Holistic Holiday at Sea Review

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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.

Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea

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.

Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea balcony suites

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.

Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea balcony rooms
Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea balcony rooms
Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea

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.

The itinerary included cooking classes with Kim Campbell from PlantPure Nation,  Julieanna Hever from Plant-Based Dietitian, and more.

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.

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.

Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea dining

One of the negative side-effects for them was that there was not as much food available, as they could 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 judgment 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 of 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 dinner, 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 lunchtime and the only thing available for us to eat was a 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, a bowl of fruit, toast with jam, orange juice, and coffee. We chose hot water for our Teeccino herbal coffee bags.

Restaurant Staff

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 the wait staff was 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 mealtimes.

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.

Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea
“Things NOT to pack (all forbidden onboard): alcohol, firearms, sharp objects such as blades and scissors over 4 inches in length, flammable and explosive material, prohibited Items with heating elements or open flames (such as clothing irons, kettles, hotplates, candles, incense), drones, food or beverages.”

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 the 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

Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea

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
Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea
Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea
Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea
Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea
Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea
Review of Holistic Holiday at Sea
Palm Court Gardens at St. Kitts. This was one of my favorite port adventures. We spent the day at this 18th-century historic property. It was simply beautiful and the staff was amazing!

Final Thoughts

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.

2020 Holistic Holiday at Sea

2020 Holistic Holiday at Sea details can be found at this link. 

Promotion I did of cruise: “First Cruise Ever & It will be Plant-Based: Holistic Holiday at Sea 2018”

This is the hammock we took with us. Click to view on amazon. Affiliate Link.

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  1. I totally agree with your review. My husband & I were there for the 5th year. We love the cruise & put up with some of the problems because we love the community & lectures. We had a great time. We will skip next year. but will go maybe the next year.

  2. Thank you for your honest and interesting review. What a shame that some WFBP people made rude comments to the carnivores. That is not how you develop a relationship and a chance to share why PB is best.

  3. I went on the cruise in both 2013 and 2014. We had the same issues with non-plantbased passengers and food that you mention. However, we were able to take cases of water and snacks on board. The speakers were fantastic and also like you said meeting and talking with like-minded people, both of which make the cruise what it is. Loved your idea of ordering room-service for breakfast. Will probably go again – love their new itinerary for next year, but I went on a similar cruise last year. Thanks for your honest review!

  4. I was on the same cruise but found my experience to be quite different than yours in regards to the vegan buffet. I had lunch at the vegan buffet everyday and it never took more than 10 minutes to get through the line — even when it was long. I also had no issue finding oil free dressing every single day at the vegan buffet. On port days the vegan buffet was open until 3:30pm. The hammock on the balcony is genius! I never thought to do the breakfast service, great idea. I too had the Fantastica experience and used all my drink tickets for the large bottled water. Also note that the tap water in the bathrooms is the same as the water in the buffets – it tasted exactly the same anyhow. Cheers!

  5. Your review is spot on! This was also my first cruise, so a lot of my expectations were based on what experienced “cruisers” shared with me. Overall I had a great time and the speakers and new friends made totally compensated for the dining situation. That said, it’s billed as a vegan cruise so good food and food service is essential.

    1. MSC says packing food and drinks to take on board is prohibited. The notice was included with documents sent with tickets. A screen shot of the MSC regulations has been added to this article. It says, “Things NOT to pack (all forbidden on board): alcohol, firearms, sharp objects such as blades and scissors over 4 inches in length, flammable and explosive material, prohibited Items with heating elements or open flames (such as clothing irons, kettles, hotplates, candles, incense), drones, food or beverages.”

      1. Excellent review-thank you! This was my first cruise ever and I think I was so in awe of the sense of community and extensive programming that the staffing issues and crowd were a minor blip. By the end of the cruise we had decided to eat breakfast and lunch at the buffet and the dining room experience was much more streamlined. I remember we were forewarned on day 1 that it may take the staff some time to adjust to us and that was correct. I was interested however in how the other passengers viewed our group, so thank you for sharing some of that perspective. Great idea about the hammock! A balcony was a must for me and I was out there whenever possible. We brought travel Berkey water bottles which we refilled constantly and are meant to purify even the dirtiest pond water- so we felt safe. We also brought lots of unopened packaged foods (dried fruit, nuts, bars) on board, which was allowed in the guidelines stated by MSC. One last thought, the director recognized the issue with the lines at the vegan buffet and announced that next year half of the ship’s buffet will be dedicated to the HHAS group! So they are listening to feedback. I’m already signed up for next year!!!


        Food and beverages
        We reserve the right to remove any beverages present in Guests’ luggage. These will be returned the evening before disembarkation. Please also note that guests are not permitted to bring unpackaged food on board.

  6. Thank you for the review of the cruise. I have looked at it & always passed because it is pretty expensive. I have cruised several times on Norwegian & Princess & have had no problem getting vegan food at the buffet & in the dinning room. Sometimes when we dine later it takes a while, but they always accommodate us. No great speakers though!
    (I always tell them when I book & when I board that we have special dietary requirements)
    I may do it next year. Again, thank you for your review & ideas!

  7. Thank you for your review. I have wanted to go on this cruise. I was interested in your hammock but when I click on the link it just brings up the Yeti cup. Not the hammock.

  8. Hi, Just wondering if the lectures are crowded or often too full to attend. Also, how much of the day is set aside for lectures? Can any guest on the ship attend the lectures or just the Holiday at Sea people?

    Thanks, Maury

    1. Maury, some of the lectures are more crowded than others depending on who the speaker is, so we so always got to the venue room early. The schedule is set up for cruising days to be all day lectures. On port days, there are very few classes, as most people are getting off the ship to tour around. Only the Holiday at Sea people can attend the classes. However, there are 2000 people on the ship who are part of HHS, and the other 1000 are regular passengers. The regular passengers can purchase a pass to be part of lectures, and I think it’s around $800-900.

  9. I will be a “first-time cruiser” attending the Holistic Holiday at Sea March 3-14, 2019 voyage! My only pre-cruise comment: With the cost of the lowest-priced holistic cabin package being almost double compared to that of a regular passenger, I am completely surprised to learn I will need to purchase water daily in order to keep adequately hydrated. Has anyone ever brought aboard a 64-oz cup? ?

    1. Oh yes, definitely bring your own 64 oz cup. Thankfully, we brought our 32 oz Yeti cups and kept them filled up from the cafeteria fountain drink area where ice and water are always available. Only bottled water has to be purchased. To refill your cups, you’ll have to go up to the 14 deck multiple times a day.

  10. Hi

    I have signed up for the 2019 cruise. My sister was going to go with me, but her husband is ill. I am looking for a room- mate.

    Has anyone taken any of the excursion?


  11. I really enjoyed your article about the trip. I have never taken a cruise and don’t relish the idea but sounds doable with your tips. “We are smarter, tanner, and more compassionate than when we left home.”
    This last line brought tears to my eyes so really thinking it is an experience I should cross off my list. Fondly, teacher Catherine

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