How to stay healthy on a cruise – 8 easy tips

How to stay healthy on a cruise

How to stay healthy on a cruise…that’s an oxymoron, right?

Sadly, with all the media shouting loudly every time a ship has a case of norovirus or gastro (and now coronavirus), people believe that cruising isn’t the healthiest holiday option, even though norovirus actually occurs more often in office environments and in hotels/resorts.

People joke that its all about the food, how many kilos will you put on during your holiday and will you be coming home with diabetes?!

The truth is that cruising can be one of the healthiest holiday choices you can make, but it is (mostly) just that…a choice.

That said, there are instances where you may be subjected to a virus which is rife on board, due to them being a bit of an incubator, but read on for some tips on how to minimise these chances, and make your cruise a happy healthy holiday!

1. Sanitise, sanitise, sanitise

“Washy washy” as they like to say on Royal Caribbean! Every cruise line will have sanitising solution located all over the ship, particularly in dining areas. Whilst it doesn’t compare to washing your hands with soapy water for at least 30 seconds (you’ll find most have sinks in the buffet areas as well as the solution) it will go a long way to keeping germs at bay. I recommend you carry a small bottle of sanitizer in your handbag too (Amazon has a range of products, check out prices here), so when you’re out and about touring you can keep yourself nice and germ-free.

The crew will be meticulous about cleaning and sanitising public areas – handrails, door handles, any shared items (particularly ladles in buffets) but it doesn’t hurt to wash again after touching such items. And maybe consider touching elevator buttons with your pinkie or a knuckle…

It also doesn’t require stating that cleanliness in the public bathrooms is paramount. Many cruise lines will have a button to automatically open the bathroom door so you don’t have to touch the door itself – use this! Alternatively, use a paper towel to open the door when you leave…or better still, use your own stateroom bathroom instead of the public ones where possible.

Be respectful that some crew members may prefer not to shake your hand, especially at the beginning of a cruise when illnesses may not have been identified as yet, or if they are already on alert for potential virus outbreaks. One of Azamara’s Captain’s will ‘fist-bump’ guests rather than shake hands, and hey, the last person you want to get sick is the Captain, right?!

How will you know if the ship is already on high alert? Listen out for crew talking about ‘code red’ or ‘OP 1/2/3’ which is the level of severity. The buffets will likely become ‘served’ rather than allowing guests to help themselves. Fruit bowls will be removed (prevent guests picking up whole fruit and returning to bowl) and if you’re on a Princess ship you may sit on a soaking wet chair, literally drowned in sanitizer between guests (yeah, I wasn’t impressed with a saturated seat and therefore see-through white skirt after that incident…).

Oh, and be conscious of how often you touch your face – its the fastest way to get contaminated.

How to stay healthy on a cruise


2. Diet

I know, the food on cruise lines is amazing and you are on vacation, so live a little, right? Well yes, but let’s not go crazy! Seriously, I’ve seen it all. Especially on embark day, you’d think guests had been starved for a week the way some of them hit that buffet at 10.30am! I often feel I need to explain the concept of a ‘buffet’ too…you don’t need to load your plate to the point that food is falling off it, or mix your pizza with curry, topped with crumble and custard… Please people, there is no limit on how often you can go back, let’s not be ridiculous!

The good thing about the plethora of food options is that you CAN choose healthy, very easily. Every cruise line will have menus marked with ‘heart healthy’ or similar in order to help guests choose the lighter meal. Vegetarians are well catered for these days, and even Vegan is becoming less of an issue with some cruise lines recently introducing full menus for them. Fat free, sugar free, gluten free…its all there for you. In fact, as someone who suffers with IBS quite badly, cruises are my favourite option as even when I need to go onto a FODMAP diet I know I can do it relatively easily at sea…not the case on most land-based restaurants.

My sister and I did a Christmas cruise together and our goal was to actually lose weight whilst on board. Not possible, especially over the festive season, right? Well, we both did just that! And we didn’t starve ourselves or go without alcohol either (it was Christmas after all!). So how did we do it? Well, we went to the gym every morning for some weights and cardio. We vowed never to take the elevator, unless in heels (!), we selected the lighter options at dinner, refused the bread and only did sugar free desserts. We partied hard (never underestimate how many calories can be burnt on the dance floor) and we explored every port by foot. We had one of the best holidays ever, and came back a few kilos lighter. Winning.

Oh, and if we’re going to be really careful with food, the recommendation is to eat cooked meats/dairy…although with the strict conditions that cruise lines follow, I’ve never been worried enjoying sushi/sashimi. Whilst you’re in port you may want to be a little more cautious with this however, and if eating street food (my favourite) make sure its from a stand with a fast turnover.

How to stay healthy on a cruise

3. Exercise

As I have touched on above, a good diet helps, but for optimum health you also need to combine it with exercise. This is one of the best things about cruising…every single cruise line has a gym. Some of them are pretty awesome too, have you seen the high-tech gyms on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum class? I’ll take a punt that its more impressive than your fancy gym in your home town. No kidding. From free weights to resistance weight machines, every type of cardio machine known to man, TRX, cables, various classes including yoga, boxing, bums and tums…you name it. If you need a bit of motivation, book yourself a Personal Trainer or get onto a Boot Camp program.

If the gym isn’t your thing, there is sure to be plenty of other options on your cruise. Find the walking track and do several laps whilst enjoying the view and fresh air. Maybe there’s a basketball court to get the heart rate up, or a tennis court, rock climbing wall, roller skating, mini golf… Try it all!

Sick of waiting for the elevator – take the stairs! This is the easiest way to burn off a few calories, and you’ll probably get where you want to be faster too!

What I will point out here though, is please wear the correct clothing for exercising. I see so many guests go to the gym for maybe the first time in their lives. They turn up in jeans, a button-up shirt and hard soled shoes, like they were going to head to dinner, but decided to jump on a treadmill instead… Please don’t do this! If you don’t have the correct footwear and clothing you can do more harm than good.

I was event managing a corporate incentive group on a cruise and the coordinator from the company was the EA who had brought her husband along for the ride. On the day we boarded in Barcelona, he discovered the basketball court and despite being in office clothing, decided to grab a ball and have a quick throw… One broken ankle later, he had to be taken to hospital, his wife in tow… I was suddenly doing 2 jobs, although comfortably so with my room switched from a shared crew cabin to their Grand Suite…!

How to stay healthy on a cruise

4. Spa Treatments

Let’s look after the body and mind here… You will find all kinds of weird and wonderful treatments on board cruise lines. They are usually operated by third party spa companies, such as Canyon Ranch who come highly recommended. Enjoy a relaxing massage, facial, mani/pedi, teeth whitening or if you’re really struggling with the healthy eating, maybe a slimming seaweed wrap could help!

Depending on the cruise line, you may have access to a Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna complimentary. Make the most of these to clear your mind and your pores, and boost your circulation.

How to stay healthy on a cruise

5. Vitamins & Meds

My husband and I always travel with a selection of vitamins. Whilst we try to live as healthily as we can on board, we are both in constant contact with hundreds of guests daily, so giving our immune system a boost can only help. I recommend as a minimum to take a multi-vitamin and echinacea. And don’t forget to bring any prescription meds you may be taking, with more than you need for the cruise, just in case you have to change your travel plans for any reason. I have a little medical bag with meds to cover just about any situation which stays in my handbag. You will be able to pick up basics in one of the shops on board the ship, but they’re not open when you’re in port, and as most cruise lines are American, you probably don’t want to have to see the Doctor unless absolutely necessary as you will get hit with a big bill for it (please always have travel insurance!).

You should also check with your GP/Surgery if you need vaccinations for the countries you are visiting too.

How to stay healthy on a cruise

6. Keep Hydrated and Sleep Well

Ok, I know you’re on holiday and you want to party…but alcohol does not count as hydration! Your body and skin will thank you for ensuring you drink plenty of water, especially when the air conditioning on board can be quite brutal. Every ship has its own desalination system to ensure that the water you drink is perfectly safe, although personally I prefer to drink bottled water where possible anyway. Keep a bottle in your bag for when you head out for the day in ports too so you’re never short, and in warmer climates, grab two…

Sleep is also essential to keeping your body refreshed and functioning at a high level. When you’re tired and run-down you will be more susceptible to picking up any bugs that may be floating around. If you enjoy a late night boogie but also want to be up early for a shore excursion, try to get a nap in before dinner to keep you going.

How to stay healthy on a cruise

7. Laundry

Norovirus can actually stay on clothing which is not washed sufficiently, so if you think you may have come into contact with it, get those clothes washed! The longer and hotter the better, if you have access to self-service laundry services. Some cruise lines do, some only have serviced washing. For serviced washing cruises I often take my own small bottle of travel detergent with me so I can do urgent washing in the bathroom sink – there is usually a drying line provided.

How to stay healthy on a cruise

8. Sea Sickness

I guess if I’m talking about cruising I should include a section about sea sickness. Fortunately, having spent most of my childhood holidays on our family boat, this isn’t something I have to worry about, but I do appreciate that it affects many people.

My tips for coping with it are firstly to book a cabin which is low and centre of the ship. This will have the least amount of movement. I would also recommend that you book a balcony if you have the budget, as sitting outside in the fresh air, keeping your eyes on the horizon can also help.

The on board shops sell a large variety of options from medications to magnetic bracelets and patches to wear behind your ears. Some cruises will also offer basic sea sickness tablets for free in their medical centre, but I’ve heard that the jab in your bum is amazing and the approx. $80 charge for this is worth every cent!

A more natural approach is to drink ginger ale, or ginger tea or whatever ginger you can get your hands on, and also eating green apples can help.

How to Stay healthy on a cruise

Hopefully that’s given you some good tips to keep yourself healthy and get the most from your cruise. Do you have any other ways of looking after yourself whilst on board? Do you over-indulge or keep to a diet? Have you ever had to be quarantined or got sick on a ship? Let me know your stories, as you may know by now, I always love hearing your feedback!

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

Wendy A

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4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Some great tips there Wendy. ? There are so many temptations on a cruise ship but one thing I have (eventually) learnt is that I don’t need to eat any more than I would at home. It’s just about making sensible choices. I know that can be a bit hard if not ridiculous for novice cruisers so I do empathise with them. Exercise is important too. I have felt so much healthier by just having regular and brisk walks, even if that means laps of the promenade deck or walks ashore after the daily excursions. I then sleep better as well which is also important. This all helps me in returning from a cruise truly rejuvenated.

    1. Absolutely! You and Denise are both looking fabulous even with all the travel and cruising you’re doing, you’re a great example of how to keep fit and healthy! Thanks for the tips 🙂

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