With caviar, champagne and six-course meals galore, is it really possible to cruise without overeating?
Gabriella Le Breton chews over the question

As virtually anyone who has set foot on a cruise ship will know, cruising and eating go hand in hand. From the welcome drinks and nibbles on arrival to the towering buffet tables and 24-hour room service that are standard on board many ships, the line between consumption and gluttony is fine, to say the least.

Cruise ObesityOn a recent Seabourn cruise, the captain announced on our last night, with some degree of pride, that over the course of our 12-day voyage my fellow 449 passengers and I had quaffed more than 3,000 bottles of champagne and scoffed some 30kg of caviar, 4,100kg of lobster, fresh fish and seafood, 2,750kg of prime beef and 1,800kg of veal.

As a rookie cruiser, I eagerly lapped up featherlight breakfast pastries, vast lunches, decadent teatime cookies and six-course dinners, all washed down with fine wines. I knocked back virgin piña coladas by the pool and, sure enough, gained an entire stone in my first week of cruising.

As I began cruising more frequently, I realised my seaborne binging had to be brought under control, so I joined a P&O cruise with a dedicated health and fitness team onboard. During this voyage, I had my very own PT (standing for Personal Trainer, as those in possession of gym memberships will know) who gave me a personalised workout regime and took me through a BCA, or Body Composition Analysis. My trusty PT likened the BCA to an MOT for my body (acronyms clearly flourish in the fitness world) and advised me to take more CV (cardiovascular) exercise, eat fewer bananas and replace the piña coladas with herbal tea. While I declined his suggestion of a full-on two-week detox, I did adjust my diet and felt considerably better for it.

Happily, the first cruise I embarked upon following my BCA was aboard the Hebridean Princess, which provides food of exquisite quality in perfect proportions, making my greed (and weight gain) far easier to control. And so it was in Scotland that I finally learned to do what French women do so well: sample delicious food without consuming entire plates of it. Quality and diversity, not quantity, became my cruise food mantra.

This makes me sound ridiculously pious (and not a little dull), but I should point out that wild dogs can’t tear me away from the cookies and ice-cream stand onboard Seabourn Sojourn, or the melt-in-the-mouth pastries crafted by the dedicated patissière onboard Le Levant.

Neither have I lost my passion for local food, be it succulent coconut flesh deftly grated on a Tahitian beach, dense Russian borscht in the Baltic or a fragrant Caribbean curry eaten overlooking turquoise waters. Smaller cruise ships, in particular, experiment with local products and freshly caught seafood, with companies such as SeaDream and Windstar even offering passengers guided tours of local food markets with the resident chef. Back in Scotland with the Hebridean Princess, I was so transfixed by the spectacular beauty of Kiloran Bay one afternoon that I didn’t notice there was a man standing next to me until he spoke:

“Are ye off the ship then?” Startled, I turned to face the tall, bearded man, who was wearing a white boiler suit sealed at the neck and cuffs with masking tape. Blue eyes twinkling, he introduced himself as Alan, one of the island’s 110 residents, and farmer of thehighly acclaimed Colonsay Oysters.

Gabriella Le Breton
Gabriella Le Breton

As we admired the bay’s windswept waters, Alan shared his passion for and knowledge of oysters with me. Suddenly realising the time, I leaped back onto my bike to pedal back to the ship with him waving me off, cheerily shouting, “Say hello to Paul the chef from me!”

As I savoured the oysters onboard the Hebridean Princess the following night, I enjoyed their fresh, salty taste all the more for having met the man who had prised them from the sea.