It sounds like the punch line to a joke.
“Where did you go on vacation?”
“I took a Weight Watchers cruise!”
Isn’t the whole point of cruising to eat as much as you want (oh, and see the sights and relax, of course) and not worry about the extra 5 to 10 pounds you’ll likely pack on until after you get home? Not according to the folks at Weight Watchers, the 55-year-old weight-loss company. Its spring 2018 cruise aboard the MSC Seaside — its third in partnership with MSC — departing Miami and making stops at Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Cozumel, and Nassau boasted in its ads that travelers could “socialize, meet new friends and attend Weight Watchers meetings.” It was to be, they said, “a week of health and wellness on the sea.”
As someone used to food deprivation — I have been a Weight Watchers member on and off for decades and I served as the editor in chief of its magazine in the ’80s — I thought I’d try it. I had been on other cruises over the years and loved them. But would I love one that posted Smart Points values in front of each of its dishes, lacked an all-day self-serve frozen yogurt machine, and urged me to attend motivational meetings and shipboard weigh-ins to keep me focused on my fitness goals? I was willing to find out.
I signed up online and my first pleasant surprise was the cost — around $3,500 for a well-appointed cabin with balcony for an eight-day cruise. The last weeklong Caribbean cruise I had taken had been closer to $7,000. (“Half the money, half the food!” concluded my boyfriend, Peter, who decided to sit this vacation out and eat as he liked that week.) The next eye-opener was the size of the ship. The MSC Seaside has a 4,500-person capacity, so there were plenty of “civilians” cruising along with us Weight Watchers people. (Nope, Oprah wasn’t there — I checked.) We all mingled together throughout the ship — all the decks, the pools, the casino, bowling alley, spa, library, theater, the 360-degree Promenade and much more were there for us all, slim or otherwise, to enjoy. True, part of the Seashore Restaurant (Deck 5) was designated for the Weight Watchers contingent, and we ate our specially prepared meals there if we didn’t wish to partake of the selections, Weight Watchers and non, available at the Market Place Buffet (Deck 8). But that was fine, and if one played one’s eating cards right, one could happily dine from both sets of buffet offerings — and some of us did. And of course once the ship docked, we were on our own food-wise. (I overheard quite a bit about the jerk chicken in Ocho Rios, one of our ports of call, and I imagine no Weight Watchers Smart Points signs were on display there.)
So, how was the Weight Watchers food, you ask? Quite delicious, in fact. At one of the opening-day get-togethers it was announced that there would be 150 different Weight Watchers meals and cocktails served during our vacation, so food variety would clearly not be an issue. If one chose to eat at the Seashore, a pre-printed menu was offered at each meal, allowing us to select from among many options — at dinner it included three entrees and three desserts, not to mention salads, appetizers and soups. My favorites included the Tandoori-Roasted Cauliflower Soup (zero points), the Mexican Chopped Salad with Garlic-Ranch Dressing (1 point) and the Italian Turkey Sausage and Pepper Pasta (6 points). The cruise also offered cooking classes during the week so that one could learn how to prepare many of these tasty dishes at home.
And what about drinking, another typical fun cruise activity? For us wine drinkers, a brand called Cense was being highly promoted throughout the cruise — offered (for money) on the Weight Watchers menus and served (for free) at the Weight Watchers welcome and farewell parties. The Cense (rose or sauvignon blanc) tasted fine but primarily it seemed to be endorsed for its lower-than-average Smart Points values. One of the lovely features of the new Weight Watchers Freestyle Program, introduced to the public in late 2017, is that you really can eat and drink whatever you want (within reason). So I was thrilled to receive a booklet shortly after I boarded the ship with coupons good for a dozen drinks during the cruise. (Some people used them for bottled water and juices — not I.)
As on other cruises, we were provided each evening with a printed list of events for the next day, on and off the ship — one for the Weight Watchers members and one for everyone else. I won’t say the Weight Watchers activities were less exciting, but they included such things as Yoga Therapy for Lower Back Pain with Cody, From Couch Potato to Fit, and Walk-in and Weigh (as in, get on a scale), plus two lectures by Dr. Gary Foster, Weight Watchers’ chief science officer, whereas activities going on around the rest of the ship included an R-rated comedy show (beer provided), a free liquor tasting, and a Champagne art auction.
Hmmm . . . OK, so which group was having more shipboard fun, do you think? Well, if you had witnessed the whoops of joy in the Weight Watchers Zumba Under the Stars class, for example, or the cheers and smiles of recognition while listening to the personal stories (“What is your why?”) in the motivational classes, or the obvious enjoyment during the Weight Watchers parties (the 2-Smart Point mini-cupcakes they served didn’t hurt), you might well conclude it was the Weight Watchers gang. The bonding going on throughout the week, throughout the Weight Watchers gatherings, was unmistakable. I’ve seen it happen in typical Weight Watchers classes, of course, but when people are far from home (members came from dozens of states and foreign countries) and are together in a confined (though quite luxurious) space for a week, it’s not surprising that friendships form.
“I’ve been on other cruises, but this one is the most exciting,” Yolanda Sanchez of Ashburne, Va., told me. “I’m traveling alone but everyone has been so friendly, I haven’t felt alone for one single moment.” Johnette Wetherington of New Bern, N.C., who had already lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers, said she was “thoroughly pleased” by the cruise, her first ever, while her buddy and traveling companion Ruth Rinka, down 55 pounds and a Weight Watchers lifetime member, loved that she and Johnette had made a few “instant friends” on the cruise. And, after all, why not? Said Ruth, “We’re all in the same boat!”
As for me? After a week’s worth of eating, drinking, and Zumba-ing, I’m thrilled to report I’m down 1 pound.
The next Weight Watchers cruise, sailing from Miami and making stops at San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau, departs Nov. 10. For more information, visit weightwatcherscruises.com or call 844-448-9564.
Linda Konner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.