Think of a cruise and likely one of the most vivid images will be the top deck, bathed in sunshine, people enjoying themselves, and right in the middle is a crystal-clear swimming pool.
Pools are the centerpiece of any cruise ship, and while they have certainly evolved in what they offer since the early days of cruising, the formula is largely the same. Sunny days, warm weather, and electric blue water mean happy passengers.
But if you’ve never cruised before, there might be some details about cruise ship pools that you have questions about. Below, we get into the nitty gritty of what to know about your swim options.
How big are the pools on a cruise ship?
The size of pools on your ship will vary based on a number of factors. In general, however, you can expect them to be smaller than what you might find on land — especially given how many people are on a cruise ship.
The fact is that water is heavy and pools are often located at the top of the ship, meaning they can’t be too large. Otherwise, the weight and position would impact the balance of the ship.
Often pools are a size that would be decent-sized for your backyard, but relatively small considering there can be thousands of passengers. While we’ve never pulled out a tape measure, a pool that’s 15 feet by 30 feet or 20 feet by 40 feet is a good estimate.
That said, there are a couple of tricks used to increase the size. First, many ships have multiple pools spread out around the vessel instead of having just one larger spot to swim. Second, you’ll notice that cruise ships have “wading” areas around the pool itself where the water is just a few inches deep. This provides a look that’s larger without adding the weight of a full-depth spot to swim.
How deep are the cruise pools?
Like the size of cruise pools, the depth of the pools can vary as well. Some like the “beach” pools on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships have a sloping shore that literally starts at zero. Others may have a slope from a few feet while others are flat bottomed, meaning an even depth across the pool.
At greatest depth, we’ve found pools to be about six feet deep. That’s plenty of space to take a dip and even dive under water to cool off.
Are there lifeguards on duty?
Over the years there have been unfortunate instances of passengers drowning in cruise pools. In response, the vast majority of cruise lines now offer lifeguards on duty whenever swimming is open. It may be the case that your specific cruise line doesn’t offer a lifeguard, but major lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean have guards on duty.
That said, if you are sailing with smaller kids, we’d recommend not just assuming the lifeguard will watch them. It’s smart to still keep an eye on the kiddos just to be sure. With lots of people in the pool, extra eyes are always a good idea.
Are there life jackets available?
If you — or your kids — aren’t a great swimmer, it’s good to know that cruise lines often have life jackets available for you to use. You’ll find them near the edge of the pool and they are free. Simply walk up and grab one and put it on. When you’re done, return it to the rack.
If you don’t see them out on your cruise, ask a staff member if there are any available. They will know where you can get one.
One thing to know is that the gentle rocking of a ship at sea can cause water to shift back and forth. If you have someone that doesn’t swim well, this movement of the water can make it harder to swim. Life jackets are a good idea.
Are there age, height, or other requirements to swim?
Unless in an adults-only area, pools are open to all passengers, regardless of age. In fact, you’ll normally find lots of kids enjoying a swim.
The only requirement is that children be potty-trained to swim in the pool. Even if wearing a swim diaper, non-potty-trained kids are not allowed in pools.
That said, some ships (especially larger vessels) will often have a splash area where smaller kids can still get wet and have fun even in swim diapers.
Are cruise ship pools heated?
If you want a warm spot to swim, there are always whirlpools on the ship. Modern cruise ships can have anywhere from 6-12 of these hot tubs for passengers to enjoy.
But if you want to swim in a pool, it may or may not be heated. We’ve been on some ships that do heat swimming pools, including Royal Caribbean Quantum-class ships headed to Alaska. Others have been pretty chilly, especially when sailing from ports in the United States in the winter.
The good news is that if you are sailing to the Caribbean, it’s always fairly warm there. Even if the pool is a little cool at the start of your cruise, a day or two in the sun warms it right up.
What are the pool hours?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking swimming pools are open around the clock. Different pools will keep different hours, but in general expect the pools on the ship to be open from mid-morning until night time. For instance, the schedule for MSC’s pools show hours from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.:
And don’t think that you’ll be able to sneak in after hours. Pools are covered with netting when closed to prevent anyone from accidently falling in or swimming when they shouldn’t be.
How many pools are there on the ship?
In the early days of cruising, you could expect to have one pool on the ship. Those days are over. Modern ships (those built in the past 20 years) will have multiple pools. And some of the largest ships in the world will have more than just a couple, such as Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, which carries seven different swimming pools.
Typically there will always be a main pool in the middle of the ship, along with one forward and one at the aft of the ship. However, each ship will vary.
Are any pools adults only?
One popular feature of many cruise ships is an adults-only area. These areas are on the top of the ship and offer a sanctuary away from the noise and activity of the louder pool deck. Most importantly for many, kids aren’t allowed here.
Whether or not the adults spot has a pool, however, will depend on the ship. If there is one here, then it will be adults-only, giving a spot to swim without kids.
In general, however, pools in public areas will let all ages swim.
Can I have food or drink in the pool?
Want to have a bite or a sip while in the pool? In all our years of cruising, we’ve never noticed specific signage about food/drink in the swimming pool. That said, it’s generally understood to be a faux pas.
We’ve personally never witnessed anyone actually eating food in the water, and it wouldn’t surprise us if staff says something to anyone that tries. Nobody wants to swim in water where someone accidently dropped a burger.
As for drinks, things seem more relaxed. It’s common for people to sit poolside with a drink in hand or to be swimming and set a glass on the edge of the pool. Still, it would likely be frowned upon to be swimming in the middle of the pool with a pina colada that might spill.
Are there accessible pools on a cruise ship?
Are you or someone you are cruising with in a wheelchair? Good news is that there should be an accessible pool via a lift chair. The bad news is that it seems like these lifts are only available for some pools. So while a ship might have multiple pools, only one might have a lift for those in a wheelchair.
Our suggestion would be to just ask the staff which pool is accessible. They can also help you in operating the lift to get in and out.