On Cruising

A Caribbean cruise in the middle of January sounded like an ideal escape from the snow and cold of the Northeast, especially this past winter. I eagerly counted the days until I would plop down on a lounge chair beside a luxurious pool while waiters ambled around continuously offering snacks and beverages and the ultimate in buffet dining.

Wait! What was I thinking? On the ship, breakfasts and lunch were served buffet-style in a huge dining room where you could eat until you dropped. At dinner, the over-eager waiters offered tantalizing descriptions of appetizers, entrees and desserts. How was I going to pull this off on my 1300-calorie-per day fitness plan? Was I going to take the week off from counting calories and exercise? Or was I going to feel sorry for myself while everyone around me was indulging in pancakes, pasta and pastries? Most people view a cruise as a vacation from disciplined eating; after all, the food is included in the price, so if you don’t eat as if every meal is your last, you’re not getting your money’s worth, right?

Wrong. A cruise doesn’t have to be all about gluttony. A cruise is a wonderful, relaxing experience –full of beautiful sights, lots of activities and entertainment, and opportunities to meet new people. It does not have to be a continuous food fest. Instead, cruise-goers can enjoy the non-caloric elements: the warm, sunny days at sea and beautiful beaches on tropical paradises, the shopping, the Caribbean music, and the continuous activities offered onboard. It’s not easy, but it’s doable, if you practice strategy and discipline.

Of course, the offerings during a Caribbean cruise are ample. It’s hard to dodge the desserts, and if you are logging calories, it can be frustrating to deal with the spotty and expensive onboard internet access. But you don’t have to eat syrup-laden waffles and pancakes accompanied by eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes. You’d be surprised to learn that although there are lots of high-fat “luxury” foods on those buffet tables, there are also lots of healthy options. As a matter of fact, the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (http://www.pcrm.org/) has said that it is completely possible to eat healthfully on many cruise ships. Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Windstar all provide at least one low-fat, high-fiber entrée for breakfast; a vegetarian entrée  at lunch and dinner; vegan entrées for both lunch and dinner, and fruit for dessert and snacks.

For example, for breakfast, you can choose yogurt, fruit and cereal, and some toast with a little jam on it or an egg white omelet loaded with fresh vegetables. The lunch buffets offer all kinds of salads, fish, and chicken. And if I you take small portions, you can even try some of the more caloric items. If there is a “trick” to dining on a ship, it is to choose wisely what to put on your plate and not to cruise back to the buffet for seconds, thirds, or eighths – except perhaps to get some fruit or a second cup of coffee. That way, you won’t feel so full that you won’t have energy to enjoy the daily activities!

Another issue is the abundance of available alcoholic drinks. If you are a “foodie,” you can ignore the parade of waiters hawking the pretty, sweet, enticing alcoholic beverages on their trays. Not giving in to the smell of hamburgers, toasted buns and French fries wafting in the midday breeze is harder. How can you tackle that? Look over the daily newsletter, and instead of lying on a chaise lounge for hours, choose to do some new activity that comes with some movement – something that is not within reach of more food.

And if you do want to indulge a bit, build exercise into your daily routine. Many newer ships have huge, state-of-the-art gym with breathtaking views of the Caribbean. Take advantage of it, especially during the days at sea. Also, most ships have jogging and walking lanes on the top deck, and you can take in the fresh air as well as meet other folks who want to stay fit while enjoying the cruise experience. When a ship docks in port, take a shore excursion that gives you the opportunity to do some walking or water sports! You can even just walk around the shops, and although you don’t want to go overboard buying souvenirs, you can browse through the collections of shells, t-shirts, and jewelry. When you are onboard, fit a good walk or swim into your day.

When I weighed myself the day we got off the ship, I had lost a third of a pound. It wasn’t a titanic victory, but it felt pretty darn good. So yes, eating is a big component of cruising. But it doesn’t have to be the only thing, and you will still have gotten your money’s worth of good memories.

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