Needing to lose at least a few pounds and hoping for a jumpstart on a regular workout routine, I booked a 21-day cruise on the new 600-passenger Seabourn Encore. Seabourn is a four-ship line that rates itself six stars on the luxury meter, none of them connected to the concepts of moderation and personal discipline.
A crazy idea? Maybe, but I chose a repositioning cruise that would be heavy with sea days, providing extra time to exercise between meals as we floated between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean.
Seabourn promised a trainer, for a fee, who would evaluate my strengths and weaknesses, stretching my muscles that were tight from lethargy. Meanwhile, a nutritionist would help refine my eating habits, so at least I would not gain weight, which was my fear on a luxury ship with so many excellent dining choices.
Encore, which debuted in January, is the newest Seabourn ship, with space that was designed to show off the culinary skills of the line’s new celebrity chef, Thomas Keller. Not only is Keller now providing menu items throughout dining rooms fleetwide, but he also has opened his first restaurants at sea, starting with Encore and being added to each Seabourn vessel (last in drydock is Seabourn Sojourn this month).
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Reservations in Keller’s trio of Michelin-starred restaurants on land — The French Laundry, Bouchon and Per Se — are tough to secure and carry a hefty bill. On Seabourn, passengers have daily opportunities to taste Keller-style menu items in the main dining room and at least one evening in his shipboard restaurant each cruise; there is no extra charge. (Seabourn’s rates, among the cruise industry’s highest, include such expenses as alcohol and all restaurants, as well as tips for crew members).
Keller’s Seabourn restaurant, The Grill, has received high marks from cruisers (my favorites: a whole roasted chicken and dover sole, both elaborately presented tableside, and sides of mac and cheese and wilted spinach). My plan on Encore was to balance eating Keller cuisine with lighter fare at most other meals, from sushi to all-veggie evenings, and a rule to eschew deserts for the entire voyage.
As the ship cruised through Egypt’s Suez Canal to Aqaba, Jordan; Muscat, Oman; and two stops in the United Arab Emirates on our voyage to Dubai, Seabourn played its role well, both in nutrition — plenty of fruit, vegetables, and other low-cal choices at all meals — and workouts.
Encore carries high performance Technogym equipment for cardio and strength training. The small ship doesn’t have space for a running track, but early morning walkers set a good pace in a circle on the deck above the pool.
I began each cruise day with a 7 a.m. stretch class that morphed about 7:30 into a Pilates workout (for improving flexibility and building core alignment). Both spa sessions, lightly attended on my cruise, were available to all passengers at no extra charge and were listed on the daily program. The stretch class was friendly but serious, well directed toward both passengers with flexible bodies and those of us who found some stretches nearly impossible. Within a few days, my stretches had extended, and each morning I awoke ready for more.
Alexandra, from Romania, a personal trainer and exercise class leader, emphasized the importance of stretching my older muscles both before and after using the gym’s machines. In one Pilates class, she joked, “You will squat or you won’t leave here alive.”
I arranged at the spa for a more detailed workout plan that included an InBody570 (www.inbodyusa.com) machine analysis of my muscles, fat, and water mass, a depressing but seemingly accurate test that cost $125, and a series of four trainer-led, 45-minute sessions concentrating on cardio, strength and recovery components, at a total of $139 for the course. Extra work with the personal trainer was $115 for 50 minutes.
Alexandra used the InBody test results to suggest I slowly lose 20 pounds by cutting calories, and to indicate how I could use the gym’s machines to concentrate extra muscle-building on my left arm and left shoulder, and on my right side in chest exercises, to balance my body.
She recommended I start with four machines, three times a week for 30 minutes, stretching at beginning and end for 20 minutes. She suggested repetitions and rotations in a litany that was an exercise in listening, and she suggested that I see a personal trainer at home to add a cardio component and to change exercises so I do not get bored.
“Quality is better than quantity,” said Alexandra. “Concentrate and pay attention to the muscle you are working on. Feel it.”
I did. And I will continue my workout at home. To my surprise, even with all that Keller cuisine, I lost three pounds, perhaps because I never set foot in any of the ship’s elevators for the seven decks serving the spacious passenger cabins, restaurants, lounges, club room and theater. I walked the stairs, and walked the land during port calls. As Alexandra said, each step counts.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com.
For its first two years, Seabourn Encore is sailing on itineraries that are nearly a perpetual summer — cruising in the Mediterranean Sea during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, then, while the Med is in winter, switching to the Southern Hemisphere’s summer in the waters around Australia and New Zealand.
If you like lots of sea days, consider booking the twice-a-year repositioning voyage between Italy or Greece and Singapore, through the Suez Canal with stops in Oman, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, India and Sri Lanka.
On one link, eight of nine days are at sea. That is the kind of itinerary you might skip on a boring ship, which Seabourn Encore is not. The ship serves an impressive array of fine food, classy entertainment and a host of group activities. The pool becomes a social gathering spot in the afternoons.
Though many passengers on my cruise seemed to curl up with books and designs on occasional naps, the ship each day offered lectures on such topics as wellness, geography and history. The most popular diversion was a highly competitive daily trivia contest where scores accumulated through the cruise. Trivia grew so popular that teams developed their own nicknames, and on one occasion, arrived in costumes that were judged separately from the trivia answers.
Most Seabourn cruises are sold through travel agencies or see www.seabourn.com.