A big part of the mainstream cruise appeal is how family friendly most ship experiences are. My six-year-old twin boys love the theme parties in the playrooms and up on deck, the water slides, miniature golf, and rocking climbing walls. My husband is ever content in the well-stocked gyms and loves exploring new ports. Me, I've done so many cruises over the years, I've grown to crave their special rhythm -- walking up the gang way, unpacking in a cozy cabin and exploring the ship. I like the rituals of dinner, the nostalgia of Vegas-y shows, and those iconic public announcements made by the cruise director when the ship pulls into port.
I also really like that I can enjoy plenty of adult time, guilt free. My boys are happy and living it up in the ship's playroom nearby, while I can have my massage and drink a chardonnay, too. In fact, the trend is to offer adults more spaces and options to unwind and reboot sans kids. Children have their own areas, which are larger and more decked out with fancy features than ever, so it's only fair that the grown-ups have theirs too. From casinos, to adults-only pools, spas, solariums, and alternative dining venues, whether you're traveling with kids or not, it's easy to hang out with your own age group whenever you want to. Here are some of the top ship spots for adults only.
Crown, Emerald, Caribbean, Star and Golden Princess
This super relaxing space on an upper deck is covered by canopies and dotted with lounge chairs, trees, and private cabanas. Pushing the serenity envelope, "serenity stewards" hover around to make sure things stay quiet. Light meals, massages, and drinks are on hand all for a $15 fee (for a half day use).
Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com)
Royal Caribbean wrote the book on cruise ship solariums. From the Vision-class ships all the way up to the new Oasis of the Seas, adults can retreat to these peaceful spaces that lie under cover of a sliding roof and feature a large pool surrounded by chaise lounges and a hot tub or two, with exotic design motifs including bronze statues, stone reliefs, tile mosaics and tropical foliage. Aboard Radiance of the Seas, for instance, 26 watercolor paintings depict African scenes, while a 15-foot-high waterfall is designed around three elephants sculptures is breathtaking.
Bliss Ultra Lounge
Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Pearl
Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com)
For grown-ups who want to knock down a few pins and down knock back a couple of drinks with like-minded peers, the Bliss Ultra Lounge is reserved for adults only (21+) after 9pm. Its bordello-style funky décor with ultra-violet art and profusion of bubbles as well as those four day-glo bowling lanes offer a great get-away-from-it-all setting for fun and games.
Serenity Bay Beach
Disney Wonder and Magic, on Castaway Cay
Disney Cruise Line (www.disneycruiseline.com)
Serenity Bay is a super appealing adults-only beach area on Disney's private Castaway Cay island in the Bahamas. My favorite memory goes like this: we dropped our then-toddlers off at the Flounder's Reef nursery on board for a few hours and off I went to Serenity Bay. To set the mood, first I ordered a frosty Piña Colada at Serenity's outdoor beach bar, then I sat in the sand as I sipped and cherished my freedom. After a refreshing dip in the sea, I headed for one of the four massage cabanas steps away. In the discreetly open-air huts, as the sea breezes passed through and the soothing surf sounds serenaded me, I enjoyed just about one of the best deep tissue massages of my life.
Fantasy-class and new ships
These quiet spots are set off in a secluded aft section of the ship with great ocean views. Plush chaise lounges and chairs, along with colorful oversized umbrellas and shady areas, create a French Rivera setting right on board. A pair of hot tubs and roving waiters fetching drinks create an appealing place that inspired Carnival's catchy ad slogan: "consider it an adults time-out." The new Splendor, plus Imagination, Inspiration, Fantasy and Sensation already have Serenity and in the next few years the rest of the Fantasy-class will have the space added as well as all new ships.
Celebrity's great spas and relaxation areas are legendary, and the new Solstice takes pampering to the next level. A deck below the amazing AquaSpa and awesome oceanview Solarium with its lap pool and upholstered teak lounge chairs, are the 130 adults-only AquaClass spa cabins. Perks range from a jetted shower to fog-free mirror, pillow menu, and a special music and sound system. Enjoy free access to the spa's Persian Garden aromatherapy steam room as well as access to the AquaClass-only dining room called Blu and special wellness classes.
Crystal Serenity and Symphony
These lovely old-world cigar bars are off limits to children under 17, so grown ups are free to puff on stogies and sip stiff cognac with their peers. Dark wood paneling and louvered window shades, classically framed art and traditional leather and richly upholstered furniture create an atmosphere of quiet sophistication.
Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar
Head for this sophisticated spot on deck 3 for a glass or two of bubbly. Choose from seven different Veuve Clicquot champagnes served in Waterford Crystal flutes. This chic lounge merges perfectly with the Chart Room lounge next door, a 1940s-style beaut with high ceilings and green-glass Deco wall maps. Both are great spots to nurse drinks and enjoy quiet conversation like generations did before aboard the grand liners, when children were seen and not heard.
The entire ships
Arcadia and Artemis
P&O Cruises (www.pocruises.com)
Thought the small super lux ships are the closest you can get to adults only? (Seabourn, Silversea, SeaDream and Regent Sevens Seas are not officially adults only, though they attract few families with young children.) Think again. P & O's Arcadia and Artemis require all passengers to be 18 or older to sail. Offering plenty to do, the Arcadia has 12 bars and six restaurants, big spa, three-tier theatre, plus tennis, golf, basketball, cricket and football. The smaller all-outside-cabin Artemis visits off-beat ports not accessible to bigger vessels, from Fortaleza, Brazil to Pago Pago in American Samoa, and offers classes on topics from bridge to classical music, computer learning and British history.