I sailed on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in December of last year.
The realistic Boardwalk was my favorite "neighborhood" on the massive cruise ship.
The vessel will be stripped of its "world's largest cruise ship" title in 2024 by the Icon of the Seas.
A year has passed since I first sailed on Royal Caribbean's massive Wonder of the Seas.
Since then, I've been on two luxurious cruise ships with fares and amenities that could shock Royal Caribbean's regulars.
But these shiny new floating resorts' complimentary champagne and luxurious suites weren't enough to topple the Wonder of the Seas from its top spot on my "best cruises" list.
That's because Royal Caribbean's mega cruise ship had one standout feature I've yet to see on another vessel: the Boardwalk.
At 235,600 gross tons, the Wonder of the Seas has held onto its title of the world’s largest cruise ship since its debut in 2022.
This 18-deck floating resort has a seemingly endless list of amenities throughout its eight "neighborhoods," a term Royal Caribbean uses to describe the different sections of its ships.
Walking around the 1,188-foot-long vessel can feel like an overwhelming task.
I would know — I spent two nights on the vessel in December 2022 during a sailing for journalists and travel agents.
At its size, I needed well over two nights to explore everything it had to offer.
The Wonder of the Seas felt more like a massive amusement park than a typical cruise liner.
Like any cruise ship, there was a buffet, atrium, and pool deck.
But the vessel sets itself apart from any competitors with its nontraditional neighborhoods.
The most impressive of these, and now my favorite, was the Boardwalk.
If you’re wondering what the Boardwalk looks like, just turn to its name.
This energetic open-aired neighborhood was grounded by wood-planked flooring reminiscent of the real beach boardwalks that were a staple of my California childhood.
Like the boardwalks I spent my afternoons at, this neighborhood was lined with various inoffensive American dining options.
The hot dog stand, anchored with a bright neon sign and giant mustard statue, looked like a retro beachside food spot.
Next door, the candy and ice cream store was bespeckled with colorful lit-up decor, just like the irresistible sweets shops of my childhood (except this time, I had no accompanying parent to drag in).
There was even a recognizable Johnny Rockets serving up classic burgers and fries, although dining here comes at an additional cost.
Like the iconic burger restaurant, travelers also have to pay extra for a plate of chicken tenders at Playmakers sports bar across the "street."
Here, children can play at the small arcade while their parents catch the latest game over a platter of chicken wings and a cold beer.
It wouldn’t be a true boardwalk without fun activities for children.
A bright carousel centered this neighborhood.
For agile youngsters, there was also a wall with suspended climbing platforms and nets, shown above.
More experienced climbers could instead traverse the tall rock-climbing walls.
These two walls perfectly framed the Aqua Theater.
At night, travelers flocked to this open-aired theater to catch a showing of “inTENse.”
Nighttime cruise entertainment no longer means cheesy song-and-dance performances.
This water-based theater hosted the most exhilarating cruise show I've ever seen.
Instead of singers and musicians, the fast-paced “inTENse” had divers, dancers, synchronized swimmers, and even a tightrope walker.
The performers bounced between two stage platforms that rose and sank into the pool, the first I've seen on a ship.
It's one of the few times I didn't want to leave halfway through a cruise show.
But even during the day, all of Boardwalk’s amenities kept me coming back.
I'm not the target demographic for a carousel or ice cream shop.
But I'm sure other adults could relate to the nostalgic feeling I got while walking around this neighborhood.
Royal Caribbean struck a delicate balance with the Boardwalk.
While the pool deck was overwhelmingly colorful and loud, the Central Park neighborhood was too quiet and passive.
I found the Boardwalk to be somewhere in the middle: fun and energetic without feeling draining.
In theory, it’s just copying a concept that already exists.
But I've never seen it on a floating resort, nor would I have expected it to feel so similar to its on-land counterpart.
The buzzing energy I remember from boardwalks of my childhood was exactly what I felt when I walked around the Wonder of the Seas' interpretation.
This space was designed to accommodate more guests than you might expect: The ship can host more than 9,288 people, including crew.
But if you have plans to travel on the Wonder of the Seas in 2024, you could see more travelers than that — more cruises are expected to sail at an occupancy rate of more than 100% in 2024.
It’s undoubtedly a massive ship. But in just two months, the vessel will lose its title of the world’s largest.
In late January 2023, Royal Caribbean's larger Icon of the Seas will overtake the Wonder of the Seas' title.
While the upcoming Icon won't have a Boardwalk, Royal Caribbean's renderings of its Surfside neighborhood show it could be an acceptable substitute.
We'll have to wait another two months to see if that's the case.
Read the original article on Insider