When you keep kosher, the prospect of planning a vacation can get a little complicated. On the one hand, a vacation is supposed to be about enjoying a new locale, seeing the sights, doing some serious relaxation, and hopefully enjoying some incredible food. On the other hand, kosher travelers need to track down (or travel with!) kosher food. Unless you're headed someplace that boasts kosher restaurants you often have to plan for having a place to prepare it.
So what are your options if you keep kosher, but want to see the world or just a neighboring state? The possibilities are more exciting—and potentially less complicated—than you might imagine.
If there's one place in the world that's ideal for the kosher traveler, it is, without a doubt, Israel. Not only is the tiny country absolutely gorgeous—it's full of wonderful options for arts and culture aficionados, outdoor adventure seekers, spiritual journeyers, history buffs, foodies, beach lovers, and families.
Contrary to popular belief not all of the restaurants in Israel are kosher, but a great many are. And in supermarkets and outdoor shuks (markets), most of the food is kosher as well. Israel probably boasts the greatest concentration of kosher hotels and lodging options in the world. Even El Al, the national airline, serves kosher food, so it's hard to go wrong. Of course, depending on where in the world you live, a trip to Israel can be prohibitively expensive. But there are plenty of other options.
Kosherica, which specializes in kosher cruises, bills itself as "The Glatt Kosher Tour Leader." Ports of call include the Mediterranean, Alaska, Baltic Russia, Mexico, and the Carribbean. There are sailings year-round. The food and entertainment are designed to appeal to an Orthodox kosher audience.
Because cruising is inclusive of accommodations, food, beverages, and, of course, travel (once you've boarded, that is), it can be a more economical, worry-free way to vacation than flying to a destination, arranging transportation or tours, and dealing with dining arrangements. Cruises carry kosher certification from Maritime Glatt Kosher. Kosherica also runs resort-based Passover programs.
For those interested in riverboat tours, Kosher Riverboat Cruises offers itineraries in Europe, Vietnam, and Cambodia, as well as custom charters.
Throughout the year, and most especially for Jewish holidays including Passover, some tour operators take over an entire resort (or a dedicated part of one), kasher its kitchens, and bring in lecturers and entertainment to appeal to the kosher (and often Orthodox) crowd.
While budget-friendly programs exist, this travel option can get quite expensive, especially at amenity-filled luxury resorts, and most especially during Passover. But for those with the means, the option to enjoy the holiday without having to lift a finger to prepare (besides packing your bags and catching a flight) can be a priceless experience. The Totally Jewish Travel website offers an extensive listing of hotels around the world that feature kosher dining options and special programs, both for holidays and year-round.
Throughout the Caribbean, there are villas (and hotels with apartment-style accommodations) that boast full kitchens. Some offer staff, including a personal chef. For those comfortable with kashering a kitchen, and sticking to a mostly-vegetarian diet, it's very possible to eat well with food purchased exclusively on-island. This is especially true if you are well-versed in which foods can be purchased without a hechsher (such as fresh produce, whole grains, coffee, whole spices, and whole kosher fish).
If you're willing to bring (or buy) a few pots, pans, knives, and cooking utensils, you should be in good shape. (If you don't want to rely on disposable serveware, pack some cutlery and lightweight melamine place settings.)
Note that several islands have a Chabad presence; some offer kitchen kashering services, and/or can help arrange for kosher food or Shabbat meals for your vacation. If you don't want to have to worry about kashering a kitchen or bringing cooking supplies, Reserve Kosher specializes in kosher vacation apartment rentals around the world, including throughout the Caribbean.
Big cities with sizeable Jewish populations often have lots of great resources for kosher travelers, from restaurants to synagogues to museums with a Jewish focus. New York, Los Angeles, and Miami boast some of the most exciting kosher restaurant scenes in the U.S.
If you're visiting Europe, consider cities with longstanding Jewish populations, such as Rome, London, or Paris. History buffs will love touring the historical Jewish quarters, while foodies will relish top-notch kosher restaurants.
And throughout Latin America, there are many cites ideal for the kosher traveler. Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires, and Panama City are all worth checking out.
The Great Outdoors
If your ideal vacation involves hiking by day and sleeping under the stars at night, then consider yourself lucky—since you've got to take your own food and cooking gear anyway, it's pretty easy to coordinate a kosher camping trip. And if you're eager to enjoy the great outdoors, but are a camping newbie, don't fret. Chuckie's Kosher Adventure Tours can coordinate your entire trip, and will provide camping equipment, set up your campsite, and handle all meal preparation. They'll even ensure daily minyanim, and set up eruvim for trips that span a Shabbat. Destinations include Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, the Grand Canyon, and more.
You don't necessarily have to venture far from home to enjoy a great kosher trip. For baseball fans, there are several major league baseball ballparks that boast kosher concessions. Food factory tours are another fun option, either as a day trip close to home, or a side excursion during an out-of-town vacation.
If you're a kosher-keeping chocolate and/or amusement park fan, Hersheypark really may be "the sweetest place on earth." Not only is there an on-site kosher concession offering an extensive selection of sandwiches, salads, and snacks, but kosher pizza delivery to the park is also available. Within Hershey's Chocolate World, the "Create Your Own Candy Bar" experience carries OU certification, and of course, there's plenty of kosher chocolate available for on-site snacking. You can even order discount tickets to both Hersheypark and the nearby Dutch Wonderland through Central PA's Kosher Mart, which runs the kosher stand at Hershey.
Disney World bills itself as "the most magical place on earth," and it's a great family destination—if you can overlook the airline-style kosher meals available in the park. The upside is that you can have these meals served at most of Disney's table service restaurants, but you do need to reserve them in advance. (Note that while the Disney website says 24-hour notice is sufficient, in-the-know kosher travelers recommend placing these requests at least 48-hours in advance.) Per the Disney Food Blog, there are also several counter service locations that offer kosher meals without advance notice. If you're renting a car, your meal options expand; Chabad of South Orlando has a helpful listing of area kosher restaurants and grocery stores with a good kosher selection.
If you dream of observing majestic lions, elephants, and giraffes in their natural habitats, or of exploring Africa's magnificent topography firsthand, then know that a kosher safari is distinct vacation possibility. Africa Kosher Safaris coordinates lodging and food, and runs tours with a host of itineraries throughout Southern and East Africa. Tours are customized for a range of budgets—from 3-star to VIP luxury accommodations—and travelers' interests and needs. For instance, families with small children might tour the malaria-free Madikwe Private Game Reserve at the edges of the Kalahari desert. With kosher supervision provided by the Beis Din of South Africa, and gourmet meals cooked fresh on tour, the food is among the highlights of the trip.
Building on their success in Africa, the family-run outfit now runs tours in Latin America, exploring Argentina, Brazil, and the Galapagos Islands.