Entertainment and activities on cruise ships have undergone a phenomenal facelift since the yesteryears of The Love Boat. Gone are the days of clay-shooting off the bow or smoky piano bars. 

Modern onboard entertainment is more likely to induce a gasp, squeals and eye-watering, side-splitting laughter. 

One of the big advancements made in modern-day entertainment is many cruise lines partner with Broadway producers to bring spectacular shows on board ships. Royal Caribbean, for instance, has brought to its ships’ stages hits such as Cats, Hairspray and Mamma Mia! 

Princess Cruises works closely with Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz, the composer of Wicked, Godspell and Pippin, who produced Magic To Do exclusively for the cruise line. The musical has been dazzling audiences since its debut. 

Cunard offers West End quality productions, held in its stately Royal Court Theatres. The traditional British cruise line has productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company on board the line’s flagship Queen Mary 2, including Boundless as the Sea and Miss Littlewood. For Pride and Prejudice fans, don’t miss the Being Mr Wickham BBC adaptation for the stage, including the original roguish Mr Wickham himself, Adrian Lukis. 

Newcomer Virgin Voyages though has pushed the boat out and created some of its own big hit shows. One of its most popular shows, Duel Reality, retells the story of Romeo and Juliet with an elaborate circus twist. 

On Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships, water meets drama in the AquaTheater. Olympic-level high divers leap into the air and perform stunts and aerial acrobatics from two nine-metre diving platforms.

Royal Caribbean has fantastic Broadway shows
Royal Caribbean has fantastic Broadway shows

Boutique and luxury lines, though, can provide a more intimate experience. Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, for instance, offer vocalists and classical music not just in their main theatres but around the ships’ public spaces. And small-ship line Azamara caters for Sir Elton John fans with inspired shows from the Rocket Man and big band productions. 

The bigger, contemporary ships have gone above and beyond to offer their guests experiences that were once thought to never be seen at sea. Norwegian Cruise Line is where you’ll find three-storey go-kart tracks and virtual-reality rides. Celebrity Cruises’ new Edge-class ships feature unique areas such as the Eden, an indoor garden where, by evening, roving performers come out to play and entertain. And on Virgin Voyages, guests can get inked with a tattoo before hitting the various nightclubs on the all-adults ship. The Manor, Virgin Voyages’ flagship nightclub space, is a two-storey, three-bar space named after Sir Richard Branson’s first recording studio. 

For families, Royal Caribbean excels with teen activities like the FlowRider Surf Simulator, bumper cars, ice rinks, rock climbing and the tallest slide at sea. And if you’re looking for opportunities for your kids to socialise while on holidays, there is a range of youth programs designed to encourage children to meet others in their age group. The Adventure Ocean youth program aims to educate kids aged 3–12 years about the world around them through science experiments, themed parties and art and crafts.

A Cunard couple sits in the theatre for a show.
A Cunard couple sits in the theatre for a show

Paul Gauguin Cruises has an emphasis on immersing children on board in the destinations on the cruise itinerary. When in the South Pacific, for example, the boutique line offers the Moana Explorer Program. This invites children and teens (aged 7–15 years) to try island excursions, underwater adventures, science, watersports, games, treasure hunts, star-gazing, Polynesian tattoos and more. 

Small luxury cruise lines offer specific programs in the destinations they sail. In the Last Frontier, Oceania offers the Alaska Explorer Youth Program for aspiring adventurers to learn about the wildlife and ecosystem of the region. 

Luxury lines, while they might not be known for their big-scale productions, have a focus on education as part of the onboard experience. For instance, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises have artists in residence and culinary cooking schools on their fleets. Windstar, too, has immersive onboard programs where experts will stay on board throughout the voyage. 

River cruise lines, due to their size, have thought of creative ways to entertain guests. Particularly on sailings through Europe, lines Travelmarvel, Scenic, Uniworld and Avalon Waterways not just connect guests with communities on land, but also on the ship. 

They have set the standard on board and have local artisans that come on the ships and host activities ranging from mixology classes to paint and wine classes, evening port lectures and dance parties.

On the Mekong, Scenic bring local entertainment onboard the ship
On the Mekong, Scenic bring local entertainment onboard the ship