A view of the sundeck onboard Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s River Tosca // © 2014 Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Feature image (above): Sanctuary Retreats’ Sanctuary Ananda offers a pool, lounge furniture and space for dining on its sundeck. // © 2014 Sanctuary Retreats
Designing river cruise vessels involves very strict spatial limitations — particularly on European rivers, with their locks and bridges — so every inch of a cruise ship is important. Cruise lines have done wonders in developing alternative dining venues, installing sleek elevators and designing staterooms and suites with walk-in closets, glassed-in sun porches that open up, luxurious bathrooms and hotel-level beds. The one area that has been slower to develop is the sundeck at the top of the ship, with 360-degree views and space to soak up the sun.
On seagoing ships, these top decks would house the best suites, but on rivers, the ships must be flexible with raising and lowering their highest points to pass under bridges. Therefore, retractable roofs and canopies, lowering pilot houses and furnishings that can be quickly removed have been the rule.
Despite the limitations, sundecks have begun to blossom into important social centers, with pools, game areas and striking sections to enjoy drinks and dining.
Ingenious areas with descending roofs and stepped designs have allowed the ships to include putting greens, herb gardens and solar panels, plus swimming pools and Jacuzzis, on the top decks. And, away from Europe, the sky is more or less the limit, with luxury suites, VIP and alfresco dining and recreation areas similar to the adults-only retreats on seagoing ships.
Among the most attractive sundecks:
- AmaWaterways Sonata has a sundeck that attracts guests from breakfast through after-dinner drinks, with its appealing lounge areas, covered and open, set with cushioned rattan couches and chairs. The heated pool with a swim-up bar also is quite popular, and the walking track and hot tub are great places to watch the sun go down (or come up).
- The Sky Decks on Waterways’ Suite Ships have an alfresco grill restaurant with a great view, sheltered lounges, whirlpools and game areas.
- Century Legend, operating on the Yangtze River, has divided its sundeck into Executive Suites, a VIP restaurant, a library, a gym and a lounge area.
- Emerald Waterways has a putting green for golf, a Sky Barbecue and a giant tic-tac-toe game on the top decks of its ships. The heated pool, which turns into a cinema at night, is one deck down, because its retractable roof has to be placed on the sundeck level.
- Sanctuary Retreats’ Sanctuary Ananda has a beautiful and exotic top Bhamo Deck, a combination of suites, a pool with lounges and a dining space.
- Scenic Cruises’ Scenic Jade breaks up the sundeck space with planters and striped chairs grouped around tables. Lounges are mainly under large umbrellas, and there’s a walking track. There are also occasional barbecues and picnics for guests to enjoy.
- Tauck’s Savor has a putting green on its sundeck, along with very comfortable lounges; there’s also a Jacuzzi available 24 hours a day.
- The sundeck of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ River Tosca offers open and covered spaces for lounging, a pool and dining.
- Viking River Cruises introduced solar panels that help to power the ships and a topside organic herb garden. Chefs use the herbs to to flavor meals as well as to decorate tables. Viking Longships also have walking tracks; shaded- and open-seating areas with tables, chairs and lounges; putting greens; and areas for games, from shuffleboard to oversize chessboards.
Guests and agents see even more potential on the top decks of river cruise ships and suggest that river cruise lines could go further with luxury cabanas; Balinese sun loungers; ice cream, coffee and pastry stations; and infinity pools. Undoubtedly, in the coming years, there will be additional developments in the highly competitive world of ship design.