Trying not to gain weight — much less lose weight — on a cruise may seem difficult. However, if you think of your ship as a floating gym and spa rather than a sailing restaurant and bar, you can disembark healthier than you boarded.
1. Eat at least one healthy meal per day.
A sample of Oceania's vegan selection. - Photo by Oceania Cruises
It’s preferable to be virtuous at dinner. As a Northwestern University study shows, it’s better to eat less in the evening. Most cruise lines have a few light options on the main dining room’s dinner menu. Some — like Crystal Cruises — have separate spa menus. Oceania Cruises has distinguished themselves as a particularly healthy choice after recently debuting an expansive vegan menu along with the only cold-pressed raw juice and vegan smoothie bars at sea.
2. Don’t drink your calories.
Replacing sugary cocktails with other drinks is an easy way to cut calories. - Photo by Shutterstock
Resist guzzling sodas or juices, and instead fill up on water and tea, which are complimentary all day in most ships’ buffet restaurants. Another pitfall? High calorie cocktails. Instead of ordering pina colada after pina colada, health and wellness coach Kristen Link recommends “asking for a cocktail made with your alcohol of choice, club soda and splash of pineapple juice for a tropical flavor without all of the sugar!”
3. Don’t confuse relaxation with weight loss.
Spa treatments aren't a substitute for healthy habits. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
You can’t lose weight in the spa, so don’t book the pricey treatments with the idea that they’ll help you stay thin, especially ionithermie, which involves mild electrical currents and detoxing wraps made from clay or algae. The mask may feel good, but all you’ll lose is water weight.
4. Make working out a priority.
A quick pickup game is a great way to get in your daily workout. - Photo by Carnival
You don’t have to work out all day every day to see an impact, but breaking a sweat for 30 minutes a day will work wonders. On port days, take a pre-breakfast jog around your ship’s track, or join an early-evening volleyball game. If organized workouts are more your speed, most ships will have yoga, pilates, or spin classes.
Not a fan of working out in public? Vacation fitness expert and author of Passport to Fitness Collette Stohler travels with portable exercise equipment like a jump rope and bands. If you don’t have any, she recommends you simply use what’s available in the room: “I use the bed for decline push-ups, incline push-ups, step ups, and box jumps... [and] the bathtub as a place to do my dips.”
5. Find healthy onboard activities
Exercise can be downright fun on cruise ships. - Photo by Norwegian
In the early days of cruising, sea days were a great excuse for laziness. Now, modern cruise ships don’t just come with fully-equipped gyms, they also come with rock walls, ropes courses, and surfing simulators.
Don’t worry if you’re sailing on a smaller line that doesn’t have the bells and whistles of a megaship. Lines like Oceania, AmaWaterways, and MSC have all developed comprehensive wellness programs with fitness and cooking classes along with healthy eating plans to keep you on a healthy track during your cruise.
6. Burn calories while you sight-see.
AmaWaterways has 25 complimentary bikes aboard all ships in Europe. - Photo by AmaWaterways
Book active tours that involve bicycling, kayaking, or hiking. If you’re in a city, such as Rome or Barcelona, skip the bus tour and explore on foot: An hour of brisk walking burns about 300 calories. For river cruises sailing to small towns, bike tours are a great option: AmaWaterways even carries 25 complimentary bikes on board for cruisers to use on their own or on escorted tours.
Tip: Carry a pedometer to help you track your progress and keep you motivated.
7. Beware of hidden fats.
A butternut squash salad is a healthier option than buffet lettuce drenched with dressing. - Photo by Norwegian
Ship buffets often have salad bars with dozens of toppings. You’ll want to pile on the pumpkin seeds, carrots, and smoked salmon, but not the blue cheese dressing or salami.
8. Pretend your ship doesn’t have elevators.
Climbing stairs is an easy way to burn off the calories from dinner. - Photo by Carnival
Sailing on a large ship? You’re in luck: 11 minutes of stair walking burns about 100 calories. You can easily clock 30 minutes a day, especially on one of the newer mega ships.
*This article was updated on October 11, 2017 with reporting by Thomas Faddegon.