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Fitness at Sea

Aboard the Crystal Harmony

I used to be wary of cruises unless they docked at a different port each day, preferably ones that were not easily accessible by other modes of transport. Too many days on the water meant too much food, booze and boredom. On a recent North Cape trip aboard the Crystal Harmony, the ship didn't put its anchor down for five out of 14 days. Nevertheless, there were not many "deck chair potato" passengers. I, myself, barely had time to lounge in the sun.

Since the fitness revolution hit the cruise industry with as much impact as a storm at sea, there's hardly an ocean liner today that doesn't have gyms, instructors, exercise sessions and sports facilities. Lisa Walker, who heads up Crystal Harmony's program, hasn't replaced the old-time cruise director. She's filling in a new ship's slot by heading up a full-time fitness program. On sea days Walker schedules five to six classes. Beginning at 8:30 a.m. daily Walker led a motivated group to assemble on mats in the Crystal Spa and begin the morning by stretching and energizing or stretching and relaxing. These early birds were, however, bested by other enthusiastic exercisers, who arrived at the adjacent gym on deck 12 aft to start their day's activities using Life Circuit equipment at 7 a.m.

My idea of vacation is not exactly rising at dawn. Technically speaking, for several days there was no dawn since we were sailing in the land of the midnight sun. At 9 a.m. I joined another group of passengers dressed in sweats and sneakers on the promenade deck for the walk-a-thon. Cheered on by Sondra of the entertainment staff we jogged, race-walked or strolled around the perimeters of the ship from forward to aft along starboard and portside until we each racked up several miles walking on water.

Back at the gym I was able to continue my fitness routine by selecting from the following offerings: introduction to equipment, high intensity/low impact, below the waist, step 20-20, step aerobics, interval training, aerobics, super body sculpting and just abdominals. A daily class that I tried never to miss was sit and be fit. It's the perfect workout for cruise clientele who tend to be older, but the benefits of exercising while sitting in a chair should not be discounted. Unfortunately, although the Crystal Harmony has two pools, my favorite exercise, aquaerobics, which is offered when the ship sails in warm waters, was not scheduled. "Doing aerobics in cold water while cruising the North Sea does not draw a crowd," said Walker. A few hardy souls, however, arranged private sessions.

Thanks to Randy Deats and Kathy St. Jean, ballroom dance teachers aboard the boat, another type of workout, one which felt more like fun than work, was offered mornings and afternoons. Kathy and Randy, who taught waltz, samba, rumba, cha cha, fox trot, tango and even country and Western steps, said that regular participation in class and dancing at the clubs and lounges in the evenings produced the same benefits as doing leg lifts, push-ups and heel jacks.

Being a city dweller I rely on walking for much of my exercise. I had ample opportunity to continue this habit on the trip. What better way was there to explore the ports of Bergen, Kristiansund, Oslo, Tromso, Trodheim and Copenhagen than on foot? My newly found shipboard friends, Dan and Fala Powers of Pacific Palisades, California, had visited Norway previously and were prepared for rigorous hiking. Most of us took the Flaam Railway up the mountain to Myrdal and then on to Voss as part of the overland adventure from Flaam to Gudvangen. The Powers spent four hours climbing near the elevation and viewing the astonishing scenery in the region of the Sognefjord, Norway's longest and deepest fjord.

My wife is the family member who usually samples all of the pampering services–massages, aromatherapy, facials and body wraps—that are part of any complete spa program. However, on this trip she insisted that I try out the alphamassage machine, one of two in use on cruise ships. Looking something like a space capsule–its official moniker is the health environment capsule–I lay in it for 30 minutes. I can not swear that it burns calories and enhances fitness, but I can say that it was a unique experience in relaxation. Heat, vibration, music and eye glasses that produced tiny dots of synchronized lights induced "alpha" and "theta" states of consciousness. Whatever they may be, they feel great. I was totally unwound and completely exhilarated.

Cruising, which used to be a passive vacation, now attracts people like me for whom eating properly as well as staying fit is important. The toughest part of the whole trip for anyone who is careful about their weight is the great quantity of wonderful fare that is served. In the tradition of luxury liners, I was offered food and drink nonstop at cocktail parties, buffets, at midmorning and at midnight, in my stateroom, at early and late breakfasts and at lunch and dinner on Lido Deck and in the Crystal Dining Room. Tradition, however, has been modified by the appetites passengers now bring to the table. The trencherman's zest that once had them tucking into eight-course banquets has given way to concern for holding the line, particularly the waistline. Seagoing chefs like the Crystal Harmony's Karl Kappler cooperate by supplying daily menus that are lighter and healthier, albeit with just as much frequency and variety.

Kappler's three-course spa-type lunches and dinners are called the Perfect Harmony and are low in sodium, cholesterol and calories "while balancing taste and nutrition." A Perfect Harmony lunch might include consomme, broiled cod with a medley of vegetables and low-cal frozen fruit yogurt. A dinner might consist of prawn cocktail, tenderloin of rabbit, broccoli-carrot flan and fruit purees. Entrees were never served "diet-style," but were beautifully seasoned, deliciously sauced (on the side, if preferred) and artfully presented.

I seldom chose the entire Perfect Harmony menu because there were so many delectable selections in sync with the way I always eat, for example: vegetable terrines, luscious salads, fresh fish purchased in port, pheasant and other game birds (no need to ever eat red meat), flavorful sherbets and exotic fruits such as mango, papaya, passion and star fruit and strawberries so perfect that they could have been harvested in the galley.

Even the lavish buffets were pig heaven for health conscious foodies determined not to break the calorie bank. The gala "Food as Art" was heavy on top-quality seafood—lobster, shrimp, crab—and produce—hearts of palm, artichokes, white asparagus, endive and other delicate greens.

But best of all the Crystal Harmony is the only American cruise ship with an onboard restaurant (Kyoto) that serves Japanese food, a cuisine known for its low-fat and low-calorie appeal. In Kyoto I overdosed on miso soup, sushi, seafood and chicken teriyaki, veal maki and Pacific lobster without a twinge of guilt. I didn't even have to avoid the other special restaurant, Prego, for there were enough entrees–veal, salmon, chicken and lamb–that were lean, although prepared Italian style.

Diets at home, like indulgence onboard, are out. Sensible eating is in. My response to friends' inquiries about how I could have cruised for two weeks without gaining weight was, "I ate well, but carefully, and exercised just as I always do."

The Crystal Harmony, Tel. 800-446-6620, www.crystalcruises.com

Spring 1994