Cruising Paleo? It’s possible!

December 23, 2013 in Categories: by

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Last month, my assistant Tamar went on a cruise with her family.  Because Tamar suffers from Crohn’s disease and follows a modified Autoimmune Protocol (with elements of SCD and inspirations from Dr. Fuhrman thrown in), she had many trepidations about how she was going to get food that she could eat while traveling.  We had several conversations leading up to her departure; and as she was leaving, I sent her a quick text message that said “take pictures of your meals and you can do a post on how it went when you get back!”.  Yeah, I gave her work to do on her vacation (what a jerk), but on the bright side, there’s now this great resource on how to follow a restricted diet on a cruise ship! Thank you Tamar!

A seven day Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Conquest? No cooking, no cleaning, no carpool, no work (sorry Sarah!), no alarm clock….what could be better? Wait….back to that part about no cooking. I take my own food everywhere. I don’t leave home without a cooler containing a typical Paleo meal (protein and steamed vegetables) and I always have an apple or pear in my bag. What am I going to eat a on a cruise? I’ve been a few cruises (pre-Paleo) and I certainly never went hungry. But things are different now… very different.

I’m happy to tell you that not only it is possible to cruise Paleo, it’s actually not very difficult at all!

Several weeks before our cruise I called Carnival and spoke to them about my concerns regarding the food. The customer service representative said the best she could do was flag my booking number as having food allergies, but that any other special requests could not be done in advance.

I started a thread in the Carnival forum on the Cruise Critic website, and was advised the best thing to do was talk to the maitre d’  when we boarded the ship. You may notice I was asking about green smoothies on board in my post on Cruise Critic. I did not have any smoothies on board and it was not a problem at all.

I created a document that explained what I do and do not eat and made several copies. Before the cruise, I emailed the document to other family members that were also going on the cruise. I did this to decrease the number of questions they would ask me about my meals on the cruise. Yes, I’m a traditional Paleo girl: no dairy, no grains, no legumes. However, my diet has a few unique twists. No pork for religious reasons and no raw vegetables (my system does not handle raw foods well). No salad bar for me.

The cruise was Sunday to Sunday departing from Miami. The night before the cruise we slept at a hotel (Marriott Courtyard, highly recommend!) close to the Atlanta Airport. When we left our house to go to the hotel, I thought to myself… “when I am going to eat vegetables again?”. Our flight was very early on Sunday morning, and we had to leave the hotel no later than 7:00 am. I did not eat anything until we got to the airport. We had brought several Suja JuicesGo Picnic meals, Clif Kit bars, AMRAP bars, and fresh fruit.

Once on the plane I tried an AMRAP bar for the first time. They are very good and I love the fact that they contain quality ingredients.

120313 167Once we landed in Miami, we ate a restaurant in the main terminal. I asked for a container with turkey and avocado, and also had some of the fruit we brought from home. I call it “AIP in MIA”.

120313 187Much, much later we arrived on the ship. One of the very first things I did was visit the dining room. I gave the receptionist a copy of my document and explained the food situation. She said no problem. At this point we were all hungry. Due to the timing the buffet had ended, and dinner did not start for a few hours. I had several turkey sticks, a Clif Kit bar, and dried fruit. And that’s when my belly made it very clear that it was unhappy.

At dinner I had salmon and vegetables. I asked for no seasoning on the fish, and plain, steamed vegetables. I had a fruit plate for dessert. Everything was good.

The next morning at breakfast they brought me a plate of steamed vegetables and turkey bacon. I don’t know how to explain it, but the bacon tasted artificial and strange. My stomach was not very happy after this meal, maybe due to the seasonings on the bacon.

When we were leaving the dining room, a staff member stopped me and said the chef wanted to see me. The chef sat down with me and confirmed what I can and cannot eat. He then created a personalized menu for each day of the cruise.  I was very impressed!

120313 203All of my meals were excellent. Breakfast was usually hard boiled eggs with vegetables, lunch was usually chicken breast with vegetables, and dinner was fish with vegetables. And I had fruit at every meal. On occasion I had turkey deli meat or a burger with no bun from Guy’s Burger Joint (check out their Pig Patty, I think it would be Sarah’s choice!) with my vegetables. Although I did not eat there, the BlueIguana Cantina (menu) would also be a good choice for a Paleo meal (protein and assorted veggies). My goal is to eat three large meals a day. However, when there were times between meals that I was hungry I would eat an apple or pear from the buffet area.

Here I am with Chef Santosh, he found me daily to ask if all meals were prepared correctly.

120313 215Again, I want to thank the chef and all the kitchen staff on the Carnival Conquest. They really made an effort to ensure that I was happy with all of my meals. Here are some photos of a few of my delicoius Paleo, AIP-ish (I did eat eggs and I’m not sure of the seasoning used on the burgers, but did not eat nightshades, nuts, seeds) meals:


Breakfast Collage Lunch:

Lunch CollageDinner:

Dinner CollageAnd I can’t forget the glorious fruit!Fruit CollageHere is an example of the document that came with my meals, this one is for breakfast. Also pictured: my probiotic and digestive enzymes.

120313 501I don’t want anyone to think I’m perfect. Although I was able to cruise grain, dairy, and legume free easily, my “frenemy” sugar was present. Not just in the large amounts of fruit that I consumed, but also in gum and a bit of candy. Not sure why Carnival feels that there should be an actual store where you can buy candy on the ship, but I did visit for Jawbreakers a time or two.

Besides the food, what else was great about this cruise?

Sleeping! We all know how important sleep is, right? It was wonderful to not set an alarm, to wake up based on my own internal clock. And back to the food for a second, it was nice to eat when I was truly hungry, not just because it was 6:30 am and I was in the kitchen preparing food for my family (like I do during the week at home).

Being happy. I was surrounded (literally, there was 17 of us in our group) by family. Family that I don’t see often enough. Seeing my children with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins is very special. Yes, I smiled and laughed often on the cruise.

Spending time outdoors. I had melanoma in 2004 and I am very cautious about my sun exposure. But I also know that there are many benefits to being outdoors. There were some rainy and cloudy days (it even rained at the beach) but I was still able to get outside every day.

Catching up on some very important reading. I was able to read a recent version of The Paleo Approach and in a word, wow! You all are going to love this book! (Sidenote, we were considering an e-reader but purchased an iPad Mini instead and it’s awesome. Perfect size to fit in your purse!)

If you’re thinking about cruising but worried about the food, I am here to tell you that the Carnival Staff will work with you on special meals. If you eat “standard Paleo”, you won’t even need to ask for special food. If you’re strict AIP, you will need to ask for assistance. But even with special meals made just for you, there is another part to the food equation. You have to be okay with watching people (in my case, my own family!) eating non-Paleo next to you. Be strong, and don’t give in to the temptation.

What my husband and kids ate on the cruise could be a whole separate post. At home we all eat basically the same, with some exceptions for playdates, parties, etc (they eat more SAD on those occasions). But on the cruise it was all about compromises: Yes, you may have ice cream if you eat fruit first. or Yes, you may have cake if you eat salmon and vegetables. That was the approach that worked best in this situation.

One last thing, even though Sarah was home working hard (and was actually ill) while I was away, I brought her with me in my own way.

Here she is in St. Thomas…

120313 291

…and Grand Turk…

120313 379Now who is ready for a The Paleo Mom Cruise? I think I’ll put that on my to do list right now…

Update: In August 2014 I cruised with Royal Caribbean and ate AIP (plus egg yolks) and low-FODMAP. Everything was fabulous, I’ll write a more detailed post about it soon. 


Awesome that you were able to eat well on the cruise! I’ve always loved that you are an information ‘sharer’ and not afraid to ask for what you need. I don’t think I would have ever considered to ask the cruise kitchen if they could accommodate but it is such a simple way to make your vacation less stressful. Thanks for the tips on traveling and eating well! And great idea — a Paleo Mom Cruise — totally in!

As soon as I found out about the cruise, the first thing I thought about was the food. But all my worrying was not necessary. 🙂

Oooh! Thank you so much for sharing this! I haven’t cruised since before children and being gluten/soy/sugar free, and was wondering about this the other day after the snow started falling. I can see that there is a cruise in my future. “If you plan it, they will come!”

Yes, just be sure to have a document that clearly explains what you can and cannot eat. I think that was the key. I did not have to verbally explain my needs over and over.

Just yesterday my family was just talking about going on a cruise in 2014. I told them I would be terrified to travel on a cruise with my food issues. Good to know it can be done! Thanks!!

Go on that cruise and have fun! Just be sure to plan ahead and bring a document that clearly explains your food needs. 🙂

My wife and I have been considering going on a cruise for a few years now, and one of hte main deterrents was always the food situation. She is lactose intolerant, and I eat Primal/Paleo. This post actually gives me hope that it might go better than I imagined. Thanks for sharing!

One thing about cruise ships is that they have all sort of food on board. I believe most cruise lines want their customers to be happy. Go on that cruise and have fun! 🙂

I know there are often specialty cruises for different groups. But unless all passengers on the cruise were Paleo, I don’t know if they would not serve the non-Paleo items (gluten, legumes, etc)

Thanks for sharing your experience, Tamar. I think traveling is a bit intimidating for many of us, and each successful trip someone shares cuts through that fear and inspires us to keep travel a part of our life. Preparation is key, and your chef was clearly awesome! It sounds like you got the rejuvenation you richly deserved. Happy New Year!

I began eating very strict Paleo when my son was a few months old. He has severe food allergies, as does my daughter. In order to breast feed them I had to cut out all of their allergens (all grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, soy, tomatoes and many more! We went on a Carnival cruise in Jan 2010, and they did an amazing job of accommodating all of our dietary needs. We were assigned a concierge who went over each day’s menu with us and made sure we were well taken care of. It didn’t hurt that my son was an adorable 10 month old at the time! Even on the shore excursion in Mexico I was able to stay strict.
I blog about our Paleo life at

Holland America is also very good about food issues. Most of the time I just asked the waiter if he could sub in this for that, and presto, it came … beautifully presented and prepared. They had a whole section on the menu of very plain yet delicious foods, available at each meal. Indeed, the hardest part was watching the glorious unhealthy food parade at every meal, especially the pastries at breakfast and the desserts at other meals. I find that nice restaurants (and apparently cruise lines) are beginning to adapt very well to the idea of no bread and no pasta.

My guess is that restaurants (and cruise lines!) want to keep their customers happy and will prepare foods “outside the box” for their customers.

Awesome post, definitely going to prepare document like that for my life. I also have crohns/psoriasis and can hand out the document to men I date a few times on so I don’t have to keep explaining it. Funny but life is either a comedy or a tragedy, and im done with food tragedies. And I bet the chef on the ship upped his game in terms of healthy food he prepares and eats himself.

hi tamar thank you of this insight. very helpful. i was wondering (when at home) do you make the yeast based paleo bread? i have UC and am considering making it but know it is not scd legal. i realize we are all different but hearing if you eat it would be helpful. thank you

Hi CG! No, I do not make any type of bread at home. I really don’t miss bread so that’s not an issue for me personally.

Thanks for the clarification Tamar. Off topic, do you know when the Kindle version of The Paleo Approach will be available?

Thanks again!

Yes, the Kindle version will be available the day the book is released (01/28/14). The Kindle version is not available for preorder.

Tamar, I changed my mind and wanted to get the print version on amazon.CA. Canada. When will it be available again?

We are not exactly sure. There has been some delays due to the weather and demand for the first print run. My best guess is in the next two weeks. Hopefully Amazon will be able to give you more specific updates. — Tamar, Sarah’s assistant

Tamar, My husband and I are going in a cruise in Oct with carnival. I haven’t started AIP yet, waiting on book, but am curious what all exactly I would put on a document to take on board with me. I have been extremely nervous about going AIP because we love to eat out. But with my daughter and myself both having autoimmune issues it is a point of going to do this to stop taking so many pills. How exactly was your form worded would you mind sharing?

we have just been invited on a cruise in May and food is the biggest worry I have. I am so glad to hear that there are options that we can work through, and that Carnival is willing to work with us. I have also heard good things about Disney, so hopefully we can make that a family trip in the future.

Hi Susan, I was extremely impressed with how Carnival took care of my food. I too have heard good things about Disney, and also NCL. It’s nice to know that the cruise lines want to make their customers happy. 🙂

I do the exact same thing, and it works like a charm. No feeling like I’m starving on a cruise! Disney as also really good about accommodating special diets too!

We recently cruised on a small UnCruise inthe Sea of Cortez. I eat strictly gluten-free and strive for Paleo. It was a breeze! The passenger group is small and all meals very tailored, but they catered to me at every meal. Highly recommend!

You were lucky to speak to a Chef, I eat gluten free (celiac) and found it difficult on a Carnival, lots of confusion and poorly trained staff.

I’m not sure about the oils. I asked for no oils on the vegetables. I did not see any mention of organic foods on the menu. But there may be some cruise lines that offer those things.

Thank you for such an insightful post, and very timely for me. I’ll be going on a Celebrity Cruise in November on AIP / Low-FODMAP, and I can tell you the food aspect is already giving me indigestion. I will definitely make a point to speak to the maitre d, and I also plan to pack portable bone broth gels, plaintain chips, jerky, coconut oil packs and any other snacks I can manage. Hopefully I’ll be telling an equally refreshing story myself in two months!

Hi Lea, thanks for the comment. I know you will have an amazing time on your cruise in November. I cruised on Royal Caribbean last month, this time AIP (plus egg yolks) and low-FODMAP. I plan to write a post about it soon. All the food was wonderful! You may want to confirm with Celebrity that you can bring non-perishable items with you. Carnival did not tell me that I could do that, but Royal Caribbean did. Also, please tell me more about portable bone broth gels, where do you purchase those? Thanks!

Amazing timing! I hope you’ll be posting sometime before I leave (no pressure 😉 so I’ll know exactly how to navigate the cruise line. They did tell me I can bring non-perishables, thankfully. I wish I could actually buy the bone broth gels, but rather it’s a homemade recipe from Nourished Kitchen that I’ll be tackling:

If Paleo On the Go or Pete’s Paleo is listening and they decide to produce broth-on-the-go, I’ll be their first customer!

Excellent post! I follow the GAPS diet for my Crohns. It is a healing diet so I can enjoy raw vegetables again! Also fruit has been found to be quite damaging if eaten more than two times a day for Crohns patients. I am eager to go on a cruise but worried about ensuring I am eating the correct foods such as grassfed beef only.

Hi Allison. I agree with you about the fruit, I find that I feel better and have less bloating when I eat less fruit. I eat a lot less fruit now than I did when we cruised last year. I’m not sure if any of the major cruise lines offer grassfed beef. I hope you find a cruise that fits your needs. The forums on Cruise Critic are a great resource:

Hi there,
I am a travel agent in Southern PA, near the MD border. I plan all types of travel but in particular I have
been thinking of arranging a Paleo themed cruise with some on board lectures and I wondered if you and I can talk about that. It’s such a large an helpful community of people willing to share ideas, recipes, etc. I am throwing several ideas around and would like to get someone like you involved in it. You can reach me at 888-923-1513. Even if you yourself may not want to do it I sure could use some helpful tips and things to think about when planning this. I have good contacts with many of the cruise lines so if the group is big enough I know that we can get them to work with us on meal planning. I just came back from a Royal Caribbean cruise and I was able to maintain my mostly Paleo meal plan with ease due to all of the choices on board. OK I hope to talk with you real soon!

I look forward to your updated post about your 2014 cruise… Taking a 4 day Disney Cruise in Nov 2015 and don’t want to stray.

Crohn’s disease dx’d 6/2013
Paleo eating since 1/2015

My husband and I went in a cruise in Dec. I was concerned about the food as well, and took some snacks along, (that I never ate!) my diet’s not as strict as yours, but I do eat gluten and sugar free, and avoid some other foods as well. When the dining room found out they were very accommodating. They’d give me a menu the night before, so I could make my choices before hand, and then they could prepare it gluten free if necessary. The buffet had enough choices that I could find things to eat there. I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another cruise. This was with Royal Caribbean.

Thank you for your article, it was very helpful. I was a bit worry about a family trip to Antigua-Barbuda. My adult son is on the AIP and was very worried about this first traveling experience. So with some of the tips provided online, we did prep with lots of snacks, good for a full week! He also brought lunch for the plane. And as soon as we arrived to the all inclusive resort, St James Club resort, we talked to the Executive Chef. To make it simple, we gave him a list of the foods my son CAN have. The Executive Chef, made copies of the list and gave it to all the other chefs (four restaurants in the resort). They totally acommodated to my sons needs and adhere strictly to the list. We only had to make reservations to let them know which restaurant we were going to be. The chefs will come to the table and let my son know what the menu plan was. Each course was great and as the week advanced, they became even more creative with their recipes- duck in a watermelon sauce… Yum!
Needless to say, we had a very relaxing week.

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