If you have food allergies, when you are out its often hard to find food you can eat, let alone food you want to eat. Sometimes eating at home seems like the easiest, and safest option. So, when planning a cruise vacation, the last thing you want is to let food allergies get in the way of the fun…and prevent you from eating the magnificent feasts that can be found around every corner!
I can understand and sympathize with these fears, as I have Celiac Disease, and therefore require a Gluten Free diet. My husband and I started cruising in 2010, and had taken several cruises before the onset of my Celiac Disease and subsequent diagnosis in 2013. My first thoughts when planning our next cruise after my newly adopted Gluten Free diet was, “But what will I eat? What about all that glorious (aka glutinous) cruise food that I had grown to love?” To my pleasant surprise, a lot of my fears of eating only salads for a week were unfounded. In fact, in many ways I think Gluten Free eating on a cruise ship is easier (and tastier) than Gluten Free eating in real life, especially since the food is being cooked for you! The following are some tips I’ve discovered along the way for enjoying an allergy-free cruise vacation.
- Notify the cruise line of your allergy before your cruise
When booking and planning your cruise, notify the cruise line of your food allergy. Some cruise lines will allow you to enter this information online or provide it via email, or you can discuss with your travel agent or cruise line representative to make them aware of your special dietary requests. Make sure that you provide notification as soon as possible prior to sailing, as some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, have 45 or 90-day time limits for these requests.
- Visit the Main Dining Room after you board.
Once on board, visit the Main Dining Room as soon as possible and speak to the Maître d’ or host/hostess to notify them in person of your dietary needs. On a Carnival cruise, they will provide you with that evening’s menu to pre-order your selections based upon what can be made Gluten Free or applicable to your allergy. On Celebrity cruises, gluten and lactose free options are denoted directly on the Main Dining Room menus, making it easy to select allergy-friendly options at each meal without the need to pre-order. The Main Dining Room staff of each cruise line will make every effort to accommodate your dietary requests.
- Pre-order your food whenever possible.
If your cruise line does not notate allergy-friendly options on their menus, many cruise lines will provide the options to pre-order your selections after dinner for the next evening’s meal. The food will be made to order based on your dietary restrictions, which can definitely ease your mind about finding the right foods. For those with gluten allergies, Carnival will even make their famous Chocolate Melting Cake Gluten Free. Additionally, if you are planning to eat in the Main Dining Room for breakfast or brunch the next day, you can pre-order for those meals as well.
- Ask for allergy-friendly options when making specialty dining reservations.
When visiting the ship’s specialty dining venues, don’t forget to make them aware of your allergy when requesting reservations. Recently when cruising on Carnival Sunshine, the hostess of Cucina del Capitano Italian restaurant gave me the option to pre-order my meal in order to request foods that are traditionally not Gluten Free, such as chicken parmesan, arancini, and tiramisu. However, when eating at specialty restaurants on previous Carnival cruises, I was not given the option to pre-order, but they did let me know which options could be made Gluten Free when ordering. Carnival’s steakhouses and Bonsai Sushi venues can also provide allergy-friendly options. Each cruise line’s procedures and specialty venues may be different, but making the staff aware of your allergy as soon as possible will ensure an enjoyable dining experience.
- Do some pre-cruise dining venue research.
Prior to boarding, do some research regarding how your cruise line a handles dietary restrictions and what venues offer allergy-friendly options. This includes research on buffet options that may be available. For example, on Carnival ships the Lido Deck buffet offers 24-hour Gluten Free pizza, as well as Gluten Free bread at each ship’s deli. The pizza is prepared in a separate location to limit cross-contamination, and the deli uses separate cutting boards and knives when preparing Gluten Free sandwiches. The Blue Iguana Cantina offers corn tortillas upon request, or they will make you a burrito bowl. And at Guy’s burgers, the fries are made in a separate fryer from other fried foods and the individual serving them is not usually handling the hamburger buns, also addressing cross-contamination fears. However, other Lido Deck buffet options are not marked for allergens, so it can be a bit of a guessing game when it comes to selecting traditional buffet food.
- Be aware of where gluten or allergens can hide.
When eating at the ship’s buffet, it can sometimes be a bit questionable as to what ingredients each food item contains, as they may not be marked. While I caution you to eat at your own risk based on your allergy, having a basic understanding of how some foods are made and where ingredients can hide can be helpful. For my gluten allergy, I know to stay away from fried foods, pasta, gravies, dressings, and other sauces, as flour (wheat) can often be used for coatings and to thicken sauces. Dairy and other allergens can also be hiding in sauces, dressings, etc. Sticking to the vegetable options on the salad bar with oil and vinegar dressings can be safe option when trying to eat an allergy-friendly buffet meal.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
When ordering or pre-ordering meals, or looking for food at the ship’s buffet, don’t be afraid to ask questions to help you determine what foods may be appropriate for your dietary needs. The buffet staff may not know exactly how each food item is prepared, but they are always willing to assist with your questions. It is always better to ask questions and be your own advocate than to risk an allergic reaction that might ruin your cruise.