No matter where you go on a cruise, dining is big part of the experience. It’s also a gateway to the cultures we experience and the locations we visit. Off the grill, a-la-carte, buffet style…there’s plenty to try.
If you suffer from food allergies or intolerance, follow a strict diet, keep kosher, or have other special dietary restrictions (for health, personal, or cultural reasons), you probably find it hard enough to stick to your diet while at home. The thought of eating out or traveling while on a special diet might feel overwhelming.
But you shouldn’t feel burdened by life’s greatest pleasure, especially on something as exquisite as a cruise. While you cannot partake fully in the constant smorgasbord that is shipboard life, a restricted diet does not mean a restricted trip.
You’ll be surprised by how well cruises can accommodate those on special diets. So maybe you can’t just dive headfirst into that seafood buffet, but with a little pre-planning, you won’t have to worry that your diet is stopping you from having the vacation of your dreams. Cruise lines make an effort to accommodate all passengers’ nutritional needs and strive to provide suitable and delicious choices on request.
Here are some tips to help you cruise with a special diet:
Do Your Research
Dietary needs shouldn’t squelch a cruise vacation, and all it takes is a little planning before sailing. Food allergy and special nutritional limitation policies vary among cruise lines. Cruise line websites are filled with helpful information, and while main dining rooms can accommodate dietary restrictions, you’ll want to know about their specific policies.
You can also contact the cruise line directly, or explore the option of bringing your own snacks on board, double checking regulations specific to your cruise ship.
Did you know? One of the more accommodating cruise lines is the Norwegian Cruise Line, which has a gluten-free section in all of their main kitchens. They require a 45-day notice of your food restrictions before setting sail to ensure your needs can be properly met.
Notify the Cruise Line as Early as Possible
As soon as you book, let the cruise line know about your needs. Cruise lines typically have limited supplies aboard when it comes to special drinks and foods. So you need to make your requests as early as possible. This will allow them to stock up before you board.
For instance, if you’re lactose intolerant and prefer a specific alternative, send the cruise line all the details (and be specific). Fill out any medical forms with relevant information concerning your food allergies and intolerance, and be sure to take a dietary printout with you for the head chef, just in case.
Advance notice coupled with comprehensive details allow the cruise line to work on fulfilling your request well in advance, ensuring that you have a wonderful experience as you explore the world. Many cruise lines have deadlines for notice, so the earlier you inform your travel agent or reservations, the better.
Make Contact on Your First day Aboard
When you board the cruise ship, make sure you see the restaurant manager or the person in charge of onboard dining to confirm that they are aware of your nutritional needs. And if your child is the one with allergies or special diet needs, be sure to tell the children’s activities coordinator. Also, beware of treats that are handed out at special events or left in your room – like cookies, candy, and chocolates on your pillow during holiday cruises like Halloween on the High Seas.
Check that your special foods and beverages are onboard, and also find out where they are. Your first day onboard is also the time to make any additional requests. Get to know the chefs and don’t be embarrassed to ask about general foods to avoid and special symbols or signs to watch out for on buffet labels and menus.
During Your Cruise
Staying with the same dining room team is another sure way to have all your dietary needs met. So, if you get an assigned table with outstanding service, try to stick there. It can be quite problematic eating in the open space because you may have to explain everything to a new team at every meal.
While most waiters and managers are knowledgeable and respectful, giving out the same information at almost every meal can be tiring. But since you can dine where and when you want, remember to ask the restaurant manager or someone from their team to show you the next day’s menu to discuss preferences and adaptations.
If you love a dish, feel free to request it again and again. If you wish to try out other venues, don’t be afraid to branch out. You can have a chef prepare a meal for you there or could make a pre-ordered meal that can be served at the specialty restaurant. If the food is cooked in front of you, don’t be ashamed to ask the chef to use new utensils and gloves. Be polite and friendly and you’ll most likely be accommodated with much ease. No matter where you choose to cruise, your dietary needs can be addressed.
You can still manage dietary restrictions when exploring a port of call or during offshore trips. If you’re visiting a local restaurant or lunch is included in your shore excursion, you want to make sure you notify the tour guides or excursion provider as soon as possible.
If you’re DIYing your day in the port and feel comfortable dining off the ship, language problems might hinder your ability to easily access dishes that meet your special needs. Try to go with someone who can interpret for you. Another precautionary measure is to have printed allergy cards that describe your situation and preferences in the local language.
It’s also wise to research cultural norms in advance. For instance, there are countries where different types of foods are cooked on the same grill while others are known for being sensitive with lactose-free and gluten-free diets. If you’re worried about cross contamination and consuming unsafe foods, a good tip is to plan short excursions that last about 2 to 3 hours, making it easier to head back to the ship for lunch. If you plan on carrying your own snacks ashore, check ship and local regulations before you take your food off the ship. And remember – have all your emergency medications and epipens with you at all times just to be safe.
With hundreds and even thousands of passengers onboard, it will pay not to assume that everyone, especially the dining staff will know your needs. There are also many other passengers with dietary restrictions, and just because a chef cooked correctly for you once doesn’t mean that he’ll remember for the next time. So, be cautious, check and double check.
If you do your research properly, you can select the appropriate ship for your needs. It’s easy to manage severe allergies and dietary restrictions while on a cruise vacation because cruise lines take those situations very seriously to accommodate your needs. You may have to give an advance notice, ask questions, and give some reminders, but at the end of the day, you’ll be able to relax, enjoy your food and your cruise.
Contact DestyDo for help in comparing cruise lines, cruise itineraries, and reviews. We’ll give you relevant advice and support you in all stages of the trip!