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Cruise: Fitness : Ship Shape : With temptation on every deck, a fat-free voyager tries to avoid the midnight buffet and do 'the spa thing'

February 11, 1996|MARIA GALLAGHER | Gallagher is Food Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News

ABOARD SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS — The battle for my resolve began about 10 minutes after I boarded Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas.

"I got a nice Bahama Mama. Bahama Mama here!" called a bartender with a lilting island accent.

"Pina colada!" came the call from port side.

"Nice strawberry daiquiri for the lady?" was the inquiry astern.

The bartenders, bearing trays of colorful drinks in hurricane glasses, were circulating among passengers about to sail from Miami for a seven-day eastern Caribbean loop, with stops at Labadee, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Coco Cay, Bahamas.

The drinks were the first concrete manifestation of the intemperate fantasies promised by the cruise brochure: groaning midnight buffets, beach barbecues, free happy hour hors d'oeuvres, bars that almost never close and 24-hour cabin service.

But I had a different fantasy--a feels-great, less-filling, cruise lite.

I envisioned my week as a chance to enjoy a seagoing spa complete with beauty treatments, step classes, weight circuits and lower-calorie meals.

A waste, you say, of seven perfectly good midnight buffets?

Look at it from another perspective: Many midnight buffet-goers never take advantage of the gym, the basketball court, the aerobics classes, the sauna, the masseuse or the dreamy "environmental capsule" that combines aroma therapy, New Age music, sauna and massage in a single machine. Wasn't that a lost opportunity too?

Now, I am by no means an ascetic. In fact, I don't do any of this stuff regularly at home, which is precisely why I needed to do it on a cruise. Aboard ship, the usual excuses for exercise avoidance--working late, feeling tired--don't apply. Nor was starvation my objective; it was merely to return from vacation wearing the same belt.

*

During spa week, I decided, I would allow myself anything non-fattening: shopping, shore excursions, beauty salon visits, reading, exercise and fooling around with my spouse. I would consume foods designated by the menu as low-calorie and pass on the wine. I would not take the elevators, choosing instead to walk from our cabin on Deck 4 to the two pools (Deck 11), the fitness center (Deck 10), the library (Deck 7), the shopping area (Deck 5) the dining areas (Decks 3, 4 and 11) and the cinema (Deck 2). Besides, with 2,276 passengers on the fully booked Sovereign of the Seas (one of 10 ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet)--many of them senior citizens who relied heavily on the elevators--it was faster to walk than to wait for a lift.

Temptation beckoned even before we could unpack. Waiting in our cabin was a bottle of chilled California sparkling wine, a gift from our travel agent. Passengers were still checking in when the Caribbean barmen began making their rounds with trays of impulse-buy drinks--$4.95, but you could keep the glass. I smiled and declined. We lined up for lunch--a big plate of pasta for my husband; a tiny one for me.

"Oh, no. You're not doing the spa thing?" he asked. "If I'd known that, I would have asked for another table assignment at dinner."

I returned to the cabin feeling virtuous, until I decided it would be rude not to have at least one glass of the bubbly sent by our travel agent. Then I went for a look at the ShipShape Center.

*

It had all the usual instruments of torture: step machines, bicycles, rowing machines, weight machines and free weights. There was a large open floor area for stretch, aerobics, gut-buster, below-the-belt and step classes. One wall was mirrored; the opposite wall was a curved expanse of windows that offered a view of two outdoor hot tubs.

At the orientation session, I learned that among the 825 staffers were personal trainers, whom I could hire for $40 an hour. (I chose to go it alone.) Anyone who signed up for a body fat analysis right away could get 20% off the usual price, also $40.

(I didn't want any bad news.)

The fitness center was open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Jogging was permitted on Deck 7, but not before 10 a.m. so as not to disturb sleeping passengers below. Group activities, which ranged from the sunrise stretch and Tai Chi to Blowout Aerobics, were scheduled continuously from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the flip side, eating activities were in progress at almost every hour as well, starting with Early Bird breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and ending with the midnight buffet's last call at 1:30 a.m.

I returned to the cabin and woke my husband for dinner. In the dining room I was faced with a schizophrenic menu. On the left (the spa side) were listed low-fat, calorie-reduced dishes; on the right (the sinful side) was the regular menu. I ordered from the spa side: shrimp cocktail, beef consommewith two crackers, filet of sole with green peppercorn sauce, steamed broccoli and potato, key lime pie and black coffee.

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