Get shipshape on a cruise

The Globe's Amy Verner vows to find her sea legs en route from Venice to Athens. She's not alone: The cruise industry is moving from buffet to buff

By: Amy Verner, Toronto Globe and Mail

Of all the temptations presented to passengers onboard a luxury cruise gourmet cuisine, 24-hour room service, colourful cocktails, gambling, high-end shopping, blissful spa treatments fitness probably falls somewhere near the bottom of the list.

In fact, it's all too tempting to use the confined space and ship's rockiness as excuses to avoid exercise.

But it takes only a week of unlimited food and drink coupled with limited activity to return home feeling like a beached whale.

At least that was my experience when I set off on my maiden cruise in 2008. So when I was invited to join some friends on a voyage from Venice to Athens last month, I vowed that things would be different. I would resist the French fries in bed at midnight. I would sit less and move more.

And then it hit me: I could actually use the week to get shipshape!

It turns out that cruise lines are well aware that more and more people are looking for vacations offering healthful options. Increased space is being allocated to gyms and heart-healthy symbols are appearing alongside the indulgent fare. The industry has not undergone a sea change yet but the notion of wellness is making waves.

In October, Norwegian Cruise Line will launch the Jillian Michaels Ultimate Wellness Cruise, a five-day Miami-to-Bahamas excursion that includes programs designed and hosted by the tough-love trainer on The Biggest Loser television series.

World Luxury Cruise Vacations, a niche company that specializes in boutique barge trips, now offers a yoga cruise through Belgium (complete with sessions led by yogi Siri Atma) and, onboard another ship, the Absoluut 2, there are elliptical machines en plein air beside the Jacuzzi.

The Celebrity Cruises fleet boasts a wide range of equipment to work off the buffet.

Classes and menu options from Canyon Ranch, the gold standard in American spas, are available on the Queen Mary 2, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas cruises.

Meanwhile, here on the Silverseas Silver Spirit, the spa is an impressive 8,300 square feet (this includes the fitness centre). The ship made its debut in December so every cardio machine is state-of-the-art and the weight training equipment still feels brand new.

But I quickly realized that I didnt need to use machines to balance out all those sinful snacks and fruity smoothies.

I made a point, for instance, of avoiding the elevator throughout the entire seven-day trip (two exceptions: arrival and departure). My cabin was on the sixth floor, perfectly positioned between floors 3 through 11 where all the action took place. I never counted to me, such behaviour borders on obsessive but I know that I do not have the opportunity to ascend and descend that many stairs at home. Occasionally, my friends played along.

Alas, they never joined me for my morning runs. On my previous cruise, I loathed the treadmill because it never felt level. The first morning, while we were still docked in Venice, I took to the designated exercise deck on the 11th floor denoted with a sign that read 10 laps equals one mile and started a light jog. The surface was ideal: firm with a light bounce. Thanks to the awesome view of the Giudecca canal on one side and mammoth cruise ships on the other, I completed 3.5 miles with little effort. I definitely felt like a hamster running in circles at times and yes, I always made sure to switch directions but I was thrilled to have my sea legs. I pitied the people who slugged it out on the treadmill; they missed the high that came from running beside the Croatian coast and the infinite expanse of the Mediterranean Sea.

Port visits provide a perfect opportunity to amp up the activity. Theres nothing like exploring a town and even getting lost to forget that youre logging major mileage. Whenever a historical sight was located in the hills, I made the climb. In Nafplion, Greece, this meant 999 steps to reach the Palamidi Castle. Whew!

In truth, I spent little time in the weight room. I had the best intentions to attend 7 a.m. yoga classes but opted for the mellower afternoon Pilates sessions sometimes held on an outdoor deck instead The Silver Spirit currently has one trainer, Amanda Mangano, who oversees the complimentary health seminars such as Secrets to a Flatter Stomach and Burn Fat Faster. We all want a quick fix and if thats what you came for, Im sorry, she said, cheerily in a sweet Aussie accent.

I emerged with some interesting information about the lymphatic system, but the sessions seemed designed to direct guests to the spa for additional la carte consultations. These could be as inexpensive as a $40 body- composition analysis or upward of $300 for herbal detox and cleansing remedies from British brand Elemis.

The group classes (Ab Attack and Total Body Conditioning) were filled with women. It was there that I met Ross, an incredibly fit fiftysomething whose trainer in Atlanta suggested she power walk barefoot on the deck to reset her foot mechanics. I tried this with her one afternoon as the ship made its way along the Peloponnese; mid-stroll, I had another eureka moment. Being ship shape can be as simple as embracing the activities that feel most natural to a seafaring setting.

Toward the latter part of the trip, I attempted to justify my insatiable appetite as my bodys response to all the exercise. In the end, I didnt lose any weight (Shhhh! I may have even gained a few pounds), but that was never my goal. I returned home from my adventure confident that I fulfilled my fitness quota in a variety of ways running, climbing, stretching nearly everything ... except jumping ship.

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