Until the International Maritime Organization signed a treaty in 1990 banning the dumping of plastics by cruise ships into the ocean, hitting golf balls off the back deck was as synonymous with onboard entertainment as shuffleboard and skeet shooting. An inventor in California spent the next two years developing fish-friendly, water-soluble golf balls, but the cruise industry never took to the idea. While deck-based driving ranges remain a thing of the past, modern cruise passengers aren't exactly lacking for things to do. Here's a sampling of some of the more interesting offerings.
1. Virtual Golfing
The unrivaled fun of driving balls into the world's largest natural water hazards may be gone for good, but there are several other ways for golf enthusiasts to enjoy their time at sea. In addition to golf nets and driving mats, many cruises now offer high-tech simulators that enable users to play virtual rounds at some of the world's most famous courses, and in a fraction of the time. Using real balls and clubs, plastic grass, and a video screen, simulators combine the feel of hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range with the thrill of teeing off in a PGA tournament. For the kids and more casual golfers, several ships now feature miniature golf courses and putting greens.
One of the most unique onboard activities is surfing at the FlowRider surf park, which is featured on several of Royal Caribbean's ships. The 32-foot by 40-foot FlowRider pool uses constant water flow to generate waves for passengers to surf or body board. Other ships offer kid-friendly water parks with slides, including Royal Caribbean's H2O Zone.
Norwegian Cruise Line rolled out the first 10-pin bowling alley at sea in 2007 with the launch of the Norwegian Pearl. The alley is the centerpiece of Bliss, the ship's full-deck sports bar and nightclub. In addition to four bowling lanes, Bliss features foosball and air hockey tables, and multiple flat screen televisions. Passengers would be wise to avoid any of the staterooms near the bowling alley, and as for the concern that bowling balls won't roll perfectly true on a moving ship, consider these words of wisdom from the testimonials page at bowlingatsea.com: "You could always balance out whatever roll the waves cause with an extra martini!"
4. Rock Climbing
5. Ice Skating
Royal Caribbean debuted the first permanent ice rink at sea when Voyager launched in 1999, and passengers can now practice triple-axels on several of the cruise line's ships. The rinks are typically open to passengers during the day and are used to host shows featuring experienced skaters at night.
6. Bungee Trampolining
7. Horse Racing
It's probably only a matter of time before live thoroughbred racing takes place on a cruise ship. Until then, passengers looking to satisfy their gambling itch outside of the ship's casino or bingo room will continue to empty their wallets to wager on cardboard cutouts of horses that move according to the roll of the dice. There are countless variations of this classic horse racing game, but most ships that feature the game will sell or auction off the horses at the end of the week. Passengers who purchase a horse often decorate and name their cutout before watching it compete against the rest of the field for a large payout.
8. Walking in the Park
As competing cruise lines continue to roll out new and exciting onboard activities to lure travelers, it's fun to speculate what the next gee-whiz attraction will be. Roller coasters? Bobsled courses? Soccer fields? One recent addition to several ships is the Nintendo Wii. Norwegian Cruise Line added large screens and Wii consoles to its ships, while passengers on some Princess Cruise Line ships can enter Wii Fit competitions. The competitions are shown on giant poolside screens, which are also used to screen movies under the stars.