Friday, October 12, 2007

Cruising with Food Allergies

Do you have food allergies or food intolerances?

I do, so you can bet I'm looking into what it's like cruising with special dietary needs.

How well will the chefs accommodate your food allergies? Will you have to order special at every meal? Can you just tell them ahead of time and not have to worry about alerting a waiter at each individual meal?

I will post specific answers to some of these questions once I've taken my first cruise, but in the mean time I'm posting some ideas from a nice guide I found (link below). Also, I invite you to share your comments if you have food allergies and you've cruised.

I'm supposed to avoid gluten and dairy, which are huge ones, since wheat in particular tends to creep into, well, almost everything. Fortunately my intolerances aren't life-threatening; I just get sick (I'll spare you the details), which is of course preferable to avoid, but if you're one of the folks who gets deathly ill, you'll definitely want to be careful.

A very helpful guide on dealing with food allergies on cruises suggests the following:
  • Book your cruise with a trusted travel agent rather than through the Internet. Have the agent fax the cruise line (including CC to the Head Chef) at the time of your deposit.
  • List all your food allergies. If lots of foods cause allergic reactions, also consider including a list of foods that don't cause any reaction. This will help the chef plan his menu for you.
  • Choose the set dining times instead of freestyle dining. The assigned tables let your waiter and the Maitre D get to know you and assist you better at every meal.
  • It's a good idea to avoid the buffet area, as the ingredients are not easily available. Buffet lines also can be risky since utensils are often moved from a dish that is dangerous to you to a dish that looks safe.
  • Take any medication and medical information in your carry-on bag.
  • If your allergies are severe, make sure to take your Epi-pen and oral Benadryl with you on shore excursions. If you sign up for a full day tour, ask for a ³box lunch² to take, so you'll know there's something you can eat.

I don't know about you, but I'm hoping for the day when all restaurants and buffets (on land as well as cruises) list all the ingredients on the menus Whole Foods style.


Linda said...

Well, my experience with Carnival in June 2008 was horrible. I called Carnival in advance and faxed them my son's allergies. I also asked if I could have ingredient lists or have someone check the kid's menu BEFORE the cruise. I was denied and asked to work with the hostess and the waiter on the ship. So, upon arrival at lunch, I asked many people in regard to ingredient lists and I got all kinds of varied and sometimes wrong answers. Meanwhile, my 6 year old said, "Mom, I am hungry." Being trapped on a cruise ship with allergies and no reliable people to help is not a fun vacation. At Dinner on day one I asked the hostess to look up ingredients and she answered questions with repsonses like "Yes, it may have nuts in it." Finally on DAY TWO, my husband and I had a meeting and asked them to bring out the packaging so I could personally check ingredients. Allergy research should be done PRIOR to cruising, but Carnival did not want to be bothered. Instead, they attempted to answer all of my complex allergy questions at the dining table. It was a crazy night for the Hostess and that was obvious that she could not safely give our questions any quick answers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your post Linda, and for the article on Cruising with Food Allergies. We tried Royal Carribean in 2006 and had a similar "nightmare." I called their special allergy department months before the trip, and they promised everything was set up and that they were well aware and prepared for such severe food allergies. I confirmed a week before, a day before. When I got on the cruise, and met with the Matre D it ended up that he just got the fax. All the food they had promised that they would have allergy free - the noodles, the breads, the sauces, deserts... etc. were all not on the ship. There was NOTHING! So they this huge song and dance and could delivered none of it. They were two separate departments that didn't even communicate. The Chefs seemed to be annoyed that they had to special cook his food and started just serving us dry tasteless chicken boiled in water with nothing else on the plate, no veggies, just a piece of meat on a plate... no flavor at all.... we went hungry a few days... I've never gotten on a cruise since then, but am considering again now that people are more allergy aware... but maybe I'm wrong... thanks for the info on Carnival...

Anonymous said...

We just came back from the Carnival Pride. My daughter has a very strong intolerance to anything dairy and a milder reaction to wheat. We notified Carnival and they told us to talk with the hostess after we arrived. The first night my daughter ordered gluten-free pasta and chicken and it was good. The hostess came over just before dessert with the next day's menu and my daughter chose whatever she wanted and they made her a dairy-free, wheat-free version. Mostly they were very good. They even made her a chocolate melting cake! They also made her gluten-free, dairy-free bread and french toast. She had no issues with any of the food in the dining room, although one morning she was supposed to have soy hot chocolate but it was unclear whether or not it had any milk products in it. Fortunately she skipped it because at dinner when the the hostess showed her the packet there were milk derivatives in it. She did have one issue when she ordered an omelet on the buffet. The person before her had a cheese omelet and she was mildly ill from the cross-contamination -- but that was really our fault. After the first day she just had fruit, which she loves, from the buffet and was fine. Overall we were very pleased with the dining experience.

M Callan said...

I just came back from a 14 day cruise on the Grand Princess and cannot thank them enough for ensuring my 14 year old son's safety with regards to his nut allergies. We identified his allergy issues when we booked, and the told us that we should speak with the maitre'd when we get on board and they would ensure that the chef cooked in a separate area, and made things for our son separately. So, every evening, the head waiter brough us the next day's lunch and dinner menus and our son selected what he wanted, and they made it special for him. They even went so far as to make cakes that he wanted, separately, and with cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate so he could have whatever he wanted. The senior wait staff were superb in helping our son stay safe. We will travel Princess again because of this accomodation.

Cruises said...

Although I dont have an alllery as such I am a Vegetarian so obviously I have certain types of dietry requests. During our recent P&O Cruise we informed them before hand that we where vegetarian. So during our first meal in the main dining table the Maitre'd came over with a special menu and it had loads of vegetarian options on it we could choose from the normal menu but that only had 2 vegetarian choice so we got a great extensive menu.

David said...

I was recently on the Norwegian Pearl, and had an awful time with my extreme dairy intolerance. They brought me sherbert, yogurt (with fruit), a vanilla bean (dairy) sauce, and a buttermilk biscuit. I caught these, but wound up extremely ill, presumably from other times where I couldn't identify the dairy. I was repeatedly asked: "What's your allergy?" and had an Asst Maitre'D throw a gluten free menu at my table, and tell me to figure it out. I spoke with the Maitre'D, restaurant manager, and guest services, all to no avail. It was so frustrating to be trapped on a ship with people who appeared not to understand my dietary needs or have a process for ensuring my safety. I've previously cruised on Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, and MSC, and have never had any problems.