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It wasn't always this way, that cruise ships gyms were so over-the-top. Go back a decade or two and you were lucky if you had access to a couple of rusty treadmills and a rowing machine.

Today, it's a different story. Like just about everything else aboard the newest mega ships, fitness centers are big, bold and exceedingly well stocked. They take up huge amounts of prime top-deck ocean-view real estate and much effort and planning goes into their design. The largest measure thousands of square feet and have floor-to-ceiling glass walls facing forward t

o the sea. They're stocked with state-of-the-art equipment like you'd find back home in a high-end, urban gym setting (and even some stuff that hasn't made it to land based gyms yet). Aerobics and group class areas are outfitted with the latest trendy equipment, from spinning bikes to pilates transformers. Cruise ship gyms are highly functional as well as good looking. It's never been a better time to try and keep those extra calories at bay on the high seas.

Gyms are not only more attractive and well equipped, cruise lines love 'em because they've become growing revenue sources as well. You can use the equipment and join one of the basic stretching or aerobic classes for free, but if you want to do the really cool stuff, chances are there will be an extra fee attached. From yoga to pilates classes, personal training sessions, and body composition analysis, you'll have to pony up anywhere from $10 bucks to more than $100 to indulge.

The most impressive fitness center to date in terms of size and splashiness is hands-down, the one on Royal Caribbean's newly launched 160,000-grt Freedom of the Seas. No real surprise that this groundbreaking vessel of gigantic proportions has pushed the status of the fitness center to the next level.

Here's a quick look at the best work out at sea:

Freedom of the Seas -- Royal Caribbean (tel. 866/562-7625; www.royalcaribbean.com)

The biggest, most ballsy new ship in town has the most audacious gym. The 12,000-square-foot Shipshape Fitness Center has more than 75 pieces of equipment, from treadmills to exercise bikes and cross trainers -- and that's not even counting a fleet of spinning bikes, a pilates studio, a full-sized boxing ring and the supper cutting-edge vibration-based Power Plate fitness machines. To keep users entertained, all cardio equipment has personal LCD screens.

Aside from the machines, the latest exercise classes include just about everything you'd find at a high-end urban gym on land, from yoga to BOSU training, salsa-infused aerobics, kick boxing, Marine-style boot camp training, and sparring sessions in the full-sized, professional-quality Everlast boxing ring. The facilities also include a full pilates studio and a "trekking" station, where five treadmills are set up around an instructor on a center treadmill leading a cardio workout.

"The challenge was to create something new and different for a cruise ship, to create the 'wow'," says Poul Norregaard, Account Manager Fleet Operations, Revenue, for Royal Caribbean.

The space, designed by Stephenjohn Design Ltd of London, certainly does achieve that.

Equipment: Professional-size 20-square-foot elevated Everlast boxing ring; 2 Everlast leather heavy bags; two Everlast leather speed bags; 53 Life Fitness cardio machines; 33 select-a-size Life Fitness weight machines; 8 pilates reformers; and Power Plate fitness devices

Carnival Liberty, Valor, Glory and Conquest -- Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 888/CARNIVAL; www.carnival.com)

Carnival may be big on fun, but these four sister ships take keeping fit pretty seriously too.

Architect and designer Joe Farcus said his mandate was to insure the fitness centers were roomy enough to handle the ship's large capacity. Unlike some gyms on ships of equal or even larger size, the Conquest fitness centers do not feel cramped or crowded. No worries of clonking anyone on the head when doing butterfly reps on these ships.

The gym is a wide arc of space at the bow of an upper deck, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the sea, creating a bright and airy feeling. Against the back wall and visually separating the gym from the adjacent spa, is a glassed-in hot tub raised up.

"I wanted the gyms to be placed in an area with a magnificent view so that the physical visual world would help you take your mind off the effort and pain required for a good workout," says Farcus, adding he personally knows how much of a struggle it can be to get motivated to exercise.

Equipment: Life Fitness (upright and recumbent cycles, elliptical machines, treadmills, steppers, weight machines and free weights), Keiser (pneumatic equipment)

Zuiderdam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Noordam -- Holland America Line (tel. 877/SAIL-HAL; www.hollandamerica.com)

Like the rest of the interiors of these four sister ships, the fitness centers are well designed spaces, with lots of room to maneuver and a layout that makes the most of natural light and ocean views. Each has a fleet of treadmills, elliptical trainers, recumbent and upright bikes, and weight machines facing the sea through a wall of windows.

Equipment: Cybex (most cardio and weight machines)

Wind Surf -- Wind Star Cruises (tel. 800/544-0443; www.windstarcruises.com)

Location, location, location. Befitting an intimate sailing ship that's all about the outdoors and connecting with the sea, the Wind Surf's impressive fitness center sits on the top deck and is completely wrapped in glass for panoramic sea views. For a ship only 535 feet long and less than 15,000 gross registered tons, its gym is incredibly well stocked, with more than 20 pieces of equipment, including a dozen cardio machines and a neat rower that operates with water resistance -- you can actually hear the water sloshing around as you row. A separate aerobics room is one deck below.

Equipment: Cybex (weight machines), True Fitness (treadmills, elliptical trainers, and reclining and upright cycles), First Degree Fitness (Fluid Rower)

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