As we were standing in the morning breakfast buffet line, a fellow passenger aboard Holland America’s Zuiderdam remarked to me, “You could easily start the day with three breakfasts on this ship: one delivered by room service, another at the sit-down restaurant and another at the buffet.”
From his girth, I figured the gentleman knew this from personal experience. Certainly, cruising and food seem to go hand in hand. Most cruises are one long buffet meal, and if you’re not careful, you’ll disembark with excess baggage on your behind.
According to Holland America, the average weekly grocery list for the 1,848 passengers aboard the Zuiderdam includes:
- Meat: 11,830 lbs
- Poultry: 3,814 lbs
- Fish: 1,875 lbs
- Seafood: 2,575 lbs
- Butter and margarine: 1,674 lbs
- Fresh vegetables: 137,500 lbs
- Potatoes: 7,750 lbs
- Watermelon: 2,300 lbs
- Dairy: 5,500 qts
- Ice cream: 300 gals
- Eggs: 23,040
- Sugar: 950 lbs
- Flour: 3,150 lbs
- Soda: 362 cases
- Beer: 332 cases
- Champagnes: 450 bottles
- Wine: 1,636 bottles
- Water: 280 cases
Or, roughly, 20 gazillion calories per person. And it’s not just the Zuiderdam. No matter what ship you are on, and no matter where you are going, your kitchen crew will offer you an overwhelming array of food, food, food and more food.
Almost everyone I spoke with on the Zuiderdam worried about gaining weight on the cruise, and the majority expected to put on a few pounds over the seven days at sea. I was worried, too; I’ve been on the “Curse the Cruise” diet many times myself. The key to healthful cruising this time, I decided, would be balance. Of course I would enjoy the wonderful multicourse dinners — and all the crème brûlée that Holland America could whip up for me, but the price would be a serious exploration of the onboard fitness programs.
There were plenty to choose from: everything from morning mile walks and yoga to “New Body” aerobics, “New Body” Pilates and “New Body” hydro-Pilates. The “New Body” theme had taken over the Greenhouse Spa, and small wonder: With all that food on board, I suspect most passengers would end the cruise with some sort of “new body.” But that’s not what the exercise gurus had in mind. According to the spa literature, the New Body program would “energize and burn calories while focusing on balance, concentration and inner strength.”
Ah, yes. Inner strength. If I was going to get this “New Body” right, I’d need all the inner strength I could muster, especially around the glazed doughnuts in the Lido Restaurant. But I was committed. Rather than risk being mistaken for Shamu in my black swimsuit, I decided to take action. It would be “New Body and Me” for the next six days.
The walk-a-mile at 7 a.m. on the Promenade Deck was my first foray in the fight against flab. It was great for toning my legs and working up a little pre-breakfast sweat. Walking is normally a simple action: You put one foot in front of the other and off you go. But at sea, you may find it far from simple. With the ship pitching and rolling, and the wind gusting, you might find yourself missing a few steps. Me, I looked like I was doing an Irish jig.
The next morning, I tried the “New Body” hydro-Pilates class. The British instructor emphasized the importance of a clear mind-body focus. Amazing! We hadn’t even started the class, yet my body was clearly telling my mind that it wanted a glazed doughnut. (Focus, focus! Think “New Body.”)
The instructor then explained that the routine would move along “like a gentle wave.” The fact that some sizeable waves were rolling all around us in the pool made the going a little tougher, but we all persevered. When my stomach let out a loud growl, I was horrified.
The woman next to me whispered in a heavy Southern drawl, “Didn’t ya’ll eat yet?”
“No,” I whispered back, “and I want a glazed doughnut really bad.”
We started giggling. Clearly, we’d broken our “New Body” focus, but it looked like the start of a nice friendship. At the end of the class, we made formal introductions. Her name was Charlotte and her hometown was (no kidding) Charlotte, North Carolina.
Now, Charlotte from Charlotte is extremely physically fit — “slammin’,” as the teenagers say. I had literally run into her the day before, during my morning walk around the Promenade Deck; she was jogging, I was jigging. In fact, Charlotte is one of those people who spends little time resting, and this cruise was her personal fitness quest. Besides jogging and Pilates, she swam laps every morning in the pool. All in all, Charlotte is something of a cruise fitness expert. In her opinion, shipboard fitness programs have come a long way since she began cruising 20 years ago.
She’s right. In fact, cruise ships now offer fitness and spa options that rival, and sometimes surpass, anything vacationers can find on land. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, cruise lines dedicate thousands of square feet to health, fitness and spa facilities — as much as 20,000 square feet per vessel. Many cruise lines also offer fitness-themed cruises. For example, last year Crystal Cruises offered eight “Health & Fitness” cruises dedicated to overall wellness. Nutrition and fitness experts from the Cleveland Clinic were on board, as were professionals from the Tai Chi Cultural Center and Debbie Rocker with her “Walk-on-Water” (WOW) program. All programs worked out in the Crystal Spa, the only feng shui-inspired fitness center and spa at sea.
But back to the Zuiderdam, where I was valiantly exercising, feng shui or no. After the morning hydro-Pilates class, our ship tendered off Holland America’s private Bahamian island Half Moon Cay. Late in the afternoon, while taking a stroll along the beach with my family, I heard a distinctive voice hailing me. It was Charlotte, eager to have me meet her husband, Buck. I was dumbfounded. Buck turned out to be the portly gentleman I had met the first day in the breakfast buffet line. Charlotte, he explained, had been obsessed with exercise ever since the kids had gone off to college. It is her way of dealing with her empty nest.
Several days passed. Zuiderdam was taking us on a seven-day “Eastern Caribbean” itinerary, with calls at Half Moon Cay, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau. For many on board, the itinerary didn’t seem to matter. Like that old joke, they were on the “See-food diet”: They see food, they eat it. But I was sticking to my healthful plan. I even found myself skipping the doughnuts — much to the amusement of my kids. Every breakfast they taunted me with their glazed doughnuts, but I did not succumb.
On Day 5, Charlotte said she needed a buddy for the “New Body” step aerobics class. Like a dimwit, I said, “Sure.”
I found myself thrust into a high-energy session — lots of kicking, marching, jumping and stretching. After 30 minutes of this bump and grind, my Steelers T-shirt was drenched in sweat. By the end of the session, my buttocks felt like they were on fire. I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I headed for the hydrotherapy pool and strategically placed my bottom along the water jets to ease the pain.
Only two passengers showed up for the last “New Body” hydro-Pilates class: Charlotte and me. To tell you the truth, I was almost a no-show myself. I was so sore from the step class that it took several aspirins to get me moving that morning. In the end, I have to confess, my favorite onboard activity had become lounging by the pool and gazing out to sea. In this, I was in the majority.
Here’s the good news: Despite eating the multicourse dinners and indulging in many decadent desserts, I ended the trip feeling fitter and weighing less than when I boarded. Cruising, it seems, can be good for you.
Do you have a cruise fitness story? Anita wants to hear from you, so send her an e-mail. And tune in next week for a listing of shipboard spas, fitness facilities, exercise programs and health programs.
Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita's columns have appeared in major newspapers and many Internet outlets, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2006." or visit her Web site .