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Carnival Cruise Gluten Free Experience

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If you are like me you have found it somewhat difficult to find good information on cruising gluten free. I really wanted to get as much information as possible on my last cruise with Carnival so I could better educate myself and also share what I learned with others. I feel this information would have been very useful to me prior to my cruise so I hope it is helpful to you. I reached out to Carnival before and after my cruise on the Carnival Splendor in May 2015 and they were extremely helpful. Aly at Carnival, was able to provide me with some great information and provided followup to questions after my cruise which I will share here.

If you have Celiac Disease, you know how difficult it can be to eat out. At times it can be downright frustrating and leave you wishing you had just stayed home. If I thought for one second that my dining experience on a cruise would be anything like that I doubt I would ever go. I am so happy that is not the case. Carnival does a great job for those of us who must follow a gluten free diet. The rest of my group was amazed at the treatment I received every night in the dining room on our last two cruises with Carnival. Our head waiter, Bernie, quickly learned my name and each night at dinner he presented me with the menu for the next night to make my selection. The entire dining staff assigned to our table was outstanding and were always looking out for me to ensure I had a wonderful dining experience. Of course there are other dining options besides the main dining room on the ship and I will go over the different options below.

 

Dining Room:

Now, obviously not quite everything on the menu can be ordered gluten free, but the options are plentiful, and you are able to enjoy wonderful appetizers, entrees and desserts and never feel like you are missing out on "the good stuff" that everyone else is having. If my waiter was unsure if my selection could be prepared gluten free, he had me pick a backup just in case. I believe all my entrée choices were available gluten free. I enjoyed Lobster, steak, lamb shank, prime rib, salmon, and more. I ordered a pasta dish so that I could try the gluten free pasta which was very good. Their gluten free pasta is spaghetti and was one of the best I've tried. There are some appetizers and desserts that cannot be made gluten free but there were so many other great choices that were available gluten free that it was never really an issue.

Each night in the dining room I was given 2 slices of gluten free bread the same time the rest of my party was offered bread and I never had to ask for it.

 

On the night of my wife's birthday, we were fortunate enough to have a gluten free cake made for our group that was amazing! It tasted so good that it was hard to believe it was gluten free.

 

I loved the food in the dining room and the service was outstanding. A special thanks to Bernie, Wihandoyo and Terry.

 

Breakfast in the main dining room was always great. I tried the gluten free pancakes and the French toast. My favorite was the French toast. Many other options were available as well like omelets, bacon, fruit, etc.

 

At the end of the week my wife and I had the opportunity to meet with the maître d' and the head chef of the dining room and take a personal tour of the galley where food is prepared for the two main dining rooms. We were so impressed by the organization and cleanliness of the galley. There was shiny stainless steel everywhere and everything was very clean, including the floors. I was able to ask the chef about how gluten free requests were handled and found out that there is a separate area in the galley that handles special dietary needs and all gluten free meals are cooked there by a junior sous chef away from the main food handling areas. Pastries are made in their own area and breads are baked in their own section, away from other food prep areas. The amount of food that moves through that kitchen every night is astounding and they do it so efficiently.  It was a very impressive operation indeed.

 

Buffet on the Lido Deck:

The buffet on the Lido deck proved to be challenging for me and I wished I would have thought to ask for a manager to help answer my questions as I later found out is what I should have done. I was quite frustrated trying to figure out what I could eat and asking the staff on the other side of the food warmers left me with a lot of questions, so I basically avoided the buffet. At the end of the week when I met with the maître d' and the head chef from the dining room, I shared my buffet experience with them and they informed me that there is always a manager on duty on the Lido deck at the buffet and they are available to answer all gluten free questions and help guests know what gluten free options are available. So, learn from my mistake and ask for the manager on duty. Carnival responded to my email following the cruise saying they will look into improving the labeling of the food on the Lido Deck which would be greatly appreciated. 

 

Tandoor Indian Food Station:

I asked a food handler at the Tandoor station if they had anything gluten free and he pointed out two items under the warmer that contained gluten and told me the other things were fine. I was able to eat the Tandoori Chicken and rice and didn't have any problems. The food was spicy but good.

 

Pizza Station:

There is gluten free pizza available at the Pizza station. The gluten free pizza was prepared in the back which is good that they kept it separate from the regular prep area to avoid cross contamination. However, the gluten free pizza was not the best in my opinion. The crust is thick and not close to the traditional pizza crust texture. I tried it so I could include it in my review and instead of a chewy texture, it was kind of like a soft corn meal texture. It seems like the pizza crust wouldn't be too hard to improve on. There are several gluten free frozen pizza crusts on the market that are pretty close to traditional pizza crust. I know of several local pizza joints around our area that serve gluten-free pizza and they simply use the frozen crusts from Udi's or another brand like that and it is good. My family however, really enjoyed the regular pizza. When I shared this with Carnival they responded that they will look into the quality of their gluten free pizza.

 

Deli Station:

The Deli station puts out some great looking sandwiches and it was a hit with my family. I was happy to find out they had gluten free bread so I ordered a sandwich and watched them prepare it. I had watched as the staff prepared the sandwiches before they made my gluten free sandwich and observed that they frequently dipped a utensil into the mayo and the mustard containers and spread them on the regular bread, touching the bread, and then put them back into the respective containers. When I ordered my gluten-free sandwich I was surprised to see them use the same utensils from the same containers of mayo and mustard. They also placed the sandwich in the same grill press to toast that they used for all other sandwiches. The sandwich looked amazingly good but I couldn't eat it because of the cross contamination. I was very disappointed. Carnival responded that there are guidelines in place and they are going to reinforce those guidelines for preparing gluten free sandwiches. So, go to the deli and try one of the sandwiches for me and let me know how it was, they really do look good.

 

Grill, Mongolian Wok, and Burrito Stations:

I didn't have the opportunity to stop at the grill, Mongolian Wok or the Burrito stations. I hear they have gluten free buns on board but I didn't try them.

 

Conclusion

It is really quite impressive to me that Carnival has made the effort to have so many gluten free options available including sandwiches in the deli. I had a wonderful time on the Carnival Splendor and would not hesitate recommending Carnival to anyone with gluten issues. Of course there are still the little areas mentioned that need improvement but I believe Carnival is taking steps to improve those things. I had an absolutely wonderful time and I was well taken care of in the dining room. I had the same experience 2 years ago on the Carnival Glory as well. I had great food every single night and the scales certainly proved that when I got home. After having the opportunity to speak to the head chef about gluten free issues, and seeing firsthand how gluten free requests are handled in the galley I am quite comfortable in recommending Carnival to the Celiac community. Remember this is my personal opinion and there may be those of you who have had an issue here or there, but from my research and experience, I know Carnival takes gluten free matters seriously and they are working to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone. I am looking forward to my next cruise. 

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Thank you for taking the time to post this, I leave on Carnival Valor in 2 weeks, and never would have thought about the deli or the Lido deck buffet.   Awesome info and now I know to ask for a manager for the buffet.     What did you do the first night?  Everything I see online and speaking with Carnival they just tell me to let them know the first night, which makes me wonder what I eat the first night (since I can't prepick my meal prior to departure)   

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Alwayssomething, very good question and something I forgot to address in my review. As soon as you get on the ship, go to the main dinning room and speak to the maitre d or the head hostess who are there answering questions and fielding dining requests. They will give you a menu and take your order for the first night. I would go as soon as you are on the ship because there will be a line generally. Remember there are usually two dining rooms on the ship and so if you don't find them in one, they may be in the other. Another thing I just thought of. If you do not see a dessert on the menu that you like, you can ask for a creme brulee even if it is not on the menu and they will bring you one. Have a great cruise!

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I have been on Royal Carribean a few times. Here are a few tips. When booking, notify the carrier of your gluten-free needs. Upon entering the ship the first day, the buffet restaurant is usually the only thing open. Find a head waiter there (they are usually greeting passengers in the doorway) and tell them you have celiac disease and must be gluten free. They will go get you a plate of food from the kitchen. It is not advised to ever eat in the buffet restaurants due to cross contamination issues. The rest of the trip, we only ate in the main dining room. Our head waiters ordered snacks for our room as room service is not equipped to handle gluten-free. The pizza/coffee/snack areas were sent gluten-free items that were held behind the counter. We called in the afternoon ahead of time to ask for the gluten-free pizza to be baked. Took longer, but we got food!

We carried gluten-free snack things from home on port days, but loaded up on a hardy breakfast in the diningroom. Snagged a few apples and bananas for snacks too.

We had a great experience!

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Very impressive article. Great info, and well written!

 

Two comments I have:

 

Gluten-free pizza , in my experience, and IMO, always sucks, unless it's cooked in an industrial oven such as Domino's. So that's a tough one, and Carnival is in the same boat as the rest of us there (oops).

 

Sandwiches, that's an easy fix. Simply utilize individual packets of mustard/mayo. Problem solved.

 

Thanks, larry mac

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Thank you so much!   This information will really help.   We just returned from a very successful week in Branson MO.   But restaurants are easy to research, cruising is different.   I am excited.     I will report back on the sandwich station after I return.  

Just wondering if you tried the sandwich deli on your ship. How was your experience at the buffet, was the manager helpful?

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Sorry I never came back and replied.  We had a very successful cruise.   I never did get to try the deli station, and the manager was extremely helpful showing me items that were safe and getting me set up for the first night to insure I had gluten free dinner.  
I ate breakfast in the main dining area several days, but some days it was just impossible to get in there and off the boat in time for excursions, so I ate at the buffet, they always had a gluten free bread at the buffet, which I didn't try but it was the same I had for dinner those nights.  It was made from Polenta....weird I know, but it was pretty darn good.   Anyway the breakfast buffet had hard boiled eggs that were not peeled and fruit and yogurt and cottage cheese....a omelet station that only made omelets, so the risk there was minimal.  

Lunch we were either not on the boat or just not that hungry so I only had the taco station, I would take my own bowl and everything they had there was gluten free if not in the soft shell.   Worked perfect for me. 

 

Dinners - since I seen the menu the night before I offered to "sell" the list to my fellow table mates, no one took me up on it, but we did get a good laugh.  Only once did they come back and tell me what I choose they could not do gluten free and it was a dessert, everything else was no problem and everything was very good.  

 

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Sorry I never came back and replied.  We had a very successful cruise.   I never did get to try the deli station, and the manager was extremely helpful showing me items that were safe and getting me set up for the first night to insure I had gluten free dinner.  

I ate breakfast in the main dining area several days, but some days it was just impossible to get in there and off the boat in time for excursions, so I ate at the buffet, they always had a gluten free bread at the buffet, which I didn't try but it was the same I had for dinner those nights.  It was made from Polenta....weird I know, but it was pretty darn good.   Anyway the breakfast buffet had hard boiled eggs that were not peeled and fruit and yogurt and cottage cheese....a omelet station that only made omelets, so the risk there was minimal.  

Lunch we were either not on the boat or just not that hungry so I only had the taco station, I would take my own bowl and everything they had there was gluten free if not in the soft shell.   Worked perfect for me. 

 

Dinners - since I seen the menu the night before I offered to "sell" the list to my fellow table mates, no one took me up on it, but we did get a good laugh.  Only once did they come back and tell me what I choose they could not do gluten free and it was a dessert, everything else was no problem and everything was very good.  

 

Glad to hear it was a successful cruise. I am always interested to hear of others experiences when it comes to gluten free cruising, thanks.

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Thanks for sharing your experience! It's great to hear that Carnival took care of you so well.

 

Earlier this year I took a Princess Cruise and had just as good of an experience.

The dining room was where I stuck to, because my buffet experience was pretty horrible. I talked to the head chef of the buffet and he was not helpful at all. For the bacon they actually serve it in  huge dish but what you can't see underneath is the bread! This was used to soak up the bacon grease that dripped. The chef told me I could just grab from the top! Not acceptable and I immediately complained to the cruise ship. They apologized but really didn't have much of a remedy to me being able to dine in the buffet. It was just going to make it far to difficult. Other than that my head waiter was amazing in the dining room!

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Thank you soooo much for this article.  I am about to take my very first cruise next week.  Even though its a short one, I'm glad to know Carnival has made it a priority to be knowledgeable about Celiac and how one of the enjoyments of the cruise is the food.  I am excited and looking forward to a wonderful experience. 

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29 minutes ago, SeClark said:

We are going on a princess cruise in February and I've just been dignosed with celiac.  Does anyone have any more suggestions?  Thanks 

Call NOW to let them know you must be gluten free (either the cruise line through all that pre-boarding stuff or your travel agent). The cruise lines need advanced notice.    No time to tell more, but if you do this, you can pretty much be assured of eating gluten free safely.  I do not personally ever eat at the buffet (except for wrapped baked potatoes).  

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My last cruise went well.  We cruised Celebrity in July 2016.    When only the buffet was opened, staff fetched food for us from the main dining floor.  On that floor they have a dedicated allergy area (we toured).  There were gluten-free choices on the buffet, but I did not risk it.  Just the potatos, hard boiled eggs and while fruit.  Why?  They offered gluten-free pizza.  Watched them make one for hubby.  Saw them cross contaminate the sauces.  Called the manager and everyone came out.  Poor guy!  But we tossed the pizza and stuck to the main dining room.  Each morning we ate there along with three other celiac families (we met up on the cruise).   They made waffles and all kinds of goodies for us.  Our head waiter was fabulous.  We always said hello to him because in the mornings this ship used different waiters and they rotated around (unlike dinner).  By the end of our cruise all the staff knew the celiacs.  We tipped staff well. Wrote letters too.  It was a great cruise.  

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We recently went on a 7 day cruise to the western Caribbean on Carnival Magic.  My 16 year old is diagnosed with celiac disease. Before we left we bought the Nima which tells you if your food has gluten in it.  Long story short... many of the items that carnival claimed were gluten free from the brunch dining room (southern lights dining) had gluten.  The gluten free bread was toasted in a regular toaster. We tested the gluten free toasted bread and it had been contaminated. He could eat the gluten free bread if it wasn't toasted.  There are very few items for breakfast and lunch buffet.  We asked the chef on the Lido deck for the buffet which foods might be gluten free. They pointed out about 3-4 alternatives. We tested the spanish rice with the Nima (which was pointed out as gluten-free by the chef) it tested positive for Gluten. The potato wedges were gluten free after testing with Nima.  We ran out of test capsules 3/4 into the trip. The staff brought out Salmon that they claimed was gluten free. Nathan ate it and that evening was really sick from gluten contamination. Nathan lived on the gluten free bread and fruit for breakfast and lunch. Dinner in the dining area was always chosen the previous night and seemed to be just fine without any contamination. We tested the shrimp cocktail sauce since that was one of his favorite appetizers and that was gluten free. They have an incredible carnival chocolate melting cake that is gluten free. He got that every evening in the Northern Lights dining room. We would go to the candy store called "cherry on top" and get baggies and take bread off the ship so he could atleast have something to eat on the excursions during the day.  I would definitely recommend taking ziplock baggies so you can take some fruit or bread off the ship.  In all the food was very disappointing to my son.  He watched everyone eat such wonderful foods all day. Dinner was a little better. He was able to get prime rib, pork chop without sauce and chicken for dinner. I feel like the "Nima" really saved us and we just knew if the food was gluten free or not. The down side to the Nima is the expense and the capsules are a little costly. Overall, we are glad we went. It was an incredible experience and if we go again we will just have to be extra careful and vigilant on what he can eat. 

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4 hours ago, KaraP said:

We recently went on a 7 day cruise to the western Caribbean on Carnival Magic.  My 16 year old is diagnosed with celiac disease. Before we left we bought the Nima which tells you if your food has gluten in it.  Long story short... many of the items that carnival claimed were gluten free from the brunch dining room (southern lights dining) had gluten.  The gluten free bread was toasted in a regular toaster. We tested the gluten free toasted bread and it had been contaminated. He could eat the gluten free bread if it wasn't toasted.  There are very few items for breakfast and lunch buffet.  We asked the chef on the Lido deck for the buffet which foods might be gluten free. They pointed out about 3-4 alternatives. We tested the spanish rice with the Nima (which was pointed out as gluten-free by the chef) it tested positive for Gluten. The potato wedges were gluten free after testing with Nima.  We ran out of test capsules 3/4 into the trip. The staff brought out Salmon that they claimed was gluten free. Nathan ate it and that evening was really sick from gluten contamination. Nathan lived on the gluten free bread and fruit for breakfast and lunch. Dinner in the dining area was always chosen the previous night and seemed to be just fine without any contamination. We tested the shrimp cocktail sauce since that was one of his favorite appetizers and that was gluten free. They have an incredible carnival chocolate melting cake that is gluten free. He got that every evening in the Northern Lights dining room. We would go to the candy store called "cherry on top" and get baggies and take bread off the ship so he could atleast have something to eat on the excursions during the day.  I would definitely recommend taking ziplock baggies so you can take some fruit or bread off the ship.  In all the food was very disappointing to my son.  He watched everyone eat such wonderful foods all day. Dinner was a little better. He was able to get prime rib, pork chop without sauce and chicken for dinner. I feel like the "Nima" really saved us and we just knew if the food was gluten free or not. The down side to the Nima is the expense and the capsules are a little costly. Overall, we are glad we went. It was an incredible experience and if we go again we will just have to be extra careful and vigilant on what he can eat. 

This is really great story with the nima tester helping out, It has indeed saved me with several items, and giving me the blessing of trying a ton of foods I would have normally avoided out of fear. I think I will share this story of how it helped out as a example.

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8 hours ago, KaraP said:

KaraP, thanks for sharing your experience. I know many others would like to read this on the "Cruising Gluten Free" Facebook page. We have over 300 users that share their experiences like this that are very helpful to others. Please consider joining the group and sharing it there. Thanks again!

 

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