The Best Cruise Ship Happy Hours

The other is the elegant and whimsical Cova Cafe, inspired and designed by the famous Milanese coffee bar of the same name. Beyond coffee drinks, it also has an Italian-influenced wine list, serves after-dinner liqueurs and features its own bakery, which offers best-at-sea pastries. (The chocolate croissants are marvelous.) The cafe appears only on Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Summit and Celebrity Constellation.

As part of a $525 million Signature of Excellence initiative, Holland America upgraded its vessels to include the Explorations Cafe, which combines a coffee shop, Internet cafe and a library -- making these spaces ideal for those who want to check e-mail or curl up with a good book while sipping some Joe. Beverages offered at Explorations cost extra, but complimentary cookies, pastries, fruit and sandwiches are available.

Got Game: Sports Bars

Signature Elements: You may be thousands of miles from land, but it's still possible to root for the home team, via onboard sports bars. Many lines have negotiated with ESPN and other sports channels to show telecasts.

Our Favorites: Disney Wonder and Disney Magic fill the sports gap with the adults-only Diversions, which features special game tables for backgammon, checkers and chess. Norwegian Epic features O'Sheehan's (pictured), where passengers can bowl, throw darts and play pool or foosball before enjoying dinner and drinks. Most Carnival ships, with the exception of Fantasy and Dream classes, have sports bars on the promenade deck. They're decorated with life-size figures of athletes and tables and chairs made to look like sports equipment.

Pub Reporter: The English Saloon

Signature Elements: Pubs evoke images of cozy, dark wood places that hint of cold and damp, pints of lager, and chalkboard menus offering fish-n-chips and mushy peas -- not to mention cheery fellowship. Cruise ships tend to offer more upmarket recreations. (And, way too often for purist tastes, you'll find Budweiser, rather than Bass, on draught.)

Our Favorites: Our special favorites include The Pearly Kings Pub on Norwegian Dawn; on sea days, it serves up traditional pub grub, along with some English pool. (Catch British television comedies on the in-bar televisions.) Carnival Victory has the Irish Sea Bar -- an apparent nod to the land of Ire -- which has a classic pub feel, thanks to its dark woods and rounded bar, which somewhat resembles an old-fashioned wooden keg.

A fleetwide staple on all Princess cruise ships is the Wheelhouse Bar. Decor varies from ship to ship, but the pub lunch offered daily features standard English fare like bangers and mash, fish-n-chips, a ploughman's lunch and traditional cottage pie.

Tickle the Ivories: Piano Bars

Signature Elements: This trendy type of bar is relatively new and appears on vessels in several mass-market lines' fleets. In addition to the usual mixed drinks served in other happy hour venues, piano bars also include live piano music, with plenty of opportunities to sing along.

Our Favorites: Carnival earns top honors in this category, with piano bars on all its ships. Though no two look the same (pictured is Carnival Splendor), you can expect the same rollicking atmosphere with plenty of singalongs, group toasts and some adult-themed tunes after midnight.

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