Cruising doesn't have to be synonymous with decadence. In fact, if you take advantage of your cruise as an opportunity to spend time in the gym, choose active shore excursions and make smart food decisions, you can actually lose weight on your next trip. With all of the wellness-focused offerings now found in cruise ship gyms, spas and restaurants -- not to mention in port -- it's never been easier to make smart decisions about healthy cruising.
1. There are healthier choices in the main dining room.
Increasingly, cruise lines have responded to requests for healthy choices by offering vegetarian, vegan, low-fat, gluten-free and sugar-free options in their main dining rooms. Some lines have separate menus, and others mark dishes with symbols at each meal; either way, the result is that there is more variety in these categories than ever before. In addition, you can always ask for regular menu dishes to be served without the heavy sauce or rich sides. On luxury lines such as Seabourn and Silversea (both of which handle special requests well), you can also place orders in advance for your favorite healthy dishes.
2. Check for restaurants with healthy themes.
Celebrity Cruises was the first to open a "spa cafe," just outside the spa on the pool deck of Solstice-class ships. There, you can find healthy breakfast and lunch choices. It's open to everyone, and includes dishes that are complimentary as well as others (yogurt "sundaes," for example) that have an upcharge. Celebrity also offers passengers in spa cabins exclusive access to breakfast, lunch and dinner in the health-focused Blu restaurant, which serves elegant takes on spa fare. (At breakfast, keep an eye out for the impressive tableside muesli cart.) Not in a spa cabin? Don't even try to book a table here. The policy is quite strict, with one exception: Suite Class passengers can dine in Blu if space is available.
Royal Caribbean just launched its own healthy dining venue on Quantum of the Seas; called Devinly Decadence, it's helmed by Devin Alexander, the chef for NBC's weight-loss competition show, "The Biggest Loser." All dishes at the restaurant are less than 500 calories, including a spin on the Big Mac and some very tasty chicken satay skewers you would swear are bad for you. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and meals are free of charge.
In addition, Costa Cruises' ships are home to the Samsara restaurant, an Italian restaurant with a spa menu. If you're cruising on the line's "spa plan," you can take breakfast, lunch and dinner complimentary there; other passengers only have access at dinner and must pay an upcharge.
3. Juice bars are popping up at sea.
Quantum of the Seas' Devinly Decadence is adjacent to a solarium juice bar that serves a variety of green, citrus and even alcohol-spiked juices. And that's not the only ship that's jumped on the juicing fad: Some Norwegian Cruise Line ships have a Barong Juice Bar (with both juices and smoothies) and MSC Cruises' newest builds have juice bars in their spas, which serve vegetable juices as well as fruit-based ones.
4. Spas and gyms keep getting bigger and better.
Increasingly, cruise lines are dedicating more space to their gyms, and outfitting them with state-of-the-art equipment, including Kinesis walls, Pilates reformers and fabulous cardio equipment with video game screens attached. You'll also find cutting-edge classes like TRX suspension training and Flywheel indoor cycling. And it's only getting better. For example, Carnival and Norwegian have launched their biggest gyms to date on their newest builds, and Celebrity Cruises partnered with Canyon Ranch in spring 2014 to launch the biggest spas at sea. Cunard's Queen Mary 2 also has a massive Canyon Ranch spa.
Crystal Cruises has made a variety of upgrades to its ships, and one of the most exciting is a three-deck, outdoor "fitness garden." It features exercise stations made of glass and steel that provide a workout for people of all fitness levels. Carnival has put outdoor fitness equipment on a couple of its newest ships as well.
5. Fitness activities are going beyond the routine.
In addition, fitness can now be fun! You can find Flywheel indoor cycling classes on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway as well as on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. Even more outside the box: MSC Cruises offers Aqua Cycling (that's right, underwater spin classes!) on MSC Divina, while Norwegian Breakaway has black-light spinning classes.
Even some of the new entertainment options on cruise ships blend fun with a good workout. For example, Holland America offers "Dancing with the Stars"-themed dance classes on every sailing, and you'll work up a sweat while learning routines from the show. Norwegian also offers Rockette-hosted dance classes on Norwegian Breakaway, and all those leg kicks can really add up.
Royal Caribbean's surf simulator may offer more laughs than any other experience on your cruise (especially if you can laugh at yourself!), but there's no denying that you're also working on balance while you try to stay afloat. Same goes for their rock-climbing walls; even if you climb slowly, you're stretching and holding up your own weight as you make your way up.
6. There are more healthy activities in port.
Sure, you can lie on the beach all day on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, but you can also start the day with sunrise yoga or join a morning 5K run around the island. (Surprise! The 5K run is actually very popular.) In addition, Crystal Cruises launched "Site Running Adventures" in 2014, a list of scenic 5K and 10K runs that includes both sprints past historical sites as well as nature runs through parks. And just about every line offers some kind of biking excursion on most itineraries, as well as water sports such as kayaking and canoeing. In addition, several river cruise lines carry bikes onboard and offer cycling tours as an option in most ports.
7. Spas are now offering acupuncture and other health-focused treatments.
After years of spa treatments that raise eyebrows (ionitherapy facials, for example), spa treatments that focus on health are a welcome trend. Look for acupuncture, reiki and custom massages for passengers dealing with, say, arthritis on Queen Mary 2. Many cruise lines, including Crystal and Carnival, offer acupuncture, and plenty of lines, such as Cunard and Costa, have thalassotherapy pools, which are said to be good for circulation and ease muscle and joint pain.
--By Sherri Eisenberg, Cruise Critic contributor