Really? 10 unexpected cruise activities

Story highlights

Cruise lines are always adding to their array of activities

Indoor skydiving is one of a soon-to-be-launched mega-ship's offerings

"Top Chef" demonstrations and original Picasso artwork are also on view at sea

CNN  — 

If you’re one of the nearly 20% of Americans who have taken a cruise, you probably already know that these giant pleasure boats have Formula One simulators, herb gardens, skating rinks, Coach stores and stages featuring sketch comedy from Chicago-born Second City.

Not since the old playground taunt “my dad’s better than your dad” have we seen such gee-whiz, oh-wow one-upmanship. Which makes it tantalizingly fun for cruise customers.

Cruise virgins, on the other hand, will likely be surprised by the following finds:

Indoor skydiving

It’s usually pretty tough to surf, climb a mountain and skydive before lunch. But on Quantum of the Seas, the about-to-launch latest in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, guests can even squeeze in a post-triathlon massage before refueling at Jamie’s Italian (yep, Jamie Oliver) or one of the other 17 restaurants on board.

The indoor skydiving takes place in a 23-foot vertical wind tunnel, powered by four giant fans. The mountain climbing (OK, so it’s a climbing wall) and the surf simulator are in SeaPlex, which also has a roller rink and a race track where 30 guests can bump the heck out of each other.

Oh, and did we mention the three-story ice bar and the trapeze school?

An Apple Store

Celebrity Cruises calls it an iLounge, but it has all the latest Apple products, including a MacBook workstation for checking email and printing boarding passes. Evil Apple geniuses can also teach guests how to create websites, write blogs and turn their photos into artistic presentations. Up to 18 custom classes are offered.

Top Chefs

Celebrity Cruises is hosting four sailings this year with 13 chef’testants from the popular “Top Chef” show. Needless to say, there will be cooking demonstrations, Quickfire challenges and sampling of the creations we’ve been drooling over for the past 11 seasons.

With cruises to Bermuda, Alaska, the Caribbean, France and Iberia, Celebrity is also dishing up some “Top Chef” favorites in their restaurants.

As mesmerizing as it is to watch Kristen Kish whip up bacon and cinnamon waffles with boysenberry and strawberry jam, imagine playing poker with Hosea Rosenberg.

This Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas rendering features a space-age observation capsule.

A George Jetson-style observation capsule

A 135-foot crane arm will lift an all-glass capsule off the top deck of Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum of the Seas.

From sea level, it’s 30 stories tall, roughly the height of the Statue of Liberty. Called the NorthStar Observation Tower, this space-age ride gives bird’s eye views to up to 14 guests at a time. Quantum of the Seas is set to launch this November from New Jersey’s Cape Liberty.

Original Picassos

If you look closely at the crayoned signature on the lithograph outside the ladies’ room on Deck 5 of the M.S. Riviera, you’ll see the famous painter’s name just below the naked lady and crying cherub.

Oceania Cruises has more than 20 Picassos, spanning 41 years of Pablo Picasso’s illustrious career, most of which hang in the Riviera and Marina’s Grand Bars.

Also in the collection that American Art Collector called “stupendous” are works by Joan Miro, celebrated Cuban artists Wifredo Lam and Rene Portocarrero and Damien Hirst, the British phenom who made his name exhibiting a dead 14-foot tiger shark in a tank of formaldehyde.

A prankster Neptune

OK, so it’s not the real Roman god. But every time a Hurtigruten ship crosses the Arctic Circle, a crew member who does a very good take on King Neptune hosts a circle-crossing ceremony on the top deck. Ultimately, this jokester dumps a ladle of ice water down each passenger’s back.

Bowling balls and pins

No stale nachos and tacky carpeting at the bowling alleys on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pearl, Gem and Epic. Although the balls don’t always roll straight when seas are choppy, these six-lane bowling alleys come with all the bells and whistles. Even the retro shoes.

Live TV talk shows

The “Wake Show” is a live TV talk show filmed on Deck 7 of the Regal Princess. The first television studio at sea, Princess Live! features live talks shows, demonstrations and a chance for guests to meet the ship’s entertainers.

Coffee, pastries and the morning newspaper are perks enjoyed daily by the 280-guest studio audience of “Wake Show.” Programming starts at 8 a.m. and continues until midnight.

Real grass and trees

An entire deck on both the world’s largest ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, is an open-air park with grass, trees and some 12,000 plants.

Royal Caribbean calls these football field-sized parks Central Park (its one of seven distinct neighborhoods on board) and uses a full-time landscaping team to keep it all pruned and looking spiffy. There’s also a sculpture garden, a chess garden and a five-story wall of greens.

Elvis Presley impersonators

Themed cruises are huge, offering a kind of summer camp for quilters or zombie fans or poker players.

Just know that if a particular theme piques your interest, you better act fast. Carnival’s last New Kids on the Block cruise sold out within hours. Elvis Cruises are also perennial favorites on ship lines and even river cruises throughout the world. Expect cocktails named “Blue Suede Shoes,” fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches and hip-swiveling tribute artists.