Tips for Cruising with a Dietary Restriction

One of our favorite things about cruising is the amazing array of dining options available. With cruises offering tantalizing meals like grilled red snapper, flame-roasted pork chops, sushi, blueberry pancakes, prosciutto pizza, and much, much more, the world is truly your oyster — (and you can order those, too).

Most of the food options on your cruise are included in your already affordable ticket. That often includes 24/7 room service too, although some restrictions may apply.

When it comes to meal planning on a cruise, the only thing most of us have to worry about is over-indulging. But you may be wondering what your options are if you have more stringent dietary restrictions, like gluten allergies, lactose intolerance, or a vegetarian or vegan diet.

If you’re traveling with specific dietary needs, cruises can cater to nearly any restriction you may have.

Many cruises prepare options to suit dietary needs as part of a regular menu. In addition, cruise lines welcome requests to meet allergy and other restrictions with fresh-made options.

Whether you have a food allergy, are lactose- or gluten-intolerant, or are vegetarian or vegan, here’s our guide to ensuring a delicious cruise dining experience.

Tips for Traveling with a Dietary Restriction

Before we dive into specific dietary restrictions, let’s look at some tips to make dining onboard an enjoyable and healthy experience:

1. Provide Advanced Notice

When you book your cruise, you should let them know of any dietary restrictions you may have. Your cruise travel agent can help you with this.

Keep in mind that if you indicate a dietary need, the ship’s dining staff will plan to prepare all your meals this way. So if this is a general preference but not a strict allergy, you may want to order according to your desire on a meal-by-meal basis.

2. Communicate Onboard

The more you communicate your needs, the better service the cruise’s staff can provide you with. You may want to pre-order your meals the day before to give the kitchen time to prepare (this way you aren’t stuck waiting an extra 20 minutes while your friends all chow down).

3. Stick to the Same Staff

Once you’ve let a certain maître d’, waiter, or kitchen staffer know about your dietary restriction, try to use them as often as possible. They’re more likely to get it right, plus you don’t have to explain your needs every time you sit down for a meal.

4. Eat Made-to-Order Meals

When in doubt, you’re safest with made-to-order meals over a cafe sandwich or buffet line item.

5. Bring Your Own Food

You can bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages on board. So if you have certain snacks you like or a very specific dietary need, this is always a good back-up plan. If your food needs to be kept cold, be sure to choose a cabin with a fridge.

6. Go for the Luxury Cruise

If you require very particular dietary options, a luxury cruise line is more likely to offer highly personalized care.

7. Use a Travel Agent

The experts at CloudBlue know the ins and outs of almost every cruise line out there and can help you decide on the best cruise for your specific dietary needs, as well as assist you in notifying the cruise of your restrictions.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look closer at how cruises cater to dietary restrictions, along with some tips for traveling with special dietary needs.


Cruises are well attuned to catering to gluten free diets. We recommend informing your ship when you book your cruise to allow ample time for the ship’s kitchen to plan accordingly.

Informing the cruise line of your need for a gluten-free diet will give them the ability to order enough gluten-free breads, flours, pasta, and even beer.

When you dine onboard, you’ll first want to let the maître d’ know about your restriction. They can tell the waiter, and when it’s time to look at the menu, they can inform you of which items are gluten-free or can be prepared without gluten.

It’s also becoming quite common for cruises to clearly indicate which menu items are gluten-free, so you don’t have to ask. In more casual settings like a cafe or bar, simply inquire about the gluten-free options before ordering.

If you have celiac disease, you should know that cruise lines take it seriously and follow safe protocol of separate preparation surfaces and utensils. Buffets, however, should be avoided when eating gluten-free, as cross-contamination is hard to prevent in such settings.

Best cruises for gluten-free travelers: Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Viking, Crystal, and Regent Seven Seas


Cruises have been increasing the number of options for lactose-intolerant guests in recent years.

Similar to gluten allergies, lactose-intolerant travelers can indicate their restriction when booking their cruise. Most cruises will offer options using almond, soy, and coconut milk and can fulfill your requests.

As with any dietary need, communicate your intolerance each time you dine, as many items might use dairy products as ingredients. If you’re especially sensitive, it’s recommended you stay away from the buffet as cross-contamination is possible.

Finally, keep in mind that you can typically bring your own non-dairy milk products on board — and you can even book a cabin with a fridge to keep it cold!

Best cruises for lactose-intolerant travelers: Princess (offers an online “cruise personalizer”), Royal Caribbean, and Disney.

Vegetarian & Vegan

Vegetarian diners can expect delicious options without any special planning and requests. Cruises plan for enough vegetarian travelers these days that excellent all-veggie cuisine is par for the course.

Carnival’s vegetarian spread, for example, always gets our mouths watering.

However, many times those vegetarian options still use dairy products, which makes them a no-go for vegan diners. If you’re vegan, you should make a special dietary request upon booking, just as if you were traveling with an allergy.

Higher-end cruise lines are more likely to not just cater to vegans, but also to make it a priority. Oceania’s vegan menu sports 250 dishes, while SeaDream boasts a raw food vegan menu.

Best cruises for vegetarians: Norwegian, Carnival, Celebrity (their Dine Aware program educates their staff on dietary needs).

Best cruises for vegans: Luxury cruises such as SeaDream Yacht Club and Oceania are especially great. For a next-level dining experience, consider a vegan-themed cruise. Ask the experts at CloudBlue for more information »

Severe Food Allergies

Travelers with nut and other food allergies can plan on using the same guidelines as someone with a serious gluten allergy.

In the case of a serious allergic reaction, cruise staff are trained in emergency procedures such as administering epinephrine auto-injections. Additionally, a cruise should provide an onboard emergency physician and a medical center.

If you have concerns about a cruise line’s ability to respond to a medical emergency, speak with your cruise travel agent about the cruises with the best medical amenities and response rates.

Finding the Right Cruise for Your Needs

Most cruise lines do a great job of catering to the needs of each passenger, and we stand by all the cruise lines we book with here at CloudBlue.

But some cruises are better than others when it comes to very specific needs. Even within a single cruise line, they often offer different ships and various themed cruises that may be more suitable to your restrictions (vegetarians need not register for this bacon-themed cruise).

Here at CloudBlue, we have decades of combined cruise experience, and we use our extensive knowledge to help each of our travelers find the best cruise lines for dietary restrictions.

Contact us today to get started planning the cruise vacation of your dreams »

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