I'm always getting questions from Herbies about how to stay plant-based/vegan while traveling (there's a HUGE section on travel in the Happy Herbivore Guide to Plant-Based Living), especially cruises.
What can I eat? Do I need to make special requests ahead of time? Is it even possible?
The simple answer: YES!
Last October, Scott and I went on a 2 week cruise around Asia, and found plenty of plant-based and vegan options on board.
But when I saw Beth, who is a former Herbie of the Week (you can read her story here) and a copilot on the Meal Mentor podcast (listen to it here), share her experience (and beautiful pictures!) on the Meal Mentor VIP Facebook page, I just had to have her write a guest post for the blog!
Hopefully you'll find Beth's tips helpful if/when you set sail :)
I'll let Beth take it away!
We just got back from an amazing vacation, a 5 day cruise to Jamaica. It was onboard 70000 Tons of Metal, a cruise with 60 metal bands from all over the world. The cruise is hosted by Ultimate Music Cruises who charter a ship from Royal Caribbean, the Liberty of the Seas. Guests of the ship represented 70 countries! The Happy Herbivore team asked me to share my experiences about how easy it was to eat plant based while on a cruise. This was my 4th cruise since I've been plant based, and I've never had a problem finding something to eat. I've also sailed with Carnival.
I made arrangements when I booked requesting no oil and no animal products since those were my main concerns. Like most ships, this one had several restaurants onboard. Included with the price of the cruise was the Windjammer, the Rembrandt Dining Room, Cafe Promenade, Sorrento's Pizza, and room service (extra charges applied between midnight and 5 AM). For a fee you could eat from the Ice Cream Parlor, Cupcake Cupboard, Portofino, Chops Grille, or Johnny Rockets.
I ate most of my breakfasts, lunches, and late night snacks in the Windjammer, which is a giant restaurant with many different buffets and salad bars. I think I only ate breakfast once or twice because my hours were crazy (the shows ran from 10 AM to 5 AM each day). Fruit was always an option for breakfast. They had precut fruit including watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe. There were whole fruit options too including bananas, oranges, apples, and dates. They also had grits (polenta) and white rice with no butter or oil. I also found salsa and jalapenos. Room service breakfast options included whole fruit or a fruit tray.
During lunch and dinner you could always find rice, fruit, plentiful salad bars including beans and corn, and burger bars in the Windjammer. I made some awesome veggie sandwiches by combining ingredients from the burger bar and salad bar. During dinner they had veggie sushi and baked potatoes.
As soon as we boarded I checked with restaurant staff to make sure they had my special requests. They said as long as it was on my reservation, I'd be fine. We ate dinner in the fancy dining room every night. The first night I explained my needs to the head waiter. He was very pleasant and took care of me for the rest of the week. I asked to sit in his section every night. The first night I had a salad and a wonderful veggie stir fry with rice and a fruit plate for dessert.
The second night I had a salad, soy meatballs with marinara, steamed veggies, and rice, and a fruit plate for dessert. The soy meatballs tasted too processed for me, but my husband enjoyed them.
My dinner the third night was probably my favorite meal. I had a salad, an Indian potato dish with steamed veggies and rice and a vegan chocolate and blueberry cupcake for dessert.
The last night I had a salad, an Indian dish with lentils and tomatoes, grilled eggplant, steamed veggies, and rice with a cupcake covered in berries for dessert. The eggplant was another one of my favorites. The only thing I may add to my special requests next time is no salt, because everything seemed extremely salty to me.
Cafe Promenade had specialty coffee drinks for an additional charge. I did buy a couple of lattes to keep me going even though I don't usually drink coffee. They even had plain unsweetened soy milk. They were open 24 hours and had free desserts and sandwiches. They didn't offer a vegan sandwich, although they did have a vegetarian one.
Sorrento's Pizza was also 24 hours. They had cheese and pepperoni slices ready to go, but I'm sure you could order a veggie pizza without cheese if you wanted. They always had fresh fruit cups. I ate a lot of these.
I didn't order any room service. The only vegan option I saw on the menu was a fresh fruit tray.
Drinks included are coffee, water, juices, and tea. We got the soda package ($6/person/day) in order to get club sodas from any bar or restaurant on board. The water on this ship actually tasted very good, but the water on some of our previous Carnival cruises was awful. I also brought a Brita bottle, but didn't need to use it.
The Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Parlor had mango sorbet which was vegan, but not necessarily healthy (it contained corn syrup.) I didn't try any. I never ventured into the Cupcake Cupboard. Portofino was a fancy Italian restaurant. I didn't see any vegan options on their menu, but I'm sure they were available if you wanted them. They had a fee of about $25/person. I never looked at the menu for Chops Grille, the American steakhouse. We didn't go to Johnny Rockets on this trip, but we have on previous cruises. They offer a vegan Boca burger, and each meal is all you can eat for about $5/person.
You are allowed to bring packaged snacks on board. I brought a box of crackers, but never opened them.
I kept a plate of whole fruit in our room so I'd always have a quick snack on hand if I couldn't find anything, which was never the case. On our shore excursion day I bought a couple of bottles of water on the ship to bring with us. They usually sell Evian water which is pricey, but they offer a cheaper brand also. I took some whole fruit along with us in a backpack while we explored Jamaica. If you take fruit with you or buy some ashore just make sure to eat it before you get back to the ship. They won't let you back on the ship with any fresh fruits.
There were quite a few vegans on the ship including Mark "Barney" Greenway of Napalm Death (who sat right next to us at dinner one night), Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy, and another vegan guy that sat next to us another night. The waiter was amazed at how excited he got over a bowl full of blueberries and strawberries! I also ran into a girl with a "hail seitan, go vegan" shirt.
I hope this will remove any worries you may have about taking a cruise. It is definitely doable on a plant-based diet.