50 Things You Wouldn't Expect to Find on a Cruise Ship

Discover the most remarkable and unusual features at sea


Words by Dave Monk

Ask most people in the street what they’d expect to find on a cruise ship and they might guess restaurants, a theatre, bars and pools. But there is so much more – and even some experienced cruisers could be surprised by strolling the decks and finding a hidden Homer Simpson, a Tibetan prayer wheel, five-star dog kennels or an inglenook fireplace.

Here’s our pick of the 50 most unusual features on cruise ships today...

1. £18,000 bottle of wine

Be careful what you order from the wine list at French restaurant Remy aboard Disney Dream and Fantasy – because in the rack is a 1947 Château Cheval Blanc, priced at $25,000 (roughly £18,000) a pop (exactly as ordered by the food critic in Disney’s film Ratatouille, which inspired the restaurant).

Disney wine 1

2. Mellow submarines

Some expedition cruise ships are now equipped with minisubs that can dive 1,000ft below the surface (those aboard the upcoming Seabourn Venture even have champagne chillers). As well as a sub, Crystal Endeavor will also have an underwater camera that can capture images up to 2,000ft down.

Crystal Endeavor submarine

3. Inglenook fireplace

Former floating nuclear bunker Hebridean Princess has twice been chartered by the Queen. Part of its charm is the inglenook in the lounge – and although this is purely for decoration, some smaller Scottish boats do have wood-burning stoves.

Inglenook on Hebridean Princess

4. Hidden Homer Simpson

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 may be a grand transatlantic liner, but hidden somewhere in her ornate bronze panelling is a carving of everyone’s favourite dysfunctional dad. ‘We thought we’d introduce him as a fun element,’ says artist Ben Harms.

Homer

5. Buddhist prayer wheel

You can imagine the board meeting at Regent Seven Seas when someone said: ‘What this ship needs is a two-ton Tibetan prayer wheel.’ And so it came to pass that Seven Seas Explorer got the whopping £390,000 artwork in its Pacific Rim restaurant.

Tibetan prayer wheel

6. Floating gardens

Guests aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships can stroll through an onboard park with more than 50 trees and 20,000 plants, plus a ‘living wall’ of 10,000 more. Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships feature real lawns on the top deck and trees suspended above the Grand Foyer.

Harmony Central Park

7. Overhanging racetrack

Racers can reach 30mph as they whip electric go-karts round the track on Norwegian Joy, Bliss and Encore. The split-level circuit even extends 13ft over the side on Encore, much to thrill-seekers’ delight.

Norwegian Encore Go Kart Track

8. Film crews

Look smart, you might be on camera. Cruise ships make popular movie locations, featuring in the likes of Let Them All Talk (Meryl Streep aboard QM2) and Like Father (featuring Kelsey Grammer on Harmony of the Seas).

harmony of the seas

harmony of the seas

9. Roller coaster

Carnival’s Mardi Gras got there first, with a theme park-style ride for those brave enough to hurtle around an 800ft track at up to 40mph. But Dream Cruises’ upcoming 19-deck Global Dream will top even that, with the 994ft ‘Space Cruiser’.

Carnival Bolt

10. Real snow

Viking ocean ships have ‘snow grottos’ where real flakes fall in temperatures of -10C.
It certainly makes those saunas and the warm spa pool look all the more inviting.

Snow Grotto

11. Sightseeing helicopters

Many cruise ships have helipads in case of emergency. But some expedition vessels – including Scenic Eclipse, Quark Ultramarine and Crystal Endeavor – are now carrying their own ’copters for sightseeing trips and landings.

Scenic Eclipse Lemair Channel Roger Pimenta 21

12. Missing decks

Who wants a cabin on deck 13? That’s why on many cruise ships you walk up just one flight of stairs to go from deck 12 to 14. On MSC ships, deck 17 is absent because in Roman numerals that’s XVII – an anagram of ‘VIXI’, meaning ‘I lived’ or ‘my life is over’.

cruise-ship-deck

13. Ice bars

Don’t ask for your drink on the rocks at the ice bar on Norwegian Epic, Getaway or Breakaway – the waiter might give you a frosty stare. And wrap up warm because the entire bar – including the walls, seats and glasses – is made of frozen water.

Ncl Gtwy Ice Bar 1557

14. Talking turtle

It’s not the booze – that cartoon turtle really is talking to you. Crush, star of The Little Mermaid, swims around the windows of the Animator’s Palate restaurant on Disney Dream and Fantasy, chatting to astonished diners.

Disney turtle

15. Spectacular diving

Shows are no longer limited to inside stages since Royal Caribbean introduced AquaTheater on Oasis-class ships, where performers dive from a 30ft platform into an 18ft-deep pool.

Aquatheater RGB 11

16. £8,000-a-night luxury suites

Want to push the boat out? Book the top apartment on Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer or Splendor, where the $11,000 (£8,000) per night tariff gets you a £113,000 bed, a £390,000 piano and your own spa with a hot tub.

NB6281 Regent Splendor – Regent Suite SPA – View 2

17. Zombie apocalypse

They’re not the real thing, thankfully, but the experience of shooting the undead in a 3D cinema on an MSC Cruises ship can seem alarmingly authentic.

18. Broadway musicals

Let’s do the show right here – because entertainment on Royal Caribbean and NCL ships can include full-scale versions of Broadway and West End shows such as Grease, Mamma Mia!, Kinky Boots and Jersey Boys.

Kinky Boots 4

19. Relics of a ghost ship

French liner Normandie was the fastest ship of her day back in 1935. Sadly she was scrapped in 1946, but some of her panelling lives on in Celebrity Edge’s Normandie Restaurant.

Normandie panels on Edge

20. Tattoo parlours

Alongside drag queen brunches and Rock Star quarters – two with a table large enough to dance on – Virgin Voyages’ inaugural ship, Scarlet Lady, boasts a tattoo parlour. But don’t believe the hype about it being an industry first – that honour goes to the Polynesian passenger/cargo ship Aranui 5, homeported in Tahiti and launched in 2015.

21. Animated chefs

Eat at Le Petit Chef on Celebrity ships and, thanks to some digital wizardry, you can watch your meal being prepared by tiny animated cooks on your tablecloth. Don’t worry though – real staff serve the actual dish.

22. Walking the plank

Feeling brave? As part of the ropes course on some NCL ships, you can channel your inner pirate and step out over the side of the ship, balancing 160ft above the waves on a plank just six inches wide.

Plank Sunset

23. Undersea views

Sci-fi comes to life on Ponant expedition ships with the Blue Eye underwater lounges. Windows look out into the ocean while cameras play footage on screens. Even the sofas vibrate in tune to marine sounds.

Ponant underwater lounge Blue Eye

24. Sextant education

Cruise ships bristle with advanced technology, but there is still one 18th-century throwback on many bridges – a sextant. Designed to measure the angle of the sun, this finely calibrated navigational aid is still used by cadets and even sometimes by officers.

25. Zip lines

In a rush to grab that lounger by the pool? MSC Cruises can speed you along the deck with a 345ft zip line aboard MSC Seaside and Seaview. Royal Caribbean also offers a wire, high above the boardwalk on Oasis-class ships.

Zipline MSC Seaside

26. Bionic bartenders

Multilingual humanoid Rob will be the star of the futuristic Starship Club on MSC Virtuosa, telling jokes as he serves your favourite cocktail. On some Royal Caribbean ships, the twin bionic bar robots serve 1,000 drinks a day.

MSC Starship Club

27. Dodgem cars

Missing your motor while you’re at sea? Among the attractions on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships you’ll find a great British fairground favourite.

Dodgems

28. Michelin-starred chefs

From Mexican to Mongolian, pretty much any cuisine you fancy can be found in the speciality restaurants of the world’s cruise ships. And as for Michelin-starred chefs, P&O Cruises boasts Marco Pierre White, while Crystal Cruises has Nobu Matsuhisa.

Marcopierrewhite

29. Bowling alleys

Not an obvious fit for cruising, you might think – but the stability of today’s mega-ships
means you can’t blame the waves when your ball ends up in the gutter. Norwegian was the first to introduce the lanes, in 2007.

Ncl Pearl Public Bowling

30. Goats, rally cars and the Olympic torch

Aranui 5 is a cruise ship that also ferries cargo – including live horses, pigs and goats – around French Polynesia. In the northern hemisphere, Norwegian line Hurtigruten has carried rally cars – the drivers disembark at ports to race along the coast before rejoining the ship – and the torch for the 1994 Winter Olympics.

31. Shopping arcades

Passengers boarding some Royal Caribbean ships can’t believe it when they see a two-storey shopping arcade with a classic car. Carnival’s Mardi Gras will also have a 1972 Fiat taking pride of place in an indoor piazza.

32. A crystal cabin

If you love the atrium staircases decorated with Swarovski crystals on MSC Cruises’ ships, book cabin 16018 on MSC Bellissima, which is studded with 700,000 of these sparklers, including on the bedside tables and sideboard.

Swarovski stairs 2

33. Planetariums

As well as star-spotting on deck, passengers aboard QM2 can learn more about space in the ship’s planetarium – as can guests aboard Viking Orion.

QM2 planetarium copy

34. Skydiving and surfing

Can’t get enough of that adrenaline rush? On some Royal Caribbean ships you can float like a bird in a skydiving simulator or ride a board with 100,000 litres of water rushing towards you.

Skydiving

35. Gondolas

When Costa launched a ship called Venezia, what else could they do but equip it with authentic Venetian gondolas from the historic Squero di San Trovaso boatyard?

36. Darth Vader

The Force can be with you on Star Wars cruises aboard Disney ships. On other lines, you may bump into 80s icons on a music-themed voyage or even see more than you bargained for on a naturist charter.

Disney star wars

37. 10-storey slides

Beat the queue for the lift by shooting down 10 decks in just 15 seconds on the Ultimate Abyss. Pioneered on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, these twin stainless steel slides plunge 100ft from deck 16 all the way to deck six.

Harmony Abyss

38. A gin distillery

P&O Cruises’ new Iona will be bottling its own version of this ultra-fashionable spirit, thanks to an onboard distillery, developed with Salcombe Gin. If beer is more your tipple, plenty of ships, such as Carnival Vista, now brew their own ales.

Po gin Alun Callender Photo Salcombe Gin 025 0202 RT Supporting image for Iona s Marabelle Gin exclusive to P O Cruises in collaboration with Salcombe Distilling Co 12073613 1

39. The captain’s parrot

Captain Kim Tanner of Saga Cruises may not have a peg leg but he does own a parrot – a two-year-old macaw called Perla. Captain Kate McCue of Celebrity Edge goes to sea with a cat named Bug Naked, while pampered dogs crossing the pond in QM2’s kennels can cock their legs against a US fire hydrant or a lamp post from the Cunard Building in Liverpool.

Parrot 1 Kim Tanner and Perla

40. Billowing sails

Cruise ships come in all shapes and sizes, and some even have sails. The entire Star Clippers fleet are traditional tall ships, as are some Windstar vessels. New ones are being built, too – Golden Horizon and Sea Cloud Spirit both debut this year.

Golden Horizon Tradewinds
Sail aboard Golden Horizon – the world’s largest square-rigger

41. Say cheese

For the freshest food, pick the catch of the day from the Seafood Shack on Carnival ships and have it prepared by whichever restaurant you’re dining in. Or visit the mozzarella ‘factory’ on MSC Grandiosa for just-made cheese.

42. Virtual assistants

Want to know something about your ship? Just ask Zoe, the talking MSC Cruises device that sits in cabins and can answer 850 different questions in seven languages.

MSC Bellissima, ZOE Digital Personal Assistant

43. Abandoned space station

That’s the theme, at least, of the open-air laser tag course on Norwegian Bliss. Sister ship Norwegian Encore’s arena is dominated by a giant serpent rearing above ruined temples.

Laser tag on Norwegian Encore

44. Escape rooms

OK, we know it can be a puzzle simply finding your stateroom, but on some megaships the entertainment now includes escape rooms, where the aim of the game is to work your way out by solving clues. We love the astronomy theme on Independence of the Seas.

Observatorium escape room Independence

45. Taking the tube

Want to make a splash? The 765ft AquaDuck water coaster on Disney Dream and Fantasy carries riders on inflatable rings round a clear tube over the side of the ship, through the forward funnel and down a four-deck drop.

Disney Aquaduck

46. Cycle track 150ft above the sea

Go for a spin above the waves on Carnival Vista-class ships equipped with SkyRide – a pod that you pedal round a track suspended high above the top deck. It even juts out over the sea.

47. Virtual balconies

Booked an inside room? You can still enjoy a sea view thanks to the 80-inch HD screens showing real-time outside scenes on some Royal Caribbean ships.

48. Original Picassos

Art lovers can admire works by the great man on Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer and Splendor, as well as etchings by Queen Victoria aboard her Cunard namesake, and paintings by Edvard Munch across the Viking fleet. Holland America Line's fleet is also famed for its impressive artwork.

Holland America Line: art
'Die Old, Live Slow' by British Artist Miss Buggs

49. IMAX cinema

The three-deck screen made its debut on Carnival Vista, allowing audiences to enjoy movies on a huge scale.

IMAX 0891

50. Polar bear skull

A walrus tusk, black bear’s paw and polar bear skull are among the exhibits in the science centre aboard Hurtigruten’s Fridtjof Nansen.