An amazing thing happened this week: After years in which I've constantly been disappointed by the outcome of reality TV shows, the guy I liked actually won. I'm talking about Michael Ventrella, the erstwhile 526-pound giant who shed 264 pounds to become this year's winner on NBC's The Biggest Loser. Yay, Michael!

Naturally, this got me thinking about cruise ships, and how many other giants I'd seen shuffling through the buffet line, trays piled miles high. That just ain't healthy.

On the other hand, cruise ships actually do offer a number of opportunities to lose weight, whether via formal weight-loss programs or fitness theme cruises, or through options like personal training and the availability of spa cuisine. You may be surrounded on all sides by caloric temptation, but if you have the willpower, you may be able to walk down the gangway lighter than you when you walked up.

An Actual Biggest Loser Cruise

Or at least, sort of. This coming October, trainer extraordinaire Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser will be hosting the Jillian Michaels Ultimate Wellness Cruise 2010 aboard NCL's Norwegian Star. The 4-night cruise sails from Miami on October 21, visiting Nassau and NCL's private Great Stirrup Cay resort. Onboard, Michaels and her team will lead group workouts and offer lectures on fitness, nutrition, and life coaching. Activities will include team sports, fitness competitions, beach workouts, and kids' fitness and wellness sessions; onboard restaurants will serve healthy cuisine personally recommended by Michaels; and everybody who sails will get to have their picture taken with the star. See? She's not such a meanie.

"Being physically fit and healthy transcends into every facet of our lives," Michaels said in the press announcement for the cruise. "I'm excited to bring the ultimate in both wellness and fun to Norwegian Star -- and to provide our guests with the tools to eat healthier, exercise better and improve all aspects of their lives."

Prices start from $649.

Old-School Weight Loss: The Richard Simmons Cruise

I experienced the late 1970s and early 80s. I know about headbands and knee socks. My girlfriend in 1981 was obsessed with Richard Simmons, and now she -- and you, and anyone else who cares to do a little time travel -- can experience the magic firsthand on the 29th annual Richard Simmons Mardi Gras Cruise to Lose, sailing from New Orleans aboard Carnival Triumph, September 25 to October 2, 2010 -- which is not even close to coinciding with Mardi Gras, but, y'know, whatever.

"I am so excited for this wonderful week at sea, and it is all beginning where I sold pralines on the street corner as a little boy & enjoyed many an oyster po'boy, too!" Simmons says on his website. "Mardi Gras in the Big Easy is all about music, and are we going to get the music in you on this year's cruise! Our daily exercise classes will feature all the music from one of your favorite sweatin' videos or DVDs, with a different video featured each day, like "Sweatin' To The Oldies 1, 2 ,3 ,4," "Dance Your Pants Off," "Boogie Sweat," and the brand new "Sweatin' To The Oldies 5" … "Of course there will be beads and doubloons galore, but the beignets, po'boys & muffalettas will be staying behind in the Crescent City when we set sail … lol. I can just picture all of us laughing and having a wonderful time, can't you?"

Can't we all…

The Simmons cruise, which is a group cruise on a regular sailing, not a full-ship takeover like the Jillian Michaels cruise, is limited to 275 participants, and will visit the ports of Belize City, Roatan, and Cozumel. Onboard activities will include a bon voyage mixer, a welcome-aboard orientation meeting, "Rise and Shine with Richard" workouts, "Sizzlin' Sweatin' and Tonin'" workouts, "Project Me" motivational seminars, group dining with special menu selections, a big Mardi Gras costume party, and a photo and autograph session with Mr. Simmons.

Prices start from $1,285.

Fun & Fitness Travel Club Cruises

Fun & Fitness Travel Club has been offering fitness cruises since 1998, generally tailored to the older, rec-center fitness class crowd. Says the company's website: "Fun & Fitness Travel Club requires no fees or dues to join. However, guests are asked to exercise at least once a day when cruising together. The club's goal is to have fun while traveling together and to practice good health habits all along the way." Onboard, instructors run members through water aerobics, dance lessons, deck walking sessions, and tai chi, stretch, and yoga classes. The company's website is moved to note that "low cost travel insurance is provided and required to travel with this club… Ships do not accept Medicaid or Medicare payments."

Fun & Fitness is currently offering seven upcoming cruises:

  • 7-night Alaska, departing Seattle September 3 aboard Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas; rates from $699
  • 15-night New England & Canada, departing Cape Liberty, NJ, September 12 aboard Celebrity Cruises' Summit; rates from $1,549
  • 9-night Eastern Caribbean, departing Baltimore October 21 aboard Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas; rates from $749
  • 7-night Western Caribbean, departing Ft. Lauderdale January 3, 2011, aboard Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas; rates from $679
  • 7-night Western Caribbean, departing Ft. Lauderdale January 16, 2011, aboard Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas; rates from $1,019
  • 5-night Western Caribbean/Mexico, departing Tampa February 5, 2011, aboard Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas; rates from $479
  • 7-night Western Caribbean, departing Galveston March 27, 2011, aboard Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas; rates from $699

The Personal Touch: One-on-One Help

Or maybe you're the strong, silent Gary Cooper type and want to do it on your own -- but maybe with a little personal encouragement. Nearly all mainstream and luxury cruise ships have personal trainers available for hire in their fitness centers. At Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises, for instance, individual personal training is available for $85 an hour, or you can book three sessions and pay a discounted rate of around $210. Both lines also offer one-on-one nutrition counseling. Luxe line Crystal Cruises has a couple of different onboard walking programs, employing weighted vests and ski-style Nordic walking poles to add extra oomph to you circuits of the deck.

Many ships also offer short, informal seminars on weight loss, nutrition, fitness, and overall wellness.

6 Ways to Lose Weight on a Cruise

  • Hit the gym. Duh. No need to explain this one.
  • Take the stairs. When aboard ship, I try to avoid the elevators as much as possible. Over the course of a week, you could end up climbing 200 flights of stairs or more, which will definitely help you keep the pounds off.
  • Walk the ports. Rather than signing up for organized shore excursions, do a little pre-cruise research and do your own walking tours of the port towns. A few years ago I did a Mexican Riviera cruise, skipped the shore excursions entirely, and walked about 10 miles a day around Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. Of course, there are also active shore excursions, but make sure they really are: That bicycling tour may sound nice but only end up covering a few miles.
  • Be strong! The buffet is out there, lurking, and it can get you if you're not careful. Best advice is to steer clear, but if you have willpower you can take advantage of the good salad bars available on many ships. Just don't overdo it with the dressing.
  • Take advantage of your ship's spa menus & spa restaurants. Most ships these days offer low-cal "spa cuisine" options in their main restaurants (sometimes listing the total calorie count), while other ships are taking that idea one step further and offering full-on spa restaurants, where all the options are healthful. Celebrity's Solstice, Equinox, and Eclipse all offer an AquaSpa Café where you can get low-cal treats from noon to 8pm, including raw veggie platters, poached salmon with asparagus tips, vegetarian sushi, and salads with tuna or chicken. Spa breakfasts offer items such as bagels and lox, fresh fruit, cereal, and boiled eggs. Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas has a Vitality Café at its spa, serving healthy snacks, sandwiches, wraps, fruit, and smoothies. The ship's Solarium Bistro also serves health-conscious dishes at lunch and dinner.
  • Avoid the soda, avoid the beer. An acquaintance of mine once porked up when he started drinking supersize sodas every day. Beer is also an obvious belly-buster, but it's also a personal weakness of mine. One trick, weirdly, is to avoid light beers: They may have fewer calories, but they also go down like water, which encourages you to drink several. Weirdly, many hearty brews, like Guinness Stout, actually have fewer calories than the average light beer and are simultaneously much more satisfying -- meaning you can be happy drinking just one, rather then eight.

Talk with fellow Frommer's cruisers on our Cruise Forum.

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