Is it possible to stay healthy on a river cruise? AFAR posed this question to globetrotting personal trainer and wellness coach Amanda Dale, who recently sailed down the Mekong Delta on AmaWaterways’ luxurious new AmaDara vessel. Read on for her expert tips on staying fit while underway.

Sweat dripped onto the wood floor of the diminutive gym aboard the AmaDara. I was in the second round of an eight-circuit interval workout and just about ready to drop into a burpee when a friendly voice came over the loudspeaker: lunch will be served in 15 minutes. 

Mercy. Didn’t we just have breakfast?

The wafting scent of freshly prepared Vietnamese delicacies from the onboard kitchen and a stunning view of the Mekong River from the gym windows helped me finish the remaining six rounds—as did the promise of a deep-tissue massage that afternoon. Turns out that wellness and indulgence aren’t the strangest of bedfellows, even on an exotic river cruise.                 

As a personal trainer and wellness coach, I used to cringe when clients would tell me they were taking a cruise. I imagined them battling buffet meals, all-you-can-drink booze, and the obvious factor of being confined to a ship for most their waking hours. And while many large ocean ships have state-of-the-art gyms, pools, running tracks, and more, smaller river vessels lack space for more than a pocket-sized gym. When it came time for me to embark on my first river cruise, I found that a bit of planning (I packed a resistance band and jump rope), a smidge of focus (choosing exercise over a nap, for example), and a dash of self-control (just one plate of noodles, thanks) went a long way toward returning home without feeling like a total glutton. Here are five rules for staying healthy on that next river cruise—or any vacation for that matter—and having fun while you’re at it.

1. Keep workouts short and sweet. Obviously, nobody wants to cut into valuable sightseeing and relaxation time by clocking hours on the treadmill. Plus, given the confines of space on smaller vessels, quick, compact, and effective workouts are key—and can be just as effective. The small gym onboard the AmaDara, while basic, was great for short, intense interval routines. I’m talking 20-minute efforts—everything from short-burst cardio sprints to 10-station circuits to Tabata-style intervals. Check out my river cruise routine here.

2. Be strategic in the buffet line. As far as diet goes, buffet meals onboard can be a blessing and a curse—you have full control over what you’re eating, but that control tends to go out the window when you’re two beers in and faced with the all-day cookie and snack spread in the lounge. The AmaDara offered up a salad bar full of veggie options, an “action station” with on-the-spot preparations of local (and healthier than the menu mains) delights, and vegetarian choices for every meal, making it easy to find healthy choices. Not sure how to pack your plate for the maximum nutritional punch? Fill up half with something green, take a quarter for protein, and make the final quarter a treat – use it to enjoy carbs, dessert, or fried foods in moderation.

3. Don’t forget to drink water. Hydration is your secret weapon: it increases satiety, combats fatigue, and keeps skin healthy, meaning you can come back to dry land with that fresh and fit post-vacation glow without much effort. And while the alcohol was certainly flowing on the AmaDara, so was the water, with bottles perched on small tables whenever we left or returned to the ship, stacked in the gym, and chilled in our room.

4. Be a joiner. As an interest in wellness among travelers continues to grow exponentially, so do the offerings aboard some of the best cruise lines. Take advantage of the services and programs offered onboard, whether it’s group yoga classes, in-room massages, meditation sessions, cycling itineraries, or even just a good soak in a warm bath.

5. Don’t obsess over the scale. Part of staying well while cruising is giving yourself space to decompress, allowing the experience of being out on the water and free from responsibilities on land to sink in to your mind and body. Just make sure you finish your burpees first.

Check out more of Amanda's fitness tips on her blog.

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