Food, glorious food, is one of the pleasures of taking a cruise like the 4 day European Sampler cruise I enjoyed recently with Princess Cruises; the abundance of the 24 hour buffet; the ease of never having to cook while on board; the delights of delicious and beautifully presented 3 course meals. It’s hardly surprising that the average passenger can gain a pound a day on a 2 week cruise, according to a survey last year.
As a food lover, I have to watch out for the creeping pounds and inches that seem to appear from nowhere whenever I go on holiday. Of course we all want to enjoy ourselves when on holiday, but if you go too wild with the eating and drinking, those extra pounds are tough to shift when you get home.
Although my 4 day cruise from Southampton on Crown Princess was a relatively short one, I decided to try and eat sensibly, while still having a great time and enjoying all the food on board. Here are some of the strategies that I tried and how they worked for me;
Cut back before your cruise
I find that it’s easier to eat moderately when I’m at home and in a more settled routine. At home I have more time to plan what I eat, stock up on healthy food and stick to eating at set times. Before my short cruise on Crown Princess I did make an effort to go to the gym a couple of times and stick to low calorie options like salads for lunch and grilled fish or chicken in the evening. It was a bit boring, but easier to bear when you know that you’ll have so many exciting food choices to look forward to once you get on board your cruise.
Keep healthy snacks in your stateroom
When we boarded the Crown Princess, it was a pleasure to find a bowl of fruit waiting for us in our stateroom which I used to snack on during our cruise. I’m not sure whether this was a complimentary service for all passengers, but in any case I noticed that fruit could be ordered for your room. In the Horizon Court buffet restaurant there was also a good selection of fresh fruit available, so you could take an apple or banana to eat as a snack on board or on the shore excursions. Of course you may be tempted with delicious but not-so-slimming snacks in your cabin, especially if you are a priority customer of your cruise line. In addition to the fruit bowl we found a treat of fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate awaiting us, and I’m ashamed to say that my resolve wavered and I ate all of my share. However, if you are trying to avoid fattening treats, you can always let your cabin steward know and they can ensure that nothing too tempting is left in your stateroom.
Head for the gym
On boarding Crown Princess, we took a walk around the ship to familiarise ourselves and discovered the large gym at the front of the ship. There were plenty of running and cycle machines, weights machines and a mirrored area with mats where classes were held. Guy and I resolved to spend at least 30 minutes exercising on the machines each day we were on board and my run was actually quite enjoyable, as the ship sailed through the changing scenery of modern windmills and industrial buildings as we entered the canal to arrive in the port of Rotterdam.
On our sea day we booked a pilates class which cost around $14 and I felt a satisfying ache in my tummy muscles after the class. Although yoga and pilates don’t necessarily work up a sweat, they are great for toning, posture and strength, so ideal to combine with the weights or the running machine. All the exercise machines could show you how many calories you had burned, although I worked out that running or cycling for 10 minutes would work off a meagre 100 calories, which might enable you to enjoy an extra glass of champagne but wouldn’t mean you could go wild with the cream cakes. A quick calculation made me realise that you have to exercise for quite a while to compensate for a creamy desert or cocktail so while regular exercise helps, you also need to watch the quantities that you eat and save certain foods for a treat.
Plan your meal times and enjoy every mouthful
On board Crown Princess there were a wide range of dining possibilities, with snacks and pastries at the International Cafe in the atrium area, Vines wine bar for sushi and tapas, pizza in the pool area and that was before you’d even tried out the main restaurants. The Botticelli restaurant was the place for Traditional Dining where you kept to the same meal time and dining companions each night, but we preferred the Anytime Dining in the Michaelangelo or Da Vinci restaurants, where you could have dinner whenever you were ready and sit with different companions each time. We found this was great as a couple, since we mixed with different guests each night and heard what they had been up to in the day and their tips and recommendations.
For informal dining, the Horizon Court buffet restaurant was open through the day and evening, and we did eat here some of the time for breakfast or lunch. The food on board was of a very high standard and I noticed that the same dishes from the restaurant menu were also served in the Horizon Court buffet restaurant, so it was more a question of what style you preferred than any difference in food quality.
In general I found that it was easier to control what I ate in the formal restaurants, and loved dressing up to make an occasion of my dinner. There were plenty of healthy menu options to choose from and the portions sizes served in the restaurant were just right for me, although I avoided any bread so that I could really enjoy what I ate and not add food to the meal that I didn’t need. I think that in the psychology of eating you feel satisfied if you’ve eaten in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere and had time to taste and savour every mouthful.
Splurge on a special meal
Although the food in the main restaurants was delicious, it’s sometimes nice to splurge on a special meal. To celebrate our recent wedding anniversary we decided to book for Sabatini’s, the Italian inspired restaurant on board that is a premium dining option (you pay a supplement of $25 per person). However, just because we were celebrating didn’t mean that we felt we had to over-eat; it was more about the exclusive atmosphere and beautiful painted frescoes. It was such a lovely evening that we would have liked to eat there again on the following night, but sadly the restaurant was all booked up.
I chose the chef’s wild boar pasta followed by a lobster trio which was delicious and a citrus tart for desert, with a glass or two of prosecco. As we decided to try Sabattini’s on the formal dining night, the evening felt even more special for being all dressed up, with cocktail dress for me and black tie for Guy. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, I found that treating yourself to a special dining night while on board makes for a memorable cruise and doen’t have to mean you eat more than usual.
Cut out a meal
At dinner one evening we met a couple who had enjoyed a 3 week cruise for their honeymoon with Princess Cruises and as I’d earlier seen them on shore in Guernsey in running gear, I asked them how they managed to stay in shape on a longer cruise. One tip they gave us was to miss a meal each day or at least eat lightly. They said that some days they would miss breakfast or just have fruit and at other times they would have a late breakfast which meant they could miss lunch and keep going until dinner. If you use this strategy it means that you can really look forward to and enjoy the two meals that you have and perhaps just choose a light snack and drink from the Horizon Buffet restaurant in between.
Treat the buffet with caution
I must admit that I love buffets because you can taste a little bit of everything and not be looking enviously at someone else’s plate and wishing that you had ordered that instead. The selection in the Horizon buffet had something for everyone, from salads to homely hot dishes, to the same elegant choices that were being served in the formal restaurants. However, there is always the temptation to overeat at a buffet so to avoid this I adopt certain strategies. Firstly I tend to walk around slowly, taking in all the choices that are available, letting my eyes feast on the many different possibilities, so that my eyes and brain feel full before even a mouthful has passed my lips.
Then I will take the smallest plate available and take a spoonful of two or three things that look delicious and return to my table to eat it. When I’ve finished everything, I may return to take another small selection of something different, or perhaps a second helping of what I have enjoyed. By taking small portions rather than overloading my plate, I don’t feel guilty about leaving something that I don’t like, and give myself permission to go back for a second helping. My stomach has time to digest and my brain has time to register when I’m full. Like all the restaurants on Crown Princess, the Horizon Court buffet offered plenty of healthy options and a salad bar, I just had to close my eyes as I passed the cakes and deserts.
Stay active on board
Although we only had one sea day on our short cruise with Crown Princess, on longer cruises there are no shortage of ways to stay active around the ship. We had a good look at the sports facilities and discovered the Center Court on the top deck where you could play basketball, paddle tennis or have a kickabout game of football. I noticed that there were plenty of other active entertainments such as Ballroom dancing, Latin American Zumba dance-fitness, Merengue and Line Dancing which sounded great fun. There were also talks with a health or fitness theme that would be good to keep you focussed and take you away (at least for a short time) from the numerous eating and drinking opportunities. Another trick we used was to always take the stairs rather than the elevators which left me out of breath when I had to walk from the Atrium on Deck 5 up to Deck 11 where our Stateroom was situated.
Keep active on the excursions
I love to go walking and cycling so it’s a pleasure to incorporate these into any cruise shore excursions where I can. In Rotterdam we decided not to take the free shuttle bus to the town centre, but instead took a walk from the ship over the striking Erasmus bridge (known as the Swan). After taking a Spido harbour tour we continued on a walking route of the architecture trail based on a leaflet we picked up from the tourism stall in the cruise terminal. Although we didn’t follow the tour slavishly, and took a detour when we spotted something interesting, we saw many of Rotterdam’s striking modern buildings on this route.
In Guernsey I noticed that one of the shore excursions was a cycling tour which would have been a great way to see this pretty island, but as we had visited Guernsey before we decided to do our own thing around St Peter Port. We found a place to hire bikes just behind the tourism office but on a Sunday there was no-one there, so instead we planned a walk to Fermain Bay which we had visited before, where there’s a lovely beach cafe with a grassy terrace overlooking the sea. The walk took us around an hour winding along the coastline through woodland with views of the sea and after a coffee we made our way back by the same route. Be sure to pack your trainers or comfortable shoes for the cruise so that you can stay active on shore excursions.
I’d be lying if I said I stuck to all these strategies, all of the time, but I did manage to use some of them, some of the time, and I reckon that’s good enough when you’re on holiday! We all want to enjoy ourselves on our cruise and that includes eating delicious meals and having a few drinks with your husband or friends. Considering I love my food I was pleased to find that I’d only gained 1.5 lbs after 4 days of enjoying myself at sea, which is a manageable amount to lose after the cruise.
The main lesson for me was to have fun and enjoy the delicious food but in moderate quantities so that you’ll arrive home feeling healthy and relaxed.
Read more about our European Sampler Cruise in my Taster Cruise diary series at the Online Travel Journal
Read more about Rotterdam – 9 Cool things to see in Rotterdam if you only have one day
Read more about Guernsey – Planning the perfect cruise stop in Guernsey
My 4 night European Sampler Cruise with my husband was hosted by Princess Cruises who offer cruises to European and Worldwide cruises to allow you to explore fascinating destinations and escape completely on board their elegant and spacious ships. Our cruise took us from Southampton to Rotterdam to Guernsey before returning to Southampton. You can keep up with latest updates for Princess Cruises on their Twitter page @PrincessCruises and on the Princess Cruises Facebook Page.
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