My family has always loved cruising. Since the age of 4, I've been on over 15 cruises from Royal Caribbean to Princess to Disney cruises and beyond. Being on a cruise is like living in an all-you-can-eat buffet for a week… it's an easy way to eat more than your body weight in pizza, ice cream, 5-course dinners and midnight buffets. And that's what I used to do!
But now, I see fitness and healthy eating as a lifestyle, not a here-today-gone-tomorrow diet. And that means that even when I'm on vacay, I try not to go crazy. Except for a few indulgences - like pasta in Italy or a really incredible looking chocolate dessert.
"Everything in moderation, even moderation!"
Here's how I stay healthy on a cruise.
1. SIGN UP FOR FITNESS CLASSES RIGHT AWAY
The first thing I always do when I board is beeline for the gym and sign up for fitness classes. Most cruises have a variety of classes throughout the week - from yoga to cycling, boot camps, TRX, Pilates, and more. But you have to act fast because these classes tend to fill up.
On some newer ships, you can sign up online before you even board, so check the logged-in state of your cruise line's website after you book.
Plus - if you want to learn about nutrition or wellness and bring the tips home with you, there are always so many free seminars you can sign up for about the metabolism, nutrition, weight loss - and even private personal training sessions.
2. HIT THE JOGGING TRACK
Nearly every cruise ship has at least some type of walking or jogging track, and in my opinion, these are better than the gyms. With the salty ocean breeze in your hair, a non-stop view of the sea, and a completely flat track, there's really no excuse to not run or walk a few miles.
Most ships note how many laps is a mile. On the Symphony of the Seas, for example, 12 laps = 5 miles. I see it as a great chance to start long-distance training! On the Liberty of the Seas, the weather was so lovely and the track so flat that I made it to 10 miles on of the days at sea.
3. ALWAYS OPT FOR THE STAIRS
Most ships have about 17-18 floors, and waiting for the elevator takes forever. On an average day, if you always opt for the stairs, you're probably climbing about 35 flights of stairs - much more on a day at sea.
That alone will shape your quads and burn off all that dinner!
4. RESERVE ACTIVE EXCURSIONS
Depending on your excursions, you'll probably get tons of steps in. On my last Mediterranean cruise, we walked 65 miles over the 7 day cruise because of the excursions we took - exploring the cities of Rome, Cinque Terre, Barcelona, and the Island of Capri.
There are also lots of biking tours. We recently did a Biking in Provence excursion, biking 10 miles through the countryside of France. There's no better way to see a country / city than to pedal through it!
5. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES
You can either lie out on the top deck all day long or stay active. Most of the newer cruise ships have so many activities on board that you could never be bored. Those include:
6. BE STRATEGIC AT THE BUFFET
Contrary to popular belief, there are good options on almost all buffets. And they're not limited to salad bars.
Some good options include:
Fruit: watermelon, bananas, plums, etc.
Veggies: Green beans, mushrooms, etc.
Made-to-order scrambled eggs + salsa
Pro-tip: Because ships have to serve thousands of people for breakfast, the scrambled eggs are made from powdered eggs. In my book, that does not count as clean eating. BUT if you find a station where they're cooking made-to-order eggs (fried , over easy, etc.), you can ask them for scrambled eggs (or whatever eggs you fancy) and get the good stuff.
Lunch // Dinner
Good options include:
Salad - hit the salad bar first and load up!
Veggies & fruit - there are always several good veg/fruit options
Seafood - usually a baked salmon or fish of some type
International cuisine - most cruise ships offer a variety of Indian food, including curries and daal
7. HAVE A GAME PLAN FOR DINNER
This is both the best and toughest part for me! The brilliance of cruising is that you can order as many apps/entrees/desserts as you want. That's awesome. Until I wake up with a major food hangover the next morning.
So now, I go in with a game plan. This is mine, but do whatever works for you!
I start with a Salad for an appetizer with no cheese or dressing
With my entrée, I always ask for extra veggies
Then - I try to skip dessert (or sub an app or small portion of an entrée as my dessert)
8. ASK FOR CUSTOM ORDERS
Because personal service is part of the game, your server will generally be willing to customize any order for you. Some customizations I frequently request include:
A large plate of plain, steamed veggies (chef's choice) in lieu of an appetizer
A starter, salad, or small portion of an entrée In place of dessert
A large portion of a salad for the entrée
Kids menu and "secret menu" orders
If you know me, you likely know about my noodle addiction. In place of a dessert, I often ask for a small portion of spaghetti off the kids menu or plain noodles with a little olive oil. Yes, they're white noodles and carb-heavy, but better than dessert!
Better yet - ask for specific foods before you board! After you book, call the cruise line and put in specific food requests (e.g., gluten-free, allergies, etc.). My mom used to always call ahead and ask for brown rice, black beans, and veggies to be served with every meal as part of her anti-cancer diet.
9. BYO-SUPPLEMENTS AND INGREDIENTS
Fiber is limited on a cruise - and we both know what that means. :-O I always bring ground flax seeds with me and add them to my breakfasts, tea packets, and probiotics. My mom used to literally bring an entire suitcase of organic leafy greens and a juicer on board and go to town making green juice everyday in her room.
Thankfully, now cruise ships are starting to offer freshly pressed juice on board! The Symphony of the Seas has an entire juice bar next to the gym and spa, complete with juices and smoothing with fruit/veg like carrot, apple, ginger, etc.
Good, travel-friendly ingredients to pack include:
Flax, chia, or seeds
Organic tea packets
Probiotics & vitamins
Refillable water bottle (though you have to be sneaky about how/when to fill it up!)
Small packets of organic, sugar-free peanut butter
Natural sweeteners (e.g., honey, maple syrup, etc.) if you use them for tea
10. DON'T BE AFRAID TO INDULGE A LITTLE!
With all this said, you're on vacay. I'm a strict follower of the 80-20 rule. I'm very, very good at home and at work. On vacay, I do the best I can to eat well and feel good, but loosen my restrictions a bit. That means that if there's an amazing dessert on the menu, I'll go for it. Or I may eat a bit of pasta at every meal. Or, grab a small scoop of ice cream in the afternoon.
Don't be fooled - I live it up! But to fully enjoy a vacation, I also like to feel my best… which is why I'm so thankful for all the healthy options on board - and for the many more that are being added to ships every day.