Last updated: 10:19 AM ET, Fri May 20 2016

SkyRide: The Star of Carnival Vista's New Family Fun Offerings

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Carnival Cruise Line | Tim Wood | May 20, 2016

SkyRide: The Star of Carnival Vista's New Family Fun Offerings

PHOTO: Riders pedal on side-by-side tracks aboard Carnival Vista's SkyRide. (Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line)

ABOARD THE CARNIVAL VISTA — After more than 18 months of hype and teaser photos and an inaugural positioning cruise, the Carnival Vista began a summer of European cruising with a 10-day tour beginning in Barcelona and ending in Spain.

One of the signature strengths of Carnival Cruise Line is its entertainment programs and Camp Oceans kids day camps, the best among family-oriented cruise lines in my humble opinion. The former specifically shines during sea days when boredom is near impossible with activities launching at least every half hour.

So my son and I wondered what would fill our time during the nine port days, an oddity for those used to the Caribbean sailings of the cruise line. Yes, we’d explore shore excursions in some and wander on our own in other ports. But the activities schedule is streamlined by about 80 percent during port days, so what would fill our time?

We found the answer very quickly on the very top of the ship with a daring attraction and two new thrill-inducing waterslides.

The first new adventure is called SkyRide, a new invention from the mind of Rollerblades inventor Scott Olson. The thriller is a self-propelled mono-railed fitness machine that looks like a stationary bike attached to an 800-foot long track that circles the ships’ SportSquare area. Sounds fairly tame, huh? Well, take that ride and position the turns dangling out over the ship at 150 feet above sea level and the result is an exhilaration that is a game changer for the cruise industry.

I will admit that when I first heard of this ride, I was fairly underwhelmed. While Royal Caribbean has pushed the thrill limits with bumper cars and high-tech crane gondola rides that dangle out over the side of the ship, this felt like a glorified reimagining of the suspended obstacle courses found on the line’s other ships. But from the minute I was strapped into my harness and plopped down into my seat, I knew I had seriously underestimated the thrill factor here.

The ride is set up on two tracks, and while racing is seriously frowned upon, it’s hard to resist the competitive juices when friends, siblings and couples begin the trash talk. In my case, it was my 13-year-old son calling me out as over the hill. No, just a little queasy. I’m a thrill seeker and a roller coaster nut, but even for the seasoned thrillist, pedaling out over the edge of the ship at speeds of up to 18 mph is a next-level undertaking.

PHOTO: My son, TJ, pedals his SkyRide high above the port of Livorno, Italy. (Photo by Jeff Bogle Photography)

Both tracks have their turn out over the edge, with the blue track getting the first taste of the challenge and the red track getting the sea view on the back stretch. Both tracks also have an accelerating dip in the track – though not at the same time, so don’t freak out, blue laners, if you fall behind early.

My track dip came just as I had come to grips with my overweight arse being out over the sea on a piece of plastic attached to a monorail track. But still, I pedaled – you will continue to ride if you coast but I had victory on my mind. And just as I passed my son on the backstretch and savored his shock jaw expression in slow motion, the fatherly instincts kicked in. We ended in a photo finish for which the winner will be debated for all time.

This technology has so many applications, from fitness to theme park attraction to eco-friendly transportation. I remember seeing Olson make his pitch for SkyRide on “Shark Tank” and leave the tank without a deal. Not a shock, since this is a marvel that must be seen in operation to truly appreciate.

This is a burst ride, giving cruisers a three-minute jolt of exhilaration without the time investment and exponential fail opportunities that the obstacle course provides. Once onboard SkyRide, I felt like a six-year-old again, cruising around my neighborhood on my Incredible Hulk Big Wheel.

Next up, we took to the water with the new Twister and Kaleid-O-Slide slides. The Twister is not for the claustrophobic. There are sharp turns and dips, all as you surrender all control while lying on your back.

PHOTO: The view at the beginning of the two epic water rides.

The Kaleid-O-Slide delivers on its promise – the line's first inner tube ride with an array of colored rings to liven your senses as you spiral toward the water landing zone two decks below.

PHOTO: Inside the Kaleid-O-Slide.

The Twister was more memorable for me than the Kaleid-O-Slide, but both registered as more of one-time sensations that would not be worth the inevitable wait in line during sea days.

The SkyRide was the real winner here for my son and I. While cruise ships continue to one-up each other for the latest thrill or “I never thought I’d see that on a ship” innovation, the end product usually ends up being a disposable moment of fun. Decent when there’s no line, but not something worth waiting for.

SkyRide is different. You feel like you are getting exercise all while scoring spectacular views of the sea and the port cities. And this was while battling a gentle breeze while in port. Add in a strong wind and a moving ship and the fear factor kicks up to about a 26 on a 1-to-10 scale.

This is an addition that will hopefully be retrofitted in to the rest of the fleet during future dry docks. Every Carnival cruiser deserves the challenge and payoff that the SkyRide delivers.

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