One of the exciting things about cruising is the sheer volume and selection of food, ready to eat at practically anytime of the day. Take your pick from the Ã -la-carte restaurant to the endless buffet to the hot grill - no matter what you feel like, there's something to satisfy every craving. But what if your diet doesn't allow for some of the choices onboard?
Having special dietary requirements can be a little bit of a headache sometimes, but the many options onboard ensure that even someone with the most restrictive diet can still get in on the fun of a good hearty meal. Here are our tips to make the most of dining onboard, no matter how picky your tummy is!
Vegetarian and Vegan
In this day and age, vegetarians aren't much of a rarity. This means that more and more places are providing plenty of choice for non-meat-eaters - and that includes cruise ships. At the buffet, you'll be sure to find loads of veggies to fill your plate with, as well as pastas, rice dishes and other tasty morsels to fill you up as much as the next person. Vegans can also stock up on a plateful of goodness - and the helpful catering staff are happy to point you in the right direction if you get lost amongst the salads and roast vegetables.
If you'd rather enjoy a three-course, sit-down meal, then the main dining room is the perfect place for you to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner. Vegetarians will find a number of plates at each mealtime suited to them here, and also at most of the specialty dining restaurants, too. Royal Caribbean pride themselves on an excellent vegetarian curry and Celebrity even offer a separate, creative menu designed purely with herbivores in mind.
Vegan meals in the restaurants may be slightly trickier to come by. Our top tip is to let your travel consultant know as soon as you book so that they can alert the cruise line in advance and have them be prepared for your arrival. Some of the vegetarian dishes may be suitable for you, substituting egg and dairy products for other alternatives - so just speak with your waiter and they will find out what can be put together for you. If you can, selecting from one of the set dining times in the restaurants will mean the same waiter takes care of you day after day, helping you to avoid explanations at each meal!
Get the best vege options
Most of the cruise favourites can be provided for vegetarians, including pastas and pizzas, so don't be afraid to ask. If nothing on the menu tickles your fancy, mix and match from the sides menu to make up your perfect meal - as it's included in your fare, you may as well make the most of this!
Top tips for vegans afloat
Breakfast is the main hotspot for hungry vegans as there are a bunch of delicious options to fuel up on. The colourful salad bars are a great way to pile up your plate, and the selection of soups, starters and greens can make up a wonderfully filling meal. Your waiter and chef are happy to help, so inquire away if you are ever unsure.
Whether you have a mild gluten intolerance or celiac disease, you can rest assured knowing that you will be taken care of in the dining areas. The rise of awareness surround gluten intolerances has encouraged food outlets to provide gluten-free alternatives throughout their menus - so avoiding pesky proteins can be an easy feat onboard.
Again, the buffet is the go-to place to really fill your boots without worrying about feeling ill later on. The main dining rooms can be a little more difficult depending on the cruise line, but there's always something on offer. MSC now offer an incredible menu designed specifically for those with an intolerance to gluten, after partnering with the Italian Coeliac Association to prepare yummy dishes by trained staff. Royal Caribbean clearly label gluten and lactose free meals to avoid confusion when ordering and Cunard always stock up on gluten-free snacks, cereals and sauces. Some of the luxury cruise lines, including Azamara and Silversea, often deliver tomorrow's menu straight to your cabin so you can be well-prepared upon entering the dining room the next day.
Best practices for avoiding gluten
Those with food allergies are generally well aware of the importance of vigilance when dining out. Our main tip is to ask questions - waiters and other catering staff are there to make sure you are completely satisfied with your place, so be sure to check with them about certain menu items and buffet selections to be certain of ingredients. For vegans and vegetarians - if in doubt, make up your own meal with sides. We also suggest bringing a few snacks from home in case you get caught out - just check with your consultant about allowances before you board.
Prior to departure, most lines will send a form for you to fill out, detailing your dietary requirements so that they can be prepared. Be sure to complete this extensively so crew can be aware of what to expect. Discussing your diet with your waiter is also important to ensure they can steer you in the right direction.
Being polite can go a long way with the waitstaff - they may be able to wangle a secret gluten-free dish from the kitchen, let you in on some tricks for finding the best gluten-free food and drink on certain ships, and even store a few of your own items in the fridge.
Paleo, low carb and other diets
Every now and again, a rare breed of people jump aboard a cruise. The kind who can say 'no' to the endless offerings of pizza, curry and ice cream and stick to their voluntary diet and lifestyle choice - and if they have the willpower, they will certainly have plenty of choice onboard.
Surprise, surprise, the buffet is at the top of the list for picking and choosing a meal to suit you. With an abundance of clean greens to choose from, you won't have to compromise your health. For those following a paleo regime, the buffet will never be short of bacon, sausage, chicken, salmon and other hot and cold meats.
Customisation is popular in the main restaurants, too - take your pick from the menu and substitute bits and pieces to make a meal to suit or just grab a few sides. Potatoes, pasta, rice, cheese and cream can all be easily avoided and replaced with more nutritious options. Be sure to opt for sauce-free meats and salads to really keep that calorie count down.
Tips and tricks for sticking to your diet
Snacking during the day and after a long night of socialising can be hard to avoid - especially if the line offers free room service! The trick here is to be prepared - if you know you'll be hitting the bars that night, stock up on some fruit, hard boiled eggs and other snack foods to keep in your fridge until the early hours of the morning. Grab a few rolls and salad if you're headed onshore to spend the day exploring. Preparation is key when it comes to sticking with a healthy diet.
If you're lucky enough to be cruising with a bunch of friends who share your healthy outlook, ask the waiter to keep their bread roll offerings away from your table.
Choose to dine at venues that you think will help you stay strong! There might be something like a Mexican outlet with tasty meats and veggies, and a little rice and cheese if your diet allows.
Don't skip breakfast! Fill your tummy with eggs, mushrooms and other protein-rich morsels to keep hunger at bay until lunch.
Do you have a special diet? Have you been tempted onboard, or worked out how to stick to your guns while cruising? We'd love to hear about your tips, tricks and confessions of eating well, and we're sure fellow cruise lovers will, too.