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Royal Caribbean Cruiseline--Bad Experience With gluten-free Diet


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#1 JARAT

 
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Posted 06 April 2010 - 10:22 AM

Wanted to let everyone know of our recent (disappointing) experience. Cruised with Royal Caribbean on the Voyager of the Seas for spring break, March 2010. My son has Celiacs and we were looking forward to our vacation because we cruised twice with Disney and they made his eating experience such a pleasure. The head waiter on the Disney ship handled everything, provided wonderful alternatives, and double checked everything for our son. We felt confident and he was in heaven! Disney made him waffles, pancakes, pizza, chicken nuggets, pasta, a special cake for his birthday, ribs with gluten free sauce, etc.

Royal Caribbean did not measure up. In fact, they messed up--several times. It began when we got onboard and went for our first lunch, which for everyone is a buffet. We talked with the chef to find out what was gluten-free on the line and then planned on getting it from him from the kitchen instead because of cross contamination. The chef began by saying that my son couldn't have something because it had rice flour. I said, "He can have rice flour. It is a staple of his diet actually." He began to argue with me that if my son had a wheat allergy (which of course Celiacs isn't, but I wasn't going to go there at this point) he shouldn't have any rice flour at all. That it was a huge no-no. ???? OK, so I looked at him and told him diplomatically that he was misinformed and now I was concerned about the staff's knowledge of what was indeed safe vs. not safe. He began to point out some things he felt my son could have and one of them was a rice dish.(Funny since he didn't want him to have rice flour...) It wasn't especially dark colored but my husband thought to ask if it had any soy sauce in it. The chef reflected for a moment then concurred that it did and yes, it wouldn't be safe after all! I asked about seasonings and he acted like he didn't know seasonings could be an issue.

Later we inquired about the soft serve ice cream. We figured it was probably fine, but always like to ask. We had a waiter check in the back and he came back and only said to my son, "No, I am sorry--it isn't safe for you if you are gluten free." Because I was surprised since it was just vanilla I asked "why?" He said, "Because it has milk in it." !!!! I said, "He can have milk, it is a gluten issue, not a dairy issue, is there any gluten?" He said, "Oh--no. Just dairy."

At dinner my son was given his entree and it had fried tater tot looking potatoes near it. I asked the head waiter if he was sure they were from a separate fryer. He said he would double check and came back saying no they weren't after all and my son shouldn't eat them. He proceeded to try to only remove them from the dish and have him eat the rest even though they had been up against my son's chicken. I explained that now the chicken was also contaminated and we needed a new entree. Waiter apologized and said he asked one chef if they were safe before bringing them to the table and he said yes, but the second chef told him no when I sent him back to double check and the sous chef broke the tie with "no, not safe." No consistency.

At dessert they served my son a dish of ice cream with a cookie in it.

One morning at the buffet the head waiter brought my son pancakes from the back of the kitchen and I watched as he then got a plate of bacon for him from the buffet line. When he arrived with it I explained that we couldn't use the bacon from the line because I had just seen someone use other tongs (from the waffles) on the bacon and about cross contamination. He didn't seem to get it but was happy to get us bacon from the back. It wasn't until later when I was up to the line that i noticed that they line the bottom of the bacon pan with bread (to absorb the grease I guess). You couldn't see it when the pan was filled with bacon, but the head waiter should have known they do that and should have not offered him the bacon from the line, even without the tong issue.

Lack of variety for breakfast or lunch. We had to hunt down our head waiter and ask if he could have this or that. Never offered anything other than pizza for lunch. No offer of pasta, chicken nuggets, etc.
Other head waiters may have done more, don't know.

Too many mistakes, too much misinformation. He vomited in the car on the way home from the cruise, which is what his main symptom was when we didn't know he had Celiacs and he would eat too much gluten. Don't think it was a stomach virus, he only vomited one time. Disney cruiseline,--not one issue or mistake and he always came home feeling great.
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#2 Yup

 
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Posted 06 April 2010 - 07:26 PM

Wanted to let everyone know of our recent (disappointing) experience. Cruised with Royal Caribbean on the Voyager of the Seas for spring break, March 2010. My son has Celiacs and we were looking forward to our vacation because we cruised twice with Disney and they made his eating experience such a pleasure. The head waiter on the Disney ship handled everything, provided wonderful alternatives, and double checked everything for our son. We felt confident and he was in heaven! Disney made him waffles, pancakes, pizza, chicken nuggets, pasta, a special cake for his birthday, ribs with gluten free sauce, etc.

Royal Caribbean did not measure up. In fact, they messed up--several times. It began when we got onboard and went for our first lunch, which for everyone is a buffet. We talked with the chef to find out what was gluten-free on the line and then planned on getting it from him from the kitchen instead because of cross contamination. The chef began by saying that my son couldn't have something because it had rice flour. I said, "He can have rice flour. It is a staple of his diet actually." He began to argue with me that if my son had a wheat allergy (which of course Celiacs isn't, but I wasn't going to go there at this point) he shouldn't have any rice flour at all. That it was a huge no-no. ???? OK, so I looked at him and told him diplomatically that he was misinformed and now I was concerned about the staff's knowledge of what was indeed safe vs. not safe. He began to point out some things he felt my son could have and one of them was a rice dish.(Funny since he didn't want him to have rice flour...) It wasn't especially dark colored but my husband thought to ask if it had any soy sauce in it. The chef reflected for a moment then concurred that it did and yes, it wouldn't be safe after all! I asked about seasonings and he acted like he didn't know seasonings could be an issue.

Later we inquired about the soft serve ice cream. We figured it was probably fine, but always like to ask. We had a waiter check in the back and he came back and only said to my son, "No, I am sorry--it isn't safe for you if you are gluten free." Because I was surprised since it was just vanilla I asked "why?" He said, "Because it has milk in it." !!!! I said, "He can have milk, it is a gluten issue, not a dairy issue, is there any gluten?" He said, "Oh--no. Just dairy."

At dinner my son was given his entree and it had fried tater tot looking potatoes near it. I asked the head waiter if he was sure they were from a separate fryer. He said he would double check and came back saying no they weren't after all and my son shouldn't eat them. He proceeded to try to only remove them from the dish and have him eat the rest even though they had been up against my son's chicken. I explained that now the chicken was also contaminated and we needed a new entree. Waiter apologized and said he asked one chef if they were safe before bringing them to the table and he said yes, but the second chef told him no when I sent him back to double check and the sous chef broke the tie with "no, not safe." No consistency.

At dessert they served my son a dish of ice cream with a cookie in it.

One morning at the buffet the head waiter brought my son pancakes from the back of the kitchen and I watched as he then got a plate of bacon for him from the buffet line. When he arrived with it I explained that we couldn't use the bacon from the line because I had just seen someone use other tongs (from the waffles) on the bacon and about cross contamination. He didn't seem to get it but was happy to get us bacon from the back. It wasn't until later when I was up to the line that i noticed that they line the bottom of the bacon pan with bread (to absorb the grease I guess). You couldn't see it when the pan was filled with bacon, but the head waiter should have known they do that and should have not offered him the bacon from the line, even without the tong issue.

Lack of variety for breakfast or lunch. We had to hunt down our head waiter and ask if he could have this or that. Never offered anything other than pizza for lunch. No offer of pasta, chicken nuggets, etc.
Other head waiters may have done more, don't know.

Too many mistakes, too much misinformation. He vomited in the car on the way home from the cruise, which is what his main symptom was when we didn't know he had Celiacs and he would eat too much gluten. Don't think it was a stomach virus, he only vomited one time. Disney cruiseline,--not one issue or mistake and he always came home feeling great.


I had a very different experience, but then I was on a different ship. I had a nightmare experience on Carnival. I would write to Royal Carribean and let them know EVERYTHING and give them tips on how they could improve their service. Tell them this is a "medical condition" not a lifestyle decision. I'm sorry to hear about the bad experience.
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#3 Mskedi

 
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Posted 06 April 2010 - 08:46 PM

That sounds like a nightmare. :(
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#4 newgfcali

 
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Posted 07 April 2010 - 06:33 AM

It may vary from ship to ship within RCCL. We were on Mariner of the Seas in February and my experience was quite different. Although I had not contacted them prior to the cruise to alert them to my dietary restrictions, when we boarded we beelined to the restaurant and talked to the asst. head waiter and explained my needs, which at the time were no gluten and no casein. They assured us that they could accommodate the restrictions with no problem and they were experienced and familiar with both gluten and dairy intolerances/allergies.

The first day onboard your only option for lunch is the buffet, which is always a challenge, both with selections and with the possibility of cross-contamination. I tracked down one of the chefs and told him my needs. He proceeded to walk me through the entire buffet, describing the dishes and discussing which would be safe. After a thorough tour, he decided there was nothing in the buffet that would be completely safe for me. He asked me to wait for him and he dashed into the kitchen. Moments later he emerged with a plate of freshly boiled seafood and rice, which he had prepared himself. Perfect.

From that point on I was able to eat in the restaurant where you have more control. When we sat down at dinner I explained the situation to our waiter. He fetched the head waiter and I gave him the longer version of my diet. From that point on, I didn't really worry. Every night they brought me the menu for the following night so I could look it over and choose the best options. If there was nothing on the menu that would work, they always offered a plain chicken breast with veggies and rice or potatoes. (In those days I was still eating potatoes... *sigh*). Although the variety was not tremendous, it was more than adequate. They had gluten-free bread available at all meals, but it was made with dairy. When I was offered the bread, I told them I couldn't eat it because of milk, and the next night the chef had made me my own loaf that was gluten and dairy free. After that, they had my special bread for me every night. One evening we ate at the specialty Italian restaurant "Portofino" and they prepared a really nice rice noodle dish for me. They really knocked themselves out to take care of my needs.

So perhaps it is specific to the ship how versed they are in dietary needs. I agree with Miila's mom that you should write them a detailed letter explaining what needs to be improved on Voyager. After sailing with Royal Caribbean many times, I know their goal is to make EVERYONE'S cruise very special. After all, they want your return business.

For me, I wouldn't hesitate to go back on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
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#5 Brien

 
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Posted 08 April 2010 - 03:35 PM

I've looked into this and according to the major cruise lines, if you give them up to 3 weeks notice they will accomodate your needs and depending on the situation you may have to provide certain items for them to use in cooking. Now I haven't cruised since I developed my wheat/soy allergy but it was encouraging to know that with notice they would help out.
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#6 newgfcali

 
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Posted 08 April 2010 - 04:01 PM

Even without prior notice RCCL was able to handle my needs. They really try very hard to please.

:)
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#7 JARAT

 
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Posted 12 April 2010 - 03:36 PM

We got a doctor's note, filled out a form and sent it in 6 weeks prior, then checked in again with them 2 weeks prior to be sure it was noted on our reservation and it was.

Unfortunately, our problem wasn't with a lack of willingness to try to accommodate us or a lack of gluten free items on board (although not as varied as Disney), it was with a lack of knowledge by head people who should have some training in the area or who should be able to direct us to someone else who does.

The other issue was with mistakes being made. On three occasions my son was presented with things that were supposedly safe but that under our further investigation actually weren't. If we hadn't questioned them he would have eaten them and may or may not have had issues. I venture to guess some people who need to be gluten free don't have obvious symptoms with small amounts of gluten (even if it isn't good for them) and may come home satisfied with their cruise experience thinking they remained gluten free when they didn't. This is the risk we all take when not eating at home of course, I just felt the RCC made more mistakes then I am used to.

I called and spoke with someone in customer care. She admitted that the turn over can be frequent with their staff and any one ship may have staff that is more knowledgeable or less knowledgeable at any given time on dietary needs. I asked if they shouldn't have a few main people who new or uneducated staff could turn to and she said it just depends. She also said they may know that a particular item is inherently gluten free and therefore deemed safe, but they may not be versed in the cross contamination issues (like the head waiter who didn't realize my son couldn't have bacon that was in a warming tray on top of bread, he just thought "bacon is gluten free").

Glad others have had a good experience. Just wanted to share mine so people will keep on their toes! Not saying you shouldn't cruise with RCC, just saying you will need to be aware more then they may make you feel like you need to be. They conveyed a "no problem, we have alternatives, we've got this under control" demeanor but then upon our further investigation--they did not.
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