I came home a few weeks ago from my first cruise. Well, that’s not counting the one I took as a kid with my family, many years ago. I’ve flown to many locales around the world and I love road tripping, but this new experience presented a challenge I hadn’t anticipated. When traveling within the contained environment of a mega ship there are only a pre-established set of options to choose from. I got thrown me out of my comfort zone by the contrast between the mainstream cruising culture I was embarking on and the yoga-conscious-healthy lifestyle I fancy back home.
My sister, Marie-France, a veteran cruiser, had taken charge of organizing this family reunion trip. The occasion brought us together from three corners of the world: Marie-France and her twin 19-year olds flew in from Sydney, Australia, our parents joined us from Guadeloupe, French West Indies, while my 16-year old son and I traveled from Santa Barbara, California. We all met up in Fort Lauderdale to board the Celbrity Reflection ship and discover Central America on an 11-night cruise.
I had dreamed for months of unending turquoise ocean views, exotic landscapes and latin rhythms but totally overlooked the reality that my daily routine wouldn’t seamlessly translate to life on a commercial floating resort. However, as soon as I set foot onboard and the realization set, I went into solution-finding mode and got creative working with what I had. By the time we came back ashore to Fort Lauderdale, I had enjoyed a fantastic adventure and spent quality time with my family while delighting in much discovery!
If you, like me, are on the conscious/yoga/green juice lifestyle spectrum, here are some tips to “green up” your cruise and flavor a normally mainstream experience with a sprinkling of awareness.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
For the duration of the cruise, the ship becomes your home away from home, but even though you are living on water, you can stay connected to the earth and grounded into cosmic rhythms by choosing an ocean-view stateroom. Being able to awaken every day and see sunlight is essential for the body to know it's daytime. Getting jolted out of dreams by a blaring alarm in a pitch-dark room buried in the bowels of the ship, and not seeing daylight until you walk up to deck, is not fun on a long cruise. Trust me on that one.
While on the water, you’ll have the luxury of being able to see the sun both rise and set, something that you might not get to enjoy at home. So get up early and walk to the side of the boat facing east. Glorious. And while you’re at it, look up at night to the full moon and bask in the stars glow at new moon.
If you’re new to cruising you might be surprised the first couple of days by the fact that there are people everywhere, all the time. And these folks are here to have fun. So there is music everywhere too. If this is your scene, grab yourself a margarita, jump right into the (shallow) pool and join the party. If you prefer to have a more mellow time, know that there are places on the ship conducive to chilling out, reading a good book or napping in a hammock. These relaxation areas are usually on the upper deck, at the stern or bow of the ship.
If you prefer to be indoors, head to the library or, as on our cruise ship, to a ”hideaway” spot with comfy sofas and dim lighting. Remember to pack earplugs, those can come in handy if you want to hang around the pool while lost in your inner world.
A wonderful way to connect with your self in the midst of a sea adventure is by paying attention to the sound of the waves splashing against the sides of the vessel, aligning your breath with that rhythm, and sinking and into a wonderful ocean-guided meditation.
You’ve heard it right. There is a baffling abundance of food offered on cruise ships, with up to 30% of it getting thrown to the sharks every 4 hours, as my son found out during an organized behind-the-scene tour of the galley (the ship’s kitchen). Not exactly sustainable. And usually not really the healthiest of offerings either, if you stick to the cafes and restaurants included with your stateroom of choice. I decided to buy a “spa drink” package. If there is such an option on your cruise, it is a great way to supplement your nutrition if you’re used to daily fresh juices and smoothies in your land life. You’ll then have access to an unlimited supply of those, as well as mineral water. I hear tap water is recycled onboard… While you’re at it, pack your reusable water bottle to fill at that bottled water well and carry it with you while on shore excursions. Bringing a reusable straw is another conscious choice to make.
If you’re interested in keeping up with the superfoods that are part of your morning routine, I suggest measuring out a supply for the duration of your trip and mixing your regular smoothie ingredients into ziplock bags. Pack also a smoothie container to drink from or a hydro flask bottle. Every morning, you’ll have the option to pour into the container the right amount of mix for your smoothie, bringing it up to the spa drink counter and kindly asking the server to blend in your liquid of choice (bottled water, almond milk, you can even incorporate hemp seeds into your mix) as well as fresh fruit. Another idea is to bring onboard a small personal blender. And voila, you are ready to start the day charged up instead of loaded down with pastries and coffee.
If this is your first cruise, the substantial quantity of food on offer at each meal, and 24/7, can become a great temptation! Do not bite the bait and follow your fellow cruisers on multiple refill trips to the cafe counters, attempting to try out all the maddening options! You can keep it healthy by focusing on serving yourself “tasting portions” and filling up first with fresh fruits (they digest faster and will ferment, causing digestive issues, if eaten later in the meal) and then with raw salads for fiber bulk.
Taking good care of your body and maintaining some healthy habits are important on a cruise where germs tend to spread faster in a contained environment. You will notice onboard the prevalence of hand sanitizer. Pick up your own organic natural version from the health food store before traveling, and while you’re there also get some reef-friendly sunscreen.
In the event that you pick up a little cold inspite of being diligent with hygiene, I strongly recommend having natural remedies at your disposal in case of such a circumstance. I had brought along ginger tea bags, Umcka Cold Care, Chaga mushroom extract, Vitamin C packets, as well the Australian Bush Flower Essences Purifying blend and got over my indisposition within a couple of days. Make sure you pack all the natural medicine you take at home. I brought along the other ABFE blends that are always in my toiletry kit: Emergency, Calm and Clear, Space Clearing and of course, Travel Essence. I never travel without these life saving essentials.
You might have a gym routine back home, take regular yoga classes or enjoy a personal practice every morning. Keep moving your body while cruising! Forgo waiting for the elevator and hit the stairs, walk laps around the upper decks and make good use of the ship gym, especially during at-sea days. There will be spin, pilates or yoga classes, sometimes for a fee. Attend these or work out on the treadmill and exercisers. The main thing is to keep your energy flowing, your whole being oxygenated and stretched, and your brain supplied with fresh blood to thoroughly enjoy your ocean adventure! You might even want to take advantage of having free time and book a session with a personal trainer or get a fitness evaluation.
You might be traveling with a companion, a group of friends or solo. Whatever your predicament, a cruise is a wonderful time to connect with fellow humans, heart-to-heart! Strike up conversations at the communal cafe table, greet your stateroom neighbors, and get to know the crew, this small army of people running the ship like the most efficient floating city! Your stateroom butler is an invaluable aid whom you’ll come to appreciate. Finding your room tidied up and your bathroom cleaned twice a day adds much quality to life in cramped quarters. Find out what their name is, where they’re from and a little bit of their personal story. You’ll be surprised at the long list of countries they have most likely traveled to, as well as at the diversity of the nationalities within the crew. Our own ship had personnel hailing from 17 countries, some speaking with accents I couldn’t readily identify.
A fun way to meet new friends on sea days is by engaging in the plethora of organized activities and game opportunities. Play pingpong or basketball, sign up for a paper plane flying contest or show up for the daily group trivia. There is also a game room where you can find your match in chess, scrabble, checkers, card games, etc. If you’re traveling with children or teens, they’ll love spending time in supervised “clubs” designated for their age group.
Being on water, away from home, is the perfect time for a digital detox. So forgo the pricy “wifi package,” set your phone on airplane-mode and explore your creativity. Observe nature, take photos of the local wildlife. Bring along needlework, a small watercolor kit, your favorite crossword puzzles. And of course books. Depending on the nature of your cruise, educational presentations will be offered, as well as art shows, cooking demonstrations and dance classes.
Music, as I’ve stated, is everywhere on a cruise ship, so you’re in for a treat if your enjoy live performances. You can attend these while relaxing by the pool, in classy lounges, or in the grand foyer. Dance the night away or attend a world class show in the theater every evening, there is something for everyone and much stimulation for the creative senses!
OFF THE SHIP DISCOVERY: PORTS OF CALL
The whole point of going on a cruise is getting off the ship and discovering new worlds. New vistas, new cultures, new faces, new music, new everything. Make the most of this enriching opportunity by being conscious of the choices you make in terms of what activities you decide to engage in, the mode of transportation you pick or how you choose to spend your American dollars. Once you step off the gangway onto foreign soil, you regain some of the power you gave away to the all-encompassing ship authority that organized everything for you, and you can now go where and do what you please. Choose wisely.
The cruise company will offer many options of organized tours where you and your fellow cruisers will get chartered in a big air-conditioned bus to a duty-free shopping mall, followed by a dance show by natives and ending with a whole-body roast on a white sand beach with all the appointments of a standard resort, including the unavoidable margarita.
While this may appear as the safe and relaxing choice that it is, you have other options that will deliver much more meaningful and authentic experiences of the country you are visiting for a few short hours. So step out of your comfort zone and hire out one of the local taxi drivers who will be lining up at your descend from the ship. A good idea is to join with a few others and hop onto a minibus. Negotiate the day rate and the itinerary of your excursion. Make sure to be shown the less touristy areas or those points of special interest to you. A lot of the drivers speak english and will share less-known information about the daily life and economy of the area.
Ask to stop and eat lunch in a favorite spot of the locals. My recommendation is to only drink from the portable bottle you will have refilled onboard the ship. Ask to be shown both the urban environment and some of the nature and wildlife, whenever possible. Remember to only collect photos, no shells or rocks. Remember to be mindful of local cultural or religious customs. Depending on your port of call, public transportation might be a safe, cheap and eye-opening alternative. Investigate your options before traveling.
Finally, be really mindful of what you buy. American dollars can bring much support to the local economy, so choose to spend your cash directly with the people who will drive you around, serve you food or create handmade crafts. Shopping at local artisans’ stands will guarantee you’re acquiring a creative expression of the native culture and an energetic connection to a local artist other than some made-in-china plastic souvenir stamped with the name of the country you’re visiting. Again, do your research and stay away from banned items, such as cultural artifacts. Pack a lightweight tote bag to bypass plastic shopping bags.
BRING HOME A NEW YOU
Going on a cruise is a wonderful way to leave behind your daily routines and concerns and adventure into a new universe, both in the world and within your inner being. Chances are you will return transformed in ways you didnt expect. Your eyes will have embraced new sights and your heart will have experienced new feelings. Keeping in touch with your soul, journaling and paying attention to the little things will contribute to making your cruising journey a more conscious one. You will bring home memories that will keep on feeding your psyche and enriching your creativity, along with a treasure trove of stories to share that will offer insights into discoveries spanning several dimensions. Enjoy every moment, one breath and one heart beat at a time!