In all likelihood, you've considered – if not actually booked and been on – a wellness break, whether that's a night at a spa hotel or a week-long health-focused retreat. But have you ever thought about taking that escape in the middle of the ocean? The wellness cruise concept is becoming increasingly popular, with trips involving floating spas, fresh sea air, and plenty of vitamin D to be soaked up on the sundeck.

One such luxury liner is Cunard's Queen Anne, with whom Harper's Bazaar has teamed up on the Wellness at Sea programme. The offering consists of three pampering spa packages designed specially to boost your skin, body and mind – featuring treatments, products and nutritionally balanced menus.

At the launch event for the Queen Anne, Bazaar's beauty director Katy Young hosted a Wellness at Sea panel in conversation with the nutritionist Dr Federica Amati, the sleep specialist Dr Lindsay Browning, and the senior brand manager at Cunard, Francis Fred. The group explored the benefits of being at sea and what it can mean for your health.

"The Queen Anne marks a milestone in a journey that we've been on for a few years now as a brand," said Fred, of Cunard's efforts to harness the "revitalising and relaxing" power of the sea. "In 2018 we started this journey to create Mareel wellness and beauty, taking inspiration from the sea. The Norse word Mareel refers to the luminescence and energy that comes from the ocean. We've worked with our partners to develop a spa and wellness experience that really brings that into the ship and into the holiday experience."

Below, read highlights from the panel discussion, and discover the wellness benefits to being at sea.

Quality, sleep-inducing facilities

We're experiencing a disturbed-sleep epidemic, with nine out of 10 people reporting poor-quality slumber. The Queen Anne offers the services of a sleep concierge to all its guests, as well as a pillow concierge, with a selection of nine different pillow choices. The top suites also have a bed concierge, for the ultimate in comfort and rest.

"It's a really great time, when you're on holiday, to start making changes and prioritising your sleep," said Dr Browning. "You might have the opportunity to try out different pillows, for example, or to experience a good-quality mattress. Cruise ships also tend to have thick black-out blinds or curtains because they're travelling into the sun, so you might have much better levels of light-blocking than you get at home. Then, when you return home, you might realise your mattress isn't as comfortable – and mattresses do have a finite life span; eight years is really the maximum you should be using a mattress for, and yet many of us have mattresses that we can remember buying at the turn of the millennium. You might decide to get one or two of those pillows you tried, or perhaps you realise that your curtains at home could do with a refresh. It's about bringing some of the things you experience on-board back home, so that the good sleep you had on holiday becomes the norm, to give you more energy and better health for the rest of the year."

Finding nutritional balance

As Young pointed out, it's easy to fall into a pattern where we under-eat before we go away and then we over-eat while we're on holiday. Achieving balance, therefore, is key.

"It's important to find a dietary pattern that you can enjoy and take with you anywhere," explained Dr Amati. "A lot of people might have strict rules that they stick to when they're at home, and they have a routine that they don't diverge from – but it's not necessarily enjoyable. Naturally then, what happens when you have the opportunity to try something new and find more joy, you jump into it. So my advice is to create moments, everyday, at home or at work, wherever you are, where you can actually enjoy the food that you're eating and have a better relationship with that. It means that when you travel, you won't suddenly think, 'Woohoo! Time to let loose!' You can approach food in a way that's more about how it's going to make you feel and how it's going to support your health on holiday.

"People also tend to drink a bit more alcohol on holiday, which has a direct negative impact on our overall wellbeing and our sleep, as well as our gut health. So I always say, by all means have a lovely time, but don't necessarily punish yourself by giving your body loads more to tackle."

A change of daily routine

Removing the day-to-day stresses of life, and taking time for yourself, often results in better sleep on holiday, and a general feeling of rest and relaxation.

"Sleep tourism, focusing on sleep itself, is big business now," said Dr Browning. "It gives you an opportunity while you're on holiday to take some time out, to make changes to your daily routine. [It's much easier] when you're not in your home, you don't have children screaming at you, you don't have to get up and get ready for work, to dedicate the time to improving your sleep. If you're in a space where you have access to relaxation, yoga, meditation or perhaps the ability to learn new skills, you can then take those on after your holiday, too."

Beating jet lag

Travelling by cruise liner is much kinder on your circadian rhythm, as opposed to the harsher impact of long-distance flying.

"When moving time zones you experience jet lag – our bodies can't adapt to more than one hour per day, so if you've flown somewhere with a five-hour time difference, it probably takes five days to catch up," added Dr Browning. "Going on a cruise eases you in, in comparison to a flight. You go through each time zone gradually. If the ship is travelling east, they change the time in the middle of the day; if travelling west then they change it in the middle of the night, so you barely notice it."

Another tip to help combat sluggishness and any jet lag: "Get as much bright light as you can during the day. This also helps to improve sleep at night."

Customisable menus

"People want always-on, healthy choices that you can customise," said Fred. "Even in the regular buffet, we cater for special dietaries; I think that's the norm now. People want more choice for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Throughout our restaurants, you can look for the Mareel seaweed symbol, and that indicates a more considered choice on the menu.

"Our wellness café is vegan-based with protein options. It means that guests can custom-make their meal to their tastes and their needs in that very moment. We also have the juice bar, where we can blend juices as well as mixers for low- and no-alcohol cocktails, to offer a more informed choice."

The freedom of movement

On a cruise liner you have the luxury of space; the ability to walk, stretch or even take part in activities while travelling – which all come with health benefits.

"When you travel – especially by car or by plane – there's a higher risk of things like constipation, [caused by] routine changes, perhaps not having access to the toilet when you need it, not drinking enough water, or sitting for long periods of time," said Dr Amati. "So looking after our gut, making sure we get enough water and, importantly, making sure that we're moving throughout the day, will really help to prevent constipation. Nobody wants to be constipated on holiday!"

Getting a food education

The plentiful food options available on a luxury cruise liner provide an opportunity to try new things and consume a good variety of fibre-packed fruit and vegetables.

"There are some really simple ways to nourish our gut," said Dr Amati. "The first one is fibre – so really focusing on fibre-rich foods. And that's any plant; it doesn't mean you have to have a bowl full of salad leaves – or what my husband sometimes calls 'rabbit food'. You could have mushrooms, you could have nuts and seeds... When we look at which foods really contribute to improving health outcomes and decreasing the risk of premature death, we're talking about wholegrains, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans, and fruit. Fruit has been demonised quite a lot, but eating whole fruit is really good for us. So we should try and get more of those foods in our diet.

"I love the idea of having animal products as a side. That's really much better for us. Think plants first, and then, 'what side can I have with that?' We should aim to enjoy an abundance of different plants. Try and get 30 different plants a week if you can. Vary it up – five-a-day can sometimes mean we get stuck in a rut. Also, spice it up – add some spices and herbs or some pine nuts. That's not only good for you but they make your food taste better.

"Additionally, fermented foods are naturally probiotic; they contain lots of live microbes and are often symbiotic, so things like sauerkraut have fibre and live cultures in one package. Add these to your diet and try and avoid eating too late at night. Our gut needs a rest."

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