No all you can eat buffet, no booze, and plenty of exercise. We challenged Captain Greybeard, aka John Honeywell, to lose weight on board Celebrity Silhouette.
Lots of cruises, and a surfeit of steak, spaghetti and sandwiches washed down with buckets of beer and bubbly, have taken their inevitable toll on my waistline. So it’s time for action. And how best to lose weight? Go on a cruise, of course.
It might sound crazy – most of my bright ideas are – but just think about it. Hidden among the all-you-can-eat buffet selections are lots of healthy options such as plain grilled chicken and fish, steamed vegetables, and more salad than you could ever dress at home. In the main restaurant on almost every cruise ship the chef aims to have a low-cal, low-carb option among the selections for starters and main course, and there’s always fruit for dessert.
Pretty much every ship has a gym of some description; the newer ones have enough treadmills and exercise bikes to power every flashing light in their glitzy casinos.
They all have a spa, where, as well as the facials and manicures, wrinkle treatments and teeth whitening, there are weight-loss programmes that require little or no action from the participant – just lie back and watch the pounds melt away. Or so they say. I decided to put the claims, and my theory, to the test, on a five-day break aboard Celebrity Silhouette – one of the sleekest models of the Eclipse-class ships.
My obesity was to face a three-pronged attack – at the meal table, in the gym, and in the treatment rooms of the AquaSpa.
First stop when I arrived on board was the spa reception desk, where I set up a series of appointments to fill the days ahead, with no idea what most of them involved. I took the advice of spa manager Mirella, who soon had me booked in for seaweed wraps, Ionithermie sessions, and – as a reward at the end – a hot stone massage.
Next I needed to discover exactly how big was the task ahead. Time to stand on the scales and then attach electrodes to a foot and a hand as part of a body composition analysis from which personal trainer Laura Cull was able to tell me how overweight I was (very), what proportion of my body consisted of fat (too much, much too much), my metabolic rate (too low) and how long it would take to bring me back to acceptable levels (much longer than I had expected).
Laura, a former gymnast whose career was cut short by injury, led me through some elementary dietary advice and expressed horror at the number of cups of coffee I consumed each day.
Laura also had plenty of dietary suggestions. Don’t starve yourself was the bit I liked hearing most. Sticking to chicken, fish, steamed vegetables and salads was an expected but less welcome recommendation. The Ocean View buffet restaurant always had an almost infinite variety of salads available – I just had to turn my head away as I passed the pizza counter. And the ice cream.
The Ensemble Lounge on Deck 5 was best avoided as well, opening up as it does into the temptations of the Murano restaurant, the Tuscan Grille steakhouse, and the uniquely unordinary delights of Qsine.
When I found myself drawn to the grassy area at the top of the ship, I had to turn my back on the Lawn Club Grill where last year, unconcerned about my waist, I set about barbecuing enough red meat to feed an army. The burgers at the Mast Grill were off-limits as well, but I was free to attack the AquaSpa café in the Solarium.
More advice from Laura: don’t eat too late in the evening. Excuse me, I’m a night owl, not an early bird. That’s another habit I had to change. But given that I had forsworn alcohol for the week, and coffee had also been put on the banned list, it wasn’t too difficult.
Cellar Masters wine bar, Michael’s Club and the Martini Bar were no-go areas. Alcohol would not only provide unwanted calories, it might also weaken my resolve; for the first time in I don’t know how long, I was teetotal – well, for a few days at least.
I did have to drink plenty, but just water, and I found no difficulty knocking back a litre bottle of Evian during the day and another litre of San Pellegrino each evening.
There was an upside as well – my spa treatments. Having changed into a soft bathrobe, I was led by therapist Maria into a darkened treatment room where my massage table awaited. Maria covered me in a slimy green goo and then wrapped me up in foil to marinate for half an hour.
The rest of the treatment, with repeated showers and soothing massages to my head, feet and eventually all my body, passed almost in a trance. I never imagined I could have had so much pleasure lying down with my hands by my sides.
It was doing me good as well. Flab was becoming less flabby and I could see that my ankles were already a little less swollen. Before long I discovered that the seaweed was helping me lose fluid in other ways – prompting more frequent visits to the loo. In contrast to the subdued lighting and soothing music in Maria’s treatment chamber, my Ionithermie sessions were in a bright room with huge picture windows. I did battle once more with the paper panties and stood in front of the mirror as therapist Yselle took five sets of measurements around my girth.
It was not a pretty sight and even I had to turn away. Good job we were at sea, with only the occasional passing gull for company, otherwise anyone peering in would have been in for a shock. Almost as much of a shock as I received as Yselle prepared a mix of warm clay to baste my back and stomach, attached electrodes, and cranked up the power. It started off as a tingling sensation as if I had brushed against an electric fence and then worked up until I felt like an unseen hand was repeatedly gripping and then letting go.
No chance to relax either, as Yselle embarked on a prepared lecture about the unhealthy fats and unnecessary water stored in my body, and how Ionithermie would help restore a healthy balance. I think that’s what she was talking about; it was difficult to concentrate
Once my allotted time expired, I was back in front of the mirror to be measured again. Good news, a total of four inches disappeared from the five parameters measured. Disappointingly, the one described as “natural waist” reduced by only half an inch, sadly showing just how much work there is left for me to do.
Finally then, it was off to the gym, where personal trainer Chris Arnott put me through my paces. A former professional footballer with Watford FC, he had clearly benefitted from some serious training himself.
After four days of training, my initial breathlessness was a thing of the past, I was pushing and pulling heavier weights and taking shorter breaks. Suddenly I realised I was actually enjoying myself – something I never thought would have been possible.
Throughout the cruise, I still had time to take excursions ashore, enjoy the shows in the theatre and relax on my balcony reading books.
Rather than spend a temperate time in the bar after dinner, I stayed in my cabin one evening watching The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo via the video-on-demand service on my TV.
The passengers I joined for dinner were intrigued by my regime; all of them expected to gain weight while on holiday, especially the two Australian ladies I joined one evening who managed two starters and two desserts each.
The proof of my endeavour was anywhere but the pudding. Measuring up after the second Ionithermie session showed a further decrease, although my waist had crept up in the two days between sessions.
The true worth of my efforts was demonstrated on the scales back in the gym. In just four-and-a-half days on board, I had lost just over 4lb.
Just think, if I had been on the ship for the full two-week cruise I might have lost a stone.