Everyone says that cruising is all about the food. With cruise lines that boast of 24-hour buffets and five-star dining, it’s easy to see why. I had been on cruises before, and gained the predicted 5 pounds in a week that took a month to take off, but that was before going gluten-free. Recently, I took a Thanksgiving cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Sea, and I had high hopes that they would provide delightful dining experiences. After all, gluten-free dining is nothing new. We’ve been at this for a while now.
In the dining room, eating gluten-free was fairly easy. Although I had requested gluten-free dining on my cruise registration, there was no indication that the waitstaff or chef had been made aware of my need. In fact, our waiter didn’t seem to know what gluten was and quickly excused himself to find out. Since English was clearly a second language for most of dining room staff, communication about gluten was difficult at first. But after the first night, it got easier.
There was usually one appetizer, salad, or soup that was naturally gluten-free to choose from each evening. Of course, having gluten-free choices is a luxury at any restaurant. Here are a few starters that I enjoyed.
Scallops and Risotto
Walnut Pear Salad
And there was always fresh fruit available.
I think if I could have eaten appetizers and desserts for every meal of the cruise I would have been very happy. The entrees were usually fish or chicken with a side or rice or potato and some vegetables. They were all naturally gluten-free, and very good. I inquired about the vegetarian dishes each night, and all of them contained gluten.
I was very concerned about Thanksgiving Dinner. Thanksgiving Dinner is my favorite meal of the entire year. It’s not about the turkey for me. It’s about the stuffing. I am a huge bread stuffing fan, and I’ve learned to make delicious gluten-free versions. But I only eat it at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our waiter brought us the Thanksgiving menu the evening before and asked what we would like. I told him that he would make my Thanksgiving if he could come up with a gluten-free stuffing and a crustless pumpkin pie.
He was able to produce a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, including gravy, but there was no stuffing or pie.
The desserts were incredible. If there wasn’t a naturally gluten-free dessert one evening, there was always ice cream. Here are two of my favorite desserts that were served.
Outside the safely of the dining room, the rest of the ship was a gluteny disaster.
The language barrier made it very difficult to communicate with the servers. On day one, we barely made it to the ship before the 4:00 pm departure because of airport delays. We boarded just moments before disembarking and moments before the food lines closed for the mandatory safety presentation. I was famished.
I walked up to the pizza counter with hopes that Royal Caribbean had gluten-free pizza. After all, gluten-free is nothing new! Here’s the exchange I had with the worker:
Me: Do you have gluten-free pizza?
Server: Oh, yes!
Me: You do??? Gluten-free?
Server: Yes, it’s free.
Me: But is it gluten-free?
Server: Yes, all free, cheese, pepperoni…
Thankfully, I figured out pretty quickly that he didn’t know what I was asking. There was no other option other than the cheese or pepperoni slices behind the glass, but he was dead set on telling me that the price of pizza was included in my cruise fare.
Even hungrier and more frustrated, I turned to the buffet line. The only thing I could find that was naturally gluten free was white rice and green beans. I was stunned that in this day and age, on a cruise ship, I could only find two items to eat. But I realized that the line was closing because of the safety meeting, and I hoped that things would improve.
The buffet line continued to be horrendous throughout the rest of the trip. First of all, it was a mess, and where there’s a mess, there’s the possibility of cross contamination. But then there were signage issues. I was excited to see that there were signs labeling gluten-free items. But these signs could not be relied upon.
Gluten-Free Waffles? Really? I was excited for about a half a second.
They look like omelets to me. And I’m sure the omelets were gluten-free. But with such inattentiveness to signage, would you be willing to take the chance?
There were a few gluten-free entree options, but most were meats. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll find little more than salad and fruit. unless you want mushrooms and onions.
Or mashed potatoes. Yes, the mashed potatoes were gluten-free.
But this close to the glutenous gravy, I wasn’t taking a chance.
Steak and onions were also labeled “gluten-free”, but again it was right next to gravy.
There was very little attention to the gluten-free signs that were placed above gluten-free dishes. When trays of food were replaced from behind the buffet line, it appeared that the gluten-free signs in front were left up, even if the next item was not gluten-free. That is a dangerous situation for any gluten-intolerant diner. Thankfully, I realized quickly that the signs were not to be relied upon.
So my daily meals consisted of this:
- Breakfast – yogurt and fruit
- Lunch – salad and white rice
- Snacks – Lara Bars brought from home, fruit, and soft serve ice cream
- Dinner – a very nice three-course meal in the dining room
Royal Caribbean has a long way to go in terms of gluten-free service. Hats off to the chef in the dining room for providing lovely, safe meals complete with desserts. But with the prevalence of quality gluten-free products in restaurants these days, there is no reason why a cruise ship can’t offer something as simple as gluten-free breads, muffins, and snacks. And the buffet needs a serious overhauling with a separate gluten-free line and about ten times more gluten-free options.
- Have you eaten gluten-free on a cruise?
- How was your experience?