Today’s guest post is by new vegan and friend Melissa Levengood. Melissa recently went on a seven day cruise to Mexico.
What follows is her experience eating vegan on a non-vegetarian cruise ship, her tips and tricks for others, and links to the concoctions created by the Carnival staff.
Veganism aside, cruises never seemed like an attractive vacation idea to me. (I’m paying someone a large sum of money to trap me on a boat for a week and dictate all of my decisions? Could my control-freak sensibilities handle this?)
But I wasn’t going on this cruise for me; I was going on it for my dad. My father just turned 60, and we all gathered to celebrate his birthday like a rock star: 7 days of debauchery, over-eating, gambling, karaoke, dancing, and tanning on tropical beach locations, ‘spring-break’ style.
This 7-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera aboard Carnival Cruise’s Splendor vessel was his surprise party.
Overall, the cruise was a great time. Not my style, but lots of fun with awesome memories (like my ex-80s-rock-star dad singing “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway to Hell” at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo. Ladies his age coming up for autographs! Priceless!) Therefore, the trip was a success.
But this isn’t about my vacation, this is about what it’s like being vegan on an omnivore’s cruise ship – the challenges a vegan may encounter while trapped on a boat for 7 days. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Los Angeles anymore.
I traveled with essentially 5 omnivores who were determined to be as gluttonous as physically possible (“Vacation, baby!”) and gain at least 5 pounds over the course of the next week. My near-vegan boyfriend and I were the only ones dreading the menu-options.
I did some research prior to my embarkation — this was my first cruise, my first trip to Mexico, and my first time traveling as a vegan so I didn’t know what to expect.
I called Carnival Cruise’s customer service to ask if there were any vegan options on board. The woman on the phone said simply, “No, sorry! Is vegetarian good enough?” To which I responded, “No.” I received another, “Then, no, sorry.”
This put me into a slight panic. Maybe this woman is just misinformed, I thought. Maybe they just don’t know how to think outside the box. Or maybe everything is cooked in beef broth and butter and there is no hope for me.
After my typical stops on happycow.net and lonelyplanet.com, I did more research online and found some blogs of other vegans’ experiences. I saw photos of sad silken tofu blocks on top of blank pasta, steamed veggies with rice, and fruit plates upon boring fruit plates.
I was scared. So I made preparations. I stocked up on LARA bars, single-serving soy milks, Trader Joe’s JoeJoes Cookies, vegan multi-grain crackers, and trail mix. Multivitamins and wine were also brought.
I also made a list of helpful phrases, like no queso, no carne, to help with my on-shore excursions. And good news! I only busted out these emergency rations for convenience (or because I was craving JoeJoe’s) – not out of nutritional necessity!
The cruise line’s food offerings are mostly prepaid with your cruise fee, and are split up into either the main dining halls (the Gold Pearl or the Black Pearl) or various smaller themed stations throughout the ship:
There are essentially two choices for breakfast: open seating at the main dining hall or the breakfast buffet.
From noon to 2:30pm, other various buffets become available, such as Tandoori, an Indian food buffet. A Burger Bar, a rotisserie, an Asian-inspired buffet, a chocolate/dessert bar, and the Tastes From Around the World buffet are other options.
The sit down option is also available for lunch at the main dining hall during the same hours.
For dinner, patrons sign up ahead of time for either early seating (6pm) or late seating (8pm) in the main dining hall. We chose the early seating.
My family and friends were all seated at the same table in the restaurant called the Gold Pearl. We ate there every night at the same time except on the day we were in Puerto Vallarta. It has a variety of things on the menu and it’s all you can eat if you aren’t vegan.
There is also a heavily promoted “premium” steakhouse on board at additional cost, which I obviously did not go to.
There is a sushi bar open at strange hours — 4:30-8:30pm or something. I went a few times to try their eggplant roll. I didn’t ask if they could make me anything special because I didn’t really like the taste of their rice. I couldn’t really recommend this place.
There is a 24-hour pizza station near the pool as well as a 24-hour soft serve ice cream dispenser, a la Souplantation.
There is also 24-hour room service, which includes various items previously seen at the buffets.
A hint that I got from the interwebs:
The minute you board, go to your dining hall and tell the Maitre-D that you are vegan. He/she will then guide you to your server.
You tell your server that you are vegan. THEN he/she reports to the kitchen administrator. In our case, her name was Angela.
My boyfriend, Ray, and I didn’t get to Angela in time for our first dinner aboard. Luckily it didn’t result in me wanting to end my life; the food was actually fine.
The most encouraging and impressive part of the first dinner was the VEGAN MENU print out Angela handed me.
This is how it works: the printout has options for an appetizer, main course, and dessert. It’s limited options, but OPTIONS nonetheless.
The thing is, you had to choose your entire week’s menu on the first night. This includes breakfast and lunch.
The reason: they only make a limited amount of vegan dishes or have enough ingredients for limited quantities so you have order in advance. If you want 5 helpings of bacon-wrapped duck though, they’ve got you covered.
I ordered everything in green. Immediately, I was excited that not only would I not starve on this trip, but they actually had a MENU of options for me! Things were looking up!
And on top of that, Ray and my parents also signed up for the same things I did, just in case they felt like being vegan those times in the future.
(You can check out all of the food photos from the trip on this Flickr set.)
About mid-week, our maitre-D, for our entertainment, decided to list off several stats about how much food a single cruise consumes.
10,000 pounds of beef.
10,000 pounds of chicken/fish.
4,000 pounds of fruits/vegetables. (This, no doubt, includes fries/iceberg lettuce.)
The dining hall cheered! Ray and I looked at each other in horror. Oh, Arteries.
Avatar & Ice Cream.
One night near the end of the week, I ventured out with my family to the main deck to watch Avatar on the open-air theater. I couldn’t help but see the irony of watching a conservation-film on a boat that eats 20,000 lbs of meat each week.
After a week of seeing people gorging themselves, I was watching a movie urging humanity to not kill our “mother” or eliminate the “green” from our world – a film urging humanity to see the bond it has with all living creatures and the planet!
“Learn well, Jake Sully. Then we shall see if that insanity of yours can be cured.”
Kale as décor.
While scanning the buffets for possible vegan fare, I noticed that the Burger Bar had kale stuffed between the serving trays of cooked burgers and hot dogs. Kale as decoration! I was floored.
Conclusion: People just don’t know how to cook vegetables. I fought every urge I had to snatch up that kale, rush the kitchen, steal some olive oil and garlic, and demonstrate how to sauté this amazing, nutritious green.
Also – It’s 2010, how are you NOT offering veggie burgers and veggie dogs on one of the most popular cruiselines?
Overall, I had a great time, which is proof that food is not everything and that what really matters is spending time with those you love. Though there is no vegan splendor on Carnival’s Splendor, a vegan will not starve (in fact, many times I was stuffed!).
Simple changes would improve the vegan’s cruise experience immensely. How easy would it be for the cruise line to adopt simple products and protocols to make more vegan options possible in the buffets?
(Like just having soymilk readily available. Really? No lactose intolerant people on board?)
How about abstaining from adding butter to various veggies until people request it? How about just having vegan butter on board?
Or even better – a Vegan Bar! A 24-hour soy based vegan soft-serve machine would blow my mind! I guess one can dream. Or just go on a vegan cruise, equipped with yoga and cooking classes.