Big ships wage water-slide war

The centerpiece of WaterWorks on next year’s Carnival Vista will be a raft-riding slide called the Kaleid-O-Slide.
The centerpiece of WaterWorks on next year’s Carnival Vista will be a raft-riding slide called the Kaleid-O-Slide. Carnival Cruise Line

Warm-weather cruising means more time to enjoy top-deck activities on the cruise ships. While that once meant lounging by the pool, today’s ships, especially the largest ones, have more thrilling experiences including the water park.

A signature water park with extreme water slides has been one way for cruise ships to set themselves apart.

The AquaDuck water coaster on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships sends one or two people on floats through 765 feet of clear acrylic tubing for a loop over the water, around the top deck, through the ship’s forward funnel and eventually dropping down four decks into a lazy river. The ride commands hourlong waits on busy days on board.

The older, smaller Disney Magic has a thrilling eight-second ride called the AquaDunk that drops riders through bomb-bay doors and shoots them down and out over the side of the ship for a fleeting view of the ocean below.

The trend has prompted cruise lines to up their game on new ships coming to market.

MSC Preziosa for instance, which debuted in 2013, holds the record for longest single-rider body slide at sea, a 390-foot-long twisting slide with strobe effects.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Escape, due in Miami this fall, will boast the largest water park at sea with four water slides. The marquee rides will be the side-by-side Free Fall slides, which also feature bomb-bay door drops, and a new tandem slide called Aqua Racer in which two riders can hop on a single raft down a large tube and see which one comes out first.

The Free Fall is also featured on the Norwegian Breakaway and the Miami-based Norwegian Getaway along with The Whip, two twister slides that spiral down from three decks up.

Also on the horizon is Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, which is due in April 2016 and will make its way to Port Everglades. The new Oasis-class ship will feature the line’s first foray into adult-oriented water slides. Previously, Royal Caribbean ships had opted for other watery thrills such as the FlowRider.

While many ships look outward for their slides, Royal’s design looks inward, with all three multistory slides branching out 10 decks above the Oasis-class’ signature space Central Park with plans to have parts of the slides built with see-through tubing.

“We’ve done that to provide that sense of danger and excitement,” said Josh Martin, president of Aquatic Design & Engineering, which has partnered with Wilson Butler Architects to produce the new water park.

All three slides will be single-rider body slides, meaning no tubes or mats. One of them will have a bowl feature in which the rider gets to feel what it’s like to go down a drain, joining the Norwegian Epic as the only ships with that type of slide at sea.

For Carnival’s part, the line’s WaterWorks play areas feature several intense options that vary from ship to ship. The Dream-class ships feature both the Drain Pipe, which is similar to a bowl water slide, but without the final drop, as well as the Speedway Splash, a side-by-side set of long-distance, twisting racing tubes with lighting effects that was also installed on the Carnival Sunshine.

Each of Carnival’s 24 Fun Ships features at least one water slide while most feature the WaterWorks play area with multiple slide options. Three of the line’s four Spirit-class ships feature the Green Thunder, another bomb-bay door slide.

For its newest ship, Carnival Vista, which will launch in May 2016 and be based in Miami, the centerpiece will be a raft-riding slide called the Kaleid-O-Slide that sends riders down a 455-foot twisted, visually stimulating tube that looks a bit like a colored Slinky stretched out and curled around.