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Six Tips for Following a Restrictive Diet on a Cruise (or Vacation for that Matter)

Posted by on November 14, 2013
My friend perfectly captured the beautiful sunset over the Carnival Sensation balcony.

My friend perfectly captured the beautiful sunset over the Carnival Sensation balcony.

My 40th birthday was last week. My husband went all out for this milestone and surprised me with a 3-day Carnival cruise to the Bahamas, then he surprised me again when 10 of my friends greeted me on the cruise! It was definitely a day to remember, and I think it was the most enjoyable cruise I’ve taken to date. The only downside was that it was pretty rough seas for part of the time, and, even though I am back at work several days later, I feel like I am STILL swaying on the boat! Fortunately, one of my friends was smart and brought some ginger supplements, which was a godsend for the nausea we all started to feel. I was a little concerned about what the food situation would be like on the cruise since I have been trying to avoid gluten, grains and dairy, at the very least. It turned out that everything was fine, and I learned a few tips that I thought I would share.

1. Plan ahead. I was not able to plan as well as I could have since the cruise was a surprise, but I did know we were going on a trip to somewhere tropical. I made sure to pack my digestive enzymes and supplements and a few “legal” snacks in case I got the munchies. If you are going on a cruise, you can also notify the cruise company of your dietary needs when you book the cruise and then you won’t have to worry about it when you embark.

2. Make sure you have the right attitude. Try to stay positive and don’t worry too much about the possibility of there being nothing for you to eat. These days, gluten intolerance and other dietary restrictions have become so common that a surprising amount of restaurants and venues have gluten-free menus or options. Due to my preference of avoiding gluten, grains, and dairy, I had the opportunity to try things that I would not have normally tried. I was very pleased with all the dishes I tried, and it was nice to discover something new. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t eat, focus on all the yummy things you can eat!

3. Notify Maitre’ D of preferences. As soon as possible, notify the dining room of any allergies or special dietary needs, or if you let them know when you booked the cruise, simply verify that they know. On Carnival cruises (and I suspect other ones as well), they can accommodate a wide variety of dietary needs such as low salt or gluten intolerance. The sooner they know, the easier it will be.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  If at any time you are unsure whether a food item from one of the many buffets and food options has gluten, just ask one of the chefs. On our cruise, the staff was eager to tell us anything we wanted to know about the ingredients, and if they didn’t know, they were happy to find out for us. It is better to be safe than sorry!

5. Know all your options. Unless you have notified the cruise ahead of time, you will most likely have to inquire to find out about the different dietary options. The first time that we ate in the dining room for breakfast, I happened to see on the menu that gluten-free bread was available. After discussion with our server, I discovered that I could request any meal as gluten-free as long as I let them know the day before. I will admit that the gluten-free bread tasted pretty awful to me, but maybe it will improve as it becomes more common!

6. Have fun with it! It is great to know you can still go on vacation and even go on a cruise without having to fret too much about being on a restrictive diet. I try to keep in mind that I am following this diet to heal my digestion, but that does not mean I will have to stay on the diet for the rest of my life. I also realized that I was able to try a lot of dishes that I would not normally have tried because I would always gravitate towards certain foods, like pasta dishes. I was just as satisfied if not more with the new foods that I tried.

On a side note, as a runner, you also do not have to worry about missing runs while on a cruise. There are usually treadmills in the gym, a track of some sort outside on one of the decks, and usually lots of options when you disembark from the ship. When we arrived in Nassau, we took a short cab ride to a beach and then three runner friends and I ran all over the island (or at least it felt that way). If you like to plan ahead, you can use a website such as Walk Jog Run, which also has an iPhone app, to figure out running routes for just about any desired distance anywhere in the world.


After climbing up from the beach, we are ready to get our run on in Nassau, Bahamas!

2 Responses to Six Tips for Following a Restrictive Diet on a Cruise (or Vacation for that Matter)

  1. Rose Petralia

    Sounds like you have an excellent attitude! I’m glad your experience was a positive one, and it’s good to know that odd dietary requests are not such a struggle anymore. Also… happy birthday!

  2. Kelsi C

    Great tips, thanks! I always worry about staying on a diet when I go on a trip because of the unpredictability of the foods I’ll encounter, and the fact that I won’t be making my food for myself. I will keep these ideas in mind! :)