When Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas came Down Under for the first time, people wondered if anyone would bother getting off the ship in port. Why? Because it could take about a week to try out all the various entertainment options and activities onboard. But you don't need to sail on a 5,000-passenger ship to get the most from your days at sea. Any ship will do if you're content to spend your time passed out on a sun lounger.
Those who do want a mix of action and relaxation should know that it's key to pick the right ship -- and the right itinerary. Australia is a long way from pretty much everywhere else and therefore an ideal jumping-off point for fans of consecutive sea days. It takes two to three days to get to the South Pacific or New Zealand, while repositioning cruises can sail for a week without a port of call.
Now that you know what to look for, here's our selection of the best ships for days at sea. We chose our favourites based on their variety of onboard attractions -- both indoors and out -- to keep cruisers of all ages entertained.
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1. Ovation of the Seas
Ovation of the Seas is the largest cruise ship to call Australia home and, given the vast array of entertainment options, challenges anyone to be bored onboard,. With 17 dining options, multiple bars (including one staffed by dancing robots), live performance venues and free activities such as roller skating, bumper cars and a skydiving simulator, the ship all but guarantees passengers will have something to do.
There are three pools (including a tiered glass-covered solarium lagoon resembling a tropical jungle) plus the fleet's largest Splashaway Bay water play area for kids, with features such as sea creature water cannons, slides and a giant drench bucket. Ovation also has the North Star, a panoramic glass capsule on Deck 15 that is attached to a giant mechanical arm, which gently raises it to 90 metres (300 feet) above sea level, providing 360-degree views of the surrounding seascape or ports of call.
The most exciting and innovative indoor fun can be found at the SeaPlex, a multi-use indoor arena spanning the top two decks, which can be converted from a basketball court into a roller-skating rink, a bumper-car circuit or circus school with a flying trapeze. Multi-level room Two70 offers panoramic sea views through vast, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and fuses entertainment and technology to create cutting-edge shows most evenings. It is a great spot to enjoy a bite to eat during the day. Next door to Two70, you will find The Workshop, which hosts craft sessions, such as jewellery making and scrapbooking. Passengers can also challenge themselves with Puzzle Break, a brain-bending game where cruisers work together to try and 'escape' from a room by solving puzzles and finding clues.
Shopaholics can stroll along The Via and be tempted by tax- and duty-free shops such as Bvlgari, while those who enjoy learning on holiday can sign up for a dance class or cocktail-making workshop. DreamWorks characters also feature in regular photo opportunities and meet-and-greets. For more laid-back offerings, retreat to the Vitality Spa at Sea, featuring 19 treatment rooms and a thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, saunas and steam rooms. Alternatively, you can work off those buffet calories at the fitness centre, packed with cardio and resistance equipment, and the site of spinning, yoga, Pilates and kickboxing classes.
Meanwhile, kids can indulge in the Youth Zone, which includes features such as the Adventure Ocean kids' club (for ages three to 11) with special activities such as puppet theatre and dance parties. There are also teen-only spaces (Fuel Disco and The Living Room); as well as the Royal Babies and Royal Tots nursery program for infants and toddlers aged six months to two years.
You won't go hungry on Ovation of the Seas. Beyond lunch in the buffet or one of the main dining rooms, passengers can find midday eats at Sorrento's pizzeria; the Promenade Cafe, serving up sandwiches and pastries; the Boardwalk Dog House with seven varieties of 'snags' and wursts; Solarium Bistro for yoghurt parfaits, healthy sandwiches and other light fare; and The Cafe @ Two70 for snacks, sandwiches and bistro-style salads with an ocean view.
Also worth seeking out are Jamie's Italian, from British Chef Jamie Oliver; the Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop for noodles and dim sum; and Izumi (note all three of these venues charge a supplement). And don't forget all the delicious calories you can consume when caving into those noon cravings for ice cream, doughnuts and cupcakes.
Elder siblings Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas -- all three ships are part of the Quantum-class fleet -- are virtually identical. The line's high-tech Oasis-class ships -- Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas -- include features such as the Ultimate Abyss waterslide and the Rising Tide Bar, which travels up and down three decks.
Ovation of the Seas
2. Explorer of the Seas
It can be hard to find time to relax on Explorer of the Seas because of all the adventures on offer. For outdoor fun, it's hard to beat the FlowRider surf simulator, which offers surfing or boogie-boarding to try (or watch -- both options are equally enjoyable). Burn off every bite you had at the buffet on the jogging track or hit a hole in one at the nine-hole miniature golf course. Sporty types can reach new heights on the rock-climbing wall or challenge their friends or family to a game of basketball, volleyball, tennis and cricket. There are also multiple pools, including an adults-only area with a retractable glass roof, making it possible to enjoy the pool and two whirlpools rain, hail or shine.
For shopping and imbibing, the Royal Promenade is sized like a real mall and runs the length of a football field. Along with giving your credit card a workout, the bars along the promenade are great for people watching. Activities such as flash-mob dance classes and parades with DreamWorks characters in colourful costumes also take place there. Other daytime entertainment options include recent 3D movies from the DreamWorks cache, dance classes, DreamWorks character meet-and-greets and ice skating in Studio B. You can also relax (or workout) at the ShipShape Vitality Day Spa and Fitness Centre, which has a gym, and aerobics and spa facilities with 14 multi-purpose treatment rooms, a hair salon and relaxation area.
Kids facilities on Explorer of the Seas cover almost 1,500 sq. m (more than 16,000 sq. ft) and feature Royal Caribbean favourite Adventure Ocean (for ages three to 11) and teen-only spaces.
Explorer of the Seas is the only Voyager class ship based in Australia, but if you are venturing overseas there are four other Voyager class ships to choose from: Voyager of the Seas; Mariner of the Seas; Adventurer of the Seas; and Navigator of the Seas.
Explorer of the Seas
3. Celebrity Solstice
Celebrity Solstice -- and its Solstice-class sisters -- put a new spin on top-deck fun with the first real grass lawns at sea. The Lawn Club on Solstice is the perfect spot for a sea-day picnic, a game of bocce or a barefoot stroll, feeling the grass between your toes. Plus, six private cabana alcoves are available for rent for those who want shade and a bit more privacy. Celebrity Solstice also has the Hot Glass Show, one of the most unique entertainment offerings at sea, where passengers sit surrounded by the grass of the Lawn Club and watch artists create stunning glass artworks, accompanied by informative and entertaining live commentary.
Sydney-based Solstice also has two outdoor pools plus a Wet Zone with spouting jets, which provides a fun spot for children to cool down. The adults-only Solarium invites with a pool bookended by a living wall of ferns and flowers and surrounded by comfy padded loungers, circular daybeds and hammocks. Hot tubs are scattered throughout this appealing space.
Celebrity's enrichment program, CelebrityLife, runs the gamut from intellectual lectures to less serious mixology and dance classes. On the brainy side, take advantage of Celebrity's partnership with Rosetta Stone for language learning and Apple for computer and technology workshops. The library onboard is small but picturesque; if you can find an empty seat, you might just want to curl up there with a book. The card tables are also in hot demand for social multi-player games such as bridge.
Foodies can learn about wine-and-food pairings, compete in culinary contests and join expert-led wine-tastings -- or independent ones. Passengers can conduct do-it-yourself wine tastings at the Cellar Masters wine bar with its automatic wine dispensers. If you like to kick back at a convivial watering hole, the Martini Bar is a great sea-day afternoon hangout. The enthusiastic bartenders will mix you brightly coloured concoctions while juggling martini shakers and performing other fun tricks. (Hint: Order two 'flights' to find out exactly how many martinis your bartenders can pour at one time.)
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub offers a wide range of treatments and a Persian Garden area with heated ceramic tile loungers, a steam room and tropical rain showers. The gym at the spa offers all the newest fitness machines as well as a serpentine jogging track.
Celebrity has one of the best buffets in the biz, and the Oceanview Cafe is an expansive multi-station venue for lunch and all-day snacking. Choices include a carving station and taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other specialty stops. For less healthy fare, pick up some burgers and hot dogs at the Mast Grill; for healthier choices, drop by the AquaSpa Cafe in the Solarium for salads and grilled seafood. If you don't mind forking over a few bucks for your lunch, Sushi on Five serves a la carte Japanese favourites such as sushi and sashimi. If you've got a sweet tooth, hit the Cafe al Bacio & Gelataria to finish your meal. Gelato from here costs extra, but the cakes are complimentary.
Solstice was the first ship in the Solstice Class; Reflection, Equinox, Silhouette and Eclipse are all great sea-day choices. The biggest differences are in the specialty dining venues and Lawn Club attractions.
4. Sea Princess
The aptly named Sea Princess offers a 106-day world cruise departing from Australia and visiting 41 ports in 27 countries. Passengers have more than three months to relax in the main pool area on Deck 12 or watch a film at the Movies Under the Stars screen on Deck 14. For a quieter sea day, shell out for a coveted spot in the Sanctuary, the adults-only sun deck and pool on Deck 15. Here you can recline on an extra-plush lounger or rent a private cabana while stewards fetch drinks and healthy snacks for you (private spa treatments can also be arranged). Forgot your iPod? Borrow an MP3 player with Bose headphones that's loaded with playlists.
Princess' ScholarShip@Sea program doesn't take itself as seriously as the 'edutainment' offerings of lines such as Cunard or Crystal. Sure, you can learn about computers and art history, but the program also encompasses scrapbooking, wine tastings, cooking demos and dance classes. Sea Princess is the first Australian ship in the fleet to feature Camp Discovery, a Discovery Channel-themed kids' club for ages three to 17. Children can learn as they play with activities such as 'The Greatest Catch' and 'Just Squiddin' Around' and complete ocean-themed challenges, too.
There's also the Lotus Spa where passengers can chill out with a massage or facial, or get high-tech with acupuncture, Botox treatments, detoxifying wraps or teeth-whitening.
On sea days, you can find lunchtime fare at the main dining room, Horizon Court buffet or Cafe Corniche on Deck 8, which offers a good selection of pizzas and a more limited range of Italian antipasti, pasta dishes and desserts. The Riviera Grill serves burgers, hot dogs or chicken sandwiches; complimentary soft serve is available at Sundaes ice cream parlour on Deck 12. Balcony cabin residents can sleep in and order the Champagne Balcony Breakfast, complete with pastries, fresh fruit, quiche and a split of Champagne. It's elegantly served on your private balcony.
Sea Princess is the only Princess ship in Australia that offers a world cruise. Other Princess ships sailing locally include Golden Princess, Majestic Princess and Sun Princess.
5. Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth is based in Australia for more than 100 days per year. Most local cruises are short breaks but longer itineraries are available throughout the year, including many that begin or end in Australia. On Atlantic crossings, the weather won't always be the best for top-deck sunning. Still, the ship does have the Pavilion Pool, midship, and the aft Lido Pool, which is surrounded by a huge sunbathing area.
Sports facilities include a paddle-tennis court, and croquet and short bowls in the covered Games Deck area. Or get old-school with shuffleboard, deck quoits or fencing lessons, which are available at no extra charge. The promenade deck loops around the ship for a midday walk.
While you can certainly laze around all day, Queen Elizabeth makes it possible to imbue your sea days with culture and learning opportunities, offering an excellent enrichment program with activities such as watercolour painting, wine tasting or ballroom dancing. Cunard Insights explores historical and contemporary issues presented by explorers, academics, former politicians, actors, astronomers, musicians, historians and filmmakers.
Not enough for you? Join a ship-wide book club for literary discussions or just browse in the well-stocked library onboard. If you'd rather pamper your body, Queen Elizabeth is home to a peaceful spa which includes a thermal suite and thalassotherapy pool. Stylists will beautify your hair and nails as you gaze out to sea, and you can get your heart racing with a variety of gym equipment at the Fitness Centre, or attend classes in the ship's dedicated fitness studio.
Passengers can enjoy daytime dining in their assigned main dining rooms (Britannia, Britannia Club, Princess Grill or Queens Grill). Britannia and the Britannia Club (for those staying in the top Britannia staterooms) offer open seating at lunch, while Grill passengers have assigned tables (though no fixed times to dine), with an increased number of tables for two. The Lido buffet restaurant is located on the same deck as the pool and offers choices such as pizza and pasta, sandwiches, salad and dessert and hot choices such as grilled sole, steak, French fries, roasts and meat pies.
Another popular and free alternative dining area is the ship's Golden Lion Pub, serving authentic pub grub such as bangers and mash, fish and chips, and shepherd's pie. There's also the newer Carinthia Lounge, offering light New American fare for lunch along with specialty coffees (for a fee) and a patisserie counter. For a splurge, the Veranda restaurant serves up sophisticated fare -- inspired by regional cuisine in the south of France -- for $25 a person for lunch (or $35 for dinner).
A traditional tea service can be found in the Lido and Queens Room, where waiters and waitresses serve tea, finger sandwiches, pastries and, of course, scones with clotted cream. You can also find a more casual, self-service afternoon tea in Bamboo at Kings Court. A fancy Champagne tea, which includes a more elaborate selection of cakes and a glass of Laurent Perrier and cup of Twinings' tea, is served once a week in the Garden Lounge for $26.50 per person.
Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 share this ship's dedication to enrichment programming, but they don't have all the bells and whistles (you won't find a planetarium on Queen Victoria, for example).
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6. Majestic Princess
Majestic Princess offers several facilities that are not available on the line's other Australia-based ships. Passengers can stroll along the SeaWalk, a dramatic over-the-ocean glass walkway or enjoy the WaterColor Fantasy Show replete with dancing fountains, which are synced to lights and music. There are also two complimentary adults-only Hollywood-style pool areas. The Hollywood Pool Club is an enclosed swimming and lounging area, with deck chairs, a dedicated bar, hot tubs and a pool that is large enough for doing laps (just). The adjoining Hollywood Conservatory has private cabanas for rent, plus giant chess and musical instruments such as electric xylophones to play. If the weather is good, there are ample sun decks offering the choice of sun and shade, and an outdoor pool that is available to all. There is also a laser shooting simulator for fixed target practice, and an outdoor gym on the Sun deck.
Majestic Princess also has several indoor facilities that are not available on its other Australia-based ships. Passengers can perform at the Princess Live! Studio in a singing contest or participate in game shows involving passengers who are brave enough to go on stage. If you prefer to sing in private or only with your nearest and dearest, there is a private karaoke suite that can accommodate up to six people. Books can be borrowed from the small onboard library or you can undertake enrichment activities such as computer classes, scrapbooking, cooking demos and dance classes as part of Princess' ScholarShip@Sea program. Kids will enjoy Camp Discovery, the line's Discovery Channel-themed kids' club for ages three to 17. Younger cruisers can sign up for ocean-themed challenges and participate in nature-focussed games and activities. Teens have their own cool hangout, The Beach House, and a less structured activities program.
There's also the Lotus Spa where passengers can chill out with a massage or facial, or get high-tech with acupuncture, Botox treatments, detoxifying wraps or teeth-whitening.
You won't go hungry on this ship thanks to the 24-hour International Cafe in the Piazza. World Fresh Marketplace Buffet and Bistro (known as Horizon Court on other Princess ships) offers an extensive buffet or you can grab a fresh-baked treat at The Bakery. Asian takeaway is available poolside at Chopsticks Noodle Bar, with soups made fresh to order. Alfredo's Pizzeria serves complimentary Italian fare or you could treat yourself at the for-a-fee Lobster Bar. Sundaes ice cream parlour provides a sweet finish or a cool afternoon snack. Room service is complimentary (except for a $3 pizza delivery fee) if you would like to dine al fresco on your balcony or in your room.
Majestic Princess is the newest and largest ship in the Princess Cruises Australia fleet. Other Princess ships sailing locally include Golden Princess, Sea Princess and Sun Princess.
7. Norwegian Jewel
The namesake of Norwegian Cruise Lines' Jewel Class ships has two outside pools and a pool deck with space for more than 300 deck chairs. Suite-class passengers can access an additional indoor pool and hot tub at The Haven, an exclusive area available only to suite guests. Other outdoor pursuits include working on your swing at the golf driving nets, or playing basketball, volleyball or tennis at the sports deck.
The Mandara Spa on Norwegian Jewel has the usual treatments plus a thermal suite with heated lounges. Separate men and women's saunas, steam rooms and thermal plunge baths are also available but you will need to buy a pass to access these facilities. The fitness centre has all you need for working off those sea-day snacks. Classes are also available and include TRX, Norwegian Fight Klub and a body-sculpting boot camp.
Norwegian Jewel's kids' club (for ages three to 12) features a children's cinema, games, sports, arts and crafts and play areas, while teens get a separate lounge-style hangout with a juice bar, gaming consoles and Club Underground, a New York subway-themed disco. For adults, Bar City, which comprises three different bars, is a convivial place to hang out on sea days.
Norwegian's Freestyle Dining concept means passengers can find plenty of food at all hours of the day. There's Norwegian's indoor-outdoor buffet area, and hot breakfasts and pub food at O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill. One of the complimentary main dining rooms offers a sit-down lunch each day, or you can try the Chin Chin Asian restaurant, which also serves sushi and sashimi for a fee.
Norwegian Jewel is the only Norwegian Cruise Lines' ship currently sailing in Australia. Norwegian Jade, another Jewel class ship, sails in nearby Asia.
8. Pacific Explorer
If you want to cool down and escape the kids on this family-friendly line, P&O Australia's latest ship, Pacific Explorer, has got you covered with not one, but two, 18+ pool areas. Kick back at the Oasis, an aft relaxation deck with a small pool, grandstand-style benches, two hot tubs, a bar and sun loungers or The Sanctuary, a lesser-known, adults-only refuge with a shallow pool, deck chairs and lounges. It's a great spot to read in peace and soak up the sun.
The pool deck has a kids' waterplay area with water cannons and large tipping bucket. Children (and their parents) will enjoy the two twisting, turning waterslides, one of which has multicoloured lights and music pumping through it. For a fee, fun for all ages can be found at the P&O Edge Adventure Park on the Lido Deck with activities such as zip-lining, a funnel climb, Segway rides and other options including Walk the Plank, which extends off the side of the ship. The Lawns are open from 10 am and 5 pm, with the artificial grass used as a green for barefoot bowls.
Traditional shipboard fun such as trivia, bingo, dance classes and health and fitness seminars abound on Pacific Explorer. In a nod to Aussies' love of a refreshing beverage (or two), there are two new-look bars available on this ship: the light-filled Plantation-style Explorer Hotel and the Ocean Bar, which sees loads of passing foot traffic, making it a top spot for people-watching.
Located opposite the compact fitness room, the Elemis Spa At Sea on Deck 12 provides services such as massage, manicures, waxing and teeth whitening. Inside the day spa you will also find a thermal suite comprising a sauna, steam room, relaxation room, heated ceramic beds and tropical shower, which can be used before or after a treatment or by buying a thermal suite pass for unlimited access throughout your cruise (a particularly worthwhile investment if there are lots of sea days).
Pacific Explorer offers a wide range of activities for children, including a cool Sony PlayStation VR room located in HQ, the teens-only area. Other activities include art and crafts, Lego challenges, karaoke, movies and scavenger hunts for tweens and older kids.
Complimentary lunch is available at one of two venues: The Pantry, P&O's contemporary take on the traditional cruise ship buffet, or the Waterfront restaurant. If you don't mind paying a little extra, 400 Gradi serves gourmet pizza while Luke's, a casual outdoor eatery created by celebrity chef Luke Mangan, dishes up seriously good burgers. Other crowd-pleasers such as chicken wings, hot dogs and prawns are also available at this attractive outdoor eatery.
The Lawns is only available on Pacific Explorer, but you will find the popular P&O Edge on P&O's other ships: Pacific Dawn, Pacific Eden, Pacific Aria and Pacific Jewel. Pacific Dawn has waterslides but no adults-only pool area (although there is an 18+ sun deck). Both Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria have a large adults-only pool and sunbathing space on the aft deck.