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Cruising with Celiac

Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Spring 2016 Issue - Originally published April 14, 2016

Celiac.com 05/10/2016 - As we all know, traveling with celiac disease can be somewhat challenging. Trying to avoid situations of contamination can be quite difficult, yet we accept this challenge so we can go about a normal routine which in my situation, includes traveling. My wife and I who travel quite often do enjoy a good cruise due to the relaxing atmosphere and great care we receive for my dietary issues. Our experiences on Princess Cruises has been very positive and clearly, they take dietary issues quite seriously.

Photo: CC--kansasphotoUnfortunately, not so much with Oceania Cruises. First of all, this experience is based solely on my recent trip. I suspect some other folks with celiac may have had a positive experience. That's great. This article is based solely on how I was treated by this cruise line in August of 2015.

Oceania insists that any request for special diets be submitted by the travel agent. Not sure what happens if you book online.

Once on board, the person in charge of special diet requests met us at dinner and explained we would get a menu in our mailbox every evening. We are to circle our choices and bring it to the desk by 8:30am. We made the mistake of going on a tour and not having it in until noon and guess what? Yup, you order off the menu.

After this discussion, I was directed to dinner choices that could be prepared gluten-free. I was surprised to see my dinner entrée loaded with croutons. O.K., first day shakedown, let's see what happens. Strike 1.

As we all know, buffets can be dangerous but I attempted to try and see if they had any gluten-free foods available. I selected a breakfast item that was clearly battered and asked the server if this was gluten-free. He looked somewhat quizzical and said "yes". Strike 2. I then asked for gluten-free toast. It took a full 15 minutes for them to toast 2 pieces of bread. Strike 3. Later in the cruise, we stopped for lunch at the poolside café where I ordered a sandwich with gluten-free bread. "We don't have gluten-free bread on board" was our waiters' response. After I indicated that was surprising since I have it at dinner nightly, he finally went off and secured my lunch. Strike 4 ?

I could go on and on but I will spare you the rest. Oceania is a high end cruise company with prices to match. Princess on the other hand was exemplary. Once your request is in, you receive an email with a list of gluten-free menu items that will be available. If you want gluten-free beer, this is also offered albeit at a price. Every evening, the maître d comes by so you can order for the next evening. Clearly, they take people with dietary issues seriously.

Why the disparity? I believe it's what I encounter as many restaurants. Since gluten-free dining has become the latest fad diet, I honestly believe that many establishments (and cruise lines) don't feel the need to take proper care. My suspicion is that they just look at gluten-free requests like "oh good, another one of them" and don't take it seriously. I guess my final advice before selecting a cruise would be to see what the initial reaction is to your request. If they respond like Princess, and I suspect other cruise lines, I would at least look carefully at booking a nice vacation. Would I go back to Oceania? I would not. I have put my concerns into writing to them and two months later, no response. My travel agent also followed up about this situation, again, no response.

Traveling with celiac is difficult enough, and I hope that certain companies will begin to take us more seriously.

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27 Responses:

 
Cliff
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said this on
16 May 2016 5:48:48 AM PST
Viking Cruise Line was FANTASTIC about my offerings, in most cases my meals were better than the other passengers. The maître d met with me at every meal to review the offering for the following meal, the wait staff was also very knowledgeable about celiac. I am looking forward to my next cruise with Viking and would highly recommend Viking Cruise line to anyone traveling with celiac disease.

 
Susan
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said this on
16 May 2016 5:54:19 AM PST
I had a horrible experience on Oceania in October 2015 on a Mediterranean cruise. I was given cookies that were according to the maitre d' gluten free only to be told on another occasion the cookies were not gluten free. There seemed to be a lack of understanding on the part of the dining room staff on what constitutes a gluten-free diet. Off the ship, I found delicious gluten free items, clearly marked and in sealed packages. At our end of cruise stay at our hotel in Barcelona, the bread and pastry gluten free choices were a big surprise after the steady diet of the not so great gluten free bread on the Marina. In a letter responding to my post-cruise letter of complaint, Oceania admitted to falling short with respect to knowledge about the gluten free diet. As these cruises are more "upscale" than say Princess, (where my past experiences were positive), I had expected everything would be okay. I was ill on the ship and the cruise triggered GI problems that took four months to resolve. I would never ever cruise with Oceania again.

 
Dale
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said this on
16 May 2016 6:06:54 AM PST
Thanks for the heads up on Oceania. Disappointing that such a high end line couldn't accommodate a GF diet. I've cruised over 30 times on Princess, NCL and Carnival (also on RCL and Celebrity-but before I was diagnosed) and have been treated well. The only mistake I've noticed is a pie with a "Rice Krispy" crust was being served as GF (before Rice Krispys could be bought as GF). I usually don't ask for GF bread--don't like it and it is a waste of calories. I prefer the sauces to be left off rather than made special. Again "gravy" is a waste of calories.

 
Rick
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said this on
16 May 2016 8:51:41 AM PST
Great article, thank you.

I also cannot agree more with this statement; "Why the disparity? I believe it's what I encounter as many restaurants. Since gluten-free dining has become the latest fad diet, I honestly believe that many establishments don't feel the need to take proper care."

I'd be curious to know if your gluten free toast was in fact toasted in a safe gluten free toaster or oven? Something tells me it probably was not by the sound of your experience.

I believe that dining establishments just do not fully understand that celiac is a disease. And when people come in saying they need to gluten free, when in fact they don't, with that so called meal being either contaminated or cross contaminate the person who "needs" to eat gluten free goes on their merry way without any ill effects or sickness. This gives the restaurants and so-called "need" to eat gluten free customers a false sense of accomplishment, when in fact the entire time there was some amount gluten in the meal being served and consumed. This is the very reason why I no longer eat out, I was tired of getting sick all the times that I did. It is also the reason why I haven't had a true vacation outside the States since getting diagnosed with celiac in 2007.

 
A. Burke
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said this on
16 May 2016 12:23:03 PM PST
Princess is the best cruise line for celiac passengers! Have tried Norwegian Cruise Line once and eating gluten free was a disaster!

 
Peg Weidemann
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said this on
17 May 2016 6:49:31 AM PST
I cruised the Adriatic on the Norwegian Jade last fall, and my experience was fantastic! Every night the special diet chef (Dominodore) met with me to plan the next night's meal. The service and food were terrific; such a treat!

 
Tiffany
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said this on
16 May 2016 1:37:27 PM PST
We just got back from our second cruise with Disney Cruise Line. They did an exemplary job at making gluten free as easy as possible. Even on the buffet line, one of the head chefs will come out and walk you through the buffet line and offer to make you special items. They have free room service and when you look at the menu it appears they don't have much that is gluten free, but if you simply request things like gluten free doughnuts or cookies, they are able to comply. I have cruised with Royal Caribbean before, and I was underwhelmed. Their staff is not well trained and once they even told me that regular rice krispies (blue box-before gluten free rice krispies were even available) were gluten free! Needless to say, I won't be sailing with Royal Caribbean again, but Disney is a line I trust with my dietary needs. Thank you for reviewing two other lines!

 
Kim
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said this on
17 May 2016 6:00:32 AM PST
I have sailed with Disney 12 times and each time they go out of their way to accommodate me. I receive the dinner menu the night before and select what I want. Same with breakfast...I can pre-order breakfast and have gluten free pancakes if I want. They even prepare items that are not gluten free on the menu in a gluten free manner if requested the night before, like their Tomato Soup. I am a Disney fan though and wouldn't think of sailing with any other cruise line.

 
Mary Beth
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said this on
16 May 2016 2:23:05 PM PST
I have been on Celebrity cruise lines 3 times and they have been wonderful!

 
Lonna Swearingen
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said this on
16 May 2016 2:36:09 PM PST
I had booked a cruise a year in advance on Valentine's Day with Carnival Cruise Line in 2009 for 2010..Before the year was up I was diagnosed with celiac disease...I contacted Carnival and they were very accommodating by providing gluten free dinner choices for me. As far as other meals I just chose to eat salads...

 
Sophie Chenoweth
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said this on
16 May 2016 2:56:57 PM PST
I have had similar experiences on holiday however some tour companies and restaurants are fantastic. I agree that many ignorant people in hospitality think it's just a fad diet and have never heard of Coeliac disease. That disappoints me.

 
Lauren Royal
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said this on
16 May 2016 5:12:21 PM PST
There is no excuse for a high-end cruise line like Oceana to be so sloppy about something so important to our health. Thanks for the warning--I will cross them off my try-someday list. For a great high-end GF experience, I highly recommend SeaDream.

I've been on Princess and it was fine, but of all the mainstream cruise lines, I think Celebrity is the best. At least half their regular menu items are naturally gluten free (including all soups and sauces--thickened with cornstarch, not flour), and gluten free selections are clearly marked on the regular menus so you don't need to order in advance. It's such a pleasure to be able to decide what I want at the last minute like everyone else. They have separate GF toasters in their buffets at a totally different station from where the gluten bread is--they are super careful to avoid cross-contamination everywhere.

 
Teresa
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said this on
16 May 2016 8:47:51 PM PST
Celebrity is wonderful for gluten free. I was treated so well for every lunch/dinner. Everyone was served a souffle for dessert one evening - I got one the following night - made at one of the specialty restaurants. It's why we always cruise with Celebrity when possible - sound a lot like Princess!

 
Linda
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said this on
16 May 2016 10:50:24 PM PST
Too Bad the Author had such difficulties. Fortunately my multiple experiences with Holland America have been just the opposite. I have had zero problems. They have my dietary requirements on file and refer to them when I book. The concierge and waiters all know of my status from the moment I enter the dining area (good cross-communication), and I look at the next nights menu to choose what I would like. The chefs prepare my selections GF and if they cannot modify the recipe for me they offer other options. I have never (knock on wood) had any gluten reactions on the 4 cruises with them. Even the smorgasbord staff are knowledgeable about gluten. Even tho I trust what they do, I admit I am still vigilant (that is my responsibility). I love and trust Holland America.

 
Craig
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said this on
17 May 2016 12:15:25 AM PST
This was a very informative and measured article.

 
Shirley
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said this on
17 May 2016 12:51:07 AM PST
Excellent article. I just returned home after cruising on Princess for 25 days. It was a very positive experience.

 
Dawn
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said this on
17 May 2016 2:18:27 AM PST
I had the same experience on Oceania and will not go back. Other cruise lines, for the most part, are much better.

 
Erogo
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said this on
17 May 2016 2:30:37 AM PST
I find most cruise lines, theme parks, movies, restaurants even, will let you bring in your own food if you confront them with "Are you 100% sure you can fix me something without contamination and I will not get sick" I have a bit more issues due to developing multiple allergies to complications related to my celiac disease and the damage to my intestines. I sometimes go out to eat even and just take a prepacked meal and order a water at the local chili's and pay extra just to accommodate me so I feel like a normal human (with these issues I find myself feeling like a alien). Just do not bring anything crazy, I find homemade canned soups in mason jars, sealed homemade baked goods in bags, and homemade dips work best. Always a bonus if you can order something from them, in my case it is normally a non salad bar item (salads are kept in close proximity in bins with croutons with high chance of contamination) that would never come in contact with them like raw broccoli they would use for steaming normally or asparagus.

In the end it is sad to be limited like this, but with food allergies, and issues you have to realize your the odd ball, do not expect others to understand how careful they need to be you. Nor should you expect complete catering as much as I would love it. Just find and ask around if it would be alright to bring your own food with you do to medical reasons.

 
Yvette Fawzi
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said this on
17 May 2016 6:01:17 AM PST
Celebrity and Royal Carribean were exemplary as well. I had great experience and they improved significantly over the last 5 years.

 
Frances L. Garcia, MD
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said this on
17 May 2016 6:15:16 AM PST
Your experiences mirror mine. I frequently cruise and Princess and Holland are, in my opinion, the best. I had issues with Oceania: felt I had to be on high alert, that they did not understand the importance of this diet and I could not trust them to be complaint. However, I must say that the captain made every effort to protect me. One evening, as I prepared to spear a morsel with my fork, I ended up hitting the table: He had realized the item could not be GF and promptly removed it!

Yes, we are the aliens. Yes, people do not take us seriously. We need to educate them. Take every opportunity to teach people about this. On a holiday trip to my son's home, I got glutened. The severity of my reaction surprised everyone in the family. Even they had not taken this as seriously as I would have expected them to. Nowadays, they are the ones who are hype-alert!

One last thing: While on a tour in France we stopped at a family run inn. I did not expect to be able to eat there and asked permission to bring out my nut bar. The owner came over and in French told me that since every one in his family, including himself, were celiacs, everything on the menu was, in fact, gluten-free. I ate the best poultry I have ever eaten in my life! Wish I could go back there every weekend!

 
Anne
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said this on
17 May 2016 6:33:20 AM PST
I travel on Azamara Cruiselines ... they take great care in providing gluten-free cuisine for Celiacs. Aside from eating pre-ordered meals in the main dining room, I always inquire about food items that catch my fancy elsewhere on the ship by checking with the chief on ingredients. Moreover, at buffets, they label gluten-free foods. By and large, I choose to eat in the dining room where my pre-ordered meals are safe for me to consume.

 
Jean
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said this on
17 May 2016 7:25:53 AM PST
Very useful article. I will definitely stay away from Oceania. I am a celiac and I have been taking cruises since 2015. I have been treated extremely well and carefully on Viking River and Ocean cruises, Cunard's Queen Mary 2, Regent 7 Seas, and a Tauck river cruise in France. I had gluten problems only on a 2015 MSC cruise at a breakfast buffet; after that I only ate pre-packaged gluten-free items for breakfast. The lunches and dinners were all cooked-to-order for me and I had no problems at those meals. The GF meal choices on Vikings Ocean ships and Regent 7 Seas were amazing.

 
rickyrebarco
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said this on
17 May 2016 11:51:31 AM PST
I have had excellent experiences cruising gluten free with Holland America. The traveler has to be vigilant. Every now and then someone would forget and bring me the wrong dessert but it was always obvious it had gluten in it and I would just send it back and they would get it right the second time.. I had no cross-contamination problems at all. Breads were gluten free, wonderful GF pizza and great GF pasta dishes. Crew were very caring and seemed up to date on all the GF issues. Toast was done on separate tray in the oven. I double checked that. GF pastas done in separate water with sauces just for them and separated from the glutinous stuff on the food line. I will cruise with HAL again.

 
hilary morgan
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said this on
18 May 2016 10:45:11 AM PST
I have cruised with Carnival , Norwegian and Royal Caribbean and have had excellent meals GF, I never had a problem.

 
Andrew
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said this on
18 May 2016 1:17:27 PM PST
My better half and I have had several cruises with Carnival. She is Celiac and we have never had a problem - they have fresh pasta (GF) made as you wait and in the dining room the Head Maître always came to the table at the end of dinner with the next days menu and discussed what was available, what they could make GF and this included all 3 meals. Excellent service and recognition of this disease.

 
Tamra
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said this on
23 May 2016 6:55:01 AM PST
Since being diagnosed with CD I have cruised on Royal Caribbean and Carnival and have had great experiences on both. I made sure they new several weeks in advance of cruising my dietary needs. Once on the ship I ordered each meal the night before. I was even able to have dessert every night, not that I needed it. I have sailed on Disney, but it was before I was diagnosed. However, I have heard all Disney theme parks and cruise lines understand those of us that must eat gluten free and are also very accommodating.

 
Marti
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said this on
12 Sep 2016 9:14:12 PM PST
Great to have choices! How far in advance do the GF cruises need to be booked? Thank you!




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