Going on a cruise can be the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation. Feeling daring? Book a shore excursion like ziplining, parasailing, or dogsledding. Have something a bit more restful in mind? Try a glass-bottom boat tour, a beach day, or simply stay on the ship and get a massage. Your trip can be as action-packed or low-key as you want to make it.
One must for making sure you enjoy every second of your adventure is to stay healthy. After all, it’s difficult to have fun if you’re spending your vacation sick in bed. With the rich foods and alcoholic beverages available around the clock, the hazards presented by the sun and the sea, and the sometimes cramped quarters, feeling at your best throughout the journey requires some preparation.
These strategies can help ensure you go full steam ahead on your cruise!
Navigating nutritious choices at sea
Healthy food selections
Buffets on cruises are the stuff of legends. With food available around the clock, it’s easy to finish your trip carrying several more pounds than when you started. And according to research in the journal Physiology & Behavior, these pounds unfortunately tend to stick around. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Know when to splurge. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s OK to indulge on vacation. The key is to do so strategically and in moderation. Pick a meal that will be a special treat, and then compensate by scaling back the rest of the day.
Peruse before you choose. When at the buffet or another all-you-can-eat location (which, let’s face it, is nearly everywhere on a cruise ship), take stock of all the options before you start putting food on your plate. Select what you really want, rather than what happens to be in front of you.
Make healthy choices. Along with the endless French toast, tacos, pizzas, and burgers, healthy options are available too, if you know where to find them. Be sure to include fruits and veggies as part of every meal. Carrie Forrest, MPH, recommends heading to the salad bar and eating a big salad every day. Just remember to go easy on the dressings and add-ons like croutons, bacon bits, and cheese, which can add a significant amount of calories, fat, and salt to your meal.
Keep your portions in check. You can try multiple foods and stay within your calorie budget by keeping an eye on your portions. Carnival recommends selecting an item you want from the menu, then asking to be served a half portion as a way to get some variety without going overboard.
Be mindful of cooking methods. To keep your meals lower in fat, opt for dishes that are prepared via boiling, poaching, grilling, baking, or steaming. Ask to have butter, sour cream, sauces, and dressings served on the side, and avoid high-fat extras such as cheese or bacon on burgers.
Bring your own snacks. While there are plenty of nutritious options on board, they may not be quite the same as what you’re used to at home. Forrest recommends bringing some of your healthy favorites with you, whether that be dried fruit, nuts and seeds, high-quality dark chocolate, or something different. (Just ensure everything is shelf-stable and in a factory-sealed package so it is allowed on board.)
Smart beverage choices
Stay hydrated. “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” While you’re spending all your time on the water, it’s important to remember to drink plenty of it, as well, to stay adequately hydrated. According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, this is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids each day for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids each day for women from both food and beverages.
Minimize alcohol intake. While you’re thinking about what you should drink, it’s also important to consider what you shouldn’t. Alcoholic beverages have a wide variety of drawbacks. In addition to being expensive, they can be dehydrating, lower inhibitions and lead to poor decisions, and impair balance and coordination. Over the long term, drinking alcohol increases the risk of more than 200 diseases, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
If you do decide to imbibe, do so in moderation. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate drinking is considered to be 2 drinks or less a day for men and 1 drink or less a day for women. (A drink is defined as 12 ounces [oz] of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled spirits.) And if you have any health conditions, it’s worth discussing with your doctor if any amount of alcohol is safe.
Also be wary of indulging in too many sodas or fruity cocktails, which can contribute a significant amount of calories and sugar to your diet.
Picture a cruise, and you may imagine someone lazing on a lounge chair on deck by the pool. And while this certainly is an option, there are plenty of ways to maintain (or even start) a fitness routine while you’re sailing the high seas. In addition to helping keep those unwanted vacation pounds at bay, keeping active can also provide a mood boost, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, ensuring you’re wringing every drop of fun out of your trip.
Hit the gym. Most cruise ships have fitness facilities that are free to use and include a variety of standard pieces of exercise equipment, including treadmills, stationary bikes, and free weights. What’s more, these gyms are often located on the upper decks and feature floor-to-ceiling windows for stunning, often panoramic views of the scenery.
Attend some group fitness classes. The gyms often have space for group classes, with popular options including yoga, Zumba, Pilates, and different types of dance. Try something new, and you may find that you’ve discovered a passion that you’d like to explore once back on dry land!
Have fun with deck activities. Are traditional fitness activities not your style? There are still plenty of ways to stay active on a cruise ship. Try strolling a few laps around the walking track on the top deck, exploring the ship by foot (be sure to take the stairs for an extra workout), playing a few games of pickup basketball on the court, or challenging a friend to some table tennis.
Pick active shore excursions. There’s no need to choose between vacation fun and staying fit. Be sure to select some more active shore excursions as part of your itinerary, whether it’s a walking tour of a historic town, a kayaking adventure, snorkeling, white-water rafting… the possibilities are endless!
And this is just scratching the surface of the ways you can stay active. Want to learn more? Check out “How Do You Get Exercise on a Cruise?”
It’s every cruiser’s nightmare scenario: You plan for your big adventure, excitedly set foot on board… and then spend the majority of your time at sea lying in bed, sick from rocking and rolling on the waves. According to the Cleveland Clinic, seasickness, a type of motion sickness, happens when the brain receives differing sensory input from various parts of the body and can’t tell if you’re moving or still.
According to Celebrity Cruises, most cruise ship passengers get their “sea legs,” or have their equilibrium adjust, within a few hours to a couple of days. Additionally, there are some steps you can take to decrease your risk of the condition.
Choose your cruise wisely. Celebrity Cruises recommends avoiding itineraries with a lot of time spent sailing in open water, selecting a large cruise ship (which is more likely to be stable in rough seas), and doing your best to avoid tough weather conditions (not selecting a Caribbean cruise during hurricane season, for example).
Strategically select your cabin. Booking an outer cabin with a window or balcony in the middle of the ship can subject you to less motion, notes Cruise Critic, and being near the water level is best, says the Cleveland Clinic.
Take preventive measures. Once you’re on board, be sure to stay hydrated, eat a light snack (avoiding heavy meals and spicy, fatty, or acidic foods), and avoid smoking or being near smokers. Also consider staying away from reading, which can bring on or worsen motion sickness.
Manage symptoms. If you do begin to feel seasick, head to an outer deck in the fresh air and focus on a distant point, such as the horizon. Keep your head still while resting against a seat back, and consider having some ginger ale or lozenges, cold water, or plain crackers. Some people also swear by acupressure wristbands, and medications such as dimenhydrinate (brand name Dramamine and others) can help in more severe cases. (Speak with your healthcare provider before taking any medicines to prevent or treat motion sickness.)
Get more tips and tricks for avoiding and managing this unpleasant condition in “How Not to Get Seasick on a Cruise.”
Getting quality sleep
Although you may understandably want to pack as much action into your vacation as possible, it’s important to balance this with adequate rest so that you can feel your best. Experts recommend that adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night for good health. So, how can you get your z’s while on board?
Choose a quiet cabin. To have the most peaceful environment possible for your slumbers, The Quiet Cruiser recommends looking at the deck plan of your ship. Avoid rooms near the atrium, which will have noise from DJs, atrium elevators, and other passengers. Also steer clear of rooms right under the pool deck, which will be subject to scraping and banging lounge chairs and loud parties. Cabins near the theater, casino, buffet, lounges, and crew workstations also tend to be extra noisy. For peace and quiet, the best rooms are those with cabins above, below, and on either side. Book as early as possible to have the maximum cabin selection available.
Strategize to reduce sounds and light. Royal Caribbean recommends bringing earplugs and a white noise machine to screen out the sound of things that go bump in the night. If you are disturbed by light when you’re trying to sleep, also pack a pair of eyeshades, and consider booking an interior room (which, as Royal Caribbean notes, has no source of natural light).
Make your bed as comfortable as possible. Want more pillows? Blankets? A mattress topper? Ask your stateroom attendant. Just be sure to ask early in the journey, since supplies are limited.
We’ve all heard nightmare stories of cruise ship passengers spending their entire trip sick with norovirus, or “the stomach bug.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this very contagious condition causes vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain. It takes only a very small amount of norovirus particles to cause sickness, and it can be spread in many ways, including by having contact with someone who is infected, sharing utensils or cups with someone who is infected, consuming contaminated foods or liquids, or touching objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hands in your mouth.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Wash your hands frequently. Begin by wetting your hands with clean, running water, then turn off the tap before applying soap. Vigorously rub your hands together to generate suds, ensuring you cover the back of your hands, between your fingers, and beneath your nails. The CDC recommends scrubbing for a minimum of 20 seconds. Afterward, rinse thoroughly and dry your hands with a fresh towel or an air dryer.
You should use soap and water to wash your hands whenever possible, but if these aren’t available, hand sanitizer is an alternative. The sanitizer should have a strength of at least 60% alcohol and should be used when your hands are not visibly dirty or greasy.
Support your immune system. Having a strong immune system can help you fight off norovirus and other germs you may encounter on your travels. This includes measures such as eating a nutritious and balanced diet, staying well-hydrated, engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining good hygiene practices so that your immune system has fewer bugs to fight off, and getting plenty of quality sleep.
Get more tips in “Boosting Your Immune System While Traveling.”
Stay away from others if sick. If you do come down with the bug, AARP recommends contacting the ship’s medical clinic, which can monitor for signs of dehydration, and staying in your cabin away from other people until you have been symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
Safeguarding your skin
You’re likely to be spending a good portion of the time outdoors on a cruise, whether lounging poolside or hitting the town on a shore excursion. What’s more, water reflects about 10% of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, adding to the exposure if you’re on the open seas or at the beach.
It’s important, therefore, to remember to include protection for your skin as you pack your passport and swimsuit.
Sunscreen. The CDC recommends sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher that blocks UVA and UVB (or lists “broad spectrum” on the label). The product should be applied in a thick layer at least 20 minutes before you are in the sun on all exposed areas, including the ears, scalp, lips, neck, tops of feet, and backs of hands. It should be reapplied at least every 2 hours, as well as when you are sweating heavily or getting out of the water. If you are also using insect repellant, that should be applied after the sunblock.
Sun-protective clothing. The CDC additionally suggests wearing clothing to cover as much skin as possible, along with a wide-brim hat to shade the face, head, ears, and neck, and sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays.
Medications and vaccinations
The CDC recommends that, at least a month before a trip, you have an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can provide you with any needed prescriptions, ensure you are up to date on all vaccinations needed for your destinations, and can go over any special precautions you may need to take for your specific health conditions.
If you take prescription medications, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends packing enough to last through your trip, plus extra in case your return home is delayed. Ensure your medication is clearly labeled to facilitate the screening process (particularly if you will be flying to reach your departure port, per regulations of the Transportation Security Administration [TSA]).
Onboard medical facilities
What if you follow all the steps to stay healthy and well on your cruise but still find yourself needing medical attention? Sometimes bugs, bumps, and bruises are simply unavoidable. Fortunately, there are medical facilities onboard cruise ships. According to Carnival, the facilities are equipped to handle routine medical issues as well as to start stabilization procedures for more serious conditions.
Typically, the medical centers are located on a lower deck. While they have set hours for treating routine issues, staff are available around the clock to handle emergencies.
Bon voyage: charting your course for a memorable cruise experience
It’s clear that a little forethought and mindful decision-making can pave the way for a thoroughly fun experience at sea. As you embark on your next cruise adventure armed with these tips and insights, you’re all set for smooth sailing ahead.
Wishing you fair winds and following seas as you set sail on your cruise. May it be an adventure filled with joy, health, and wonderful memories!
Disclaimer of Medical Advice: This information does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified healthcare professionals to meet your individual needs.