Run, Eat and be Merry on a Cruise provided the Ship is a "big" ship

Fri, 2 Aug. 2013 - 1:02 p.m. MT
Credit: Jeff Venables

If you're contemplating a luxury cruise vacation, whether this summer or next or sometime in between, expectations of limitless buffets, interminable beach chair lounging, and ad nauseum seated ship entertainments can lead you to believe sedentarism and weight gain are the inevitable first mates of onboard R&R. You might be surprised to learn, though, that cruisers often find the experience a time of increased activity. And among those that aren't exactly maxing out their weekly fitness, many discover that the ship's enticements toward gluttony and sloth don't impede their regimens much at all. For some, it even seems the combination of ubiquitous temptation and ubiquitous swimsuit attire is itself a significant motivator.

In July, the American Running Association had the pleasure of interviewing a few onboard exercisers, and a picture of a cruise-ship fitness subculture—hidden in plain view from other of the ship's decks, and perhaps the more traditional aspects and expectations of cruise culture—starts to emerge.

For the following two cruisers, who were generous enough with their well-earned leisure time to provide insight into their activities onboard, cruising is just about synonymous with working out. The two had quite different fitness goals and habits yet nevertheless found the time and motivation to keep up regular routines during a recent seven-day luxury cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas.


Twenty-eight-year-old Brady is a biology teacher living in Gilbert, South Carolina. She and her husband Daniel, 55, found time to work out most days aboard the ship, though their preferred forms of exercise differ significantly.

Did you plan on working out or was it an impulse once you got onboard?

I definitely planned on working out, and I was going to make it happen whether or not the gym on the cruise seemed sufficient—I'm training for an ultra-marathon in September, racing for 24 hours straight. So [my] exercising was totally expected by my husband. There's a running track, and the gym is free and open 24 hours. The cruise definitely has all the amenities that allow me to train at a high level.

How regularly do you cruise?

This is my first cruise.

Does Daniel exercise regularly as well?

Yes, he does yoga. We come down here together [to the gym deck], and I hit the track and he hits the stretching area, where they have plenty of high-quality yoga mats he can use. I did take one yoga class, which is not something I would do at home. At home I'm not a member of the gym, so it was actually something that was kind of a perq of being on this cruise.

How do you like cruise workouts?

Well, you lose your hill work training. At home I run outside, not on a treadmill, and obviously the ship track is totally flat.

It's a track roughly the perimeter of the ship, so does an ultra-runner just do tune-up stuff?

My longest run on the boat has so far been an hour and a half.

That's a lot of laps around!

It's exceedingly boring and it's difficult because of the wind gust on one side, which delivers a strong headwind for one half of the track. At home typically my long runs—three-, four-, five-hour runs—I run with a partner, which helps.

How convenient is it working out on a ship?

There is really no excuse when it comes to exercising on this boat. I think I've worked out four times already.

Is packing workout gear a challenge?

No, in fact a lot of my workout gear doubles as poolside gear. My tennis shoes are the shoes I wanted to wear on the offshore excursions, so even without working out I would have packed the same amount of stuff anyway.

How otherwise active are you on this cruise? There's flo-riding, ziplining, shore excursions, even ice skating onboard. Do you partake?

I am way more active than I thought I would be. I thought I'd be lounging around and eating the whole time but I find myself walking a lot, rock climbing, hiking [offshore]; I am really quite pleased with the amount of activities we're doing on the boat.

Yes, on a ship this size you really do find yourself just walking quite a bit, and of course taking the stairs.

Absolutely, and I do that at every opportunity.

On the cruise do you eat more guiltlessly at the vast array of restaurants knowing that you're moving your body?

Not necessarily because I'm moving my body—I'm working out less than I would at home. I eat more guiltlessly because it's a treat, a vacation. This is a splurge week.

Why isn't this a vacation from exercise too?

I don't want to take a vacation from exercise.


Monroe, Connecticut resident John, age 49, and his wife Susan and two children were cruising alongside extended family; their experience was that opportunities for increased activity were abundant onboard the Allure. It was something he hadn't anticipated, but readily embraced and enjoyed during an otherwise indulgent family vacation.

This is my first cruise, and it didn't occur to me not to workout. For you was it a given or did you have to decide?

We did think about it, and we did decide that we wanted to exercise. So [my wife and I] packed shorts and shirts and sneakers for running.

Is it easier or harder to workout on a cruise like this, with all its various enticements?

I was surprised to find that it is easier! Our normal work schedule is pretty demanding. When we're not on vacation, we have less time, so being on vacation allowed us to step up our routine a bit.

How convenient do you find it?

Very. They even have trainers available and you can sign up for various activities. We liked our yoga class enough that later in the week, we took the second class as well. We brought our daughter [Jessica, age 17] along, and she enjoyed it too. We all tried something new and liked it.

So it's not so much a vacation from exercise as a vacation to exercise?

I suppose it depends on where you're going and what you're doing on vacation, but we like to be physically active, and being on a cruise, part of what's going through our minds is the plentiful food—the food intake is certainly not our normal routine—so we made a decision to step up the exercise to try to offset a bit of that vacation-binge type of eating.

Do other members of your party workout out too, or maybe think it a bit unusual?

I don't know if they think about us, but it's interesting for me to notice that other members of our [family reunion] party are exercising. It ranges from using the gym machinery to people using the track and everything.

Not necessarily folks you talk with about exercise in “regular life”?

That's right!

And how regularly do you exercise at home?

I run not by any runner's standard very much, maybe 5K or so twice a week due to work demands, and with frequent business traveling, even that is often difficult.

So regular, but not necessarily voluminous.

Exactly. And my wife walks, for a greater amount of time than I run, so she gets a similar workout. We try to time [our routes] so we start together and end together.

How regularly do you cruise?

This is our first cruise, both of us, so we're winging it to a great degree, and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by the facilities they have. It's a nice environment.

You run more or less fast and short, right?

Yes, for me, it's fine. But I think it would be probably quite boring to run on such a short track for much more than a 5K.

The Allure track is about one-half mile—longer than an ordinary 400-meter track—but distance runners are not used to simply running in circles. Perhaps pondering the engineering marvel that is a ship big enough to hold a half-mile track keeps one occupied for several laps!

What works best onboard when you attempt to fold exercise into your day?

Early. Either the ship is at sea, and you're doing onboard activities anyway, or if the ship is in port, we find it best to handle our exercise, eat breakfast, and then go ashore.

Is packing workout gear a challenge? What about dirty workout clothes?

It turns out we're exercising more than we anticipated, so we actually had to get the laundry service onboard. If we had to do it again, we would have packed more. Exercise clothes don't take very much room and we find ourselves running short, because we're enjoying the facilities more than we expected.

What other activities might grab you on a cruise like this?

We like to stay active, and it gives us a chance to try a few new things. In fact Susan tried rock climbing for the first time, loved it, and managed to do increasingly harder climbs. The whole family tried it, actually, including my son [Steven, 20]. Susan also tried the zipline, and we all tried the flo-rider, so we're trying physical things that we wouldn't normally be doing. The cruise has a lot of opportunities for this sort of thing.

Do you eat a bit more guiltlessly at the vast array of restaurants?

Food is certainly everywhere and high-quality so we find ourselves eating more, and I think it makes us more conscious to keep up the exercise—otherwise we'll be leaving the ship a lot heavier than we boarded.

Does wanting to look good in a swimsuit temper appetites, perhaps increase your activity?

It's hard not to think like that when they have so many pools—and there are so many people that are in shape walking around those pools. If you're on your vacation and you're letting yourself go, I suppose you're more conscious of the fact that you shouldn't do that. I think that for us it's not so much that as just wanting to keep feeling good about ourselves. When we overeat the night before, it's nice to wake up and feel like we're going to go and do something physical and burn off some of those calories. We're not keeping exact track, it just feels like the right thing to do.


Jeff Venables is the editor of Running & FitNews®, the publication of the American Running Association. He returned from his Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Allure to the San Fernando Valley, to resume running in 100-degree temp

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