A reader took us to task not long ago for describing a new ship without writing what she considered enough detail on "a very important part of a cruise--the food."
There's been so much ballyhoo about cruise cuisine that some people won't board a ship because they're afraid of getting fat. Others visualize a sailing as just one long orgy of eating.
Granted, a glutton could go for a Guinness record on the average cruise ship, gorging cheerfully on seconds and thirds at each of the six or seven repasts served between 6 a.m. and midnight, then falling back on the room service reserves in the wee small hours.
And working on the theory that if you've paid for it you might as well eat it, a passenger can easily gain five pounds on a seven-day cruise by ordering one or two of everything and never missing a feeding.
But very few people do that. Even if they get carried away by the largesse for a few days, they soon settle back into something a little closer to their normal consumption pattern.
When the Sea Goddess debuted with its policy of free drinks throughout the ship all the time, bar managers were alert to the response. It was interesting to see that while the demand increased for premium labels and more expensive drinks (single-malt Scotch and champagnes, for instance), the amount of alcohol consumption decreased day by day and often was lower per passenger than on traditional ships, where every drink is bought.
Again, obviously, most people revert to their customary level after a day or two of frequent imbibing.
A bigger trap for the weight-conscious are those flower-bedecked tropical rum drinks popular on sunny ship decks, calorie-laden pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris and such, often accompanied by handfuls of sugared peanuts or potato chips. After a few sessions like this, you'd gain weight even if you skipped meals.
Fitness-oriented cruise lines have introduced low-calorie meals on some menus as an alternative to the traditional fare. Earlier this year Royal Cruise Line pioneered menu additions developed with the American Heart Assn. for low-calorie, low-cholesterol, low-fat dishes made without any salt or butter, calling the dishes "To Your Heart's Content" and making them available as an option at all three meals.
Aboard Cunard's QE2, Sagafjord and Vistafjord, the Golden Door at Sea points out low-calorie choices from each menu for those passengers dedicated to the onboard spa program. With top instructors from the Golden Door and Rancho La Puerta conducting as many as seven or eight free exercise classes daily in the luxurious spa quarters, passengers often come off these ships in better shape than when they boarded.
On Royal Caribbean's popular ships--Song of Norway, Song of America, Nordic Prince and Sun Viking--energetic passengers really get into the swing of things by competing for distinctive yellow T-shirts and visors emblazoned with the slogan "I'm shipshape." Each exercise or activity earns another point toward the shirts, and many people earn two, even three, during their seven-day cruise.
Aboard Norwegian Caribbean Lines' Norway, passengers can book special fitness-and-beauty workshops with celebrity lecturers.
Admiral's Stardancer has what one passenger calls "the unavoidable gym." The big glassed-in room facing the sea is right on the Sun Deck between the Lido Bar and Grill and the midships swimming pool; not only can you not miss it, but it's frequently where much of the action is on this lively young ship.
Defensive ordering is one strategy to avoid weight gain. Nobody said you had to eat one of everything; if the appetizer, soup, salad and dessert look fantastic, enjoy them all and don't order a main dish. If midnight buffet usually calls loud and clear, make it a point to eat lightly at dinner. And if teatime with its pretty little sandwiches and pastries is your special time, have a late breakfast and skip lunch to be ready.
Every cruise ship has organized exercise classes from aerobics and pool games to walkathons around the deck. If you prefer to go it alone, you can retire to the ship's gym for workouts on rowing machines or stationary bikes, or jog or walk briskly around the deck the specified number of times for one mile or more.
95 Tons of Water
If swimming is your favorite exercise, you'll find a pool on every cruise ship. Most, however, are on the small side. An exception is the oblong lap pool aboard Princess' Royal Princess, where you'll have 95 tons of water to splash around in.
Even if you heartily dislike routine workouts, you can keep your weight down by walking rather than taking a bus or cab when the ship is in port. You'll not only be seeing much more of the destination but you'll be hearing, smelling and feeling it as well.