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How to Stay Fit on a Cruise

By Rachel Grice ; Updated February 02, 2018

Typically, cruises are free-for-alls of food and drink with very little exercise. (Where are you going to go? You're on a ship in the middle of the ocean.) But some of us can't afford — or simply don't want — to sacrifice their healthy lifestyle just because they're on vacation.

Though the spirit of a cruise is typically “I'm going to eat and drink what I paid for!” there are ways you can still get your money's worth while keeping your waistline in check. For starters, you pick the right cruise. While a tour of the Caribbean is going to be breathtakingly gorgeous and tons of fun, you're likely to sit on a lounge chair sipping a Mai Tai (not that there's anything wrong with that, per se).

So if you're an adventurous soul like me, you're likely better off opting for a more naturally active destination like Alaska. Sure, it's going to be cold, but the views are just as breathtaking but in a completely different way. And you see that glacier over there? Yeah, you can hike that. And burn a ton of calories while you're at it.

The type of cruise matters, too. I went on a two-week land and sea trip with Princess Cruises, so there were plenty of active options both on the ship, at ports and out in the wilderness. Regardless of which you choose, though, there are several ways you can make your trip more wellness-focused and come back new.

1. Mix It Up During Excursions

This is your chance to try something you never would (or could) do at home. Kayak, rock climb and rappel, hike a glacier, go river rafting, hike through the wilderness with a knowledgeable guide. I did all of these on my trip, and it was absolutely worth it. I saw parts of Alaska that my fellow cruise-goers missed and burned way more calories than sitting on a boat.

  • Kayaking: 375 calories an hour
  • Rock climbing: 453 calories an hour
  • Hiking uphill: 449 calories an hour
  • River rafting: 283 calories an hour
  • Cross-country hiking: 340 calories an hour

(All calories burned calculated for a 125-pound person by LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate Calorie Tracker.)

2. You Can Always Opt for a Self-Guided Hike

Watching your budget? Or maybe you're just more of the adventurous type. Strike out on your own or with a friend and create your own excursion. For example, when we were on the land portion of the trip near Denali, my sister and I chose to hike the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail. It was about a 5.5-mile trek and a 1,700-foot elevation gain, but the spectacular views along the way and at the top were our reward (that and our sore-but-toned glutes).

3. Walk Everywhere and Take the Stairs

Just like in your everyday life, steps add up. Slap on a fitness tracker or use the one on your phone and see if you can outdo your step count from the previous day. And take advantage of those stairs, not only does climbing stairs burn calories, but it also tones your glutes.

4. Make Smart Food Choices

This just might be the hardest part of staying on track. Temptations are everywhere on a cruise, but if you embark on your cruise with your fitness and nutrition in mind and arm yourself with healthy eating strategies, you can have your cake and eat it, too (so to speak).

Always start meals with a broth-based soup or salad and opt for grilled meats and fish instead of fried. Watch liquid calories, too (yes, especially the booze). And if you're traveling in Alaska, you'll absolutely want to take advantage of the local seafood.

You can also download LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate Calorie Tracker so you can check to see whether unfamiliar foods fit your macros or will totally derail your diet.

5. Take Advantage of the Gym on Ship

If you're a gym rat at home, that doesn't have to go out the window the minute you board the ship. Locate the gym on board and plan out some time to go. The key here is to not stray too much from your regular routine. If you always get your sweat on first thing in the morning, keep that up.

Or if you love a good indoor cycling or yoga class, see if your ship offers group fitness classes. (I did an indoor cycling class, and that was quite the experience on a moving ship!)

Give yourself time to acclimate to the motion of the ship, though. It's definitely an added balance challenge, and you don't want to fall off the treadmill or run into someone during your biceps curls.

6. Make Time to Pamper Yourself

You're on vacation! You earned some spa time. And if you've been trekking around the wilderness and going to the gym, chances are, your tired, achy muscles could benefit from a massage. I intentionally scheduled a massage for the last day of my cruise to have something to look forward to for all the hard work I'd put in during the trip.

7. Prioritize Quality Sleep

Sleep should always be a priority, but it can be easy to get into vacation mode and want to stay up late every night. Fight that urge and aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

One of the great things about the Princess cruise I took was that they prioritized sleep hygiene and appealing to all five senses for better sleep. "It's important to remember that above all, sleep is a sensory experience," says board-certified sleep expert Michael Breus, M.D. "In fact, all five of your senses must be prepared for slumber in order for sleep to come easily and last all night long."

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