How to burn cruise calories without giving up your seat at the buffet

Everyone loves to indulge, and why shouldn’t we on our vacation? If there is ever a good time to throw caution into the wind, it’s on a well-earned holiday.

However, for many, a cruise vacation is taken as an opportunity not only to relax and unwind but to get into some good habits that go by the wayside in a typical working week. And that’s where fitness centers on cruise ships can become your new best friend.

Being on board a cruise ship is like having an open invitation to the best restaurants in town. And an easy way to pile on unwanted pounds. As with many other all-inclusive vacations, there is an abundance of food choices, multiple dining options, and room service 24-7.

Plus, the tendency to indulge in more alcohol and sweets than usual. Raise your hand if you have ever managed to walk by the cake station in the buffet restaurant without ordering a slice. Anyone?

It can be tempting to have large portions on your plate. And you only have to glance at the chocolate fondue fountains to know where it’s all heading. And that’s ok; we should do exactly as we please on vacation.

At the same time, now is a perfect opportunity to try out new activities that can keep us fit and set us up for new and healthier habits when we get home. And they are right there, outside our cabin door.

How are fitness centers on cruise ships tempting us to get up and move?

One of the best ways to stay active is to head to the fitness center. Don’t be shy about using all the facilities available to you. In my experience, fitness centers on cruise ships are rarely crowded, and a quiet spot can always be found.

Not only that, you are rewarded with panoramic views. Did you know that most fitness centers on cruise ships are located at the ship’s rear? That is where you will find the best view. Indeed, a multi-trainer near the window may inspire you to run or do a fast-paced walk for longer!

Professionally staffed fitness centers on cruise ships include stationary bikes, treadmills, cardio and weight machines, ellipticals, steppers, and classes such as yoga and Pilates. And a running track around the top deck.

The friendly staff is on hand to help you with the equipment and give advice. Taking advantage of these facilities can help burn calories and maintain fitness levels. It’s fun, and it’s free. Or rather, it’s included in the price of your cruise.

I have always found the outdoor sports courts on the top deck relatively empty and easy to book. Just reserve a time with guest services, and you can pick up a volleyball or football and get an hour or so of fun cardiac training. Enlist fellow passengers you’ve met, and enjoy some friendly competition in the sunshine.

Staying fit on your cruise vacation – a different type of luxury

Here is an example of a fitness itinerary when you have a cruise day at sea without calling in at a port. Seldom will you have access to such a wide choice of activities right on your doorstep as you will on board a luxury cruise ship.

Take the opportunity and try something new. And as with all exercise, only do what is suitable for you and your fitness level.

Cruise day 1:

  • Wake up early and start with a brisk walk around the ship’s deck. Take in the sea air and fantastic ocean views as your heart rate increases.
  • After breakfast, visit the gym and take advantage of the free weights, machines, and cardio equipment. Ask a trained member of staff for help if you need it.
  • In the afternoon, sign up for a yoga or pilates class or, better still, a dance class with a friend or partner. These classes are a great way to stretch and tone your muscles.

Cruise day 2:

  • Start your day with a swim. Choose the cruise ship’s indoor or outdoor pool, depending upon the weather. Collect a clean towel from the poolside. There is no need to take a towel from your cabin bathroom. Swimming is a great full-body workout. Finish off by relaxing in the jacuzzi next to the pool.
  • After lunch, head to the ship’s sports deck for a basketball, volleyball, or tennis game. Often you will speak to guest services to reserve and collect balls and rackets. Do this the day before when you book the court. And if you find the court already busy, other cruise guests may be glad to make up a volleyball team with you!
  • In the evening, visit one of the music venues and dance the night away, burning calories and having fun.

Cruise day 3:

  • Up early to beat the crowd and jog or walk the ship’s running track. Both are a great cardio workout that helps you build endurance and burn calories.
  • At breakfast, avoid the pastries and opt for healthier choices instead. Such as ordering eggs the way you like them, topped with salad sprouts, or cereal and yogurt topped with tropical fruit. The secret is to eat enough so you feel full but of the right foods. Ask your waiter what the healthier options are.
  • After breakfast, sign up for a cycling class, a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness and tone your legs and glutes.
  • Switch the pace in the afternoon with rock climbing, zip-lining, or mini-golf. Some cruise ships also offer bowling and ice skating, a great way to be active with the family.

Which cruise lines have the best fitness centers on board?

Cruise lines invest significant amounts of money in health and fitness centers on cruise ships to provide more amenities and activities for their guests. They recognize the importance of health and fitness as key components in the cruising experience and invest in these areas to meet the growing demand from passengers.

In addition, cruise lines invest in technology to enhance your fitness experience; for example, some ships have virtual reality cycling classes and fitness tracking devices.

  • Celebrity Cruises partners with the F45 fitness network on some ships, offering high-intensity workouts. Other Celebrity ships offer immersive, real road cycling experiences. This, together with various yoga and meditation classes, personal training, and nutritional consultations, make this one of the best cruise lines for the active traveler. Check out their website for the latest information on which ships in the fleet have these facilities.
  • Princess Cruises offers personal fitness through a partnership with Xponential Fitness with digital fitness classes in the fitness center, on deck, or even in your cabin.
  • Royal Caribbean “Oasis” class ships have some of the best fitness centers at sea I have seen. From surf simulators to rock climbing, these ships have a fantastic array of activities to complement well-equipped gyms and fitness classes run by professionals. Opt for Quantum class ships with wind tunnels on board if you want to try sky-diving simulation. Often these specialized experiences cost extra and can be booked on your cruise planner in advance.

Shore excursions that are more than sitting on a tour bus

Another way to keep moving on your vacation is to choose excursions that involve physical activity. When selecting your itinerary, check out the shore excursions available in each port and see what appeals to you. Most cruise itineraries will include activities and excursions such as these:

Hiking: Many ports of call offer guided hiking excursions through beautiful natural landscapes. For example, you are guaranteed stunning views if you cruise in Alaska or Norway and join a hiking tour. In the excursion description, the cruise line will write the difficulty level and whether the excursion is suitable for children. Choose the tour that suits you the best.

Biking: Bike rentals or guided bike tours: This is a fun way to experience a new place and allows you to cover more distance when exploring. Cycling is particularly popular as a shore excursion on a river cruise, where some itineraries offer the chance to cycle between ports alongside the river.

Kayaking or canoeing: Ideal for exploring a pretty coastline to get into smaller coastal outlets, caves, and lagoons. Divein has written an excellent article on what to wear kayaking if you are a beginner or need expert advice.

Snorkeling or scuba diving: An enthralling way to discover the world under our ocean, snorkeling and scuba diving are some of the most popular excursions booked by cruise guests in the Caribbean. It’s a fantastic way to burn calories and enjoy exciting marine life.

It's important to note that activities vary from port to port and cruise line to cruise line. Check what's on offer for your particular itinerary before booking your cruise and make sure the experience you want is available to book.

Cruise dining tips for a healthy balance

We always look forward to dining when going on a cruise. The food is a huge part of the cruise experience, and the menus are mouth-wateringly tempting. It can be easy to indulge in rich, high calories foods. It is your holiday, after all.

For cruise guests looking to make healthier choices, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your dining experience. And don’t forget to inform the cruise line of any dietary requirements you and your family have before the start of your cruise.

  • Look for menu items that are grilled, baked, or steamed. These cooking methods are generally healthier than fried or sauteed foods.
  • Make sure to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your meals. Fruit is usually always available for a snack from the buffet restaurant. Salad bars are generally fantastic, with a wide variety of fresh ingredients. Ask for dressing on the side so you control the amount yourself.
  • Opt for lean proteins such as fish, chicken, or turkey instead of red meats.
  • Limit foods high in saturated fats, such as butter, cream, and cheese, and be aware of portion sizes.
  • Drink plenty of water daily to stay hydrated and help you feel full, rather than continuous sugary drinks, cocktails, or alcohol.

Making these healthier choices most of the time will mean that those of you who want to maintain your fitness and wellness goals while on vacation will return feeling and looking your absolute best! 

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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