Tips for Staying Green, Healthy, and Economical on a Cruise

I’ll admit it – when I am vacation I tend to turn off everything including my “green alarm.” I don’t always participate in the towel reuse programs, and, in fact, I have been known to take hotel room towels and leave them on the beach. But there are a few easy ways to stay somewhat greener and healthier on vacation – even when that vacation is on a fuel-guzzling cruise ship carrying 5,000 carefree partiers.


1. Don’t pay for bottled water: Water is a hot commodity when traveling and cruise ships are no exception. The tap water is actually perfectly fine to drink but $5 bottles of Evian available in your minibar will be tempting. I have found the best places to refill your water bottle on cruise ships are the fitness center and the spa, where water fountains and coolers are sure to be found. You will see signs warning against filling your water bottle directly from the fountains due to health regulations. However, as long as you don’t let your water bottle touch the spout I think it is safe – no one bothered me about this. You can also refill in the restaurants by pouring glasses of ice water directly into your container.

2. Seek out the healthy food hubs. Even among the ice cream, french fries, and all you can eat buffets, there usually exists a healthy dining area on cruise ships if you know where to look. My favorite was on the Celebrity cruise line and I was disappointed to not find it until my last day – it actually had organic food, something it is generally impossible to find on these trips. Royal Caribbean has a cafe in the solarium which serves healthy foods all under 500 calories. The menu is pretty limited, but the daily miso soup and salad bar are usually a safe bet.

3. Get room service for breakfast. It doesn’t cost any extra for breakfast in bed on a cruise ship. And this way you can avoid the lines for greasy eggs and bacon at the buffet. Just order up some coffee, granola, and fruit so you can start your day without feeling weighed down by a massive breakfast. And if you are going to spring for one upgrade on the ship, make it a balcony room so you can enjoy your morning coffee outdoors!

4. Avoid the spa. I know. You are on vacation and nothing sounds better than an indulgent massage and facial at sea. However, keep in mind that the prices will be at least twice what you’d pay at a regular spa, the products will certainly not be natural, and the technicians will probably be subpar. I try to remind myself on every cruise when I inevitably cave and get a $150 massage where I am rubbed down with a toxic chemical bath of oils. You are way better off paying for a massage from one of the Bahamian women with a portable table set up on the beach. Do take advantage of the killer fitness centers with ocean views and the outdoor running track.

5. While you’re at it, avoid the casinos and BINGO. Again, I need to practice what I preach. Because every time I go on a cruise i get suckered into the BINGO games where you inevitably pay about $50 for bingo cards for 1:200 odds of winning less than 50% more than you shelled out. The cruise lines must keep 80% of what they rake in on these games and it is highly unlikely you will see a dime of it.

6. One more thing to avoid: shopping. Because of the high kickbacks from the shops on port, the cruiseline staff will do everything to encourage you to shop. In particular, they will encourage you to buy diamonds. I haven’t figured out the appeal of buying all this fancy jewelry abroad. It may be duty free but half the time you are paying international exchange rates! Personally, I would rather spend my time on the beach than going to a seminar on tanzinite. But between the 24/7 cruise shopping infomercial channels, the printed shopping guides, and the misguided advice of the cruise staff, they could have you convinced that the beaches of Mykonos aren’t worth seeing when you can buy your diamonds at Giorgio’s. Thankfully, we did not listen.

7. Do research before booking excursions. Sometimes the excursions really do offer worthwhile group deals. And sometimes they do not. When we went to the Bahamas we had the choice between spending $120 per person to go to the tourist beach at Atlantis or going to the adjoining beach for nothing but a $4 cab ride. We chose correctly. We have also chosen poorly, paying big bucks to go to a ridiculously crowded tourist beach in St. Thomas where the hungry were forced to pay $10.50 for a hamburger (with no fries!).

It might sound like I am giving you a lot of advice on what not to do, but really there is so much more to do! Climb a rock wall over the ocean, drink Champagne in the hot tub, dance at the cheesy clubs until dawn. And if your daily cruise compass doesn’t make it to the ship’s recycling bins I forgive you – mine didn’t either.

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