Eating Gluten-Free on Royal Caribbean CruisesPosted: February 1, 2014
Cruise 2.0. We made it through with some gray skies and a little bit of poor weather. By the time we boarded ship, M and I were nearly vacationed out, so I suppose it come to no surprise that between the weather and our dragging energy, I reverted to my championship napping habits. I napped at least once a day, and it was pretty glorious. We did manage to be awake to participate in the Disco Inferno Dance Party, The Quest: An Adult Scavenger Hunt, The Love & Marriage Game Show, Battle of the Sexes, and other ship classics. I’d been looking forward to getting back to the ship and to the food, which was so lovelyin May. Truth be told, our Gluten-free Dining was a little rockier than expected. In the end, it all work out, but it was not as seamless as I had dreamed.
On Royal Caribbean’s website, it requests that patrons inform the company of all dietary needs at least 60 days prior to cruising. M and I had our gluten-free diet noted almost six months before our May cruise. Our three days in May were blissful, in terms of eating safely. When we rebooked for Cruise 2.0, most of the booking went through my mother, as she had the credit on her account. Coupled with our holiday schedules, M and I forgot to call and check that our dietary needs were noted until 3 weeks before the cruise. The representative assured us that it would not be a problem onboard.
Overall, the ship certainly had the alternatives and practices needed to feed us safely. Our waiter, though we loved her, seemed significantly less informed about gluten-free eating than our waiter in May. One of the head waiters in the dining room checked in on us every night–which seemed, again, to be that our waiter was less experience–but was so appreciated. He quickly and efficiently showed us how much the company cared about our experience. After a few disappointing tests, M and I stuck to the main dining room for our meals. We had more personal service than in the Windjammer, which was all buffet style, and significantly more options than the Windjammer or the Park Cafe (the “healthy”/”snack” option). Park Cafe focused too much on sandwiches and pasta salads to have much that we could eat.
- Lunch (Windjammer): Mashed potatoes, beef, green beans.
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Shrimp Cocktail. Entree: Prime Rib with root vegetables and jus, baked potato. Dessert: “BBB Creme Brûlée”
On the first day, we boarded at midday in the frigid, freshly snow-blanketed Baltimore air. All of us dumped our bags in our rooms and hurried up to the Windjammer Cafe with our coats and winter accouterments. We knew the Windjammer would be the only place to eat, and that our Muster Drill (ever so important, as we can attest) would be in a little less than an hour on deck. None of us were going to be freezing for the 20+ minutes that we would wait on deck. Thankfully, my mother and J managed to get us a table. M and I quickly grabbed what we could–we did notice that the name cards for each dish were denoted when gluten-free. Amongst the crowds, we found mashed potatoes, green beans, and the beef roast. It was certainly enough to last us to dinner. At dinner, I was happy to see at least 3 appetizers and 4 entrees were labeled gluten-free. The prime rib was nice, though I would have appreciated a bit more sear on the outside. Dessert, of course, was RC’s signature BBB Creme Brûlée, which has Bailey’s and bananas until that sugar crust. I suppose the third “B” must be for “brûlée”?
Day 2–At Sea
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato, fruit, GF toast
- Lunch (Dining Room): Steak sirloin sandwich with GF toast, salad
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Banana-Run Soup. Entree: Ordered Sliders with fries (labeled GF). Instead: Steak with herb butter, baked potato, vegetables. Dessert: Sugar-free Pot de Creme with Raspberry Sorbet
On day two, M and I were happy to see gluten-free labels at breakfast. We were in for a more rude awakening at lunch time, when there were no gluten-free labels on the menu. After some inquiring, I was told I could order a salad, or the steak sirloin sandwich without bread. I could not convince them to actually place the steak and chimichurri sauce on the gluten-free bread that I had received at breakfast that morning and dinner the night before, so I had to insist (somewhat forcibly) to have a plate of bread brought to us. We requested the gluten-free toast when they brought the bread basket for the rest of the table, and had not received it by the time our main dishes came to the table. Eventually, I did get my toast, and put the steak on top. That was perfectly tasty. M ordered a burger on a GF bun.
Unfortunately, dinner was equally disappointing. The menu has certain standby dishes available every night for appetizers, entrees, and desserts, and then has a rotating menu of dishes in each category. The only dish labeled gluten-free on rotating portion of the menu was fish, which I wasn’t in the mood for on that night. Instead, I looked to the standby and was happy to see that the cheeseburger and tomato aioli sliders were labeled gluten-free. When I ordered, I was told “no”. Simply that they were not gluten-free. Given their labeling, I insisted that the waiter check with the chef. (I did a lot of insisting on this day). I was told that I could preorder the sliders for the next night (perhaps they had to clean off a griddle to ensure against cross contamination? I’d like to assume the best answer). I did pre-order, and then went with the steak, another of the “standby” dishes. The steak was fine, nothing special.
Day 3–Port Canaveral
- Breakfast (Windjammer): NO LABELS: Yogurt, fruit, bacon
- Lunch (Park Cafe): Salad, potato chips, sliced beef
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Blueberry Yogurt Soup, Entree(s): Pre-ordered Sliders with fries. Ordered: Pappardelle with peas, proscuitto, cream sauce (labeled GF). Received: spaghetti pomodoro. Dessert: Pistachio ice cream.
By the end of the previous night, I was feeling rather cantankerous. With this is mind, it probably wasn’t the best choice for M and I plan to check out the Windjammer for breakfast. We were very disappointed to realize that nothing in the Windjammer was labeled gluten-free. For once, we were thankful that neither of us react too terribly to cross-contamination and stuck to what seemed more trustworthy: fruit, yogurt, eggs, and bacon. Given that the dining room was closed, we had no other option.
This day, we were in Port Canaveral. We all had an excursion to go kayaking in Manatee Bay. It was too cold to see any manatees, but we stopped at a little island to wade and found all sorts of crabs, jelly fish, conch, and other sea life. It was my first time kayaking, and M and I excelled at the double kayak. Given that our guide told us that the kayaks were nicknamed “Divorce Boats”, I would say we are allowed to be proud of ourselves. The excursion was wonderful. We even stopped by a local orange store to sample freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh fruit. I can assure you, I have never tasted sweeter grapefruit. All of it was incredible. The owner told us that our citrus was stale by the time it reached stores up here and I absolutely believe her.
We got back onboard mid-afternoon, in the time when both the dining room and the Windjammer Cafe are closed to transition from lunch to dinner. We called to order room service and were told that nothing on the menu was gluten-free. More disappointment. We head upstairs to the Park Cafe. Amidst the multitude of gluten-filled dishes, I managed to get some sliced beef roast, potato chips, and a salad that we could eat.
At dinner, I continued my trend of fruit soups for appetizers. They are so good, and there is one almost every night. For my entree, I had already pre-ordered the sliders. But I also saw that the Pappardelle pasta with Pea, Proscuitto, and Cream Sauce was labeled gluten-free, and I was also interested in that. And, because you can, I ordered two entrees. My waiter remembered the sliders, but, yet again, balked at my pappardelle order. She said that the gluten-free pasta would take thirty minutes. M, who had ordered the same, and I said we wouldn’t mind waiting, and that we would split my sliders in the meantime. After a days wait, the sliders were extremely lackluster. They were served on a chopped up Udi’s hotdog bun (by now, we realized that while it seemed like the GF bread was baked on ship, all other GF items were Udi’s), without any sauce. We were given ketchup on request, but it was a poor substitute to the aioli, which we were not informed was taken off the dish when made gluten-free. Our waiter returned several times as we waited for the pappardelle. First, to say that they only had gluten-free spaghetti noodles. Okay, to be expected. Shaped doesn’t matter that much–we assured her that was fine. Finally, she came out with the two bowls of spaghetti noodles…topped with red sauce. Pomodoro. Overall, my biggest issue with gluten-free dining on Royal Caribbean was not that there were substitutions or adaptations, it was that the patron was not informed of what those changes would be before receiving a dish. M and I then noticed that the Spaghetti Pomodoro, one of the “standby” dishes on the menu was not labeled gluten-free. With the clear evidence of a gluten-free spaghetti pomodoro sitting on the plate in front of us, we reached our limit with the rampant mislabeling. Sustitutions, ultimately, can be tolerated. Wrong labels send most gluten-free eaters racing far away. The moment we question the safety of our food is the moment we lose our trust and become suspicious. Dessert did not have gluten-free options beyond ice cream. Thankfully, the pistachio ice cream was delicious!
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Salmon plate w/ GF Bagel (smoked salmon, capers, onions, tomato, lemon, cream cheese)
- Lunch (Dining Room): Entree: Morrocan lamb w/ salad and tzatziki sauce. Dessert: White-chocolate orange flan.
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer(s): Fruit Medley with Pistachio Yogurt (pineapple, strawberries, kiwi, mango, papaya), Smoked Duck Breast with orange-fennel salad, Entree: Roasted Chicken Breast with jus, vegetables, and baked potato. Dessert: Cherries Jubilee.
We had a word with the head waiter after breakfast about the disappointing mistakes in labeling the menu for dietary needs. Luckily, M and I were both in better moods after a delicious (and safe and properly labeled) smoked salmon plate for me and eggs benedict for M. And we were happy to see labels on the lunch menu. By the way, the Morrocan lamb was one of the best dishes I ate onboard. I could not have it in a pita, but the bread was certainly not missed. I had thought, paired with a tzatziki sauce, the lamb would be lightly spiced, but instead the lamb was slow cooked in the deepest, earthiest tomato sauce–almost a ragu–with warm, beautiful spices. This lamb was incredible. I’ll be doing some research to find a similar type of sauce, so I can try to recreate this at home.
In Nassau, M and I found our beach that we visited two years ago while the rest of our party walked through the Dig and Aquariums at Atlantis. M and I had already seen it, and, as it turns out, we would be the only ones to make it into the Caribbean ocean. Our beach day at Cococay would be cancelled for weather. Dinner was suddenly back to having five dishes, minimum, in each course, available to be made gluten-free. I started off with two lovely, light salads, followed by simple, but delicious chicken. Cherries Jubilee also followed the trend of light and fresh. It was a pretty good day to follow up to the significantly poorer day before.
CocoCay At Sea
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Fruit, yogurt
- Lunch (Dining Room): Beef Carpaccio
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Strawberry bisque with mint, Entree: Garlic Tiger Shrimp with vegetables and rice, Dessert(s): Strawberries Romanoff, Flourless Chocolate Cake
We woke up after a rolling night to realize that weather was culprit. We were scheduled for a beach day, but the weather was gray, dark, and stormy. With the ship pitching, I did not have much appetite, and even less energy. I woke up for meals and pretty much napped the rest of the day, multiple times. Once again, all of our menus were labeled and had fairly generous choices, including the return of my beloved beef carpaccio to the lunch menu. The whole table split the flourless chocolate cake for dessert after dinner. My mother wished that we could have it every night, and we had been on the ship long enough to suspect that we would now be getting a plate of flourless chocolate cake every night.
Day 6–Key West
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Eggs Benedict (served on hamburger buns)
- Lunch: On land.
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Berry & Yogurt “Frappe” (more fruit soup), Entree: BLT Salad with mustard-herb vinaigrette. Dessert: Orange Mousse with mango puree & raspberry sauce
Since we skipped the stop at CocoCay, we got a few extra hours at Key West. This was wonderful–Key West was, by far, my favorite port. We took the trolley all around, stopping at a spice merchant, a hot sauce shop, a butterfly conservatory, and Ernest Hemingway’s house. M had purchased catnip to bring back for his mum’s cat, Hoolie, and none of us thought twice until we found nearly a dozen Hemingway cats following him through the grounds. We also found the Key Lime Pie shop that offers gluten-free pie. That was a fantastic surprise. I even got a peek at Guy Fieri! He was filming Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives across the street.
The Eggs Benedict for breakfast was so-so, but received bonus points for being able to be made gluten-free. Dinner was light, and fine, but not very noteworthy. But after such a wonderful day around the town, it wasn’t so bad.
Day 7–At Sea
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Eggs, bacon, GF toast, Chocolate-Cherry Trifle
- Lunch (Dining Room): Beef Carpaccio, salad
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Roasted Peach Soup, Entree: “Fisherman’s Plate” (lobster, shrimp, vegetables, rice), Dessert: Baked Alaska
It was “Chocolate Lovers” Breakfast in the Dining Room this morning. While that meant mostly waffles and pancakes, M and I inquired with the chef regarding the Chocolate Cherry Trifle. It was actually gluten-free, being more of a pudding, rather than a true trifle. We couldn’t manage more than a few bites of the rich chocolate and cream-topped cherries, but it was a sweet surprise. I had beef carpaccio once again. The aged beef with sundried tomatoes, lemony olive oil, and fresh, crunchy salad is such a perfect blend of flavors and textures. Dinner was as much of a star as breakfast and lunch. My roasted peach soup was served cold, like all of the other fruit soups, but the roasting brought beautiful depth to the peaches. My Fisherman’s plate was really wonderful as well. I always say yes to lobster, and this didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was good enough that the tiger shrimp I had loved just two nights before completely paled in comparison.
Day 8-At Sea
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Eggs Benedict
- Lunch (Izumi): Seafood Hot Rock (plain meat: salmon, lobster, scallops, shrimp, and plain vegetables), Rice, Champagne Lobster Roll, Vegetable Roll
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer(s): Tapas Plate (Prosciutto–no chorizo, manchego cheese, cheese-stuffed peppers, Salad), Coconut and Lychee Soup, Entree: Lamb Shank with jus, mashed potatoes, vegetables, Dessert: Pear and Chocolate Tart
Our final day was another that we savored. We went to Izumi, the sushi restaurant onboard, for lunch. Though it is a restaurant that charges (a la carte), it was probably the best thing we ate onboard and, without a doubt, the best sushi I have ever had. M, E, A, and I went and shared here and there. The servers were just as knowledgeable about serving gluten-free, and made sure everything that we ordered could be made gluten-free, including all of the sauces. We had the hot plate–an exciting presentation that allowed us to sear fish, seafood, and vegetables on a blistering hot slab. I ordered the vegetable roll, made with avocado, cucumber, carrot, and asparagus and–the true star of the show–the champagne lobster roll. Sweet, tender lobster is wrapped with daikon sprouts and avocado in a cushion of rice with a yuzo fruit wrap, topped with a champagne vinegar aioli-type sauce. M ordered the spicy tuna roll and a combo with plenty of nigiri and some cucumber rolls. This meal was spectacular. E had “Surf and Turf” Tataki: a shrimp tempura roll topped with rare-cooked steak and chimichurri sauce. That, I will definitely have to recreate.
Dinner was nice and warm, though we were still a little full from our sushi lunch. The lamb shank was served with rich gravy, and the first mashed potatoes I had since Day 1. I was getting pretty tired of baked potatoes, so this was the highlight of my entree plate. My tapas appetizer was also really lovely, especially the stuffed peppers. It was a good end to the trip.
Day 9–Make Port
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Eggs, Toast, Bacon, Fruit
On port day, you can only manage a speedy breakfast, before its time to gather up your bags and walk down to the real world once again.
Overall, I am happy that RC is clearly making strides to serve its gluten-free customers. There was never a time when I necessarily felt unsafe eating the food, because the staff certainly refuted and/or pointed out when there was something that I could not eat. In most cases, they tried to substitute what was appropriate for my diet. However, the inconsistency with labeling dishes, and then not being informed of what substitutions were being made, was irritating. Given the huge amount of attention that the cruise staff are already giving to dietary needs, the lack of labeling seemed almost lazy. I expected more in that regard, because the bar was set high by RC. I had seen that dinner menus could have nearly a half dozen, clearly-denoted options, each, for the appetizer, entree, and dessert course. Therefore, I expected a comparable experience each night. I will readily admit that I am calmer about my food, mostly because I have the ‘luxury’ (in a sense) of having a gluten sensitivity, rather than celiac disease. A little bit of cross contamination will not bother me, unless it ‘builds up’ by my consuming it every day. Without having to worry if separate utensils were used, or new gloves were put on, I know that I traveled with significantly less stress. For those of you who are more sensitive than I am, I would recommend Royal Caribbean. The level of knowledge amongst the staff regarding dietary needs is significantly higher than most restaurants, and, as a whole, the company works so hard to meet your needs and requests. Do you research, of course, but I would say Royal Caribbean is on its way to leading the pack in the race to cater to special diets.