How to Cruise on AIP

I had no idea how to cruise on AIP prior to booking our cruise, but I knew I wanted to try!  My health has improved drastically since beginning my wellness and AIP journey in January of 2018, I travel often on the AIP, and I felt ready to try a Caribbean cruise!

My husband and I sailed on the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Our 7 night cruise included two “at sea” days, and four stops:  Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, and Saint Maarten.

I am THRILLED to tell you my experience with cruising on the AIP went beautifully!  I ate AIP elimination phase the entire week, and felt great!  I am SO excited to share how I did it! 

It took careful planning and communication, and I want to add a disclaimer that this was my first time cruising on the AIP, and my only experience with cruising on the AIP is with Royal Caribbean.  This is not a paid or sponsored post.  We paid for our cruise.

How to Cruise on AIP:  Prior to the Cruise

Booking the Cruise

I booked our cruise directly with Royal Caribbean over the phone a few months prior to sailing, and when booking I clearly disclosed my food allergies.  I explained I have an autoimmune disease, and eat according to the AIP.  I clearly outlined the basics so my reservation could be noted/flagged – no gluten, no dairy, no eggs, no soy, no nuts, no seeds, no sugar, no butter, no oils except olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil, etc.

At the time of booking, my reservation agent explained that the only issue she could foresee would be the oils.  She explained I needed to speak directly with the chef once I board the ship and go over the ins and outs of how I eat.  I agreed, but waiting until I boarded made me incredibly nervous.

I already felt filled with fears about cruising on the AIP.  What about cross contamination?  What about the buffets?  What if there is nothing safe I can eat the entire week?  What if we pay ALL of this money and I have a food reaction and am sick the entire cruise?  What if, what if, what if?  At times, I felt overwhelmed by my fears prior to the cruise.

Leading Up to the Cruise

As a result of my fears, I decided to call Royal Caribbean back weeks after booking to ensure my reservation noted my food allergies.  After the agent explained it was, but with no guarantees,  I again was told to speak with the chef when boarding.  My heart sunk, my fears rose, and I felt unsure about waiting until I boarded to make sure I could eat while on the cruise.

I decided to find a way to email Royal Caribbean just to be absolutely sure I had done all I could on my part.  I found an email address on Royal Caribbean’s website, and explained my situation, clearly outlined my food exclusions, and shared my fears.  I received a very understanding and positive response assuring me I would be taken care of on the ship, and that they usually have the customer speak directly with the chef on the first day to ensure the customer feels comfortable with the chef’s understanding of the food allergies/intolerances.

I felt surprised when the email response also included questions asking me what I enjoy eating, not just what I cannot eat.  Further, the email explained how Royal Caribbean wants each guest to enjoy the cruise and the food on the cruise.  They asked me to email back a list of foods I enjoy eating.  So I emailed back my favorite meats, vegetables, fruits, and fats, to which they responded very positively again, explaining they carry most of those items on the ship.

Packing

Despite my best efforts, I still felt unsure about cruising on the AIP.  Although I have friends who cruised while eating mostly Paleo, I heard even that felt difficult.  Also, our cruise sailed out of Puerto Rico, so I had over 12 hours of travel to get there and 14 hours to get back. 

So I decided to pack plenty of AIP snacks, and meals to eat during travel and the morning before boarding our cruise.  Below is a picture of the AIP snacks I packed for the week.  I typically do not snack much.  I feel best when eating three meals a day with little to no snacks.  However, I wondered if I may need to rely on AIP snacks the entire week. 

As far as meals for my long days of travel, for the way there, I ate breakfast at home before leaving, and packed two AIP meals of leftovers from my fridge/freezer in a mini soft cooler.  I also packed my

We arrived in Puerto Rico late at night, and boarded the cruise ship the next day prior to lunch.  For breakfast, I made a green smoothie in my hotel room (I packed my

I also decided to pack a simple typed up sheet outlining the way I eat again, as well as a food allergy card explaining the major AIP exclusions, a note about cross contamination, as well as a simple AIP meal idea.  I planned on giving both sheets to the chef upon boarding.  Note:  You can score my AIP allergy card for FREE here!!  If you are signed up for my free weekly newsletter, you received it via email a few weeks ago!

How to Cruise on AIP:  Boarding the Cruise

I still felt nervous as my husband and I made our way to the cruise ship.  I had no idea how to get a private audience with the chef.  I remember telling my husband multiple times that morning “when we check in, do not let me forget to ask how to speak with the chef.”

It turns out I did not need to worry one bit.  After giving our names at the check in desk, we were asked to hold on a minute.  My husband and I looked at each other like, “ummmm, what’s going on???”  Within a few minutes, a Royal Caribbean representative came and personally greeted us, and explained he would be escorting us onto the ship personally.  Still a bit confused, we finished checking in, then were walked onto the ship and introduced to another very friendly representative who escorted us into the beautiful dining room. 

We were then introduced to the Head of Restaurant Operations on the ship, and seated at a beautiful table overlooking Puerto Rico.  We sat with the incredibly friendly head of restaurant operations, and were joined by the Head Chef on the ship, as well as an Executive Sous Chef.  My husband and I met with the team for 15-20 minutes.  They were welcoming, friendly, understanding, seemed sincerely pleased to be able to accommodate me, and addressed my fears completely.  Instead of feeling like an inconvenience, I felt welcomed and truly cared about!

How To Cruise on the AIP
Head Chef of Freedom of the Seas and Mustafa, Head of Restaurant Operations
I cannot say enough about how welcoming, friendly, and understanding these two were! They truly went above and beyond! From the bottom of my heart, thank you both!

The Head Chef explained all food for those with food allergies and intolerances like mine is made in a designated area, and only prepared by an Executive Sous Chef.  He then explained that the Executive Sous Chef there would be the only one preparing my food for the entire week!  He explained this ensures there is no confusion, mix ups, or misunderstandings. 

How to Cruise on AIP:  Eating AIP While on the Cruise

Each day I met with the Executive Sous Chef assigned to me, Chef Raj.  He would touch base with me each day, and ask me what times I would like to eat my meals at, and what I would like for my meals.  He told me “nothing is impossible” and made anything I asked for. So, as you look at the food pictures below, keep in mind, the food is what I requested/ordered. It includes all of my favorites!

At the designated time for a meal, we would meet at the dining room specified, and someone would call Chef Raj and let him know I was there.  He would then prepare my food, and bring it to me personally.  It felt like a dream since I rarely eat out, and usually cook all of my meals myself.  No cooking and no dishes for the entire 7 night cruise, all while enjoying amazing food!

My only complaint is that I ate too much the first number of days because everything tasted so great!  I cannot say enough about Royal Caribbean, the Head of Restaurant Operations, the Head Chef, Chef Raj, and all of the managers of the restaurants on board.   They all made me feel so welcome!

I celebrated my 38th birthday while on the cruise and they surprised me with a birthday cake made entirely of fruit! Absolutely amazing, and so yummy!
The “Happy Birthday” letters are cantaloupe!

A BIG thank you and shout out to Chef Raj! Chef Raj made ALL of my AIP meals for the week! My husband and I wish Chef Raj could come on all of our trips with us! Such amazing food!

How to Cruise on AIP:  Lifestyle

Seasickness

For the first time in my life, I felt sea sick during the first day of our cruise.  Not the nauseous kind of sea sick, but the dizziness/head spinning kind of sea sick.  I do not take medicine when at all possible, so I felt relieved when I learned the ship we were on had an acupuncturist in the on board Spa!  One session cleared my sea sickness right up!

Sleep

Sleep is incredibly important to my autoimmune wellness.  Whether at home, or while traveling, I prioritize sleep.  While there are so many things to do on a cruise ship, and we often heard of people on the ship up until 3 or 4 am, my husband and I prioritized sleep.  We went to bed each night at a decent hour, and woke in the morning ready to explore the islands!

I will say I personally am a sensitive sleeper.  I am convinced my super power is super human hearing at night, and any kind of light bothers me when I sleep.  So I did bring my silk sleep mask, my noise machine, and my own pillow.  Our bed was very comfortable, and our white noise machine drowned out the noise from any late night partiers returning to their rooms.

On the Islands

We had an incredible time on the islands we visited!  We were blown away by the beauty, and enjoyed soaking it all in!  While our ship docked at the islands all day long, we returned to the ship for lunch each day for my AIP lunch.

Prior to our cruise, we booked excursions privately. 

Aruba

On Aruba, we went on a UTV tour with Rockabeach Tours.  We had an absolute blast!  Very bumpy, dirty, fast, adventure filled, and we loved every minute!  After returning to the cruise ship for lunch, we took a taxi to Eagle Beach – one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen!  We spent hours there, then walked up to Palm Beach.  Much further than we thought, so I recommend a taxi instead of walking.  Although the walk was beautiful!

3 Steps Beach in Aruba
Eagle Beach in Aruba

Curacao

On Curacao, we went on a paddle boarding tour through mangroves.  We saw beautiful birds, big iguanas, and incredible scenery.  I will say it was much more strenuous than I imagined, much longer than I imagined, and my biceps were literally burning as we paddled in the wind for a long period of time.  If you struggle with exercise intolerance (like I do) at all, I do not recommend this!  That evening, I felt the symptoms I get from my exercise intolerance (fatigue, etc).  Thankfully, I slept it off and bounced back quickly!  After paddle boarding, and lunch on the ship, we took a taxi to Mambo beach.  We swam in the beautiful calm water, took a nap on the gorgeous beach, and watched Pelicans dive for fish.

Paddle Boarding in Curacao

Mambo Beach in Curacao

Bonaire

On Bonaire, we went on an incredible snorkel catamaran tour through Woodwind.  If you enjoy snorkeling or diving at all, you MUST visit Bonaire!  We snorkeled Klein Bonaire and it was THE best snorkeling we’ve done!  After lunch on the cruise ship, we took a taxi across the island to Sorobon Beach.  Arguably my favorite beach I’ve ever been!  The water is incredibly clear and the most beautiful shade of Caribbean blue/green.  But my favorite part??  You can walk out in the water for like a mile or something!  It really is incredible!  We spent little time on the beach and most of the time walking out in the water.  Great place for windsurfing too!

Bonaire

Sorobon Beach in Bonaire

Saint Maarten

On Saint Maarten, we went on a speed boad tour around the island the entire day.  This is the only day we skipped a meal on the cruise ship.  Instead, I packed several AIP snacks to hold me over until dinner.  Our tour included some amazing stops.  My favorite?  Pinel Island – so beautiful!  There were a couple of snorkeling stops as well.

At Sea

“At sea” days – our cruise had two at sea days, and my husband and I spent most of them resting on our balcony, enjoying the amazing Caribbean sea views.  We also enjoyed walking around on the ship’s outside jogging track, took a dip in one of the several pools, strolled through the onboard mall, etc.  Our cruise ship included a Flowrider, rockclimbing wall, ice skating rink, theater with nightly productions, and so much more!  We spent our energy on the islands, playing in the sun, and enjoying our balcony.  But if playing on the cruise ship is more your speed, there is no shortage of entertainment on Freedom of the Seas!

The Hard Parts

Just a heads up that if you go on a cruise while on the AIP, be prepared to see everyone else around you eating multiple desserts, and all kinds of unhealthy food.  It did not bother me for the most part, since I enjoy eating AIP because of how I feel when I do!  I personally feel my best when eating AIP, and I remember how I felt before.  It is 100% worth it to me.  But I will say if I went on a cruise during my first month of AIP, I would be on the struggle bus BIG time.

My husband does not have any food intolerances or allergies, but he tried to stick gluten free most of the cruise.  Royal Caribbean offers many gluten free options for entrees and desserts!

Cruising on the AIP

I am SO thrilled that cruising on the AIP with Royal Caribbean went so beautifully!  It really does open up SO many doors for AIPers who love to travel!

I will 100% be doing it again! 

Please let me know below in the comments if you have any questions for me! I am happy to answer any AIP cruising questions you have!

A BIG thank you to Royal Caribbean for accommodating and truly welcoming those of us on the autoimmune protocol (AIP) onboard!

Please Note:

Links I post may contain affiliate links, which means: any items purchased through the links I post, I will earn a small commission at no additional charge to you. Please know I only link products I personally LOVE!

Comments (5)

Hi Shanna, I soooooo get how you felt before the trip, and why you are so grateful and delighted with how the Cruise responded. Anyone who actually takes the time to understand without judgment or impatience deserves a medal! Glad you found a gem – I’ll definitely remember their name for when we decide to finally book the bucket list cruise!

Hi Lisa! Thank you, and I agree 100% about people who take the time to understand without judgement or impatience deserving a medal! Amen! 🙂

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