If you had asked me a month ago to describe the Caribbean, I would have painted you a picture of secluded beaches with white sand, palm trees, and crystal clear water; I wouldn’t have been wrong, but the Caribbean that I experienced over the last couple of weeks was far beyond the iconic desktop screensaver and drink-in-hand impression that most people have. My family recently took an 11-day cruise to 8 Southern Caribbean islands, and due to our intentional planning, it was one of the most active vacations we have ever been on together.
Turning a Cruise Ship into Your Gym
What do you think of when you think of cruise ships? I imagine a terribly sunburned demographic taking advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffets, a few large swimming pools, an excess of lounge chairs, and many high-traffic bars serving caloric tropical drinks every minute of the day. But does every cruiser fall into this trap, or is it possible to turn the cruise ship into your gym? Trust me, it’s possible.
The cruise ship I was on had a promenade deck that wrapped around the entirety of the ship on level 3 (which for me was slightly closer than comfort to the crashing waves and was also home to a family of stow-away seagulls). My brother did a quick calculation and found out that 8 laps around the promenade was the equivalent to a 5k. This is where our first family challenge came into play: before breakfast every morning we’d do a group 5k- each person had to lead one lap on rotation and the faster we went the quicker we made it to breakfast.
Our second family activity challenge consisted of our “no elevator” rule. It is so easy to become accustom to using elevators not only on cruises but also in everyday life; while saving time and energy between floors is a nice and modern idea, is there really not enough time to take a few extra minutes and keep your legs and heart fit? There is no excuse! Stairs > Elevators!
And our third family activity challenge rule was to utilize the pool or the gym for at least 30 minutes every other day. This may not sound like a whole lot, but you’d be surprised at how quickly it becomes impossible to do laps as the pool fills up with kids splashing around– so we set a low threshold and attempted to surpass it as much as possible. My brothers ended up working out in the gym after dinner for about 45 minutes each day, and my parents and I did laps in the adult only pool when we found it empty. It worked out quite well and we went to bed each day feeling fit and healthy!
Active Destination Exploration
The next part of our pre-cruise planning consisted of what we’d do on each island. The cruise company we went with offered about 10 excursions per island, ranging from rum tastings and scenic beach tours to mountain climbing and sea kayaking… and keeping up with our active mantra of the trip, my family chose activities that would challenge us while still enjoying the beauty and culture of the island.
Of the 8 islands that we visited, I had 3 favorite excursions:
US Virgin Islands: Hiking, Snorkeling, Sea Kayaking Day Tour
St. Maartan: Mountain Hike
Barbados: Caving Adventures
Food: Delicacies vs. Diet
The last, and arguably most difficult parts of an active vacation are resisting the temptations of local delicacies, all-you-can-eat buffets, and the constant flow of tropical snacks and drinks that surround you.
Luckily, with all of the daily active activities, runs before breakfast, stair walking, and swimming, we could afford to be pretty lenient on ourselves in terms of sticking to a healthy diet—though we usually tried to save the “cheats” (our unhealthy dishes) for local delicacies (which tended to be fried). We also only ate in the dining room—no all-you-can-eat buffets for us! This was mostly due to my dad’s love of getting dressed up, and my mom’s fear of other people sneezing or handling her food on the buffet lines, but in the end we realized that with restricted portions we were able to choose healthy options and have the right sized portions prepared for us.
And finally, with all of the open bars flowing with tempting tropical drinks, I decided that I’d order exclusively virgin drinks (like virgin pina coladas which were my absolute favorite), and limit myself to one drink a day- it’s amazing how much healthier a drink can get when you eliminate absorbent amounts of alcohol. With the limited amount of time I spent on the ship sitting around though, I really only ended up having a fancy drink every two or three days.
So is it really possible to have an active and relaxing vacation?
I would, of course, say yes. My family spent many evenings relaxing, had slow dinners filled with lovely conversations, our fair share of time in the sun, and returned home more than rested and re-set to get back to work and school… however, we also managed to use extra time on board in a healthy way and chose to challenge ourselves on island excursions rather than tour scenic beaches through a bus window. I would argue that the way we did it was the best possible way to have a vacation- but you never know until you try it- so I highly recommend that on your next vacation- whether you’re with friends or family or even alone- you challenge yourself to a few healthy rules, look for active adventures, and strategically treat yourself to local delicacies and yummy food!