As our workaday lives become more sedentary and more mentally frazzled, a holiday offers the chance to restore a sense of balance. Cruise lines have jumped on board the global wellness trend – estimated to be worth $US3.72 trillion, and growing – and now provide everything the health-conscious cruiser could desire.
People who don't go to the gym at home discover that working out with calming sea views is much more enjoyable; gym junkies are happy that high-tech equipment is the norm on cruise ships; and if you want the full spa experience of thermal suites, thalassotherapy pools, light but delicious cuisine and an extensive range of fitness and meditation classes, that's all available too.
TEN TIPS FOR A HEALTHY CRUISE
1. AVOID THESE FOODS
It's all too easy to succumb to temptation when presented with all those delicious meals, morning, noon and night. You're on holiday, you're relaxed – but hidden fats, sugar and kilojoules are lurking in many of our favourite foods. Salad dressings and sauces are major culprits; choose oil and vinegar over a Caesar or ranch dressing, and order main meals with sauce on the side. Burgers, chips, pastries, pies and pizzas are cooked with a lot of fat, as are most muffins, cakes and biscuits. Bacon and sausages are also loaded with fats, so limit yourself to one or two big breakfasts per cruise. Cheeses are best eaten in moderation and ice-cream, which is packed with sugar as well as fat, best not eaten at all.
2. WATCH YOUR BOOZE INTAKE
Beer, wine, cider and cocktails are, sadly, very high in sugar and kilojoules. A 375-millilitre bottle of Crown Lager, for example, has 641 kilojoules; two of those are roughly equivalent to eating a big fat Big Mac. Wine is less fattening but even one standard glass (100 millilitres) of red wine contains 283 kilojoules, so a 750-millilitre bottle over dinner quickly adds up – to the equivalent of two sickly Mars bars. Cocktails usually contain sugary syrups as well as kilojoule-heavy alcohol. Of course it's all about moderation, but you can pick a few drinks that are lower in kilojoules: for example, a Bloody Mary or a vodka, lime and soda, and slake that thirst with fizzy water between alcoholic drinks.
3. CHOOSE HEALTHY MENU OPTIONS
Cruise lines cater for all sorts of dietary requirements and most ships' main menus offer low-fat, sugar-free, vegetarian and vegan options. You can always ask for two starters instead of a starter and a main, request extra vegetables (Australians apparently eat more vegetables than any other cruising nation) and say no to crusty bread rolls spread with lashings of butter. Go for grilled fish and meat and take it easy with desserts – dark chocolate may be full of antioxidants but when it's transformed into an irresistible gooey cakey confection, there's a lot of sugar and fat involved too. At the buffet, always take a small plate – experts say we unconsciously fill a plate, whatever its size.
4. EAT IN SPA CAFES
Taking healthy eating to the next level, Celebrity Cruises' AquaClass passengers have exclusive access to Blu, a stylish restaurant that specialises in gourmet "clean cuisine". Nine of Celebrity's ships, including Solstice, have the AquaSpa Café (no extra charge), which serves light, tasty dishes for breakfast and lunch. MSC Cruises' new Wellness Experience program includes healthy menu options in the main dining room and the MSC Aurea Spa has a range of energy drinks and "wellness beverages". SeaDream Yacht Club has a full raw-food menu on its two ships, as well as more traditional top-end dining.
5. USE THE GYM
Ships' gyms and fitness centres, especially on the newest ships, are high-tech temples to the body beautiful. Using the gym equipment costs nothing and most cruise lines offer classes such as yoga, stretch, spin, cycling and Pilates, either for a small fee or free of charge (Oceania recently made its fitness classes free). If you want to kick-start a whole new fitness regime, why not sign up with a personal trainer? Personally tailored workouts are part of the MSC Wellness Experience program and group fitness classes have been designed with Technogym's ARKE equipment for core and body-weight training.
6. USE THE SHIP
If you're not a gym bunny but still want to start or maintain a fitness program, there are plenty of options around the ship. Crystal Cruises' Symphony and Serenity and Princess' newest ships have outdoor workout stations on their jogging tracks – and of course you can use the jogging tracks for, well, jogging. Or walking. Most ships have a promenade deck for walking and running, usually marked with the number of laps that make up a mile or kilometre. Pools are too small for laps but are fine for aquarobic workouts. On bigger ships you can play games on sports courts, go rock-climbing, ice-skating and "surfing", or challenge your balance on ropes courses. Dance classes can provide an energetic workout and on any size ship you can always take the stairs rather than the lift.
7. TAKE ACTIVE SHORE EXCURSIONS
Lengthy sightseeing bus trips or trailing behind a guide at snail's pace on a walking tour don't cut it for today's active cruisers. Ocean and river cruise lines offer shore excursions that suit all levels of fitness, with cycling being the most popular way to explore any number of places. Depending on the destination, you might choose to go canyoning, scuba-diving or hiking on a glacier. Swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and paddle-boarding are enjoyable ways to work off the cocktails and rich food we know we shouldn't indulge in but still do.
8. CHECK OUT THE SPA
Treating yourself to a facial or an exotic massage does wonders for reducing stress levels, but there are often remedial treatments available that can do more for your overall health and fitness. Acupuncture can alleviate all sorts of pain and ailments – seasickness among them – and many ships' spas employ qualified acupuncturists. Take advantage of free seminars to find out more. Seabourn's Kniepp Walk is a water-therapy system of alternating baths of cold and warm water designed to boost circulation and the Scandinavian practice of alternating between hot sauna and icy cold showers has been used for centuries to detox and relax. These are available on board most ships; snow rooms are new to Viking Ocean Cruises and the latest NCL ships. A daily or weekly spa pass gives you access to saunas, steam rooms and relaxation areas but only limited passes are available.
9. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
A good night's sleep has many health benefits but many of us simply don't get enough of it. Two major cruise lines have introduced programs designed to improve sleep patterns: Celebrity is offering Mindful Dreams through its Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Princess has partnered with US sleep expert Dr Michael Breus to produce the Princess Luxury Bed and "sleep friendly" staterooms. Breus says all five senses are involved in sleep – touch, sight, sound, smell and taste – and Princess has addressed each one. The Sleep channel on the stateroom TV plays relaxing music that has been proved to aid sleep and the room service menu includes sleep-friendly meals, snacks and chamomile tea. Princess' Luxury Bed and Linens have proved so popular with passengers that the collection is now available to buy in the US.
10. TAKE A WELLNESS CRUISE
Cruises devoted to wellness are the next big thing for health-conscious travellers. Next year Silversea Expeditions is running seven Wellness Expedition cruises, which combine voyages in exotic destinations with comprehensive on-board programs organised by experts in nutrition, yoga and fitness. Seabourn's Mind and Body Wellness Program is available on all its cruises and focuses on meditation and yoga, supplemented by a series of wellness seminars. Small-ship company Un-Cruise Adventures is offering six Fitness and Yoga cruises in Alaska, Mexico and Costa Rica in 2018. Meanwhile, Miami-based fitness professional Gene Meehan is launching an entire cruise line dedicated to wellness and sporty activities, on board and ashore. Blue Voyages is scheduled to set sail next year – ship details are still to be revealed.
FIVE WAYS TO STAY HEALTHY ASHORE
BEFORE YOU GO
Make sure your immunisations are up to date for the destinations you're visiting and have a flu jab if you're flying anywhere. Ask your doctor or local travel clinic for advice; see travelvax.com.au. Travel insurance with good medical cover is essential.
PACK WIPES AND HAND SANITISER
These are useful when soap and water aren't available. Keeping your hands clean helps prevent the spread of germs and bacteria – and it should go without saying that you wash or clean your hands before eating and after using the toilet.
PROTECT AGAINST BURNS AND BITES
Remember you can get sunburnt on cloudy days in hot countries; wear a hat, apply SPF30 sunscreen and reapply after swimming. Use a personal insect repellent to protect against mosquitoes if you're in a mosquito habitat – bites can cause a range of nasty illnesses.
Keep up your water intake when out and about especially in hot climes; symptoms of dehydration include headaches, dizziness and exhaustion, none of which you want to interfere with your precious holiday.
WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
Undercooked seafood and unwashed vegetables and fruit could put you at risk for gastroenteritis, hepatitis A and even typhoid. Tap water in some countries can make you ill; BYO bottled water (in a refillable bottle) and don't have ice in your drinks.