We’re back from our short five day cruise from Long Beach down to Mexico and back. Before we left, I did a bit of snooping around to see what kind of experiences other vegans have had on Carnival Cruise Line and if they had any advice. As one can imagine, being stuck on a boat for five days with dining options limited to fruit, salad and french fries isn’t what I call a pleasant vacation. From what I was able to gather, Carnival Cruise Lines is the most vegan friendly of any of the cruise lines out there. This wasn’t my first cruise, but it was my first with Carnival, so I had a little bit of an idea of what to expect. My past experiences had been OK, but like I said, they consisted far too much on salad and fries.
When we got on the boat, we did a quick walk around the “buffet” area to see what our options would be. They had a million different dishes, but not one of them vegan. A disappointing start. Instead, we opted for their build your own Mongolian BBQ option outside on the lido deck. We told the chef making the dish that we didn’t do fish or oyster sauce and he then told us that our only option was to use none of the sauces they provided, just oil and soy sauce. Fortunately, they use a different spoon and pan for every meal they cook, otherwise the cross contamination would have nixed that dish as well. So oily vegetables it was.
I had gotten a tip off one messageboard suggesting that the first order of business on board should be speaking to the maitre d’ and letting them know that they will be having two picky vegan dining guests on this ship. I got my 15 seconds of face time with him after waiting in line for a half hour. He quickly informed me that we should tell our server we are vegan once we sit down for our evening meal and they will have no problem accommodating us. “Great!” I’m thinking, problem solved!
We arrive at the dining room for dinner and tell our very nice waitress that we are vegan, then explain what a vegan is, then explain that fish is in fact not a vegetable, then how butter comes from dairy, then how even a little bit of parmesan cheese isn’t going to fly with us. She says she’ll see what she can do. One mixed green salad w/balsamic vinegrette dressing later, she brings us out an oily penne pasta dish. Not too bad, but we’re hoping that oil won’t be the theme of the vacation. For dessert it is the standard fruit plate.
After looking around at our breakfast options the next morning, it was decided that fresh bagels, grits, cereal, fruit and hashbrowns would be a decent choice. They had the same choices every morning for breakfast, so it was some variation of the same thing every day. It’s actually far better than my regular breakfast consisting of tea and a Cliff bar, so I actually enjoyed it. Strangely, every other cruise I’ve been on has had a soy milk option readily available amongst all the 2%, fat free, blah, blah, blah milk options. Every morning we had to ask for soy milk and this poor guy had to go down 4 levels and come back up with one small container. I was surprised because soy milk seems to be a staple at most places nowadays, but not on Carnival. We had the same options for lunch as the next day, except day two had a “Japanese” themed area that had a few cucumber/carrot sushi rolls. When doing research before the cruise one website had mentioned that they had gotten vegan cheeseless pizza from the 24 hour pizza bar, but when I inquired, they pizza dough does in fact have dairy. Damn.
For various reasons, we decided to switch tables and consequently ended up with a different waiter for our evening dining room meals. Once again we had to explain what vegan was and what we could have. There actually was a vegan option on the menu for the evening as part of their healthy fare. It was a steamed vegetable/rice dish that ended up being really tasty. Our fantastic waiter, Komang, brought over our dining room hostess who apologized for not having a better vegan option, but said she would take care of all of our other meals on the cruise. They then brought over chocolate cake with a light jelly frosting. Now we’re talking.
The next day, it was the same breakfast and lunch options, but at least we were able to look forward to our dinner. We had a nice spinach/tropical berries appetizer, and since we were docked in Ensenada and it was “Mexican Night” an amazingly hot and very tasty Chili Rellenos dish was served as the main course. Dessert was a decadent chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Our hostess also let us know that she would have lunch prepared for us in the main dining room the next day as well as dinner that following night. Later that evening they had a late night Mexican buffet. I stopped by expecting nothing to be vegan and I was right. With five separate buffet areas, how hard is it to make a cheeseless Mexican option? I would have been happy with lard/cheese free beans to make my own burrito, but nope, nada.
Breakfast was the same as always, having to ask for soy milk, bagels with peanut butter, etc. Lunch was a nice surprise, instead of eating salad/Mongolian BBQ for the third day in a row, our hostess had the kitchen prepare vegetable fajitas as well as a banana pudding topped with caramelized bananas. I’m not a big fan of the phallic fruits, but I still found it pleasant. In complete and total irony, the one day that we had lunch prepared for us was the only day that they offered a plain baked potato and vegetarian chili. The lunch that was prepared for us was certainly better, but too bad we didn’t have the days switched around. For our last dinner on the ship the chefs had prepared a very good stir fry with baked tofu. Even our sometimes-vegetarian waiter commented on how he was going to see if they would make that for him for dinner. Our last desert was a simple fruit cocktail, but after having cake the last two nights, it was a bit of a let down.
I had called ahead to Carnival to let them know about our food limitations, but I was told that you really must just tell them on the ship. My piece of advice to would-be vegan cruisers would be to talk to the dining room host/hostess as soon as you arrive for your first evening meal. From our experience, they are they person who will be the most helpful in getting vegan meals specially prepared. All in all, it was a positive experience and even though we were stuck eating salads and fries too often, I would still recommend it.
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