Choosing Your Fitness Cruise

By Carol Sjostrom Miller

Picture yourself on a cruise ship. What’s the first image that comes to mind? Do you see yourself spending hours lounging on a deck chair with a good book? Or sampling lots of tropical drinks with little umbrellas floating in them? Perhaps you’re enjoying huge plates of decadent, rich, fattening food.

Now imagine yourself on a cruise ship waking early for an exercise class, taking a power walk around the deck and attending seminars that focus on fitness, health and nutrition. Picture yourself eating sensible ­ yet delicious ­ meals, followed by a few spoonfuls of the chocolate mousse or crème brulee that is being passed around the dinner table.

Which sounds like the perfect cruise? For Susan Crandall, a nurse from Key West, Fla., there was no question. In April 2000, she chose the second option and took a week-long fitness cruise.

Choose Your Cruise
A person interested in taking a fitness cruise will find many different types from which to choose. Some of these cruises cater to people who are looking for a more active vacation; others are designed with weight loss in mind.

On some ships, the theme of the entire cruise is fitness, according to Sheila Cluff, who has led more than 60 fitness cruises in the past 28 years. The cruise line may bring the staff of a spa aboard the ship, along with sports figures, doctors and nutritionists. Classes, motivational talks and seminars are held all day on these cruises. “The energy around the ship all revolves around fitness,” says Cluff, who is the owner of two California health and fitness spas: The Oaks at Ojai and The Palms at Palm Springs.

There is also the “cruise within a cruise.” While the entire ship doesn’t center around it, a spa or weight loss organization will book a number of staterooms for passengers whose primary interest is fitness. Then the leaders offer their own self-contained itinerary. “We plan physical activities specific to the group,” says Cluff.

Both types of cruises offer a group atmosphere, which is the key to fun and success. In fact, meeting people with similar goals and interests is one of the biggest benefits of taking a fitness cruise. “You can even take a fitness cruise alone because you will meet so many like-minded people,² Cluff says.

Crandall, whose goal in taking a fitness cruise was to find motivation to lose weight, agrees. “The best thing is that other people are there to support you,” she says. “You know you’re not alone in trying to achieve your goals.”

Fitting in Fitness
In addition to the typical fun and games available on the ship, fitness cruise passengers can pick and choose from lots of different activities specific to their group. “There is so much to do,” says Cluff. “We offer classes, walks around the deck, information sessions on nutrition and other topics of interest.”

And the focus on fitness doesn’t end when the ship is in port. “We try to put some exercise in every activity,” says Cluff of the cruises she leads. Depending on the destination, she schedules bike rides, walking tours, kayaking trips and other activities that combine fitness with fun. But if someone feels like breaking from the group and doing her own thing, whether on the ship or in port, that’s fine too.

“We did all the usual tourist things at each port,” says Crandall, who explored beaches, tried her luck at casinos, shopped and visited museums at the various places the ship docked. “It was still a vacation.”

Food, Glorious Food
Of course, no discussion on cruises would be complete without talking about food. With endless buffet tables, gourmet meals and round-the-clock snacks available, it’s not hard to imagine returning from a cruise with a suitcase full of clothes that are suddenly too small. That’s not likely to happen on a fitness cruise, though. “We make sure that the fitness group members sit together at dinner and we discuss healthy menu choices,” says Cluff, who encourages ordering from alternative menus such as the healthy heart or vegetarian offerings.

“We didn’t eat rabbit food,” recalls Crandall. “The food was delicious. And an important part of the cruise I took was learning to make the right choices from the regular menu.” Fitness cruise leaders may suggest having a wine-tasting with dinner instead of everyone ordering her own drink, or choosing one or two desserts for everyone at the table to share. “We enjoyed the food,” says Crandall. “We just learned not to overdo it.”

Losing It and Loving It
Just as anyone who takes a cruise does, Crandall ate, drank, danced and enjoyed her trip. However, she found that hers wasn’t the typical cruise vacation. When the cruise was over, she had lost 5 pounds and found lots of new friends. She also had a new sense of accomplishment. “When I finished an hour-long exercise class, I was amazed that I really did it,” she says. “After all, when you’re at home exercising with a video, you can turn it off at any time. The cruise gave me the motivation I needed to continue losing weight when I got home.”

There is a huge variety of options in fitness cruises, including destinations, length of trips, activities and price ranges, so it is important to choose your cruise carefully. A good travel agent can help point you in the right direction, or you can find information on different cruise lines that offer fitness cruises by visiting the Cruise Lines International Association Web site at Decide exactly what you are looking for and do your research to find the best cruise for you.

Crandall did, and it paid off for her. “The cruise met my expectations and more,” she says. “It was definitely worth going at least once in [my] life.”

It must have been. She took a second fitness cruise a year after her first, and is looking forward to her third this spring.