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Scaling Back on the Food Issue

So you're worried about packing five extra pounds, are you, after a just-completed holiday season of over-eating?


"So you're going on a one-week cruise?" said the dentist, his fingers and instruments making it impossible to answer. "I went on a cruise once and I wasn't worried about putting on weight. You know what the experts say?"

Again, no answer.

"They say — and 'they' are the experts in gaining weight — that's it's physiologically impossible to add more than two pounds in one week. It's also physiologically impossible to lose more than two pounds in one week. Physiologically impossible!"

There's another reason to relax, one that didn't come from the dentist.

Cruise lines understand passenger concerns about obesity. Their menus are increasingly health-conscious. Check any dining room menu on a ship and you'll find what's low-cal, low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian, gluten-free…items marked to cater to just above everybody's dietary concerns. When we were on the Celebrity Reflection last month, on one evening's menu 16 of the 21 items were gluten-free.

Besides that, portions are smaller. You can still eat as much as you can fit down your throat, but not usually in one serving. Two main courses? Go for it. But the cruise lines have really thrown the guilt complex back at the passenger, where it should be, of course. 

Dessert? You don't have to chow-down on all the chocolate you can find because desserts are smaller, too. Sometimes, three or four bite-sized desserts is better…and better for you.

If all else fails, naturally, you can hit the gym and work it off.

Or…just take the dentist's word for it.

Norwegian Breakaway
7 nights
April 30, 2013
Southampton, New York
 Inside: $749
Cost per day: $107

Dining Getting Royal Treatment


We spent last weekend in Las Vegas, because that's what people who like Jimmy Buffett do when he's playing his tunes for you and 15,000 of your closest friends. And speaking of friends, a woman of our vintage said "Did you eat lots of food?" after we returned, because that's what Vegas used to be known for, and obviously still is…to people who haven't been there for a while.

Well, Vegas has changed, if you hadn't noticed. No more $1.99 buffets — matter of fact, Jimmy's no cheap Buffett either — unless you're a high roller, in which case you don't frequent $1.99 buffets.

Cruise ships were known for the same thing, cheap food, and if you want to make the connection between slots and table games in both places, go ahead. Then cruise lines invented specialty restaurants, to "sell" copious amounts of upscale food for an extra $5 at first…now up to $30 or $35.

That's per person, of course.

Just like airlines are enjoying the fruits of all those extra charges, it seemed cruise lines were profiting, too.

And now?

Now, Royal Caribbean has changed the game. It's upgrading the free food. The icing is off the cake, so to speak. Now the customers want more than copious amounts…they want quality.

Here's what Royal Caribbean is doing:

1. Changing complimentary dining menus to include "dishes infused with regional flavors reflective of the destinations of the world the line’s ships sail to)…translation: dining room patrons want variety.

2. Improving choices for guests with dietary restrictions. For example, daily gluten-free bread offerings will be available upon request, for those with conditions like celiac disease. A new widely-recognized vegetarian symbol will appear in the appropriate place on menus.

3. Ramping up the quality. It's rare that you find dishes like these in the main dining room with any regularity — rack of lamb, surf & turf, premium beef sliders, escargot bourguignonne and “hot from the oven” blueberry peach crumble. You will now.

Royal Caribbean calls it the "next evolution" of dining concepts, which is fine. We call it trying to deliver what used to make cruise ships famous: cheap, good food.

Is Vegas next?

Carnival Miracle
8 nights
January 17, 2013
New York (return): Port Canaveral, Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $49

Cruising and Food Can Be a Challenge

The first four-letter word that comes with going on a cruise is food. There is always so much of it, day and night, that the suspicion is everybody who goes on a cruise comes back a different size, and the tailoring of clothes requires extra material.

There is another side to the story of food and cruising.

In this era, more and more people have discovered problems with certain foods. Allergies. Intestinal issues. We have a granddaughter who has celiac disease, so eating anything with wheat in it is an enormous problem. Our daughter was vegetarian for a number of years. All of these "issues" make it more challenging in the kitchen for cruise lines…and they can make cruising an unpleasant experience for the customers.

We have friends with dietary issues — serious ones — going on a Norwegian cruise in September. On their behalf, we made a few inquiries and discovered that Norwegian tries to be proactive. There's an email address where passengers can make their dietary preferences (aka, concerns) known in advance: accessdesk@ncl.com. Our friends promise to take notes and report back.

Norwegian, like all cruise lines, encourages passengers to request specific items from waiters in restaurants. There are no guarantees, of course, but our experience has been that most waiters will do everything in their power to accommodate you. If they don't, it's usually because they can't.

One of our best "waiter experiences" was on the Norwegian Sun. His name was Dollarege Soares, he was from Mumbai and by the end of the cruise we'd become such good friends that when we had the camera out on our last night, he gathered us all together for what he called "family picture." That had nothing to do with food, of course, but it had everything to do with customer service.

And that usually means that four-letter word.

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
September 23, 2012
Barcelona (return): Naples, Rome, Florence, Cannes, Marseille
Inside: $629
Cost per day: $89

Holland America Ups the Veggie Fare

Hands up, if you know somebody who has or has had cancer. Hands down, if you've thought about eating better because of it.

We've never been vegetarians. One of us (hands up) is more of a carnivore than she is. Yet we have both felt the urge, or need, to become "more vegetarian" because, frankly, it's healthier.

Holland America's like that, too.

This week, the venerable cruise line that's sometimes linked with the most senior of cruisers blew the lid off the veggie pot and introduced a vegetarian-only menu and 30 new vegetarian dishes to the main dining room menu. For the most senior of cruisers this might be like an event most will remember…when non-smoking rows in planes suddenly became non-smoking  planes.

Translation: Vegetarians are growing, and not in the same way junk-food addicts are. On all 15 Holland America ships, you'll find a difference: here a veggie, there a veggie, everywhere a veggie.

Rudi Sodamin, who last month was named the Best Cruise Line Chef by Porthole Magazine for the second year in a row, is the designer of Holland America's new menus. Decorations and plaudits aside, there is a good reason for this. Rudi is Holland America's Master Chef.

He has come up with a 22-dish vegetarian and vegan menu that highlights…wait for it…vegetables! Appetizers, main courses, soups…the while nine yards. They're all available (upon request) for either lunch or dinner. And guess what?

No extra charge.

Holland America calls Chef Rudi's creations "vibrant, flavorful culinary selections." The key word there is flavorful.

Just ask the resident carnivore. If Rudi can succeed there, he might have a convert.

Norwegian Jade
7 nights
May 26, 2012
Venice (return): Naples, Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, Olympia
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

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