While you might picture exotic ports of call for your cruise, the vast majority of the trip is actually spent on the ship. It’s where you’ll explore and play sailing from port to port. It’s where you’ll eat, sleep, and relax. In fact, we calculated that on a 7-day cruise, roughly 85% of your vacation is actually spent on the cruise ship.
And when you have a sea day on your cruise, it’s where you’ll spend the entire day taking in all the ship has to offer. You can think of it as the ship being your port of call for the day.
So what exactly do you need to know about your sea day(s) on a cruise? Below, we cover the ins and outs of what to expect.
What Is a Day at Sea on a Cruise?
A day at sea — also called a sea day — is exactly what it sounds like. During most traditional cruises there will be one or two days where the ship isn’t in port. Instead, you are simply sailing on the open ocean for the entire day.
During this time, the cruise ship is your playground. All the venues onboard will be open for you to enjoy and the staff will put on entertainment and activities for passengers. Of course, you don’t have to do anything. The day is completely your own to enjoy. If you want to spend it relaxing in the room or just working on your tan, you can do that.
Think of it just like if you went to a resort on land. You can do whatever you like on the grounds (in this case the ship).
Why Have Days at Sea?
While we wouldn’t call these days controversial, there are definitely some passengers that love having a sea day. Others can do without as they prefer to be out and about exploring ports. So why are these ‘portless’ days a thing?
In many cases, when a ship is traveling to a distant port of call it can take more than a day of sailing to reach the destination. In that case, there is no choice but to have a travel day on the open ocean.
But sometimes a ship could easily make another port when sailing overnight and there is still a day at sea. In these cases, sea days are used to extend the length of a cruise without another port. Take a three-day cruise from Miami that stops in Nassau and a private island. That same route can be extended to four days (which means a longer cruise and higher fares) simply by having a day at sea included.
What Is There to Do on Sea Days?
As mentioned, when on a sea day the entire ship is open to passengers. That means there is as much to do as your particular cruise ship offers.
First, things like the casino, shops, and restaurants will all be open to enjoy. The spa is also wide open (and likely more busy). If you’ve been wanting to get a spa treatment during the time at sea, be sure to book it ahead of time to ensure there is room.
The ship’s crew will also put on all sorts of activities and things to do to keep passengers entertained. This can range from trivia to theater shows to sports contests to belly-flop competitions on some lines.
The most popular thing to do on a sea day, however, is to hit the pool deck. Assuming the weather is good, this will be by far the most crowded area of the ship during the middle of the day with hundreds or thousands soaking up the sun.
But whatever you do is up to you. Some folks just like to relax, sleep in, and take their time without the hassle of rushing on and off the ship like when in port.
For more, see our article on things to do on a sea day here.
What’s Fun About These Days?
For some people, the sea days are their favorite time on the cruise. When visiting a port of call, the day can be fun but also hectic. You have a limited time in port whereby you need to get up, get ready, leave the ship, explore, and make it back before the departure time.
Compared, sea days are much more relaxed. With no schedule to meet, the entire day is yours to plan however you want. And because the entire ship is open, that means you can do anything that’s available on board. There is also a lot more to do that’s put on by the staff compared to port days.
If vacation to you is sleeping in, grabbing brunch, getting some pool time, hitting the spa, eating a meal, and watching a show, there’s a lot to like about these days on the cruise.
What’s Not So Fun?
We mentioned that not everyone is a fan of sea days. So what’s the downside?
For one, it’s these days when you’re most likely to notice the crowds on the ship. Cruise lines are smart about scheduling things around the ship to spread out the crowd some. Even so, popular areas — such as the pool at midday will definitely be busy. After all, everyone will be on the ship the entire day and looking for things to do.
As well, days at sea can be a bit more boring if you’re someone that likes to see and do a lot. Compared to exploring a new port, the ship is relatively small (no matter how large it is). That means after several hours you’ve likely seen and done everything. We will say that it’s tough to get bored for a day, but when we’ve sailed with two sea days back to back, we were absolutely ready to get off the ship when it finally docked in port.
Tips for Sea Days
When you are on the ship while on a day at sea, here are a few things you will want to consider…
Spas can be more expensive: Sometimes cruise lines offer discounted services for spa treatments when the ship is in port to drum up business. On days at sea with everyone on the ship, prices can be more expensive. If you don’t mind the higher prices then still be sure to book ahead of time to reserve your space just to ensure that treatments aren’t all booked up. Spa services are much more popular when the ship is at sea.
Head to the pool early or late: The popularity of the pool area during a sunny day at sea can’t be overestimated. It should be considered the heartbeat of the ship. While you’ll always be able to find a lounger somewhere on the top deck, if you want to be by the pool then get there early (before 10 a.m.) or later in the day (after 3 p.m.). Between those times, expect it to be tough to find a spot to sit. The same thing goes for water-based attractions like waterslides on the ship.
Great day to take it slow: If your sea day comes early in the cruise, there might be a feeling that you have to rush things, especially if it’s the first full day of your cruise. After dozens of cruises, we still feel like this, with the idea that we have to see and do it all right at the start. Truth is, there is plenty of time on the ship. Even if you take it slow and easy on your day at sea, you’ll still have ample time to experience everything on the cruise.
Use it to explore: Should a day at sea come early in the cruise, we suggest taking some time during the day to simply explore the ship. Modern cruise ships are massive, with up to 20 decks in some cases. It’s easy to get lost and there may be spots you never see if you don’t purposely seek them out. Taking an hour or two to explore can help you get your bearings and make it easier to navigate the ship for the rest of the cruise.