How to actually lose weight on a cruise ship

"Lose some weight on a cruise ship…ha!" the bloke sneers, squeezing a vanilla slice onto his plate, where it teeters beside the slab of New York cheesecake and peanut butter cookies. "Nobody ever loses weight on a cruise ship."

But he may have a point. Losing weight on a cruise ship is a little like trying to find an economic policy at a Greens convention. It's bloody difficult.

Fighting the temptation

Oscar Wilde once said he could resist everything except temptation, and there's a shipload of temptation on board the Diamond Princess. Like three 'anytime' dining restaurants; three specialty restaurants (Japanese, steak house and Italian); a burger bar and hotdog grill, and a pizzeria that never seems to close. The ocean of water that surrounds the ship, is only matched by the ocean of food inside.

Which, makes my challenge all the more unlikely to succeed. Can I drop some kilograms on a 9-day Princess cruise that will take me from Singapore, to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and back to Singapore?

Daniele Rosafio, the ship's assistant maître de, reckons the secret to losing weight on the cruise isn't the gym, but rather moving around the 15 decks all day. "I lost 6 kilograms in a month, just by going up and down the stairs," he says. "I was doing about 70 to 75 flights a day and walking 17kms, just in the course of my job."

Day one

On the first day of the cruise I meet with Adrian, the personal trainer that Princess has set me up with. He sends me off with the sage advice to eat less and eat well. Hmmm, I kinda knew that already.

The Diamond Princess' gym is impressive, occupying much of the ship's bow on deck 15.  Along with the high-tech machines and free weights, there is a comprehensive program of classes available, from TRX to pilates and spin. And the 180-degree ocean views are a nice bonus.

I stand on the scales in the ship's swanky gym: 86.4kgs. Considering I weighed 85 kilograms when I was in my mid-20s, it's not as bad as I was thinking it might have been. I stroll back to my cabin, defiantly turning my back on Scoops, the all-day icecream parlour.

Dedication and discipline on deck

By day two of the cruise I've decided to get serious about my training. I'm up at 7am and walking briskly around the Promenade Deck. I'm joined by about a dozen of the ship's 3000 passengers (the rest are already shoveling down breakfast).  Two and a half laps of the deck equal one mile, or 1.6kms. I complete three laps and call it quits; it's just too bloody hot and humid out here in the South China Sea.


I spend the rest of the day jogging up and down the 15 flights of stairs from deck to deck. By the time I collapse into bed at 10pm, my Apple 2 informs me I've burnt an extra 800 calories; about the same as the gargantuan crème brulee I polished off at dinner time.

Cruise menu

As the days blur and the stairs become one long climb,  I quickly discover it is indeed possible to eat healthily on a cruise ship; it's just that most folks choose not to.

For example, I eat lean steak with asparagus spears in the steakhouse, fresh sushi in the Japanese restaurant, and grilled sea bass with zucchini in the Italian bistro. Even the meals in the buffet-style Horizon Court offer plenty of healthy options, including salads (sans dressings), miso soup, stir fried vegetables, baked fish, chicken breast, smoked salmon…

By day five I'm starting to flag. It's not the diet that is killing me, it's the exercise. I decide to go all out and do three 20 second sprints up the stairs at 100 per cent effort. My nine-year-old son, Henry, runs behind me for moral support. Even he finds it hard. "I'm stuffed Dad."

Man (flu) overboard

After a sweaty day in Ho Chi Minh City, I wake feeling crappy. My throat is sore and I'm coming down with a flu. It's a sure sign I've been overtraining. I hobble up to the gym and decide there's an extra hot place in hell for the inventor of the rowing machine. I burn my first 70 calories of the day. Who would ever think rowing a measly 2000 metres could be so damn hard? I have a new-found respect for the Oarsome Foursome.

I sniffle up to the Horizon buffet for breakfast. Every crew member I pass says good morning to me and it's driving me nuts.

"Good morning sir."

"Rack off."

Captain's orders

The man-cold eventually abates and I'm left with a couple of days to get back on track. I'm not feeling up to stair climbing, so I focus instead on my diet; coffee for breakfast, a decent but healthy lunch and a light dinner.

A letter is slipped under my cabin door. It's an invitation from Captain Graham Goodway to visit him on the bridge. It's a huge honour and a great chance to ask him how he maintains a healthy weight, after spending so many months at sea each year.

"By exercising a good deal of self-control and the fact I'm just too busy to think about food," he tells me.

The results

Goodway, 60 has been on cruise ships since 1973 and a captain for the past 14 years. He says he has seen huge changes in the number of healthy food options available to passengers. "There is always a healthy option these days," he says. "I usually dine at our Kai Sushi Restaurant. Fresh fish. You can't get much healthier than that."

As the ship docks back in Singapore the moment of truth arrives. I head to the gym and nervously step on the scales: 85.0 kilograms I've actually dropped 1.4 kilograms. That's the equivalent of more than two tubs of margarine. I'm chuffed.

Satisfied I may be the first person in the history of cruising to actually lose weight, I go looking for the bloke with the tray of breakfast pastries.

Have you been able to maintain a healthy weight while cruising? Share your experiences in the comments below.

The writer was a guest of Princess Cruises.