Traditionally it's been the massive swimming pool surrounded by deck chairs, the fitness centre and more recently, the rock climbing wall. But these days, cruise ships' sporting facilities are becoming a whole lot more diverse as well as entertaining.
Onboard Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, for instance, there's an entire deck dedicated to sports, with a full-sized sports court, an in-line skating track, a jogging track and a golf simulator among the facilities. And onboard the cruiseline's newest ships - Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, you'll find FlowRider surf simulators, the first zip lines at sea and a sports pool, where afternoon activities include basketball, badminton and water polo.
Costa Cruises ships also offer virtual sports facilities including golf simulators, which host 37 of the most famous greens from around the world and can be found onboard four of its ships, while a Grand Prix simulator can be found on five of its vessels. And Carnival Cruise Lines' first ship to be based year-round outside of the US - Carnival Spirit - has undergone a $7 million upgrade that includes a steep and fast waterslide called Green Thunder. The vessel will be based in Sydney from October.
These days you can even participate in water sports from the back of a vessel. Seabourn ships have their own in-built marina which can be deployed on a nice day, providing guests with access to kayaks, banana boats and waterskis.
Watching blockbuster movies on the poolside screen and catching Broadway-style shows in the theatre are two major drawcards of the modern day cruise ship, but the latest entertainment offerings go well beyond this. Cunard's Queen Mary 2 (QM2), for instance, is home to the first planetarium at sea, allowing guests to take a virtual ride into space, view the stars or take a course on celestial navigation. The Illuminations theatre that houses the planetarium also hosts 3D shows, such as the first 3D ballet - Giselle.
Dazzling ice show productions featuring a cast of professional skaters are on offer to guests onboard Voyager of the Seas - performed in the vessel's 900-seat Studio B. The ice skating rink has a full-service bar and stadium seating, and is also home to other onboard activities such as game shows and onboard parties. The ship also offers the DreamWorks Experience at sea, with characters from Kung Fu Panda and Shrek among the personalities that interact with guests.
Meanwhile, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas both feature the spectacular AquaTheater - an amphitheatre-style space with an 18 metre pool where a talented cast of champion athletes (including former Olympians) perform acrobatics, trapeze artistry and water ballet. Celebrity Solstice offers the first glassblowing studio at sea, where guests can watch master glassblowers and then try it out for themselves, while onboard P&O Cruises vessels, guests can enjoy roving entertainment from Pacific Cirque - a floating circus complete with juggling, acrobatics and clowning. »
A cruise holiday is relaxing by nature, but cruiselines are becoming even more innovative in providing opportunities for guests to unwind. These days there are onboard areas where you can unwind in a more private setting, such as P&O Cruises' The Oasis and Princess Cruises' The Sanctuary - adults-only retreats featuring plush seating, a beverage service and a soothing atmosphere.
Fancy a bit of a stroll? The Royal Promenade, on Voyager of the Seas, offers an onboard street lined with places to eat, drink and shop. And both Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas feature Royal Caribbean's seven neighbourhoods concept
Celebrity Cruises has also come up with innovative leisure options for passengers. Onboard Celebrity Solstice is the Lawn Club - a wide expanse of freshly manicured lawn on the top deck - where passengers can participate in activities like picnics and lawn bowls in a country club-styled environment. On the modern day cruise ship it's also all about learning new things and developing your interests. Cunard's ships offer a program of activities every day from watercolour to computer lessons, wine tasting to ballroom dancing as well as bridge and board games.
When it comes to dining, passengers are already spoilt for choice, with cruise ships generally offering at least half a dozen different venues ranging from casual to elegant. But some cruiselines have a particular focus on providing amazing gastronomic experiences, such as Silversea Cruises. Onboard Silver Spirit, gourmet menus by Relais & Chateaux (Silversea's preferred culinary partner) are used at its restaurants, and passengers also have the opportunity to attend the only Relais & Chateaux cooking school at sea. Those who take the cruiseline's Culinary Arts Voyages and Wine Series trips have the opportunity to meet contemporary guest chefs and international vintners.
P&O Cruises boasts the swanky Salt Grill by Luke Mangan - onboard the Pacific Jewel, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Pearl. The celebrity chef's signature dishes include Sydney crab omelette with miso mustard broth and liquorice parfait with lime syrup.
What is it that makes for an exclusive experience onboard a cruise ship? Perhaps it's the traditional afternoon tea onboard the QM2, served by white-gloved waiters and taking place in the Queens Room, the largest ballroom at sea. Or perhaps it's Seabourn's Caviar in the Surf, offered on cruises to exotic destinations like the Caribbean and Belize, where guests are taken ashore and treated to caviar and champagne, followed by a lavish barbecue with silver and fine china.
Providing a highly impressive spa is par for the course nowadays for any major cruiseline. Costa Cruises, for example, features the Samsara Spa - a wellness centre spanning 6000 square metres - offering personalised Ayurvedic treatments and massages with fine oils among its services. And Seabourne's three vessels are all home to the 3475 square metre Spa at Seabourn, providing the ultimate pampering experience at sea.