Cruising with diabetes

Guest Post Sally Marchini, Dietitian

Sometimes going on holiday with diabetes can be a worry when you don’t know what to expect food-wise. Today’s blog will look at how you can prepare for your wonderful cruising holiday and how to make the most of it while avoiding the rollercoaster of glycemic control.

It’s important to remember, and especially when you’re on holiday, that diabetes isn’t a game of perfect so aim to relax your control a little for the duration of your cruise to allow yourself a chance to recharge and relax. You’re there to enjoy yourself!

A little planning goes a long way

My dietitian colleague, Jemma O’Hanlon wrote a blog on managing your weight when on cruising holidays, and one of my favourite quotes from her blog is:

“Failing to plan = planning to fail” – Jemma reminds us that “Not having a plan is a recipe for disaster, as peer pressure and ‘living in the moment’ can often lead to poor decisions being made.”

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia offered us this advice: “Cruise lines should ask you to identify any dietary requirements at the time of booking, either through your agent or online, and your needs can then be discussed with relevant staff once onboard – generally the maître’d or food and beverage manager.”

They also remind us that “cruise ships offer an enormous variety of food and their chefs are very well versed in dealing with all sorts of medical conditions and dietary needs,” so you can feel confident that you won’t need to worry about having the right types of food to help with your glycemic control.

When you get on board, make one of your first actions to meet with the person in charge of food. If you take a letter from your doctor with you that outlines your dietary requirements and medications it can only help.

Be mindful with your choices where possible

APD, Jemma O’Hanlon says, “My number 2 rule is to keep in mind that going on holidays is not an excuse to eat more or give up all of your healthy eating habits”.

My Ten Top Tips that I share with my clients include:

1)    Start each day with a healthy breakfast – you know the low-GI cereals are a great option, but also enjoy poached eggs or omelettes with plenty of vegetables and grainy toast for some variety.


2)    Choose quality low-glycemic index carbohydrates – dairy, wholegrain cereals and breads, sweet potato/corn and try to include your two pieces of fruit per day.  Avoid higher-glycemic index carbohydrates where possible (sweets/desserts/sweet drinks), but as you’re on holiday if you really want something then have it and enjoy every morsel.

3)    Choose grilled rather than fried foods (and uncoated foods – avoiding crumbs and batter).


4)    Choose fresh foods rather than processed foods. This is a perfect opportunity to enjoy quality rather than quantity.

5)    Portion sizes – aim for small plate size of food, and don’t feel obliged to finish what’s on your plate if you’ve had enough.

6)    Aim for half your plate to be salad or non-starchy vegies

7)    Consider if you *really* want dessert – knowing you wouldn’t at home and that it will upset your glycemic control and weight management, is it really worth it?

8)    Avoid snacks between meals – if you need a snack try to choose fresh fruit, yogurt, or nuts and seeds.

9)    Minimise your alcoholic beverages – this doesn’t mean abstaining altogether, but there are risks associated with alcohol and diabetes, and of course they’re full of empty calories just like soft drink.

10)   Engage in physical activity every day – walking in the swimming pool, around the deck, and participate in other offered activities.


Other diabetes matters to consider

If you are insulin dependent or on other insulin stimulating drugs, CLIA Australasia advises, “Most cruise lines also offer room service and would certainly organise to have a particular type of food available if there was a medical requirement”.  Personally I would ensure that I had several hypo treatments available in my room to be on the safe side.

For day trips off the ships, check with your on-board contact about taking a picnic lunch so that you’re not caught short in a place that you’re unfamiliar with. Remember to carry your hypo treatments with you if you’re at risk.

Some useful travel websites for people with diabetes are:

Diabetes Counselling Online – diabetes and travel page

The Joslin Diabetes Center – ten tips for a safe trip which includes some helpful tips including remembering to test your BGLs!

VoyageMD, a website all about travel with diabetes put together by a UK doctor who has many years experience in diabetes care, to provide up-to-date and practical help for people with diabetes intending to travel anywhere in the world.

It might be worth having a browse through these as part of your trip preparation, so you’ll be ready to relax once you’re on board. Many of my clients come back from a cruising holiday much fitter and healthier than when they left due to enjoyment of such a variety of wonderful activities and fresh foods.

When you get home, take a few moments to reflect on your holiday, remembering how much you’ve enjoyed your cruise, and try to incorporate the activity and the fresh foods into your everyday life. Then everyday can a little bit of your holiday in it.

Most of all enjoy every moment while you’re there! Wishing you everything you’re hoping for in your cruising holiday. Sally 🙂

1 Comment

  1. helwild on May 12, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    This is a great read for us parents of kids with diabetes, Sally. The tips given here about cruising apply equally when cruising with your child or teenager with diabetes. Many of these tips can be adapted to travelling in any form, but a cruise is unique in that you are on a ‘floating world’ with little ability to look elsewhere for what you may need. The cruise ship is a ‘mini world’. So it becomes doubly important to communicate before you go on board, & to work with the staff once on board, as well as making your own preparation & back up plans. Getting documentation from your GP or endocrinologist is important, especially if you will be going ashore in another country. Thanks! Regards Helen Wilde