Day 166 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent reflecting on our two-week British Isles voyage on the Viking Ocean’s ship the Star. Over the next few days I will post reviews of different aspects of the trip (Dining, Itinerary, Service, etc.), but I wanted to begin with a post about the vegan options on board as I have had many, many questions on this topic.
I notified Viking that I was vegan well in advance of our trip and the ship’s restaurant manager Joan (pronounced Joanne) was aware of this from the outset. She approached our table on embarkation day after I inquired with the wait staff about vegan options for lunch in the World Café (the casual dining buffet). She explained the process for special dietary requests to me at that time which goes as follows:
1- decide at least a day in advance where you will dine
2- obtain a photocopy of the menu
3- select the items you’d like
4- return the menu to the restaurant manager by 9am on the day you will dine
This process sounded simple enough and I was pleased. Not so fast! Despite following Joan’s instructions to the letter, the process of being vegan on the Viking Star was a comedy of errors. No matter which dining option we chose, when we arrived the wait staff seemed put off and confused about my diet. The only case where the chefs had been notified in advance of my arrival was at the Chef’s Table. All other meals were made on the fly, took forever to prepare and almost always included non-vegan ingredients (cheese, whipped cream, honey, etc.).
On the fifth day of the 14 day trip, I decided that the simplest option for me and the staff was the World Café for lunch and dinner where the dishes are labeled. However, “vegan” and “dairy” labels are not used by Viking and nearly all the vegetable-based dishes included invisible butter and/or cream. The only labels used by Viking are “gluten free”, “sugar free” and “vegetarian”. I inquired with World Café’s wonderful sous chef Clifford about this and he said he’d mention it to the “higher ups”. He was always willing to help in explaining the vegan options to me, but they were so few among the prepared dishes that I usually had to have something made special. Despite his enthusiasm, he was usually overwhelmed with his job duties which made accommodating my needs difficult for him. He was also limited in terms of available ingredients. In a nutshell, I ate pasta with garlic, olive oil and vegetables for nearly every meal and by the time I received it, my husband was eating dessert. Meal time became very stressful and I felt bad having to ask for special treatment just to eat. I worried aloud to my husband more than once about those on board with food allergies. If my dietary restrictions had been due to allergies, I undoubtedly would have become very, very ill.
After learning the hard way in the restaurants on board, I relied on room service for breakfast each day. Hang tangs are placed in the staterooms each evening for the following morning. Instead of selecting the listed options, I wrote in almond milk, avocado and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil each night and had no problems with what was delivered the following morning. Just a note that almond milk and avocado were not available by “special order” anywhere else on board despite my repeated efforts at obtaining them.
Vegan diets are becoming more prevalent each and every day and Viking MUST take action to adapt. We love nearly everything else about the company and are confident that they can work this out. In fact, this was our fifth voyage with Viking in just a couple of years and we booked our sixth while onboard (a river cruise on the Elbe River). It is my hope that Viking takes charge of educating their staff on vegan food preparation or it may be my last. The staff is so eager to please, but lacks the time, tools and knowledge of vegan food to do so on the fly! In short, a vegan option (other than fruit and salad) should be planned and included at every meal (labeled accordingly).