in this issue – march/april 2003 – kevin retief takes a look at fit and healthy cruising.....

There I was, desperately clinging to the rockface 200 feet over the Atlantic .....

Rockface? Over the Atlantic?

But of course I was on Voyager of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean International's visionary liners plying its year-round seven-night Western Caribbean route from Miami and back.

Its innovative rock-climbing wall is a perfect example of the emphasis cruise lines now put on health and fitness.

When I first started cruising, any suggestion that a week sailing under the Caribbean sun would include planned exercise, healthy eating and spa treatments would have sent me running for cover.

Let’s face it – in those days the gym was a pokey little room in the bowels of the ship, there was no such thing as an on-board spa, healthy eating meant skipping dinner, and getting through the day without several cocktails under your belt was practically unheard of.

Today, things are different.

Even if some still believe the myth that cruising is all about self-indulgence – and all the perils that entails – the truth is that a cruise experience now can be one of the healthiest of all vacation options.

In fact, cruise lines today acknowledge that many of us – while not necessarily “new age” fanatics – have discovered a somewhat healthier lifestyle, and they’re catering to our needs.

Gyms on most cruise ships, for example, are now much bigger than they ever were and are usually located in prime positions with panoramic views. On the Voyager of the Seas, for instance, the ShipShape program provides more than 15,000 square feet of workout, aerobics and spa facilities.

An hour spent in a fitness center like this with everything from treadmills, rowers, virtual reality bikes, free weights and weight machines isn’t a dreaded duty – it’s part of the fun of the cruise. Half an hour sweating off the calories on a treadmill doesn’t seem so disagreeable when, at the same time, you’re watching the sun rise over the Caribbean Sea.

Many cruise ships offer energetic activities outside the gym as well. On the Voyager of the Seas (which also has a full court for basketball and volleyball!) you can take a shot at a double axle on the only ice skating rink at sea.

The truth is, there is no excuse not to get your heart rate going on a cruise.

The same revolution has touched food on cruise ships – eating on-board isn’t just another excuse to have the paramedics standing by when you disembark. You don’t have to over-indulge. Most cruise ships offer healthy dining alternatives - some blatantly sending the rest of us on a guilt trip; others more subtly highlight some dishes on the menu to indicate low fat or low salt alternatives. A few cruise lines even detail the nutritional values of their dishes at the back of the menu.

Royal Olympia Cruises is a classic example of this trend. Dining has always been a joyous occasion in Greece and so it is on the Olympia Explorer and Olympia Voyager. But with passengers’ changing needs and desires in mind, the cruise line has devised healthy and simple menus of dishes prepared with local herbs and pure olive oils from Greece.

Its healthful, innovative Mediterranean Vegetarian menu options are offered in addition to the cruise line’s “Healthy Choice” suggestions. The menu was also developed based on the ancient belief that olive trees are considered symbols of wisdom, peace, health, strength and beauty.

Many followers of the Mediterranean diet consider these dishes to be the secret to good health and long life, and regularly dine on the vegetables, herbs and olive oils featured in the Royal Olympia Cruises menus.

I’ve even been persuaded to regard Royal Olympia Cruises desserts like the famed Greek Baklava (a luscious honey-nut phyllo pastry) and Galaktoboureko (rich custard enrobed in phyllo) in this category!

The concern of cruise lines with your healthy dining does not end with the menu. With many studies showing the health benefits of drinking moderate amounts of wine and even adding wine to the food pyramid, Silversea Cruises is offering a new series of enrichment cruises to address this.

In 2003, Silversea guests can explore regions from Western Europe to the Mediterranean on eleven different Wine Series voyages. True oenophiles and novices alike can savor some of the world's finest wines and visit world-famous wineries, cellars and vineyards. Top experts, vineyard owners and winemakers from renowned establishments will be on board to provide enriching lectures, touch on the health aspect, conduct special tastings of vintage blends and guide Silversea's guests on excursions to celebrated wineries and vineyards in select ports of call.

Excursions ashore now have many alternatives for the more active passengers. We no longer have to sit on crowded coaches or wait to be whisked around the nearest town center to point at sights in the distance. Activities now include everything from bike rides down Hawaiian mountain roads at dawn, to swimming with the dolphins in the Bahamas, to kayaking in glacier bays in Alaska.

And of course, no completely healthy lifestyle is without the much needed “rest”, and nothing stimulates that more than being pampered in the spa. Many ships now have spas that offer even more facilities than most luxury, land-locked resorts. Waiting for you on Celebrity ships’ AquaSpas, for instance, are the bubbling aqua jets of the Thalassotherapy pool, a soothing massage with heated aromatic stones and an exotic jasmine flower bath. Their spa rituals transport you to another place and time with the Egyptian ceremony of milk and ginger, the Tahitian ceremony of flowers and the Hawaiian four-hands massage. Try asking for that on a ship 20 years ago!

The cruise lines have the formula just right. Having fun doesn’t necessarily mean arriving home with three extra notches in your belt and that sluggish feeling that means you need another holiday to get over the last one.

Having fun is about well-equipped fitness centers, healthy activities, relaxing spas, food choices – and yes – maybe a few martinis or those wicked drinks with tiny technicolor umbrellas and ice cubes in the shape of lemon wedges. Well, maybe not too many of those, but the point is that you can vacation, you can cruise, you can have fun – and still stay “ship shape”.

Pass me my ice-skates!

photos: royal caribbean international, royal olympia cruises, celebrity cruises

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