Cruise vacations are meant to be fun. Aside from exploring new destinations around the globe and diving into the food and entertainment offered on the cruise ships, I always like to make time to play.
And cruise ships offer sports galore for those of us who love a little competition or exercise. Ships feature a full range of sporting choices that are ideal for whether you want to break a sweat or simply have a blast with your fellow cruisers.
Most of us call it ping-pong. Table tennis makes it sound more like a real sport, I suppose. Almost every cruise ship offers at least one or two tables usually in close proximity to the pool area. A ping-pong tournament will often be on the program during your cruise.
Another cruise ship classic, you will find the shuffleboard courts either on the promenade decks or somewhere up at the top of the ship. It can be a great diversion to play for an hour or so while enjoying the views of the horizon as the ship sails.
We’ve played a bit of paddle tennis (like regular tennis but with a big paddle instead of a stringed racket) on a dedicated court on Regent Seven Seas Mariner. Oceania Riviera, Oceania Marina and Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity also feature sport courts for this fun game.
Viking Ocean cruise ships feature bocce courts, and Celebrity Cruise Line ships with a Lawn Club space, like Celebrity Reflection and Celebrity Equinox, offers bocce sets so passengers can play on the ships’ natural lawn surface on the top deck.
Almost every large cruise ship has at least a nine-hole mini-golf course. These offer a chance to play a fun and at least mildly competitive game with friends and family.
Some cruise ships also feature practice putting greens and driving ranges (enclosed cages with clubs and tees so you can swing away into a net). Luxury ships are more likely to feature these amenities, which are fantastic for more-avid golfers. I have seen putting greens on Viking Ocean ships and both putting greens and a driving cage on Regent Seven Seas Mariner.
Every cruise ship lists a jogging track on the deck plans, and some of these “tracks” are much better than others. Serious runners might be disappointed by crowded paths and short lap lengths. But the routes are available.
The best true jogging tracks are on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships. Oasis of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Allure of the Seas feature large, semi-enclosed dual paths down on Deck 5. You only need two laps to complete a mile. Plus, they are away from the masses of people and shielded from sun and wind.
Large ships feature versatile sports courts on the top decks. These netted or fenced-in areas (to keep the balls from flying into the ocean) usually have at least a half-court basketball setup and usually a full-court version. You can join 3-on-3 tournaments, form pickup games or just go have a shootaround on your own.
The sports courts also are used for soccer matches. Small nets are set up at each end of the court, and passengers choose sides for pickup games, as well as joining organized tourneys during the sailing.
Royal Caribbean’s rock-climbing walls are an iconic amenity. The cruise line known for innovative adventure features offers its signature rock climbing experience on every vessel in the line. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Bliss also have large, challenging climbing walls.
Multiple Royal Caribbean ships offers ice skating rinks. Yes, with real ice. You can go down to the rink during open-skate times and strap on a pair of blades (free rentals) and enjoy a free-wheeling skating session.
FlowRider surfing simulators are on numerous — yep, you guessed it — Royal Caribbean ships. A powerful wave-generating machine offers thrills and spills as cruisers ride surf boards or boogie boards in this included activity. Need to learn to surf? You can also pay for private lessons.
MSC Cruises offers full-size bowling alleys on some of its ships, including Miami-based MSC Seaside. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem also have impressive bowling facilities.
Cruise ships often schedule volleyball tournaments to take place in the main pool during your cruise. These events typically culminate with the winners of the bracket facing off against cruise ship offers for a rollicking fun final to decide the ship’s champions.
John Roberts is a freelance writer and operator of InTheLoopTravel.com. He writes about cruising and active travel, highlighting how people can connect with the world and other cultures through rewarding travel experiences.