Travel series: cruising with celiac/ gluten allergy, Royal Caribbean


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Because my family loves to cruise, it’s how we vacation every year. There is definitely something to be said about unpacking once, knowing where you will eat each night and having the luxury to do what you want with no thought to how you are going to get there. Gym? Library? Need a snack? Want to be alone? You can do it all on a cruise.

We just got back from a nine day cruise to the Caribbean and I want to focus on the food, primary what it’s like on Royal Caribbean with a severe food allergy/celiac.

On the first day we went for lunch to the Windjammer which is basically a huge buffet available almost all day. There are loads of options and if you are vegetarian, it’s probably not hard to put together a decent meal.

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Those of us who are celiac/gluten intolerant have a much, much more difficult time. Whereas on Celebrity cruises, each dish had a simple label indicating there was gluten (for the most part), on this cruise it was not labeled. All it would take is a simple placard with ingredients used (like the buffet at Whole Foods) or even a notation of allergens for each dish.

As my fellow Celiac sufferers know, even the most innocent foods can contain gluten;things like cold cuts, French fries, hot dogs, sauces, salad dressings, plus cross contamination is at an all time high at the buffet. While I could cobble together some salad with plain olive oil, I was never able to have a hot lunch and forget the desserts. When I asked for a gluten free cookie, I was handed a wrapped Udi’s cookie- it was delicious but how about more gluten free options?

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I wasn’t sure if the pre-made eggs contained gluten, the omelettes are made from what I think is a pre-made mix, did the potatoes have gluten? I never knew and the workers in the buffet, while very nice and helpful, didn’t always know what “gluten” was.

Forget the desserts, pastries and any breakfast breads. Gluten free toast is available in the dining room which is where I ended up eating as much as I could since I could order with a waiter and make sure the kitchen knew my food couldn’t contain gluten. Even a crumb will make me sick for days and as my Celiac friends know, once you get sick, it takes a long time to recover. From a single tiny crumb, yes.

In the dining room, I did find that breakfast was limited to fresh eggs- you have to clarify gluten free- and I could get toast however the hash-browns do contain gluten, and there are zero pastries, muffins or bagels for those who cannot have gluten. On the last day I discovered they do offer gluten free french toast which was really good.

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Many items on the lunch menu contained gluten so I was pretty limited to a burger with a gluten free bun- which was good- but no fries because they are made with breaded items and fried chicken.

I liked the salad bar buffet in the dining room until I realized the tongs the chef used to toss the salads were doing some major cross contamination. For example, if the person ahead of me had croutons on their salad the chef would use the tongs to mix it together then lightly rinse off the tongs in a vat of water and use the same ones on my salad. The vat of water would ultimately be a big stew of crouton particles and other glutinous things that make me (and my fellow Celiac friends) sick.

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At dinner, I let my waiter know about my gluten issue and he helped me figure out what I could safely eat. What I could choose from was limited but I was grateful that I had options. The first few nights, I was irritated because the only gluten free things for dessert were ice cream or jello, neither of which I like. Now I am not a big fan of sweets but take away the ability to have something and I’ll want it!

I asked the waiter to see if there were other gluten free desserts, as someone who likes to bake I know there are countless desserts that can be made gluten free. A blend of certain flours will yield results that you’d never guess were GF. Thankfully I did get a really nice dessert each evening- I didn’t have the choices every else got but at least I had something!

I would love to see Royal Caribbean make an effort for their gluten free travelers, especially with the buffet- I was really upset to find such a small availability of gluten free foods. I was pretty much struck eating salads with olive oil and a breakfast of eggs.

Labeling food with allergen placards is a good first step, then put a big effort into creating gluten free foods so that we can have more than one or two options. Muffins, pancakes, French toast and bagels can be made gluten free, most everything can. Special attention needs to be paid to cross contamination too.

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Probably the easiest and most cost effective is spelling out ingredients at the buffet followed by some effort put into gluten free foods at a stand-alone buffet within the Windjammer. A gluten free buffet with more than one or two options would be so appreciated by the gluten free community. I cannot even imagine how thrilled Id be with gluten free oatmeal or a muffin in the morning, or maybe a gluten free pizza at lunch- like normal, gluten eating people get!

I hope Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruise lines (and any other resorts and hotels who have clientele that need gluten free food ) see this post and make some strides in being a more gluten-free friendly.  Just because we cannot have gluten doesn’t mean we don’t want choices or to enjoy food!

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In the meantime, I packed loads of gluten free snacks for myself and stuck to those. Next time I will pack my homemade scones and Udi’s muffins since breakfast seemed to be the most difficult meal to find GF items. Or maybe the next time I go on a cruise, the cruise lines will have adopted a wider range of choices for their gluten free cruisers.

Fingers crossed.

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