Monday, 16 May 2016

Carnival on the right track with SkyRide

Carnival on the right track with SkyRide

SkyRide vehicles travel on a track 150 feet above the water. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
SkyRide vehicles travel on a track 150 feet above the water. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

ABOARD THE CARNIVAL VISTA — If Royal Caribbean International is known for its rock climbing wall, and Norwegian Cruise Line for its over-the-edge walking plank, Carnival Cruise Line has been known for its waterslides.
Well, there’s a new top-deck attraction on Carnival’s latest ship, Carnival Vista, and it will give waterslides a run for their money.
The SkyRide is a recumbent bicycle wrapped in an aerodynamic shell and suspended beneath a metal track held by steel struts two stories above the ship’s 12th deck.
I had been eager to try it ever since Carnival unveiled the conceptual renderings. I’m happy to say it is as much fun as it looks like in the drawings.
My first ride was in Barcelona while the ship was still in port. My strategy was to beat the crowd. I only had to wait in line for six or eight other riders before I got my turn.
I strapped into a safety harness that’s attached with a clip to the back of the vehicle shell. The seat is surrounded by a circular opening. I crouched, sat down and put my feet up on the pedals in front of me.
The ride attendant helped me adjust the seat to the proper distance for my legs, and I was off.
Within a couple of pedal rotations, the floor of the transit station fell away and I was whirring through the air 150 feet above the waterline. It was a fine sunny day in Barcelona and the view was truly a birds-eye one. Seagulls were flying at the same level I was.
Toward center city Barcelona, I could see the beginnings of La Rambla, the city’s famed boulevard, several miles away. Out to sea, tankers and freighters rested at anchor below me.
There are dual tracks, so you can ride with a companion or race a friend. The second rider was well behind me, so I was all alone up in the sky. I felt free as a bird.
Pedaling the SkyRide is like riding a bike without having to balance. It is easy. I really enjoyed the sense, however, that I had to do a little work to get myself around the track. It wouldn’t be as much fun if it was electrically powered.
Ben Kolbel, 10, gets ready for his trip on SkyRide. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Ben Kolbel, 10, gets ready for his trip on SkyRide. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
The track is an elongated rectangle that runs about a third of the length of the ship — 800 feet in total. As I approached the second turn, I hit the section where it declines about two feet and picked up speed.
I had been instructed to use the brake going into the turn. I coasted instead, and as I rounded the bend, I imagined pedaling into the turn would give the vehicle a fun/scary swing outward. Overall, SkyRide is tame enough, but this was the one thrilling moment when I felt as if I might go straight off the back of the ship.
The corresponding section of track on the return has an incline of a foot or two, which took about 10% of extra pedal power to master. From there it was a matter of how quickly I wanted the ride to be over.
I didn’t want it to be over, so I slowed my pace, leisurely enjoying the view from the top of the aptly named Vista.
One of the strongest selling points for the SkyRide is that it should appeal to a broad range of users. It goes without saying kids will love it, but any reasonably agile adult will, too, with the possible exception of someone with an intense fear of heights.
I found SkyRide to be one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done on a cruise ship. Some cruise ship innovations are one-and-done for me, but I could go on the SkyRide repeatedly, and even pick a ship based on having it.
The only thing that can stop SkyRide is the weather.  A late-afternoon shower in Barcelona shut it down, and winds the next day exceeded the 45 mph safety ceiling, so it was closed.
But as soon as I get a chance, I want to take another spin, this time with the ship moving forward and the sea rolling beneath me. I can’t wait to experience what that feels like.