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Archive for May, 2006


Repeat cruising pays off

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On May - 29 - 2006

Over the years, I’ve reaped the sweet rewards of being a repeat cruiser. On my last repeat cruise, I saved more than $1,500 from a single coupon. That coupon was from Princess Cruises’ “Captain’s Circle,” the line’s program for past guests, but the offers come from many different lines and programs. In recent weeks, I’ve received offers for two-for-one cruise fares, free airfare, free hotel nights, free cabin upgrades and more. In one case, my kids could come along for free.

It’s easy to become a member of a cruise line loyalty program; in fact, most cruise lines confer membership as soon as passengers complete their first cruise. Members then receive mailings urging them to book another cruise at a special discount. On board, members also receive special treatment; perks can include gifts, upgrades, credits, cocktail parties, dinner with the captain and free shore excursions.

Following is a list of cruise loyalty programs and some of their benefits.

Carnival Cruise Lines.Past passengers receive a copy of Currents magazine three times a year for two years after their first cruise. Inserts notify members about special offers including cruise discounts and a special reunion cruise with special gifts and benefits for past guests. Repeat cruisers also receive special Gold and Platinum Sail & Sign cards that give entrée into an exclusive reception on board. New this year is Carnival’s Concierge Club for guests who have sailed 10 times or more. Concierge Club perks include priority embarkation, priority supper club and spa reservations, and complimentary laundry service.

Celebrity Cruises. Once passengers cruise with Celebrity, they can join the Captain’s Club. Members are entitled to a one-category cabin upgrade on future sailings (if available), special first-class boarding and departing privileges, preferred dining assignments, cocktail parties with the captain, an invitation to the annual Captain’s Club Reunion Cruise, special spa privileges, welcome back gifts and newsletters that promote special offers.

Costa Cruise Lines. Repeat cruisers receive monthly mailings with discounts on selected cruises. In addition, on every sailing, repeat cruisers are invited to a special VIP cocktail party.

Cruise West. After cruisers sail once with Cruise West, they become members of the Quyana Club, which entitles them to a 5 percent discount on any subsequent cruises. They also receive quarterly newsletters with information about special offers and new cruise destinations, often before these are announced to the general public.

Crystal Cruises. After their first cruise, passengers are automatically enrolled in the Crystal Society. Members are entitled to special savings and exclusive events. These benefits increase the more often you sail, and include stateroom upgrades, onboard spending credits, special events and gifts — even free cruises. Members also receive Crystal Cruises’ quarterly magazine, Passport, with the latest news on itineraries, destinations and special offers.

Cunard Line. Passengers become members of the Cunard World Club after their first cruise. On later sailings, they receive exclusive savings offers of up to 25 percent off the brochure price; if they book while on board, they will also be eligible for additional savings or onboard credits and reduced deposits. Members will also receive a newsletter, mailings for special offers, dedicated World Club Desk service and access to a members-only Web page. Frequent cruisers can also earn additional benefits including onboard cocktail receptions, priority check-in, priority embarkation and more.

Disney Cruise Line. Guests are automatically enrolled in the Disney Cruise Line Castaway Club after their first Disney cruise. Castaway Club guests enjoy special perks and amenities including a dedicated booking line, priority check-in and boarding, an exclusive onboard party with the ship’s captain and officers, special gifts during and after the cruise and, for those who book certain other cruises while on board, a shipboard credit of up to $200 on the later sailing.

Holland America Line. Guests become members of the Mariner Society after their first cruise. Members are entitled to lower pricing on many cruises. As Mariner Society members, most frequent guests receive Mariner magazine, which offers news and special offers on upcoming cruises, as well as insider information about new ships and product changes. Repeaters also receive lapel pins or medallions for reaching milestones. Onboard perks include an invitation to a champagne reception and awards party.

Norwegian Cruise Line. After their first Norwegian Cruise Line cruise, guests are automatically enrolled in the Latitudes program. Latitudes members can obtain upgrades, discounts on selected sailings, early embarkation from some ports, onboard credits on designated Latitudes Member Cruises, a cocktail reception and bridge and galley tours on selected cruises.

Oceania Cruises. Guests are automatically enrolled in the Oceania Club after their first cruise. A pair of leather luggage tags and a certificate for a discount on a future cruise are delivered to the passenger’s house as a homecoming gift. A repeat passengers’ party is held on board every sailing. Pins are presented to frequent cruisers after five, 10 and 20 cruises. Members also receive Oceania Club Journal and special online access to the latest discounts and offers.

Orient Lines. After their first Orient Lines cruise, guests automatically become members of the Polo Club. On every repeat sailing, Polo Club members receive an onboard credit, a bottle of wine and an invitation to a private cocktail party, along with commemorative pins to mark special cruises. In addition, members receive Polo Club News magazine and offers for savings on selected cruises.

Princess Cruises. After completing one Princess cruise, guests become Captain’s Circle members; the more cruises they take, the more benefits they get. Every three months, members receive Captain’s Circle magazine with information on exclusive deals. On each cruise, members are invited to a members-only cocktail party. Extra perks for Gold, Platinum and Elite members include priority embarkation, priority tenders in port, special lounges for disembarkation, upgraded bathroom amenities, free minibar setup, deluxe canapé service, free Internet access, shoe polishing service, complimentary dry cleaning and laundry service, and upgraded travel protection insurance.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC). After completing their first cruise, passengers become members of Regent’s Seven Seas Society program. Seven Seas Society members receive Inspirations magazine along with advance access to itineraries and special offers plus savings of 5 percent or 10 percent on selected sailings. In addition, members are invited to a private cocktail reception on every cruise and may participate in special Seven Seas Society voyages featuring exclusive shore events. Members who attain Silver, Gold and Platinum status receive complimentary onboard amenities like free pressing, free Internet access, free phone time and free spa treatments.

Royal Caribbean International. After an initial cruise, passengers are eligible for complimentary membership in the Crown & Anchor Society. Members receive Crown & Anchor magazine, savings certificates, a 5 percent gift shop discount and an invitation to a cocktail party on their next cruise. After completion of a fifth cruise, guests receive lapel pins, luggage tags, 10 percent off gift shop purchases and robes to use onboard. After 10 cruises, passengers save 20 percent on gift shop purchases and are entitled to priority embarkation.

Seabourn Cruise Line. Past guests become members of the exclusive Seabourn Club. Privileges include 50 percent off selected sailings, an additional 5 percent savings when booking a future cruise on board, a cocktail party, Club Herald magazine, notices of special discounts, and e-mail contact with the Club Desk. But the biggest bonus for repeat cruisers on Seabourn is a free 14-day cruise after sailing a total of 140 days. Other gifts are awarded after guests sail for 100 and 200 days, and special recognition gifts are awarded on each cruise to passengers who have cruised the most with Seabourn.

Silversea Cruises. Past guests become members of the Venetian Society, entitling them to discounts of 5 percent to 15 percent on selected sailings. Those who cruise 100 days or more receive a Tiffany gift and another 5 percent off any future cruise. Members save 10 percent after 250 sailing days. A free seven-day cruise comes with the 350-day milestone, and a 14-day cruise is awarded after 500 days. Repeaters also get a $250 onboard credit per couple, a cocktail party and laundry service.

Star Clippers. Past passengers receive Star Clippers’ quarterly newsletter, Topgallant. They also receive mailings with special savings offers on selected voyages.

Windstar Cruises. Passengers who sail with Windstar are automatically admitted into the Foremast Club. Members receive two-for-one discounts on selected cruises, a newsletter subscription and invitations to exclusive onboard events.

As with all repeat business, repeat cruising is all about relationships. Make the most of your cruise line relationships and you’ll definitely seize the savings.

Filled Under Advice

Passengers can make a ship sick

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On May - 22 - 2006

Yes, you read that headline right: Passengers can make a ship sick.

When most people take a cruise they focus on the fun, the sun and the food. But here’s another thing to think about: sanitation. Poor sanitation can ruin your cruise — ask anyone who’s been felled by a norovirus. And the biggest culprit? Fellow passengers who don’t wash their hands.

Sailor’s enemy

There’s nothing worse than getting sick on your cruise vacation. Seasoned travelers know all too well the importance of watching what they eat and washing their hands: It keeps the bugs at bay. Still, some of our fellow travelers aren’t so vigilant about hand washing, and they put us all at risk.

Poor personal hygiene habits can spread one of travelers’ worst enemies: noroviruses, also known as Norwalk virus and NLV, a group of viruses that can cause severe diarrhea, nausea and vomiting over a 48- to 60-hour period. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noroviruses are highly contagious and can be passed directly from person to person as well as through tainted food and water. While the majority of patients recover with no lasting effects, the illness can be a more serious problem for infants, elderly people and people with weakened immune systems.

The risk of contracting a contagious disease like norovirus illness is particularly high on a cruise ship because passengers mingle in a relatively confined space. For this reason, all cruise ships that dock in the United States and travel to foreign ports undergo regular inspections by the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP). U.S.-based ships that do not make foreign port stops, such as Norwegian Cruise Line’s America fleet, which cruises around the Hawaiian Islands, are given similar inspections under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Interstate Travel Program.

All this inspecting is both reassuring and alarming, and wise travelers take their own precautions against picking up nasty germs at sea.

Sick at sea

In March, Celebrity Cruises had an outbreak of norovirus illness aboard its ship Mercury, with 336 passengers and crew falling ill over a two-week period. The outbreak affected two sailings along the Mexican Riviera.

Celebrity Cruises contacted the CDC to report an elevated incidence of illnesses, as required by law. On the first voyage, which sailed March 17, 14 of 840 crew members (1.67 percent) and 191 of 1,902 passengers (10.04 percent) were afflicted with norovirus illness. Because of the high percentage of sick passengers, VSP staff boarded the ship in Puerto Vallarta and remained aboard for the remainder of the voyage while they conducted an environmental and epidemiological investigation.

VSP staff consulted with onboard medical staff, observed cleaning and disinfection procedures, distributed a survey to passengers and crew to determine the cause of the illness, and made recommendations. The ship’s medical staff reported that at the end of the second voyage, 24 of 844 crew members (2.84 percent) and 107 of 1,986 passengers (5.39 percent) were ill. Over a period of several more weeks, the ship’s crew continued its stepped-up cleaning procedures; even Bibles and poker chips were disinfected. On April 6, medical staff reported that the number of sick passengers and crew had returned to expected levels, i.e., less than 2 percent.

Mercury isn’t the only ship to experience an outbreak of norovirus illness this year. According to CDC records, 1,192 passengers and crew aboard six ships operated by four different cruise lines became infected with norovirus during the first three months of this year. During the same time period in 2005, 1,536 passengers and crew on eight ships operated by five different cruise lines became infected with norovirus.

“Across the board, we’re seeing more norovirus, particularly on longer cruises,” says Dave Forney, chief of the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program.

How come?

“Americans are not very good hand washers,” he says.

America’s dirty little secret

Forney is right. Last August, the American Society of Microbiologists commissioned a
survey on the nation’s hand-washing habits
. Observers sent into public restrooms to observe 6,336 adults found that only 82 percent actually washed their hands after using the facilities. Women were more diligent than men: 90 percent of the ladies washed their hands, compared with only 75 percent of the men.

Forney adds that itinerary can affect the incidence of shipboard illness; for example, the CDC has noted special problems with cruises beginning in Mexico. Of particular concern are passengers who have arrived in the country a few days before boarding the ship; the suggestion is that these travelers pick up the virus on land, then bring it onto the ship when they board.

“We suspect that people are probably coming on board with the virus,” Forney says. “On a cruise ship, people are out and about in very public areas, and so we have this depositing of the virus on various surfaces that then would be easily picked up by others.”

Forney advises travelers who are ill to avoid contact with other passengers and to report to the ship’s medical facility immediately. Of course, most passengers don’t want to be quarantined in their cabins, says Forney, so the virus keeps spreading around the ship, creating a sometimes chronic problem.

Inspectors aboard

The cruise lines’ defense against viral and bacterial illnesses is constant vigilance, strict sanitation control and regular disinfection. To keep them on their toes, the CDC conducts unannounced inspections of each ship twice a year. This cooperative effort is the chief reason there aren’t bigger outbreaks of illnesses at sea.

The CDC’s inspections are rigorous. Each inspection takes six to eight hours, depending on the size of the ship and the number of inspectors. The inspectors use a checklist to help evaluate such things as the ship’s water supply, food storage practices and food-preparation areas. Every ship starts with 100 points, then loses points for each infraction.

It doesn’t take much to lose points — anything from cracked tiles to refrigerators that aren’t quite cold enough. Inspection scores from the mid-80s to mid-90s are the most common. Ships scoring 86 points or higher are considered satisfactory; those scoring 85 and below are reinspected within 30 days.

One cruise line stands out for keeping its ships shipshape. Costa Cruises‘ Costa Mediterranea achieved a perfect score of 100 twice in a row this cruise season during unannounced inspections on December 13 and April 9.

“We’re very proud of this achievement,” says Hans Hesselberg, vice president for Hotel Operations for Costa Cruises, who attributes Costa’s success to careful training and a very strict in-house inspection programs — more stringent, in fact, than the CDC’s program. Hesselberg points out that a ship is like a small city: It has a water plan, a sewage plan and a food plan — and all three systems must be inspected regularly or the citizens will suffer.

Ounce of prevention

The CDC believes that noroviruses are becoming more virulent. And while noroviruses worry ship doctors a lot, they are a bigger problem on land than at sea. Last month, for example, an outbreak of norovirus occurred in 11 Chicago-area hospitals and nursing homes, reportedly affecting 536 people.

The statistical reality is that a miniscule percentage of all cruise passengers worldwide have become infected with a norovirus. Still, you don’t want to find yourself in the sick bay, so how can you protect yourself?

Remember what your mother told you: Wash your hands. For best results, the CDC recommends using warm water to moisten your hands before applying soap. Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that loosens and removes the germs from your hands.

That’s all there is to it: Twenty seconds of insurance that can literally save your health and your cruise.

Do you know how clean your cruise ship is? Travelers can view inspection summaries by visiting the CDC’s Web site, which publishes extensive reviews and vessel sanitation scores.

Filled Under Advice

The ship that has everything

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On May - 15 - 2006

When you are about to set foot on board the world’s largest cruise ship — one that cost almost a billion dollars to build, spans four football fields and rises 15 stories high — one has, shall we say, certain expectations.

Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas is not only the biggest ship at sea, it is the most ambitious. With its FlowRider surf park, H2O water park, ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall, children’s sundeck, barbershop and boxing ring, it is certainly the ship that has everything.

Showtime

Last week, I took a one-night preview cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas. Preview cruises are never ordinary, but this one was particularly unusual, as the passenger list included 300 workers from “The Today Show,” who were furiously setting up shop all over the ship in preparation for the show’s first-ever broadcast from a cruise ship. Guests were dodging cables, camera booms and lighting equipment all over the ship.

There’s no doubt Royal Caribbean is putting a lot of emphasis on Freedom of the Seas; it’s the new flagship of the fleet, the first of three superliners that are all about flamboyant offerings. The ports of call are touted as highlights but, in fact, the ship itself is the main attraction.

“We have a legacy of offering the unexpected to our guests,” says Royal Caribbean’s president Adam Goldstein. “We knew with Freedom of the Seas we had to come out with something fabulous at every turn.”

After walking around for just a few minutes, I could see Mr. Goldstein’s point. Now she’s ready for her close-up.

160,000 tons of fun

Freedom of the Seas is 160,000 tons of fun. At the center of the funfest is the Royal Promenade, a 445-foot boulevard for shopping, dining and entertainment that looks like an atrium mall and hosts nightly street parades with performers, music and a laser light show.

When there isn’t a parade, promenaders can partake of a number of wide-ranging experiences. You can have a slice of pizza at Sorrento’s pizzeria, sip a glass of wine at Vintages (under the watchful eye of an enormous mermaid sculpture), or drink espresso at the “neighborhood” coffee shop, where you can also slip into the 3,600-volume Book Nook for some relaxed reading. A couple of firsts are a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor and an old-fashioned barbershop, where gents can indulge in a traditional shave, scalp and shoulder massage, haircut or shoeshine.

Freedom offers three pool regions, including the H2O Zone, an interactive water park with fountains and water canons that is a haven for the little ones. The surf park, a 32-by-42-foot FlowRider, is positioned at a 45-degree angle; the water actually flows uphill. This arrangement allows riders to surf or body-board in the pool, which has a flow of 34,000 gallons per minute — enough to fill a regular swimming pool in 60 seconds. The other pool region is the Solarium, an adults-only area with plush chairs, hammocks, a pool and — most remarkably — Jacuzzis that extend out over the sides of the ship.

Freedom is the perfect ship for those who get bored easily. It’s really a floating city, and what with the swimming pools, ice rink, theater, casino, nightclub, and malls of bars, restaurants and shops, it is easy to lose track of things — including the time. The carpets in the glass elevators that glide up and down the atrium are changed every 24 hours to display the current day of the week. One can only assume this little touch is for the “It’s Tuesday so it must be Grand Cayman” passengers.

“This ship has so many features that make me want to cruise again,” says travel agency owner Paula Dozier of DTS Midway Vacations, based in Baltimore. Dozier admits the ship isn’t for everyone, especially those who want a sedate, traditional cruise experience, but she has booked dozens of cruises on Freedom for her clients who want something new and different in cruising.

Staterooms

As with Royal Caribbean’s Voyager-class ships, Freedom of the Seas offers several cabin categories, ranging from inside cabins to suites. Of the 1,817 staterooms, 842 have private balconies and 172 have promenade views. Freedom is the first ship in the fleet to use Royal Caribbean’s new bedding, which offers thicker pillow-top mattresses, fluffy pillows, smoother cotton sheets and duvets. The beds were, I’ll confess, truly comfy. I wish I could have spent more time in mine.

All cabins are compact but very cozy and functional. Each has a flat-screen television, bountiful storage space, a large closet with lots of hangers and a bathroom with a shower stall. A nice touch for readers is bedside LED reading lights built into the light fixtures. The balconies on standard verandah staterooms are larger and deeper than those on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager-class vessels; they’re equipped with plastic chairs and a small table. Another nice design feature are the sliding partitions on the balconies, which can be opened to make one large balcony for families or friends traveling together.

Freedom is also unveiling a new type of cabin, the Presidential Suite. At 1,215 square feet, it is the biggest suite ever on a Royal Caribbean vessel. It has four bedrooms and four baths and there is an additional 800-square-foot balcony with a whirlpool, bar and dining area.

Dinner and a show

Freedom’s dining experience does not have the “Wow!” factor of its other onboard amenities. The ship offers the usual two nightly seatings with assigned tables and tablemates in its three-deck-high main restaurant; each level is named, oddly, for a famous scientist (Gaileo, Leonardo and Issac). For those wishing to dine on buffet fare, there is Windjammer, the ship’s buffet venue. It is arranged like a food court, which really helps to keep the passenger traffic flowing. There are three additional dining venues within Windjammer: Chops Grille, serving steaks and seafood; Jade, serving Asian fusion cuisine; and Portofino, serving Italian fare. There is also a Johnny Rockets hamburger joint on board.

After guests have their fill of food, they can enjoy Freedom’s wide array of entertainment offerings, from Broadway and ice-skating shows to poker and karaoke. Guests can get in touch with their inner American Idol at the On Air Club, Freedom’s karaoke venue, or they can go dancing in the avant-garde Crypt, the ship’s creepy-but-fun disco. If you prefer a quiet place to drink, you can’t beat the Viking Crown Lounge with its expansive views of the starlit ocean. The ship also carves out plenty of niches for children, including the Adventure Ocean youth facility for younger guests and the Living Room, a hangout for teens.

Fitness and relaxation

Freedom’s very large fitness-and-spa center offers many options for rejuvenation and refreshment. The fitness area has an amazing array of machines along with vast Spinning and Pilates class areas. And, yo! Wanna to put up your dukes and fight like Rocky? Then jump into the ship’s boxing ring.

The Freedom Day Spa features Elemis treatments by Steiner, which offer the usual spa menu as well as two new offerings: teeth whitening and acupuncture. When I cruise, I like to try different spa treatments. One unique to Royal Caribbean is the “float” treatment. After a massage or seaweed wrap, guests can relax in a puffy heated water cloud. This was the most relaxing spa treatment I’ve ever experienced at sea.

Shipzilla

If there is a drawback to Freedom, it is its size. The ship is so large that most Caribbean islands don’t have piers big enough to accommodate it. On stops in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, it will anchor offshore and passengers will tender ashore in small boats. The ship’s official double-occupancy number is 3,634 passengers, but when third and fourth berths are filled, Freedom can accommodate up to 4,328 people. Add to that more than a thousand crew members, and you have a ship with more than 5,000 people on board. The big question among the many travel agents on the preview sailing was how a full-ship embarkation and disembarkation will go. That remains to be seen.

Passengers who like Royal Caribbean’s bigger ships will love Freedom of the Seas for all its new additions. It’s a real family ship and there’s literally something for everyone.

Filled Under Reviews

Ships that keep you fit

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On May - 8 - 2006

When Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas makes its debut this week, it will not only be the largest cruise ship in the world, it will also have one of the largest spa-and-fitness centers at sea. Add up the 17,089-square-foot exercise area, the rock-climbing wall, the ice-skating rink, the spa and the boxing ring, and you’ll find that the fitness craze has taken over an area roughly the size of a supermarket.

Currently, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 Canyon Ranch SpaClub is the largest shipboard spa-and-fitness center, coming in at 20,000 square feet. In July, the queen will pass the fitness crown to Costa Cruise Line’s Costa Concordia, whose double-deck spa-and-fitness center will measure 20,500 square feet. The ship will also feature exclusive spa accommodations and spa packages, as well as a specialty restaurant with all spa cuisine.

And it’s not just the new mega-ships. Older ships and smaller cruise lines are chasing the fitness trend, too, making renovations and offering new programs to accommodate passengers’ growing demand for more wellness options — everything from spiritual meditation to Spinning classes.

So, I guess it’s official: Shipboard fitness is big, big, big. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the fitness programs on 16 major cruise lines.

Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival’s SpaCarnival program dedicates up to 15,000 square feet to health and fitness on each ship, with a variety of ways for guests to pamper themselves. Onboard facilities include the latest workout equipment and aerobics classes as well as relaxation and stretching sessions. Carnival also hosts an annual “Mind/Body Cruise” led by a faculty of experts from Shape magazine and Men’s Fitness magazine. In the dining room, the Carnival Spa Fare menu offers food that is lower in fat, sodium, cholesterol and calories than the food offered on the main menu.

Crystal Cruises. The health clubs aboard Crystal Cruises’ ships are the only spas at sea designed according to feng shui principles. The line hosts several “Health & Fitness” theme cruises each year, with varying emphasis on Pilates, tai chi and yoga. Classes in the fitness centers change daily. Dining venues offer three-course, low-carbohydrate menus and selections that are low in salt, fat, sugar and cholesterol.

Celebrity Cruises. Celebrity’s AquaSpas offer panoramic views of the ocean and include state-of-the-art fitness centers with free weights, advanced weight-training machines, cardiovascular exercise equipment and aerobics areas. The facilities provide trainers for personal instruction. Many of the ships also have AquaSpa Cafes, which feature healthful cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Costa Cruise Lines. Costa’s ships offer Pilates and yoga, among other classes. Costa Concordia, which is scheduled to launch next year, is being billed as “the best ship in the Costa fleet for fitness and relaxation.” The big news is the innovative two-deck Samsara Spa, which offers such full-service spa packages as the “Nirvana Ceremony.” The ship also offers dedicated spa accommodations, a collection of 55 staterooms and 12 suites that have direct access to the spa (by private elevator).

Cunard Line. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub aboard Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2 features 20,000 square feet of spa, beauty and fitness facilities located on two forward-facing decks. It is the first such facility for Canyon Ranch aboard a luxury liner. To provide guests with a more complete experience, Canyon Ranch chefs have also created a spa menu that is offered in QM2 dining rooms.

Disney Cruise Line. The Vista Spa & Salon fitness center recently doubled in size to include more cardiovascular equipment and weight machines and to provide more space for classes in aerobics, yoga and body shaping.

Holland America Line. Holland America’s Greenhouse Spas offer fitness centers with top-of-the-line weight and cardio machines, as well as Pilates, yoga and Spinning classes. Guests will find healthy meal options on lunch and dinner menus in the main dining rooms and Lido buffets.

MSC Cruises. MSC’s fleet features spas that have a wide variety of fitness equipment along with classes in yoga, Pilates and aerobics. Lunch and dinner menus feature a selection of “Healthy Choice” and vegetarian dishes, including such sugar-free desserts as chocolate mousse and banana cake.

Norwegian Cruise Line. Norwegian Cruise Line and its American subsidiary, NCL America, both offer guests a spa program designed by Mandara Spas, one of the world’s leading operators of exotic resort spas. Ships also feature 24-hour fitness centers, jogging tracks, and volleyball and basketball courts. Other health and fitness amenities include putting greens, steam rooms, fitness classes and gyms with cardio equipment, weight machines and free weights. The cruise line that pioneered “Freestyle Cruising” also offers a wide variety of dining choices, including healthy selections from Cooking Light magazine.

Oceania Cruises. Oceania’s spa facilities, which are also operated by Mandara Spas, feature state-of-the-art fitness equipment along with yoga and Pilates classes and personal trainers. Oceania Spa Cuisine is available in the dining rooms, and guests dining in Toscana and Polo Grill can request light and healthy cuisine.

Princess Cruises. Lotus Spas on board Princess ships offer fitness buffs an Asian-themed experience in a colorful, Japanese-inspired décor. Guests will find a long list of exercise classes, both fitness instructors and personal trainers, and a series of health and nutrition seminars that include such topics as chakra balancing. In the dining rooms, vegetarian and healthy lifestyle options are always on the menu.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Regent offers several “Spotlight” and “Circles of Interests” cruises with expert lecturers who discuss the benefits of an active lifestyle and healthy diet, as well as shore excursions that include hiking, biking and canoeing. Classes are offered in aerobics, step aerobics, stretching and body toning, and the gyms are fully equipped. Dining rooms offer lean and healthy entree options.

Royal Caribbean International. ShipShape Fitness Centers aboard Royal Caribbean ships feature the latest in cardiovascular equipment, weight machines and stair steppers along with brand-new Life Fitness Cable Motion weight machines. There are classes in yoga, kickboxing and aerobics; personal training sessions are also available. Ships also feature jogging tracks, basketball courts, rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, miniature golf, golf simulators and FlowRider surfing simulators. With the launch of Freedom of the Seas, Royal Caribbean will kick up its active offerings with “PowerBox Ring,” a full-size 20-by-20 foot Everlast boxing ring, and a range of related training programs.

Seabourn Cruise Line. The Spa at Seabourn, a full-service wellness facility located aboard each of Seabourn’s three all-suite yachts, offers many workout options. Onboard equipment includes variable-resistance lines, treadmills, Stairmasters, stationary cycles, rowing machines and free weights. Classes in stretching, yoga, cardio-kickboxing and Pilates are often held on deck, and a personal fitness consultation is always available.

Silversea Cruises. Silversea has expanded the fitness centers aboard Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, adding nearly 300 square feet for new cardiovascular training equipment. It has also implemented a new “Wellness Program” that includes classes in nutrition and exercise, fitness activities, spa therapies and healthy dining options. Guests receive a daily schedule of the activities and offerings, including such popular workout programs as aerobics (including water aerobics and step aerobics), Pilates, circuit training and yoga, as well as daily light and low-carb menu selections. The spa program is run by Mandara Spas.

Windstar Cruises. The WindSpa aboard Windstar’s 308-passenger Wind Surf has an updated gym and Nautilus room, as well as several new fitness classes, including yoga, Pilates, high- and low-impact aerobics, cardio-kickboxing and total body conditioning. Wind Star and Wind Spirit, at 148 passengers each, feature recently enlarged gyms with new equipment. Guests on all vessels can enjoy healthy meal options and vegetarian selections.

With all the exercise offerings on board today’s cruise ships, you no longer have to leave your workout regime at home. Health and fitness is the new wave in cruising, and that’s something to jump up and down about.

Filled Under Reviews

Shipshape in a sea of food

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On May - 1 - 2006

As we were standing in the morning breakfast buffet line, a fellow passenger aboard Holland America‘s Zuiderdam remarked to me, “You could easily start the day with three breakfasts on this ship: one delivered by room service, another at the sit-down restaurant and another at the buffet.”

From his girth, I figured the gentleman knew this from personal experience. Certainly, cruising and food seem to go hand in hand. Most cruises are one long buffet meal, and if you’re not careful, you’ll disembark with excess baggage on your behind.

According to Holland America, the average weekly grocery list for the 1,848 passengers aboard the Zuiderdam includes:

* Meat: 11,830 lbs

* Poultry: 3,814 lbs

* Fish: 1,875 lbs

* Seafood: 2,575 lbs

* Butter and margarine: 1,674 lbs

* Fresh vegetables: 137,500 lbs

* Potatoes: 7,750 lbs

* Watermelon: 2,300 lbs

* Dairy: 5,500 qts

* Ice cream: 300 gals

* Eggs: 23,040

* Sugar: 950 lbs

* Flour: 3,150 lbs

* Soda: 362 cases

* Beer: 332 cases

* Champagnes: 450 bottles

* Wine: 1,636 bottles

* Water: 280 cases

Or, roughly, 20 gazillion calories per person. And it’s not just the Zuiderdam. No matter what ship you are on, and no matter where you are going, your kitchen crew will offer you an overwhelming array of food, food, food and more food.

Almost everyone I spoke with on the Zuiderdam worried about gaining weight on the cruise, and the majority expected to put on a few pounds over the seven days at sea. I was worried, too; I’ve been on the “Curse the Cruise” diet many times myself. The key to healthful cruising this time, I decided, would be balance. Of course I would enjoy the wonderful multicourse dinners — and all the crème brûlée that Holland America could whip up for me, but the price would be a serious exploration of the onboard fitness programs.

There were plenty to choose from: everything from morning mile walks and yoga to “New Body” aerobics, “New Body” Pilates and “New Body” hydro-Pilates. The “New Body” theme had taken over the Greenhouse Spa, and small wonder: With all that food on board, I suspect most passengers would end the cruise with some sort of “new body.” But that’s not what the exercise gurus had in mind. According to the spa literature, the New Body program would “energize and burn calories while focusing on balance, concentration and inner strength.”

Ah, yes. Inner strength. If I was going to get this “New Body” right, I’d need all the inner strength I could muster, especially around the glazed doughnuts in the Lido Restaurant. But I was committed. Rather than risk being mistaken for Shamu in my black swimsuit, I decided to take action. It would be “New Body and Me” for the next six days.

The walk-a-mile at 7 a.m. on the Promenade Deck was my first foray in the fight against flab. It was great for toning my legs and working up a little pre-breakfast sweat. Walking is normally a simple action: You put one foot in front of the other and off you go. But at sea, you may find it far from simple. With the ship pitching and rolling, and the wind gusting, you might find yourself missing a few steps. Me, I looked like I was doing an Irish jig.

The next morning, I tried the “New Body” hydro-Pilates class. The British instructor emphasized the importance of a clear mind-body focus. Amazing! We hadn’t even started the class, yet my body was clearly telling my mind that it wanted a glazed doughnut. (Focus, focus! Think “New Body.”)

The instructor then explained that the routine would move along “like a gentle wave.” The fact that some sizeable waves were rolling all around us in the pool made the going a little tougher, but we all persevered. When my stomach let out a loud growl, I was horrified.

The woman next to me whispered in a heavy Southern drawl, “Didn’t ya’ll eat yet?”

“No,” I whispered back, “and I want a glazed doughnut really bad.”

We started giggling. Clearly, we’d broken our “New Body” focus, but it looked like the start of a nice friendship. At the end of the class, we made formal introductions. Her name was Charlotte and her hometown was (no kidding) Charlotte, North Carolina.

Now, Charlotte from Charlotte is extremely physically fit — “slammin’,” as the teenagers say. I had literally run into her the day before, during my morning walk around the Promenade Deck; she was jogging, I was jigging. In fact, Charlotte is one of those people who spends little time resting, and this cruise was her personal fitness quest. Besides jogging and Pilates, she swam laps every morning in the pool. All in all, Charlotte is something of a cruise fitness expert. In her opinion, shipboard fitness programs have come a long way since she began cruising 20 years ago.

She’s right. In fact, cruise ships now offer fitness and spa options that rival, and sometimes surpass, anything vacationers can find on land. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, cruise lines dedicate thousands of square feet to health, fitness and spa facilities — as much as 20,000 square feet per vessel. Many cruise lines also offer fitness-themed cruises. For example, last year Crystal Cruises offered eight “Health & Fitness” cruises dedicated to overall wellness. Nutrition and fitness experts from the Cleveland Clinic were on board, as were professionals from the Tai Chi Cultural Center and Debbie Rocker with her “Walk-on-Water” (WOW) program. All programs worked out in the Crystal Spa, the only feng shui-inspired fitness center and spa at sea.

But back to the Zuiderdam, where I was valiantly exercising, feng shui or no. After the morning hydro-Pilates class, our ship tendered off Holland America’s private Bahamian island Half Moon Cay. Late in the afternoon, while taking a stroll along the beach with my family, I heard a distinctive voice hailing me. It was Charlotte, eager to have me meet her husband, Buck. I was dumbfounded. Buck turned out to be the portly gentleman I had met the first day in the breakfast buffet line. Charlotte, he explained, had been obsessed with exercise ever since the kids had gone off to college. It is her way of dealing with her empty nest.

Several days passed. Zuiderdam was taking us on a seven-day “Eastern Caribbean” itinerary, with calls at Half Moon Cay, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau. For many on board, the itinerary didn’t seem to matter. Like that old joke, they were on the “See-food diet”: They see food, they eat it. But I was sticking to my healthful plan. I even found myself skipping the doughnuts — much to the amusement of my kids. Every breakfast they taunted me with their glazed doughnuts, but I did not succumb.

On Day 5, Charlotte said she needed a buddy for the “New Body” step aerobics class. Like a dimwit, I said, “Sure.”

I found myself thrust into a high-energy session — lots of kicking, marching, jumping and stretching. After 30 minutes of this bump and grind, my Steelers T-shirt was drenched in sweat. By the end of the session, my buttocks felt like they were on fire. I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I headed for the hydrotherapy pool and strategically placed my bottom along the water jets to ease the pain.

Only two passengers showed up for the last “New Body” hydro-Pilates class: Charlotte and me. To tell you the truth, I was almost a no-show myself. I was so sore from the step class that it took several aspirins to get me moving that morning. In the end, I have to confess, my favorite onboard activity had become lounging by the pool and gazing out to sea. In this, I was in the majority.

Here’s the good news: Despite eating the multicourse dinners and indulging in many decadent desserts, I ended the trip feeling fitter and weighing less than when I boarded. Cruising, it seems, can be good for you.

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