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Gone are the days when embarking on a cruise almost guaranteed coming home a few kilos heavier and a little worse for wear after overindulging at the bars and buffets. Today, many travellers are choosing to combine their love of cruising with some more healthy pursuits.

Welcome to the fast-growing sector of wellness cruising. Whether the goal is better health, weight control, getting fit or de-stressing with some pampering, a cruise can be a good way to achieve it.

There’s a wide range of itineraries to choose from. Take a spa cruise, a yoga voyage or, for those who believe in the adage no pain, no gain, sign up for a boot camp afloat.

Australians’ growing interest in healthy cruising is in line with the global rise of wellness tourism. Figures from the Global Wellness Tourism Economy Report show that $1 in every $7 spent on tourism goes on wellness pursuits. The study estimated that this category will grow by 10 per cent a year to reach $900 billion by 2017 – up from $597 billion in 2013.

Australians who holiday in Bali in Indonesia and Phuket in Thailand have a strong emphasis on health and wellness. These experiences are now replicated on domestic holidays as we embrace wellness retreats and destinations with day spas, according to Euromonitor research.

“The health and wellbeing industry is booming as travellers, including cruise passengers, seek ways to stay healthy while exploring,’’ says Karen Christiansen, Silversea’s general manager Australasia.

And it seems health is more important to Australian cruisers than their American counterparts. According to Carnival Cruises vice president Jennifer Vandekreeke, the line’s chefs make desserts with 30 per cent less sugar for Australian cruises compared to American voyages.

Fitness to the fore

The ship’s gym, once tucked away at the back of the vessel, now takes pride of place, often located close to the ship’s spa sanctuary. Cruise lines have also invested in equipping gyms with the latest cardio exercise machines and many have dedicated areas for fitness classes.

Similarly, onboard spas have come a long way from mere massage rooms. They are professionally run, often by big US brands such as Steiner and Canyon Ranch, with the right ambience and aromatherapy massage oils to give customers a great pampering experience. Those wanting a little extra help can discreetly opt for Botox, dermal fillers or laser treatments.

Botox to body sculpt

On Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas, you can book a cellulite reduction program, pain-management acupuncture or tooth whitening. Those wanting to plump up their skin or smooth some wrinkles around the eyes or forehead can book medi-spa treatments including Botox, Dysport, Perlane and Restylane, which will set them back at least US$800
a treatment.

Princess Cruises has its adults-only Sanctuary haven, where guests can enjoy a massage followed by healthy spa cuisine and refreshments, after a workout at the Lotus Fitness Center. As well as the latest fitness equipment, the gym offers classes, from yoga and pilates to TRX Suspension Training and Body Sculpt Boot Camp, as well as complimentary zumba sessions.

Celebrity Cruises has a whole package with staterooms called AquaClass for those wanting to spend more time being pampered in the AquaSpa.

Rejuvenating experiences include a 24-karat gold facial, a body massage with seaweed to help rid the body of fatigue and a fire and ice pedicure, which combines hot stones and cooling gels. All AquaClass guests have access to the spa restaurant and can continue their spa experience in the privacy of their staterooms.

Carnival Cruise Line’s two Australian ships are offering a Bootcamp at Sea with fitness guru Shannan Ponton this year. Ponton leads passengers in his trademark spin classes or jogging around the outdoor track in the mornings. He also offers advice on healthy dining options on board.

“It’s great for anyone who feels like they’ve fallen into a rut, had trouble sticking to eating and training plans or those who just need to reboot and fire up,’’ Ponton says.

Stepping out

A simple way to add a fitness element to a cruise is to do lots of walking during shore visits. A European river cruise offers plenty of scope to walk off food and wine while exploring historic towns and villages.

With this in mind, media personality Deborah Hutton will be leading a tour of Burgundy and Provence aboard Avalon Waterways’ Poetry II next August. The Balance Food, Wine and Wellness Cruise will combine good food and wine with walking tours. “This is one of my favourite destinations in the world – I love the brilliant French food, the amazing wines from this region and of course we’ll be adding a touch of wellness to keep it all in Balance,” says Hutton who will be joined by Balance life coach Lyndall Mitchell.

Other river cruise lines, such as AmaWaterways and Scenic, carry bicycles so guests can get some exercise on guided tours or pedalling themselves between stops.

For those looking to increase the pace, there’s The Great Alaskan Running Cruise, one of several cruises designed by Marathon Expeditions “with every type of runner and walker in mind”. Passengers cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas and disembark to run or walk trails in Anchorage, Juneau and Ketchikan. To limber up, they can take part in a strength and stretch workout under the watchful eye of a coach. There are also talks on how to run, walk and live a healthy life.

Wellbeing themes

There is also a variety of themed cruises available where the primary focus is on a specific fitness activity such as yoga. These cruises are often organised by third parties who have a strong database of clients and can attract enough interest to charter and fill an entire ship.

The annual vegan-focused holistic cruise on board the MSC Divina sells out quickly. The holiday at sea combines holistic living and natural health while cruising in exotic destinations along the Eastern Caribbean, calling at San Juan, Puerto Rico, sun-soaked Nassau and Bahamas – all this while dining on specially prepared vegan natural foods and beverages prepared by specialist chefs.

Luxury line Silversea offers wellness expeditions aimed at improving wellbeing while exploring remote places. In Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, guests have a program of yoga, pilates, stretch classes, water aerobics, spa treatments, healthy menus and a fitness regime designed by Technogym. “It’s all about discovering the world and discovering yourself,’’ says the line.

Nowadays, cruising is all about choice. There are plenty of passengers who just want to lie in the sun on a deck chair. But increasingly, passengers are opting for wellness cruises to indulge in what they like best – be it healthy eating, getting fit or simply being pampered like royalty.

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