Tips and tricks to stay healthy on a cruise including what to eat and how to exercise, but still have fun on your cruise vacation.
Cruising is our favorite vacation activity. We adore how flexible a cruise is. You can either relax and do nothing or be active and go from activity to activity. If you are like us, you like a little of both. My favorite part of cruising is that I have no responsibility for cleaning, cooking, or driving. I can get on and enjoy every single moment. The only problem with a cruise is that the average weight gain is about 5 to 10 lbs. Yes, you read the correctly. On a seven-day cruise, you could gain 10 lbs. The last two summers we have come up with some tips and tricks to stop that weight gain but still enjoy our vacation including a little extra food and alcohol along the way. We only cruise on Royal Caribbean so my tips are geared towards their ships, but the tips should be applicable to whatever cruise line you choose.
First, you need to start preparing before you leave for your cruise. Call the cruise line and let them know of any dietary restrictions or allergies you have. I spoke with the Executive Chef on the last cruise, and he told me they start to prepare for dietary restrictions and allergies of guests months before they board. If you book through a travel agent, be sure to call your cruise line directly. Even if you book online, call the cruise line and let them know. I would follow-up with another call about a month before you board. If you are gluten-free you will find Royal Caribbean already has a large section of gluten-free options clearly marked. They will work around any allergy. The Executive Chef told me they even go so far as to stock specialty ingredients. For example on a past cruise, a guest needed a specific yogurt. So they stocked it. That is why it is so important to give them as much notice as possible. They aim to please.
Next, start working on your mindset. I never go on a cruise hoping to lose weight, but I do go with the mindset I am not going to gain. The plan that works for me is to eat healthy, low calorie food for breakfast and lunch. I do not splurge at these meals. For dinner, I allow myself to eat whatever I want. With the caveat that I am going to eat dessert minimally. I also set my mind to the fact that I will only drink water during the day. Honestly that is easy for me, I don’t really like soda. I do allow myself one or two cocktails a day. Make a plan, write it down and read it everyday. You want this plan to be an iron-clad contract with yourself.
Now for packing. There are three important things you need to pack. The first is a reusable water bottle. I am used to drinking about 8 cups of water a day. Drinking that many glasses on a cruise can be difficult. The cups are small so you would need to go in search of water many times a day. Bring a reusable water bottle that holds at least 24 oz of water. You can use it on the ship and when you go offshore for excursions. Make sure your water bottle is empty until you get on board. Next bring or even better wear sneakers onto the ship. I love having my cute sandals, comfy flip-flops and my special heels for dinner, but sneakers are a must. When I put on a pair of sneakers, I automatically get into the mindset of activity. When I wear flip-flops, I get that lazy summer day attitude. Also sneakers are just practical. It always amazes me the people in the airport wearing huge heels or flimsy flip-flops. There are times we have had to run to catch an airplane, even when we left in plenty of time. You never know when you are going to be delayed, so be prepared with shoes that allow you to run to that gate to make your airplane. The last item I like to bring is my fitbit. Bring whatever type of step counter you have whether it be an app on your phone or some type of fitbit.
So you are now ready to board. This is one of my favorite days. I love that feeling of anticipation, mystery and wonder of boarding a cruise ship for the first time. That is the perfect time to start your activity regime. (I like to think of it as activity instead of exercise while I’m on vacation.) Usually when we board our room is not ready. So we try to pack a light carry on bag. I always have my sneakers on as well as comfy shorts and shirts. We take the elevator to the very top floor of the ship. Our plan is twofold, to explore every nook and cranny of the ship and to get exercise while doing it. So start at the very top of the ship and walk the entire floor. Usually it is like a big loop. Then walk down the flight of stairs to the next floor. Walk every inch of that floor. Walk down the next flight of stairs. Keep doing that until you cannot go down any further. If you are in really good shape and don’t have a heavy bag, start at the bottom floor and walk your way up to the very top. You will be amazed how close you will get to 10,000 steps from just doing that.
For the remainder of the cruise, you always have the option of the gym which has various forms of treadmills, elliptical trainers and cardio classes. There is also a walking/jogging track. For me I do not like to do formal exercise while on vacation. I want a break from my ordinary schedule. So I rely on walking up and down the stairs and walking. Be sure to walk up and down the stairs as much as possible but hold on the handrails. These new cruise ships are very stable, but every once in awhile they sway. That is another reason to wear your sneakers. You will be much more steady, plus it helps to put you in the mindset of activity. We find we end up walking up and downstairs multiple times a day heading to different corners of the ship for some fun. If you need a more structured program, repeat walking every floor and down every stairway everyday.
We have found walking 10,000 steps is very easy when we are at a port of call. Often the walk from the ship to exit the port is quite long. Yet another reason to wear sneakers. The last thing you want is a blister or sprained ankle. I bring my reusable water bottle filled with water and my fitbit. Don’t forget the sunscreen and a hat, too. We prefer to take a tour through a local tour guide rather than the ship’s excursion. Most local tour operators are flexible and will design a tour around your needs. We love to visit local food markets, see historical sites and eat where the locals eat. We can fit in so much more than a ship’s excursion where you spend most of the time on a bus. This means we walk a lot. On this last cruise, we average 15,000 steps a day while on excursions. We also had much better food and got to know wonderful local guides. Look for tips for booking tour guides in the near future on Food Done Light. An additional bonus, all the tour guides had coolers filled with cold water. On a hot summer day when you have walked 15,000 steps, you are dreaming about a clean, comfortable and air-conditioned car and a bottle of ice-cold water.
Now that you have your activity set, let’s talk about what to eat. This is my plan, and what I find works for me. I stick to healthy and light eating for breakfast and lunch. For dinner I enjoy whatever I want. However, I do not have dessert every night. You may want to eat healthfully for breakfast and dinner and enjoy a big lunch. You could also splurge on breakfast and enjoy a healthy lunch and dinner. Royal Caribbean does not specifically cater to heart healthy food. You have to be a little smart about it. While there are a lot of different spots to eat, I prefer to eat breakfast at the buffet. I know I can control my quantity but like the flexibility of different food. If a buffet would not work for you, head to the dining room. Look for grilled fish or chicken options with fresh vegetables. Also talk to your server and see what options they can come up for you.
Let’s talk about the breakfast buffet. The first thing I do is walk around. I look at every food item available. Plus I get a few extra steps in. I prefer to eat protein for breakfast, so I head to the omelet station. I ask for an egg white omelet cooked with no oil. I fill it with any vegetables available. Skip the cheese. As much as I love a cheesy omelet, the calories and fat will add up very quickly. Next I find the fresh fruit and vegetables. I fill half of my plate up with fresh fruit and vegetables. To drink, I suggest skipping the juice, it is wasted sugar. Skip the creamer in your coffee too, and use 2% milk instead. If there isn’t any by the coffee, you will find it by the cereal. If you prefer oatmeal for breakfast, take a big bowl. Rather than sweeten it with brown sugar, place fresh fruit on top. Add a small spoonful of nuts for crunch. Also look for turkey sausage options rather than pork sausage.
Now it is lunch time. A big, big salad works best for me. Some ships have better salad options than others. Oasis of the Seas had a great salad selection making lunch easy and versatile. I could easily have different veggies in my salad every day. Last month we were on Brilliance of the Seas and the salad options for lunch were a little lacking. They had lots of prepared salad, but I stay away from them. I start with filling my plate with lettuce, a variety of lettuce, if available. Next I add any raw vegetables I like, such as cucumbers, red pepper, tomatoes, onions, and beets etc. I will add starchy vegetables like corn and peas but in moderation. Next I like to have protein with my salad. There is always an aisle filled with lunch meats to make sandwiches. I find I can find more veggies in this section. I also like that lunchmeat is portion controlled. I can add a couple of slices of ham and turkey to my salad for very minimal calories. On occasion, the ship may be carving a turkey breast. That is another delicious option. I also will add grilled vegetables, if available. Look for those in the antipasto section. Skip the croutons, dried cranberries and nuts. Also skip the salad dressings. At the end of the salad bar is usually a bottle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Shake a little of each onto your salad. If it pours quickly, pour the oil onto a spoon first. That will be about a tablespoon. If you want some carbohydrates for lunch, look in the gluten-free section. I often found quinoa there. Beans are a fantastic way to add protein and carbohydrates to your salad. Again skip the juice and soda. Make yourself drink two glasses of water instead.
What about an afternoon snack? I always get the munchies in the afternoon. As I am leaving breakfast or lunch, I grabbed a banana or apple from the fruit basket on the buffet. You will find whole fruit in a basket on top of one of the food sections. Don’t be shy about grabbing a piece. Leave it in your cabin to help tide you over for dinner. While you are having a snack, drink more water. Try to hold off on alcohol until dinner time. Also try to avoid the ice cream cones by the pool if you can. If you really, really want one, pick one day when you allow yourself to splurge on an ice cream cone.
In conclusion, before you get on your cruise, make sure you have called the cruise line and told them of any dietary restrictions or allergies. Make a plan and turn it into a contract with yourself. Read it everyday. Wear sneakers! Be sure to pack a reusable water bottle and your fitbit. Once on the ship, stairs are your best friend. Use them all of the time. My only exception is if I am wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes to dinner. Walk every floor of the ship and enjoy the sites. There are so many beautiful and interesting pictures in the stairways. You will find you notice something different each time. Pick two meals a day that you stick to your diet. Walk around the food selections and make your best choices. Remember to portion control. Give yourself a break, if you can, for one meal a day. Let yourself relax and feel like you are on vacation. Don’t forget to grab a piece of whole fruit and keep it in your cabin for those afternoon munchies. Limit your alcoholic intake. With these simple tips, you can relax and enjoy your vacation without gaining 10 lbs you have to lose when you get home. It is a win-win.
Food Done Light is on a mission to keep passion for food but find ways to fit it into a healthy life and hopefully, along the way, change eating habits for good. Healthy living one bite at a time is our motto. You will find heart healthy recipes with Weight Watcher points, and most of all the recipes are delicious. Just ask the Food Done Light family which includes my husband, 9-year-old daughter, Lucy, our 7 yr old Golden Retriever, and Stella, our 12-year-old cat. Find Food Done Light on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.