If your idea of a great vacation involves daily runs in the open air, a leisurely workout in a high-tech gym or a smorgasbord of fitness classes from Pilates to Zumba, a cruise may be the perfect getaway for you.
These days, cruise ships are about more than just eating and lying in the sun, and they’re attracting fitness buffs, yogis and health-conscious travelers in droves with active options both onboard and off.
Believe it or not, on a cruise you really can lose weight — or at least break even. That’s because fitness centers are growing in size to accommodate a more youthful and body-conscious passenger base and often feature state-of-the-art equipment and 180-degree sea views. Ships are breaking new ground with cutting-edge workouts like Kinesis Walls, popular TRX Suspension Training and Tour de Spin classes, plus offering trendy sessions in Pilates and tai chi.
Deck games like shuffleboard and skeet shooting have made way for onboard surfing, rock climbing, mini-golf and basketball. In port, active excursion options are plentiful. Cycling is big — not to mention hiking, kayaking, swimming and diving. If breaking a sweat can be fun, cruise ships have found ways to offer those activities in the middle of the ocean.
Royal Caribbean is leading the pack as the trendsetter in onboard fitness options. Its ships are the only ones afloat to offer onboard surfing, boxing and ice skating. But it’s not the only line to put emphasis on fitness. Others are also expanding their gyms and their top-deck fitness options. Some of the smaller lines — SeaDream, Star Clippers, Windstar, Seabourn — focus on water sports, with onboard marinas packed with water toys that range from kayaks to water-skis. Crystal and Seabourn are two luxury lines getting creative with gentler, senior-friendly workouts like Kinesis and walking, while river lines store bikes onboard for passengers to use ashore.
Here are a few tips for working out onboard.
Onboard gyms can get crowded at peak hours, such as early morning and late afternoon before dinner. Some ships even have signup sheets for cardio machines with strict time limits. Go during off-hours (or while ships are in port) for less crowded conditions.
Many group classes — Pilates, yoga, spinning — come with fees (typically $10-$15). Classes can fill up, so sign up in advance. Instructors vary in ability, and as they teach all the classes, they might not have the same level of dedicated training in one tradition as your studio back home. Work out at your own risk, and don’t do anything that seems painful to you.
Onboard water sports marinas are great, but they can only be used when the weather is warm enough and the ship can anchor in safe and relatively calm waters. If you’re excited about taking out kayaks and Sunfish boats straight from the ship, hot-weather cruises are better than colder, shoulder season trips (though the opportunities vary). On one October Windstar cruise in theMediterranean, the marina was never opened. Meanwhile, on a Seabourn cruise — same itinerary, same season — marina activities were a cruise highlight.
The smaller the ship, the smaller the gym. Luxury lines may have first-rate facilities, but a 200-person ship won’t have the enormous workout space a 3,200-passenger ship will have.
Don’t forget about shore excursions. Active tours are quite popular. You can get some physical activity — in the form of kayaking, walking, hiking and biking — while exploring a destination.
If you really want your cruise to be all about good health, choose a theme cruise. There are special cruises for runners and golfers, as well as general health and wellness lifestyle cruises (often featuring workshops on yoga, meditation and healthy diets). For those who prefer less of a gym-based approach to working out, dance-themed cruises will keep you on your toes day and night.
Best onboard gym
RoyalCaribbean’s Freedom and Oasis Classes
Why: Because size does matter. Royal Caribbean’s three Freedom-class ships — Freedom, Liberty and Independence of the Seas — each have 9,700-square-foot fitness centers. In addition to state-of-the-art cardio, weight-training and circuit-training machines, theShipShapeCenter features spinning cycles, a Pilate’s studio with six reformer machines and a full-size boxing ring, complete with speed bags, jump ropes, heavy bags and padded punching mitts. All cardio machines sport personal LED screens for entertainment options while working out. Group classes on offer include step aerobics, yoga, Pilates, stretching, tai chi, boot camp and indoor cycling. Additional cutting-edge workout equipment onboard includes the Cable Motion series of strength training machines and Power-Plate, a device based on advanced reflex technology.
Allure and Oasis of the Seas — the largest cruise ships ever — are in their own league. In addition to the usual fitness equipment, they each have 12 Gravity machines (providing body conditioning through Pilates and resistance training), a Kinesis Wall (circuit exercises utilizing a system of pulleys), Expresso Bikes (with 30 interactive, virtual rides) and Activio Cycling (providing heart rate feedback). Classes unique to Oasis and Allure include Kinesis group training, a combo cycling-and-jogging class called The Brick, and a jogging club, which uses the adjacent Deck 5 track. The track is a runner’s dream, featuring well-marked lanes, shaded ocean views and a series of motivational stanzas that hang from the ceiling, like: “One lap to go / Or maybe three / Tonight’s dessert, can be guilt free.”