With 1,600 cruises to the Caribbean and the Bahamas each year, Carnival Cruise Lines is trying to mix up the lengths and destinations on its itineraries to give loyal guests something new to try. Cruise editor Tom Stieghorst recently sampled on of the more unusual itineraries, an eight-day cruise out of Fort Lauderdale on Carnival Freedom with two unusual ports, Aruba and Curacao, deep in the southern Caribbean. His second and final dispatch follows. Click to read Tom’s first dispatch.
Around the start of the year, my 15-year-old daughter decided to explore a vegetarian diet. After we had booked an eight-day cruise with Carnival, she restricted herself even further by excluding not only meat and fish, but eggs and dairy products, too.
I was curious to see how Carnival, which is nothing if not mainstream, would accommodate a vegan diet.
It turns out my daughter is in good company. Isolde Cahill, the wife of company president Gerry Cahill, is also a vegan. Executive chef Agnelo D’Souza prepared vegan dishes for her on a New Year’s cruise aboard Carnival Freedom earlier this year.
D’Souza was raised in India, as were several of the other top managers in the Freedom’s dining room and kitchen. Vegetables are an integral part of the evening meal, he said.
“Vegetables, it’s a must. Every evening we need it,” he said.
The majority of the 140 people doing food preparation on Carnival Freedom are from India, the Philippines or Indonesia, D’Souza said. It is no accident that Indian dishes comprise some of the best food available on cruise ships these days.
That Carnival can accommodate a vegan diet is testament to its flexibility. D’Souza said that on a typical cruise, maybe only one or two passengers request it. “Sometimes it’s none,” he said.
Nevertheless, Carnival has a seven-day menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner entrees it can offer vegan guests.
It includes things like tomatoes stuffed with navy beans accompanied with pickled scallions and spring vegetables, or a dinner consisting of corn chowder, green bean and tomato salad, penne siciliana and vegetable strudel with minted pea puree and tropical fruit sorbet.
Yes, I’d eat that.
The details of preparation are just as important as the ingredients in a vegan diet. All of the items on Carnival’s vegan menu are prepared with vegetable derivatives such as soy milk and vegetable margarine.
“We do make sure we don’t mix and match. We have a separate pan for them,” D’Souza said.
D’Souza said that because they are so few in number, he can usually to meet with guests requesting a vegan meal plan to hear about any individual requests and learn exactly what their dietary requirements are.
D’Souza customized three-course dinners for my daughter on the majority of the nights we ate in the ship’s main dining room.
He recommends that anyone pursuing a vegan diet talk to the maître d’ the first night of the cruise so that the kitchen is aware of their desires and can put together a plan.
Pre-notification is important if vegan guests want to dine in the steakhouses on Carnival ships, D’Souza said, because the kitchen staff there is small and needs time to prepare something off the menu.
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.