Surreal, marvelous and strange: Welcome to Royal Caribbean’s Sky Pad

Surreal, marvelous and strange: Welcome to Royal Caribbean's Sky Pad

Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

ABOARD INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS — Looking like a
giant soccer ball or something arrived recently from outer space, the new Sky
Pad attraction will change the profile of Royal Caribbean International ships.

Over the next three years, Royal Caribbean plans to install
them on 10 ships as the centerpiece of its $900 million Royal Amplified
retrofit program. Where once the most recognizable feature of the line’s vessels
was the Viking Crown Lounge, they will now be defined by a bungee trampoline
apparatus with virtual reality goggles.

I tried the Sky Pad on a brisk, sunny day off the coast of
England on a two-day cruise for European travel agents. There’s the inevitable
waiver to sign, a wait in line for 10 to 15 minutes and a climb up some stairs
to the staging platform.

When I reached the front of the line, there were four
pixelated discs printed on the floor of the entryway — blue, red, green and
yellow circles with lines connected each disc to a different trampoline.
Jumpers stand on the discs waiting for the previous jumpers to clear the
trampolines before following the path to their jump station.

Although there are some weight and age requirements and
guests with neck or shoulder injuries are discouraged from participating,
basically any semi-fit passenger 5 or older can enjoy a jump. Children must be
7 or older to use the virtual reality goggles.

The attraction has two features, which are only loosely connected.
One is the bungee bouncing, which requires kneeling on the trampoline and being
strapped into a snug fitting harness. The other is the virtual reality goggle
set, which is fitted carefully over the head and eyes, and fastened with a chin
strap.

At that point, bouncers enter into a new world. If you’ve
never tried virtual reality before, it can be a bit disorienting being cut off
from every visual clue to the outside world. The Sky Pad has several visual
worlds to choose from — I chose the Candy Crush, a favorite of Royal Caribbean
president Michael Bayley.

Once the goggles are activated, I am at once surrounded by
an animated, pastel-colored landscape of purple ice cream mountains and
canary-yellow M&M-style wafers. At the same time, bungee winches tighten,
bringing me to my feet on the trampoline.

A guide encourages me to start bouncing. Many participants
start tentatively because the virtual world is so comprehensive, and there’s no
way of seeing whether you are landing at the center of the trampoline or at its
very edge. However, guides bring bouncers back to the center if they stray too
far toward the edge, which is surrounded by a fat, inflated safety collar.

Inside the candy world, I’m bounding down a winding trail,
with large candies either blocking my way or leisurely floating through the air
toward me. The bungee gives everything below my neck the rather disembodied
sensation of jumping on a trampoline, but also the feeling of bounding like a
moon-man through the candy land, with real jumps on the trampoline transformed
into 20-foot leaps in virtual world.

Candies smash into me as I go, exploding harmlessly into
shards as I make virtual collisions. It is goofy, surreal, marvelous and
strange. And then –after three minutes of jumping, with encouraging commentary
from my guide such as “You’re doing great, Blue Jumper,” — it is
suddenly over.

Lowered back to the kneeling position, the goggles are
removed, harness straps undone and I’m left to collect my shoes and exit the
giant soccer ball. Sky Pad has given me a cruise experience in another world.
It was a lot of fun.

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