cruise, the Bliss Ultra Lounge was pretty quiet during the day but crowded at night, so plan your playtime with that in mind. Don't forget to pack your polyester bowling shirt.

Princess: The Sanctuary

Imagine a place where screaming children and fights over deck chairs cannot penetrate—a place where guests relax among Zen decor or get an on-deck massage in a private cabana, where discreet Serenity Stewards pass out cool towels and refreshing beverages on hot days. That place is the Sanctuary.

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