Tips for cruising with a special diet
If you are concerned about cruising due to a special dietary requirement, put the panic on hold. Cruise lines are moving to meet different dietary needs as Russell Higham reports.
One of the joys of a cruise holiday is the ability to try lots of different cuisines from around the world, all without ever leaving the ship.
For most passengers, it’s an exciting prospect to have a host of high-quality restaurants, all serving various types of delicious food, just a short stroll from their cabin door.
However, for the growing number of people with dietary requirements – perhaps you’re eschewing meat, are gluten intolerant, or follow religious dietary rules – it can actually be quite a worry.
Just how much of what’s on offer will you be able to eat? Can you feel confident that an ingredient you’re allergic to won’t make an unwelcome appearance? If you’ve never set sail before, it could even make you question whether a cruise is the right type of holiday for you.
So what can new or experienced cruisers do to ensure that their dietary requirements are catered for?
Discover mouth-watering restaurants onboard Virgin Voyages’ Valiant Lady for every special occasion
MSC Cruises unveils immersive culinary experiences for upcoming ship MSC World Europa
What kind of food is on a cruise ship? Everything you need to know about luxury dining with Seabourn
Your guide to a pre- or post-cruise stay in Southampton – what to see, eat & do
Best food and wine pairings at sea - expert sommelier shares 3 top wines
Doha city guide: What to see, do and eat in up-and-coming Qatari capital
Top tips on how to eat healthily on a cruise - a guide to staying trim
Experience Norwegian Escape’s tranquil round-trip cruise through the Eastern Caribbean
Molten chocolate cake recipe: How to make delicious dessert famous on Oceania ships
Norwegian steak, Russian vodka & Danish sandwiches – best Baltic cruise food with Princess Cruises
Firstly, alert the cruise line as far in advance as possible that you have a dietary requirement. Viking, aka the largest river cruise operator in the world, recommends letting them know of any special dietary requests 90 days before embarkation.
Other operators require less notice but it’s always best to check at the time of booking. Reminding the crew once you’re on board is also a good idea.
Marella Cruises (part of TUI) asks “all guests with dietary needs to speak to the restaurant team and their waiter once they have embarked to confirm that everything is in place to meet their individual needs” – but it’s prudent to do this no matter who you’re sailing with.
- READ MORE: Best food and wine pairings at sea -
Sitting at the same table, or at least in the same area of the restaurant, each mealtime – so that you build up a relationship with the waiting staff – can also help them remember you and your dietary requirements.
Travelling with a child who has a food allergy or intolerance? Inform the children’s activities or kids’ club leader.
Once you’ve done all of the above, you should be able to get on with the serious business of enjoying your cruise, no matter what your culinary preferences are.
Find your ideal cruise
Thomas Rennesland, hotel operations director for Fred Olsen told World of Cruising: “Food is such a big part of any cruise holiday, and we always do our very best to cater to individual dietary needs.
“Vegan and vegetarian dishes are readily available on our cruises, and we have an exceptional team working within our galleys who can cater to diets free from wheat, dairy, lactose, and gluten. We are also able to prepare options for low-fat, low cholesterol, and low salt meals too.”
- READ MORE: How to eat healthily on a cruise -
Fred Olsen isn’t the only cruise line to take the diets of their passengers very seriously. Ultra-luxurious cruise line Seabourn equips all their customer-facing crew with digital tablets stored with information about their guest’s specific needs, allergies, and intolerances.
This means that no matter which Seabourn restaurant you rock up at, everyone working there – from the chef in the galley preparing the food to the front-of-house team – will be aware of your dietary needs.
Should I steer clear of buffets?
But what about buffets, I hear you ask. Buffets are one of the highlights of dining at sea but they can be a minefield for people with food allergies or intolerances. If in doubt, check with a member of the galley or waiting staff exactly what’s in each dish – chefs are proud of their creations and usually only too happy to talk about their masterpieces.
And take care with utensils if you’re particularly sensitive to certain ingredients. It’s better to pick up or ask for a fresh serving spoon at the buffet table rather than risk transferring something which doesn’t agree with you onto your own plate.
- READ MORE: Best Princess excursions for food and drink -
Likewise, be vigilant with turn-down chocolates and snacks left in your cabin by housekeeping or room-service staff. They are only trying to please, but may not be aware of every single ingredient in the chocolate treat placed on your pillow.
Of course, for some cruisers, their only requirement is to eat and drink the very best of everything. Marcel Karabinos, a Seabourn F&B manager, shared with World of Cruising that Ovation gets through 180 bottles of champagne and up to two kilos of caviar every day. Not bad for a ship that’s only carrying a maximum of 600 passengers at any one time!
Watch out for wine
Surprisingly, wines can also be a hidden danger for anyone following a vegan diet. Sean Smit, a bar manager with Seabourn and a vegan himself, had this tip for World of Cruising readers: “Always check that wines are fully organic, as many non-organic vineyards use fish and meat bones in the production process.”
- READ MORE: Discover Oceania Cruises' expanded menu -
Once you leave the ship and go ashore for excursions to the various ports of call on your cruise, things can get interesting. You’re leaving a safe environment where the cruise line is helping keep you on track, dietarily speaking, and are having to fend for yourself as you would on any regular vacation.
This can be a positive and holiday-enhancing experience though, according to Geoff DeVito – a travel anthropologist and destination speaker on various cruise ships who spent three years following a vegan diet.
DeVito told World of Cruising: “Instead of heading to the steakhouses and pizzerias that every other tourist goes to, I was having to seek out places that would use say vegan cheese or gluten-free bread.
“And that would mean heading off the beaten track, discovering new neighbourhoods that aren’t always in the tourist guides. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to make new, exciting discoveries.”
- READ MORE: Find out how much passengers really eat on a Marella cruise -
Finally, before you choose your next cruise, check the Food & Drink section of World of Cruising’s website. Many cruise lines are planning to open new onboard restaurants that cater especially to health or lifestyle diets.
Oceania Cruises, for example, already has a raw juice and vegan smoothie bar on board some of their ships. When they, or other operators, announce more offerings like these, our pages will tell you where they are so you can book your cruise with even greater culinary confidence.