Many people might think that cruising with food allergies can be scary since you’re stuck on a ship and may not have many choices. Actually, it’s the opposite. I’ve cruised on a few different cruise lines and they have all been very accommodating when it came to Gluten-Free Cruising.
My preferred cruise line, in general, has been Royal Caribbean, and they’ve been good to me both in the Main Dining room and the Windjammer (buffet).
For the Main Dining room dinners, it’s customary that they take your order the night before so that they can be extra careful in preparing your food. On the first day of the cruise when this is not possible, they are still good at making sure that the food is safe for you but they do prefer extra notice.
One thing though is that they only have certain selections that they can offer gluten-free in the main dining. However, despite that, the selections were still tasty in my opinion.
At the Windjammer buffet, the Royal Caribbean ships I’ve been on all had a separate gluten-free section. While the section is a bit small, I still felt safe because it was separated from all the other items.
It’s funny though when I see quite a few of the other dishes not in the gluten-free section, I keep thinking to myself that those should be naturally gluten-free as well. But, the problem is that when you start to label a large selection as gluten-free, people tend to shy away from them. So, I can understand that they don’t want to a large gluten-free section.
If you’re up to it, you can always ask one of the chefs at the buffet area which other selections are gluten-free and they will tell you. But, you’re eating at your own risk as there could be cross-contamination from the foods right next to it.
You’ll find a common theme among all cruise lines when it comes to dining in the main dining room with food allergies in that they prefer to take your order the night before for that extra preparation time. Princess Cruises is no different.
The one difference with Princess Cruises for the main dining room is that they’ll try to make “any” of the dishes on the menu gluten-free for you unless they absolutely cannot. If the main part of the dish includes gluten, then no. However, if it’s just a side that has gluten, they will substitute something else in its place.
The last Princess Cruise I was on did not have a dedicated gluten-free section at the buffet. Whenever we went to the buffet for breakfast or lunch, I always had to check with the chefs there.
Surprisingly, I had a ton of options to the point where I couldn’t remember which one was gluten-free or not after they walked me through the buffet. It was good that there was a lot of options but bad that I had to ask the chef again at times for a specific dish if I didn’t remember it was gluten-free or not.
One thing to keep in mind is that even though it may seem like the same dish you had the day before the chef had said it was gluten-free, it may not be gluten-free the next day. For example, on one of the days, the chef pointed out a chicken fried rice dish that was gluten-free and so I had it with no issues. The next day when the chef was walking me around again, he said today it isn’t gluten-free so don’t make any assumptions. Always check at each meal.
For the main dining, it was comparable to Royal Caribbean and so I had no issues. It was the buffet that I had the most issues with. For some reason, on the Northern Europe itinerary that we were on, the buffet didn’t have many options during breakfast and lunch.
For lunch at the buffet, our cruise only had pizza, burgers, and sandwiches with no real gluten-free options so the chef had told us that we should go to the main dining room.
Normally, most people only go to the main dining for dinner even though it is open for breakfast and lunch as well. This was the first cruise where we had to go to the main dining for all 3 meals.
However, a friend of ours recently cruised with MSC Cruises as well on the same ship for a similar itinerary and they said the buffet selection was really good. It’s odd that my cruise had a small selection.
Where this cruise excelled for me was that they provided a gluten-free boxed lunch for days where we are at port. I was really surprised and grateful. Normally, for days when we’re at port, I bring snacks with me as it can be risky to eat locally. It’s already risky to eat at restaurants at home so I really didn’t want to risk a bad vacation by getting sick.
In order to get the gluten-free boxed lunch, we had to place the order with the head chef during dinner and then we picked it up during breakfast in the main dining room.
The only exclusion to this is that this service also depends on the ports you’re at. Many countries, such as the United States, do not allow fresh food and fruits to be taken off the ship. I can bring my pre-packaged snacks, but I can’t bring any real meals made by the ship or any fresh fruits. For the Northern European itinerary I was on, I was good with the boxed lunch at all ports so I was a happy camper.
As part of our cruise status with MSC, we were offered a complimentary dinner at one of the specialty restaurants. These restaurants aren’t cheap and from what we’ve heard, usually not worth it so we never really bothered with them.
Since we did have a complimentary dinner, we asked about gluten-free options and they said there was none. The head chef had told us that we can go to the specialty restaurant but for my gluten-free meal, they would still bring it over there from the main dining kitchen so we never went.
Room for Improvement?
There’s always room for improvement.
Dining in the main dining room seemed to always be safe for me and the selections were usually pretty good. However, it would be nice if there were more dessert options at all of the cruise lines.
At the buffet for all cruise lines, they all have labels for the name of the dish. Why can’t they add small symbols to indicate if the dish is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, etc? This way, we don’t have to ask a chef each and every meal which one is safe for us.
Creating a large gluten-free section is out of the question because many people will shy away from it thinking it won’t be tasty or whatnot. But, adding small allergy labels to all dishes would be a good idea.
Either way, I’ll continue to enjoy Gluten-Free Cruising.