Author’s Note: This post is excerpted from a Kindle e- guide I wrote after enjoying a cruise to the Caribbean.
Four days into our Caribbean cruise we shared the breakfast table with a fellow cruiser. Her plate was loaded with sweet rolls, pancakes, and toast. While her husband was nursing a hangover, she was enjoying our company for breakfast, and complaining about the fact that she could no longer fit into some of her pants. She referred to the advice she received from her sister, an experienced cruiser: “You should go on a crash diet before you cruise. That way you can eat what you like and the extra pounds won’t matter.” Clearly, the sisterly advice was not working very well.
The “lose before you cruise” advice wasn’t working for me either. I was traveling on my first cruise and still carrying ten extra winter pounds. I had been diligent with my low-carb program for months, but I found myself in a six-week plateau. The scale refused to budge. I knew that if I didn’t have a plan for the upcoming cruise, I would not squeeze into my traveling pants on the journey home. Why blow months of effort in one week on a cruise?
My resolve to manage my weight doubled on day one of the cruise, thanks to the cruise ship’s fitness instructor. As I adjusted my cycle getting ready for my first spinning class of the week, the instructor informed us:
The typical cruiser gains 1 to 2 pounds for every day at sea!
I doubt that there is scientific evidence to back up this statement, but this is a frightening scenario. For the typical seven-day cruise, that’s seven to fourteen extra pounds! No way! Who wants to go home carrying an extra suitcase around the middle? This was one situation in which I did not want to be “typical.” So I worked very hard to prepare for the cruise and create a plan that would help me avoid the extra weight. Here’s the big lesson: You can have a healthy cruise and still have a fantastic time! You deserve to enjoy a fabulous cruise and to walk off the gangplank just as fit as when you arrived. Here are six tips that will help you incorporate health into your cruising lifestyle.
STEP 1: Set a Realistic Goal
The first step is to set a realistic goal for yourself. If you truly believe that there should be no limits on a cruise, will you be okay with a ten pound weight gain? Would “success” be limiting your weight gain to five pounds? Or is your strongest desire to step off the ship the same weight that you boarded? And for those who are really ambitious and want to take advantage of all the fitness opportunities, it’s a perfectly reasonable goal to knock off a couple of pounds on the cruise. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s your cruise and it’s your goal.
To set a realistic goal, consider what you can and cannot control. How will your schedule, traveling companions, and expectations influence your ability to have a healthy cruise? You will need to take extra steps to reach your goal if you are cruising with children, as part of a larger group, or with a partner who doesn’t share your healthy lifestyle priorities. So be realistic!
STEP 2: Start Before you Embark
Now that you’ve established your healthy cruising goal, it’s time to make preparations that will ensure a terrific start. Your efforts will be helped greatly if you spend some time researching healthy options on your particular ship, destinations, and the port city from which you’ll be embarking. You can also start compiling lists, making notes and writing a daily log in a cruise journal.
As you research your ship’s offerings, build in contingencies that will give you a back-up plan. For example, you might select a specialty restaurant that you would like to try, only to be disappointed. Make sure you have additional healthy dining options. Contingency plans are especially important when considering your level of physical fitness. If you hope to take long walks, what will you do when slick surfaces or high winds close the jogging track and the treadmills are all occupied? Make a bad weather contingency plan, such as replacing your morning walk on the jogging track with long walks using the indoor corridors or climbing flights of stairs. Research all the options that will encourage you to eat well and be active.
And don’t forget to consider your pre-cruise plans. The majority of cruise passengers fly to the port city from which the ship embarks. If you are spending the night in the port city prior to your cruise, research your hotel amenities and the adjacent neighborhoods. Most of your morning will be free since you won’t be able to embark until late morning or early afternoon. Go for a walk or play a round of golf. A good start on land will go a long way toward making your first day on the ship a success.
STEP 3: Make the Fitness Center Your First Stop
Once you board the ship you may be overwhelmed by the ship’s layout, let alone all the options. You’ll have plenty of time to find the casino, theater, and specialty restaurants. Here’s your very first onboard assignment: Find the Fitness Center!
There are several reasons to make the fitness center your first stop.
- Use your initial visit to check out class schedules and offerings, exercise equipment and health-related seminars. This is your chance to reaffirm your commitment to a healthy cruise.
- Sign up early for the specialty fitness classes, which tend to be capped at a set number of participants. Don’t take the chance of being the ninth registrant for an eight-person class. Just note that many of the specialty classes require an additional charge – it’s worth it!
- If classes don’t fit your interest, schedule or budget, take advantage of the extensive exercise equipment in the fitness center.
- Even if you aren’t interested in organized classes and the gym, use your visit to consider your bad-weather fitness options, like walking on a treadmill.
STEP 4: Choose Quality over Quantity
Food consumption is going to be the primary determinant of your weight at the end of the cruise. If you can combine fitness with healthy eating strategies, you should be successful in maintaining or losing weight. But even if you ignore the fitness side of the equation, you can achieve your goal by making better food selections. The benefit of dining on a cruise ship is that you will have the opportunity to try all sorts of delicious foods. Take the time to savor your meals and focus on quality.
There’s no getting around the truth – it’s going to be challenging to enjoy a cruise if you are on a strict diet. But you don’t want to throw the diet overboard either. You can find a happy medium by selecting a few food rules that address your biggest weaknesses. In some cases, you may want to avoid certain foods altogether. In other cases, you can substitute a healthier version of your favorite food, or you may simply want to limit the number of times you indulge.
STEP 5: Be Active at Sea and on Land
If you are singly focused on a healthy cruise, you may want to consider choosing a theme cruise. You can find special cruises for runners, golfers and dancers, to name a few. More cruise lines are offering health and wellness lifestyle cruises that may feature workshops on yoga, meditation and healthy dieting. A theme cruise will make it easier to stick to your plan. But in reality, you won’t have any problems finding fitness opportunities on any of the large cruise ships.
Your days in port should be filled with plenty of activity. Even if your primary activity is a leisurely shopping trip, you’ll benefit from the extra walking. If your plans are more cultural, like visiting museums and learning about the history and architecture of the port city, you might become a master stair climber and walker. If you are curious about how many steps you’ve taken at the end of the day, take a pedometer or fitness tracker with you. You might be surprised by how many calories you burned through leisurely activity.
Apart from shopping and cultural tours, cruises offer exciting adventures. For example, my days in port included snorkeling among coral reefs, squatting through narrow caves, maneuvering a Land Rover over rutted jungle roads, traversing suspension bridges, and wading in an underground river. The only limitations on your participation in the most daring excursions include your own physical abilities and your sense of adventure.
STEP 6: Schedule Your Indulgences
The sixth and final step is to schedule your indulgences. (Note that this is not the first step in your healthy cruising plan!) If you make healthy cruising a chore, you’ll regret the entire experience. Your cruise should be filled with fun, excitement and relaxation – to a point. Practice selective indulgences. If you diligently follow the steps above, you should be able to accommodate a few “cheat meals” and even a “cheat day.” Don’t deny yourself a great vacation by being overly strict.
If you’ve over-indulged a day or two, don’t punish yourself by abandoning healthy intentions for the duration of the cruise. Each day you have the opportunity to remake yourself. If you are striving for a healthy cruise but traveling with friends who take their pleasure in lounging – this is going to be tough. Give yourself a break if you aren’t as successful as you had hoped.