I've been on cruises before and while they're OK, I'll be honest: They're not my favorite way to vacation. Rather than hop from island to island with little time to really explore each one, I prefer to stick to one place and dig deep - talking to locals, learning the culture and, best of all, eating the food.
But when the opportunity came to sail aboard the Weight Watchers Rejuvenation Vacation at Sea - the very first time the brand has launched a wellness cruise - I couldn't say no. I mean, what if Oprah showed up?
Still, as I packed my bag, I struggled with the concept. Weight Watchers, after all, is focused on people dropping pounds. But cruises are known for their ridiculously calorie-heavy meals, an overabundance of drinks, and not all that much activity. (Unless you count lifting said drinks to face, which I totally do.) Could the two ideas really blend together in a way that didn't totally kill my vacation vibe? Or would I be ushered into meeting after meeting, forced to weigh in (a vacationer's worst nightmare), and served bland diet food?
The one thing I knew: If this cruise did end up feeling like torture, I wasn't going through it alone. So I called up my best friend, Liz, convinced her to buy a plane ticket, and the two of us set sail together. At the very least, I told myself, misery loves company. At the best, we'd walk away with one hell of a vacation story to tell.
As soon as we stepped aboard, I noticed the first good sign: I would not be forced to weigh in. The option was available whenever I attended a Weight Watchers meeting (which were also optional), but I didn't have to if I wasn't feeling up for it. I opted to do so on the first day so I would have a fair idea of where I was starting, but decided against it the rest of the trip, as I don't ever weigh myself with any regularity. Then, it was time for the games to begin.
The best part about being on a cruise - especially the MSC Divina, which held 3,700 people, nearly 600 of which were with Weight Watchers - is that ships are huge. So Liz and I had plenty of opportunities to walk simply because we were exploring all that the Divina had to offer. And even though I didn't wear my Fitbit Alta HR all day every day (if it doesn't go with my outfit, it doesn't stay on my wrist), the two of us hit our daily goal of 10,000 steps all seven days we were aboard. But it wasn't without a little pre-planning: The two of us agreed that, unless we were boozing, we would always take the stairs (safety first, people). On the days we were in port, we had to walk over taking taxis, unless our destination was more than two miles away. And on the days we were at sea, a workout in the ship's fitness center was non-negotiable.
The gym ended up being one of our favorite places to drop by (other than the bar and hot tub), and its floor-to-ceiling windows offered up views that helped keep us distracted from the pain we were choosing to inflict on ourselves during vacation. Still, we told ourselves that cycling intervals would help boost our metabolism, and HIIT exercises meant we'd be in and out the door in 20 minutes flat. That way we could shimmy into our swimsuits and be on our way to playing with dolphins. (Yeah, I went total tourist on this trip. Don't @ me.)
As for the food, well, let's just say this wasn't boring diet food. That wasn't a huge concern of mine, as I'm a big believer that healthy food does in fact taste delicious when prepared well. But I had never eaten Weight Watchers-specific food before, nor had I tracked my calories using their famous points system. So I was pleasantly surprised at just how good the meals tasted. The Tandoori-Roasted Cauliflower Soup was the star appetizer at my table, along with the Asian Mushroom Soup. Mahi Mahi Soft Tacos stole the entree show, as did the Chipotle-Lime Shrimp with Corn and Poblanos. And for dessert, well, I still have dreams about the Dark Chocolate Cherry Cheesecakes and Flourless Mini Chocolate Cakes with Ganache.
The biggest takeaway with the food, actually, was the portion control. Like most people, I struggle with proper portion sizes. But being on a cruise means you don't get to fill your own plate - unless you hit the buffet, but more on that later - so I ate whatever I was served. And guess what? I never left a meal hungry, and I knew I was eating healthy whenever I ordered off the Weight Watchers-approved menu. (You could also order from the regular menu whenever you wanted.) Sure, I had a three-course meal each night, whereas I usually stick to just one at home, but at the end of the evening, I ended up putting away fewer calories than I typically do during that one home-cooked meal.
Those rules did not apply when it came to the buffet, though, nor when we ventured off the ship to explore each island. (Stops included Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; and Nassau, Bahamas.) There, there were no easily-labeled "Weight Watchers approved!" signs, or menus with Weight Watchers points listed for each food item. So I was faced with a test of willpower - or what I like to call real life - and I had to navigate with my own healthy eating instincts. Rather than load up plate after plate, I stuck to one serving, and I perused the entire buffet before deciding what I was in the mood for. I piled on the protein and vegetables, just like I do at home, and avoided anything fried or super-shiny looking (#oiloverload.) But because I was on vacation, I will admit that I didn't shy away from the alcohol - something that ended up being my biggest diet derailer. If I was on board, I had a nightly glass of red wine with my dinner (that was magically refilled over and over again). And off-ship, I made it my mission to taste every island's special twist on a rum punch. Extra calories I didn't need? You bet. Worth it? 100 percent. Best part: Nobody shamed me.
The most impressive aspect of the cruise, though, was the community. Weight Watchers insiders brag about how amazing their circle of people is, but I always scoffed at the idea. Every company says that, I told myself. But as soon as I attended a few workshops and meetings, I realized these people were legit. At the meetings, there was a very rah-rah, supportive environment - lots of clapping, talking about successes, and basically boosting each other's morale. In the workshops, the opposite happened - and that, in my opinion, is where the magic happened. The workshops were much more somber, and all about analyzing the real reasons behind your weight gain in the first place - or why you were struggling to lose weight - before giving you the time to really internalize that and develop strategies to help deal with it. The idea was to zero in on the more mental and emotional work that needs to be done in order to see long-lasting weight-loss results (especially if you have a significant amount of weight to lose, as many Weight Watchers members do), and it was a reminder that everyone always has some emotional baggage to work through regardless of age, weight, ethnicity, location, whatever. Those meetings helped me process struggles that I had planned to ignore while on vacation, but I walked away feeling better for doing the work - and felt refreshed all the same.
As I stepped back on U.S. soil, I have to admit that this cruise experience went better than I anticipated. No, I didn't lose weight - I managed to stay exactly the same, actually - and the same happened for Liz. And that's OK, as weight loss wasn't our goal. Plus, some people did drop weight: In an end-of-week meeting, one woman said she lost about 2 pounds, while another took off nearly 7. So it is possible. And while I was disappointed Oprah didn't show up shouting her love for bread, the healthy options - be it menus, meetings, workouts, or workshops - made this a well-balanced vacation. A little work and a decent amount of planning, yes, but a helluva lot of fun, too.
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