Even if you begin your cruise vacation with the best of intentions, making healthy choices can be a challenge. The nightly dessert menu and 24 hour pizza and ice cream can get the best of even the most diligent efforts. So indulge. Enjoy. But find balance on your vacation with these simple tips for eating healthy on a cruise ship.

An amazing array of fresh fruit at the Disney Wonder's buffet. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom.

An amazing array of fresh fruit at the Disney Wonder’s buffet. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom.

Eating Healthy on a Cruise?

One of the best parts about going on a cruise is the food. The endless, decadent, bountiful array of dining options, enough to make your head spin and your stomach rumble. And moreover, food is included in the price when you book a cruise, so you have to get your money’s worth, right?

With so many restaurants and eateries on board to choose from, it’s easy to see how people can over-indulge. Cruise ships are notorious for offering lavish feasts at all hours of the day and night. And it wouldn’t be a true cruising experience if you didn’t partake a little. But with some easy tips you can make healthy choices that won’t leave you feeling left out of the fun.

Eating Healthy In the Dining Room

Every cruise ship has a formal dining room, where you can dress to the nines and enjoy a 3-course meal nightly. Now I can tell you to order broiled fish instead of fried, or steamed veggies instead of fries, but that’s Basic Healthy Eating 101. So here’s the deal.

Cruise lines have responded to requests for healthy choices by offering vegetarian, vegan, low-fat, gluten-free and sugar-free options in their main dining rooms. Your best tip for eating healthy in a cruise ship dining room is to introduce yourself to your waiter on the very first night and let him or her know your needs. Since you will likely have the same server throughout your trip and service is a cornerstone of any great cruise, they’ll remember your preferences.

A fabulous and healthy salmon dinner aboard the Carnival Inspiration. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom.

A fabulous and healthy salmon dinner aboard the Carnival Inspiration. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom.

Ask your server to be sure the kitchen staff is aware of your requests. Opt for healthy food choices and don’t be afraid to ask them to hold the sauce, the butter or whatever decadent thing they’re cooking with that night.

Don’t be shy.

But don’t deprive yourself either, find a balance – have the juicy steak, but maybe opt for extra carrots instead of the mashed potatoes. Don’t miss out on the cheesecake, but maybe on a couple of nights try the sorbet instead. And if you’re going to have the omelet and pancakes for breakfast, maybe just a small salad for lunch. You get the idea!

All Hands (and Stomachs) on Deck

Most cruise ships offer food and snacks poolside for guests to enjoy during the day. While burgers and BBQ are the norm, Carnival Cruises stepped it up a notch with their Blue Iguana Cantina, located on the Lido Deck.

We recently cruised aboard the Carnival Inspiration. And I have to be honest…the Blue Iguana was my favorite place to grab a bite. If it didn’t close each day at 6pm, we probably would have had dinner there most nights, too!

The Blue Iguana offers poolside tacos and burritos on the Carnival Inspiration. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom.

The Blue Iguana offers poolside tacos and burritos on the Carnival Inspiration. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom.

The Blue Iguana Cantina serves made to order burritos and tacos on homemade tortillas for breakfast and lunch.

All of the ingredients are fresh, and there is a toppings and salsa bar so you can customize to your taste. Chicken or fish tacos with lettuce, salsa, beans and guacamole are a delicious and healthy mid-day meal.

Cruise the Buffet

Buffets offer you the opportunity to eat as much or as little, and as healthy or unhealthy, as you want! So bring along your appetite and the willpower to make wise choices and you’ll be fine.

Salad bars as great places to fill your plate with veggies, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses. We took a Disney Cruise last year and were delighted to find one of the best spreads of healthy choices at their buffet we’ve ever seen at sea.

Another area at the buffet that tends to have healthy options is the international foods section, where there may be a chef cooking stir-fry to order. Get lots of vegetables and ask the chef to go easy on the oil. You can also typically find steamed vegetables and a carving station at your ship’s buffet – opt for sliced turkey or lean roast beef and go easy on the gravy, which is often loaded with salt.

Hit the Juice Bar

We’re seeing juice bars more and more on cruises. Although these are typically one of the few items you’ll have to pay extra for, you may find it worth the splurge for a healthy snack!

Many ships are also adding frozen yogurt options alongside their infamous soft serve ice cream machines. When we sailed on the Disney Wonder, the frozen yogurt machine was the definitely the healthy snack of choice each day.

Enjoying a frozen yogurt cone on the Disney Wonder. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom.

Enjoying a frozen yogurt cone on the Disney Wonder. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist, Healthy TravelingMom.

For example, you can order fresh blends at the juice bar at the Senses Spa & Salon on the Disney Dream or at the Asian-inspired Aurea Spa on MSC Cruise Line’s Divina. If you’d rather your treat be a little sweeter, many ship ice cream counters have sorbet, and if you ask real nicely most bartenders will whip you up a low-fat, alcohol-free fruity concoction.

Vanellope’s Sweets and Treats is a new area on the Disney Dream, offering guests a huge selection of sweets, including frozen treats. Keep it healthy with a sorbet or frozen yogurt.

Cruise Casual Eateries 

More relaxed than a formal dining room but a bit more fancy than poolside dining, more and more ships are embracing the notion of casual eateries on the board. And the good news is, they tend to offer lighter fare, while not skimping on flavor.

Celebrity Cruises has the AquaSpa Café. This casual eatery near the Solarium pool area on Solstice-class ships is ideal for light bites. Breakfast options include smoothies, yogurt parfaits, eggs and fresh fruit. For lunch, healthy choices include a watermelon and feta salad, steamed salmon and grilled chicken.

The Café @ Two70° on RC's Anthem of the Seas. Photo credit: Royal Caribbean.

The Café @ Two70° on RC’s Anthem of the Seas. Photo credit: Royal Caribbean.

Taking a cruise on Royal Caribbean? Try The Café @ Two70°, the salad and sandwich shop aboard Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. Choose from made to order salads, sandwiches, and Panini.

Many ships also now feature sushi bars, which may or not come at an extra fee depending on the cruise line.

What’s your favorite healthy meal to eat on a cruise?