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It’s a sunny day at sea and you smile as you realise that you are free to do as you please. Without a worry in the world, you wander the ship, happily lost in a labyrinth of corridors, promenades, restaurants, bars, clubs, libraries, theatres, gyms and spas. But, like a plant requiring photosynthesis, you slowly climb your way into the sunlight, only to find that there is plenty more to discover.

While lido decks on cruise ships traditionally provided a single pool, lounge chairs and, perhaps, a bar, in the past decade things have advanced. Sun decks on newer (bigger) cruise ships are multi-zone playgrounds that, day and night, cater to a myriad of leisurely pursuits.

There is nothing stopping you, of course, from lying back in the sun while your favourite author transports you through time and space. It is just that now you can do so with others equally inclined while the energised and giggly ones go elsewhere – for tennis, mini-golf, ping-pong, human-sized chess, rock-climbing, waterslides, bocce, surfing (yes, that’s right, surfing!) and more…

The trends

These days cruise lines have responded to the frustration passengers on crowded ships experience when unable to snag a lounge chair by providing, at a price, exclusive cabanas where you can enjoy your own little bit of sunshine in private. Spas are also nabbing a little of the prime deck space, enabling passengers to pursue inner peace with the aid of soul-soothing sunshine. And increasingly, sun decks are becoming fun decks, with waterslides and numerous entertainment and gaming zones for daylight fun, or parties and outdoor cinema screens when the sun goes down.

So, if a sun deck that satisfies is important to you on a cruise, check out some of the best topsides around.

Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean International giants, Oasis-class Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, have abundant sun deck space – as do their smaller, though no less impressive, Voyager-class Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas. And the cruise ship designers have utilised every bit of it.

Options are a plenty topside with the adults-only Solarium pool areas providing laid back charm – with hammocks, swinging chairs and whirlpools hanging 30 metres above sea level. The mid-ship sports pools provide activities like pool volleyball and pool golf (where participants putt poolside onto a floating green) and at night they morph into discos. There’s also sport courts (for volley ball, basket ball and soccer), mini-golf courses, rock-climbing walls, FlowRider surf simulators and, on Allure and Oasis, 25m Zip Lines suspended nine decks high above the boardwalk. All the while, children are more than satisfactorily entertained elsewhere in H2O zones where a kid’s pool, water canons and sculpture fountains provide hours of liquid-induced joy.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises’s Solstice-class ships standout for being the first ships to provide sun decks with real grass. The Lawn Clubs situated aft on Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Silhouette offer relaxing country club environments in which guests can partake in croquet, lawn bowling, bocce or simply picnic with a basket of wine and cheese on the lush green grass that grows here. And if that doesn’t suit, they can sit back with a coffee and paper overlooking it all at Patio on the Lawn or engage in some chess on a grass-side, human-size chessboard.

Celebrity Silhouette, launched only last month, now also offers The Alcoves, eight stylish cabana-like settings for two to four people, where passengers can experience their own private space overlooking The Lawn Club – at a price. Available from 9am to 9pm, passengers are advised to book in advance.

Elsewhere on the ships’ sun decks there are basketball courts, traditional main pools, sided by two whirlpools, and sports pools (flanked by a pool bar), family pools and wet zones.  And elevated above it all, continuing with the country club theme, sunset bars, with views over ship and ocean, offer another spectacular sunny day alternative.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Since 2005, when Norwegian Cruise Line unleashed Norwegian Jewel, the first of four Jewel-class ships, including Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Epic, passengers have been enjoying their own little piece of sun deck in exclusive Garden Villas and Courtyard Villas. Though pricey, these luxurious villas come with a pool, a whirlpool and comfy sun loungers.

In addition, the sun decks on these ships feature multiple pools and whirlpools that are designated adults-only and kids-only, ensuring relative peace as you devour your international thriller. The actively inclined will also be enticed by mini-golf, shuffleboard, ping-pong, volleyball and human-size chess located in other sunny locations.

Cruise lines are aiming to please, so if you have a particular sea-day sun deck requirement, do your research, there may be a sun deck waiting for you.