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The Fitness Center on MSC Seaside (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Best Cruises for Fitness

Fitness-minded cruisers have a bounty of options these days, as cruise lines continue to get more innovative with their health and wellness offerings. Even those who aren't overly active can find more subdued ways to loosen up their muscles. Whether you're a gym junkie, sporadic exerciser, casual walker or wellness enthusiast, a cruise can offer just as invigorating a workout as what you'd find back home.

In addition to cutting-edge workouts like Kinesis, TRX suspension training and kickboxing at sea, many cruise lines have fitness trainers onboard to help you strategise a fitness plan. Also popular are group classes, such as yoga, Pilates and spinning. (These often come with a fee). The good thing about staying fit on a cruise is that you don't have to keep your "serious face" on. Activities like scaling a ropes course, rock climbing and pickup games on the sports court allow you to burn calories while having fun.

If you really want your cruise to be all about burning calories, though, choose a fitness-related theme cruise focused on activities like running and biking.

Learn where -- and how -- you can stay in shape at sea with our roundup of the best cruises for fitness.

Updated August 21, 2018

Best Onboard Gym: MSC Cruises

Through a partnership with acclaimed fitness equipment manufacturer, Technogym, MSC has developed one of the most well-designed fitness centres at sea, but it's only on MSC Seaside and MSC Seaview. The ship's gym is stocked with high-tech and innovative weight machines, resistance equipment, rowers, a heavy bag and gymnastics rings, and various cardio machines including treadmills, ellipticals and exercise, recumbent and spin bikes. Exercise mats, water balls from 6 to 15 pounds (roughly 3 to 7 kilograms) and free weights are also available for use.

Perhaps even more than the variety of equipment, though, we love the gym's thoughtful layout, which includes a vast amount of open space. It feels far from cluttered and allows for plenty of room to do stretches and body weight movements like lunges, pushups and burpees. The gym also has an aerobics studio that hosts classes such as yoga, spinning and Thai boxing.


Best Top-Deck Activities: Norwegian Cruise Line

On Norwegian Breakaway, Getaway, Escape and Bliss, working out comes with a reward: breathtaking views from the top of the ship. The ships are all home to the largest ropes courses at sea (Escape and Bliss have the most obstacles) -- with adrenaline-pumping features running the gamut from suspension bridges to sky rails (akin to mini-zipwires). You can also walk "The Plank," a narrow beam that juts out over the side of the ship. Elsewhere on the top deck, passengers can enjoy a sports court and rock climbing wall. (Video: 5 Craziest Cruise Ship Top-Deck Activities.)


Most Holistic: Seabourn Cruise Line

Celebrity author and guru of alternative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil is the brains behind Seabourn's extensive wellness programme. On all of the line's ships, passengers can enjoy daily meditation and themed yoga classes that range from enhancing creativity and mental focus to targeting specific concerns, such as headaches, body alignment and joint and back pain. Classes are complemented by seminars on topics such as Spontaneous Happiness Spontaneous Healing (adapted from Dr. Weil's best-selling books), anti-inflammatory foods and healthy aging. All classes and seminars have been developed by Dr. Weil and Seabourn's spa team.


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Best for Walking: Crystal Cruises

No cruise line makes more use of its ships' wraparound promenades than Crystal, offering two innovative programmes for walkers. The first, called Walk on Water (WOW), is a fitness programme designed exclusively for Crystal. The programme utilises cotton vests that have pockets for weights, so walkers can increase their resistance training when striding around the promenade deck.

The second programme, Nordic Walking, is a low-impact, full-body workout using high-grade walking poles, provided free of charge. Passengers can also supplement their walking workouts with Kinesis personal fitness equipment, yoga and Pilates instruction (including mat and Pilates Reformer classes), spinning and golf instruction with PGA pros -- all gratis.


Best Running Track: Viking Ocean Cruises

Our recipe for the perfect cruise ship running track includes plenty of space, shade and gorgeous ocean views. Viking Ocean Cruises ships take the cake, in this category, with their wide running tracks (most ships' tracks tend to be quite narrow, making it difficult to share the space with others), which offer partial shade and unobstructed views. Even better: The line's ships tend to embody a more relaxed vibe, so the tracks tend to not be as crowded as those on bigger, mainstream ships. Tracking your mileage? It only takes four laps to complete a mile on Viking Ocean Cruises' ships, as opposed to other similarly sized ships, which can require more than 10 laps, based on the design, location and flow of the track. You can make your exercise goals without getting dizzy or feeling like you're spinning in circles.


Best for Dancing: Cunard

Dancing in the Queen's Room on Queen Mary 2

Cunard receives top marks in this category for its devotion to ballroom dancing. Professionals teach waltz, tango, samba and other dances during the day, and cruisers can practice their newly learned moves at Royal Nights themed formal balls held in the evenings. No partner? No worries! Gentlemen hosts are present on every cruise to make sure single ladies don't turn into wallflowers.

If you like retro chic fitness options like ballroom dancing, look for Queen Elizabeth's 1930s-inspired Games Deck, complete with bowls and croquet plus fencing classes on all three Cunard ships.


Best Fitness Classes: Norwegian Cruise Line

If fitness classes are more your speed, look no further than Norwegian's Breakaway- and Breakaway Plus-class ships. The offerings on Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss are far from the same old yoga, Zumba and spinning classes you typically see on other ships -- with everything from boxing and TRX training to spinning in a dark room amped up with hit music and black lights. The wide variety of classes not only make for fun, unique workouts, but they're also great social settings for making new friends.


Best for Cycling: AmaWaterways

European rivers like the Danube, Rhine, Seine and Douro provide picture-perfect backdrops for leisurely bike rides around port. For cycling enthusiasts, river cruise line AmaWaterways offers the most options. Not only does it keep touring bikes onboard for complimentary use in port (as do other active river cruise lines), but it also offers an array of biking shore excursions and even cycling-themed cruises through its partnership with active travel company, Backroads. Biking shore excursions include a ride through Antwerp to visit various historical landmarks, a ride through the historic town of Bamberg, Germany (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to get a taste of its breweries and market gardens, and a tour of Wachau Valley along the Danube River.


Best for Water Sports: Windstar Cruises

Windstar offers complimentary water sports straight from the ship on every vessel in its fleet, from its masted sailing ships to its small yachts. The marinas are put to full use in destinations like the Caribbean, Costa Rica and the Greek Isles, with more limited offerings in the Mediterranean. Experienced sports enthusiasts can borrow kayaks, windsurf boards, Topper or Rumba Escape sailboats and inflatable boats. Snorkel equipment is provided free of charge, though organised snorkelling expeditions cost extra. Water skiing is also offered by the ship's staff; two people at a time can water ski in half-hour increments. On Wind Surf, you can also bounce on an inflatable trampoline in the open water or borrow a Hobie Bravo (sailing catamaran).


Best for Gym-Haters: Royal Caribbean

With so many adrenaline-pumping and pseudo-athletic activities on Royal Caribbean's innovative Quantum-class ships, you can easily get a workout without really trying. Anthem of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas all have the SeaPlex, a high-tech indoor sports complex. It features a basketball court that also transforms into a roller skating rink, bumper car arena and circus school, where passengers can get their hearts pumping doing somersaults and backflips on a trapeze. (A "floating" DJ adds to the wow factor.)

If you do decide you want to visit the gym, we can't think of one that's more fun to work out in than the fitness centre on these ships. Its position on Deck 16 at the front of the ship also affords some of the best views onboard.


Most Active Shore Excursions: Lindblad Expeditions

Just about every cruise line offers the opportunity to embark on more active shore excursions (think zipwiring, cave tubing and hiking), depending on the port, but only a few truly cater to fitness-minded cruisers. We love Lindblad Expeditions for its wide array of itineraries that offer ample opportunities for more active excursions -- typical of expedition cruises. From long hikes through Scotland's countryside to kayaking past glaciers in the Far East, you can get the ultimate workout while fueling your wanderlust.

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