In the months leading up to going on this cruise, I was frantically scouring the internet looking for any advice, tips or general information about what I could expect, as a vegan. I managed to find just two blog posts, both of which completely contradicted each other so I was still none the wiser. I tried to find out on the Carnival website but they suggested discussing with your waiter on the first evening about any allergies you may have and that was that. So now I’m back, I thought I would add another one into the mix and hopefully help a fellow vegan with their decision on whether to go on a Carnival Cruise or at least give them some tips if they’re already booked in.
Ship : Vista
Date : July 2017
Port Stops : Ocho Rios, Jamaica – Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands – Cozumel, Mexico
If you haven’t 100% decided whether or not you want to go on a Carnival cruise yet (before I go into the proper breakdown of the trip) here’s a few short and sweet points to bear in mind;
- When I signed up for this cruise, I was focusing on my excitement to be going on vacation with my friends and seeing some parts of the world I’ve never seen before. Had I thought it through properly, I would never have agreed to go, solely based on the fact I directly paid for tonnes of animal products. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t eat them; I still paid a lot of money for the all inclusive trip. I wish it had occurred to me earlier because I still feel horrendously guilty over it.
- There are animal products EVERYWHERE. Not only is it unavoidable in eating areas like the buffet & restaurants (to be expected) but most pool areas have food available and people generally just eat all over the place. I don’t often go to restaurants so I’m a little out of practice seeing people consume animal products and it hit me much harder than I thought it would, and it hit me even harder to see so many young children with plates piled high with such unhealthy foods. Another thing that took me by surprise was walking down the corridor to get to my room. It seemed like 80% of people ordered room service and only 70% of people actually ate it, meaning their leftovers were left outside their rooms waiting to be cleaned up and it was disgusting to see. I don’t know how often it got cleaned up but it was a constant experience of walking through a very narrow corridor full of piles of meat, cheese, eggs, yogurts, ice cream… There were times I saw sandwiches with just one bite taken out; some plates of food even appeared to be completely untouched which seems like an extra kick in the teeth.
- If you hate food waste DO NOT GO ON THIS CRUISE. It is shocking. I dread even trying to comprehend the amount of tonnes that go to waste, it’s depressing to even think about. Most people will order food just for the sake of ordering it. They’ll want to “try” everything, with no intention of eating it all and have no regard for how wasteful that is. On the upside, as awful as it sounds, food waste was not something I had really considered before going on the cruise or waste in general for that matter. Now I’m back, I am much more conscious of the waste I am producing and making steps to reduce it, so I guess you could say being inundated with it has opened my eyes!
I did contact Carnival asking about where their food waste ends up and could tell they weren’t too thrilled to answer my questions. What you can’t see in the image of our correspondence is how rapid their responses were, up until my last question, when about 30 minutes went by with no answer. After they bailed on the conversation, as instructed, I emailed Roger Frizzell on August 9th 2017 and as it stands now, on August 24th 2017 I have not had a response. I will be sure to update this information should he respond but so far, their hesitant response and lack of knowledge on a very simple procedure is looking a bit suspicious. I find it rather strange a member of customer service can tell me “It is discarded when the ship docks in port” but they cannot offer any information as to what that actually entails. For a company claiming on their website to be “transparent” and “sustainable”, there isn’t much transparency going on and not much readily available information on their sustainability or waste management.
So that is a round up of a few reasons I would never go on a Carnival Cruise again. If cruising is your thing, there are 100% vegan cruises available now so I’d highly recommend them instead. Should you already be booked in and unable to change your plans, I’ve put together some information which can hopefully help you out!
So we’d been hanging around to board the boat for a while and by the time we make it up to the buffet for the first time, we were pretty hungry. As you can imagine, everyone else on board was thinking the exact same thing so safe to say, it was rammed! I know it can’t be helped but it wasn’t the best introduction to the food options. We couldn’t really see what food was on offer because it was so crowded and all the signs for food items were low down and impossible to see through that sea of people. The items we could see were meat upon cheese, upon more meat with a side of cheese and staff were just way too busy for us to be asking what vegan offerings they might have. After some aimless wondering, we did manage to track down a deli part of the buffet and order a hummus and falafel wrap. It took about 20 minutes for them to make it and it wasn’t really anything to write home about; a little on the soggy side if I’m honest. Not a great start, I think it would be an easy change for Carnival to have easy to see menus and ingredient lists for their buffet food but I wasn’t going to base my entire opinion on that experience alone as that seemed a little unfair.
The next day we skipped breakfast but went back to see what we could do for lunch and after checking out the general buffet and burger bar, we couldn’t find anything available but then we discovered the wonder that is the burrito bar AKA Blue Iguana Cantina. Tacos aren’t really an option here as they just have meat on offer; no grilled veggies or anything like that but we were all about the burrito bowls! If we only had the option of those bowls for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the duration of the cruise, I wouldn’t be that mad about it. Load up on lettuce, onions, tomatoes, black beans, refried beans (we asked, they were veggie), sweetcorn & probably some other veggies I don’t remember and then head on over to the salsa bar. There is a massive selection of different salsas ranging from a cooling watermelon salsa to a hot sauce that’ll blow your head off. I piled on a load of the non spicy ones because that’s how I roll and my husband tried some of the hotter ones and even he started sweating a bit. They were so delicious and filling, we had them quite a few times throughout the cruise and were never disappointed. Excuse the not so appetizing photo, I had already started eating it before taking a snap!
I tended to steer away from the rest of the buffet, as I don’t really like to walk through all the animal products but there may well be other vegan options dotted about that I didn’t see, so if you want to have a closer look, don’t let me put you off.
They have tea and coffee readily available in the buffet area and they do have soy milk. For some reason, they don’t have the soy milk out with the others so you have to track down a member of staff to go and get you a cup. I’m sure it would be much easier for them to leave it out but they were always happy to go and get it for us. They always gave us an entire cupful, despite us only asking for a little bit to go in our coffee so we just kept the remaining milk in our fridge until we needed it again. In hindsight, I would probably just take an empty water bottle on the first day and ask them to fill it up so we didn’t have to keep finding a staff member and asking every time. I don’t know what brand it is but it’s one of the ones that curdles in hot coffee unfortunately, so we usually put it out on our balcony for a little while to warm it up before adding it to coffee and it was a little bit better.
The Assigned Restaurant
So if you’ve not been on a Carnival cruise before, I’ll briefly explain how dinner works : When you receive your cruise account card, it’ll have on it the restaurant in which you have a guaranteed seat for dining every night. You can go to other restaurants if you want to but bear in mind you need to have a reservation for some of them. I was traveling as a large group and was not the organiser so truth be told, I’ve no idea if you choose this when you book or if everyone just gets what they get but that aside, I can talk about my experience in the one I was allocated; Reflections.
I had read previously I was to inform my waiter/waitress of our veganism on the very first night and of course, we did so. We enquired about the vegetarian option listed on the menu and our waiter looked very put out by this and said to make it vegan would take longer than usual. I don’t know if he was just a bit flustered, leading to his unaccommodating tone but we assured him extra time would be fine, as long as he could ensure the chef was able to make it vegan. So after feeling like we had asked for the moon on a stick, we did manage to get the Indian meal as a vegan meal (from what I could tell, it was the same but without the papadam and raita) and it was very delicious! It was fairly on the small side which is fine by me as I don’t eat much but my husband ended up ordering another one.
So the next night, we were sat at a different table (someone had taken our seats) and so were at a different table and therefore had a new waiter. We asked again about getting a vegan meal and they did seem a little thrown because we then learned they generally find out dietary requirements on the first night and then will plan with you what you would be eating the following day but our waiter from the first night had not done this and we’d had no idea this was the procedure, else we’d have asked him about organizing it. So be sure to talk to someone on the first night about what you’ll eat the next day, even if they don’t initiate the planning; once they know you, it does become much easier.
On the second night, they were much more accommodating. I’ll give Joan a shout out because she was great and specifically let us know she would now be in charge of our special orders and ensuring we planned ahead of time. So that night we had the Indian again as it was the easier option without them having notice, which was fine. This time I noticed it came with the papadam but I didn’t eat it as they’d not served it the previous evening, so couldn’t be sure whether or not it was actually vegan. After we’d finished eating, Joan came over with the menu and discussed with my husband and I what would work for the following evening and this is how it transpired each night after that, so it was easy once we’d settled in to it. Over the nights we usually had starters of salad with an awesome balsamic dressing and one night there were some stuffed mushrooms (cheese removed) that were so delicious even my non vegan friend loved them; the ratatouille was pretty nice and the vegetable spring rolls were really good. For mains I had a tofu ‘steak’ that we were very surprised to see, it was nice to be able to have something like that but it was a little odd they used silken tofu, rather than firm or extra firm, but it was ok. I had a pie filling of roast squash (without the pastry) with a side of veggies and another night I had a lovely spinach spanakopita (with the ricotta removed).
On the second to last night, my husband got the Indian again as he’s not a fan of the mushrooms that were on offer and it was a little disconcerting when it arrived with the raita. My husband said he wouldn’t be needing it, as it was dairy and whilst they were apologetic, it didn’t fill me with confidence that I had been eating fully vegan for the entire week but giving the benefit of the doubt, we let it go. Then my meal came out… Stuffed, breaded portabello mushrooms and I’d been excited for it all day, for sure! I took one bite and knew something wasn’t right. I called over our server and asked if this was, in fact, ricotta in my mushrooms as it was the same taste and texture. She assured me it was tofu but was kind enough to return it to the kitchen to make sure. My food reappeared, this time in the hands of the restaurant manager, which I appreciate, and she reiterated again and again that it was tofu but I’ve got to be honest, I’m pretty confident I know tofu when I taste it. I was also a little more skeptical as due to the texture of it, had it been tofu it would have definitely needed to be firm to get that consistency so comparing that to the ‘steak’ we’d had a previous night, makes me even more sure as I don’t think it is highly likely for a cruise to carry multiple types of tofu. Needless to say, I did not eat it or anything else in that restaurant for that matter. Whilst I can’t prove it wasn’t tofu, I am 99% sure it was definitely not. We only had one night left on our cruise so we just decided not to eat there again.
Over the week, we ate at JiJi asian kitchen, Cucina del Capitano, Fresh Creations, Bonsai Sushi and Pizza del Capitano.
JiJi and Cucina are a really good setup for lunch. You are given a little card with all the ingredients and you just check the box of each one you like! So for JiJi, you pick which noodles you’d like and for Cucina, which pasta. Then you tick off as many vegetables as you desire, as well as which sauce. We also wrote a little note at the top letting them know we were vegan, just to be sure. They were both delicious! Remember though, these restaurants do not have the same setup in the evenings and you may need to make a reservation.
I think we had been on the boat for about 4 days before a friend of ours told us there was a salad bar on the very top deck. It’s funny, I never really saw it mentioned on the Carnival App and as it is so out the way, you could easily go through your entire cruise without knowing it was even there. After we did find out about it, we figured we’d give it a try and it was a really good salad! They had lots of options and tasty dressings, so as far as salad bars go, it was a good one! Just wish we’d found it sooner.
On the last night, we headed to Bonsai Sushi and we were absolutely blown away. It had the same setup with the card, where you pick and choose what you would like and be sure to write that note about being vegan (our waitress actually told us to this time). I was sad the miso soup wasn’t vegan because it’s made with chicken stock but we had a tasty salad with a kickass dressing to start and then a load of veggie rolls. They were so good, I can’t even tell you. They came with soy sauce and wasabi and had carrot, avocado and cucumber wrapped in nori and a delicious sesame sushi rice. It was so good, later that night we actually went back to get two more portions to eat in our room as a late night snack. Definitely recommend!
Pizza del Capitano generally only do 3 types of pizza, one of which is mushrooms but not being a huge mushroom fan, we asked if they’d do a pizza with basically nothing but marinara and garlic, and they did! We didn’t get it too often, as the line was usually at least 50 people long but in their quieter moments, it was a nice snack to have round the pool and rather than getting the normal portion of a half pizza, you get the whole thing! Winner! There are many occasions where restaurants are closed so it’s near impossible to get any vegan food, so this place being 24 hours is quite handy.
Not gonna lie, I was pretty sad about how many of the excursions offered and advertised on the cruise were reliant on animal exploitation.
In Ocho Rios, Jamaica they have horseback riding and swimming with dolphins; Grand Cayman have stingray encounters, turtle encounters, swimming with dolphins, the Cayman Turtle Centre with captive birds, sharks & other wildlife and in Cozumel, Mexico they have swimming with dolphins, encounters with rays, nurse sharks & other fish. Obviously a guest has a choice whether or not to partake in abusive and exploitative activities but they advertise them everywhere and it’s depressing when you hear people talk about doing them. If companies such as Carnival are insinuating these industries are harmless fun, what chance do the animals have of being allowed to live their lives free of captivity and a constant stream of misinformed tourists hassling and bombarding them for the sake of a selfie?
If you’re not sure why experiences like this are harmful to animals, here is an article explaining the problems behind these seemingly innocent animal encounters. I did send Carnival a polite Tweet when I got home, suggesting they stop promoting the exploitation of animals and received a prompt yet rather uninspiring response : “Thank you for your feedback & suggestions”. With travel giants such as Expedia and others removing certain animal “experiences” from their offerings and being proactive in working with animal organizations to educate themselves on the subject, I feel it would be in Carnival’s best interests to remove them and not just in the interest of the exploited, tormented animals but also to keep up with the constant shift towards respecting the rights of animals. Stick to natural beauty, rather than captive beauty.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Not much to report in the ways of veganism as we ended up visiting a beach and then going back to the boat to eat but the main thing that struck me was the pretty even ratio of signs saying “Peace & Love” to signs advertising jerk chicken; the irony was not lost on me. Not only are there signs everywhere, we were constantly bombarded with people asking us if we wanted to try their chicken which isn’t a great experience really. As we were walking back to the boat, we did see a sign in the window of a cafe which read “VEGAN” which was cool but wasn’t able to enquire further, so I challenge you to track it down! It was such a short stop, we didn’t really have much chance to explore the island properly.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
We had a pretty cool experience here. We ended up on a portion of the Seven Mile Beach and were starving by the time we made it there. Not feeling too confident, we headed over to the one food truck within walking distance, to have a look. We asked the lady if she was able to do us something with absolutely no meat or dairy and she proceeded to tell us how her sister was vegan and she could sort us out, no problem! We had some awesome corn on the cob, delicious rice and beans and some veggies. She was really attentive to our requests and it was an all round great experience.
We had a pretty long drive from the port to the beach area where we’d decided to spend our day. Throughout this drive, we saw countless horse and carriages either carrying tourists or standing in wait with no visible water sources, despite the blistering heat. It wasn’t a great first impression, it was so sad to see. There was a large amount of poster campaigns for marine park type things, offering people the opportunity to get their pictures taken with turtles and the like and it does put a damper on the trip. Constantly thinking about those poor animals being held captive and forced to work and interact with people and not being able to do anything to help them is pretty tough. Since coming home, I have been looking into what can be done and you can find more information here.
We got to the mini resort we would be hanging out in for the day and went straight to the restaurant. Our server was really friendly and we asked if we could order off the menu but adapt it slightly, to which he responded, “Oh, would you like to see our vegetarian menu?” and of course we said yes! Obviously it wasn’t vegan but they were more than happy to take out all dairy products and he was sure to check everything over with the chef. We had chips & a beautiful bowl of guacamole to start and then, the game changer; avocado tacos. They. Were. Amazing. Best taco I’ve ever had; everything about them was great. So round of applause to Buccano’s Bar & Grill.
We decided to go snorkeling (once making sure there were no barriers preventing any sea life leaving the area) and it was the most phenomenal experience I’ve ever had. To float, face just below the surface, and observe the hundreds of tropical fish was indescribable and made me feel closer to nature than I ever have. The fish were undaunted; they were swimming right up to me, I’ve never seen anything like it. All the different colours of the fish and the coral was absolutely beautiful and it was great to see just how clean and clear the water was.
In conclusion, I wouldn’t go on a Carnival Cruise again. There was just too much animal consumption and exploitation involved. I think Carnival should be way more concerned with wasting food and also, think much harder about the animal exploitation they willingly support through their excursions. With Oceana Cruises recently announcing an absolutely amazing sounding vegan menu, they would also be smart to be much more accommodating to their vegan guests with regards to food items. Despite most people thinking vegans want to talk about it all the time, having to sit at a table full of people whilst going through tomorrow’s menu, picking out items that may be adapted for the following evening isn’t really the relaxing dining experience I expected or having to ask every time you’d like some milk for your coffee isn’t ideal.