The 6 best cruise ship waterslides and watery fun zones
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Call it the Battle of the Waterslides.
In the last few years, the big boys of the cruise industry — Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line — have been locked in a game of oneupmanship when it comes to waterslides and watery fun zones on vessels.
In addition to such over-the-top new attractions as go-kart tracks and (soon) a roller coaster, the brands behind the biggest megaresorts at sea have been packing the top decks of their vessels with ever more over-the-top watery allures.
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Royal Caribbean, for instance, just added an 800-foot-long “water coaster” to the back of its 3,386-passenger Navigator of the Seas. It’s just one of nearly two dozen giant waterslides that the line has added to more than half a dozen ships in the last four years.
As recently as early 2016, Royal Caribbean didn’t have a single waterslide on any of its vessels.
MSC Cruises also has gone big in just the past four years with giant waterparks with as many as four waterslides on its five newest vessels. Norwegian has loaded up its seven most recent ships with giant waterparks, too — some with as many as five waterslides!
Not to be outdone, Carnival, an early adopter of waterslides on ships, has added sprawling waterpark areas with multiple waterslides to almost every vessel in its fleet.
A brief history of water attractions at sea
In the beginning, there was the pool. As watery cruise ship attractions go, it has long been the staple — something found on just about every cruise vessel going back to the 1970s.
But as early as 1978, at least one line was spicing up its Lido decks with a little waterslide fun — little being the operative word. That’s the year Carnival added a single slide into the pool on its 728-passenger Festivale — a slide so small that it’s now hilarious to think it was touted as an attraction.
Often cited as the first waterslide ever on a cruise vessel, the Festivale slide was of a sort that was found at backyard pools at the time. The cruise industry was still in its infancy, of course, and ships were orders of magnitude smaller than they are today. Festivale measured just 32,697 tons, about one-seventh the size of today’s biggest cruise vessels.
Carnival, the so-called Fun Ship line, would go on to become the early leader in waterslides at sea. The 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy, which debuted in 1990, was the first cruise ship with a significant water slide. It measured 115 feet in length.
Just six years later, in 1996, Carnival would make news with the unveiling of a 214-foot-long corkscrew waterslide on what then was called Destiny (the ship currently sails as the Carnival Sunshine after being rebuilt in 2013). At the time, Destiny was the biggest cruise ship in the world.
In more recent years, Carnival has gone into waterslide-building overdrive. The line has added full-blown waterpark areas with waterslides, watery play zones and other features to 23 of its 27 ships. Every Carnival ship now has at least one waterslide.
One of the Carnival waterparks, on the line’s two-year-old Carnival Horizon, even has Disney-style theming revolving around Dr. Seuss characters.
Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean only began going big with waterslides on ships in the past decade. Many of the newest vessels from the brands boast massive waterpark areas. Some of the brands are retrofitting big waterslides onto older ships, too.
In addition, family-focused Disney Cruise Line now has major water attractions on all its vessels.
Where you’ll find the biggest waterslides at sea
If your idea of the perfect cruise ship is one loaded to the gills with waterslides and watery fun zones (plus all sorts of other over-the-top decktop attractions), you’ll want to stick to the very biggest floating megaresorts operated by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC Cruises and Carnival.
At Royal Caribbean, that means the giant Oasis Class vessels, which include Symphony of the Seas — the world’s largest cruise ship. At Norwegian, you’ll find the biggest waterslides and waterparks on the line’s recently built Breakaway Plus-, Breakaway- and Epic-class ships. At MSC Cruises, the new Seaside-, Meraviglia- and Meraviglia Plus-class vessels have the line’s big waterparks.
Big lines that have steered clear of the waterpark-at-sea trend include Princess Cruises, Holland America and Celebrity Cruises. Geared more to couples than families, and skewing toward an older demographic, all three of those lines have stuck to a more subdued feel for the outdoor areas of their ships. The top decks of vessels operated by Princess, Holland America and Celebrity still mostly revolve around traditional swimming areas with pools, hot tubs and lounge chairs.
Ready for a splashy, top-deck thrill? These are the most spectacular watery attractions at sea:
The Perfect Storm
Where you’ll find it: Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas
This isn’t just one giant waterslide; it’s a whole complex of waterslides, each one among the most exciting you’ll find anywhere on the world’s oceans.
Found on three of Royal Caribbean’s massive Oasis Class vessels — Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas — as well as the smaller Liberty of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas, the complex includes two four-deck-high “racer” slides called Cyclone and Typhoon where you can do side-by-side speed tests with your travel partner.
On the three Oasis Class ships, there’s also a third, Champagne bowl-style slide called Supercell. It’ll swirl you around a big basin before plummeting you “down the drain” into a plunge pool. On Liberty of the Seas, a third slide called The Tidal Wave sends you screaming down a steep hill on an inner tube to a nearly vertical incline. Zooming upward, topping out and dropping back, you’ll get a blissful moment of complete weightlessness.
Note that Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas also has a waterslide area called Perfect Storm — but it’s completely different. More on that in a moment.
Where you’ll find it: Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas
This is the Big Daddy of waterslides at sea — at 800 feet, it’s the longest ever built on a cruise ship. Added to Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas just last year, it’s a seemingly endless stretch of yellow and orange tubing that winds around the back deck of the vessel like a snake.
A true sight to behold, The Blaster is so long because it’s what’s known as a water coaster. It features water jets that propel you up, down and forward — extending the ride — as you careen around the ship’s basketball court and surfing simulator in an inner tube. At times, you go flying over the side of the ship, over open water. Not that you have much time to get the view.
Royal Caribbean has given the area on Navigator of the Seas where The Blaster is located the name Perfect Storm — the same name it has used for waterslide areas on five other ships. But the area is completely different than what you’ll find on the other vessels. In addition to The Blaster, it includes a headfirst mat racer slide called Riptide — the first of its kind at sea.
Where you’ll find it: Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream
Leave it to family-focused Disney Cruise Line to come up with what just may be the coolest watery family attraction at sea. Like The Blaster on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, AquaDuck — found on Disney’s two newest ships — is a water coaster. But don’t expect anything too white-knuckle. Relatively gentle by water ride standards, it’s designed for kids of almost all ages (and their parents, who can ride along on inner tubes for two).
While AquaDuck is slightly shorter than The Blaster at 765 feet in length, it has a bigger presence, thanks to its prime location encircling the main pool area. If you’re lounging up top, it’s hard to miss the massive, clear acrylic tubing, held up by 46 giant white stilts.
In addition to AquaDuck, the two Disney ships with the attraction — Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream — have a relatively small, kiddie-friendly water slide next to the centrally located Mickey’s Pool. Dubbed Mickey’s Slide, it’s held up by a giant Mickey hand, which is delightful. Both ships also have a watery play zone for toddlers called Nemo’s Reef. In addition, Disney Fantasy has a watery fun zone with water jets, geysers and bubblers called AquaLab.
Where you’ll find it: On 23 of Carnival’s 27 ships
When it comes to waterslides on ships, cruise giant Carnival is still the undisputed king. The Fun Ship line began adding them to vessels way back in 1978, and there’s now at least one waterslide on every ship in the Carnival fleet — something no other line can say.
On the vast majority of Carnival ships, there’s not just a single waterslide but a whole waterpark area. Dubbed WaterWorks, these areas vary in size and features from vessel to vessel, but they typically have one or two big waterslides, a watery play zone with interactive water features and a large continuously filling dump bucket that periodically soaks everybody within range.
You’ll typically find the biggest Carnival waterslides on the newest Carnival ships, such as the just-unveiled Carnival Panorama. Some measure up to 445 feet in length and come with dazzling visual effects.
Aqua Park (Norwegian Cruise Line)
Where you’ll find it: Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore
Norwegian Cruise Line began going big with waterslides in 2010, with the debut of Norwegian Epic. And boy did it go big. Norwegian Epic offers three monster waterslides, including the thrilling Epic Plunge — a 200-foot-long tube ride that ends in a swirling bowl. Epic Plunge is part of Norwegian Epic’s Aqua Park, the first water park on a Norwegian ship. Norwegian has since added Aqua Parks to six more new vessels, including the recently unveiled Norwegian Encore.
Norwegian’s Aqua Parks vary in size and attractions from ship to ship. But some of them, such as the one on Norwegian Breakaway, have as many as five separate, multistory waterslides. Yes, you read that right: Five waterslides on a cruise ship! On the Norwegian Breakaway, the lineup includes twin “free fall” slides that drop passengers nearly straight down several stories; two side-by-side twisting “racer” slides; and a family-friendly slide with a more modest drop. For sheer variety, the complex is hard to beat.
Aqua Park (MSC Cruises)
Where you’ll find it: MSC Seaview, MSC Seaside, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa
Fast-growing MSC Cruises has joined the waterslide wars in just the last few years. Each of the five ships the line has unveiled since 2017 offers a full-blown waterpark on its top deck packed with waterslides and other watery fun.
Typical is the Aqua Park on the North America-based MSC Seaside, which has four waterslides and a children’s play area with interactive water features. The waterslides include two massive, 525-foot-long duelling slides that extend over the sides of the ship. Note that the very top of the Aqua Park on MSC Seaside also is home to the liftoff point for a zip line that soars 344 feet across the top of the vessel.
Other MSC Cruises waterparks at sea include the winter-themed Polar Aqua Park on MSC Meraviglia, which offers a suspended-in-the-sky ropes course in addition to four water slides. There’s also an “aquaplay” area for the little ones.
In all, nine of MSC Cruises’ 17 vessels now have at least one waterslide on their top decks.
Waterslide fans can find an ever-growing array of seriously big waterslides on cruise ships. More than two dozen vessels now feature full-blown waterpark areas featuring at least two and sometimes up to five big waterslides on their top decks.
Featured image courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.
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