The number of places to eat on board cruise ships can be overwhelming and can lead to some serious over indulgence.

However, the tide is slowly beginning to turn with more lines offering healthy eating options

I’ll never forget my first visit to a cruise ship’s late-night chocoholic buffet. I’d never seen anything like it – the place was packed to the brim with excited cruise passengers juggling plates piled high with calorie-fi lled creations. In just two hours 1,700 people passed through the buffet, like a swarm of hungry locusts. For me, this experience typifi ed the traditional image of cruises; the chance to munch your way around the world with cooked breakfasts, full-on lunches, blow-out dinners, and midnight buffets. The temptation to overeat is enormous and with an everincreasing choice of restaurants, cafes, pizza stands and hot-dog counters you can literally eat on board 24 hours a day.

But the tide has started to turn as cruise lines have latched on to the healthy eating trend and made real efforts to encourage customers to eat and live more healthily while on board. Norwegian Cruise Line took steps as far back as 1999 when it teamed up with leading US food magazine Cooking Light to introduce healthy options on its menus. Crystal Cruises became one of the pioneers of healthy eating when in 2007, it became the fi rst line to implement dishes free of transfats. Now its menus offer dishes low in salt, fat, sugar and cholesterol, catering for dietary needs that include diabetic and gluten-free.

Sushi is now available on many cruises

Other lines have followed suit.

Princess Cruises highlights healthy ‘light’ options on its menus, as does P&O Cruises and Holland America Line. Carnival Cruises and NCL have sushi bars and restaurants where fresh ingredients are cooked to order; the former has a ‘Mongolian wok’ stir-fry, the latter a Teppanyaki restaurant

Oceania Cruises has teamed up with Canyon Ranch Health Resorts to offer special ‘spa cuisine’ with the number of calories, plus fat and fibre content helpfully listed against each dish.

River cruise company Avalon Waterways col0ur-codes its breakfast buffet to show items that are low calorie, low cholesterol, low fat, high fi bre and high energy.

Juice Bars

The last few years have also seen the emergence of spa cafes and juice bars.

Celebrity Cruises took the concept one stage further with the launch of Celebrity Solstice and its new Solstice-class ships which have a dedicated restaurant called Blu. This is reserved only for passengers staying in the spa cabins and serves so-called ‘clean cuisine’ which focuses on grilled meats served with light sauces.

The line’s vice-president of food and beverage operations Jaques Van Staden said:

“The primary criteria for the dishes in Blu are no fried items, no heavy creams or butter sauces, clean presentation and reasonable portions.” The success of the restaurant has led the line to consider expanding the concept to other ships in the fleet. Sister company Royal Caribbean International prides itself on offering healthy menu options concentrating on low-fat, fresh ingredients. Its two new mega-ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, have two venues focusing on healthy eating: the Vitality Cafe in the spa and the Solarium Bistro, where each dish is less than 500 calories (however Allure also has The Boardwalk Dog House, an outdoor hot-dog counter).

Huge Portions

The amount of food that cruise lines need to feed the hungry masses is staggering. More than 32 million bread rolls are baked each year on Princess Cruises’ ships alone, while P&O Cruises and Cunard get through around two million kilos of potatoes. Cunard passengers meanwhile get through more than 2.5 million bottles of Champagne each year. RCI’s Independence of the Seas requires around 65,000lbs of fresh vegetables and more than 64,000lbs of fresh fruit each week to feed its 4,000 or so passengers.

They also consume 18,000 slices of pizza, nearly 20,000 bottles or cans of beer and nearly 3,000 bottles of wine. With such high numbers, cutting wastage becomes a profitable issue as well as an environmental one and catering staff use their experience to estimate the quantities required. Holland America Line estimates that eight tons of rubbish are collected on board each of its ships during a one-week cruise and has implemented a string of ‘best practices’ to help minimise and manage such waste. It has cut the use of packaging, especially plastics, using paper or washable cups, wooden stirrers, paper bags and glass or metal packaging where possible. Modern ships try to recycle whatever food they can. On RCI ships, food waste that cannot be recycled may be sent ashore or incinerated on board, with ashes disposed of on shore. In the US cruise ships get paid to recycle their waste; in Europe they have to pay.

Exercise Regime

Having a healthy cruise needn’t revolve around what passengers eat. Any self-respecting ship now boasts an on-board gym. On larger vessels they are huge facilities packed with running machines, cardiovascular equipment, weights – and in the case of RCI’s mega-ships, even a full-size boxing ring. Such facilities normally include dance studios where there is a huge choice of exercise classes.

Cycle your way to fitness with spinning classes in Crystal Cruises’ gym

Princess Cruises says it is taking fitness at sea to the next level with new Lance Armstrong spinning classes (developed with the famous cyclist); it also runs body composition analysis sessions that measure the body’s fat and water levels and runs seminars on diet and detoxing. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has escorted morning deck walks, with five circuits of the deck making one mile; while P&O Cruises offers a “Cruisetone” programme that gets passengers involved in healthy activities each day.

Crystal Cruises has come up with a 10-point guide to staying healthy on-board. Tips include drinking enough water, eating fresh fruit and salads and taking part in its Walk- On-Water (WOW) programme where strollers don a “Walkvest” that carries weights of up to 16 pounds as they stride the 360 degree promenade deck.

Celebrity Cruises reports that one passenger on Celebrity Eclipse lost an incredible 7lbs on a 14-night Mediterranean cruise after one of the gym instructors worked on a programme to fit into her daily routine. And she was still able to enjoy three meals a day, with dinner based on the line’s Vitality menu in the main dining room. So it just shows that despite the culinary temptations, it is possible for passengers to cruise their way to healthy eating and healthy living on board.

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