Travel - My experience onboard a cruise ship as a Vegan with Allergies

Italy Rapello Portofino Santa Margherita Sestri LevanteI love Italy with its beautiful scenery, pizza and gelato. I recently was asked if it was expensive to holiday in Italy and my response is simply as with any destination it can be as cheap or luxurious as you want to make it. To travel around by train always feels affordable compared to home and a Marinara pizza usually sets me back five euros.

A few weeks ago we flew into Pisa and hopped a train up the coast to Rapello. The Italian Riveria is truly beautiful. Using Rapello as our base we visited Santa Margherita, Portofino and Sestri Levante. The weather was perfect, we ate plenty of pizza and gelato and had aching feet from wandering picturesque towns.

Next stop was Genoa where we embanked on a completely new to us travel experience; a cruise ship! We had found an cheap last minute deal and booked three nights/four days with MSC on board the Poesia. I always like to focus my travel stories on how I managed as a vegan with mild food allergies. I was absolutely worried about how I would cope on a ship but knew our time was short and I could always eat well when in port.

After booking the trip I complete a Special Needs form and the reply received was....

"Please note that on board you will find in all the menus in the bars, main restaurants, buffet, speciality restaurant a little note close to the list of food where is specified if food is Vegan, in case of any doubt do not hesitate to contact the personnel in the dining outlet and they will give you all the information required."

I felt that my allergies had been overlooked in the email which was disappointing. We boarded the ship at lunch time so we unashamedly made the lunch buffet our first stop. We scoured every inch of the buffet but there was never an indication on signs to state an item was Vegan. The hustle and bustle of onboarding was overwhelming. As a typical Brit, I struggled with having to catch the attention of staff to inquire about suitable food. You're also face with the most enormous buffet and I felt embarrassed to hold up a queue to ask questions. 
vegan food onboard MSC cruises
Our first formal evening meal was a bitter disappointment. The menu arrived with only one dish marked vegan; a main course. I spoke to the waiting staff and mentioned my allergies first followed with "I'm also vegan". There was a difficult moment where milk allergy was misunderstood and reference was made to lactose intolerance but I keep stressing the difference. As you may know these are two very different dietary needs. I was surprised that by registering a special needs form that staff didn't seem informed ahead of time. You are assigned a table where you are sat every evening so it wouldn't be impossible to do this, maybe? Once I stressed the fact I was also vegan I was told it counteracted my allergies because after all vegans exclude milk and eggs. With a heavy heart I sighed because cross contamination does matter. It's hugely important and my biggest risk is a stomach ache for others it could be anaphylactic shock. Moments later I proved that point when I couldn't select any bread from the basket because one of the choices available was a cheese topped roll.

What happened next was comical, keeping in mind I was also on a table of strangers. I had requested a salad for starter. It was an attempt to veganise an existing dish on the menu that evening. Out came quarter of an iceberg lettuce with tomato, carrot and possibly radish with no dressing. I was then served two bagels which were cold to the touch, as if they had been defrosted. I requested balsamic and olive oil in an attempt to make the salad more exciting. My main course was the only labelled vegan dish of Tuscan style stewed legumes. I skipped dessert as I was only offered fruit platter or lemon sorbet. After four days of vegan cakes, croissants and ice cream in Italy, a fruit platter was the most boring things I could be offered (not to mention my OAS).
dinner menu msc cruise poesia
Our waiter advised me to pre-order for the next evening informing me that they could adapt dishes. To keep things easy I opted for the vegetarian starter minestrone soup followed by the vegan dish of spinach, quinoa and potato burger. For the third evening we ended up skipping the formal dining last minute but my choices had been carrot & ginger soup and Tofu morsels (stir-fry).

I'm not much of a breakfast person and with the hurdles of an unlabelled buffet I stuck to the classics. Fruit was readily available and I cobbled together some beans on toast. I did manage to hunt down plant milk but it was only upon request.
travel, Italy, Spain and France
As I found the level of food onboard to be average at best I made the most of my time in port. I had gelato from Amorino in Marseille. In Palma de Mallorca I ate some wonderful empanadas at Las Muns, a giant cookie from Anita Cakes and ice cream at Rivareno. We left the boat in Barcelona and I had a late lunch at Green & Burger. 
vegan food in Palma, Marseille, Barcelona
I'd like to think that other cruise companies may handle allergies and a vegan diet better but it's unlikely we will cruise again. It wasn't just about the food but we actually didn't enjoy the experience of this style of travel. I certainly wasn't disappointed with the ship or our room but I hated being stuck with so many other people. You really noticed the volume of tourists when three cruises come into port at the same time.

I don't expect the world to accommodate me all the time and I understand I'm fortunate to have never experienced anaphylactic shock. However some foods make me really sick and it ruins a holiday to be caught out. If you can't accommodate my needs just be honest and I'll make sure to pack lots of snacks. 

Sarah x

Note: MSC should also reconsider their formulation of body wash and shampoos, although permitted the inclusion of Methylisothiazolinone (MI) was not welcomed by me.