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Staying Fit at Sea: Exercise Hacks for Your Cruise

gym Danielle Cerullo via Unsplash
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Going on vacation doesn’t mean you have to ignore your workout routine.

And let’s face it – you’re going on vacation to relax, enjoy yourself, and get away from the everyday concerns of life.

So we’ve going to pose a few questions that we will dive into to help you strike a balance with maintaining your fitness while enjoying your cruise.

The questions we’ll be answering are:

  • What is the gym on a cruise ship like?
  • Are there other ways to get exercise and fitness that don’t require going to the gym?
  • Making use of time in port to maintain your fitness

Understanding the Cruise Ship Gym

At this point, most websites would use this part in the article to explain the importance of staying fit on a cruise.

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If you’re reading this, you already know that.

That’s why we’re going to get right into what you can expect from a gym on a cruise ship.

Where Is the Gym Located?

Because every class of ship is different, pinpointing exactly on what deck the gym will be located on any given ship is impossible.

However, a good rule of thumb to follow is the gym is usually situated in the same general area that the spa is located.

That means it will be on either the pool deck or one of the highest decks on the ship.

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mountains at cruise port viewed from deck of cruise ship

What Are Cruise Ship Gyms Like?

One of the things to be aware of is that cruise ship gyms are not going to have a lot of free weights.

Think liability.

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Can you imagine doing a bench press with free weights and a bar and a storm suddenly engulfs the ship?

There’s a strong possibility someone will get hurt.

So, what are the gyms like on a cruise ship?

The best way I can describe cruise ship gyms is Planet Fitness.

In fact, if you are familiar with Planet Fitness, you should be quite comfortable with the equipment in a cruise ship gym.

When we say that there are no “free weights”, that is referring to plates.

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Every cruise ship gym I have been in does, however, have dumbbells.

Typically, they go up to 70lbs (just like Planet Fitness). However, I have been on a couple where the dumbbells stopped at 55lbs.

There are the expected treadmills and elliptical machines.

I would like to take a moment here to point out something that will be an issue for some people.

If you are tall, there is a very strong possibility that you will not be able to walk on the treadmills or use some of the other cardio machines on some cruise ship gyms.

From my experience, the ceilings are lower in the gym than on other decks.

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As such, when you step on a treadmill, you are going to be even closer to the ceiling.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get your cardio in.

Just be aware that very tall individuals might have to test out the treadmills early in the cruise just in case you have to make alternate cardio arrangements.

One of my favorite things about exercising in a cruise ship gym is that – particularly on the cardio equipment – you have floor-to-ceiling views of the outside.

When you’re on the ocean, you can see clear to the horizon (assuming it’s not a cloudy day).

On port days, you have a commanding view of the island where you are docked.

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In short, cruise ship gyms look very much like smaller versions of Planet Fitness.

The views enhance the good feeling of your workout.

And you’ll typically find cruise ship gyms in the vicinity of the spa.

Best Time to Use Cruise Ship Gyms

We’ll start by reading the disclaimer that it is impossible to know exactly when a gym will be busy.

How fully booked your sailing is, how fitness-oriented the passengers are, and how large the gym is will play a role in how busy the cruise ship gym will be.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are some of the best times to use the cruise ship gym:

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  • Afternoons on sea days
  • Port days
  • Dinner time
  • After dinner

Let’s talk about what makes these times ideal.

Pro Tip: If you want to enjoy the pool, stay on the ship on port days. Almost nobody will be on the ship and the pool will not be busy

Use the Pool on Port Days

Afternoons On Sea Days

Typically, in the afternoon on sea days, there is so much happening on the ship – from trivia to pool parties – that the gym will be pretty empty.

Additionally, afternoons on sea days mean most people have just finished gorging in the buffet.

So they’ll also be napping in their cabin.

As a result, the afternoon is a good time to get a workout in.

Port Days

Port days are probably the best time to get a workout in the cruise ship gym.

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Most of the passengers will be off the ship. Not everyone; but just about the whole ship will be on shore.

This means that there is almost no time of day that will be bad.

Even if you go early in the morning, most people are getting ready to get off the ship and aren’t interested in working out.

Even after everyone comes back aboard, you’ll be able to enjoy the gym at other times like afternoon into the evening.

Dinner Time

Most people won’t want to go to the gym when they’re scheduled to eat dinner.

However, this might present a prime opportunity to workout.

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If the ship you’re traveling on has respectable 24/7 options, this might be a good time to exercise.

I’m thinking specifically of Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ships.

On NCL ships with The Local and especially O’Shean’s, you can get a nice variety of options to enjoy outside of normal dinner times.

Also, because NCL doesn’t have set dining times, you could even eat at one of the main dining rooms after your workout.

You will have the same opportunity to workout and eat later on a Virgin Voyages ship.

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front of large cruise ship in port

After Dinner

Let’s say you aren’t willing to forgo dinner.

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There’s the option of working out after dinner.

Most gyms stay open pretty late. Usually until at least midnight.

This gives you the opportunity to eat, catch a show, and still get a workout in before bed.

While this might not be the best time to workout, it does expand your options for when you can get your exercise in.

Alternative Fitness Opportunities

One of the great things about cruise ships and exercising is that there are a number of opportunities to get a workout in that don’t require being in a gym.

In this section, we’re going to examine other things you can do to keep your physical activities up.

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Before moving on, this seems like a good time to tell you which cruise line is the best for people who want to stay active on a cruise and why.

The answer is Royal Caribbean.

Their ships will have the activities the other cruise lines hold.

Royal Caribbean, however, has what the rest will not including rock climbing walls, a FlowRider surfing simulator, and even ziplining on the ship.

If staying active is important to you, my recommendation would be to sail on any Royal Caribbean ship.

The bigger the better.

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The bigger ships will have ziplines. On almost all the ones smaller than the big boys you’ll find the FlowRiders and rock climbing walls.

You’ll also find rock climbing walls on Virgin Voyages.

Pro Tip: Choose any ship from Royal Caribbean if you want variety in your fitness activities. Virgin Voyages is a good second choice.

Best Cruise Lines to Stay Fit

In fact, Virgin Voyages is the second cruise line I’d recommend for staying fit on your cruise vacation

Now, onto the various opportunities for staying fit on cruise lines.

They are:

  • Swimming pools
  • Sports courts (basketball, tennis, etc.)
  • Running/Walking Tracks
  • Fitness classes

You will find all of these on most cruise lines sailing out of the United States.

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Let’s get into them.

Swimming Pools

There is no cruise line or cruise ship on the planet that does not have a swimming pool.

On some ships, they are long enough to do a lap in.

However, if you want to use the pool to get your workout on, doing it in a pool on a cruise ship is probably not the place.

Unless you do it during one of the less busy times we mentioned above.

One of the best times to use the cruise ship swimming pool for exercise is when everyone is off the ship on port days.

If you stop at a private island, you’ve got an even better chance of having the pool all to yourself.


Because just about EVERYBODY will be off the ship that day.

Most will want to go to the beach. Others will engage in whatever activities are available on land.

And because the food on the island is provided by the ship and won’t cost anything extra, there’s no reason to stay onboard.

Sports Courts

On the uppermost decks of cruise ships, you’ll find the sports courts.

Here is where you can play basketball, tennis, and other activities that require some area to move around.

These courts are inside fenced areas. So no worry about your ball going overboard.

Most times, you can get a ball from the ship (no need to bring your own if you don’t want to) and you can shoot around.

Typically, there will be some sort of contest like a 3-point challenge, a young vs. old game or another theme to get the passengers involved.

Again, the best times to have the court all to yourself is to use it when everyone is off the ship.

However, unlike the pool, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to shoot around or play tennis without having to arrange an ideal time.

Running/Walking Tracks

Situated on the highest decks of cruise ships, you’ll find the walking/running tracks.

They will typically be one deck above the pool deck.

This means that you’ll see lounge chairs lined up on either side of the walking track.

A good time to use these is first thing in the morning.

That’s because the sunbathers are still in their cabins or eating breakfast.

You’ll also find fellow runners and walkers. So it’s a good opportunity to make new friends that have a common interest.

Even when these areas get busy, the track is still pretty accessible.

However, because there will be more people on that deck once the rest of the ship wakes up, you will find that people will walk in the opposite direction designated on the track.

Another consideration is how many times you’ll have to walk around the track to go a mile.

Let’s just say, it’s a lot.

It can get monotonous because you’ll keep passing the same things quickly.

Some tracks are longer than others. It all depends on the ship.

Nonetheless, it’s an option. And it gives you a chance to people-watch while getting a workout in.

Fitness Classes

After you install the app for your cruise line, you’ll be able to see the schedule for the fitness classes that will be offered on your ship.

You’ll find everything from yoga to Pilates, to group aerobic classes.

Normally these will be held in a room in the fitness center.

Some cruise lines that pride themselves on getting the passengers involved, like Carnival Cruise Line, will host dance parties on the pool deck.

Pro Tip: If dancing is your thing, make sure you are on the pool deck for the sail away party on embarkation day.

Go to the Sail Away Party on Embarkation Day

If this is something that appeals to you, you’ll want to be on the pool deck (known as the “lido deck” on Carnival ships) on embarkation day for the sailaway party.

Virgin Voyages also likes to get their party on for the first day of a cruise.

Other cruise lines will have deck parties on embarkation day and other times during the sailing.

But Carnival is arguably the best at it followed by Virgin Voyages.

Creative Ways to Exercise on Cruise Ships

If planning to be at certain areas of the ship at specific times to get your workout in doesn’t sound appealing, don’t worry.

You really don’t need those areas.

Cruise ships are enormous. Even the “smaller” ones.

Most cruise ships have you boarding on Deck 4 (maybe a deck or two higher or lower depending on the size of the ship).

There are usually 12 decks or more on every cruise ship.

Just walking from the bow (front) of the ship to the stern (rear) of the ship is a workout in itself.

Want to amplify the intensity?

Don’t use the elevators. Take the stairs.

That might sound daunting because of how many decks there are.

But the flights between decks on a cruise ship aren’t very high.

In fact they might even be shorter than in your own house.

So take the stairs.

You might find that it’s faster to go between decks this way, particularly after dinner or the theater lets out.

Make the Most of Shore Excursions

If you sail to the Caribbean, you’ll find ample opportunity to engage in active shore excursions.

San Juan, Puerto Rico has a lot of things you can do that will keep you active.

Here are just some of the excursions you can take to stay active in San Juan.

Jamaica is another popular destination for active people.

Book these if you want to engage in physical activities while on shore.

Taking excursions like hiking, snorkeling, biking, and walking tours can help you get your activity in while expanding your mind.

Another thing you might want to consider is exploring port cities on foot for some extra steps.


Closing Thoughts

Just because you’re on a cruise ship doesn’t mean you have to abandon your fitness activities.

The gym is open longer than just about any other venue on the ship.

So you’ll be able to find a good time to workout.

Fitness classes and deck parties offer more opportunities to stay active on your cruise.

Your time in port gives you more opportunities to keep yourself active.

Use this tool to find out what excursions you can book on your next sailing.

And finally, you can just walk everywhere you need to go on the ship.

By the end of the day, I assure you, your body will let you know you burned some calories.