WHEN I first sailed on a cruise liner, it didn’t take much to impress me. It wasn’t the grand public rooms or the theatre, not even the dog kennels on the deck.
It was the fact that you could play a round of golf on deck – in the middle of the Atlantic.
That was many years ago on the dear old QE2, on which I sailed from New York to Southampton. She was a grand old ship in the great tradition of transatlantic crossings.
The putting green wasn’t much to look at …. but the thrill of playing on the top of a ship was indescribable.
Since then, of course, the race has been on to get bigger, better, faster and more mind-blowing. Designers work year-round to come up with the next big thing.
The announcement yesterday that P&O’s new luxury cruise ship Arvia will boast a high ropes attraction 177ft above the sea is just the latest high for adrenaline-seeking shipmates.
Arvia’s Altitude Skywalk will offer two courses to cater for those with a head for heights of all ages. It is yet another famous first, not just for P&O, but for cruise ships in general.
Sister to Iona, whose launch has been delayed by the pandemic, Arvia – it’s Latin, meaning “from the seashore”, should you be wondering – will arrive at the end of 2022.
There are no CGI images of the skywalk attraction yet but Arvia will feature other famous firsts including a swim-up bar, an infinity pool at the stern and P&O’s first retractable SkyDome, turning the pool area into a night-time entertainment venue.
Over the years, I’ve sailed on dozens of cruise ships, chalking up new experiences along the way. The days when napkin-folding lessons and tea dances were the highlight of the day are long gone.
Carnival’s new Mardi Gras boasts a rollercoaster on the top deck, something many said couldn’t be done. NCL were looking at the possibility some years back but decided on other thrills instead.
BOLT is the first – and by default the fastest ever – rollercoaster at sea, reaching speeds of up to 40mph. Sited on the upper deck, it means you’ll be riding 187ft above sea level.
Passengers ride motorcycle-like carriages as they zoom around the open-air track, with 360-degree views of the sea. It may not sound fast in terms of theme park attractions but it’ll feel like it.
The same goes for the two-storey go-kart track on NCL’s Norwegian Bliss, which I tried out in the middle of the North Sea. They motor along at 30mph, hardly enough to trouble a speed camera.
But, with the roar of a petrol engine blasting through speakers to bely the silence of the electric motor, and with the track suspended over the side of the top deck, it’s thrilling.
And did I mention the glass walls on the corners, so it looks as if you are, quite literally, heading out to sea?
I managed to get high, too, on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem Of The Seas, thanks to what was then the first sky-diving experience at sea, floating above a vast fan in a wind tunnel.
On the RipCord® by iFLY® simulator you can feel all the freedom of freefall without even leaving the ship. It’s not initially easy, mind, and takes several attempts to get it just right.
But the instructors are friendly, and it’s a huge amount of fun. All too soon it’s over, though, because health and safety demands that each flight lasts only a matter of minutes.
Then there was the time I teetered on a skyscraper iron girder high above New York City as I inched precariously forward to rescue a cat. Again, all without leaving NCL’s Norwegian Encore.
The ship’s Galaxy Pavilion offers all manner of virtual reality adventures. You can race a Formula 1 car, battle aliens in a space tank, take part in an extreme drone race and much more.
I’ve left a trail of carnage on the dodgems on RCI’s Quantum Of The Seas, taken to the ice skating rink on the same line’s Anthem Of The Seas, and sipped chill hour cocktails in a bar made entirely of ice on NCL’s Norwegian Bliss.
With RCI I’ve surfed on WaveRider machines; I’ve been hoisted up high above a ship in a passenger pod; I’ve played laser tag in the ruins of an ancient temple on an NCL deck…
Oh, and yes, I’ve rocked out with Jon Bon Jovi on Norwegian Pearl during a Sixthman festival on the Med, and ended up part of a Blue Man Group gig on Norwegian Bliss.
I see that P&O’s exciting new Arvia is par for the course, with a nine-hole golf facility tantalisingly titled Alititude Minigolf up there on the top deck, too. Which brings me back full circle.
The magical memory of that QE2 putting green, playing in the teeth of a gale, the cup that I won, and the single malt celebration in the bar afterwards, will linger long in the memory…