One of the greatest challenges that cruise lines face every day and always push themselves to exceed are the many and varied dietary requirements to which their guests live their lives.

Cruising is one of the most inclusive holidays you will ever take, with most, if not every special request attended to by your line with minimal fuss. These special dietary requests can range from minor allergies and preferences all the way to full scale diets for diabetics, coeliacs and those with other afflictions.

But how does each cruise line handle this and what are the processes behind requesting your special diet? We’ve taken a look at the major big ship ocean cruise lines and how you can inform them of your dietary requirements to help with planning your next cruise.

Carnival Cruise Line

The Sunrise dining room aboard Carnival Sunshine.
The Sunrise dining room aboard Carnival Sunshine.

Prior to sailing: Carnival doesn’t require any forms to be submitted prior to embarkation and caters to many common dietary needs as part of its normal food preparation. However if you have a particularly bad allergy or special requirement, you can reach out to the line’s care team who will transmit the information to the appropriate people onboard and ensure it is able to cater to your specific needs.

Onboard: Even if you have pre-submitted a form detailing your requests, we still suggest seeking out the main dining room’s maitre d’ as soon as you board. Introducing yourself and outlining your requirements early will ensure they can change your dining arrangements to suit without major disruption to your dining plans.

Celebrity Cruises

The buffet on Celebrity's Solstice class ships is well laid out with plenty of labels to help identify any food limitations.
The buffet on Celebrity’s Solstice class ships is well laid out with plenty of labels to help identify any food limitations.

Prior to sailing: Like sister line Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises requires you to submit a special request form well in advance of your cruise detailing any dietary needs you may have. Celebrity may also require you to sit on an assigned seating in the dining room to ensure your needs are met, which could rule out the “MyTime Dining” option.

Onboard: On the first night, reconfirm your special requirements with the dining room staff and ensure your pre-submitted form was received and actioned. They will take you through the special requests procedure and who to see should you have any questions or concerns.

Celebrity is also one of the few lines which displays “GF” and “V” icons on its buffet cards, making the buffet significantly more friendly to Coeliac and Vegetarian guests.

Holland America Line

Oven baked rack of lamb on MS Nieuw Amsterdam.
Holland America Line attempts to adjust dishes for special dietary requests rather than just having separate options.

Prior to sailing: Holland America requires you to submit a special request form at least 90 days prior to sailing in order for it to guarantee it can meet your dining needs. The form will be passed onto the line’s culinary planning team, which in turn will inspect your itinerary and ensure that special supplies are available in each port required.

Onboard: HAL also recommends a set seating in order to facilitate a dialogue with your waiter who can be fully briefed on your situation. Guests may select open seating, however this may cause delays as waiters will require briefing prior to serving you each evening.

Norwegian Cruise Line

There's no need to miss out at that sweets buffet - there are plenty of options catering to all sorts of diets.
There’s no need to miss out at that sweets buffet – there are plenty of options catering to all sorts of diets.

Prior to sailing: At least 30 days notice is required for guests travelling on Norwegian Cruise Line who need to advise the ship of their special dining requirements. This information can be provided at the time of booking and will be passed on to the ship in advance.

If you make your booking within this period of time, the ship should still be able to meet most diet needs however can’t guarantee it. Specifically, the line says that Kosher meal requests can’t be guaranteed if made less than 30 days out.

In all cases however, travellers cannot bring their own food onboard which requires preparation by the kitchen staff, or any food which requires cold storage in the ship’s main refrigerators and cold rooms.

Onboard: Norwegian Cruise Line lives by the ‘Freestyle Cruising’ motto and encourages all guests to feel free to enjoy their meals at their leisure. However, depending on your specific needs, it also appreciates guests working with them to ensure they can provide your meals to your requirements without a significant delay.

This may mean the ship will position you at a particular part of the dining room with waiters who are aware of your circumstances.

MSC Cruises

Wait staff quickly learn your individual dining requirements and before long have them ready for you before you need to ask.
Wait staff quickly learn your individual dining requirements and before long have them ready for you before you ask.

Prior to sailing: Guests are welcome, and advised to inform the line in advance of their tailored dining needs, however MSC is already well prepared for the vast majority of conditions and individual needs and in most cases can easily adapt to cater for anything.

The Italian brand has been working closely with the Italian Coeliac Society and the European Association of Coeliac Societies since 2008 in a collaboration which has resulted in significant development of its menu and food ordering processes.

Onboard: All Gluten-free recipes and meals are now prepared onboard by chefs experienced with these food items in dedicated kitchens, and using products which are stored separately to the main inventory.

This tie-up has also seen the introduction of dedicated Gluten-Free menus for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, lunchboxes for guests to take ashore if they wish and gluten-free cocktails and beers. Vegetarian menus are also available, while Kosher meals are prepared in advance for guests who have advised of this requirement.

Princess Cruises

If you advise your dietary requirements early, even your room service meals can be tailored to meet your needs.
If you advise your dietary requirements early, even your room service meals can be tailored to meet your needs.

Prior to sailing: Guests with special requests need to log onto the line’s “Cruise Personaliser” and advice of any special requests they may have. This needs to be done more than 65 days from departure in order to guarantee the line will be sufficiently ready. Guests can also call their travel agent or Princess Cruises directly to make those requests.

Onboard: Introduce yourself to the dining room manager who will take care of your needs. Note that if you are on “Anytime dining” you will be required to create a standing reservation each evening in order to ensure your waiter will be briefed and ready to look after you.

P&O Cruises Australia

Luke Mangan's Salt Grill aboard P&O is one of the few speciality restaurants at sea with dedicated gluten free options.
Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill aboard P&O is one of the few speciality restaurants at sea with dedicated gluten free options.

Prior to sailing: As soon as a guest books a P&O cruise, they should ask their agent to make note of any special dietary requirements. Guests who book direct with the line can call ahead in order to have everything added to their booking. Basic diet requests can also be added in the “Cruise Control” section of the P&O website – the same part of the website where you can book your shore excursions, drinks package and onboard activities.

Onboard: Reconfirm your special requests with the dining room manager once you board your ship. He or she will book you a table in the Waterfront Restaurant for the entire length of your cruise. This will give you a waiter who will know your exact requirements and save you having to go through your whole requirement each evening. It is also handy to let this waiter know if you wish to dine in one of the specialty restaurants on a particular evening.

Royal Caribbean

With so many tables, it's a testament to the standard of Royal Caribbean how well special dietary needs can be met in a dining room this size.
With so many tables, it’s a tribute to Royal Caribbean how well dietary needs can be met in a dining room this size.

Prior to sailing: Royal Caribbean requires that passengers make contact, either via email directly or through your travel agent, to advise of your particular dining needs at least 90 days prior to sailing. Guests can also add this to their reservation on the line’s website under the special requests tab.

Onboard: The line only guarantees that allergies can be fully accommodated in the main dining room. They will also require you to select a traditional, or set, dining format as opposed to “My Time” dining, as the flexible option will be unable to handle complex special requests.

You should also seek out the restaurant manager to discuss your allergy soon after boarding. You can use this opportunity to discuss your seating location to ensure you aren’t seated near anyone who may cause you discomfort.

Have you cruised with a special dietary requirement? Did you feel your cruise line catered for you well? Let us know below in the comments!

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