A well-planned kosher cruise can be a wonderful vacation that combines the luxury of a modern passenger liner, with exciting and fascinating excursions, good company, enjoyable entertainments – and gourmet kosher dining. Finding the best kosher cruises can be a challenge and it’s important to choose a cruise company that you can trust.
This blog post will give you a quick and convenient passenger guide to kosher cruises and kosher riverboat cruises. We’ll explore all the questions you need to ask before you book your next cruise, as well as how to plan for a cruise so that you enjoy a truly memorable trip. We’ll also provide some useful tips on preparing for a cruise.
Be Clear About Your Needs When You Book Jewish Cruises
A leisurely sea cruise around the sun-drenched Caribbean islands, or a dramatic Arctic excursion through the Norwegian fjords, is many people’s dream holiday. Modern cruises can visit pretty much every location on the planet and there’s something for everyone. Whether your tastes run to exotic cocktails and tropical sunsets, or you’re attracted to icy waters and the eerie splendor of the northern lights (aurora borealis) you can plan the trip of a lifetime.
The potential downside of a vacation on a cruise ship is that if you’re not satisfied, you’re basically stuck. Passengers on cruise ships can’t simply change hotels or drive to another resort. If you have religious requirements that you don’t want to compromise on, or you’re just looking for a Jewish cultural experience, it’s important to define your own expectations and requirements before you travel.
An experienced Jewish travel agency will be able to suggest a range of kosher cruises that match your personal needs. Good travel agencies work closely with tour providers and will physically check that they meet the required standards for kashrut and religious observance. Whether you’re planning a tour of the Eastern Mediterranean, with excursions to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, or a rainforest riverboat tour on the Amazon, you’ll be able to find a kosher culinary experience that compliments the travel experience!
9 Things to Consider When You Plan a Kosher Cruise
- Kosher Certification
Which Kashrus agency provides the certification, does it meet your requirements, and is it validated? Are there qualified mashgichim (supervisors) onboard the ship?
- Kosher Dining
Does the ship offer Jewish passengers an option for separate kosher dining? Check whether there is an extra charge for kosher dining, or if it is included in the cruise price. What arrangements are there for separate kitchens, menus, and meal times?
- Dining Satisfaction
If the ship’s galley prepares kosher food, is it high-quality, well-prepared food with plenty of variety? You should be looking for a gourmet dining experience – not a disappointing selection of airline-style sealed meals.
- Religious Services
Can the cruise provide religious services? Check whether there is a rabbi on the ship, a shul or a dedicated prayer room, and enough Jewish passengers or crew for a minyan.
Cruise ships usually offer onboard swimming pools, sun lounges, sporting activities, entertainment and bars. If tznius is a concern, you need to know what kind of environment you’ll be entering. Cruise ship passengers tend to be quite respectable, but summer clothing and swimwear may be too revealing for your preference.
Does your trip include Shabbat observance? Check whether there is a Shabbat dinner and social event. If you’re religious, check whether the ship provides the necessary facilities (and electronics) for observing Shabbat correctly. Are sailing times Shabbat compliant?
- Cultural Experiences
Jewish cruises should provide an authentic Jewish cultural experience. That can include a whole spectrum of activities. Are you looking for lectures on Jewish history and religion, film shows, music or dance performances, workshops, or even Hebrew classes?
- Jewish Itinerary
A big part of any cruise is the excursions and day trips. Does your cruise itinerary include stops at culturally significant Jewish sites, and are there expert guides who can answer all your questions? Make sure that there is a comfortable balance between more intellectually demanding excursions and fun outings or shopping trips.
- Passenger Testimonials
No cruise trip can satisfy every single passenger, but good cruises get good overall reviews. Take some time to review what former passengers say about their cruise experiences and see whether the feedback is generally positive.
Cruises with Kosher Food
By far the biggest concern for observant Jewish travelers is kosher food. When you’re relying on other people to prepare your food, there is necessarily an element of trust involved. A large passenger liner may need to prepare meals and snacks for as many as 4,000 people on a daily basis and catering staff may be under constant pressure.
On ships offering a kosher menu, usually, only a small proportion of passengers will require kosher food. Ship’s galleys are complex and may be spread over different floors, and storage space can be limited. Even with the best will in the world, there is enormous potential for logistics staff, catering staff and waiters to accidentally violate kashrut.
Genuine Jewish Cruises (e.g. kosher cruises that depart from Haifa or passover cruises) are crewed by Israeli Jews and supervised by an Israeli rabbinate. All the kitchens are kosher as a matter of course, as are the food storage facilities. When you travel with non-Jewish cruise lines in the US or Europe etc. the ideal solution is to find a ship that has a separate kosher kitchen with trained staff.
If you’re thinking about booking a place on a conventional cruise that offers kosher food, choose a reliable tour company and look for good reviews left by Jewish passengers. To be completely certain that your dietary requirements will be respected, it’s probably best to book through a Jewish travel agent or tour company.
Jewish tours or a Jewish travel agency can carry out their own checks and validations and usually have long-standing relationships with cruise companies. There are many advantages to independent travel, but when it comes to keeping kosher on a cruise ship, nothing beats professional knowledge!
Visiting Religious Sites on Jewish Cruises
Israel is so firmly a part of the Middle East that people sometimes forget that it is also a Mediterranean country. Israel has over 180 kilometers of beautiful Mediterranean coastline, as well as the Red Sea resort of Eilat with its famous coral reefs. Cruise ships that put in at Haifa are within easy reach of the ancient synagogues of Tiberias, as well as the Kabbalistic center Safed, tucked away in the rocky hills of Northern Israel.
Overnight trips to Jerusalem are also a popular option. We could write pages and pages about what to see in Jerusalem, but it’s enough to mention the Wailing Wall (Kotel or Western Wall) and the Western Wall tunnels, the old Jewish Quarter, Yad Vashem, the Tower of David and the City of David Park with the Hezekiah’s tunnel. The high point of many Kosher cruises from Haifa is the joy of arriving in the ancient holy city at the heart of Judaism.
Kosher Riverboat Cruises
Humans have been traversing the great rivers of the world since prehistoric times, both for profit and for pleasure. Cleopatra was reported to have sailed up the Nile in a pleasure barge and to have entertained both Marc Anthony and Julius Caesar on her luxurious boat. Nile cruises are a magnet for tourists today, as are cruises on the mighty Mississippi, the Amazon, the Danube, the Rhine, the Elbe and many Asian rivers.
Kosher riverboat cruises are great for Jewish tourists who want a leisurely journey with breathtaking scenery and a chance to disembark and explore some of the world’s most beautiful and famous cities. There is something wonderful about enjoying the peace and quiet of a spectacular river, but having the opportunity to explore the hustle and bustle of riverside cities like Budapest, Berlin and Prague.
If you have family roots in the Jewish quarters of European cities, Kosher riverboat cruises can be a unique experience. The Shoes on the Danube memorial on the East Bank of the Danube in Budapest is a particularly poignant monument to Jewish suffering. If you are interested in exploring your family heritage or visiting historic European synagogues and Jewish museums, there’s no better option than a river cruise.
Jewish Cruises Checklist
Everybody who loves to travel in style should go on a cruise at least once in their life. There are plenty of luxury cruises to all kinds of exciting destinations that specifically cater to Jewish passengers. You can sign up for a kosher cruise in Alaska or book an exclusive trip with Royal Caribbean (with kosher food).
To ensure a truly memorable trip (memorable for all the right reasons) there are a few basics to take care of before you sail. Your cruise company will provide a recommended packing list, but there are some additional suggestions that may be useful.
- Some ships may operate dress codes, including formal attire for dinner. Come prepared and pack some warm clothing just in case. Even tropical nights can be chilly at sea.
- Bring something to read. You may need a break from the non-stop round of activities and socializing. Make sure you have some good books or an e-reader.
- Research the places you will visit during the cruise. You’ll get much more out of your trip if you take the time to learn about them first.
- If you’re planning shopping trips in exotic locations, be aware of airline baggage and weight restrictions.
- Although most cruises are all-inclusive, take some cash money with you. You may want to tip crew members or pay cash on excursions.
If you’re planning a vacation this year, or you’re looking for a special voyage to celebrate a milestone event in your life, a luxury cruise could be the perfect choice. There are plenty of luxury cruises with kosher food that offer a tailored travel experience for Jewish passengers. You could be on the threshold of an amazing adventure!