Cruising Clean with Muddy Melissa!

Why did I cruise clean?

I understand that for most people the words “cruise” and “clean” are polar opposites. When it comes to vacations, the main thing many people look forward to most is indulging— with good food, no matter how unhealthy that food may be. While I understand completely where this viewpoint comes from, I personally chose to make the commitment to cruise clean, and I’d really like to enumerate the reasons for this choice.

→ I eat to live, I don’t live to eat.

There are so many things I want to do in my life. Visit Ireland. See the Northern lights. Go whitewater rafting. Tons more! My list of things I want to do, however… doesn’t include eating cheesecake, noshing cheeseburgers, etc. So why would I make these things the focus on my vacation? Instead, I decided to make my vacation focus on experiencing new things that are important to me— not food!

 I want to set an example for others.

If you read my blog, then you know that I’m a huge proponent of eating clean. I fully believe that no matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re doing, you can make clean food choices. I don’t think I’d have an ounce of credibility left if I used my cruise as an excuse to break with my clean eating by saying I “can’t” eat clean while on a cruise— so instead I decided to look at this as a challenge, experience, and opportunity to show others how to make clean choices, even while cruising!

I’m proud to say that I remained 100% committed to eating clean while cruising, so I can now officially say that I am a CLEAN CRUISER! 

That said, here are my tips to help you cruise clean:

1. Register with special diet services.

Carnival:

Carnival can accommodate vegetarian, Indian vegetarian, low cholesterol, low fat, low carb, low sugar, gluten free, food allergy, and kosher diets with no required advanced notice. You need only inform the dining team once onboard so that they may accommodate these diets; these accommodations, however, can only be made in the main dining room, and do not apply to other specialty and/or buffet restaurants. Additionally, other accommodations beyond the ones listed can be made if requested. Healthier selections are also available on the menu in the main dining room, denoted by a heart symbol next to the dish.

Additional information available on Carnival’s website.

Royal Caribbean:

Royal Caribbean can accommodate vegetarian, Indian vegetarian (each menu in the main dining room already has vegetarian options available), gluten free, lactose free, food allergies, low fat, and low sodium diets, provided that guests notify Royal Caribbean 45 days prior to sailing. Requests received with 45 days prior to sailing will be accommodated as best as possible, but these accommodations are not guaranteed. It is worth noting that guests can only bring nonperishable food items that are dry on board, such as protein bars, crackers, etc.

Additional information available on RCI’s website.

Norwegian:

Norwegian can accommodate food allergies, gluten free, sugar free, low carb, low fat, low sodium, and kosher diets. Norwegian requests 30 days notice prior to sailing, and, again, requests made within 30 days are not guaranteed. Healthier selections are also available on the menu in the main dining room, denoted by a check mark symbol next to the dish. Norwegian allows food to be brought on board, including perishable and/or wet items such as almond milk. These items, however, due to health liability issues, cannot be used by the kitchen staff to prepare food though.

Additional information available on NCL’s website.

→ I’ll speak in depth about Norwegian’s special diet services, since I personally cruised with NCL so I can attest to their services. First of all, I did NOT notify Norwegian 30 days prior to sailing of my dietary needs (I booked last minute!); they were, nonetheless, still more than happy to accommodate all of my dietary needs. The procedure to notify Norwegian was simple— I just filled out a form regarding my dietary needs, and I e-mailed it to Norwegian directly. Easy peasy, totally painless!

Once on board, there was a letter waiting for me in my cabin with information about who to contact regarding my dietary needs. All throughout my cruise, I worked with one special diet coordinator, Jeph, who was absolutely phenomenal. I wasn’t shuffled around from person to person to person, continually explaining what I needed. The entire cruise Jeph handled my diet, and he knew exactly what my needs were. He was a complete pleasure to work with, and he made the entire special diet services process truly enjoyable.

The process for special diet accommodations aboard NCL’s ships works like this. Every evening, you speak with your special diet coordinator. Simply put, while in the main dining room, I would just ask the waitstaff if I could speak with Jeph. Then Jeph would sit down with me, provide menus for tomorrow’s meals, and we’d discuss what accommodations could be made. He was very good about making appropriate suggestions for clean alternatives. Once I placed my orders for the next day’s meals, those orders would be recorded via my room number— then the next day all I needed to do was inform the waitstaff that I’d already placed an order with special diet services. Then the chef would prepare my meal according to my specific order.

Clean alternatives and clean substitutions were made easily— steamed vegetables instead of buttered vegetables, baked sweet potatoes instead of creamy/buttery mashed potatoes, grilled/steamed/boiled entrees instead of buttered/braised/sauced entrees. Dressings, sauces, condiments, etc. were either eliminated completely or clean substitutions were made instead. Overall, my meals were 100% clean thanks to the help of Jeph!

A sampling of the deliciously clean meals prepared for me on the Norwegian Gem

Some of the deliciously clean meals prepared for me on the Norwegian Gem

Some of my meals included (sorry, I didn’t take pictures of every single one!): tossed salad with raspberry dressing, grilled salmon with steamed mixed veggies, grilled chicken with pineapple salsa, roasted pumpkin salad with gluten free bread, grilled tilapia with roasted onions and steamed veggies, cajun catfish with corn on the cob (no butter, of course) and asparagus, smoked salmon egg white omelet, blackened cod with steamed mixed veggies, grilled salmon with grilled tomato halves and steamed broccoli, veggie egg white omelet, and roasted turkey with baked sweet potatoes. Every meal was clean, flavorful, and scrumptious!

Moreover, I spoke with the cruise director, Ben, regarding the special diet services onboard, and he reiterated to me that special diet services are NOT just for those with medical disorders— anyone and everyone is welcomed and encouraged to use special diet services, as part of NCL’s attempt to provide healthier options to guests. He emphasized that NCL will make whatever accommodations possible, and that guests just need to inform the dining staff as soon as possible, and the dining staff will be more than happy to provide assistance to guests.

Please note: If you do utilize special diet services, I personally recommend tipping your special diet coordinator. Cruises typically suggest or include tips to cover all of the staff that serves you— from your cabin steward to your waitstaff to the maitre d’. That said, if your special diet coordinator goes above and beyond to help you throughout your cruise, then I 100% recommend giving them an additional tip to thank them for their extra service. It’s just common courtesy!

2. Always come prepared.

You’ve heard the rule: always have a backup plan! When it comes to cruising clean, this rule 100% applies. Pack a bag filled with clean foods, drinks, and snacks, so that in the event there are no clean options available, you’ve got a backup plan. I personally packed a clean “emergency” bag filled with tuna packets, salmon packets, salsa (to mix with the tuna and salmon for flavor), brown rice cakes, mixed nuts, protein chips, protein bars (Quest’s all-natural line, of course!,) and unsweetened almond milk. I was fortunate enough to have plenty of clean options while cruising though, so I ended up barely touching my clean “emergency” bag— but I felt much more at ease knowing that I had a backup plan if need be.

Always come prepared: my clean "emergency" kit

Always come prepared: my clean “emergency” kit

3. Scout out the eateries.

Once you’re on the ship, scout out the dining options. Cruise ships typically have a main dining room, one or more buffets, as well as several “specialty” restaurants. You can usually view the menus for all of these specialty restaurants at the restaurant reservation desk, so you can easily see what specialty restaurants will work for your clean eating. For example, a steakhouse that offers a steamed lobster and grilled veggies dish would be a cleaner choice than a bistro that offers a cheesy fettuccine alfredo dish. Sushi bars are a great options for clean eaters as well (provided you’re not getting something tempura-fried, sauce-smothered, etc.), and nabbing some sushi (for me, sans rice— wrapped only in thinly sliced cucumber) was one of my favorite clean eating indulgences while aboard the Norwegian Gem.

Enjoying some sushi at the sushi bar aboard the Norwegian Gem

Enjoying some sushi at the sushi bar aboard the Norwegian Gem

4. Learn to finagle the buffets.

Buffets are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can easily fall prey to unhealthy food choices; on the other hand, buffets are often filled with clean options as well. For example— buffets typically offer an extensive salad bar with fresh veggies and lean meats. Moreover, buffets usually have various fruits available for whenever you need a sweet tooth fix. Aboard the Norwegian Gem, a turkey salad (without any dressing— a spritz from a fresh lime wedge is delicious enough as is) paired with a fruit plate was the perfect quick, clean, easy lunch for whenever I had a fun-filled day already outlined for me.

Clean buffet standbys: fresh fruit and tossed salad

Clean buffet standbys: fresh fruit and tossed salad

5. Avoid the drinks.

Remember that water is the best way to hydrate, and even though you’ll likely be thirsty from the sun and the heat, water always has been and always will be the best option to hydrate your body. Don’t fall prey to sodas, juices, or— even worse— alcoholic beverages while on board. Keep in mind that you’re on the vacation of a lifetime, and you don’t need alcohol to enjoy the sun, sand, and fun.

6. Plan to eat on the ship.

There are plenty of places to eat while you’re in port: everywhere from standby chain restaurants like Señor Frog’s to local eateries that are more off-the-grid. Fact is, though, that your options will usually be cleaner on board, especially if you’ve registered with special diet services. If you do choose to eat while you’re in port, then take the time to research your ports ahead of time, and try to find restaurants that offer clean dishes. Don’t plan on visiting a pastry shop, expecting clean options, and don’t try to visit an Italian joint, thinking you’ll get a clean dinner. Plan to eat your meals on the ship (and, really, your meals are included— so why spend more money elsewhere?), or do your research ahead of time if you do choose to eat in port.

Fresh fruit while enjoying the beautiful view of a sunrise in Samama

Fresh fruit while enjoying the beautiful views of a sunrise in Samana

7. Don’t torture yourself.

If you hear the words “chocolate” and “buffet” in the same sentence, walk the other way! No, I’m not joking. Picture this: a man walking with a plate overflowing with everything chocolate ever created, when a woman stops him to ask “hey, where did you get that?” He calmly responds, “oh, there’s a chocolate buffet back there” while pointing. This women then, while overcome with the craziest expression I’ve ever seen, exclaims to her significant other “we gotta go back! there’s a chocolate buffet!” Priceless! But, in all seriousness, don’t torture yourself. They’ll be many indulgences available on board. So be kind to yourself, and avoid places that will tempt you. Just going to “check out” a chocolate buffet or “being curious” about a fondue bar only serves to torture yourself— and you don’t need that if you’re trying to remain dedicated to your clean eating. Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience: I did go to “check out” the chocolate buffet. I can proudly say that I must have unlimited willpower, because I left without eating a single bite of chocolate. I’ll admit I drooled a lot, but I didn’t eat any chocolatey goodness.

8. Remember that you’re human.

That said, remember that you’re human. Trying to eat clean while on vacation is not something many are willing to even attempt let alone actually accomplish, so don’t beat yourself up if you falter in your clean eating. It isn’t the end of the world if you indulge in an unclean meal, so don’t ruin your entire vacation by feeling guilty over it. Just acknowledge that you slipped up, and try to move forward from it. Don’t let it cast a dark cloud over your whole experience— just remind yourself that you’re only human!

*** Stay tuned for ‘Cruising Clean with Muddy Melissa: Continued’ as I outline not only how to eat clean on a cruise— but also how to stay fit!

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