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Check out These Extravagant Cruise-Ship Amenities

© Steve Dunlop Photographer

It’s possible that you decide to book cruises simply to see new destinations—but choose the right ship and you’ll also experience an exciting array of onboard amenities and activities. In recent years, cruise lines have been engaged in a game of creative one-upmanship as they’ve debuted everything from ice bars and culinary centers to 4D theaters and interior cabins with “virtual balconies.” Here are 20 fun cruise-ship amenties to look for the next time you say “bon voyage.”

Courtesy of Carlos Prio for
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Svedka and Inniskillin Ice Bar

Ship: Norwegian Getaway (with variations on Breakaway and Epic, too)

Experience: When it’s 90-plus degrees in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, venturing into the Svedka and Inniskillin Ice Bar seems mighty appealing. That’s because everything except the floor is carved from ice—even the glasses—and the temperature is a brisk 17 degrees. As you stand in your downy cape, sip one of six Svedka vodka and Inniskillin ice-wine cocktails with Florida-inspired names like Sittin’ on the Dock of Biscayne Bay and Key Largo Colada. Make sure to snap some photos in the bar’s Windex-blue glow.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Norwegian Cruise Line Review

Courtesy of MSC Cruises
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Aqua Cycling by Hydrorider

Ship: MSC Divina

Experience: Spin classes are nothing new on cruise ships, but only MSC has upped the fitness fun by offering a 60-minute session on stainless steel bikes, submerged in a pool, with a panoramic view of the horizon. Available several times daily, set to an energizing soundtrack, and led by enthusiastic fitness professionals, Aqua-Cycle classes are as refreshing as they are challenging—your own Tour de Splash.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s MSC Divina Review

© Steve Dunlop Photographer
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Ship: Royal Princess

Experience: See the sea—the Caribbean in winter and the Mediterranean in summer—from a new perspective as you stroll across this 60-foot glass-floored walkway that extends 28 feet beyond the starboard side of Royal Princess at a height of 128 feet above the water. Things get even more interesting if you settle in at the port side’s SeaView Bar, where turquoise waves dance below your feet as you sip your cocktail of choice.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Royal Princess Review

© Michel Verdure/Royal Caribbean
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Starbucks at Sea

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

Experience: Some habits are hard to give up while on vacation, so if your morning routine revolves around a venti skinny latte or a red eye in a paper cup with a familiar green-and-white mermaid logo, you can cruise and have your usual caffeine fix, too. The first Starbucks at sea debuted in the Royal Promenade of Allure of the Seas and will gladly be your go-to eye-opener if regular old coffee won’t suffice.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Allure of the Seas Review

Deborah Jones Studio
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Bon Appetit Culinary Center

Ship: Oceania Riviera and Marina

Experience: If you’re a foodie who can’t go a week without getting hands-on in the kitchen, sign up for regionally themed classes—such as Gloriously Modern Greek, Magical Morocco, and Beyond Ratatouille—in the state-of-the-art Bon Appétit Culinary Center. More than two-dozen options are offered (they vary by cruise itinerary) and 12 cook stations beckon anyone who wants to return home with a few new recipes to show off.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Oceania Cruises Review

Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line
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Virtual Balcony and Porthole

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas and Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic

Experience: File this under the “why didn’t they think of that sooner?” category. If your budget is tight or you’ll be traveling with small children and want to avoid a balcony stateroom, you can book an interior cabin and, thanks to a real-time high-definition video feed on the newly renovated Navigator of the Seas and Disney Magic, see the view outside at any time. Disney even adds some magical special effects with its characters.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Navigator of the Seas and Disney Magic Reviews

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean
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Studio B Ice Rink

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

Experience: The “chill” entertainment venue Studio B is also available on select other ships, including Oasis of the Seas and Voyager-class vessels. It does triple duty as the site of ice shows featuring professional skaters (Dreamworks’ popular How to Train Your Dragon), Ice Games (where skaters bring a Monopoly board to life), and open-skating sessions for young and not-so-young alike, with skates provided.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Royal Caribbean International Review

(c) Tim Bieber 2011/Celebrity
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Molecular Bar

Ship: Celebrity Reflection (and all Celebrity ships)

Experience: Now a fleet-wide amenity, this flashy bar serves a visually intoxicating array of handcrafted cocktails created by “The Liquid Chef” Junior Merino. Bartenders mix up artisanal cocktails designed to enhance naturally occurring molecular structures in juices and liquors and produce a unique—and delicious—flavor profile. It’s as much fun to watch cocktails being made at Molecular Bar as it is to drink them.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Celebrity Cruises Review

© Michel Verdure/Royal Caribbean
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Hand-Carved Carousel

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas

Experience: Your brain will bliss out on beachside nostalgia as calliope music plays and you ride one of 18 wooden animals—not just horses but also giraffes, zebras, and lions. These traditional carousels (the only two at sea) are located in the lively outdoor Boardwalk neighborhood on both of Royal Caribbean’s twin megaships.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Royal Caribbean International Review

Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines
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Ship: Norwegian Getaway

Experience: Prepare to be dazzled as kitschy opening dialogue vanishes into thin air, when five time-traveling “masters of magic” from the past perform astonishing tricks and illusions. They compete against a double-entendre-dropping magician wannabe for control of the quirky Illusionarium, which is the setting for this entertaining dinner theater. You’ll eat (plentiful tomato-mozzarella-prosciutto salad and decent surf ‘n turf), drink (cocktails and wine) and applaud this fun, nostalgic, and mind-bending show.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Norwegian Getaway Review

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4D Cinema

Ship: MSC Divina, Fantasia, Splendida, Magnifica and Preziosa

Experience: You don’t have to disembark to enjoy a theme park-like thrill—simply test out the “motion ride experience” of this 10-seat theater. As you strap in and watch a 3D movie, you’ll experience sounds, special wind effects, and seat movement that virtually recreate one of four exciting experiences, including riding a roller coaster.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s MSC Cruises Review

Courtesy of NCL
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Sauna with a View

Ship: Norwegian Epic

Experience: Saunas can be soothing—but not so much for those who are claustrophobic. That’s not an issue in the fabulous sauna with a view located in the Mandara Spa (the largest at sea) onboard Norwegian Epic. The spa is designed with floor-to-ceiling windows that let you take in a panorama of glimmering ocean or scenic coastline as your muscles absorb the healing dry heat.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Norwegian Epic Review

Katherine Wessel/Royal Caribbean
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The Rising Tide Bar

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

Experience: Sip a mojito or cosmopolitan on Deck 5 at the world’s first moving bar at sea—a sleek, elevator-like, open-air capsule. It ever so slowly rises to Deck 8 and descends back down again, between the lively Central Park and Royal Promenade neighborhoods on Royal Caribbean’s largest ship (it beats sister Oasis of the Seas by a few inches).

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Allure of the Seas Review

Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines
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Carnival LIVE Concert Series

Ship: Carnival Breeze, Ecstasy, Fantasy, Fascination, and others

Experience: Forget cover bands—starting in April 2014 you can enjoy concerts by bands and performers with chart-topping albums (Chicago, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Jewel, Lady Antebellum, Gavin DeGraw, and Jennifer Hudson to name a few). The Carnival LIVE Concert Series debuts on select sailings of a dozen Carnival ships to the Caribbean and Mexico.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Carnival Cruise Lines Review

Tim Bieber/Celebrity
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Lawn Club Grill

Ship: Celebrity Solstice, Reflection, Silhouette, Eclipse, and Equinox

Experience: Yes, it’s real grass on this unique Deck 15 feature found on all of Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships. The relaxing green expanse is edged by the Alcoves cabanas and the Lawn Club Grill (a fun venue where one person in your party dons an apron and grills the steaks you’ll eat for dinner). The restaurant is also flanked by bocce ball courts that lead to the sublime Sunset Bar. Pack flats and wedges to hang out here.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Celebrity Cruises Review

Courtesy of Princess Cruise Lines
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Water and Light Show

Ship: Royal Princess

Experience: The Water & Light Show isn’t as big a spectacle as the dancing fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, but this 85-jet water-and-light installation on the pool deck creates a wonderfully shimmering 33-foot-high cascade of sound and color during four separate choreographed sequences with live performers. It’s especially fun during sail away as everyone gathers on deck, cocktails in hand.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Royal Princess Review

Courtesy of Crystal Cruises
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Vertical Herb Garden

Ship: Crystal Serenity

Experience: If your dinner menu onboard just-renovated Crystal Serenity says a dish features “fresh herbs,” it means they truly are. That’s because they were in all likelihood just picked by the chef from a new herb garden planted as part of vertical “living walls” of plants on the Lido Deck. And you can expect to see a few olive trees onboard, too.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Crystal Serenity Review

© Michel Verdure/Royal Caribbean
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Cantilevered Whirlpools

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas

Experience: When you say you’re going to hang out in the hot tub onboard Allure of the Seas or Oasis of the Seas, you actually mean it—two of each of the ship’s 10 whirlpools are cantilevered, so they hang over the edge and offer great ocean views. They are large but popular, so grab a cocktail, stake out your water jet, and prepare to make new friends.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Royal Caribbean International Review

Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
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Largest Ropes Course at Sea

Ship: Norwegian Getaway (Breakaway, too)

Experience: If you’re seeking something a bit more novel than, say, reading a novel, try the largest ropes course at sea with 40 challenging elements, including a zip track. It’s part of a three-level Aqua Park and Sports Complex on Norwegian’s two newest ships, and it will test your strength and balance—not to mention burn off some of those cocktail calories. If that’s not extreme enough, you can also walk The Plank, which extends eight feet beyond the side of the ship.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Norwegian Cruise Line Review

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean
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Bumper Cars, RipCord by iFly, and North Star

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas

Experience: After offering a carousel, a skating rink, a surf simulator, and other gee-whiz amenities on its Oasis-class ships, Royal Caribbean plans to up the ante later this year when Quantum of the Seas debuts with an actual bumper car ride (with 30 cars), RipCord by iFLY (the first sky-diving simulator at sea), and North Star (a jewel-shaped capsule that will be hoisted 300 feet into the air for a 15-minute panorama). Quantum of the Seas sets sail in November 2014.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Quantum of the Seas Review