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THE HEALTHY TRAVELER

Shipshape Means Serious Exercise Options on Board

September 03, 2000|KATHLEEN DOHENY

When Michele Smith, a fitness enthusiast who works for Royal Caribbean International, boarded her employer's Voyager of the Seas for a recent cruise, she figured she would have plenty of elbowroom in the 6 a.m. aerobics class.

Surprise: Forty other passengers were there too. Most of them were business professionals on the cruise to mix networking and pleasure. But they weren't about to give up their workouts, even if it meant squeezing them in before the day's breakfast meetings.

You might expect such dedication on the Voyager of the Seas, a 3,000-plus-passenger ship that appeals to people who can't sit still. Besides the full menu of classes, it offers skating (in-line and ice), basketball and a rock climbing wall. The gym has treadmills, exercise bikes, steppers and weights.

But the Voyager is far from the only ship with such facilities. Fitness classes and other active options are becoming the norm.

"Fitness facilities used to be in the bowels of the ships," says Kevin Retief, editor of Prow's Edge, an online newsletter (Internet http://www.prowsedge.com). Now a fitness class is the place to see and be seen, and shore excursions are becoming more active, with hiking, bicycling and kayaking typically offered on many lines.

Menus afloat may still be decadent, but heart-healthy, low-salt and low-fat offerings are available too. A cruise is no longer looked upon as a "gluttonous outing," says cruise watcher Bill Cooper, who runs the Internet newsletter http://www.cruiseletter.com.

So relax if you're wary of cruising without your workout schedule or energy-boosting food plan. The cruise lines are going after you as a whole new demographic: This isn't your grandparents' cruise.

"A lot of people want to continue their lifestyle on vacation," says Scott Kibota of CruiseMasters, a travel agency that specializes in booking cruises. His clients routinely ask about exercise programs as well as massage therapy, aromatherapy and other niceties. "A lot of people are looking to cruise for those kinds of activities," he says.

Cruise lines want to appeal to all levels of fitness. Where there used to be an aerobics class, now there are high-impact classes, senior classes and dance aerobics.

And there are often fitness "extras"--the same kinds of services you could get at your health club at home. Been wondering how much that weight training program has improved your lean body mass? Holland America offers a body composition analysis for $25.

Personal trainers are becoming common on many lines, and not just for the fittest of the fit. Celebrity Cruises, for instance, offers a session called "Help! I Don't Belong to a Gym," in which guests learn how to weight train at home.

Sometimes lapsed exercisers find inspiration in the classes meant for all ability levels, in the easy-on-the-joints water workouts, or in the activities that initially look more like fun than exercise, such as a pingpong tournament.

Need even more motivation? Most ships have incentive programs with names like ShipShape. As you leave port, you get your own record book. You're awarded a stamp, coupon or token for every active event you undertake, which you can cash in at the ship's store.

How about a jazzier smile to top off that toned-up body? If you're on Holland America's new Zaandam, you're in luck. If the ship's dentist isn't busy with the crew, you can get your teeth cleaned or even bleached, says Dr. Robert Plekker, founder of Sea Dentist, which provides the service. Passengers pay, just as they would for a visit to the ship's doctor. So if you cheat with too many sweets and get a toothache, you can pay for it at the scene of the crime.

Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kdoheny@compuserve.com.

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