by Teijo Niemela, Cruise Critic Contributor – March 24, 2009
Cruise ship sundecks are popular hangouts for most passengers, but over the years, they’ve also been the source of much controversy. We’ve all been there: longing for a nice, long nap in the Caribbean sunshine or a dip in a refreshing pool, only to find our peaceful mentality destroyed by chair hogs (people who reserve deck chairs, then disappear for hours, preventing you from finding an empty lounger), crowded whirlpools, and rowdy kids splashing away—not to mention incredibly juvenile pool games, hosted by the entertainment staff (hairy chest contest, anyone?).
But, as cruise ships become larger and lines compete to offer the most innovative onboard amenities, sundecks—the top-deck areas of ships, more traditionally used as magnets for daytime activities—are undergoing revolutionary changes. The simplistic “one deck, one pool” mindset of the 90s has given way to modern multipool complexes—including thalassotherapy pools, adult-only pools, kiddie pools, and even waterslides. Need personal space or an escape from the poolside hubbub? On Celebrity Solstice, you can chill out in a field of real grass on the top deck of the ship. And, on all three Oceania ships and Holland America’s (HAL) Eurodam, you can rent private cabanas.
The bottom line? Cruise lines are now designing pool areas that mirror on-land resorts—the best of which have always offered fabulous (and sometimes even fantastical) pool and sunning areas.
I note a few emerging trends:
The spa has headed outdoors. No longer are peaceful retreats and thalassotherapy pools hidden in the bowels of the spa. Princess’ newest ships (and, soon, all of its ships) offer a new twist on the concept with The Sanctuary. This area, housed all the way forward and encircling the Lotus Spa pool a deck below, features gorgeous Italian chaise lounges, two cabanas for alfresco massages, MP3 players (with mostly relaxing music) for rent, and a special healthy menu—with waiters to fetch the food and drink. It’s been so popular on Crown, Emerald, and Ruby Princess that it fills up fast—even with a $15 per half-day surcharge. Celebrity Solstice’s solarium is an adults-only oasis with soothing water features, peaceful whirlpools, and a main pool large enough for laps. Or, book a spa treatment on one of Oceania’s three ships, and you’ll get an hour’s access to a private sundeck with padded loungers and a thalassotherapy pool for some in-the-sun peace.
To solve cruisers’ number one pet peeve—overcrowded sundecks with no free lounge chairs—lines like Oceania and Holland America offer private cabanas for rent. On HAL’s Eurodam, you can choose from cabanas located poolside or in The Retreat, a sundeck exclusive to cabana renters. Inside your private tent, you’ll find wicker couches and chairs, complimentary snacks—like fruit skewers—and Evian spray misters. Oceania’s cabanas feature teak double loungers with terry-covered cushions, and waitstaff will bring in food from the poolside grill (including milkshakes!) or afternoon tea.
Sundecks have also turned into fun decks. Waterslides can be found on many Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Carnival ships (with more being added, thanks to Carnival’s Evolutions of Fun refurbishments). Royal Caribbean pioneered the concept of an onboard water park for kids on its Freedom-class ships, and even upscale Celebrity Solstice has a fountain, in which both adults and kids can cool off. Think that shuffleboard is the only fun thing to do top-of-ship? Now sundecks feature entire sports decks with rock-climbing walls, paddle tennis courts, life-size chess games, mini-golf and, on Royal Caribbean, onboard surfing.