This is a guest post from KOAB reader Chavi Eisenberg, a five-time cruiser who enjoys traveling the open sea with her husband and three sons.
My family and I have been fortunate to go on five cruises on three major cruise lines, four to the Caribbean, and one to Alaska. While cruising is not a dirt-cheap vacation, it certainly doesn’t have to be exorbitant.
It’s also not necessary to pay extra for kosher food, especially since the kosher-cruise companies charge as much as three times the regular cruise rate for gourmet catered kosher food on the ship.
Before we took our first cruise, our previous vacations (as a couple and as a family) had always been relatively inexpensive; but as a kosher consumer, we constantly found that a regular hotel room was very difficult without a kitchen.
And since I’m the meal-planner in our family, taking care of the food was one of my least enjoyable parts of these vacations. I found myself always having to focus on food prep — packing up the basics for a trip (crock pot, frying pan, pasta pot, spatulas, sandwich maker, etc), kashering a rented kitchen, grocery shopping, cooking breakfast, packing sandwiches and picnic foods for lunch, and worrying about what to make for dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, these vacations were fun family trips, but they were hardly relaxing for me. And while I’ve heard about lavish trips to kosher resorts or having fancy frozen restaurant meals shipped to our destinations, these options were always well beyond our budget.
Once we started going on cruises, however, I learned how it was possible to still vacation on a budget, but have a somewhat luxurious experience at the same time. And, best of all, the kosher food part was much less stressful than do-it-yourself vacations.
Keeping Kosher on a Cruise Ship
Most of the major cruise lines provide frozen kosher meals for all guests who request it. You reserve these when you make your reservation, at no extra cost. Many of these meals are provided by Weberman’s, a Florida-based kosher company that provides high quality double-wrapped frozen meals. (There are some cruise lines that also have some lower-quality frozen meals, which can be hit-or-miss).
Some cruise lines carry only kosher entrees, while some also carry appetizers, soups, desserts, and breakfast items (waffles, pancakes, eggs, blintzes). The cruise line will provide you with paper goods and plastic cutlery to eat on.
Also, one of the unique aspects of the cruise industry is that the major cruise lines focus on the culinary experience for their guests. As such, they have separate prep kitchens for fruits & vegetables, meats, bakery items, etc. To prevent mixing of tastes, they are very strict about ensuring each ingredient is cut with a clean knife on a clean surface. As a kosher consumer, this is also very helpful, because the fruits & vegetables are prepared in kitchens separate from any potentially non-kosher ingredients.
(Caveat: Ask Your Local Rabbi) Because of this unique aspect of the cruise kitchens, which don’t mix foods, we felt comfortable ordering double-wrapped fish, baked potatoes, and vegetables (such as carrots, green beans, peppers, zucchini, etc). In addition, we would order other items special from the kitchen, such as sliced avocados, cucumbers, and peppers. We would top these with olive oil & salt & pepper for a delicious fresh salad.
Often, I would enjoy a lunch or dinner of double-wrapped fish, baked potato with butter & plain yogurt (I would order the yogurt they served at breakfast, which is a great substitute for sour cream) and a plate of veggies with olive oil, salt & pepper. Dessert would be ice cream and a bowl of blueberries.
The best meal of the day for a kosher consumer was undoubtedly breakfast. There are so many kosher choices at the buffet: Cereals, yogurts, bagels, cream cheese, lox/smoked salmon, granola, and fruit.
My favorite breakfast is a parfait that I make from sliced bananas, apples, slivered almonds, walnuts, granola, and raisins, topped with yogurt.
We would also take advantage of the breakfast buffet to make bagel sandwiches that we brought with us on excursions; be sure to bring ziplocks with you so you an do this in your room.
It’s a good idea to check in advance with each cruise line about which products they carry on board. Many of the staples are kosher certified; Ice cream (most flavors), cottage cheese, yogurts, milk, butter, granola, bagels, English muffins and more have all been certified-kosher on all the cruises we took.
You may also want to ask your local rabbi about eating plain fresh bread from the cruise, as some poskim allow “Pas Palter” when the ingredients are kosher and baked in a commercial bakery.
One more food tip: If you like salad dressing, bring your own, as kosher dressing is generally not available. However, if you enjoy a simple dressing of olive oil w. salt & pepper, you will be just fine. (Again, you may want to ask your rabbi, but most extra virgin olive oil doesn’t require a hechsher).
Keeping Shabbat on a Cruise Ship
My family and I found Shabbas on the ship to be very relaxing. Again, ask your rabbi about eruv, but we were permitted to carry everything we needed on the entire ship.
We would choose a cruise that doesn’t have a port-of-call on Shabbas (or a port that you don’t mind missing, since you’ll be stuck on board). While there are some issues that need to be addressed, they are generally not a problem if you are comfortable dealing with them.
These issues include:
Electronic key cards: You can ask your room steward or another passing guest to open your door for you, since it’s your Sabbath, or you can bring some duct tape with you to tape onto the door so the lock won’t engage (but the door will be in the closed position), or you can leave your door slightly open by propping it open with the lock in the closed position.
(Some cruise lines will even disable the magnet for the lock for kosher passengers, but we found that they only did this for the passengers who were booked through the special, expensive kosher-cruise group, not for general guests who were kosher).
Elevators: There are a lot of decks (floors) on a ship, so you can either take the stairs or be ready to ask/hint to another passenger to press the elevator button for you
Electric doors: Some doors on cruise ships are electric, so be sure to follow another passenger out an open door.
Kids’ programming: The kids program sometimes has muktza activities, so it may be worthwhile to inquire what they will be doing on Saturday, to decide if you want to send your kids that day. On our most recent cruise, they had the kids doing circus acts, like juggling, which was great! My kids skipped the arts and crafts and built Lego instead.
Shabbat Davening: Most cruises will schedule a “Sabbath service” on Friday evening, though it may not be an Orthodox service, or even when Shabbat is officially beginning. However, you may often be able to identify other Jewish passengers and find out if you can make an Orthodox minyan for Shabbat. The cruise line may even be willing to give you a room to use for services, even if you’re not in an official group, just organized on-board. On our most recent cruise, for example, there was a kosher cruise group on the same ship as us, and we were able to join in their minyanim, even though we weren’t part of their group.
If you’re interested in learning more about my family’s experience with keeping kosher on cruises, stay tuned next week when Mara is having me back to share my Top 10 Tips for Cruising for the Kosher Consumer.
Chavi Eisenberg lives frugally in the Bronx, NY with her husband, Daniel, and 3 boys. Chavi has over a decade of experience as a fundraiser and non-profit administrator, and has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. Currently, she is working on a new startup project for Jewish crowdfunding, www.
DailyTzedakah.org. She is also the co-founder of the the Jewish Attachment Parenting (JATP) Forum.