If you think that cruise ship cuisine consists of standard one-size-fits-all menus, think again. While special diets used to be dismissed as trends or fads, they are now viewed as essential tools for a healthy lifestyle. We are today increasingly interested in plant-based fare, reducing our calorie intake and cutting out gluten. For some, dietary needs follow religious tradition (such as kosher) or can be a medical necessity (such as diabetes).
Cruise lines are recognising this dietary diversity and offering passengers alternatives to the typical fare found onboard. Most are happy to cater for specific health and dietary requirements at no extra charge – cruise lines say ideally they prefer notice at the time of booking, but in any case, do introduce yourself to the Maitre d’ or restaurant manager on the first day to discuss what they can do for you.
While on bigger ships you’re spoilt for choice with a number of dining options, it can be a little more challenging to meet specific dietary requests on river cruise ships as there tends to be just one restaurant – that doesn’t mean they won’t try and accommodate your request, though, so it's always worth raising.
Our guide will help you choose a cruise line based on your dietary needs.
Royal Caribbean has introduced new vegan dining options fleet-wide; these are available in the main dining rooms. The three-course menus will be available on request, and dishes include edamame-stuffed portobello mushrooms, and toffee cheesecake with dark chocolate and a peanut butter crust. There is no additional supplement.
SeaDream offers the only raw food menu at sea, featuring dishes prepared with raw, organic and vegan ingredients. The menu, created in conjunction with the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, is available on SeaDream I and SeaDream II. Options include Asian style cashew curry salad; vegetable lasagna using pasta-like noodles made from spinach leaves and coconut meat, and cashew lemon cheesecake with an almond and date crust. There is no extra cost.
Regent Seven Seas will launch 200 plant-based dishes fleet-wide in October 2019. Available at breakfast, lunch and dinner, they include power bowls and poke bowls, as well as dishes such as wild mushroom tart with brittle pie crust, and spiced potato and green pea samosas with tamarind chutney.
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Azamara has a vegan menu on its three ships, featuring dishes such as the big bean burger with garlic and chipotle aioli, and cauliflower and quinoa rissoles.
Oceania Cruises offers plant-based cuisine on all ships. These are available in the Grand Dining Room and Terrace Cafe at breakfast, lunch and dinner at no extra cost. Highlights include som tam green papaya kelp noodle salad, and green curry stir fry with eggplant and oyster mushrooms.
Viking River Cruises highlights vegetarian options on its menus, some of which are suitable for vegans – dishes include thai green vegetable curry with stir fried vegetables, chef salad nicoise style and anise spiced butternut squash soup.
Crystal Cruises offers kosher-style cuisine, with pre-packaged kosher-certified meals and kosher wines. All chefs and kitchen and dining staff have been trained in kosher food preparation, handling and serving. Only kosher pots, pan and utensils are used, and plates, silverware and glassware are washed separately. Guests must provide notice when booking, and no less than 90 days prior to sailing. Due to limited availability, kosher-style dining is subject to confirmation.
Princess Cruises serves strict glatt kosher meals for lunch and dinner which are pre-packaged and frozen, heated onboard and served in the original packaging. Boxed cereals are available at breakfast. Specific pre-packaged dishes will vary and cannot be confirmed in advance. Guests are recommended to give notice prior to sailing.
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Celebrity Cruises offers kosher meals at no extra charge onboard all ships. The meals are pre-packaged and orders must be placed in advance of sailing: European sailings 90 days beforehand; North America sailings 45 days beforehand; Asia/Australia sailings 100 days beforehand.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises states that lactose-free options are increasingly being requested. In each restaurant on board Europa 2, from the main Restaurant Weltmeere to the open-air Yacht Club, chefs are able to prepare and serve lactose-free menus.
A-Rosa River Cruises provides lactose-free products to all passengers who have ideally informed the ship in advance. There is always lactose-free yoghurt, curd, vanilla or chocolate pudding, sliced cheese and lactose-free and soy milk available upon request.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises incorporates low fat options in its Canyon Ranch menu. Examples include curried fresh black mussels with coconut, cilantro and tomatoes; boston lettuce with sweet spiced walnut, stilton cheese, fig balsamic vinaigrette; and veal medallions ‘Oscar’ with cranberries, chanterelle mushroom sauce and barley zucchini risotto.
Silversea makes a low fat menu available for guests on a weight loss diet and for those who need to control their daily fat and cholesterol intake. Menus include foods high in fibre, wholegrains, beans, lean proteins, low fat dairy products, fresh vegetables and fruit. Seasoning is light and methods such as baking, grilling, steaming, boiling and poaching are used in order to minimise fat.
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Scenic Cruises offers low fat options such as consommé ‘Madrilene’ with tomato celery and egg pancake, and classic sirloin steak with market vegetables and a lemon wedge.
On P&O Cruises, chefs can prepare gluten-free meals and the main restaurants offer gluten-free options denoted by the GF symbol. Requests can also be made via the head waiter if the guest does not find anything suitable. Gluten-free bread, rolls, sauces, gravies, crackers, cereals, pasta, biscuits, wine and beer are also available and gluten-free choices are available for afternoon tea and room service on request. At the buffets, there is a dedicated gluten-free section.
MSC Cruises provides gluten-free menus in the main restaurants of most of its fleet (with the exception of Armonia, Sinfonia, Opera and Lirica which have a limited selection of pre-packed snacks), and afternoon tea in the buffet restaurants. These are available at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gluten-free meal options for tours that include meals can also be requested; there is also a choice of gluten-free beverages including cocktails and beers.
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Carnival Cruises offer gluten-free pizza dough, pasta, bread, hamburger buns, cake, frozen desserts, yoghurt and gluten-free beer on request.
A-Rosa River Cruises have gluten-free bread rolls, sliced breads, cookies, crackers, cereal, cake, pizza and pasta available on request.
Uniworld takes a bespoke approach when catering for gluten-free passengers; dishes include almond soup with mocha fresh cream and dumpling, and apple fritters on vanilla-cinnamon sauce.
Silversea offers a low sugar diet for diabetics and for keeping blood sugar levels in check. The menus are portion controlled and balanced in nutrients. Low sugar desserts are available and sweetened using natural sugar alternatives or sugar substitutes. It does not contain any kind of refined sugar and high sugar preparations. Options include sugar-free salted peanut cookies and sugar-free pistachio gelato.
AmaWaterways chefs will help passengers select the low sugar dishes that are best for them and/or prepare something individually.