Performing on a cruise ship is a pretty sweet gig.
You get to do what you love while exploring the world. No rent. Free food. Plenty of downtime to hang out and work on personal projects.
And oh yeah… you’re getting a paycheck that’s probably double or triple what the local theatre production of Mama Mia is paying.
I’m a realist to my core, so I need to tell you that performing on a cruise ship isn’t all shimmies and sunshine.
You live with your coworkers (drama WILL ensue).
There are loads of nonsensical ship rules that you have to follow.
And you’ll encounter some serious roadblocks to your health and fitness goals.
One day you’re a starving artist hustling through the streets of *insert city here but probably NYC.*
Next you’re a contracted employee with a stable income, cheap booze, unlimited free food, and loads of free time.
There are hot pancakes and bacon every morning?
Wine for $2 a glass? I can stay up until 2 am without worrying about the A train not working or that 6 am alarm?
Next thing you know, you’re stepping onto a scale for weigh-ins*, and the wardrobe manager is whipping out the dreaded tape measurer.
*The industry is rapidly changing to accept all shapes and sizes.
However, whatever body size you are when you’re fitted for costumes is the size you need to maintain.
The costumes need to fit, and it’s often cheaper for them to send out someone new than have a new costume made.
How do I know all of this? Well, I’ve experienced it.
Maybe It’s Time to Introduce Myself…
Hi. I’m Katie!
I was born and raised in Staunton, VA and a wannabe competition kid throughout my youth. (I say wannabe because the team didn’t go to many competitions… maybe 3-5 a year.)
A member of said competition team with the fearless founder of DWL herself! Dance was my life, love, and passion, so I pursued it in college.
I graduated in 2015 with a BFA in dance and BS in economics from George Mason University.
I proceeded to dance professionally across the tri-state area, across the country, and across the world.
Which segues us back to ships….
I’ve spent 21 months performing on cruise ships. And an additional three months (and counting) at sea as a partner on board. (My fiancé works on ships, and I’m currently sailing with him around Africa!)
My first contract was a trainwreck in terms of fitness and wellness.
Recall those pancakes and $2 glasses of wine I mentioned earlier.
Well… that was my life.
Food-wise, I was going ham on the buffet because I had just spent three months needing to budget for every single item in my grocery cart.
Booze-wise, I was living out the college days I never got to have because of my double degree workload.
Sprinkle on pasta and gelato in port because my contract was in the Mediterranean.
The next thing I know, I’m 10 lbs heavier, and that dreaded tape measure is being wrapped around my legs.
I was mortified.
So, I went on a crash diet. Nearly zero carbs and no alcohol, coupled with skipping meals and an intense gym routine.
I lost the weight.
But I also lost so many amazing experiences in Spain, Italy, and Greece because I was so obsessed with everything I was putting in my body.
Then BAM. Hamstring strain.
No more gym, and no more willpower to live on chicken, egg whites, and vegetables.
Surprise! I gained the weight back just as the contract came to an end.
My second contract was also a trainwreck, but in a different way.
I walked onto the Konningsdam with an intense fear of gaining weight.
Instead of having a coach and a plan, I restricted carbs, and I told myself that a quest protein bar was acceptable as a meal.
I lost weight and was super lean and fit.
Everyone told me how great I looked, which further fueled the fear of weight gain.
Here’s the thing, I WAS enjoying alcohol from time to time and I WAS enjoying food in the Baltic.
Plus, I was lifting heavy things and getting stronger.
At the time, I truly believed I was making smart choices and being “healthy.”
In hindsight, I see that I wasn’t treating my body kindly.
Which brings me to my third contract (and beyond…)
After taking a year off from ships, I headed to the Westerdam with a coach in my pocket (oh HEY DWL!) and much more knowledge about fitness, health, and nutrition (during my year off from sea, I was working as a fitness professional in NYC while auditioning and performing around the tri-state area.)
I FINALLY cracked the code on how to turn cruise ship goal-busters into goal-boosters to live a well-balanced life.
Which is what I’m here to chat with you about!
I’m sharing the top tips and tricks I’ve learned over my time performing on a cruise ship to help you walk off that gangway for the final time happy and confident.
First things first, set your goals and/or wellness bench markers you want to reach/maintain during your contract.
While they can be aesthetic, I personally have found much more happiness and success when I set intrinsic and performance-based goals instead.
Everyone’s goals will be different!
Think long and hard about yours and write them down. Maybe it’s to deadlift 1.5x your body weight. Maybe it’s to get 8 hours of sleep every night.
Maybe it’s the ability to enjoy a great meal without food guilt….
My current stint onboard is 52 days (35 days in at the time of writing this…), and I set 4 goals.
- Smith Machine Sumo Deadlift: 150lbs, 5 sets of 5 reps
- 3 Point Row: 45lbs, 5 sets of 5 reps
- 150 minutes of cardio every week. (I LOVE strength training, but since I’ve retired from dancing, I haven’t kept up my cardiovascular health. Getting that endurance back has been a rewarding challenge! A mini goal within in this was to run 3 miles without stopping…. check!)
- Write 30 minutes (for myself/The Frugal Foodies) every single day. (A mini goal within this is two blog posts a week for Thefrugalfoodies.com)
And here are my personal benchmarkers for checking in with my mental and physical wellness…
- Monthly Period: Me and my period have a rocky history. Getting it every month is one of my primary benchmarkers of total body health.
- Shiny Nails
- Sleep Quality
Now let’s get into 3 rules of ship life that will help you conquer whatever goals you might have set.
Rule #1: Prioritize Nutrition on the Ship, Enjoy Yourself When You’re on Your Trips!
The Cruise Ship Goal Buster: Free, endless food with no nutrition labels and no way to count macros.
The Cruise Ship Goal Booster: Free, micro nutrient-dense food is available every day! No meal prep, no $$$$ required!
You are a smart performer who already knows what a well balanced, fueling meal looks like.
The problem is that life gets in the way. Callbacks, getting asked to do a double, getting stuck on the A train for 30 minutes, and deciding to hop into a class last minute makes it really freaking hard to meal prep, cook, and stick to your well-crafted plan.
Those problems don’t exist on ships. And being on contract is your perfect opportunity to zone in on how you fuel your body.
“Okay cool… but Katie… there are no nutrition labels!!!! How do I approach the Lido?! Those goal busters are pretty brutal….”
You’re a savvy Dancer Who Lifts! It’s all about creating your “Lido Meal Plan” and sticking to it!
I am not qualified to give nutrition advice and I highly recommend working with someone who is.
However, I’m going to share what type of Lido Meal Plan works.
I joke that I eat every single meal out of a bowl… and it’s true. I do! So I’m officially coining it as “The Bowl Method.”
I start at the salad bar with a big bowl of raw veggies (micro-nutrients…check!) along with chicken or turkey (protein…check!).
Then I make my way over to the hot line and choose a protein that has minimal sauce (because we heart protein), whatever cooked veggies they have because they usually have oil on them (more micro-nutrients+fats… check!), and rice (carb… check!)
Then I dump the plate into the bowl, mix it all together, and dig in.
This method is what leaves me feeling energized and fueled.
- Having protein powder in your room makes it easier to reach your protein goals. (I put some in a little baggy and add it to my oatmeal for breakfast)
- Counting macros isn’t for everyone… BUT doing it for a month or two can teach you how to guestimate your meals if you need a less intuitive, more concrete approach.
I prioritize my “Lido Meal Plan” on board to enjoy the amazing foodie opportunities in port!
Nutrition is like budgeting.
You have your allowance of carbs, fats, and proteins for the day, and it’s up to you to decide how to spend it.
Personally, I love new food experiences and trying cultural eats.
So, I take on the Lido with a “food is fuel” mindset, prioritizing micro-nutrients, whole foods, and protein.
And I save 20-30% of my budget as “fun funds” out in port.
This approach makes me feel and perform my best while getting to fully enjoy new cultures free of food guilt because I trust my budget and know it works.
Rule #2: If You Booze, You Lose
The Cruise Ship Goal Buster: Cheap, plentiful alcohol.
The Cruise Ship Goal Booster: The occasional drink is a great way to socialize with the cast and crew without needing to spend a lot.
It’s pretty rewarding to sip on a bougie $3 cocktail by the pool in the middle of winter when just a year ago, you were lining up at 4 am for an open call.
It’s SO EASY to find yourself at the bar with tequila soda #3 sitting in front of you for the 3rd night in a row.
Booze is cheap, you don’t have to worry about how you’ll get home, and hanging out at the bar is a fun social outlet.
But excessive alcohol is going to take a toll on your goals.
Not only do liquid calories add up, but they also might encourage you to buy a bag of chips.
Or go up to late night at the Lido for a snack (that’s likely fried).
It also effs up how your body feels the next morning.
That hangover might make those pancakes and bacon extra tasty, and it might make you skip your gym session.
It also might make you sad, emotional, and feel unstable.
Here’s the thing, being social is fun, and there’s nothing wrong with the occasional drink.
Tips That Have Worked for Me to Fight the Booze Blues:
- Sticking to/switching to sparkling water with a lime or a diet soda. It wards off those annoying, “Why aren’t you drinking?!?!” conversations that could peer pressure me into adding some vodka. It also gives my body time to register how I’m feeling.
- Suggesting a game or movie night instead.
- Surrounding myself with friends who are more likely to get up at 6 am for a day of exploring than closing the bar. This one is HUGE. Choosing an inner circle of people who share your ideals and have similar goals and habits make a world of difference.
- Turning 29 years old…. The hangover just isn’t worth it!
Rule #3: Move Your Body to Stay a Bad Ass Hottie
The Cruise Ship Goal Buster: The more time you have, the less you get done.
The Cruise Ship Goal Booster: You have so much time! Create a movement schedule and stick to it.
In land life, you’re on the go, running from an audition to work, to class, and maybe even to the gym.
In ship life, it’s shockingly easy to stay in bed all day binging a tv show you snagged from someone’s hard drive.
“Get up and get moving!”
Lifting weights, moving your body, getting your heart rate up, and mobility is essential for your physical and mental well-being.
They are also important components of cross-training for avoiding injuries and tackling hard shows with ease.
Tips That Have Worked for Me:
- Going to the gym at the same time every training day.
- “Smart Girl” podcast walks on the outer deck (learning something new + fresh air + movement = a home run!)
- Stairs > Elevator (My uphill endurance for challenging hikes has REALLY improved…just saying.)
- Add in fun bonus movement sessions every week: give yourself a dance class.
Maybe your gal pal Allison is a yoga teacher. Perhaps you join the passengers for an AM spin class.
Remember… moving your body is supposed to be FUN.
“Move More, Drink Less, and Eat Smart.”
These are simple rules that will set you up for success. But, as you probably know, it’s not that easy.’
Here are two principles to help you stick to the rule book.
- Create Productive Habits Early, and Crush Your Goals; you Will do Surely
- Crushing your goals all comes down to creating sustainable habits.
If you aim to get more sleep, perhaps you create the habit of going to bed at 11 pm and waking up at 7 am.
If your goal is to get super strong, perhaps you create the habit of going to the gym at 4 pm every single training day.
If you aim to maintain your technique, perhaps you create the habit of warming up with a ballet barre before every show.
If your goal is to minimize stress, perhaps you create the habit of meditating every day for 10 minutes.
You get the picture!
Crash diets don’t work. And neither do crash habits.
Some gurus say it takes 21 days to form a habit; others say 66 days. One thing is clear: habits
don’t happen overnight. Take time to really pinpoint what habits you want to build, then add
them into your daily routine one at a time.
“Mindfulness is Key”
“Mindfulness” is one of those hot topic words that’s ironically thrown around in mindless ways.
However, once the meaning of being mindful clicked for me, I experienced so many positive changes in my life.
To me, mindfulness means having intention and being aware of what I say and do, and constantly checking in with myself by asking,
“Why am I doing/writing/posting/eating/drinking/etc. this and how does it serve me?”
Simple in concept but complicated in practice.
This fast-paced world throws overwhelming amounts of stimuli and information at us that disrupt the ability to be in tune with our bodies and minds.
It’s also easy to get caught up in doing things that we believe SHOULD serve us instead of assessing what things ACTUALLY serve us.
Ships are the perfect place to start being mindful of mindfulness.
There are fewer outside stimuli to pull you away from your original intention and more time to really think about and digest what said intentions are.
Plus, the internet tends to be slow, which means less social media scrolling.
Personally, this really helps me stop comparing myself to others to weed out those pesky “shoulds.”
Whether you’re at the gym, at the bar, in Lido, or hanging out with friends, take a second to
pinpoint your intentions and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” You’ll quickly realize what’s
serving you and what’s not.
Eat smart, move more, drink less, create productive habits, and do it all mindfully.
These principles will help you crush your ship goals so you can have an amazing contact and walk off that gangway feeling confident and ready to take on whatever is next.