Call it the Battle of the Waterslides.
In the last few years, the big boys of the cruise industry — Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line — have been locked in a game of one-upmanship when it comes to waterslides and watery fun zones on vessels.
In addition to such over-the-top, new attractions as go-kart tracks and roller coasters, the brands behind the biggest megaresorts at sea have been packing the top decks of their vessels with even more over-the-top watery allures.
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Royal Caribbean, for instance, added an 800-foot-long “water coaster” to the back of its 3,386-passenger Navigator of the Seas just a few years ago. It’s one of more than two dozen giant waterslides the line has added to more than half a dozen ships in the last seven years.
Royal Caribbean also plans a record six waterslides on its next new ship, Icon of the Seas, which is scheduled to debut in January 2024.
But as recently as early 2016, Royal Caribbean didn’t have a single waterslide on any of its vessels.
MSC Cruises also has gone big with giant water parks in the past seven years, with as many as four waterslides on more than half a dozen of its newest vessels. Norwegian has loaded up its most recent ships with giant water parks, too — some have as many as five waterslides!
Not to be outdone, Carnival, an early adopter of waterslides on ships, has added sprawling water park areas with multiple waterslides to almost every vessel in its fleet.
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A brief history of water attractions at sea
In the beginning, there was the pool. As watery cruise ship attractions go, it has long been the staple — something found on nearly every cruise vessel going back to the 1970s.
But as early as 1978, at least one line was spicing up its Lido decks with a little waterslide fun — little being the operative word. That’s the year Carnival added a single slide into the pool on its 728-passenger Festivale — a slide so small it’s now hilarious to think it was touted as an attraction.
Often cited as the first waterslide ever on a cruise vessel, the Festivale slide was of a sort that was found at backyard pools at the time. The cruise industry was still in its infancy, of course, and ships were orders of magnitude smaller than they are today. Festivale measured just 32,697 tons, about one-seventh the size of today’s biggest cruise vessels.
Carnival, the so-called Fun Ship line, would go on to become the early leader in waterslides at sea. The 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy, which debuted in 1990, was the first cruise ship with a significant waterslide. It measured 115 feet in length.
Just six years later, in 1996, Carnival would make news with the unveiling of a 214-foot-long corkscrew waterslide on what then was called Destiny. (The ship currently sails as the Carnival Sunshine after being rebuilt in 2013.) At the time, Destiny was the biggest cruise ship in the world.
In more recent years, Carnival has gone into waterslide-building overdrive. The line has added full-blown water park areas with waterslides, watery play zones and other features to all but four of its 25 ships. All but one of Carnival’s ships (Carnival Luminosa) now have at least one waterslide.
One of the Carnival water parks, on the line’s 5-year-old Carnival Horizon, even has Disney-style theming revolving around Dr. Seuss characters.
Norwegian, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean only began going big with waterslides on ships in the past decade or so. Many of the newest vessels from the brands have massive water park areas. Some of the brands are retrofitting big waterslides onto older ships, too.
Additionally, family-focused Disney Cruise Line now has major water attractions on all its vessels.
Where you’ll find the biggest waterslides at sea
If your idea of the perfect cruise ship is one loaded to the gills with waterslides and watery fun zones (plus all sorts of other over-the-top attractions), you’ll want to stick to the biggest floating megaresorts operated by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC Cruises and Carnival.
At Royal Caribbean, that means the giant Oasis-class vessels, which include Wonder of the Seas — the world’s largest cruise ship. At Norwegian, you’ll find the biggest waterslides and water parks on the line’s relatively recently built Breakaway Plus-, Breakaway- and Epic-class ships. At MSC Cruises, the new Seaside-, Meraviglia-, Meraviglia Plus- and World-class vessels have the line’s big water parks.
Big lines that have steered clear of the water-park-at-sea trend include Princess Cruises, Holland America and Celebrity Cruises. Geared more toward couples than families and typically drawing an older demographic, all three of these lines have stuck to a more subdued feel for the outdoor areas of their ships. The top decks of vessels operated by Princess, Holland America and Celebrity still mostly revolve around traditional swimming areas with pools, hot tubs and lounge chairs.
Ready for a splashy, top-deck thrill? These are the most spectacular watery attractions at sea.
The Perfect Storm
Where you’ll find it: Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas.
This isn’t just one giant waterslide; it’s a whole complex of waterslides, each one among the most exciting you’ll find anywhere on the world’s oceans.
The Perfect Storm is found on four of Royal Caribbean’s massive Oasis-class vessels — Wonder of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas — as well as the smaller Liberty of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas. The complex includes two four-deck-high racer slides called Cyclone and Typhoon, where you can do side-by-side speed tests with your travel partner.
On the four Oasis-class ships, there’s also a third, Champagne bowl-style slide called Supercell. It’ll swirl you around a big basin before plummeting you “down the drain” into a plunge pool. On Liberty of the Seas, a third slide called The Tidal Wave sends you screaming down a steep hill on an inner tube to a nearly vertical incline. Zooming upward, topping out and dropping back, you’ll get a blissful moment of complete weightlessness.
Note that Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas also has a waterslide area called Perfect Storm — but it’s completely different. More on that in a moment.
Where you’ll find it: Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.
The Blaster is the Big Daddy of waterslides at sea. At 800 feet, it’s the longest ever built on a cruise ship. Added to Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas in 2019, it’s a seemingly endless stretch of yellow and orange tubing that winds around the back deck of the vessel like a snake.
A true sight to behold, The Blaster is so long because it’s what’s known as a water coaster. It features water jets that propel you up, down and forward — extending the ride — as you careen around the ship’s basketball court and surfing simulator in an inner tube. At times, you go flying over the side of the ship, over open water (not that you have much time to take in the view).
Royal Caribbean has named the area on Navigator of the Seas where The Blaster is located the Perfect Storm — the same name used for waterslide areas on six other ships — but the area is completely different than what you’ll find on the other vessels. In addition to The Blaster, the Perfect Storm area on Navigator of the Seas includes a headfirst mat racer slide called Riptide — the first of its kind at sea.
Where you’ll find it: Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream.
Leave it to family-focused Disney Cruise Line to come up with the coolest watery family attraction at sea. AquaDuck is a water coaster, like The Blaster on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, and is found on Disney’s two Dream-class ships. But don’t expect anything too white-knuckle. The ride is relatively gentle by water park standards, mainly because it’s designed for kids of all ages (and their parents, who can ride along on inner tubes for two).
While AquaDuck is slightly shorter than The Blaster at 765 feet in length, it has a bigger presence, thanks to its prime location encircling the main pool area. If you’re lounging up top, it’s hard to miss the massive, clear acrylic tubing of the ride, which is held up by 46 giant white stilts.
In addition to AquaDuck, the two Disney ships with the attraction (Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream) have a relatively small, kid-friendly waterslide next to the centrally located Mickey’s Pool. Dubbed Mickey’s Slide, it’s held up by a giant Mickey hand, which is delightful. Both ships also have a watery play zone for toddlers called Nemo’s Reef. Plus, Disney Fantasy has a watery fun zone with water jets, geysers and bubblers called AquaLab.
Note that Disney’s newest ship — Disney Wish — has a water coaster attraction similar to the AquaDuck called the AquaMouse. The big difference: Riders will see animated shorts while riding up the ramp at the start of the ride.
Where you’ll find it: Nearly all Carnival ships.
When it comes to waterslides on ships, cruise giant Carnival is still the undisputed king. The Fun Ship line began adding them to vessels way back in 1978, and there’s now at least one waterslide on every ship in the Carnival fleet — something no other line can say.
Indeed, on all Carnival ships, there’s now not just a single waterslide but a whole water park area. Called WaterWorks, these areas vary in size and features from vessel to vessel, but they typically have one or two big waterslides, a watery play zone with interactive water features and a large continuously filling dump bucket that periodically soaks everybody within range.
You’ll typically find the biggest Carnival water park complexes on the newest Carnival ships, such as Mardi Gras, Celebration and Carnival Venezia. All three have three waterslides — one more than most Carnival ships.
Aqua Park (Norwegian Cruise Line)
Where you’ll find it: Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore.
Norwegian Cruise Line began going big with waterslides in 2010 when it debuted Norwegian Epic. And boy, did it go big! Norwegian Epic offers three monster waterslides, including the thrilling Epic Plunge — a 200-foot-long tube ride that ends in a swirling bowl. Epic Plunge is part of Norwegian Epic’s Aqua Park, the first water park on a Norwegian ship. Norwegian has since added Aqua Parks to six more new vessels, including its biggest ship, the 4-year-old Norwegian Encore.
Norwegian’s Aqua Parks vary in size and attractions from ship to ship, but some of them, such as the one on Norwegian Breakaway, have as many as five separate multistory waterslides. Yes, you read that right: Five waterslides on a single cruise ship!
On Norwegian Breakaway, the lineup includes twin free-fall slides that drop passengers nearly straight down several stories; two side-by-side twisting racer slides; and a family-friendly slide with a more modest drop. For sheer variety, the complex is hard to beat.
Aqua Park (MSC Cruises)
Where you’ll find it: MSC Seascape, MSC Seashore, MSC Seaview, MSC Seaside, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Bellissima, MSC Grandiosa, MSC Virtuosa, MSC Euribia, MSC World Europa.
Fast-growing MSC Cruises has joined the waterslide wars in the last few years — and in a massive way. Each of the 10 ships the line has unveiled since 2017 offers a full-blown water park on its top deck that’s packed with waterslides and other watery fun.
On North America-based MSC Seaside, the Aqua Park has four waterslides and a children’s play area with interactive water features. The waterslides include two massive, 525-foot-long dueling slides that extend over the sides of the ship. The top of the Aqua Park on MSC Seaside is also home to the liftoff point for a zip line that soars 344 feet across the top of the vessel.
Other MSC Cruises water parks at sea include the winter-themed Polar Aqua Park on MSC Meraviglia, which offers a suspended-in-the-sky ropes course in addition to four waterslides. There’s also the Aquaplay area for the little ones.
Two MSC Cruises ships — MSC Seashore and MSC World Europa — even have virtual reality waterslides that involve riders wearing virtual reality headsets as part of the experience.
In all, 14 of MSC Cruises’ 22 vessels now have at least one waterslide on their top decks.
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