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Natural Awakenings National

Healthy Holiday at Sea: Set Sail on the Caribbean’s Only Holistic Love Boat

Nov 07, 2014 10:01PM ● By Judith Fein

It’s a plant-based gourmet restaurant, state-of-the-art alternative health conference, healing retreat, Caribbean vacation and love boat. This combination was impossible to find until visionary health food guru Sandy Pukel originated the Holistic Holiday at Sea concept 12 years ago. He began by operating health food stores, undertook the production of miso and seitan and organized seminars and festivals, working with many health and nutrition leaders. “So my partner John Belleme and I figured, why not put it all together and create a floating vacation for mind, body and spirit?” says Pukel.

He explains, “There are parties every night, singles events and open seating in the dining room, so you get to meet new people at almost every meal.” It’s easy to connect with likeminded folks on custom shore excursions, at yoga and fitness classes and attending exciting, informative and inspirational talks by a dream team of vegan and alternative health experts. “Romances that lead to weddings are a common occurrence,” Pukel says, grinning. “Honeymoons are planned during our voyages.”

One of the most moving events is the recovery panel, where passengers share dramatic stories about how switching to a plant-based or macrobiotic diet literally saved their lives. Janet Vitt, a nurse and mother afflicted with metastatic cancer, weighed 72 pounds and was told that she had six weeks to live. She had run out of conventional options when she began a plant-based diet. Twelve years later, she married at sea on one of the first vegan cruises.

Another memorable panelist, Betty Hoehn, was diagnosed with lymphatic leukemia and then lymphoma. She was so disabled that she considered canceling the cruise, but changed her mind, and completely changed her lifestyle buoyed by what she learned. Her stunned oncologist reported a few months later that she was cancer-free. Many such testimonials can be heard onboard about what happens when people take responsibility for their health and commit to a cleansing, balancing, healing, plant-based diet.

“People love the healthy food from the cruise kitchen run by internationally renowned vegan Chef Mark Hanna,” observes Pukel. He and Hanna co-authored Green and Grains on the Deep Blue Sea Cookbook.

Cruises also include plant-based cooking classes by prominent teachers, including Chef AJ (Abbie Jaye), who signs her emails “love and kale,” and has been vegan since 1977. “I was pre-vet when I was asked to cut the heads off of salamanders,” she says. “I always say I became vegetarian rather than veterinarian.”

The down-to-earth chef remarks, “You can make simple, uncomplicated plant-based cuisine or stretch and make it as gourmet or fancy as you like.” She considers cooking fun and wants passengers to feel the same way. Many of them return home with recipes, inspired and eager to experiment in their own kitchens.

The Holistic Holiday at Sea Vegan CruisePassengers also receive helpful, informative materials and take copious notes from talks given by medical and nutritional luminaries like Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Michael Greger and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Classes cover preventive care, holistic approaches to life and health, meditation, integrative relaxation, plant-based and whole food diets, alternative treatments and other solutions to problems that plague many people and erode their quality of life.

Campbell, who will be featured in the 2015 lineup, is the author of 300-plus research articles and the bestselling book, The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. He counsels everyone, “Eat vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and tubers, with little or no added fat, refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour) or salt. The closer one gets to that kind of dietary lifestyle, the better.”

National Geographic Traveler has chosen Holistic Holiday at Sea as “one of the 100 best worldwide vacations to enrich your life.” It’s hard to find a reason not to sail on a voyage to well-being.

For more information on the Holistic Holiday at Sea Vegan Cruise, from Mar. 14 to 21, visit or call 1-800-496-0989.

Judith Fein is an award-winning international travel journalist and the author of Life is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel, plus The Spoon from Minkowitz, about honoring ancestors.

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