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What not to eat on a cruise

June 17, 2022
9 min read
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Some people consider a cruise vacation one of the most decadent ways to travel. On many cruises, food is practically always available — and most of it is included in the fare. But just because food is everywhere (and being served around the clock) doesn't mean you should eat it all.

Some of your favorite dishes may not hold up well on the buffet if they sit under a heat lamp or at room temperature, even for short periods. Other mass-produced dishes might be made with substitute ingredients rather than the real deal, and food in port can be a culinary adventure or a gastrointestinal mistake. And that’s before we address all the empty calories it’s so easy to gobble up on vacation.

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To make sure you prioritize the most delicious onboard meals over unsatisfying versions of your favorite dishes, here are some things you should not eat on your next cruise.

(Photo by Dreamer Company/Getty Images)

Scrambled ‘eggs’ on the buffet

A gigantic pan of scrambled eggs that sits for an extended period on a buffet is probably one of the least appetizing breakfast options you could ask for. The eggs can become dry or watery — neither of which makes them pleasant to eat. Plus, if you're on a cruise ship that's serving up breakfast for thousands of people, the eggs likely come from a powdered or liquid mix.

Your best bet for ensuring that you're getting freshly prepared, actual eggs is to go to the buffet's omelet station and watch the cook crack open the shells and prepare your eggs to order. If you'd prefer a ham and cheese omelet, request real eggs over the mix on hand, as some omelets are also made with powdered or liquid formulas.

Another option to be sure you are getting "real" eggs is to go to the dining room for a meal and order eggs prepared in a manner where you'll see the yolks, such as poached or over-medium.

(Photo by wundervisuals/Getty Images)

Salads from the self-serve salad bar

While I was hopeful that some cruise ship dining precautions would remain in place after the pandemic, many buffets are back to being self-service, which is particularly disconcerting when it comes to the salad bar. Don't you just love to see someone drop the handle from one container into another and then pick it out of the veggies, being sure to touch everything in the process? Nope. Not good.

Serving yourself at the salad bar is worse than helping yourself to a portion of lasagna because you only need to touch the serving spoon once to scoop out the lasagna. At the salad bar, there can be over a dozen containers — in addition to the bowls of lettuces — that hold all the veggies, grated cheese, croutons and nuts to top your salad, and you're going to need to touch the handles of many of them. Even worse, the ladle for the salad dressing may have touched someone's plate who has gone back for seconds without getting a new dish.

For a truly healthy lunch or dinner side of salad greens, take yourself to the main dining room for a waiter-plated meal. Or, look for crew-served salad stations at the buffet; Holland America ships, for example, have a lovely one.

Related: Cruise ship buffet taboos: 10 things you should never do at mealtime

The bread basket

Crusty French bread, pretzel rolls, seeded multigrain buns, oh my! It's hard to pass up fresh bread, whether warm in the basket served with salted butter on your table or attractively displayed by the cheeses and charcuterie on the buffet line.

The problem is it's easy to fill up on carbs and then have no room for dinner. If you've paid extra for that meal in the steakhouse, you don't want to eat so much bread that you miss out on the loaded baked potato with your medium-rare NY strip steak or the sumptuous dessert at the meal's end.

If you must indulge in freshly baked bread (and it's easy to do), skip the loaf at lunch and have just one slice or roll at dinner. Or, enjoy your carbs with a light lunch and forgo the bread at dinner.

(Photo by Holger Leue/Getty Images)

Buffet dishes in creamy sauces

Certain dishes aren't worth eating if they've been sitting on the buffet because they're best when freshly prepared and don't hold up over time. This is especially true of dishes made with sauces that break down quickly.

Have you seen the individual toasted English muffins topped with Canadian bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce languishing on the buffet? They're a great idea in theory and easy to serve a crowd, but not so good on the delivery. That's because hollandaise sauce will deteriorate into a buttery mess. If you'd like to enjoy a breakfast of eggs Benedict, have it made to order in the dining room.

Related: The ultimate guide to cruise ship food and dining

The tasty butter chicken at the Indian food station also becomes less appealing once it sits for a while and the butter, yogurt and cream in the sauce separate. If you must indulge, time it right and wait to take your serving from a newly prepared pan.

The same principle applies to macaroni and cheese. It’s delectable when it's hot and bubbly fresh out of the oven, but the cheese starts clumping and the cream sauce begins to fall apart as it sits, making for a gooey mess. If the serving tray was just replaced, dig in; if not, take a pass.

Sliced meats and delicate fish

Carved meats are great when fresh out of the roasting pan or off the rotisserie, but they become dry over time, especially when kept warm under the heat lamp. Roast pork is the perfect example.

If fish is your protein of choice, know that it will get mushy and watery after it’s been sitting on the buffet a while. The alternative is you might find fish dishes that are overcooked and dry.

For a hearty meal, look for whole rather than sliced pieces of meat or stews that weather the heat lamps well.

(Photo by P_Weit/Getty Images)

Left-too-long snacks

Be especially choosy if you're hitting the buffet at off-hours. You may encounter fried foods past their prime and without their crunch, mayonnaise-based salads like coleslaw and potato salad that look past their prime, and individual egg-based desserts like custards or puddings that have shrunk in size after sitting for an hour. If the salads and eggy desserts haven't been refrigerated at the proper temperature, they may no longer be safe to eat, either.

Instead, head out to the grill on the pool deck or opt for room service, where you can get freshly made choices in the late afternoon hours.

Self-serve ice cream

Heading for the soft-serve ice cream machine at least once or twice is a rite of passage on cruise ships. It's nice to splurge on a frosty dessert after lunch or hours at the water park, and you can wander the ship while eating your treat.

But ask yourself, who has been there before you and touched the controls, cups and cones? The high-touch machines could be rather germy, especially since they’re frequented by children who don’t always have the best hand-washing track record. Plus, you don't know what's really in that whipped frozen stuff (probably not real cream).

Related: 9 best cruise ship desserts to tempt you at sea

We suggest ordering ice cream or gelato from the friendly server at the buffet restaurant if you want a real creamy treat without all the potential germs. You'll likely find more flavors and get sprinkles on top. Better yet, visit the ship's ice cream, gelato or dessert shop and order an over-the-top sundae for a true vacation splurge.

Bottom line

While there are some foods that you might want to avoid on a cruise, you can easily find excellent and delicious choices on board your ship, including on the buffet. You might consider heading to the buffet restaurant right when it opens for a fantastic selection of freshly prepared items — and to beat the crowds. Or tuck into classic cruise favorites in the dining room like shrimp cocktail, French onion soup and grilled steak or salmon.

A cruise is also a great time to try new dishes and types of cuisine, so look for regional specialties on the ship’s main dining room menu or make a reservation at one of the specialty restaurants on board.

Remember: No matter how you might try, you can’t eat everything on a cruise. Prioritize the dishes that hold up to banquet-style or buffet service, or pay extra for more intimate venues where meals are cooked to order, and you will get the most culinary pleasure from your journey.

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Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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