Gluten-Free? Three Key Things You Need to Know Before You Go On a Cruise
“There is no way that I’m getting on a cruise ship while being gluten-free. No way. I’d rather stay home.” These were my thoughts a few years ago about going on a cruise. The first cruise that I ever went was only a few weeks after I had gone gluten-free back in March 2007. I was still extremely new to gluten-free, and quite honestly I was also going through some denial about my Celiac. Part of my experience on that cruise was enjoyable; however, I spent a good deal of time in bed sick from gluten mainly because I don’t think I really understood fully what gluten was or what cross-contact was. My second cruise was within the past month and I had a wonderful experience, and except for a bit of motion sickness, I did not get sick at all.
I want to preface my advice with something that you already know: there are risks in everything that you do. Hearing about some of these recent cruise ships that have been stranded or had other mechanical failures can be of major concern. So, be absolutely sure that you fully understand the risks of going on a cruise first before you do. Being a healthy individual and going on a cruise is one thing, but if you have a medical condition, you need to understand the risks and investigate fully before going.
From the two cruises that I’ve been on, I’ve learned several key points that I really think you need to know before you go on a cruise…
1. Pick a cruise line that you feel 100% confident that they understand Celiac, gluten-free, and the exact steps that they take to avoid cross-contact. If there is ANY doubt in your mind of their understanding of your condition, do not risk it. Many major cruise lines like Norwegian and Royal Caribbean now offer gluten-free menus and some even have separate areas in their kitchen to avoid cross-contact. So, be sure you investigate their gluten-free procedures in detail first before booking your cruise.
2. Call at least 90 days in advance of your sail date to alert the cruise line of your Celiac, gluten sensitivity and/or other food issues. Many times they will ask you to fill out a form detailing the exact nature of your request. Be thorough when filling this form out and be sure to send it in at least 60 days before you sail. Call the cruise line a few times to be sure they get the completed form and that they have everything ready for you. This will give the cruise line time to make sure they have all the gluten-free flours, bread, pasta, etc already on board in anticipation of your arrival. Meet with the executive chef and/or executive restaurant manager within a few hours of your arrival on board so that you can plan out your meals. Some cruises require you to order your meals at least 24 hours in advance while you are on the ship so that the chef can have everything prepared. This is for your benefit so that they can have your meal properly cooked.
3. Most cruise lines that accommodate for gluten-free patrons will have more than enough food for you to eat while you are on board. However, I always pack an extra bag full of gluten-free snacks just in case. For example, I pack enough for 2 protein bars per day and one “just in case” ready-to-eat meal per day. GoPicnic has some great gluten-free RTE meals that are perfect to bring on cruises so that you’ll have something to eat for any off-ship excursions that you might do. You can also request a small fridge if you’d like to have gluten-free leftovers to snack on in between meals. During the days that the ship is at sea, it may be wise for you to stick to eating in the main dining halls as opposed to the buffet lines. I recommend this simply because buffets are notorious for cross-contact; for example, people using a utensil to scoop up pasta and then using that same utensil to scoop up gluten-free vegetables right next to it. Playing it safe on a cruise is wise. If the buffet is your only option, then you can meet with the manager of that restaurant and they can pull untouched food for you directly from their kitchen.
Again, know the risks fully before you decide to go on a cruise. Being prepared is especially important. Planning is your friend. It may help you avoid potential issues on board the ship. And knowing what to expect really will help you. Just remember that you can run into gluten issues anywhere you are, so be wise and ask questions. Here’s wishing you a safe and happy cruise!
Mara Alexander is the Founder of GlutenFreeWorld TV©, a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, a Certified Health Consultant and a Professional of the Academy of Healthcare Management. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org