Vegetarian entree on the Carnival Magic.
You’ve been dreaming about taking a cruise, but is it a possibility if you or a member of your family is on a special diet?
That special diet could be anything from gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian, kosher, low sodium, and a variety of others far too numerous to mention. While the cruise lines are working hard to take care of every passenger on each ship, it is up to you to make sure you get exactly what you need.
As a vegetarian who leans toward veganism at every opportunity, I don’t get to go completely dairy-free while traveling only because food and protein options are so incredibly limited most times.
From a personal perspective, I feel your pain if you have to watch what you when you cruise and so here are a few handy tips you can use to make cruising with a special diet easier than you might expect.
- Research cruise lines and cruise ships that can accommodate your specific dietary needs and/or restrictions. The smaller the cruise line, the less variety you might find or the ability to accommodate you and your needs. However, don’t let that push you toward a larger cruise ship. Sufficient research is needed for you to determine who can best serve you and your dietary needs.
While researching the cruise lines, read what others have experienced and learn from them. A great way to do this is by reading the board on the CruiseCritic.com website.
- Contact your travel agent if you booked with one or the cruise line if you booked directly to advise them of your special dietary needs. The more they know in advance, the more opportunity they will have to satisfy your meal requests.
- Once onboard the ship, reach out to the maître d or restaurant manager of the dining room you’ve been assigned to for the cruise. Let them know that you advised the cruise line of your needs before coming onboard and see if they will be able to handle your request in the main dining room as well as any specialty dining restaurants on the ship as well.
The first time you eat in the main dining room, let your server know of your special dietary needs. Also advise him or her that you’ve spoken ahead of time with the cruise line as well as the maître d or restaurant manager. I was on a cruise one time where I was on an extremely restricted diet of protein and vegetables and no carbohydrates. My server was kind enough to suggest options including tofu and steamed vegetables, which he brought me each night of the cruise without my having to remind him once. That’s great service!
- Be careful in the buffet! Some cruise lines will be extremely specific with their signage in the buffet while others aren’t. Just because something appears to be healthy, low calorie, low sodium, or vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. For example, one might think that minestrone or vegetable soup might be made with vegetable stock, but many chefs still use beef or chicken stock for the base of this soup. When in doubt ask and if you still doubt the response, ask them to check. My personal rule of thumb is that I would much rather be safe than sorry.
Be like a Boy/Girl Scout and come prepared: This may sound crazy, but again, I’d rather over pack and bring special food with me, especially for a child, than having nothing to fall back on while on a ship at sea. On a cruise with my extended family, my nephew was on a gluten free diet and the cruise line promised me personally that they would be able to serve him special meals on the cruise. Once on the cruise, the so-called promised meals were limited to only a few choices and for a 10-year-old kid that can be troublesome. Lesson learned and now I try to make sure even for myself I’m prepared. I never travel now without protein powder and protein bars just in case my selections are so limited that I have little to choose from while onboard.
- If you’re a vegan/vegetarian, research your options in port: I love, love, love sites like HappyCow.net and UrbanSpoon to help me with my in port needs. While not every city and port will have vegan or vegetarian restaurants, many restaurants these days offer veggie friendly options. Know before you go and enjoy your day in port. Or at least have several fruity drinks and call it a day!
Be open to the possibilities: While the cruise lines may be accommodating, not everyone can cook specific to your individual needs. I say this because while you may be able to get a diabetic meal, a low sodium appetizer, or a vegetarian entrée, you should know that your meal probably may not look like the food served to the rest of your table. While the effort is applauded, sometime delivery can be a little off. On a cruise where I was offered a special vegetarian menu, I hate to admit that the food was so bad that I purposely avoided that menu on future nights of the cruise. A+ for effort, but definitely not the same grade for execution. But keeping in mind that the majority of cruisers won’t need special accommodations, I can certainly understand how the cooks onboard might have limited experience with the specialty dining options.
If you plan ahead and stay as flexible as possible, you’ll definitely enjoy your cruise, regardless of any problems that can and probably will pop up.
Have you been on a cruise with a special dietary need? If so, share your story with me!