When you’re in the middle of the ocean on a massive cruise ship surrounded by a sea of lavish buffets and endless feasting options, it can be difficult to exercise restraint and control. One of the biggest challenges is combating weight gain that can happen during a cruise. However, with a bit of strategizing, it’s possible to have a healthy cruise.
Rachel Berman, registered dietitian and General Manager and VP at Verywell Health, advises cruisers to avoid an all-or-nothing attitude. “On vacation, you should be able to relax, eat what you want, and make time for the type of exercise you enjoy as well,” she says. Her advice? “Your best bet on a cruise is to pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues. While eating, try not to multitask and instead, savor every bite.” She says that awareness is helpful because simply staying more mindful of your fullness can help you keep your portions in check and prevent a stomachache.
If there’s a menu available, scan it first to see what items pique your interest most. Instead of choosing a familiar option like french fries, look for a more creative option—oftentimes, meals on the ship are crafted from local produce from the destinations.
Cruises are known for their all-you-can-eat buffet options, which can be difficult to navigate if you’re trying to eat healthfully, says Berman. If you’re particularly hungry, eat a small salad first and then peruse the options—when you’re ravenous, you’ll grab anything in sight. Then be mindful about return trips. “Before going for seconds at the buffet, wait a few minutes and ask yourself if you're really hungry or just eating out of boredom,” says Berman. “Maybe you are still hungry, but you want to save room for dessert instead, and that's okay, too.”
Berman advises to be on the lookout for alternatives to the usual substantial buffet. “More and more cruise lines are offering nutritious options like salad bars, fresh smoothies, and make-your-own grain bowls which is fantastic,” she says. And read the descriptions, which can help inform your selections—anything that says grilled, pan-seared, and sautéed is pretty fair game because the food isn’t usually swimming in butter and oil. Be mindful of anything that says poached or braised, which can have more butter and oils.
If you’re an omnivore or carnivore, tenderloin and leaner cuts are a better bet than belly and ribeye (which have a lot of marbled fat throughout the meat).
Sugar is easier to spot, and cruises will typically offer sugar-free options; however, salt-free is more difficult to determine. If you do have dietary concerns, before you board, you can let the staff know. You can even request reduced sodium or sodium-free meals.
Although the menu card informs you to choose one item for each course (e.g. appetizer, entree, dessert), there’s no rule saying you can’t skip appetizers and go straight for the main. Or ask for two appetizers and share the main. Or pass on dessert. You are allowed to freestyle. (After all, you’re on vacation!) And cruise lines are so flexible these days that any of these requests are reasonable. Another option is to ask the waitstaff to give you a half-portion of something, or look out for lighter menu options, which are denoted with specialty symbols that state that it’s low calorie, low fat, vegan- or vegetarian-friendly, or low sugar.
Berman says that fitness should always be fun and not something that’s perceived as grueling, but rather something you look forward to. “Cruise lines also have upped their fitness programs from bootcamps to spin to pilates, either included in the rate or on a per class basis,” says Berman. “Getting some movement in is a great idea on any vacation, but if these classes aren't for you, walking a few laps around the ship works well, too.”
If you love the gym but are concerned about committing to it, consider setting up a dedicated time you’ll make your visit, or opt for a tag team approach and go with a friend. You can also sign up for pre-paid classes such as yoga, cycling, strength training, and more. But if you’re not keen on spending extra money on exercise/fitness, in your daily cruise itinerary, ships will always list free activities to get your heart rate going such as sunrise strolls on deck, pool side workouts, salsa lessons, and even Zumba classes.
If you’re not really a gym person, find other ways to stay active, like always choosing steps over elevators. You can easily reach 10,000 steps (and then some) by going from the first floor to the 10th floor to get from one activity to another. Download a pedometer app on your phone before you depart to track your progress. In addition to walking, other alternative fitness options include all the fun activities onboard, especially ones where you don’t even realize you’re getting a good sweat out of. Think rock climbing walls, laser tag, skating, roller skating, bowling, golfing, and much more.
Healthy Getaways at Sea
- Crystal Cruises offers wellness theme voyages that help balance and center the mind, body, and spirit. The cruise line’s experts specialize in holistic philosophies and nutrition.
- Norweigan Cruise Line offers spa-based suites on its Getaway, Epic, Bliss, Breakaway, Escape, and Encore ships with more than 140 different sailing itineraries. As well, Henry Berry (lead trainer for the cruise line) suggests going to Pulse fitness center (onboard every ship), and receiving a free InBody570 consultation with a personal trainer to help create a helpful nutrition and fitness plan.
- Oceania Cruises offers immersive dining and cooking experiences that can be tailored to your exacting health and nutritional requests. There are also excursions (Culinary Discovery Tours) for opportunities to connect with artisans, chefs, and producers to better learn about sourcing of food and what to look for when shopping for healthier, nutrient-packed produce.
- Viking Cruises offers the LivNordic spa onboard with emphasis on Scandanavian wellness and health practices, such as their Snow Grotto, a cold “snow room” meant to stimulate and invigorate the circulatory system. Spa treatments can be done in conjunction with personalized fitness services and meal planning programs.
- Lindblad Expeditions is a great choice if you hate the idea of going to a gym while on vacation. This cruise line offers plenty of adventurous expeditions, and the collaboration with National Geographic means you can expect to get some manner of an intense workout every day, from hiking and mountain climbing to kayaking and scuba diving.