Vacationing? Don’t stress about meals even on a cruise despite dietary restrictions
For travelers who have dietary restrictions or food allergies, taking a trip can be manageable with some thought and planning.
David and Sara Stubler took a cruise for their honeymoon in 1995. But, after he found out he couldn’t eat gluten six years ago, he thought that would be his last cruise.
“Because of my severe reaction to gluten and cross-contact, we didn’t think we’d ever go on a cruise again,” says David Stubler, who has celiac disease and eosinophilic esophagitis and is also dairy-free.
Then, the 51-year-old stumbled online across Celiac Cruise, which offers gluten-free sailings in partnership with Royal Caribbean International and AmaWaterways. He and his wife boarded a cruise to the Bahamas with the company in January 2020 to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.
“I was skeptical, so I had the suitcase full of snacks and emergency food and quickly realized I didn’t need any of it,” says Stubler, a mechanical engineer in Kansas City, Kansas.
For travelers like Stubler who have dietary restrictions or food allergies, taking a trip requires extra thought and planning. Taking a cruise can present a challenge for those with specific dietary restrictions, but travelers can do so safely.
Maureen Basye co-founded Celiac Cruise after her son and husband were diagnosed with celiac disease. She and her family had traveled extensively prior to the diagnosis and wanted to keep doing so, but the experience felt different as she thought through every detail, from what they could eat at the airport to how many bags of food she needed to pack.
On vacation, she says, “The goal is to unplug and really relax and be able to just focus on your family or friends or whatever, and you’re consumed 100% with, ‘OK, what am I going to eat next, and what would happen if I got sick?’ “
Celiac Cruise facilitates a celiac-specific training for all crew members on board the ship in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital and has a dedicated galley — a ship’s kitchen — free of gluten for the duration of the trip.
In addition to meals, it offers late-night snacks and has members of the medical team from Boston Children’s Hospital and other experts present research to cruisers and “really give people the chance to learn something about how to better navigate and better live day to day with this disease,” Basye says.
It chooses sailings based on guest feedback and works to safely re-create otherwise gluten-heavy experiences— like by providing gluten-free pretzels to passengers in Austria.
Allie Bahn, a food allergy travel consultant who runs the website Miss Allergic Reactor, went on a cruise to Bermuda with her family in high school and has been on smaller ones as an adult.
“I think, in the last decade or so, it definitely seems like they’re a lot more accustomed to dealing with different dietary restrictions and also food allergies,” she says.
Carnival Cruise Line, for instance, recently launched a food allergy program.
Bahn, whose food allergies include peanuts, tree nuts and fish, recommends doing research ahead of a cruise, reading reviews of the cruise line, looking into its protocols and asking how things are handled “when you’re actually on the cruise.”
Bahn says travelers should check to see what kind of medical facilities, staff and supplies a ship has.
“If it’s a family that hasn’t done much traveling before or an individual that hasn’t done that much traveling before, they really need to decide if they feel comfortable with however far they’re going, the destination, out in the middle of the ocean,” she says.
Bahn recommends people consider whether they will need a translated “chef card” stating their food allergies, particularly if they are traveling to places where English is less commonly spoken.
Buffets can be tricky for travelers with food allergies.
“It’s really hard to know,” Bahn says. “People can be mixing the different utensils with things.”
She suggests opting for a sit-down option, through which guests can communicate their allergies to a server to relay to the chef.
Bring plenty of safe, packaged snacks, too, “so that you always have a backup plan,” Bahn says.
Lizzie Reynolds, a food allergy travel agent who focuses on Disney among other destinations, says to check rules about which types of foods you can bring off the ship while in port because restrictions vary.
“If the cruise line doesn’t know that information, that should be a red flag,” she says.
Reynolds says not all companies handle allergies equally. She works with Disney Cruise Line, AmaWaterways and SeaDream Yacht Club and also recommends Windstar Cruises because all have “consistent great care” for food allergies.
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