Fitness class on Sapphire Princess

(4:40 p.m. GMT) -- Think of a cruise holiday, and chances are your first thoughts will be sipping that first cocktail, eating that first steak or perhaps staring out to sea at sailaway.

We'd wager that in the majority of cases (we're not saying all cases) those first thoughts probably aren't of the gym -- how many workouts you can squeeze in before sail-away, how early it opens in the morning (or how late it's open in the evening) or how many TRX bikes there are.

OK it might, but could a sweat-drenched spinning class, a pumping-with-vitality personal trainer and a ban on thrice daily desserts be any further from your mind? Possibly not.

However, things are changing, and lines are working hard to counter that old adage of putting on a pound a day during your cruise.

Take Princess Cruises for example, who kindly invited us to discover the delights of staying healthy at sea with a recent "Ship Shape" event it hosted onboard Sapphire Princess.

Let's just say it made us seriously re-think our all-you-can-eat attitude toward cruising.

So, for those of you wanting to beat the bloat and avoid that post-holiday step-on-the-scale cringe, here are a few top tips.

1. Sleep: Get Those Well-Deserved Zzzzzzzs

We often take sleep for granted, while some people even brag about how few hours they need to function. These attitudes are changing as people realise how essential sleep is to staying healthy -- and Princess has embraced this. Sapphire Princess even has a "Sleep Doctor" programme which provides you with your very own in-cabin sleep advice including a sleep-weight programme and you can programme eight hours of soothing music to help you drift off.

2. Fitness Classes: Treat Your Body to Something New

I know what you're thinking. This is a holiday, not a boot camp. But the thought of fitness classes doesn't have to fill you with dread: Instead, this is your chance to reconnect with you.

A cruise provides the perfect chance to try something new (especially on a sea day). There's a huge variety of classes available, so make the most of it. Perhaps you've always fancied taking up Pilates or yoga, or maybe you want to challenge your body to an up-tempo cardio class? Morning classes are often free.

3. Expertise: Making the Most of the Onboard Fitness Pros

Most cruise ships have a personal trainer onboard, so what better reason to stop your fitness regime from slipping? Use their knowledge and expertise to fine-tune your existing routine, or perhaps start afresh and give it a total overhaul. If you've never had your own personal trainer then now's a great chance to let a professional create a personalised workout, not just for your holiday, but one you can carry on at home too.

4. Exploring and Excursions: Put Your Best Foot Forward!

Cruises aren't about squeezing in a spot of exercise on your lunchbreak. Quite the opposite. Here you have the flexibility and the time to design your own activity-filled days.

Once in port, there's often the option of easy, midrange or more challenging walks, tours or cycles. So, instead of opting for slower-paced sightseeing, why not go for something that'll raise your heart rate? Your legs may be aching that bit more by the end of the day, but doesn't it make waltzing into the whirlpool or basking on your balcony in the sunset even more satisfying? 

Spa on Sapphire Princess

5. Massage: Relaxing Your Mind and Body

After putting in the hard work, reward yourself with a well-deserved massage. Detoxification is an important part of feeling fit and healthy, and massage plays a key role in this process. It removes post-workout lactic acid from your body, relaxes the muscles and improves blood circulation.

There are often many treatments on offer, from bamboo massage to seaweed ocean wraps.

6. Spa Therapy: Sauna, Steam, Jacuzzi... Bliss...

After a high-octane training session and a divine massage, the luxuriously spacious thermal suite of the Sapphire Princess awaited me. With so many cruises offering outstanding spa facilities, from warm water beds to aromatic steam rooms, it would be a shame not to make the most of them. Take time to detoxify and rejuvenate, to let your body relax after an invigorating morning workout or a glorious day's exploring.

7. Nutrition: Eat Your Way to Feeling Great

Chocolate, cake, nuts, pasta, cream... Cruise ships cater for even the most demanding sweet tooth. Everywhere you turn, temptation beckons. But before reaching for that extra handful of pistachios and delving into those calorie-laden desserts, think about whether or not you actually want to dig in, or if (like me) you're doing it just because, "Well, it's right there in front of me, so why not?".

Chatting to the onboard nutritionist, she reminded is that it's the first few mouthfuls of food that we enjoy the most; so instead of munching through every morsel on your plate, instead savour smaller amounts of each course. We should absolutely enjoy the fabulous food on offer but, by being mindful at mealtimes, we can do it without over-eating our way to tummy-aches and tighter waistbands.

If you fancy going all-out, many cruises enable you to book in a nutritional consultation where they'll prescribe a personal detox, helping you understand your body and guiding you step-by-step onboard.

8. Diets and Allergies: Giving the Heads-Up

Lactose-intolerant, vegan, gluten-free -- you name it and the chefs will cater for you. By letting the staff know of any allergies or specific diets before boarding, you'll give them plenty of chance to stock-up, ensuring you can eat well, and feel well at sea.

9. Hydrate: Not Just About Wine...

If you're anything like me, it's far too easy to focus on wine and forget the water. However, talking to the fitness experts onboard the Sapphire Princess, they stressed just how important it is to stay hydrated. Drinking water is one of the key ways to flush out toxins, leading to healthier skin and helping our body function better. Plus, quenching our thirst with water will stop us from consuming quite so many of those pesky alcoholic calories.

10. And Most Importantly -- Enjoy Feeling Great!

When we're looking after ourselves, we feel better in ourselves, and are therefore more likely to make healthier, feel-good choices.

Your cruise is about having a wonderful time, and the staff and facilities are there to make sure you do just that. So enjoy every second of your holiday -- the food, the excursions, the spa, the sport and make the most of this chance to re-set your mind and body.

--By Helena Carter, Cruise Critic contributor