Cruise Weight Gain: My Journey to Staying Fit

The Truth About Cruise Weight Gain

We all have that friend who humbly brags about how they “eat and eat and never seem to gain weight!” I will go on a limb and assume those people have never been on a cruise.

Because as those of us who have known all too well, cruise weight gain is real. Back in 2011, I managed to gain 11 pounds over the course of a seven-night sailing. On another cruise in 2016, I put on another seven pounds. The problem? Um… I like to eat. The solution? Well, that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

My Cruise Weight Gain Story

In 2017, I decided it was time to lose some weight. No, this wasn’t one of those New Year’s resolutions situations. Instead, this was motivated by the fact that I simply did not feel healthy.

And after seeing a picture of myself taken while interviewing Carnival’s Brand Ambassador, John Heald, I knew I had to get the situation under control. I didn’t have a specific goal regarding how much I wanted to lose, I just knew I wanted to feel better about myself.

I also knew this would involve more than a few trips to the gym. I’d been a member of one for four years and, realizing I rarely had time to go, opted to save the $23 a month membership fee and focus instead on changing my eating habits. The gym wasn’t doing anything for me that running in the fresh air couldn’t.

My mornings went from not eating breakfast to downing a spinach and banana smoothie. Lunch transitioned from burgers and fries to healthier options like salads, soups, and wraps. And I ditched my usual dinners of burgers and starches in favor of salmon, chicken, and turkey.

I’ll admit, at first, I feared that I’d get bored with my new, healthier food choices and begin cheating… but it turns out that there are a whole lot of people out there who are also trying to eat better and willing to share their tips. Pinterest became my new best friend.

Avoiding Cruise Weight Gain

Two months into this diet – which was a whole new way of looking at food – came the challenge I’d been kind of dreading: a cruise. Honestly, I was scared. Scared that I would dive mouth-first into the buffet, double-fist burgers, and trade spinach shakes for ones made out of ice cream and vodka.

As it turns out, I’ve figured out a decent way to avoid gaining weight when I cruise fairly often. Now look, I’m not a nutritionist, so I’m not here to tell you how you should eat. I’m also not looking to food-shame anyone for whom eating is a big part of cruising.

I have friends who think of their weeks at sea as a “cheat week,” yes, I have friends who eat everything in sight while sailing and never put on a pound.

But the fact that you’re reading this article means maybe, just maybe, you’re interested in how I avoid putting on weight while cruising. So here’s my basic eating schedule.


I’m big on getting an early start to the day. And by early, I mean I’m up around 5 a.m., so I start the day with coffee, water, and a banana from room service. I love waking up and having my meal there, waiting for me!

Then I go to the gym for a three-mile run. (I may no longer be paying for a gym at home, but why wouldn’t I take advantage of the free equipment onboard a ship?) By 7 a.m., I’m ready to eat a real breakfast. I start with a banana because I take multivitamins and probiotics, and they warn you against taking those on an empty stomach.

My big breakfast tip to avoid cruise weight gain: Avoid the buffet. Instead, head to the main dining room… and not just because letting other people bring you food is nice. It’s way too easy to overindulge at the buffet.

Sure, you can also overdo it in the dining room by ordering three entrees and four sides of bacon, but most people I’ve talked to agree that they tend to eat better during a sit-down meal than at the buffet. As an added bonus, the dining room will also often offer options you might not find at the buffet, such as an egg white omelet.


There’s food everywhere on a ship, so it’s easy to just swing by the buffet or a fast-food-type venue and grab something. But whenever possible, I also do lunch in the main dining room. Again, it limits the temptations. I load up on veggies and fresh fruit if I hit the buffet.

Sometimes, out of sight means out of mind. If I don’t see fried fish, french fries, or macaroni and cheese, my craving for them is easier to avoid. As if the choices at the buffet weren’t bad enough, they also tend to have stacks of plates the size of a basketball hoop, making it far too easy to load up on food.

The main dining room menus on cruise ships often have sections offering healthy options, even during lunchtime.


If there’s a meal on which I let myself go a little wild, it’s dinner. I’ll order an appetizer or two, the main course, and a dessert. And yes, sometimes (as anyone who reads my trip reports knows), I’ll order two desserts, too.

I minimize the damage by upping my water intake and avoiding the bread basket. I know my weaknesses, and they include carbs. I’m one of those people for whom one piece of bread isn’t enough, so it’s best to avoid that slippery slope entirely.

Some of you think, “Doug, this is all great advice and everything… but I know you have a weakness for Guy’s Burger Joint, B.B.Q., and lobster rolls, so I don’t know who you’re trying to fool!”

And you are not wrong. But I do my best to remember that very old, very true saying about “moderation in all things.” Instead of swinging by Guy’s for a burger once a day, I’ll limit myself to once or twice per cruise. Not only does this reduce my calorie intake, but it also makes me appreciate the treat more.

Tips on How Not to Gain Weight on a Cruise 

1. Walk throughout the day. 

That doesn’t always mean going to the fitness center to use free weights or the treadmill. It could be walking around the ship or your port of call. I like to explore the ship, so I will spend one day going from deck to deck, front to back. I always find new spaces onboard and burn calories.

2. Always take the stairs. 

Not only do I avoid the crowded elevators, but I also get in many exercises this way. During a recent 4-night cruise, for example, I climbed 141 flights of stairs. I realize not everyone can do this because of physical health, but it’s a great option if you’re able.

3. Stick to clear liquors. 

I’ve mostly cut out beer and fruity alcoholic drinks. Of course, I bend this rule if someone is buying a round. We’ll also say to drink water and stay hydrated here. 

4. Avoid late-night room service. 

Yes, I’ll occasionally cave in and order something, but I try not to snack within an hour of bedtime. When you order from room service at 1 a.m., the odds are good you will order something bad. Plus, you’ll go to bed right after eating it, meaning you have no shot of working one of those calories off.

Look for an active shore excursion. Many ports have active tours like diving, hiking, offering a walking tour, kayaking, and 

5. Book a forward or aft stateroom.

Whenever possible, I try to be at the front or back of the ship, thus guaranteeing that I will do even more walking. Of course, this won’t work for everyone because many suffer seasickness if they don’t stay midship. I feel, though, that it helps me against cruise weight gain.

6. Keep your tracker charged.

Whether using an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, pack the cord and charge it up while sleeping or having some downtime. Depending on the size of the ship, you may be surprised how many miles you put in walking outside or along the Promenade deck. 

7. Stay Active.

Sign up for an activity. Princess Cruises has recently been pushing its pilates, yoga, and dance class they offer. You can also go up to the top deck and play a round of mini-golf. 

Final Thoughts

Every cruiser has to do what’s right for them. Some will decide that a vacation is not the time to diet but rather to splurge. Others might find some of my pointers helpful and try implementing them to avoid coming home with the unwanted souvenir of a few extra pounds.

Do you struggle with cruise weight gain? What do you do to battle it?


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