There was a time when cruiseship fitness meant a session on a stationary bike and "wellness" meant a Swedish massage in a windowless room. Spas and gyms are now top of mind when cruise lines refurbish existing ships or build new ones, and wellness programs are being integrated with on-board dining and cruise activities.
Passengers can bask in salt rooms, splash in aromatic showers and enjoy Arabian cleansing rituals based on chakra mud. They can escape to thermal suites with stone loungers and saltwater tubs, while Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Escape and the new additions to Viking Ocean Cruises' fleet this year (as well as its two existing ships), feature snow grottoes - ice-filled rooms with snowflakes drifting from the ceiling designed as a skin-tingling complement to the warmth of adjacent saunas.
The infinity pool on Regent's Seven Seas Explorer.
This trend towards ever-more-inventive wellness zones on ships shows no sign of slowing. "The global wellness travel segment is projected to grow by nearly 10 per cent annually over the next five years as holidaymakers are increasingly seeking out ways to combine being active and healthy with their vacation," says the MSC Cruises CEO, Gianni Onorato.
His line recently teamed with Italian fitness-equipment manufacturer Technogym to create personalised programs based on principles of wellness, fitness and nutrition. Guests have access to a gym, open-air sports facilities and a wellness "sanctuary", and shore excursions focus on fitness. In Cozumel in Mexico, for instance, passengers are invited to undertake a triathlon of running, kayaking and snorkelling.
Seabourn Cruise Line's new "mindful living" program, designed by American integrative medicine practitioner Dr Andrew Weil, goes further to cover spiritual as well as physical well-being. Guests can attend daily meditation classes and seminars on topics such as anti-inflammatory foods, "spontaneous happiness and healing" and healthy ageing. The program, to be rolled out on all Seabourn ships by year's end, is already offered on its newest ship, Seabourn Encore, launched in December.
Silversea, meanwhile, continues its popular program of wellness-themed cruises on select sailings of its expedition ship Silver Discoverer, including a 14-night South Pacific islands cruise in October and a 14-night Cairns-to-Bali itinerary in November. These cruises sell out quickly, and include gym sessions, water aerobics, yoga, pilates, stretching, healthy menu options, nutritional counselling and a complimentary spa treatment.
"We want to enable our guests to focus on their personal well-being," says Amber Wilson, Silversea's Asia Pacific general manager. "Each wellness theme cruise offers a well-balanced program of fitness education, exercise, and nutritional guidance."
Norwegian Escape's snow grotto.
Cruise lines including Cunard, Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line offer lighter, reduced-calorie menus. But some go much further, with dedicated spa restaurants such as the seafood-focused Samsara on some Costa Cruises ships, and Blu restaurant on select Celebrity Cruises ships. Blu's "clean cuisine" focuses on healthier and lighter dishes based on organic or biodynamic ingredients, featuring the likes of cottage cheese with cucumber and vine-ripened tomato for breakfast, chilled avocado and lemon soup followed by tuna with bok choy for dinner, and desserts such as low-fat frozen yoghurt or guava parfait - with no added sugar, naturally.
These restaurants are complimentary to guests staying in spa suites, an increasingly popular feature across cruise lines. Spa suites typically include other wellness extras such as complimentary spa treatments, private spa access and pillow menus, and are now found on many ships, including those of Costa, Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line. New spa suites were added to Azamara Cruises' Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest during their revamps last year. The ships' reinvented spa, The Sanctum, has holistic East-West wellness programs, beauty treatments and an acupuncture clinic.
Even cabins on high-end cruise lines are getting a wellness overhaul. The Regent Suite on Regent's Seven Seas Explorer, launched in July last year, has its own massage area, steam room, sauna and ceramic heated relaxation loungers. The two owner's suites on Crystal Endeavor, due in 2019, will each have a private spa and gym.
A range of lines feature the likes of waterfall showers with jet sprays and aromatherapy diffusers in select cabins, as well as hypoallergenic suites; Crystal Symphony has medical-grade air purifiers in select suites to ensure a chemical-free, odour-free atmosphere.