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Activities to expect on a cruise

Lesley Bellew

New to cruising? Find out what activities you can expect to find on-board to keep you occupied on days at sea.

Lady being pampered
Relax in the on-board spa

Destinations, destinations, destinations – a cruise is all about seeing the world.

But when sailing between ports, the ship becomes the destination and it is just as packed with new experiences as a day ashore. Just a glance at the ship’s daily schedule will have you wondering how ever you are going to fit in all the things you would like to try.


If you have always wanted to dance, almost all cruise ships offer beginners’ lessons and in the evenings you can practice your steps with other guests.

From Zumba to ballroom, rock’n’roll to disco you are bound to find a class that suits your style; it doesn’t matter if you have two left feet, dance classes are for fun – there’s no Strictly-style – so shrug off your inhibitions and embrace the relaxed atmosphere.A few new steps are not so difficult with one-to-one tuition from professional dancers who love nothing more than seeing beginners start to glide across the dance floor. Sometimes dance stars are on board so if that doesn’t inspire you nothing will!


Many passengers also get in touch with their arty side, inspired by ports of call to cultural cities, off-the-beaten track villages and journeys through gorgeous countryside. Experienced art teachers are regularly booked for classes and painting with water colours is a popular way to while day a few hours at sea.

Even if you haven’t painted since school days there is no need to worry about equipment, the ship’s teachers usually have beginner’s set of paints and brushes which do not cost a king’s ransom. Bring your own paints and brushes if you have them – especially as there is no luggage restriction on no-fly cruises. Cram in a pad and pencil to sketch scenes and inspire your approach to lessons.

A few art sessions can kick-start a new hobby and many guests take great pride in taking home their first painting - some also discover a hidden talent they did not know they had. It is never too late to learn or take up a new interest.


The huge success of TV baking programmes has created a new surge of interest among all ages and cruise holiday cookery lessons are, literally, on the rise.

Many ships offer cookery classes or courses, sometimes with celebrity chefs on board. Classes are included in the cruise price on some ships while others are chargeable, so choose carefully.

From healthy eating, gluten-free recipes or chocolate-themed classes there is a fabulous variety of food programmes and many chefs will also accompany passengers to markets for a masterclass in buying fresh local produce before taking it back to the ship for a cookery class.

Cruise directors have been quick to learn that chocoholics are in heaven when they can get their hands on their favourite treat. Master chocolatiers demonstrate how to create everything from chocolate cocktails to fabulous menus while lessons usually include truffle-making and graduate to making designer-style handbags completely from chocolate. You will know who has been to class as there is always evidence on their face, hands and aprons!

Sugarcraft is also a popular choice with the chance to learn how to make cake decorations for special occasions. The days of simple icing flowers are long gone and now the experts can demonstrate how to make everything from fairies, cats, dogs and designer shoes – well, just about anything!

Wine tasting

Wine tasting and wine pairing have become another sought-after activity, with passengers wanting to know more about the wines in the region they are visiting, the grapes and history of the vineyards. Masters of Wine are often booked so do not miss the opportunity to learn from experts who have such a vast knowledge. There is no need to feel intimidated if you know very little about wine, the lecturers are always keen to encourage more interest in wine and the wine regions. 
Wine pairing with menus is also inspiring, offering new ideas to take home for serious entertaining or to impress friends and family during Christmas and Easter gatherings.

Enrichment talks

Always try to fit in the enrichment talks about the destinations to be visited during the cruise. Experts add another layer of interest, so once ashore you have a greater appreciation of the local culture and history, which all makes for a more rewarding and enjoyable day ashore.

Speakers also often regale intriguing stories behind the artwork in galleries, famous figures in history and celebrity hang-outs, to the best places to buy local delicacies or souvenirs. Be sure to pick their brains and then you can show off your new-found wealth of knowledge!

Enrichment talks are often linked to themed cruises such as wildlife and birdwatching, art history, archaeology, gardens, explorers, politics and famous battles. Most passengers leave a ship well-informed as well as well-travelled.

The lecturers can range from the former boss of MI5 to newsreaders, ex-military chiefs to TV gardeners and pantomime dames - however, if you are double-booked with activities you can always watch the talks on the ship’s catch-up TV channels.

Learn a new language

Learning the basics of the language used in the ports of call can also be really useful. From Spanish to Norwegian or Russian, it is good know how to say hello and ask the way. The lecturers also add snippets about the culture and customs; some languages dispense with please, thank-you and excuse me, so passengers can also learn not to be offended by abrupt questions and answers!

Musical entertainment

A-list singers and bands often join sailings for a few nights – so look out for your favourites. Many ships put on West End-style shows as well as cabaret nights with singers, magicians and comedians.

Musical entertainment generally crosses all genres so classical music fans can enjoy listening to a string quartet or piano recital and those who love to sing may find there is a choir to join.

A pianist always plays during Afternoon Tea - a must event on sea days! Enjoy delicately cut sandwiches, scones with cream and jam plus plenty of cakes or ‘dunk’ fruit into a chocolate dip if that’s more your style.

Quiz's and 'games'

There’s often a pub-style quiz in one of the ship’s lounges so wander in to make up a team and be surprised about how much you know – or don’t. It is always good to keep your ears open because people with the answers often cannot resist saying them out loud.

Bridge is such a draw that some passengers join a cruise just to play but there is no need to worry about having L-plates, the groups split between beginners and experts. By the end of a fortnight learners will have enough skill and confidence to walk into their local bridge club.

Watch any movie about the bygone days of cruising and you will see passengers playing classic deck games. This evocative image continues today with quoits and shuffleboard remaining ever-popular over the decades. Give it a try and perhaps find a partner to play table tennis, another firm cruise favourite.

Get active...

Restless souls can swim, go the gym or join Pilates, yoga and other fitness classes. Walking a mile or two round the ship is a good way to start the day, so march along on your own if you enjoy the peace or join a group to make it more sociable.

Golfers will also find some ships have practice and putting areas or even hi-tech simulators, while those who take the game less seriously may like to join a round of crazy golf which sometimes makes for an embarrassing time when the ball goes into the water!

...or relax

If you prefer some pampering, find the spa and beauty salon as there is no better time to indulge. From manicures and pedicures to massages or a haircut, be sure to book ahead as everyone else will have the same idea on a sea day.

On sunny days, lazing by the pool makes for perfect cruising. Slap on the sun cream, relax and listen to the sea or grab a book from the library. When it gets too hot, take a dip in the pool. And repeat.

If you are not too exhausted by the end of the day, sit out under a starry sky to watch a film. It’s a wonderful experience, although most people find the motion of the sea, combined with a nightcap, means they always miss the last scenes!

All that’s left is to find the midnight buffet, after all, it was such a busy day!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.