Have you ever wanted to take a river cruise, but were afraid it would be too hard to manage your diabetes? Here are a few things to know that may ease your mind.
My husband and I just returned from a glorious 14-day cruise down the Rhine and Danube Rivers in Europe. We started in Amsterdam and ended in Budapest, tacking on a few days in both cities at each end of the trip. I was a bit nervous about eating too much of the “wrong” things, slacking off my normal fitness routine, and transporting three weeks’ worth of Trulicity®. The good news is that I didn’t need to worry about any of it.
We cruised with Viking and I can’t say enough good things about them. These folks have a system that works. You should know that the average age of the cruisers skews a little older, so this isn’t a trip to take with kids. There was one 18-year-old on our ship and she was pretty miserable being around “the olds” for two weeks.
What’s the food like on a river cruise?
Of course, I’m going to zero in on the food first! As with ocean cruises, food is abundant on a river cruise. On our ship, you could enjoy breakfast or lunch on the terrace or in the restaurant. Dinner was only served in the restaurant.
The staff was more than willing to accommodate special diets. A couple we met had a few allergies and they sat down with the maître d’ each evening after dinner to go over their menus for the next day. The ship’s chefs can prepare meals that are diabetic-friendly, low-carb, gluten-free, low-salt, or low-cholesterol, but they do appreciate you giving them 30 days’ notice.
There was also at least one vegetarian offering at dinner each night (on the regular menu), but it often included pasta.
We also had the opportunity to go on two food tours – one in Vienna accompanied by the Viking chef and another in Budapest with a local guide. In both places we tried local specialties like sausages, stuffed peppers, and pickled plums.
Breakfast on the terrace featured a Scandinavian-style buffet consisting of deli meats, cheeses, yogurt, fruit, and various types of breads and pastries plus coffee, tea, and juice.
In the restaurant, a chef cooked eggs to order as part of a more elaborate buffet. You could get scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and potatoes in one section. In another, there was oatmeal with toppings like dried fruit and nuts plus smoked salmon and sometimes other fish. Other offerings included cold cuts and cheese, lots of fruit, plain Greek-style yogurt, ship-made organic museli, and, of course, breads and pastries.
If you aren’t a buffet type of person, you could also order breakfast off a menu that featured Eggs Benedict and French Toast among other things.
I generally had scrambled eggs, bacon, yogurt with dried fruit and nuts, and a piece of fruit like a plum. I ate oatmeal or smoked salmon when I got tired of eggs. On one of our last mornings, I ordered the Eggs Benedict and was thrilled to learn the portion size was small (half an English muffin and one egg). I wish I’d discovered it earlier in the cruise.
Lunch on the terrace during the river cruise was served buffet-style. There were usually small portions of a daily sandwich (panini, club, etc.), steamed vegetables, French fries, a homemade soup, bread, and a chef carving some type of meat (roast beef, pork, turkey, etc.) You could also grab some fresh veggies at the salad bar and a dessert, if desired.
As with breakfast, in the restaurant you could head to the buffet or order from a menu. The buffet included most of the same things that were available on the terrace, plus a few extras. The menu offered a few standards (cheeseburger, hot dog, etc.) plus one or two regional specials. For example, sausage and sauerkraut were plentiful while we were in Bavaria.
The soups were consistently some of the best dishes on the ship. Frequently, lunch for me was the soup of the day (maybe Roasted Carrot or Hungarian Goulash) and a salad.
After a briefing in the lounge about the next day’s activities, the crew served dinner in the ship’s restaurant. Everyone ordered an appetizer, entrée, and dessert from a menu. On the left side of the menu were items offered every day – caesar salad, steak, salmon, chicken, crème brûlée, cheese plate, and ice cream. On the right side of the menu were the daily regional specials, usually three appetizers, three entrées, and three desserts. More than once I ordered a second appetizer as my entrée as they often featured more vegetables and I got tired of eating red meat.
We tried interesting things like bitterballen (Dutch), wiener schnitzel (Austrian), and eggplant involtini.
And, yes, I splurged on dessert several times. I’m a sucker for anything with cherries and chocolate, so I couldn’t resist the Black Forest Cake. I also had to try the Viennese classic Sachertorte (say “SOCCER tort”), a rich chocolate cake with apricot jam filling. I’m glad we got to try it on the ship, because the line at Café Sacher in Vienna was way too long.
Can I exercise on a river cruise?
Yes, I ate a lot on the river cruise, but I also got quite a bit of exercise. Just about every day featured a walking tour. And castles sit atop hills by design, so there were lots of steps and steep inclines. Whenever we had the option to walk back to the ship instead of taking a bus, we walked.
The ship also had a sun deck with a track. One mile was 12.75 laps around the track. On days I didn’t walk much, I logged a mile or two on the track (walking a lap, then jogging a lap). My husband and I had intended to keep up with our GlucoseZone workouts while we were away, but there just wasn’t enough space in our stateroom to pull it off.
When I got home, I had gained 2 pounds. I didn’t think that was too bad after a 3-week vacation!
Is medical assistance available on a river cruise?
While there was no doctor on board the ship (which surprised me), the crew is trained to assist with medical situations. One passenger on our cruise had a mishap on the cobblestones and they got him to a doctor while we were in port and sent someone along who spoke fluent German. (He tore a ligament in his knee and spent the rest of the cruise in a cast.)
Regarding medications, one of my Trulicity® pens failed during the trip and I hadn’t brought along a spare (poor planning on my part). Fortunately, I had brought along a copy of my prescription. At one of our all-day stops, a crew member told me where to find a pharmacy (Apotheke) in Germany. “You can’t miss it, just look for the big A,” he said.
When I arrived around 11 a.m., the pharmacist told me he needed to order the Trulicity®, but would have it around 3 p.m. When I showed up at 3:02 p.m., someone was wheeling it through the door in a cooler. Not only did they fill my prescription, no questions asked, they also gave me a cooler pack so I could transport it safely home. (My prescription was for 12 pens, so I got 12 pens.) The good news? I only paid 306 euros (about $338 USD). At home, it would have cost me more than $2,000 USD! I found a cooler bag in a German department store further down the river and brought it all home without incident.
Can I take a river cruise with diabetes?
Absolutely! You won’t have any trouble finding foods that fit your meal plan, especially if you request a special diet ahead of time. You will need to exert some willpower, however. Cookies, muffins, and pastries are pretty much available 24⁄7. But so are apples and other fruit!
You will be able to get some exercise too, although you might have to seek it out if you’re hard core. You’ll have plenty of cardio opportunities, but not as many resistance training options. I took a set of exercise bands (affiliate link) with me – a “gym in a bag” as Christel Oerum from DiabetesStrong says. I also tried to do the legs-up-the-wall yoga pose before bed each night.
If you have any questions about managing diabetes on a river cruise, I’m happy to answer them. Journey on.
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