A vegan cruise of the Caribbean: the ultimate vacation for those following a plant-based diet.
Have you ever wanted to book a cruise, but wondered if you’d be able to find vegan food? And I’m talking actual plant-based meals – not just living off green salads, pasta with tomato sauce, and French fries.
While I’ve sailed on cruise ships numerous times and demonstrated that it’s entirely possible to dine as a vegan on a cruise ship without starving or being malnourished, this vegan cruise experience is very unique. It’s catered entirely to vegans, and not only when it comes to the food. It’s a vegan themed cruise aimed at celebrating and learning more about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
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Holistic Holiday at Sea makes it easy to eat vegan food on a cruise ship. In fact, every meal is 100% vegan whether you’re eating in the dining room or the buffet. This annual cruise visits different ports every year with MSC Cruises. In 2018, we sailed aboard the MSC Divina to several ports in the Caribbean: St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Martinique, Barbados, Guadeloupe, sailing round trip from Miami.
I’ll disclose right now that I actually won this cruise vacation…yes, I won a cruise for two! Justin and I were treated to this 10 day vegan cruise, including the vacation itself and a couple of classes on board (but not including the flights). It’s not every day that you win such a spectacular prize. I won this cruise simply by entering a giveaway on their website, and my name was selected out of the 22,000 people that entered. Wow!
Allow me to explain what you need to know about taking this Caribbean vegan cruise. I’ll share our personal experiences, including our favourite aspects of the trip and what could be improved upon.
Let’s be honest – the food is one of the main reasons why most people go on cruises. While I love travelling from port to port and staring out to the ocean, the endless sea of food is what attracts so many cruise ship passengers.
On the vegan cruise with Holistic Holiday at Sea, the food on the MSC Divina isn’t just vegan. About 65% of the cruise ship passengers were sailing with the Holistic Holiday at Sea group, while the other half of passengers weren’t sailing with the group. Those touring with our group had special access to the all-vegan buffet, as well as the vegan menus in the dining room for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Some of the dishes in the regular buffet were naturally vegan, such as the marinara pizza, some pasta, fruit, salads, and one of the veggie burgers. Feel free to consult with the buffet employees for any clarification, if needed.
The vegan cruise buffet wrapped around the back counters of the ship, serving food for breakfast and lunch. Breakfasts were similar each day, with selections of fruit, oatmeal, breads, vegan cheeses, and more. For lunch, the dishes had new themes every day, including Mexican food, Asian stir fries with tempeh, and more. The breakfast and lunch buffets were served only during set times each day, typically for a couple of hours each.
The main issue with the vegan buffet was standing in lengthy line-ups every day for the food. For breakfast on most days, we didn’t even bother as we could grab some of the same items from the larger, regular buffet and not wait in any lines. For lunch, I often wanted to try the vegan food as it looked super delicious and waited for a half hour or longer to eat.
With over half of the passengers on board wanting the vegan food, it would be nice if this section was expanded to a larger space or if the hours were extended. I’d also love to see a vegan dinner buffet added, too.
The food in the buffet was absolutely delicious, and I thoroughly enjoyed each one of these meals. There was a great variety, and I always found something that I enjoyed. There were even vegan desserts every day for lunch in the buffet, such as a small cake or square.
VEGAN IN THE DINING ROOM
We didn’t dine for breakfast or lunch very often in the dining room as we were often leaving for an excursion or activity during those hours. For dinner, those sailing with the Holistic Holiday group met in one of two dining rooms at 6:00pm each night for the full vegan menu.
On our first night, it took a very long time for our meal to arrive. While it was a five course meal, we were in the dining room for nearly two hours. Thankfully, the meal service improved vastly as the nights went on.
The food was always worth the wait. We generally ate a small appetizer, a soup, a salad, a main course, and a dessert. If there was something that I didn’t fancy on the menu, I would ask to skip that dish completely. While the meals themselves were small, there was enough food to feel satisfied after eating four or five dishes. And as we learned on our last night from our friends, you can always ask for seconds of something that you particularly enjoyed!
One night, Justin decided to play a joke on me. He said something distracting which caused me to look away for a second. In that moment, he scooped up my last bit of chocolate cake on his fork and ate it. My cake. Now, stealing a girl’s last bit of chocolate cake is a dangerous game to play. I feel like he may have instantly regretted doing that. I made sure to steal his dessert on several occasions after that, and I’m sure he learned his lesson to never mess around with my dessert again!
Some of my favourite dining room meals included a vegan lasagna, a bean burger with roasted potatoes, and a seitan stroganoff.
VEGAN FOOD PARTIES
These parties were one of the highlights for us. During several nights, a company or brand hosted a themed food party featuring their products on the main pool deck. This included a Follow Your Heart cheese pizza night, a Coconut Bliss sundae party, a Coconut Bliss ice cream bar party, and a nacho cheese party with Notcho Nocheez.
Basically, there were tables serving pizza, ice cream, and nachos on these evenings until they ran out of food. We gorged on slices of pizza with yummy vegan cheese, ate sundaes dripping with chocolate sauce, gobbled down numerous ice cream bars in flavours we’d never tried before, and devoured plates of nachos with zesty cheese.
At the Eataly restaurant on the ship, we ordered freshly made marinara pizzas almost every night. It was also a game of “spot the vegan” – I swear the pizza place was filled every night with hungry marinara pizza eaters as that was the only pizza on the menu that didn’t have cheese or meat. Those pizzas were really good. The dough was cooked to perfection, the tomato sauce was zesty, and there were hints of basil and garlic. Yum!
You could grab a slice of this pizza in the buffet, but nothing beat the freshly made pizzas. In the buffet, they started adding some vegetables to the pizza. We thought the plain marinara pizzas were excellent and they reminded us of our trip to Italy a few years ago.
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS
This 10 day vegan cruise sailed from Miami round trip to several Caribbean islands, including St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Martinique, Barbados, and Guadeloupe. The original sailing itinerary had different ports arranged, but due to the hurricanes in the region some months ago, some islands with hurricane damage were swapped out for other ones. I was actually quite happy with the changes as I’d never travelled to St. Kitts, Martinique or Gaudeloupe before, and I’d only visited Barbados once a really long time ago.
We had ample time each day to explore the islands, typically for eight or nine hours. The full range of cruise excursions available on the MSC Divina were offered, as well as specialty vegan excursions with vegan food options. It’s definitely a good idea to book your excursions ahead of time as many were sold out by the time we arrived on the ship.
Of course, you can arrange tours with private tour companies or simply do your own thing at port. We did a combination of booking tours and exploring on our own. My main recommendation to you: get out there and explore the islands! There’s never too much to do right in the port area other than look at the same old shops selling the same old things. There are so many adventures and beautiful scenery to witness in the Caribbean islands.
ST. THOMAS, USVI
I’ve visited St. Thomas and the nearby island of St. John many times in the past. After all, if you book an eastern or southern Caribbean cruise, there’s a good chance that St. Thomas is an island on your itinerary. Since I’d visited St. Thomas about 10 times before, Justin and I decided to have a really relaxed day strolling around Charlotte Amalie.
The MSC Divina docked at Havensight harbour, making it easy to wander around downtown Charlotte Amalie. We walked up and down the streets, got caught in a downpour, meandered down narrow alleyways, and popped into shops. It was a very relaxing couple of hours and we got a bit of exercise walking all over town.
Of course, if it’s your first, second, or third time visiting St. Thomas, I’d recommend that you plan an excursion. I’ve been snorkeling at Trunk Bay in St. John, had a drink at St. Thomas’ ice bar (temporarily closed due to the hurricane and hopefully back open soon), kayaked and snorkeled at Cas Cay on an ecotour, and even dined at a vegetarian restaurant in Charlotte Amalie.
We made it back on the ship by early afternoon and had lunch at the buffet. After soaking up the sunshine on the ship all afternoon, we bid farewell to St. Thomas as the sun went down.
Check out more photos from our day in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.
ST. KITTS AND NEVIS
I’d heard nothing but amazing things about the beaches of St. Kitts and Nevis, so we used our time in St. Kitts for a beach day. It was easiest for us to book a beach excursion through the cruise ship that included transportation, beach chairs, and time at the beach.
We booked an afternoon excursion to the beach in St. Kitts because Justin isn’t much of a morning person. As I wanted to maximize my time in the port, I woke up earlier so I could explore a little bit of Basseterre on my own. I wandered outside of the cruise port and around town a little bit before heading back to the ship. I loved watching the town wake up as people made their way to work in the morning. There were several stands selling chopped tropical fruit that people grabbed on their way to work.
There is a small roundabout with a clock tower in the middle called The Circus, modelled after Piccadilly Circus. There’s also a square called Independence Square, with a park and a fountain. This square was originally the site of the slave market as slaves were transported from Africa. It was renamed as Independence Square when St. Kitts and Nevis achieved independence in 1983.
The drive to Cockleshell Bay from Basseterre was incredibly beautiful and scenic. Our van whipped around winding roads, up and down mountains. At one point, we were driving on a road with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. While stopping at a scenic outlook was part of the itinerary for the way back, it had started to pour rain so we didn’t end up stopping. Thankfully, it didn’t rain at all while we were at the beach, and that was most important!
Cockleshell Beach is a clean, powdery white sand beach. It’s one of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever visited. The waters are a gradient of turquoise, and mountains loom in the distance. We walked up and down the beaches and went for a swim before settling in our chairs to read our books. I could barely concentrate on reading as the scenery was so spectacular.
Here are more photos from our day in St. Kitts and Nevis.
In Martinique, we booked a morning excursion on a catamaran to go snorkeling. The boat ride offered lovely scenery of the island from the water. We also had the most lively tour guide and ship captain ever. He was the most energetic and animated man we’d ever encountered. To top it off, he made very loud and shrill noises that sounded like a combination of a bird and dinosaur. He made these noises at passing boats, and sometimes even completely randomly. It was something we all laughed about, even for a while after our tour was over!
After arriving at our snorkel site, we hopped in the water and swam around for a while. Justin and I saw many colourful fish swimming around some coral reefs. While there was an opportunity to take a little speed boat over to the small town,
However, on the way back, we stopped at a unique site that I didn’t anticipate coming across. Our tour group split into several smaller groups, got into a smaller boat from our catamaran and drifted inside a small cave. The water was super blue and there were tons of bats attached to the rock walls. This was my favourite experience of the entire tour and something we wouldn’t have been able to see on our own.
After the excursion, our original plans were to explore the capital of Martinique, Fort-de-France. However, we learned the night before that those on the cruise had the rare opportunity to attend an advance screening of the documentary, The Game Changers. Justin and I decided that we’d rather see the film, and we were so glad that we did.
Produced by James Cameron and featuring athletes like Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s a documentary showcasing athletes performing at their best on a plant-based diet, dispelling any myths that you need meat to be strong. The Game Changers is making the festival circuit right now, and hopefully it will come to a TV screen near you very soon (ahem…Netflix, please?).
Here are more photos from our time in Martinique on this Caribbean cruise.
When we reached Barbados the next morning, Justin wasn’t feeling very well. We had an excursion booked to go snorkeling with sea turtles. I ended up going on the tour by myself, and saw several sea turtles on the trip. It was enjoyable, but obviously would have been more fun if Justin had gone with me.
Thankfully, by the afternoon, he was feeling a bit better. We made the most of our last couple of hours in Barbados by taking a taxi to Carlisle Bay. It’s only about a 5-10 minute drive from the cruise port, and it’s a really gorgeous beach. Our taxi driver took us to the beach and back for $5 a person each way. He wouldn’t accept our payment until the return trip, as he promised to pick us back up on time. He was a man true to his word, and we had no problem getting back to the cruise ship before it departed.
Check out our whole photo album from Barbados.
For our last port of call, Justin and I booked an excursion through the cruise ship to an all-inclusive resort in Guadeloupe. Booked with Holistic Holiday at Sea, it came with a vegan buffet lunch. We boarded a coach bus and were transported to Club Med La Caravelle, a spectacular beachfront resort.
We had several hours to swim at the beach or pool, enjoy unlimited alcoholic beverages, or partake in any water sports at the resort. In the early afternoon, there was a large buffet lunch prepared for our group with tons of vegan options.
The manager and staff at the resort warmly welcomed our group from the moment our bus pulled up to the property. Justin and I had such a great time there and we’d actually really love to return to this resort someday!
Here are all of our photos from our day in Guadeloupe.
LECTURES AND CLASSES
The Holistic Holiday at Sea has an extensive program of cooking classes, fitness classes, lectures by notable and prominent leaders in the plant-based community, and more. Most of these programs are included with your ticket, although there are a couple that are available at an additional cost.
As the winner of the cruise, Justin and I received a few perks: a personal training session with Dani Taylor and Giacomo Marchese of PlantBuilt. Our training with Dani and Giacomo gave us the motivation we needed to get back to the gym on a regular basis. In fact, Justin and I went to the gym on the cruise ship every damn day! It became our evening routine to hit the gym after dinnertime. Since returning home, we’ve made an effort to get to the gym on a regular basis, too.
There were daily yoga classes that guests of the vegan cruise could take every day. Justin and I decided to try something completely new – a yoga nidra class. I had no idea what yoga nidra even was before taking this cruise. It’s not your typical yoga class.
It is a regenerative practice that takes you into the 4th state of consciousness beyond waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
It was quite amazing. After participating in the yoga nidra class, our teacher asked how long we thought the class lasted. Some people thought ten minutes or maybe twenty minutes. In actuality, we were laying on our mats with our eyes closed for almost an hour! It surely didn’t feel like very long, and shows the power of this yogic practice.
I’m guilty of a lifestyle where I’m always going, never stopping. Yoga nidra helps to eliminate hidden causes of stress. It helps you to let go of anxiety. In yoga nidra, you enter a state of non-doing where body, mind, and time slip away. In this state, I’m able to heal, restore, and unlock inner guidance. It allows your true light to shine in daily life.
LECTURES AND SPEAKERS
It was an honour to hear many doctors, leaders, and activists in the plant-based community speak on the MSC Divina. Some of the keynote speakers included Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Michael Greger, Rip Esselstyn, Dr. Neal Barnard, Ingrid Newkirk, Gene Baur, and many more. It was a pleasure to hear them speak in person on the topics of health, nutrition, and fitness.
My favourite speaker was animal activist, James Aspey. I’ve followed him online for quite a while now and admire what he does for the animals by spreading the word about veganism. He has such an inspiring and amazing story, including a 365 day vow of silence for the animals. It was an honour to hear him speak in person and meet him afterwards.
We sailed around the Caribbean aboard the MSC Divina, a spacious and elegant cruise ship. From the sparkling Swarovski crystal staircases in the atrium to the modern and stylish jazz bar, we lived in luxury on this dreamy cruise liner.
Justin and I spent our days at sea relaxing on loungers by one of several swimming pools. By the evening, we ordered marinara pizzas freshly cooked in the wood-fired oven at the Eataly restaurant, which made us feel like we were transported back to Italy. Coffee with plant-based milk was always an option at the onboard cafes, and the almond milk latte was likely the most popular drink on the ship.
Looking to bring out the kid in you? Take a wild ride down the water slide, or challenge your buddy to a game of bowling at the sports bar!
There was really no shortage of activities or rejuvenating experiences on the MSC Divina. While visiting the Caribbean islands, eating the vegan food, and attending the vast program of activities were all highlights, the cruise ship is truly a destination in itself and contributes to a memorable holiday.
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENTS
While we truly enjoyed this vegan cruise holiday and recommend it to everyone (even those who aren’t vegan or vegetarian, but are veg-curious!), I have a few suggestions on ways that this annual cruise could be improved in the future.
MAKE IT EASIER TO MEET PEOPLE
First, while others might not have encountered this problem, we found it difficult to meet other friends on the ship. We were fortunate to meet one lovely couple on one of our excursions, and we met Dani and Giacomo through our personal training sessions. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations that we’d make tons of friends as we were surrounded by so many like-minded people. Perhaps it isn’t any fault of the cruise itself that we didn’t meet anyone – maybe I could have tried harder to introduce myself to more people. However, for someone who is naturally introverted, it’s not as easy as it looks!
I’d love to see a mix-and-mingle networking type of event for vegan professionals, bloggers, or anyone looking to meet new people. While we could have used the evening treat parties as a way to meet others, we found that people were mostly focused on the food (hey, nothing wrong with that!).
MAKE VEGANISM ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
While I understand that the additional vegan food, lectures, and all of the goodies that come with booking this Holistic Holiday at Sea come at an extra cost, it’s unfortunate that the regular cruise ship passengers were kept completely separate from our group. While it was a group booking, we all walked around the cruise ship with our special lanyards to identify that we were sailing with the vegan group. It really kept the delicious vegan food and the benefits of a vegan lifestyle to the people who generally already knew about its benefits.
I would love to see more vegan options introduced to the regular buffet. This would help offset the gigantic lines at the vegan buffet during breakfast and lunch. Considering that 65% of the passengers were vegan and we only received about 20% of the buffet space, you can see why the line-ups could be painfully slow.
Most importantly, I think that all cruise ship passengers should have the opportunity to attend the lectures on veganism throughout the ship every day. If this isn’t a possibility, it would be great to host one daily lecture as an introduction to veganism and its benefits for all cruise ship passengers. It’s possible that the non-vegan cruise ship passengers would like to hear what all the fuss is about and why so many people on board were following this “extreme” or “restrictive” diet (I put those in quotation marks because obviously I don’t find it extreme or restrictive at all, but someone unfamiliar with veganism might believe that).
CONSIDER MAKING THE WHOLE CRUISE VEGAN
I’m not sure if MSC is up for this or not, but it would be fantastic if the entire cruise ship could go vegan for this one sailing. I believe that Holistic Holiday at Sea is popular enough to sell out a cruise ship. It seems like every year there is a wait list for this cruise, so it’s possible! Either that, or perhaps the vegan cruise could sail on a slightly smaller ship. I’d love to see an entirely vegan cruise sail once per year with Holistic Holiday at Sea.
NEXT YEAR’S VEGAN CRUISE
In March of 2019, the next vegan cruise will sail for 11 days to ports throughout the Caribbean and Central America: Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Cartagena, Colombia; Cristobal, Panama; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; Costa Maya, Mexico; and Cozumel, Mexico. As I’ve only ever travelled to one of those ports in the past, it’s very tempting! Justin and I aren’t sure if we’ll be on the next vegan cruise, but we’d love to make this dream a reality. Will you be on board for the 2019 Holistic Holiday at Sea?
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