How Not to Gain Weight on a Cruise

The one thing that everyone raves about when they talk about their favourite cruise holiday is how great the food was. Then the next topic that often comes up is, how much weight they gained on their cruise!

How not to gain weight on a cruise -

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Read on for my tips on how not to gain weight on a cruise by eating well and staying active.

We’ve just returned from a South Pacific Cruise on the Carnival Spirit (more about that later), and the first thing I did when I got home was jump on the scales.

After our cruise around New Zealand on the Golden Princess last year, I was a little bit shocked to discover that I’d gained several kilos without even realising it. I took mum’s advice to pack elastic waisted pants for the cruising, and didn’t even notice that I’d gradually expanded over the 2 week cruise.

cruising from Sydney

Great views of Sydney Harbour from our balcony on the Carnival Spirit

I’ve never been to fussed about watching my figure, but as I get older (I’m in my mid 40’s now), the extra weight creeps on easily, but is really hard to shift.

It wouldn’t bother me so much, but I hate not fitting into my favourite clothes, and because I wear a lot of vintage, it isn’t that easy to pop out and just pick up a larger size of an outfit.

Before this South Pacific cruise, I was adamant that I wasn’t going to put on an excessive amount of weight. And thanks to some of the following tips, I was pretty successful.

How to Avoid Gaining Weight on a Cruise

1. Watch what you eat

It seems obvious, but with the amount of food that’s on offer on every cruise, it becomes quite a challenge. With multiple restaurants, buffets and 24hrs a day pizza and ice-cream, it’s very easy to just eat, eat, eat!

Top tips for Eating Healthy on a Cruise

Eat in the Dining room – I worked out very early on that the formal dinning restaurants were my friend as it’s easier to avoid temptation when the foods not right in front of you.

How to not gain weight on a cruise - Eat in the dining room

Emma studies the menu on the Golden Princess Dining Room

The formal dining room isn’t just for dinner, most ships will offer breakfast and lunch in the dining room as well. Apart from enjoying excellent table service, proper glassware and crockery, and not having to queue for food, the quality of food on offer in the dining room is always a little bit nicer than that at the buffet.

The breakfast menu offerings in the dining room were really good and the ‘Lighter Fare’ included – Avocado on Sourdough toast with a poached egg and chilli flakes, Breakfast salad with kale, spinach, feta and raspberries with an egg on top. It was my fave meal of the day and even the kiddo skipped her pancakes a few times and opted for the Avo toast.

We ate all our breakfasts and dinners in the Dining room. We skipped dinning room lunch because the 3-course meal was a little too much, and instead I opted for some lighter options from the buffet.

Grilled tuna salad starter - food

Ahi Tuna starter on the Carnival Spirit

Choose the healthier options on the dining menu – Dining room menus always had several ‘healthy’ dining options marked with a little heart on the menu. It indicated dishes that were lower in fat, sodium or sugar. Generally these menu items were grilled, veggie based, or had a light (non-creamy) sauce. The desserts were often fruit based without added sugars.

Grilled fish and rice dish

Asian Style Grilled Fish with Bok Choi and Rice on the Golden Princess

Order Grilled Dishes or Starters as Mains – Don’t feel that you have to order a starter, main and dessert every night. Maybe opt for 2 starters and a side of steamed veggies instead. I usually opted for an unusual starter, like frogs legs or escargot (just for fun), a small starter salad, and grilled fish or meat for mains.

escargot food image

Have you tried Escagot? I like to try unusual foods on my holidays.

One night I ordered a creamy pasta dish, but if was way more stodgy than described, so I sent it back and they were happy to swap out my main for something else.

Avoid heavy salad dressings – Don’t undo all your good choices by opting for a heavy creamy salad dressing. Instead dress your own salad with oil and balsamic, you can ask your waiter to bring these to your table.

Share indulgent desserts – I didn’t often eat dessert at lunch time, but did treat myself to them at dinner. I’m a sucker for a good creme brulee, so that was always my first pick if it was on the menu. I’m not really an ice-cream eater, so I’d ask for desserts without ice-cream. Make sure you leave room for dessert by not filling up on bread with your starter.

Chocolate cakes buffet selection

Chocolate indulgence buffet on the Carnival Spirit

Making Healthy choices at the Buffet – Buffets are everyone’s downfall on a cruise. So much food just piled high and ready to be sampled can be super tempting even for the most mindful of eaters. It was eye-opening, and quite a turn off to see people just piling mountains of food onto tray sized plates.

Avoid the junk food – If you really want to know how not to gain weight on a cruise, keep burgers, fries, pizza, hotdogs, mac and cheese, and heavy curries as a one-off meal. Try not to have them every day.

For lunch I quite enjoyed the taco bar which offered grilled chicken or shrimp tacos, and allowed you to add your own salsa topping.

Choose the smallest sized plates at the buffet – I was quite surprised at how large the buffet plates were, more platter sized than plate sized. It’s a well known fact that the larger the plate the more you eat. You’ll find smaller plates in the salad or dessert areas.

2. Skip the Cocktails

Those fun looking cocktails with little umbrellas in them are full of sugar, swap them out for a mixed drink with soda or a white wine. Even better, skip the drinks all together and save lots of empty calories – and at around $16 per cocktail you’ll save lots of money too!

How not to gain weight on a cruise vacation - Hawaiian punch cocktail

Image credit: Princess Cruises

If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, don’t feel that you have to drink the whole bottle in one sitting. In the main dining room your waiter will re-cork the bottle and store it for the following night. I’m not a big drinker but did enjoy a small glass of wine a night. Our $35 bottle of Sav Blanc lasted for 3 nights between my partner and me.

3. Hit the Cruise Ship Gym

Take advantage of the fully decked out cruise ship gyms and get some exercise. Even if you aren’t a regular gym goer, it’s worth spending some time walking on a treadmill. Just be prepared for the weird feeling of the ship moving under the treadmill as you walk. It’s best to hold on so you don’t lose your balance.

woman on treadmill - How not to gain weight on a cruise

Image credit: Princess Cruises

The gym equipment on the Carnival Spirit was state of the art, with built-in TVs in all the equipment. Bring along a set of plug-in head phones and watch a movie while you walk or cycle.

I loaded some TV show episodes onto my phone before our trip and watched them while I was walking on the treadmill. You’ll be surprised how quickly 42min flies past when you are binging your favourite program.

There are also plenty of weight machines and free weights if you wanted to ‘pump some iron’. If you don’t have a regular gym program, you can pay a bit extra for a personal training session. I’d suggest downloading a fitness app before you leave home with some suggested workout routines to help you get started.

How to avoid gaining weight on a cruise - basket ball court

Sports Deck on the Carnival Spirit

4. Take the Stairs

Waiting for lifts is boring and can sometimes take a while. Take the stairs instead, especially if you only need to travel one or two decks. We would always try to take the stairs on the way down, but I must admit, by the end of the day, we would cheat and ride the elevator on the way up.

5. Participate in Entertainment and Ship’s Activities

Instead of choosing sedentary activities like bingo and trivia, join in with dance classes, ride the water slides, walk around the decks and play shuffle board. There is always something active to do on the ship. Some cruise ships even have rock climbing walls and ice skating rinks!

Girl playing mini golf

Playing mini golf on the Carnival Spirit

We played tons of mini golf, and I even won a prize for hip-hop dancing (Emma was so embarrassed).

I found if we were active and entertained, there was less chance that we would go and eat out of sheer boredom. The at-sea days feel like your are just filling time in between meals. I liked to highlight some activities on the schedule the night before and roughly plan our days so the highlights weren’t just food.

Waterslide on cruise ship - carnival spirit

Having fun on the Waterslides on the Carnival Spirit

6. Choose Active Shore Activities

Port days are a great opportunity to explore your destination. Rather than sitting on a bus tour all day, choose something more active. Depending on your destination you can swim, snorkel, kayak or go hiking.

woman and girl underwater snorkelling

Snorkelling in Mare, New Caledonia

If you are in a big city port, take a walking tour, hire a bike or climb something tall.

We were lucky enough to have beautiful weather on our island shore days and spent plenty of time snorkelling and kayaking.

Emma’s full face snorkel mask was an excellent investment – Buy a similar one here

7. Don’t forget to relax and enjoy yourself

You’re on holidays so don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Try new foods, taste things that look good, enjoy a couple of drinks. The key is everything in moderation.

Make smart choices and feel great when you disembark!

Avoid gaining weight on a cruise - dinner on a cruise ship -

Island Night in the Carnival Spirit Dining Room

So I hope there were some helpful tips there to make the next cruise you take a healthier one. I can’t guarantee that you will not gain weight while cruising, but hopefully you can beat the buffet bulge without sacrificing dessert.

Oh, and I bet you are wondering what the scales said when I got home last Friday? I’d put on only 1kg, which I was pretty happy about.

And today (4 days later) that extra kilo has come right off because I haven’t really felt like eating much. Turns out if you don’t eat 3 courses for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can lose a kilo pretty easily.

How much weight did you gain on a cruise? I’d love to hear your stories, tips, and advice for staying healthy and not gaining weight on a cruise.

Carnival Spirit cruise ship


How to avoid cruise vacation weight gain

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