Fitness is booming – and not just the physical kind. While more and more of us are returning to gyms, society’s pandemic experience has propelled mental health into the mainstream. Working out is no longer just about losing weight and getting a six-pack, it is also about nourishing both our mental and physical fitness.
While an increasing number of fitness brands have partnered up in the entertainment, retail, corporate and hospitality sectors, they are also becoming more prevalent in the cruise industry. We are seeing more integration between the spa, fitness and excursion offerings of cruise lines, and more defined and purposeful programmes aimed at improving health holistically throughout the cruise experience. A recent report from Deloitte and IHRSA, the Global Health & Fitness Association, revealed that inactivity costs the UK healthcare system around £3.6 billion a year ($84.7 billion in the United States). Exercise is medicine, it is preventive healthcare – and having edged into good habits because of Covid, people don’t want to risk breaking them while they are away.
During the pandemic, people became more focused on movement to boost their immune system, mental health and physical fitness. For those who love to cruise, keeping that momentum going on a ship is easier to achieve than ever before.
Here is my selection of 10 cruises that will make you feel happier, healthier – and certainly not heavier.
Amadeus river cruises, Paris
For regular golfers, cruising is usually a break from the beloved 18 holes, but Amadeus River Cruises weaves in four rounds of golf at top courses on certain Rhine, Danube, Rhone and Seine itineraries. For a Parisian golfing experience, hop on board MS Amadeus Diamond and tee off at Le Golf National (Aigle Course) in Conflans, Étretat Golf Club in Étretat, Barrière de Deauville Golf Club in Deauville and the Albatros course in Les Andelys, hosts of the French Open for more than 20 years.
Not all activities on the cruise are golf-related. Walking tours of Rouen and Montmartre are on offer and guests can also borrow bicycles or join in an early morning exercise class on the sun deck – the focus is on stretching to set you up for the day. Gyms on river cruises are not always a given, but on Amadeus Diamond fitness routines can be maintained using the ship’s exercise bikes, rowing machines, free weights and yoga mats. For treatments, head to the Vital Club, where you will find aromatherapy and reflexology massages. There is also an on-board hair salon.
How to do it
A seven-night Golf Cruise on the Seine from Paris departs on June 7 2023 and costs from £3,190pp. It includes calls at Conflans, Rouen, Le Havre, Caudebec-en-Caux, Les Andelys and Mantes-la-Jolie (0800 035 6411; amadeus-rivercruises.co.uk).
NCL Prima, Caribbean
A charcoal sauna and a two-storey waterfall are cruise firsts offered on board Prima, NCL’s first Prima-class ship debuting at the end of August. The extent of the fitness and wellness facilities on board demonstrates a serious commitment to the wellbeing of guests. The spa facilities are designed to ignite multiple senses in one sitting – for example, in the salt floatation pool you listen to the waterfall’s soothing sounds in an almost zero-gravity setting (which also relieves muscle tension). There are eight spa experiences, which include cooling down in the ice room (which strengthens the immune system) and heating up in the infrared sauna (which improves sleep and circulation). A well-equipped gym and spin studio helps guests maintain strength training and cardio, and runners on treadmills will appreciate its front-of-ship location and forward-facing design. NCL has even partnered up with Hyperice for recovery sessions, which athletes on board will appreciate.
Prima’s first Caribbean cruise is a wellbeing wonder. Highlights include snorkelling and diving on the island of Cozumel and on Belize’s Barrier Reef; bamboo rafting in Jamaica; a spiritual cleanse at a Mayan wellness retreat; and kayaking in transparent boats for underwater views of ocean life.
How to do it
A nine-night Caribbean: Cozumel, Jamaica & Grand Cayman round-trip voyage from Orlando (Port Canaveral) departs on December 30 2022 and costs from £1,695pp. It includes calls at Cozumel, Mexico; Harvest Caye, Belize; Costa Maya, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Ochos Rios, Jamaica; and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas (0333 2412319; ncl.com).
Oceania, Italy, France and Spain
Wellbeing is at the heart of the Oceania Cruises brand, which targets rejuvenation, nutrition and fitness on every ship. New addition Vista (capacity 1,200 guests), debuting in spring 2023, promises to top them all with company president Howard Sherman calling it a “ship of dreams”. The Rome to Barcelona cruise is packed with experiences to revitalise body, mind and soul. Explore Naples, then bathe in the healing mineral waters of Stufe di Nerone; hike the coastal path in St Tropez and freshen up with a sea swim; and take a tai chi lesson on a Mallorcan beach. Wellness opportunities on board include an aromatic steam room, saltwater thalassotherapy (which eases joint pain) and treatments that include Chinese medicine.
For on-board activities choose from the fitness centre (including the use of free weights), exercise classes and sunrise yoga – with the option of a one-to-one personal trainer. Outside, play pickleball (a racket sport) or golf (on a putting green) and fit in a 5k jog with a sea view on the running track. For something more serene, get painting in the “artists’ loft” – a renowned stress reliever and memory booster.
How to do it
A 10-night Rome to Barcelona voyage from Rome (Civitavecchia) departs on July 25 2023 and costs from £3,709pp. It includes calls at Naples/Pompeii, Catania, Valletta in Malta, Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Monte Carlo, St Tropez, Provence (Marseille), Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).
Viking, Great Lakes
The 378-passenger Octantis is the first of two luxury expedition ships from Nordic cruise line Viking, and is sailing its inaugural season in the Great Lakes. Like all Viking vessels, it embraces the concepts of hygge, the Scandinavian art of happiness, which is based around simple pleasures such as log fires and nourishing food. Living well is woven into the heart of Viking cruises with cosy woollen textures, light-filled spaces, original artworks and natural colours.
A wellbeing highlight is the new inside-outside swimming pool which connects to three pools of varying temperatures: hot (caldarium), warm (tepidarium) and cold (frigidarium) – good for treating stiff joints and inflammation. The indoor spa pool, steam room, sauna, fitness centre and yoga studio provide plenty of ways to maximise wellness and fitness routines on board.
On excursions, hike and kayak around the granite islands of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve; explore the boreal forests of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park at Lake Superior (home to more than 200 bird species); walk the wild Georgian Bay coastline; and engage in some birdwatching – looking out for common loons and mergansers – which can be an effective mindfulness practice in itself.
How to do it
A seven-night Great Lakes Explorer voyage from Milwaukee, in the US, to Thunder Bay, Canada, departs on May 19 2023 and costs from £5,495pp. It includes calls at Mackinac Island, Georgian Bay and Silver Islet (0800 014 75 38; viking.com).
The new luxury line from MSC Cruises launches in May 2023 with its new ship Explora I, the first in a fleet of four. Explora takes a holistic approach and claims its wellbeing experience will combine “fitness, nutrition, sleep and recovery, for body and mind”.
The Technogym partnership will make working out easy in the fitness centre (personal trainers are also available on demand) and guests can soak up sea views from the running track or take classes in the studio. There is also an outdoor sports court for fans of touch tennis and basketball. Choose to bathe in one of three outdoor pools or one indoor pool (with a retractable roof). A spacious thermal area and nine treatment rooms make up the spa offering, and the food on board is expected to be from local and sustainable sources.
Cruising in Alaska is a bucket-list experience, and by joining a Journey of the Glaciers cruise on Explora I, guests will embark at Vancouver to take in the wonders of the Inside Passage. Discovering islands, coastlines, glaciers and fjords is an essential ingredient of the cruise, and hiking, biking, paddling and trekking are among the activities.
How to do it
A 10-night Journey of the Glaciers round-trip voyage from Vancouver departs on May 28 2023 and costs from £9,100 for a suite. It includes calls at Wrangell, Juneau, Sitka, Skagway, Tracy Arm Fjord, Ketchikan and Victoria (0800 031 8935; explorajourneys.com).
Seabourn’s Mindful Living Programme was created by Dr Andrew Weil, a teacher of integrative medicine, which, he says “views human beings as mental, emotional and spiritual entities as well as physical bodies”. Wellbeing is actively catered for across Seabourn’s fleet. Treatments include crystal sound therapy (which releases stagnant energy), body wraps, detoxifying therapies, holistic massage, Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Yoga, meditation and wellbeing seminars are on offer daily, and you can arrange a customised exercise programme from a personal trainer. A tie-up with InBody also means you can analyse your body composition for elements such as muscle mass, body fat and fluid retention.
The Greeks widely practised physical training until the Romans banned the original Olympic games in AD 394. By taking the Greece & Dalmatian Delights cruise on Seabourn Encore you can hop off at Katakolon, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, and walk the ancient excavations of the Olympia site. At Nidri, consider taking the Mindful Living tour of ancient Greco-Roman city Nikopolis, or swim off the coast of Meganissi. Then cruise through Italy and Croatia, where you can take a horse ride along the Lika Plains, by the foothills of Velebit mountain.
How to do it
A seven-night Greece & Dalmatian Delights voyage from Piraeus (Athens) in Greece to Venice in Italy departs on July 9 2023 and costs from £3,799pp, including flights and transfers. It includes calls at Monemvasia, Greece; Katakolon (Olympia), Greece; Nydri, Greece; Brindisi, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Zadar, Croatia (0344 338 8615; seabourn.com).
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ In2Balance programme helps guests slow down and improve their overall wellbeing while on board. The company has recruited experts in various training methods and relaxation techniques (from tai chi to interval training) to boost strength, agility and concentration, and the programme is available on cruises with a high ratio of sea days, such as the Montreal to Hamburg sailing on the 500-passenger MS Europa 2.
While in Quebec, passengers can engage in plenty of active excursions, even some rigorous hiking. Stop off at the Saguenay National Park and hike amid fjord and mountain views, or take a trek along the east coast trail to explore St John’s, the last stop before Hamburg. Other excursions include kayaking, snorkelling, golf and biking.
After cruising the Quebec coastline for the first part of the itinerary, the ship then spends five sea days crossing the Atlantic – at which point In2Balance comes into its own. Recuperate in the spa, indulge in a herbal or Finnish sauna, or take a steam bath. Fitness facilities include a pool that is long enough for laps – and covered during inclement weather – as well as a well-equipped gym and exercise classes, such as gymnastics, yoga and aquafit.
How to do it
A 14-night Montreal to Hamburg voyage from Canada to Germany departs on May 31 2024 and costs from £6,278pp. It includes calls at St Lawrence River, Saguenay, Tadoussac, Gaspe and St John’s (0800 0513 829; hl-cruises.com).
With almost 25 per cent of adults now regularly drawn to hiking as a hobby, CroisiEurope’s cruises on that theme cater for a growing market – active travellers seeking adventure and a connection with nature who find cruising an ideal way to explore several destinations on foot over a short period of time.
Hiking-centred cruises are offered in Italy, in the Rhine Valley, around the Danube and in Portugal. For the latter, the round-trip voyage from Porto includes four suitable excursions. Take a three-hour hike (4.3 miles/1,050ft elevation) up through the green forests to the pretty hilltop village of Provesende; explore a corner of the 86,500-acre Douro National Park, where you may encounter cave bats in abandoned mines or catch sight of a golden eagle (1,740ft elevation); descend an invigorating 1,650ft through verdant vineyards; and, on the penultimate day, soak up the sun on a five-mile meander along the banks of the Douro River. Each hiking excursion is led by approved mountain guides.
How to do it
A seven-night Hike in Porto, the Douro Valley and Salamanca round-trip cruise from Porto departs on April 17 2022 and costs from £1,757pp. It includes calls at Regua, Pinhao, Vega de Terron, Salamanca, Barca d’Alva, Senhora da Ribeira, Ferradosa and Bitetos (020 8328 1281; croisieurope.co.uk).
Swan Hellenic, Antarctica
Swan Hellenic is preparing to launch SH Vega, a five-star, Scandi-design luxury expedition ship with capacity for just 152 guests. A high-end spa, from Ocean View Monaco, with a panoramic-view sauna featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, a well-equipped gym with personal trainers, and pillow menus for optimised sleep are just a few of the on-board elements that will help power guests towards better physical and mental health by the end of the cruise.
If the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica is on the cards, SH Vega’s expedition cruise, Shackleton’s Discovery, could bring 18 days of polar heaven. Take the Zodiacs out to observe chinstrap penguins – which look as though they are wearing a black hat – humpback whales and Weddell seals, among others, will naturally imbue mindfulness as well as joy and wonder. As long as conditions allow, expert expedition leaders will take guests kayaking through floating ice, glaciers and icebergs. Icy hikes are also on the menu, as is snowshoeing.
How to do it
A 17-night Shackleton’s Discovery voyage from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, both in Argentina, departs on November 7 2022 and costs from £15,150pp. The itinerary includes calls at West Point Island, Saunders Island and Port Stanley (in the Falkland Islands), South Georgia, the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula (00 49 211 13 866 123; swanhellenic.com).
Princess Cruises, Iceland and Norway
Princess Cruises has gone big on sleep fitness, reporting that half the people in the world do not get the sleep they need. The company delved into the science, brought in a sleep expert and created the Princess Luxury Bed – a mattress exclusively designed for Princess Cruises (44,000 have been rolled out across the fleet).
In the Lotus Spa, a connection between mind, body and soul is the focus through treatments such as acupuncture and hot stone massage. A running track and sports court keep guests active outside, but there is also a vast fitness centre and classes in such pursuits as yoga and Zumba.
An Iceland and Norway cruise on Sky Princess offers plenty of energetic outings. Hike up to the turquoise Kjenndalen glacier in Norway; in Iceland, hop off at Isafjordur and trek through Hornstrandir’s nature reserve and Hesteyri village (abandoned 50 years ago) and the volcanic landscape of Grundarfjordur, or rejuvenate in Reykjavik’s famous geothermal spa. Princess Cruises’ Ocean Medallion technology also means you can order from anywhere for the ultimate chill factor – just make a request through the app and it will find you.
How to do it
A 14-night Iceland & Norway voyage from Southampton departs on May 13 2023 and costs from £1,759pp. It includes calls at Skjolden, Olden, Akureyri, Isafjordur, Grundarfjordur and Reykjavik (0344 33 88 663; princesscruises.com).
Covid rules For full details of boarding requirements, consult individual cruise line websites. Refer to gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for further travel information.