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11 Tips to Help You Maintain (not Gain) Weight on a Cruise (and Still Have Fun!)

11 Tips to Help You Maintain (not Gain) Weight on a Cruise (and Still Have Fun!)

avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 03/03/2019
Posted On 03/09/2019 16:03:28

Cruises | Diet and Exercise while Traveling | Diet and Exercise while Cruising | How to Avoid Gaining Weight on a Cruise | How to Avoid Weight Gain on Vacation

One of the hardest things to do (for me, at least) is to avoid gaining weight when I am on vacation - especially when that vacation involves a cruise. With unlimited bread, appetizers, entrees and desserts, the temptation to overindulge is just too great. To top it off, things cross my mind like "I don't want to miss out on trying this" or "I should take advantage of what we've paid for". Although food is not really available 24/7 like it was on cruise ships in days gone by, there is still more than enough.

If you've heard that the average person gains one pound per day of weight on a week long cruise, you may wonder what you can do to avoid gaining weight. Check out these 11 tips that worked for me on our recent 11 night Caribbean cruise. I didn't want to gain weight and thought I would be setting myself up for failure if I tried to lose weight, so my goal was to just maintain my starting weight.

Before Your Cruise Begins

Being good while on a vacation is much easier if you have some motivation and some reasonably good habits in place before your cruise begins.

1. Download Smartphone Apps

If you have a smartphone, make sure that you have downloaded the apps that can help you track your steps and exercise minutes. A search on pedometer in your phone's app store should provide you with a variety of free and low cost apps from which to choose. For iPhone users, the Health app counts your steps when you are carrying your phone. (There are also a number of other free pedometer apps that many people prefer. Scott is a fan of Pedometer++ as his step count is updated real time.) If you own a fitness tracker such as Fitbit, you probably already have the associated app downloaded; if not, be sure to do so and get acquainted with it before leaving home.

But wait ... there's more! Don't stop once you have downloaded the tracking apps! There are a number of other apps that use the information from your tracking app to reward you for your exercise. Some of my favorites are Achievement, Dick's Sporting Goods and Walgreen's Balance Rewards.

Dick's Sporting Goods (top left), Achievement (top right) & Walgreen's (bottom)

Dick's Sporting Goods (top left), Achievement (top right) & Walgreen's (bottom)

I would also recommend checking with your health insurance provider as some have a rebate or other similar program where members can be rewarded for healthy activities. (By meeting a step goal updated daily, Scott and I can each earn $1.00 per day for up to 100 days in the form of an Amazon Gift Card through Oscar, our health insurer.)

Oscar Health Insurance

Oscar Health Insurance

2. Create a Diet and Exercise Habit before Leaving Home

Of all 11 items on this list, this one is probably be the most important (and the hardest too)! While it's true that watching what you eat and exercising daily is not an easy habit to instill, trying to start the habit while on vacation is likely next to impossible. But, if you already have a habit in place, it's much easier to continue what you've already been doing.

I realized that I had gained about 10 pounds during our first three years of retirement which were filled with lots of travel (including 16 cruises). As 2019 started, I made the personal commitment to attempt to increase my exercise and reduce my calorie intake - at least until I was at my desired weight. Since we didn't leave home for our cruise until February 17th, I already had 47 days under my belt.

Although my diet was not perfect during the first month and a half of the year, I was meticulous with my exercise commitment. Not a day had passed since the start of the year that I didn't meet my personal goals of at least 10,000 steps tracked through my Fitbit. In addition, I did a short work-out each and every day following level 1 of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred exercise program.

Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred

Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred

3. Pre-Cruise Packing

Finally, before leaving home, make sure that you pack everything that you will want to be successful with your diet and exercise plan. For me, I made sure that I had proper shoes, workout clothes (including a proper bra), swim suits and my iPad with my exercise video downloaded. Although I usually always have them along, my Fitbit and smartphone were also necessities to help me keep track of my progress each day.

During your Cruise

We added one night in a hotel both before and after our recent 11 night cruise. Each of the 7 tips below will work while on a cruise ship, and most will work during hotel stays and other land vacations as well.

4. Take the Stairs

Taking the stairs is nothing new for Scott and I when traveling via cruise ship. On nearly every one of the 33 cruises that we have taken together, we have walked the stairs to get everywhere we want to go beginning immediately upon our embarkation. By taking the stairs, you can avoid the often long waits in crowded elevator lobbies, plus get a little exercise as well. (We used to reward ourselves by taking the elevator on disembarkation day, but we've now given that up as well.) Although we don't usually take the stairs in hotels, we do try to walk the stairs in airports - as long as we don't have too much luggage to carry!

With our cabin on the Celebrity Reflection being located on deck 6 and the buffet restaurant where we ate breakfast daily on deck 14, we started each day with some exercise. Additionally, walking to either the pool or hot tub (also on deck 14), the jogging track (deck 15) or the gangway (deck 2) added to our stair climbing. Even getting to the theater and main dining room required at least two flights of stairs!

5. Track your Step Count

In recent years there has been a significant focus on tracking steps with a common recommendation of 10,000 steps per day for improved fitness and to help with weight loss. When on the ship, it's hard to avoid some walking, but 10,000 steps is no guarantee without some effort. As I had met my personal goal for the first month and a half of the year, I had the much needed motivation to not stop there.

During our 14 days away, I averaged just over 13,000 steps daily with my lowest day at 11,000 steps and my highest approaching 18,000. We devoted some time to walking every day - either loops on the jogging track, back and forth on the outdoor walkway segment of the entertainment deck and even around stateroom decks where walking a loop was possible. (By looking at the artwork hanging in the ship's hallways and searching for fun door decorations courtesy of fellow passengers, sometimes walking didn't even feel like exercise! Plus, the inside of the ship is carpeted making those steps easy on your feet ... and climate controlled so there's no worry about the temperature extremes often found outside.) We also walked whenever we had a little bit of time between activities that we were interested in ... even if we weren't wearing proper walking shoes.

Adding to my Daily Step Count aboard the Cruise Ship

Adding to my Daily Step Count aboard the Cruise Ship

If we were behind as the afternoon rolled around, we got creative with adding to our step count. When there was a band that we wanted to hear, rather than lounging in a chair to listen, we walked while enjoying the music.

Listening to Caribbean Sounds while Walking Loops on the Jogging Track

Listening to Caribbean Sounds while Walking Loops on the Jogging Track

6. In-Room Workouts

If you are dedicated and willing, you can find a space in most hotel rooms for an in-room workout. One of our hotels had tile flooring which made working out a bit more difficult. With the help of padding provided by bath towels, I was, however, able to make it work.

Once aboard the cruise ship, we had a balcony stateroom with some space between the sofa and mirrored desk area. By moving the trash can and coffee table, the space was large enough for me to continue following the Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred exercise program. (Although I could have, I decided not to bring weights along - and I still was able to get in a good workout.)

In-Room Workout with a View

In-Room Workout with a View

The biggest key to getting my workout in each and every day was planning for it early in the day. At some point each morning, we agreed on a tentative time for dinner and I planned my workout around that. I often found it convenient to work out in the late afternoon and followed my exercise with a shower and dinner. That didn't work every day, however. Based on our reserved shore excursions or other activities and events that we were interested in, there were days when I either worked out early in the morning or even late in the evening. That's why having a plan each day was a critical piece of the success that I had with finding the time for my daily workout.

7. Have a Fitness Buddy

If possible, find a fitness buddy. It's so much easier to ensure that you hit your exercise (and even diet) goals if you are traveling with someone who has similar goals. Although Scott did not work out along with my exercise video, he was committed to meeting his daily step count. Walking 10,000 steps took far longer than following the short video program, so I was on my own for less than 30 minutes of daily exercise.

8. Fitness Centers

With the availability of Fitness Centers on most cruise ships and in many hotels, my back-up plan was to walk on the treadmills if Scott decided not to strive to meet his step goal. For those preferring to work out with weights or use other exercise equipment, fitness centers are a great option. There are also often fitness classes available (some free and others with a fee) for those who prefer having a live instructor as well as fellow travelers to help lead them down the exercise path.

9. Participate in Ship Activities

One of the great things about cruising is the number of activities available while on board for people with all different interests. Be sure to check out the daily planner (usually delivered to your stateroom each evening for the following day) and find some activities that call out your name. On our first sea day alone, in addition to the Fitness Center offerings there were 15 free calorie burning activities ranging from games to walking and basketball to dancing. With some starting as early as 7:00 AM or as late as 11:45 PM, activity times varied to match all sleep schedules. An added benefit is the steps that you will accumulate while getting to and from your chosen activities!

Ultimate Caribbean Cruise Calorie Burning Activities

Ultimate Caribbean Cruise Calorie Burning Activities

10. Choose Active Excursions on Port Days

There are so many options for increasing activity levels or step counts when a cruise ship makes a port of call. From walking, hiking, biking, jogging or climbing to swimming and snorkeling, you'll be burning some calories while you are off of the ship enjoying the sights and sounds. Even just exploring the port area along with some shopping time will help to increase your step count.

During our five port days, our planned activities included:

  • A walking tour in Cartagena;
  • Hiking in Aruba; and
  • Snorkeling in Grand Cayman, Curacao and Bonaire.
The key, however, is to find something that you will enjoy ... and if you succeed, your activities will not even feel like exercise, but they will still be beneficial to your health.

My Fitness Buddy, Scott, Climbing Aruba's California Lighthouse

My Fitness Buddy, Scott, Climbing Aruba's California Lighthouse

11. Diet

Last, but certainly not least, is the all important "what you choose to eat". With my goal of simply maintaining my weight (not losing weight), my plan of being more aware of what I was eating worked like a charm. By avoiding the temptation to overindulge, eating fish or other healthier entrees and limiting the amount of bread and number of appetizers and desserts that I ate, I was successful. I also avoided eating three big meals each day - if we chose to eat lunch, I tried to limit it to a salad or something similar. (Although I know many people who have had success with Keto, I've never been able to grasp the concept of a high-fat, low-carb diet. If it works for you, there are also plenty of options to dine Keto style while cruising - so no excuses!)

I avoided my initial instinct of attempting to completely eliminate desserts or other high calorie dishes or drinks as I feared that it would impact my vacation enjoyment. By combining the fitness habits that I had been striving to establish along with seeking out some sugar-free or lower calorie meal items, I was able to return home without having gained any weight. (Along the way, I did, however, enjoy some adult beverages and desserts that are not on any strict diet plan! Moderation was the key for me.)

Enjoying Mudslides - in moderation!

Enjoying Mudslides - in moderation!

Ultimate Caribbean Cruise

If you are still in the process of choosing a cruise itinerary or are not sure what to do while in port, take a look at our post titled Ultimate Caribbean Cruise aboard Celebrity Reflection (round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale). You'll find an overview of our itinerary along with a recap of our plans for each of our port days. We had excellent success in our five Caribbean ports with either going off on our own or taking smaller, more private tours. (Plus, we both hit our desired step counts each day with the combination of on shore and on ship activities!)

Diet and Exercise

What tips do you have for someone who hopes to meet diet and exercise goals while on vacation?

11 Tips to Help You Maintain (not Gain) Weight on a Cruise (and Still Have Fun!)


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Great Advice!
avatar   Sage Scott
04/13/2019 23:06:51

While I LOVE to eat while traveling, I don't want to gain weight. I think a cruise would be full of temptations -- amazing food and the opportunity to sit in the pool with a drink rather than exercise. How far do you think one lap around the deck is? A quarter mile like a running track? Less? I always find it easier to exercise when I can be outside on a beautiful day instead of inside on a treadmill. Sage Scott, the Everyday Wanderer.
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Eating and Exercising on Cruise Ships
avatar   Stacy
04/14/2019 11:42:34

Thanks for reading and commenting!

You nailed it with the word "temptation". After 30+ cruises, I tried not to let temptation get the best of me. I agree that walking outside is more appealing and I try to do that as often as I can. The downside on a cruise ship track is the number of laps it takes. It depends on the ship's size and where the track is, but it can be 8 laps for a mile. Although the distance is the same, it seems so much further - it's even hard to keep track sometimes!
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