Cruises are synonymous with indulgence. The hearty food, rich desserts and free-flowing cocktails are not ideal for the waistline, but they could be the perfect prescription for someone in need of a vacation. More and more cruise lines, however, are starting to offer healthier ways to unwind while under sail.

Major lines have always offered spa services, yoga classes, fitness facilities and special menu options for the calorie-averse and vegetarian passengers. Recently, however, wellness has become the main event on some niche cruises, and even the industry’s heavyweights have experimented with health-related themes.

A growing trend

Healthier cruise options are out there. Weight Watchers has offered themed trips in partnership with MSC Cruises (Medeterranean Shipping Company), and Celebrity is planning a "vegan cruise" that will sail around Australia and the South Pacific later this year.

Niche brands are engaged in the most aggressive wellness promotions. A new company called Blue World Voyages is betting big on the healthy cruise idea. The startup plans to launch with three small ships that are specifically designed and equipped for passengers interested in health and fitness. Most other lines are willing to offer themed cruises, but they want to remain flexible should the whims of passengers change in the coming years.

Blue World is not only interested in attracting vegans and fitness fanatics. They have geared part of their pitch to anyone who is turned off by mainstream cruising. As their site states, "If you live an active lifestyle, and your idea of adventure isn’t hanging out at a fake luau with 4,000 of your closest friends, welcome aboard."

Meditation and mindfulness

woman getting massge In addition to massages, Seabourn Cruises offer wellness classes including yoga and meditation. (Photo: Seabourn Cruises)

Cruise Critic calls Seabourn Cruises the industry’s "most holistic" brand. The luxury line, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruises, is not only focused on wellness, but all of its ships offer programming that fits into this niche. This means passengers do not have to choose a special wellness cruise.

In addition to daily meditation and yoga classes, Seabourn has lectures and classes on health, nutrition and general wellness. The line hired natural health guru Andrew Weil to design seminars and lectures. Seabourn currently has five vessels, and its restaurants, though not specifically vegan or vegetarian, are known for their quality. Chef Thomas Keller, of The French Laundry fame, designed the menus.

Niche cruise packages

Lindblad Expeditions, an adventure cruise company that partners with National Geographic, has special wellness and adventure cruises that fit somewhere between Blue World Voyage’s all-wellness-all-the-time, and Seabourn’s mindfulness-if-you-want. Lindblad’s itineraries are, by nature, active because they include wilderness hikes, kayaking trips, standup paddleboarding and other “adventure” activities. The wellness-themed voyages, to places like California’s Channel Islands and the Sea of Cortez, include various forms of yoga, fitness and daily guided meditation practice.

It seems like niche lines are leading the onboard wellness revolution, but what about the big players in the industry?

Bigger ships, fewer options

cruise ship fruit display Some cruise lines offer vegan cuisine as well as health and wellness classes. (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)

The Celebrity Solstice can carry nearly 3,000 passengers, and it is about to experiment with vegan cruising. Celebrity is offering a nine-day vegan cruise on the Solstice in October. Cruisers will get to enjoy the usual Celebrity amenities while being served a full vegan menu and taking part in special fitness, meditation, cooking and nutrition classes.

This sounds pretty similar to the aforementioned smaller ships’ wellness programs. It is, but it is also obvious that wellness cruising is still a minor niche: Only 250 passengers (about 10 percent of the Solstice’s total capacity) will be part of the special wellness-themed trip.

Another major industry name, CMV (Cruise and Maritime Voyages), has already offered a plant-based menu cruise. It launched a trip to Scandinavia on a new 1,400-person vessel called the Columbus. Rather than creating its own itinerary and menus, the line came to an arrangement that could be the future blueprint for various wellness and special diet trips. CMV partnered with a company called Vegan Travel, which started by organizing river cruises in Europe and is apparently expanding to larger seagoing boats.

Floating spas on both fresh and saltwater

boat overlooking river There are even short river cruises that are offering wellness cruises like the Aqua Expeditions's Mekong Cruise. (Photo: Agent Wolf/Shutterstock)

The wellness partnership idea has made its way into several other cruise brands as well. The famous Canyon Ranch Spa, which started in Arizona, operates spas, fitness centers and health food outlets on several cruise lines, including Cunard, Oceania, Celebrity and Regent Seven Seas. These SpaClub at Sea centers include the usual range of massages, but they also have services like nutritional consultations, fitness classes and body composition analysis (measurements of health metrics such as BMI, muscle mass, fat, fluid and metabolism).

The wellness trend is not just for ocean-going vessels. River cruise specialist Aqua Expeditions recently offered a four-day yoga-themed Mekong Cruise aboard one of its 40-passenger boats. The line hired a Singaporean wellness guru to lead the program.

Paying more to be healthy

Whether it’s onboard wellness spas, vegan menus or floating meditation retreats, you can find healthier cruises if you look hard enough. Unfortunately for budget cruisers, most of the options are on upscale niche lines. Mainstream companies, however, are starting to experiment with wellness-themed cruises.

Who said cruises have to be unhealthy?
Wellness cruises offer vegan meals, yoga and nutrition classes.