Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with 3 comments

Maybe it’s just this particular cruise line, Royal Caribbean. Maybe attitudes have changed for the better since the last time Ted and I took a cruise, about 10 years ago.

Whatever the reason, the midnight buffet — former staple fixture of the cruise industry — has vanished. Not that there is a dearth of food available 24 hours a day. And despite a certain focus on health and fitness, there are enough overweight people on this ship to justify all the media hype about the percentage of Americans who weigh too much and move too little.

Tempering that, though, is the presence of large numbers of young people, most of them lithe, alive and downright beautiful, as young people around the world tend to be when seen through the eyes of a senior citizen. It’s a treat to be surrounded by so many students on spring break.

It adds a certain liveliness to the days and no one can be grumpy when surrounded by such potential. In the martini bar one night, on one of the two designated “formal” dinner nights, a group of at least 10 single women decked out in fancy and sometimes skimpy dresses made the entire lounge look special. And because suits and ties – or tuxedos — were expected of the men for dinner, there was the odd and somehow touching sight of a young man with a full Mohawk haircut, classily suited out with white shirt and colourful tie. He sported a single sign of his reluctance to adopt the straitjacket of “proper” businessman attire — the long chain attached to a belt loop from the right pants pocket, an affectation usually only seen accompanying Harley Davidson leathers.

We’re on this seven-day cruise out of Miami at the request of Ted’s elder daughter, Kerry, and her husband, Rick Smith, who asked if we would help them celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary by coming with them. Such are the privileges and pleasures of retirement that we didn’t feel one bit of guilt saying yes and coming back from Hawaii only to leave again the following week.

Of course there’s that pesky business of trying to lose weight and get fit while stuffing one’s face with food. I did manage to lose the five pounds I gained in Hawaii, just in time to get to Miami and start eating again.

We’re spending a week cruising with the second-largest cruise company on a giant ship, the Liberty of the Seas, with 15 decks above the water line and a capacity of around 4,000 passengers and half as many crew, including 130 working couples. To say it’s a behemoth is an understatement, a floating self-contained hotel and resort. The dining room itself is three stories high. The fitness centre is the size of our house in Calgary.

Actually, there is no reason to gain weight on a cruise, but it takes enormous will power to avoid many of the temptations that cruises offer. Sir Edmund Hillary, the man who first conquered Everest purportedly said: “It is there, so I must eat it.” Add to that the curiously American insistence that quantity beats out quality. (I make this decision based on long years of watching Americans’ approach to food, best described as the more, the better. Or, more succinctly, I paid for it and I’m going to eat as much as I can manage, as often as physically possible.)

This attitude may explain why, when there is an unlimited supply of “free” food, some of us eat like pigs. But there’s one thing worse than being a hog, and that’s being a wastrel, and there’s too much of that happening on a cruise. Why, for example, would anyone with one ounce of brains fill their plate to overflowing and leave much of it uneaten and relegated to the garbage? Even more curious is to do this when there’s no limit to the number of times you refill your plate, or the amount of food you can order at dinner.

But then I remember the food frenzy I found myself in the middle of, years ago at a joint U.S.-Canada convention in Montreal, where the exasperated staff at a buffet restaurant, in both official languages, tried to calm the stampede by yelling that there was no need to push and shove, there was enough food for everyone. They failed miserably and eventually just stood back as the hungry hordes cleared the tables in a flash. After that experience, in a spirit of self-preservation, I usually stand back until the first wave of gastronomes charge the laden buffet tables.

But reticence not being my strong suit, I needed more than just a distaste for pushy crowds in order to stay on an even keel — pun intended — for this week.

The best diet in the world is to read about other people’s gastrointestinal problems. It puts the thought of eating right out of anyone’s mind and leads to meals of saltine crackers and chicken broth.

Yeh, right. Like we’re on this cruise and eating is not all part of the experience. Still, to keep things in perspective I spend one afternoon last week reading page after page of complaints from unhappy customers of Royal Caribbean, who operate the three largest cruise ships in the world. (We’re on the second-largest.) As the Web site states: “But as in so many other things, size isn’t all that matters. While many cruise fans return time and time again to Royal Caribbean, others don’t have a good experience. And as the complaints in this section show, the line is not always eager to set things right.”

Of course, the psychology of reading about other people’s bad experiences doesn’t necessarily carry through to real life. Enter the magic of Google searches. In less than a second, the Web delivered 340,000 responses to a query about gaining weight on a cruise.

And, as I write this, I am sitting on a sunny balcony off our stateroom on Deck 10 with a list of hints gleaned from a computer search, including five simple rules for avoiding weight gain, written by Kathleen Zelman on Web MD.

Here they are, the five vacation tips:

“Plan ahead to fit in fitness.” As Zelman writes, “Consider places where you can take walks or hikes, ride bikes do water sports or use the hotel tennis courts or gym.” Welcome to nirvana — there is nothing a cruise ship doesn’t offer, including a marked running track around Deck 12, most of it free for the asking and the doing. The ship also posts distance markers — 4.5 laps is a mile; 3 laps is a kilometer. But it’s tough to get one’s heart rate up just by walking briskly around a flat track, even if, like me, you’re doing it for a full hour. So to offset the effects of eating and drinking, I’m trying to take the stairs at every opportunity.

I’m also trying my best to avoid over-eating and, because Royal Caribbean will not allow personal liquor to be brought on board, clearly to boost the business in the myriad of bars and lounges, there has not been too much over-indulging. (Ted may disagree with that statement after last night’s two-bottle-of-wine dinner.)

“Be prepared,” writes Zelman. No surprises here. “When you travel . . . be prepared with healthy food so you won’t have to eat whatever is available.” Naturally on a cruise ship dealing with thousands of people, every kind of food is offered, not all of it necessarily worth eating. And it seems rather tacky to travel with a Zip-Lock bag and stuff it full of fruits and vegetables, even if all of it is free.

“Avoid dining-out disasters.” This is probably the biggest temptation on a cruise. But Zelman quotes a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association: “It is easy to control calories if you stay away from fried, crispy or creamy foods; hold extras such as cheese and mayo, top salads with low-fat dressings, drink water instead of sodas – simple things that can shave calories and make room for the special treats.”

I smiled when I first read that, simply because deprivation is not much fun, especially when eating and drinking is so much a part of a vacation.

“Indulge in moderation,” writes Zelman. “Have one scoop of ice cream instead of the sundae, or split that decadent dessert with a dining companion,”

And the last tip? “Pare down portions.” My theory on this? If you can’t see at least some of the rim of your dinner plate, you’ve taken too much food.

My special trick? I’ve brought along a dress that just barely fits. If I gain weight, I can’t wear it.

NEXT: The joys and pains of a cruise vacation.


Written by Catherine Ford

March 11, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Food was not the highlight of your comments,the sun and ship were. I’m sitting here in a slough off the Willamette river (which itself is off the Columbia) on the outskirts of Portland Oregon (read: Industrial area, many rail yards). And I too am on a boat. Mucho smaller and daintier than yours. The rain is relentless and I am rusting. I feel like vampires will attack me out of the mist and rolling rain. I refuse to go out for a walk since I would get really really wet, and walking by railyards isn’t fun (never was!). I’ve conquered some bad eating habits this way: bring NO food aboard! I have a box of cereal and a banana and I have to share it with Jamie. Its too ugly to bother going out to grocery shop!


    March 11, 2010 at 7:36 pm

  2. cruise ships are the best, they have their own live entertainment and some pools on the deck .

    Acne Remedies :

    October 31, 2010 at 12:03 pm

  3. of course cruise ships are expensive but of course the trip is very nice .:’

    Side Effects of Medicine

    November 24, 2010 at 10:50 pm

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