Cruise Line Food Review
When travelers decide to go on a cruise, they think of sun, fun, and food—and lots of it. With three meals and endless snacks and desserts offered each day, it’s important that cruise
passengers be careful about their food choices. Because cruise-goers are so often bombarded with high-fat “luxury” foods, PCRM dietitians wanted to find out if healthy options were
also available. PCRM learned that while it is possible to eat healthfully on all of the cruise
lines evaluated, the level of effort required from the traveler varies greatly. PCRM dietitians contacted the ten cruise lines most requested by travelers (based on
information from Orbitz Travel) between July and August 2002. PCRM dietitians called
each cruise line to obtain a copy of its menu and additionally called each cruise line
anonymously to ensure that potential customers were given the same options when they
called. Menus and cruise line food reviews were also obtained online. Cruise Line Rating System
The cruise lines were rated on a four-star scale. Each cruise line received one star for serving
at least one low-fat, high-fiber entrée for breakfast; one star for having a vegetarian entrée at lunch and dinner; a bonus star if it also offered vegan (non-dairy vegetarian) entrées for both lunch and dinner; and one star if it offered fruit for dessert and snacks. Four out of ten cruise lines received the maximum rating of four stars. Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Windstar all had healthy options easily available. Holland America,
Princess, Celebrity, and Crystal failed to provide a non-dairy vegetarian option at lunch and dinner. They met all other PCRM criteria by having a low-fat, high-fiber entrée for each breakfast (usually oatmeal), by having a vegetarian option at lunch and dinner, and by
having a choice of fruit for desserts and snacks. The cruise lines that received two stars, our
lowest ranking, were Disney and Delta Queen. These cruise lines only offer vegetarian
options if you request them in advance of the cruise. Most travelers will not be aware of this
option (unless they ask because they are already vegetarian) and will miss out on the
opportunity to eat a healthy meal while on board.
Risk of Foodborne Illness
Not only does requesting and choosing a vegetarian option ensure that passengers will enjoy
a meal lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in fiber, vegetables, and antioxidants, it also
means they are at lower risk for contracting foodborne illnesses. According to a study
conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.4 foodborne illness 1 Although outbreaks occur per 1,000 cruises or 2.3 outbreaks per 10 million passenger-days.these statistics are not always of epidemic proportions, no vacationer wants to risk being sick
The most common means of contracting foodborne illness are through eggs, undercooked
seafood, and undercooked meats. To eliminate the risk of becoming ill, passengers should
focus on plant foods and base cruise meals around beans, whole grains, fruits, and
The following is a list of our cruise line ratings, with added commentary below, from best to
Cruise Line Food Ratings
Cruise Line Low-fat, high-fiber Vegetarian item at lunch and dinner Fruit for Total
entrée for breakfast (bonus star if it’s vegan for both desserts and stars
meals) snacks Carnival Cruise * ** * **** Lines
Norwegian Cruise * ** * **** Line
Royal Caribbean * ** * **** International
Windstar Cruises * ** * **** Holland America * * * *** Line
Princess Cruises * * * *** Celebrity Cruises * * * *** Crystal Cruises * * * *** Disney Cruise Line * * * Delta Queen * * ** Steamboat Co.
Each star is earned through the following criteria:
1. Offering of a low-fat, high-fiber entrée for each breakfast
2. Offering of a vegetarian item at lunch and dinner (bonus star if the items are dairy-
3. Offering of fruit for desserts and snacks
Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Cruise Lines received four stars for making it easy to eat healthy food while
on board its ships. A bowl of hot oatmeal and whole-wheat toast with preserves ensures a healthy start each day. Lunch offerings include Jamaican Red Bean Soup
with oven-fresh foccacia. For dinner, the Mixed Garden and Field Greens Salad and
Grilled Brochettes of Fresh Garden Vegetables provide travelers a healthy dose of
delicious fat-free and cholesterol-free fare. With meals like this, cruise-goers need
not worry about packing on the pounds.
Norwegian Cruise Line
The Norwegian Cruise Line makes it easy for its passengers to choose healthy
options by clearly marking all vegetarian selections. The company offers delectable
healthy entrées such as the Thai Pasta Salad and the zesty Caribbean Tofu Stir-Fry. It
also has a tantalizing Indian vegetarian buffet for lunch each day with entrées like
curried vegetables over rice.
Royal Caribbean International
The chefs on Royal Caribbean know that a menu item doesn’t have to be bland to be healthy. The menu offerings include items such as the Tangine Vegetable Stew,
Risotto Primavera, and a California wrap with layers of hummus and roasted
vegetables. For a special sweet treat, the low-fat Mango Strudel is a great choice.
Windstar Cruises are known for fresh, light, healthy cuisine. The kitchen provides
one to two vegetarian entrée choices at each meal. This ensures that both vegetarian
and health-conscious passengers have a variety of meal options to choose from. It also offers a range of fresh fruits and vegetables for all meals and snacks.
Holland America Line
On the Holland America Line, fresh fruit is available for dessert and snacks, but
lunch and dinner entrée choices are routinely high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Holland America Line does accept special meal requests, so passengers are advised
to ask for vegan meals, which are cholesterol-free, before they embark on this cruise.
Princess Cruises does not have a standard non-dairy, vegetarian entrée for each meal, but one is available if requested prior to cruise date. Stay away from the misnamed
“Healthy Choice Menu” which offers things like Meatballs with Parmesan or Steak
and Potato Salad. While hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and bacon burgers are always
available on the lunch menu, low-fat, cholesterol-free choices are not. Travelers should call the cruise line ahead of time to request all vegetarian and cholesterol-free
meals; otherwise, they will be left with such high-fat, high-cholesterol options such as Halibut in Mayonnaise, Lobster Tail with Butter, Royal Pheasant in Pan Juices, or
the Beef Wellington.
Celebrity Cruises received only three stars because travelers looking to eat
healthfully cannot rely on the set menu. The health-conscious or vegetarian cruise-
goer will be faced with the choices of Halibut with Beurre Blanc (a hot butter sauce),
Crispy Duck, Milk-Fed Veal, or Prime Rib. All of these choices are high in fat and cholesterol and devoid of fiber. The vegetarian menu, however, has a number of
healthy options. The appetizers include Korean Vegetable Pancakes or Roasted
Yellow Peppers with Capers, Parsley, and Balsamic Vinegar. The main courses consist of healthy low-fat options such as Vegetable and Mushroom Pie topped with
a cornbread crust, Thai Noodle Salad with vegetables and Tofu with Hummus,
Tabouli, and Tomato.
Crystal Cruises received a rating of only three stars because non-dairy vegetarian meals are not available at every meal. However, vegan meals can be arranged by pre-
cruise request. The menu does include a vegetarian selection for each meal, with
lunch offerings like Potato Herb Mushroom Roll on Sautéed Leaf Spinach or Sweet and Sour Vegetables. Try the Grilled Asparagus and Parsnips or the Pressed Tomato
and Basil Terrine on a Nicoise Salad for a healthy and low-fat dinner.
Disney Cruise Line
The Disney Cruise Line will provide vegetarian options if the request is made prior
to the cruise date. Accommodations will be provided by the headwaiter at the dining
service hall. If the traveler doesn’t call ahead for a special meal request (it’s
recommended that you call at least two weeks prior to your departure date), he or she may not be able to find many healthy choices on the menu. Luckily, quite often the
pasta of the day is vegetarian or vegan.
Delta Queen Steamboat Co.
The Delta Queen cruise line cannot guarantee vegetarian entrées at lunch and dinner, but it does offer vegetarian side orders. If requested prior to cruise date,
accommodations may be available. If travelers have their heart set on having an old
fashioned “steamboatin’” vacation cruising along the Mississippi river, they are advised to call ahead and make specific requests as to what healthy choices they
would like to see offered.
1. JAMA 1996 Feb 21;275(7):545-7