Editor's note: No future Weight Watchers Cruises have been announced.
Cruising has long had a stigma attached to it -- everyone ends up overeating and gaining weight. (The "all you can eat" buffet doesn't help.) If you're a member of Weight Watchers, this might even deter you from wanting to go on a cruise. How the heck are you supposed to stay on your points, when you're surrounded by so many tempting calories?
While cruise lines have been freshening up their dining programs with healthier options in the main dining room and more specialty restaurants focusing on farm-to-table cuisine, only the official Weight Watchers Cruise through MSC Cruises makes it easy to indulge without the stress of trying to determine what you can and can't eat.
We can vouch for that. Onboard MSC Divina for the second annual Weight Watchers Cruise, we witnessed firsthand that it is possible to stick to your points without sacrificing the foods you love -- a nod to the 50-plus-year-old company's mantra: "Live life fully," inspiring its members to focus on a healthy, holistic, fun lifestyle rather than what's on the scale. Weight Watchers chefs develop special food and cocktail menus; you can even attend fun demos that teach you how to recreate popular dishes at home. Everything we ate was delicious and didn't at all taste like "diet food."
That's because Weight Watchers is not a diet plan, Weight Watchers' Vice President of Consumer Products and Ecommerce Ryan Nathan told Cruise Critic. It's a way of life that revolves around healthy behavioral practices.
When you're on a diet plan, he said, "All you're doing is, for a short period of time, inflicting pain on yourself to get to some end result. What Weight Watchers is intended to do is say, 'Here's a sustainable amount of points for the day, and then you get a weekly points allowance you can go splurge here and there.
"Weight Watchers isn't about deprivation. If you want to have the Key lime pie at dinner, for dessert, you can."
Splurging on the Weight Watchers Cruise is even easier now, too, with the SmartPoints system expanded to include more than 200 zero-point foods -- such as skinless chicken and turkey breast, eggs, corn and all seafood (hello, zero-point shrimp cocktail!) -- as part of Weight Watchers' Freestyle program.
If you're a Weight Watchers member or a nonmember (they're welcome, too!) who's worried about gaining weight on vacation, here are four ways the Weight Watchers Cruise -- now on MSC Seaside -- makes sure you stay on top of your points.
1. The food is healthy -- and scrumptious.
Weight Watchers' chefs develop special menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner well in advance of the cruise. Each menu labels the number of SmartPoints per item, too, so cruisers don't have to break out their phones at meal time to search for the info themselves. A section of the buffet is even roped off just for Weight Watchers food stations; Weight Watchers cocktails also are available at most bars. The ship goes through an entirely separate shopping/provision process for the Weight Watchers menus to ensure the proper foods and ingredients are in stock.
2. Weight Watchers knows what you want before you do.
Work up an appetite after your shore excursion? Weight Watchers figured you might need a snack but didn't want you to stress about finding something to eat in port. Every day, Weight Watchers delivers a little gift to each passenger in their cabin -- ahead of port days, expect to find Weight Watchers-approved snacks that you can throw into your bag before you head out. Other gifts throughout the week might include a beach tote and a refillable water bottle -- paired with motivational messages. So, even when you're not with the group, you're still in good hands.
3. You have your own spirit squad.
Weight Watchers fosters a large community of like-minded individuals who embrace the mantra and support each other through continuous positive encouragement -- mostly via the program's online community Connect (part of the Weight Watchers app), where members share everything from personal stories to before-and-after weight-loss progress photos. (Connect also makes it easy to link up with other members who are going on the cruise, as well as for those who met onboard to keep in touch after the cruise.)
"That's the power of Weight Watchers," said Nathan. "It's the community. It's this aspect of 'you're not doing this alone. You don't have to do this alone.' We all have good days. We all have bad days. But, the support that you get is phenomenal."
4. Activities are fun and educational (but mostly fun).
Part of indulging on the Weight Watchers Cruise is having the chance to sample new recipes and learn how to recreate some of your favorite dishes at home -- so you can stay on your points, even off the ship. (We can't wait to whip up the peach sangria, nachos and dip, and pizza bites that Weight Watchers recipe developer Julie Hartigan taught us how to make at her party-planning demo.)
Other activities might include sunrise yoga on the pool deck, an Instagram food photography class and a behavioral health seminar led by an expert like Weight Watchers' chief scientific officer, Gary Foster (the brains behind SmartPoints). The best part: There's no pressure to attend all of them. You can come and go as you please and still have the ability to enjoy a classic cruise vacation -- with trivia, theater shows and lazy days by the pool -- as well as everything MSC Seaside has to offer.
"Some people want to come to lose weight. Some people want to go to maintain weight," said Nathan. "Most people want to come for the community and the ability to just have a great time, eat great food, do fun things and not feel guilty."