Many cruise lines publish a daily schedule of events, listing all of your entertainment options. It becomes the equivalent of your daily newspaper, delivered to your cabin every evening.
You will probably want to get a sense of what a typical day on board will be like before you sail. To see a sample daily events schedule, it's possible to call the cruise line and request a recent copy of the onboard newsletter. Some cruise lines also send out booklets detailing the daily schedules before sailing.
On ocean liners, the main entertainment lounge or showroom schedules nightly musical revues, magic acts, comedy performances, and variety shows. During the rest of the day the room is used for group activities, such as shore-excursion talks or bingo games.
Generally, the larger the ship, the bigger and more impressive the productions. Newer ships have elaborate showrooms that often span two decks. Some are designed like an amphitheater while others have two levels -- a main floor and a balcony. Seating is sometimes in clusters of armchairs set around cocktail tables. Other ships have more traditional theater-style seating.
Many larger ships have a second showroom. Entertainment and ballroom dancing may go on here late into the night. Elsewhere you may find a disco, nightclub, or cabaret, usually built around a bar and dance floor. Music is provided by a piano player, a disc jockey, or by small performing ensembles such as country-and-western duos or jazz combos. On smaller ships the entertainment options are more limited, sometimes consisting of no more than a piano around which passengers gather. There may be a main lounge where scaled-down revues are staged.
All but the smallest vessels have a room for screening movies. On older ships and some newer ones, this is often a genuine cinema-style movie theater. On other ships, it may be just a multipurpose room. The films are frequently one or two months past their first release but not yet available on videotape or cable TV. Films rated "R" are edited to minimize sex and violence. On a weeklong voyage, a dozen different films may be screened, each one repeated at various times during the day. Theaters are also used for lectures, religious services, and private meetings.
Many shipboard libraries also stock videotapes that can be played on the in-cabin VCR's. Almost all ships these days show recently released movies on their closed-circuit television systems. Some also show satellite news programming like CNN International, which has become standard fare on most in-cabin TVs.
Once a ship is 12 miles off American shores, it is in international waters and gambling is permitted. (Some "cruises to nowhere," in fact, are little more than sailing casinos.) All ocean liners, as well as many cruise yachts and motor-sailing ships, have casinos. Larger vessels usually provide such table games as poker, baccarat, blackjack, roulette, and craps. On most ships the maximum bet is $200; some ships allow $500.
Payouts on the slot machines (some of which take as little as a nickel) are generally much lower, too. Credit is never extended, but many casinos have handy credit-card machines that dispense cash for a hefty fee. Casinos are usually open from early morning to late night, although you may find only unattended slot machines before evening. In adherence to local laws, casinos are always closed while in port.
Most ships have a game or card room with card tables and board games. These rooms are for serious players and are often the site of friendly round-robin competitions and tournaments. Most ships furnish everything for free (cards, chips, games, and so forth), but a few charge $1 or more for each deck of cards. Be aware that professional cardsharps and hustlers have been fleecing ship passengers almost as long as there have been ships.
There are small video arcades on most medium and large ships. Family-oriented ships often have a computer-learning center as well.
All but the smallest ships have at least one pool, some of them elaborate affairs with water slides or retractable roofs; hot tubs and whirlpools are quite common.
Pools may be filled with fresh or salt water; some ships have one of each. While in port or during rough weather, the pools are usually emptied or covered with canvas. Many are too narrow or too short to allow swimmers more than a few strokes in any direction; none have diving boards, and not all are heated. Often there are no lifeguards. Wading pools are sometimes provided for small children.
The top deck is usually called the Sun Deck or Sports Deck. On some ships this is where you'll find the pool or whirlpool; on others it is dedicated to volleyball, table tennis, shuffleboard, and other sports. A number of ships have paddle-tennis courts, and a few have golf driving ranges. (Skeet shooting is fast becoming a thing of the past on cruise ships; when available it's usually offered at the stern of a lower deck.) Often, at twilight or after the sun goes down, the Sun Deck is used for dancing, barbecues, limbo contests, or other social activities.
EXERCISE FACILITIES & SPAS
Most newer ships and some older ones have well-equipped fitness centers, many with massage, sauna, and whirlpools. An upper-deck fitness center often has a view of the sea; an inside, lower-deck health club is often dark and small unless it is equipped with an indoor pool or beauty salon.
Many ships have full-service exercise rooms with bodybuilding equipment, stationary bicycles, rowing machines, treadmills, aerobics classes, and personal fitness instruction. Some ships even have structured, cruise-length physical-fitness programs, which may include lectures on weight loss or nutrition. These often are tied in with a spa menu in the dining room.
Spas have become increasingly popular on cruises. They may have giant thalasso therapy pools (a combination Jacuzzi and massage), indoor heated swimming pools, and treatment rooms. The list of treatments may include iono therapy, aroma therapy, hydrotherapy, and reflexology. The spas may also sell beauty products not available at home.
Many vessels designate certain decks for fitness walks and may post the number of laps per mile. Fitness instructors may lead daily walks around the Promenade Deck. A number of ships discourage jogging and running on the decks or ask that no one take fitness walks before 8 AM or after 10 PM, so as not to disturb passengers in cabins. With the advent of the megaship, walking and jogging have in many cases moved up top to tracks on the Sun or Sports deck.
A small number of ships have no room service at all, except when the ship's doctor orders it for an ailing passenger. Many offer only breakfast (Continental on some, full on others), while others provide no more than a limited menu at certain hours of the day. Most, however, have certain selections that you can order at any time. Some luxury ships have unlimited round-the-clock room service. There usually is no charge for room service, other than for beer, wine, or spirits.
An increasing number of ships equip their more expensive cabins with small refrigerators or mini bars stocked with snacks, soft drinks, and liquors, which may or may not be free.
All but the smallest ships and shortest cruises offer laundry services - full-service, self-service, or both. Use of machines is usually free. Valet laundry service includes cabin pickup and delivery and usually takes 24 hours. Most ships also offer dry-cleaning services.
Even the smallest ships have a hairdresser on staff. Larger ships have complete beauty parlors, and some have barbershops. Book hairdressers well in advance, especially before such popular events as the farewell dinner.
The staff photographer, a near-universal fixture on cruise ships, records every memorable, photogenic moment. The thousands of photos snapped over the course of a cruise are publicly displayed in special cases every morning and are offered for sale. If you want a special photo, the photographer is usually happy to oblige. Many cruise ships will also process your film overnight.
Most ships provide nondenominational religious services on Sundays and religious holidays, and a number offer daily Catholic masses and Friday-evening Jewish services. The kind of service held depends upon the clergy the cruise line invites on board. Religious services are usually held in the library, the theater, or one of the private lounges, although a few ships have actual chapels.
Most ships have a daily newsletter with news, headlines, selected stock quotes, and sports scores. Many staterooms are equipped with televisions and telephones. You can also place calls through the ship's radio officer while at sea. In addition, most ships have fax capabilities, and a growing number are adding computer cafes with Internet access for e-mail communication. The cost of any message can be expensive, up to $16 per minute.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Are there any special educational programs on board?
Many cruise lines feature an extensive program of ship-board seminars to enrich the shore excursions. Sometimes a distinguished guest offers special programs on such topics as Renaissance art, strategic financial planning, or the epicurean secrets of classic French cuisine.
Will I get bored?
Boredom will not be a problem! Cruise ships are floating resorts with all the choices fine resorts have to offer. Join in exercise or dance classes; enter a sports contest. Practice your tennis stroke or golf swing, or enjoy the fresh air on the jogging deck. You can swim, stretch out in the sauna, or work out in the gym. It will probably take you two or three days just to discover everything that's on board, especially on one of the larger ships.
You can also see a feature film, attend an enrichment lecture by experts, play backgammon or bridge. And that's just when you're on board! You have the added adventures of exploring many exciting ports of call.
Looking for a little relaxation? Being at sea gives you a feeling of total freedom that no land-based resort can offer. Lie back in a lounge chair and breathe in the sea air. Soak up the sun while reading a good book. Or just watch the ever-changing seascape. You don't have to do a thing.
What is there to do at night?
When the stars come out, a cruise ship really lights up. Choose from dancing and parties in the nightclubs, discos, and lounges, live entertainment on stage, and feature films in the theater. On most ships you can also try your luck in the casino.
There are special events like the Captain's Cocktail Party, Passenger Talent Night, Broadway-style shows, and Las Vegas-type revues. And there is no charge for the entertainment - no cover, no minimum, and no admission fee. The shows are live, films are first-rate, and it's all included in your cruise fare.
© 2002 Cruise Lines International Association