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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