Wow! I haven’t blogged in such a long time that the entire WordPress layout looks different. Well okay, I will figure it out as I go.
David and I just returned from a week vacation called the Holistic Holiday at Sea. I don’t remember how we learned about this cruise but I’m sure it had something to do with finding a vacation where we didn’t have to cook for ourselves or scramble around searching for vegan food. Here is a description of the cruise from the HHS website:
“Holistic Holiday at Sea™ is a body pampering, relaxing, and educational vacation aboard the new MSC Divina, one of the world’s most luxurious ocean liners. A perfect combination of luxury, fitness, knowledge and entertainment, our 7-day holistic cruise stops at exotic ports of call and offers a wide variety of lectures, workshops, and private consultations by leading authorities in the fields of alternative health and holistic healing. All this while dining on specially prepared natural foods, swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, and lounging in saunas and Turkish baths.”
Sounds pretty great right? To be more specific about the “knowledge” portion of this, the featured speakers included Dr. Neal Barnard, T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Michael Klaper and many others. If you are not familiar with these names, these are the rock stars of plant-based nutrition–the folks who write the books, stand up in the face of traditional western medicine and research and declare that the path to good health and disease prevention and reversal is NOT pills and surgery but a shift from the Standard American Diet to a whole foods, plant-based diet. The prospect of meeting and hearing these speakers was very exciting.
I had never been on a cruise before, and frankly I never had any desire to take one. I’m not a big sea lover, and in general I like to keep my feet on the ground. However, the promise of hearing and meeting people I so admired combined with the not-cooking-for-a-week thing was so compelling that I decided to give it a try. Plus, we figured it would be exciting to be among 1300 other vegans where we could speak freely and share stories over dinner. We had very high hopes for this cruise, and some of our expectations were met and others were not. Here’s what I thought:
First, let me dispense with my view on cruising. Since I’d never been on a cruise before, I can’t say whether my lack of enthusiasm for this sort of vacation was specific to this cruise line or ship or what, but I simply don’t like being on a cruise ship. With over 3000 people on the cruise (HHS cruisers were not the only ones on the ship), the only time I liked being on the ship was when everyone got off to visit the ports-of-call. While we had pretty nice weather and calm seas there was a day or two where I felt like I was in one giant airplane, listing from side to side. Not comfortable and no way out. We did have a balcony room which we thoroughly enjoyed and the swaying that I hated during the day I kind of enjoyed when I went to sleep. Plus the breezes and sound of the ocean were pretty great.
Our ship, the MSC Divina seemed to have all the bells and whistles. We were not interested in any of it. Just really not our thing. We were more about the lectures, demonstrations, etc. I guess there was some night life; we were happily tucked away in our room by ten o’clock. That being said, the service on the ship was awful. From housekeeping to waitstaff it just wasn’t there. And much, if not most of the service staff didn’t appear to speak English. Not so easy to get that mini-bar restocked.
This ship stopped in St. Thomas (that gorgeous photo up top was the view from our room in port), San Juan, (Puerto Rico) and Nassau. There were some lectures scheduled on port days but we chose to lace up our sneakers in St. Thomas and San Juan to get some outdoor exercise and explore. San Juan was particularly lovely; Nassau looked awful so we didn’t get off at all. We passed on excursions preferring to enjoy the ship and catch some sun when the decks were empty. This actually worked pretty well and was relaxing.
So, in short, one cruise was enough for me. If you like the experience of cruising, I imagine you would like this aspect of HHS well enough.
Next on to the food. This was easily the most disappointing aspect of our trip, which is particularly unfortunate because it was one of our reasons for wanting to come on the cruise. Admittedly we probably didn’t read this paragraph in the promotional materials well enough:
Meals will be non-dairy, vegan/natural cuisine and organic when possible. Desserts will be sugar and dairy-free and prepared by our own pastry chefs. Macrobiotic quality, organic/naturally fermented condiments such as miso, shoyu, umeboshi, and sun-dried sea salt will be used exclusively. Non-dairy and sugar-free beverages will be served.”
Apparently the HHS was originally a “macrobiotic” not a “vegan” cruise, but over the years the fastest growing segment of travelers has been whole foods, plant-based cruisers. While there is significant overlap in these cuisines and approaches they are not the same. I know very little about Macrobiotics and you can read about it here if you are interested in knowing more. My comments are in no way a critique of Macrobiotics but rather my simple assessment of the food on the cruise. In short, the food served in the dining room (several courses each meal) was pretty much rice or grain-based, brown or tan in color with an almost compete absence of fresh, bright vegetables or fruits. As a whole foods, plant-based person who “eats the rainbow” this was not going to work for me. After two days of this David and I discovered another buffet which had a salad bar, vegan pizza and lots of fresh fruit. We did not return to the dining room. To be fair, we were just as happy with the more casual, spacious buffet area, but we did lose out on dining with other like-minded people, although we saw plenty of HHS folks waiting for the vegan pizza.
I don’t know if the cruise organizers are married to the macrobiotic cuisine but it’s worth asking about if you think about going on this cruise. Aside from feeling disappointed about the general quality of the food, I felt disappointed that the veg-curious folks on the cruise would associate that food with a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle. In fact, I met as many veg-curious people as committed vegans, and none of the people I spoke to were enthusiastic about the macrobiotic food. This felt like a huge lost opportunity to me, since many of these people who wanted to improve their health were not exposed to the glorious array of plant-based food available. Most of us WFPB folks do not eat miso soup for breakfast. Sigh.
OK, so now on to the good stuff. The educational offerings on this cruise were truly superb. I can only imagine the amount of work it takes to put a program of this magnitude together. Each day there were numerous options at every time slot. Here’s a look at one day’s offerings:
We took full advantage of the lectures and each featured speaker offered many different talks. David was actually getting continuing education credits so our focus was on those options. Not only were the lectures inspiring, informative and entertaining, but there was ample time for Q & A and one-on-one chats with the presenters who were open to getting feedback and fielding questions about personal issues.
It’s actually hard to put into words how inspiring it is to be among doctors and other healers who value health and wellness over the status quo. These doctors exhibit courage and commitment that I believe is very rare. David and I had both done a ton of reading and researched about these doctors so we knew there was much to admire in the way they have fought for a medical model based on whole food plant-based nutrition and lifestyle rather than pills and surgery. Rather than go into detail about every single talk I thought I’d focus a few of the highlights for me:
- Dr. Neal Barnard’s reversal of diabetes talk. Yes, type 2 diabetes can be reversed, contrary to what most doctors will tell you. It is not a life sentence. By eating a WFPB diet it can happen very fast. You can read more about this here.
- Dr Michael Klaper’s “From Operating Room Table to Dining Room Table”. Dr. Klaper spoke about his own evolution which included an awakening to the violence inherent in eating animals. He has all the western medical credentials (in spades) and as he says over and over “it’s all about the FOOD”! He’s a marvelous human being and you can check out his website here.
- Dr. Michael Klaper’s bone health talk. No, dairy is not good for bone health. Just the opposite in fact. And Dr. Klaper gives a scathing review of the meds for osteoporosis. I knew about this from David who sees his dental patients’ inability to heal after taking meds like Fosamax. It’s all about the diet and weight-bearing exercise. If you’re still eating”dairy for calcium” I urge you to read further about this on his website or others.
- Dr. Thomas Campbell’s talk about his journey from co-author of the China Study to conventionally trained western doc. This was particularly interesting because Dr. Campbell went to medical school after spending four years working with his father writing The China Study. He gives a first hand view of how difficult it is to bridge the divide between lifestyle medicine and our current system of treating symptoms with drugs and surgery.
- Recovery Panel. A group of 12 people who healed their late stage disease (heart disease, cancer, auto-immune) by changing their diets shared their stories of recovery. It can be done but it won’t happen using the current medical model. I wish more people would consider nutrition. Our bodies are designed to heal us if we nourish them well.
Pretty impressive, don’t you think? The HHS folks also had a pop-up bookstore on the ship which enabled people to get the resources they need to learn even more.
So, in sum, our trip was a marvelous and inspiring educational experience. A great number of people signed up for next year’s cruise already, but as I said, for me once was enough. Interestingly, at one dinner we spoke with a couple who had been to Dr. John McDougall’s travel adventures. These include trips to Hawaii, Costa Rica and Alaska. I have my sights set on Costa Rica where we can hike in the rain forest, sit on the beach and eat bright, vibrant vegan food. Oh, and Dr. McDougall might have a few interesting things to share as well ;).
Want to join us? You can read about it here.