When you first board your cruise, also known as embarking, figure out where you will be dining and ask to speak with the head waiter or person responsible for food allergies/requests. You’ll be happy to know that there is usually designated staff to help people with food preferences. Their main job is to make sure that your needs are met and your dining experience is enjoyable.
Once you meet the head waiter, make your dietary needs and preferences very clear. If you are allergic to nuts or prefer dairy-free meals, explain this, and, to make it even clearer, give them some specific examples of the types of meals you can eat.
Cruises used to have formal dining organized into first and second seatings, but the majority of cruise lines now offer "anytime dining" in which you can show up when you want. Usually a waiter will ask you where you want to dine the night before, whether it is in the main dining room or in a specialty restaurant and will show you the following evening’s menu. They will ask you to indicate what interests you, and they’ll let you know if they can adjust this meal to meet your needs. Quite often you can also request a meal that’s not on the menu. After a couple of days, you’ll get to know the types of foods they can offer.
It’s important to be realistic here. For example, if you follow a gluten-free plant-based diet (as I do), it’s fair to expect rice, beans, stir-fries, soups, and salads. It’s unlikely you will be offered nut cheeses, spiralized zucchini, or chia puddings. However, I was served chocolate avocado pudding once and was very impressed!
If you don’t have allergies per se but just want healthy options, you’re also in luck. Many cruise lines now ensure that each menu highlights nutritional information (like low-sodium, sugar-free, etc.) and offers at least one vegetarian option for each course.
The buffet is usually synonymous with overindulgence, especially for deep-fried and junk foods, but you can also consider this a place where you have culinary freedom! You can pick and choose and make your own plate. These days cruise buffets provide many healthy options from salad bars to do-it-yourself pizzas and stir-fries.
Because of the high demand for allergy accommodation, many cruise lines also have the ingredients or allergens listed. Similar to when you eat in the main dining room, speak with the buffet staff if you have food intolerances and you’re likely to be guided to options that meet your needs.
Don't feel embarrassed or hesitant about explaining your health or dietary requirements. You might be surprised at how many other people have similar requests. In the same breath, however, show respect to the staff and be patient while they try to understand exactly how they can help you. Be sure to express gratitude and appreciation for their time and effort—cruise staff work long days and try their best to accommodate many different requests.
Cruising might be the answer to a stress-free, healthy holiday for you and your family. Remember to do some research, prepare for your excursions and, most importantly, sit back, relax, and enjoy!
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