If you told me five years ago that I would be checking how many calories are in my poolside cocktail or tracking my daily steps on my Fitbit during my relaxing vacation, I probably would have told you that you’re bonkers. After all, traditional vacations are completely centered around the concept of indulgence; they’re about ditching all the stresses of daily life for a week of total relaxation and rejuvenation. But as the days of horrible cabbage soup diets and seven-day juice cleanses make way for a more holistic approach to health, more and more vacationers are looking for healthy options while they’re taking a break from their regularly programmed life. It’s the reason yoga studios are popping up in airports, why hotel gyms are investing in state-of-the-art equipment, and why you can find a heart-healthy salad and protein-rich snack bar in almost every airport across the globe.

Unfortunately, although the demand for smarter choices is growing exponentially, trying to find a healthy-ish meal and a heart-pumping fitness class isn’t always such an easy task when you’re 4,000 miles from your local haunts and trying to make the most out of every hour you have until you have to head back to reality. So when Weight Watchers asked me if I wanted to attend a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to see how the pros stay healthy on vacation. Knowing practically nothing about the Weight Watchers program prior to boarding the ship, I dusted off my passport, packed my cutest yoga pants, and made my way to the Port of Miami for the second official Weight Watchers cruise.

Let’s Talk About the Grub

If I were a betting woman, I would guess that one of the first things that popped in your head when you read the title of this article was why in the world anyone would choose to eat traditional “diet food” while they’re supposed to be relaxing on vacation. Trust me — I was just as skeptical before I boarded the ship. But you won’t find any vacuum-sealed freezer meals on this cruise ship. In fact, the delicious calorie-conscious food was one of my favorite parts about the entire experience.

Every morning and evening on board the ship, we had the option to either attend a swanky sit-down meal in the formal dining room or visit the more casual buffet instead. While the regular cruise ship menu was available for every meal throughout the week, Weight Watchers members were treated to additional health-conscious menus for both the formal and casual dining. Each item on Weight Watchers menu was always accompanied by a sign noting the number of SmartPoints the dish was worth, so Weight Watchers members could track their food intake throughout their day.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Weight Watchers nutrition program, the system is actually quite simple. Every food item is given a numerical SmartPoints value, and each Weight Watchers member is allotted a certain amount of SmartPoints per day to spend however they’d like. While some foods, like fruits and veggies, are essentially “free” at zero points, splurge items (think holiday-themed Starbucks frappuccinos and greasy meat-lovers’ pizza) will eat away at most of your daily points. You track these SmartPoints on the Weight Watchers app along with your weekly FitPoints to help keep you accountable and build healthy habits.

It might be hard to believe, but I’m not kidding when I say the meals were actually pretty damn delicious. A typical dinner included spicy miso-ginger carrot dip (0 SmartPoints), mixed green salad with goat cheese and Champagne vinaigrette (two SmartPoints), bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with roasted veggies (three SmartPoints), a five-ounce glass of Weight Watchers’ own delicious Cense Sauvignon Blanc (three SmartPoints), and a portion of dark chocolate-cherry cheesecake (five SmartPoints).

For this specific sailing, the Weight Watchers nutrition team worked with MSC cruises to create a menu full of yummy, guilt-free goodies that you could barely tell were calorie-saving hacks. Over 100 original Weight Watchers recipes were available across the buffet and table restaurants during the seven-day cruise, and nearly half of those were created specifically for this cruise. During a quick chat with Nutritionist and Food and Recipe Editor for Weight Watchers Leslie Fink, it became clear how much work went into creating this special cruise menu. Along with creating and curating all those yummy recipes, the WW team even used brain-altering hacks like swapping out ginormous plates for smaller ones and applying tasteful garnishes to the dishes to really make sure every diner felt satisfied with their healthy meal. And all that work definitely paid off — the meals were such a big hit that even cruisers who weren’t with Weight Watchers were choosing them over the alternatives, which resulted in the ship completely running out of cauliflower halfway through the sailing.

With so many healthy options, this experience was a great way to try a ton of healthy meals without having to get myself to the grocery store or justify a hefty Whole Foods bill. The nightly soups and crudités were a particular hit with my dinner crew, and it wasn’t uncommon to find folks quickly jotting down the name of the dish they just ate to make when they get home (a list of all recipes on the cruise ship is available here). I even re-recreated a freekeh tabbouleh recipe that I had during the cruise for a Christmas party the week I returned, and it was a smashing success!

A Typical Day on Board the MSC Divina for the Weight Watchers Cruise

For the nearly 900 Weight Watchers members and their guests who signed up for the cruise, this week was essentially one big master class in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We ate delicious calorie-conscious meals that could pass as cheat-day grub, danced our butts off doing Zumba under the stars, and attended informative Weight Watchers meetings and lectures about healthy living.

A typical day on board the MSC Divina for the Weight Watchers cruise started with a fitness class of our choice. As something of a fitness class newbie, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of classes available and how motivational I found each session. I loved my very first yoga class (I know, I’m behind on the times) and even enjoyed the added challenge of frantically trying to stop my yoga mat from blowing away on the breezy ship. I also tried a sweat-inducing circuit workout, a high-energy Zumba class, and some solo workout time at the ship’s gym.

After a quick shower and a scrumptious breakfast, it was time to hit some classes. We attended lectures from Dr. Gary Foster on strategic hacks for healthy eating; learned how to make delicious calorie-conscious cocktails, healthy Thanksgiving alternatives, and good-for-you sweet treats with Julie Hartigan; and even picked up some awesome food photography tips from @RachelsHealthyPlate.

Just because there were always Weight Watchers-themed activities going on doesn’t mean that we weren’t allowed any time to rest and relax on vacation. With poolside hangouts, fun excursions, hilariously competitive bingo nights, a hopping casino, and a 4D cinema, there was plenty to do on board the ship that didn’t involve learning the ins and outs of weight management. All of the classes were totally optional; if I wanted to skip a class to spend a day by the pool or relax in the spa, that was A-okay.

In fact, one of the highlights of the trip was an excursion I had in Antigua. After porting, our adventure-seeking group hopped in kayaks and glided along some of the most beautiful waters I’ve ever seen, hiked to the top of an island, and tanned on a beautiful beach. The delicious Antigua-made rum punch we enjoyed after was definitely a little stronger than I originally realized, but after all the calories we just burned off it was a welcome treat that was totally worth the splurge.

Whether it was a day of activity-packed sea-faring or adventuring through the beautiful port cities of the Caribbean, each day ended with a sit-down meal and some lively entertainment.

The Skinny on the Weight Watchers Cruise Experience

After talking to dozens and dozens of Weight Watchers cruisers during the week, it was clear to me that this experience was a hit with folks looking for a healthier alternative to the traditional vacation. Many cruisers confessed that worrying about the temptations that usually accompany an international vacay kept them from enjoying a trip for years. This cruise gave them the healthy options they needed to actually enjoy themselves on their vacation without having to stress about where to find their next healthy meal.

In addition to the easy health-conscious meals, cruisers were also sold by the idea that this experience gave them the opportunity to connect with other like-minded members within the Weight Watchers community. Going into the cruise as a solo traveler, I was delighted to find that nearly everyone on the Weight Watchers program was more than willing to hang out with a complete stranger — I boogied with 78-year-old members, chatted with women from around the world, and even scored some great foodie Instagram tips from the Weight Watchers ambassadors on board the ship. Some of the members even used this as an opportunity to room-share with folks that they met on a Weight Watchers online program or Instagram, making the trip a special way to kickstart a new friendship.

While the demographics for this Weight Watchers cruise skewed older, there were also a handful of 30-somethings who were more than willing to dance off their calories at the disco (or in Weight Watchers terminology, earn their FitPoints) and enjoy their Cense Sauvignon Blanc with their girl squad. As cruising becomes increasingly popular with older millennials, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Weight Watchers sailing in May is packed with millennials looking for a healthy vacation with their friends and family.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience on board the MSC Divina for the Weight Watchers cruise. While I definitely appreciated scoring tons of sunny snaps to add to my Instagram feed, what I enjoyed most of all was having the opportunity to try new healthy options — from a black bean cupcake to a trendy yoga class — while still enjoying all the classic amenities we love about cruises. Sure, coming back to my rainy hometown after a week in the picturesque Caribbean was a tad dreary, but returning 1.6 pounds lighter with several new healthy recipes to test out during the holiday season definitely helped cement this as an awesome experience that I won’t soon forget.

Would you go on a Weight Watchers-themed cruise? Tweet us your comments @BritandCo and make sure to follow @WeightWatchers on Instagram for plenty of healthy recipe hacks and fitspiration.

(Photos via Ashley Macey)