|A special buffet lunch in the Epernay dining room.|
When I first was asked to spend a week aboard the Celebrity Solstice on a cruise to Alaska, of course I was delighted! But I was also worried about how difficult it might be to maintain a healthy vegan diet on-board. Cruise lines are famous for their extravagant but animal-laden menus. I immediately reached out to our company's travel agent, Gabriela from Aragon Travel, who knew exactly what I needed to do. She told me that she had noted it on my reservation, but advised me to make sure and attend the first seated dinner and speak to my waiter to make sure the kitchen was aware and would accommodate my requests. I felt confident after that conversation that dinner would be taken care of, but breakfast and lunch I wasn't so sure about.
My mind was set at ease the minute we arrived on the ship. We boarded the Solstice early, before the staterooms were ready, so the staff encouraged us to enjoy the buffet in the Oceanview Cafe. Immediately, I saw that I'd have no problem. The buffet included a stir-fry station and a pasta station where you could select your own ingredients for a cooked-to-order dish, a salad bar, an antipasto bar with a selection of marinated vegetables, a taco bar, as well as a variety of other rotating dishes. (The frequent appearance of Indian food was also helpful, and the samosas were delicious!)
They also had an ice cream bar, and I decided that it was a long-shot, but I would check to see if they had any dairy-free treats. I saw that they had sorbet and asked whether it was definitely dairy-free. The attendant immediately left the station to go find a supervisor and make certain. And it was! They then impressed me further with their excellent training about food sensitivities. When I mentioned that some of the mango sorbet had fallen into the raspberry and that I am allergic to mango, the attendant scooped off and disposed of any bits that may have been contaminated, then went and washed the scoop before serving me.
That evening at dinner, I spoke to my waiter as Gabriela recommended. He promptly went to speak to the chef. When he returned, he said that the chef would make a special dish just for me that evening, and that for each subsequent meal, I would be given the menu a day in advance to select a dish I would like them to veganize. That first night, he brought me an elegantly-plated and completely scrumptious ratatouille. From there on out, I got to choose.
Helpfully, their menus already indicated which dishes were vegetarian, lactose-free (which usually meant dairy-free), and gluten-free (which, while not an issue for me, helps when one is avoiding eggs as breadcrumbs can be hidden egg carriers). Of the five courses available each night (appetizer, salad, soup, entree, dessert), there were usually two - sometimes three - that were easily veganizable plus a sorbet for dessert. From the naturally vegan watermelon gazpacho or kale and pear salad, to the modified wild mushroom risotto or vegetable korma, the food was fresh and lovely every night.
If I had any questions about how carefully they were considering my requests, they were quickly done away with. On the second evening, I had requested a rigatoni dish sans cheese. When my plate arrived, the waiter explained that they had double-checked and found the rigatoni contained egg, so they had substituted rice-based pasta that was vegan. And one evening when I was visiting colleagues at another table, the waiter from my table tracked me down to take my order for the next day!
For breakfast, there were many choices that were probably vegan, but at that hour of the morning I could never be bothered to ask. I made a fine meal out of what I was sure of. There was plenty of fresh fruit, as well as home-fried potatoes with peppers and onions, grilled mushrooms, a variety of nuts and seeds (set out for the oatmeal, though I never asked if it was made with water or milk - I just grabbed the berries, nuts, and seeds). Also? Some really delicious hashbrowns.
The pinnacle of vegan-friendliness, however, was room service. Typically, room service in hotels is very rigid about what they will serve and won't make substitutions or alterations. But on the last night of the cruise when I was completely knackered from a day of working and packing, I decided to give room service on the ship a try. I could have ordered salad and crudites, but I really wanted a cheese-free pizza. When I asked if they would make one for me, it seemed like they were surprised I even had to ask! Within 20 minutes, a gorgeous veggie-packed cheese-free personal pizza was piping hot at my stateroom door.
I was tremendously impressed with how helpful, accommodating, and well-trained the kitchen staff and wait staff on the Solstice were, and can only imagine that they are a reflection of Celebrity's policies as a whole. I will have no hesitation about my ability to enjoy traveling with them in the future. They made my cruise a terrific experience!