After five years of dreaming about the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise and watching friends go every year, we were finally able to experience it for ourselves. This Review of the Holistic Holiday at Sea Plant-Based Conference should help you navigate your trip.
Since I personally highly promoted the cruise before embarking, I want to give a complete and honest review for those considering taking the journey themselves in the future.
This was my first cruise ever, so the only expectations I had were derived from family and friends that have gone on cruises before. I know a few people who have taken the Holistic Cruise numerous times, and they shared bits and pieces of information with me as well.
The MSC Divina Balcony Rooms
It was indeed a beautiful ship, and we splurged a bit to get a balcony room on the 11th deck. Some people that have taken the cruise before did not recommend getting a balcony room, because the only time they spent in their room was to sleep. They were very busy in lectures each day and events in the evenings, so it wasn’t a high priority for them.
I have a mild case of claustrophobia and wanted to make sure there was a door that could easily be opened. Since I am also very much an outdoor person, having a balcony to step out onto and enjoy the beautiful blue water and fresh air felt like a necessity to me. I am SO glad that we splurged!
After a little online research about the Divina balcony rooms ahead of time, we decided to take a camping hammock to hang up and enjoy our room even more. I spent a lot of time between lectures and in the evenings reading, studying, and relaxing out there.
After our experience, I highly recommend balcony rooms AND camping hammocks. By far, this was one of our best decisions!
For those interested, my claustrophobia never kicked in or caused an issue.
NOTE: The hammock comes with ropes and D-ring clips in a small pouch carry bag. The ropes just wrap around the divider walls and are secured with the clips. Very easy to take up and down. No hardware needed.
The Lectures and Speakers
The line up of presenters was terrific with names like T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D, Dr. Neal Barnard from Physicians Committee, Dr. Michael Greger from NutritionFacts.org, Dr. Michael Klapper from Nutrition Based Medicine, Rip Esselstyn, and so many more. The packed schedule easily kept us busy.
I even did a couple of morning yoga classes with Dr. Klapper’s wife, Alese Jones, on the top deck where there was plenty of fresh air and beautiful sunshine.
The Food and Meals
I need to pause here, because there are a few things that need to be addressed, and I am going to be completely honest about our experience.
The food was very good, but the organization of meals left much to be desired, in our (and others) opinion.
There are a number of restaurants on the Divina, and three of them were designated as ‘vegan’ for this voyage to accommodate our large group.
There were 3,000+ passengers on the ship (plus 1,300 staff). 2,000+ were part of the Holistic Holiday and the other 1,000 were regular passengers that, we found out during our trip, had no idea that we were going to be there.
We were told by one regular-traveling couple that when they booked their cruise 6 months earlier, the travel agent did not inform them that there would be a plant-based cruise group taking over the ship. They shared with us that there was resentment stirring with the regular (non-Holistic) passengers, because our presence was affecting their trip.
Please keep in mind that this was a lovely couple from Europe, and we very much understood their dilemma and appreciated their honesty. When we randomly sat down with them for dinner at the buffet, they reluctantly told us that they were not part of our group and wanted to make sure we were not going to be offended by what was on their plates.
One of the negative side-effects for them was that there was not as much food available, as they could not not eat from the buffets designated as vegan. Only those with Holistic Holiday badges could eat from those sections.
They also told us that, unfortunately, there was some negativity voiced about their personal choice of foods as they walked by our group’s tables with their plates. According to them, this wasn’t isolated to just them, but other regular passengers had experienced similar situations.
That is why they wanted to make sure we “were okay” with their choice of food before they headed off to the buffet. We assured them that we do not pass judgement and apologized for what they had experienced.
My first thought was that Holistic Holiday should buy out the entire ship for future cruises to avoid this conflict. When I mentioned this to a friend that is in-the-know they said that it would not be profitable enough for the cruise ship. They said that the majority of people in our group do not drink or gamble, and that would greatly affect the profitability for the cruise liner.
Food is Not Available All Day & Evening
This was surprising to us, because family and friends had told us stories of an abundance of food being available all day every day for everyone’s dining pleasure on regular cruises. That was one of the main things we were looking forward to–plant-based healthy delicious food ready to eat whenever we pleased. But, that was not the reality of it.
The main two dining options for the Holistic group were in the Black Crab Dining Room and Villa Rossa Dining Room. The Magnifica Buffet on deck 14 had some vegan options at specific times of the day as well. Below is a list of restaurant operational hours for plant-based meals. As you can see, it was not a cruise with all day food availability.
- Breakfast available 7:30-8:45 a.m. each morning
- Lunch 11:30-1:30
- Dinner 6:00 p.m. (doors closed at 6:15 p.m.) There were 15 minutes to get into the two main restaurants.
For the first few days of the cruise, we dined in the main dining rooms for lunch and diner, and the food was delicious. However, we found it difficult to be so specific getting to the restaurants each day within the 15 minute time frame for dinner.
Dining in those two restaurants was quite fun because, due to the crowds, we were always being seated at tables full of like-minded people from all over the world. We loved sharing and hearing stories of plant-based journeys from many different states and countries.
After about day three, we ventured to the buffet on deck 14 for lunch. However, we were completely dismayed to find that the waiting line for the buffet wound around the restaurant and was 30-40 minutes long!
If we waited for the lines to die down, it was after the 1:30 lunch time and the only thing available for us to eat was salad, fruit, and plain pizza slices with just marinara. We learned to take our pizza slice to the salad bar and load it up with lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers.
That’s another point–the salad bar didn’t have many options. It was lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, shredded carrots, and balsamic vinegar for dressing. That’s basically it. No oil free dressings at all, and only one kind of vinegar. Period.
Thankfully, when we booked the cruise, we opted for a package called ‘Fantastica’ that allowed us to order room service for breakfast each day, which we gladly took advantage of. Breakfast lines and rushing around was not a good option, especially since I worked on the computer in the mornings to get my blog recipes and articles pushed out on social media each day. It was nice having breakfast brought to us and just beginning the day at our own pace.
Our ordering options were cereal or muesli with soy milk, bowl of fruit, toast with jam, orange juice, and coffee. We chose hot water for our Teeccino herbal coffee bags.
Needless to say, the restaurant staff in all three dining areas was frustrated with the lines and congestion, and it was obvious that they were not happy we were there. Some people in our group told me wait staff were even argumentative with them.
After the third day, the staff seemed to be trying much harder to be more pleasant. Some of us in our group discussed the likelihood that the passengers’ complaints about the service had possibly prompted a staff meeting which caused a behavior adjustment. Though, I can actually understand their frustration with the situation that seemed like buffet-chaos at meal times.
Water and Drinks Are Not Free
Thankfully, we took our own cups! Whatever you do, make sure you take yours if you plan to go on this cruise.
We were not warned before, so it was a stroke of luck that we ended up having our Yetti cups with us on-board. Packing water and/or snacks in your luggage is not permitted.
Drinks (tea, soda, water) are free when you are eating a meal in dining rooms, but after that you are on your own. Bottled water and any other drinks must be purchased.
On deck 14 in the buffet, very small (8 oz) plastic cups are available (no lids for carrying) to fill up at the ice and water dispensers (sodas too). However, we drink a lot of water and usually carry a water bottle or cup around with us all day to make sure we stay hydrated. If we didn’t have our own cups, it would have meant running up to the top of the ship every time we wanted a drink or purchasing bottled water at the bars. Not convenient at all.
Cost and Satisfaction
For the price we paid (and we received a discount), the food situation was not on level to where it should have been.
A balcony room and Fantastica package like we had normally cost $4,400/two people double occupancy total including tax, gratuity (which is automatically added to the price), and other fees.
Now Back to the Good Stuff
Though we did not do any of the official port excursions, we did get off the ship at each port. We explored beaches, shopped, and interacted with some of the locals. Below is a list of the ports we visited on our trip.
- Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI
- Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis
- Fort-de-France, Martinique
- Bridgetown, Barbados
- Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe
All-in-all it was a good trip. We were able to spend 10 days listening to lectures by the experts, meeting like-minded people from all over the world, swaying in a hammock 50′ above the ocean waves, and exploring the Caribbean islands.
We are smarter, tanner, and more compassionate than when we left home. Hopefully, some of our experiences will help you navigate your trip and options for future voyages.
Promotion I did of cruise: “First Cruise Ever & It will be Plant-Based: Holistic Holiday at Sea 2018”
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