Carnival Cruise party ship

The Middeck pool and slide

For most vacationers, a cruise is all about sun, sand, sights and relaxation. But for those for whom the night is always young, many cruise ships also provide a big nighttime party scene.

Discos operate into the wee hours, slot machines clang in the casino, live musicians and DJs provide a beat – whether you want it mellow or pulsating. You can catch a show, laugh along to comedians or snuggle under a blanket outdoors for the cruise ship equivalent of a drive-in movie.

Here are the top cruise ships for nightlife.

The line's ships all provide a non-stop nighttime scene, but the action is on steroids on the world's largest ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. Watch a real Broadway show (on select ships) or head to the comedy club for laughs or the karaoke bar to show your skills. Try your luck at the Vegas-style Casino Royale or dance the night away with salsa at Boleros or in a multi-level disco, where celebrity scratch DJs host dance parties. The ships collectively also have ice skating shows, high-diving shows and nighttime parades featuring DreamWorks characters. On Quantum of the Seas, debuting in November, robots join the scene — as both performers and bartenders.

The idea is something for everyone (except maybe people who like things quiet). Live musical acts are everywhere, clubs and bars in clusters so you can wander easily from one to another. The casinos have a glitzy decor (including a Hanging Gardens of Babylon theme on Carnival Freedom). Discos feature scratch-n-spin masters trained by DJ IRIE, official DJ for the Miami Heat. Funnyman George Lopez has a hand in choosing talent for the popular Punchliner Comedy Club, with multiple shows each night.

The nighttime scene on the line's stylish ships is being beefed up with new parties and the addition of Sin City, combining comedy and burlesque (on select ships). The non-smoking Fortunes Casino offers a good selection of table play and slots. Elsewhere, acrobats appear out of nowhere, including in atriums, and there are nightly shows in the main theater. The disco scene includes, on Solstice-class ships, opportunity to swing in a hanging bubble chair when you're not out on the dance floor.

With the best cruise ship casinos, according to Casino Player magazine, Norwegian also delights the nighttime crowd with some of the best parties at sea – including the popular White Hot Party. A big variety of clubs and bars include the sexy, outdoor Spice H20 and the cool Bliss Ultra Lounge, complete with bowling lanes on some ships. There are venues for comedy and jazz and blues, and the newest ships have the best singalong piano act at sea, "Howl at the Moon." You'll also find Broadway shows or musical reviews and such fun absurdities as Svedka Ice Bars (on select ships).

GO VIP: Dance all night in the best cruise ship discos

This is the line that invented Movies Under the Stars, shown outdoors on giant screens (now a feature on a lot of ships). On Royal Princess and Regal Princess, additional outdoor fun takes place around the main pool, equipped with fountains for nighttime water and light shows. A new, South Beach-style Night Sky Lounge is debuting this fall – it's outdoors at the Retreat Pool on Regal in the Caribbean. The casinos offer an array of slots and tables, and production shows, comedians, nighttime game shows, discos and live music keep the entertainment scene hopping.

Yes there are shows in the wonderful Royal Court Theatre, comedians, live musicians and classy Monte Carlo-style casinos that see plenty of action. But the real nighttime scene involves dancing. Don't miss the real themed balls, where you can trip the light fantastic on the dance floor or just listen to the big band. For the late-night crowd, head from the ball to the disco – on Queen Mary 2 the surprisingly hip, two-level G32.

Under the chandeliers of the sophisticated Crystal Casino on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, gamblers will find plenty of amusements. The flow is easy from there to the disco or a bar for a nightcap. The nighttime scene also includes ballroom-style dancing, production shows and entertainment provided by comedians, magicians and musicians. There's a karaoke scene on the luxury line too.

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