Times are changing, however, and even in the last four years the number of people who are eating vegetarian and vegan has increase dramatically. So while planning the last few weeks before we left, we figured that there would be options available - but we had no clue to what extent, so we decided to ask. The thing about Carnival is, if you have a log-in to their site, and you go and sign in to look over your cruise information, you are guaranteed to get a phone call. I got a phone call every time until the end when I actually mentioned the fact that they were calling me every time I signed in to my account. I think they must have made a note on the account. Anyhow, a couple of times when they called to follow up on my online inquiries I asked specifically about vegan eating on the cruise, both time I got the same answer; in the dining hall they have what is called a "Spa Menu" which is just for special diets and allergies. To me this didn't fill me with any level of confidence that we would have options. I had already been on a crusie and knew that the dining room was a drop in the bucket of food availablility, but it was hope at least that we wouldn't be eating "rabbit food" all week too.
On Monday during our drive to Flordia, the couple we were going with mentioned going and talking to the dining room stafff to see if we could find out more information, so that was the very first thing we did upon arrival; we went straight to our dining room and discussed our diet with the staff. They were very nice and basically handed us a menu and told us to pick what we'd be eating that evening and they would make sure that it didn't include any animal products. Then every night at dinner they would give us the menu and we would pick out our meal for the next day. So this "Spa Menu" that we were told about on the phone was not really a seperate menu at all - it is THE menu for the ship (which changes slightly every day) and the kitchen staff would make your food to match your diet. If they could not make your selected items you would find out the next day (which did happen with Justin and I one day with our dessert).
We followed this same process for a couple of our breakfasts as well, we just picked the foods we'd eat and they made them vegan for us. We ordered Room Service once, but made sure to pick items we knew we could eat. For lunch, we had to rely upon what was available via room service or the buffet lines on the boat. By the end of the week I was both thankful that we had so many food options and ready to get home so that I didn't have to think so darn hard about what I could eat. I will say that this cruise was way different for me because of this too. I think the first time around the unlimited food and options was so front and center to everything that what we did was almost scheduled around our trips to the buffets and trying a zillion different desserts. On this trip, the food was a a by-product to the vacation, which we spent enjoying the sun, the water, the entertainment and just each other. So there is a side of me that thinks that not having such an overwhelming amount of food - and NOT being "able" (yes it IS a choice..but still) to eat so much was ultimately a good thing.
My Tips for Eating Vegan on a Cruise (this also will work if you have food allergies):
- Make your dining room your first stop. Set a precedent from the very first day. Pick out your food, if you have suggestions for what should be substituted for any meats, have them write it down. (ie: Justin had sushi one day, and asked them to use avacado instead of fish.) One thing we didn't really know for sure until the last day - they do have tofu. On the last day a Tofu steak was on the menu. I don't know if this is true of all cruises, but that leads me to a subpoint:
- Don't be afraid to ask for something. They hand you the menu straight up, no other options are written down, so at first glance it looks like there's nothing for you. We had vegan pancakes. We had a mango cream soup made with soy milk. They whipped up margrine for us made from vegetable oil - and no milk. WE HAD SOY MILK! I was so excited by this because they have coffee for free everywhere, but all the creamers were dairy. I had to drink my coffee in the dining room or via room service, but I was thankful I didn't have to give it up.
- By the third day, most of the servers who were assigned to us knew we used a "special menu" and were automatically picking up the butter from the table in front of us, and not offering us any of the bread if they knew right off we couldn't eat it. I felt like this was very respectful on their part.
- When getting food from the buffet line - grab staff members and ask questions. There are plenty of items marked "vegetarian" - so in some cases that gives you a place to start.
- If the kitchen staff seems confused, have them verify. More than once the person who actually cooked the food came out to answer our question.
- If all else fails (there was one day where there were no options for lunch outside of the Mongolian Wok line) they do have salad and fruit all the time.
- Give up on any dessert from the buffet line. It just isn't going to happen. They do have french bread, and now and then something you can dip your bread in (no butter/margrine on the buffet)
- When you hit your shore stops, be aware that the natives WANT to help you, but they might not understand you right out. They barely even have a word for "vegan" in Mexico, but once they understand what you're trying to say, they are more than happy to help (but then again, they have that tip jar out and waiting....cruise ships mean money to them!)
- Be nice, and understanding. We are the oddballs, the weird ones, and we are a little difficult. Being demanding and rude will not get you anywhere or anything but unhappy. Sometimes things just don't happen the way you expect - shrug it off and move on. Be thankful for what you get.
- We made good friends with one of our servers in the dining room, Marabel. She was so understanding and did everythng she could to help us. She even told us we could have the chocolate melting cake made vegan. That was exciting. Not-so-much when the next day they told us they couldn't do it because they use milk to melt the chocolate. Marabel was fighting for us, though, and wanted us to have that cake. The last night of our cruise she went back to the kitchen and really pulled for us - telling the cook he HAD to give us something more than just fruit for dessert, and that he could indeed make the chocolate melting cake with soy milk. And he did. She was so happy to present those cakes to us, and we were more than happy to eat the rich chocolate dessert. It was a small thing, but kind of huge at the same time.