By Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)
The warm summer months of cruising mean even more time to enjoy top-deck activities on the cruise ships. While for many years that meant lounging by the pool, recent years have brought on more thrilling experiences including the proliferation of the water park.
A signature water park with extreme water slides has been one way for cruise ships to set themselves apart.
Disney Cruise Line, for instance, introduced the AquaDuck water coaster on its Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships. That ride sends one or two people on floats through 765 feet of clear acrylic tubing around the top deck, through the ship’s forward funnel, and eventually dropping down four decks into a lazy river at the end. The ride commands hour-long waits on busy days on board. On the older, smaller Disney Magic, the line offered up a more thrilling eight-second ride called the AquaDunk that drops riders through bomb-bay doors and shoots them down and out over the side of the ship for a fleeting view of the ocean below.
The trend has meant cruise lines have had to up their game on new ships coming to market.
MSC Preziosa, for instance, which debuted in 2013, holds the record for longest single-rider body slide at sea, a 390-foot-long twisting slide with strobe effects.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Miami-bound Norwegian Escape, due in October, will boast the largest water park at sea with four water slides. The marquee rides will be the side-by-side Free Fall slides, which also feature bomb-bay door drops, and a new tandem slide called Aqua Racer in which two riders can hop on a single raft down a large tube and see which one comes out first. The Free Fall is also featured on the Norwegian Breakaway and the Norwegian Getaway along with The Whip, two twister slides that spiral down from three decks up.
Also on the horizon is Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, which is due in April 2016 and will make its way to Port Everglades, Florida. The new Oasis-class ship will feature the line’s first foray into adult-oriented water slides. Previously, Royal Caribbean ships had opted for other watery thrills such as the FlowRider.
“They didn’t want to be, ‘Well look, we’ve got a slide and now we can check off that box,’ ” said Josh Martin, president of Orlando, Florida-based Aquatic Design & Engineering, which has partnered with longtime Royal Caribbean designers Wilson Butler Architects to produce the new water park. “They wanted something unique but (that) fitted the Royal brand. This is something that feels like it should have always been here. It’s something that mixes well and provides engagement.”
While many ships look outward for their slides, Royal’s design looks inward, with all three multistory slides branching out ten decks above the Oasis-class’ signature space Central Park with plans to have parts of the slides built with see-through tubing.
“We’ve done that to provide that sense of danger and excitement,” Martin said.
All three slides will be single-rider body slides, meaning no tubes or mats. One of them will have a bowl feature in which the rider gets to feel what it’s like to go down a drain, joining the Norwegian Epic as the only ships with that type of slide at sea.
For Carnival’s part, the line’s WaterWorks play areas feature several intense options from ship to ship. The Dream-class ships feature both the Drain Pipe, which is similar to a bowl water slide, but without the final drop, as well as the Speedway Splash, a side-by-side set of long-distance, twisting racing tubes with lighting effects that was also installed on the Carnival Sunshine. Each of Carnival’s 24 Fun Ships feature at least one water slide while most feature the WaterWorks play area with multiple slide options. Three of the line’s four Spirit-class ships feature the Green Thunder, another bomb-bay door slide.
For its newest ship, Carnival Vista, which is also heading for Miami in 2016, the centerpiece will be a raft-riding slide called the Kaleid-O-Slide that sends riders down a 455-foot twisted, visually stimulating tube that looks a bit like a colored Slinky stretched out and curled around.
So while new cruise ships will try to land customers by rolling out wow features such as skydiving simulators, microbreweries, and IMAX theaters, there’s an ongoing game of wet one-upmanship going on with their water parks.
“It’s become a new staple,” Martin said.
Photo: Peter Lee via Flickr