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Princess Cruise - Buffet and excursions?

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Hi - So excited -- we're about to start a Princess Cruise.  We did request Gluten Free for me, and I suspect by now they know what they're doing in the dining room, but how do those of you who cruise handle the buffet?  Do you find an employee and ask for something prepared elsewhere?  

Normally I don't risk buffets, but I'm sure my group will eat a few meals there.

Any cruise, or Princess Cruises tips in general?

Also, our cruise has a three day land portion, and we'll be doing full day excursions (booked through the cruise line).  Does anyone know how the Gluten Free request extend to those meals?




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We have been on Carnival and had successful trips -- no glutenings!  Royal Caribbean was terrific too (several times).    We took extra precautions though.  

1.  We notified the cruise line when we booked the tickets and confirmed again just prior to departure.

2.  When boarding the first day, usually the buffet is open only.  I meet with the head waiter, introduce myself and family and explain our needs (I carry a note from my GI).   Gluten free items are obtained from the back kitchens of the ship where the allergy section is located.  We NEVER go through the buffet line.    They personally send staff down a few floors to get us safe food.  We ask that it only be gluten free.  We do not care what they bring to us.  We eat it thankfully.  We do take fruit from the buffet (wash it in the restroom) and drink coffee.  

3.  After that, we never eat  anywhere but the main dining room for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  On the first night, we ask for a quick tour of the allergy section of the kitchen to meet staff and the chef responsible.  We only talk to the head waiter every single time we enter the dining room.  We go to him or her.   If the ship does not have arranged seating, we might end up with a different waiter, so knowing the head waiter is critical.  We get to know staff on a first name basis.   Each morning the headwaiter offered gluten-free waffles, French toast, etc. for his celiac families.   I was never hungry.  Heck, I ordered two appetizers every night!  

4.  In the past, we had one head waiter send daily packages of individually packaged gluten-free crackers, cookies, bread and whole fruit to keep in our room for snacks.  Was it the best?  Udi's, but it was safe!   Room service is not safe for celiacs per our headwaiters.  We only ordered coffee each morning in our room.  

5.  We brought food with us in case we could not find safe food at port.  We also brought printed celiac travel cards in many languages.  We brought food on day excursions or found a market.  It all depends on the country.  

6.  We tipped very well!  We have even tipped in advance on the first night (head waiter and waiter).  We were gracious.  We wrote glowing letters to corporate and named our excellent staff.  

Have fun, but it is up to you to be assertive.  

Edited by cyclinglady

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Post cruise update for the next traveler - Alaska was fantastic and I'm thrilled Princess was able to accommodate my Celiac.  I did speak to the head waiter the first day, and we had a consistent waitstaff at the dining room for dinner, so that wasn't an issue except when we went to dining room for lunch or breakfast -- on those days I would just speak to the waiter and explain.

For the dining room dinners, each day I would need to pre-order the next day's dinner so they could be sure and have what I needed on hand.  However, on the first day and one other where there was a mixup in our specialty restaurant reservation (our fault), they were able to come up with something without pre-ordering. I only wish there was more than one safe dessert.  

The buffet was a little tougher, as I would have to get the sous-chef out each time to help me get stuff from the back or my omelette made somewhere else.  It was ok and I'm grateful for it, but not the best customer experience, as I would basically have to stand there awkwardly until they found him.  I was very pleased with the availability of safe food on the excursions I scheduled -- I don't know if that was a coincidence or the cruise line pre-ordered, but at excursions with meals, almost everything was prepared gluten -free anyway and quite tasty.

All in all, a very successful experience and I'm so glad because the trip was AMAZING and I hope no one ever has to miss something so wonderful for fear of not being able to handle their Celiac.

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I hope you don't mind but I read your very helpful review before my Princess cruise and thought I would tack on with my post cruise tips for other celiacs.

We were on the Coral Princess. Here are my experiences. I gained 10+ lbs.

I ate alot of really delicious curries, Indian food, Thai food and Filipino food at the buffet. These are the native cuisine of the cooks and largely ignored by most of the passengers. I did not get cross contaminated with this food. I always took a scoop from the back of the dish. If I suspected something of cross contamination because it had something gluten right near it or behind it I ordered from the back of the buffet but seldom had to do this.

I had good luck eating breakfast at the buffet. Standard fare like bacon, eggs, their seasoned rice of the day, sausage links and baked apples. Apparently the hash browns were also gluten free but I didn't care for them. Their gluten free muffins (you had to ask for them) or their gluten free pancakes were disgusting. Don't bother with them. Fruit of course was fabulous and had it's own section gluten free so not as easily cross contaminated.

Bad part was, as described by OP, you had to find a chef to walk you through what was and wasn't gluten free. Not relaxing or comfortable. However after a few days breakfast was mostly the same so didn't need to do this but still needed to do it for all lunches and dinners. Also they tended to go too fast and you had to back them up to inquire about specific dishes.

The cold meat salads at lunch and dinner were often delicious! They were probably using up odds and ends and were made to native recipes of the cooks. But after 12 days of curries and such for lunch and dinner I moved on to the grill.

The grill was fantastic. The main staff was great at gluten free. They also had a dedicated french fry fryer. Gluten free french fries are surprisingly hard to find in my area so I indulged in this more often than I should have. I was only glutened here once by a substitute cook and I caught him putting lettuce on the plate without changing his gloves which I had him redo but he did something else wrong since I ended up glutened by him. With the main grill guys I had great success.

The ice cream bar was also gluten free. They didn't speak good English so didn't understand specific instructions but when they gave a cup they never touched the rim or the inside so I was never glutened.

The pastry guy was also great. You could order deserts as gluten free allergy deserts and he got them from the freezer with fresh gloves. They had cream puffs with chocolate topping, almond cakes, delicious meringues (not labeled gluten free but the guy said they were and got them from the freezer), chocolate fountain with marshmallows, strawberries, bananas, pineapples for dipping on formal nights (also not labeled gluten free but were), gluten free fruit pies, multiple types of gluten free cakes that were excellent, gluten free scones at afternoon tea and gluten free baked Alaska (main dining room) on the last night. The gluten free puddings, tapioca pudding and cheesecakes were mediocre but so much of the deserts were truly excellent! They had one or two gluten free items for lunch and then a different one or two gluten free items for dinner. If I found something truly exceptional I asked for some wrapped in plastic to put in the fridge and then had it again on another day when there wasn't a selection I liked.

So after I felt bad about just eating cheeseburgers, fries and deserts I moved onto the salad bar. This gave me diarrhea but not glutening. I think they had bad lettuce or something as other people were getting it also. It wasn't noro though. I was glutened at the Italian specialty restaurant so I would avoid that.

The main dining room was interesting. I'm not 100% sure they don't remove the unused silverware and then put it back for someone else. This is something to watch for. I didn't get glutened here but found the main dining room a challenge as I wanted to order things that came with the originally intended sauce or reasonable replacements and I never pre-ordered so it was like a wrestling match with the head waiter to get what I wanted. Some figured it out quickly and made suggestions while others tried to ice me out and we all had a hard time of it.

Back to the buffet I went where on their Asian stir fry/noodle nights the chef made my dish up special in the back with gluten free soy sauce! Yeah another win. Be sure to ask about gluten free soy sauce as they don't readily admit to having it.

The 24 hr desert/coffee bar was also safe as long as you got an experienced server. The main guy knew to use clean tongs but one substitute guy I had to correct. These were the same deserts as the dessert station upstairs but often had a gluten free desert that had run out of upstairs or after the upstairs closed. The coffee card specialty drinks like iced chai were all gluten free so that is worth getting for the 15 specialty drinks but is probably responsible for some % of my weight gain as they are delicious and sugary.

Only once did I see a person use the bread tongs on a gluten free items and I asked the buffet to change the tongs. I'm sure it happened but I tried to get there when one side of the buffet was opening up so as to be the first to serve myself to try and mitigate the risk. Most people seemed to wait to use the correct tongs on each dish. They opened the two sides at different times so it wasn't hard to hit the second side right at opening if you didn't want to eat right at 5:00.

Overall the food was wonderful. The worst part was trying to claw the information out of the buffet staff and head waiters on what was gluten free. Believe it or not in the buffet they make a delicious meatball dish with meat and egg, no bread for the meatballs, but you need to get all your information from the main chefs. They guys behind the counter will tell you something is gluten free when it isn't so wait for a main chef. This would be mitigated by them labeling the items but for some reason they refuse to do it. They also intermingle bread products unnecessarily among the lunch meats, cheese and nuts thus increasing the chance of cross contamination. The arrangement at lunch was better for this sometimes as the set up varied by meal.

I found the food to be high quality and the Choux pastry deserts, pies and some of the cakes to be fantastic. For the run of the mill American fare I can usually get better at home if I am accepting their gluten free modifications. If I really pushed them on making it close to the original and not just "we can bring a plain version madam" then it was really good.

On shore excursions you have to let the shore excursion desk know 48 hrs in advance and they get you a gluten free meal. I did it with 24 hrs and it was no problem as in alot of areas of the world the food is naturally gluten free.

Room service was excellent for gluten free sandwiches. They were a great fall back option when I didn't want to deal with tracking down a chef in the buffet or wrestling with a main dining room head waiter. I particularly liked the turkey club and the tuna salad sandwich, both with potato chips. Afternoon tea was also excellent gluten free. They brought gluten free scones, sandwiches and whatever cake/pie was available that day. I had my own plate of cream and jam brought from the back, not one served to other people so no cross contamination at all. Also made gluten free chocolate chip cookies when I asked if there were other options. It could easily substitute for a meal. 

I liked the food quite a bit but was exhausted with how Princess handles gluten free. They put the gluten free diner through alot of unnecessary work extracting the information by not labeling. I found the strategy that worked best for me was to tackle the dining venues in stages so as not to feel too frustrated. Even so it was hard work to get safe food, despite it being great safe food. The simple change of labeling would have made things so much easier as I could still order from the back if I suspected cross contamination due to gluten proximity but I wouldn't have to track down a chef and then memorize the whole buffet each meal. The head waiters in the main dining area were hit or miss. It truly felt like a wrestling match getting them to tell me what changes were made to the food to make it gluten free. Some understood better than others and were easier to deal with after a few rounds.

I hope this is helpful to someone in the future. Now I have to lose the 10+ lbs I gained trying all the gluten free options...


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