Gluten Free Cruise Holidays

I know cruises used to be for the wealthy and lottery winners only, but these days because of the glut of cruise ships in existence ordinary people can now afford them. Having tried all kinds of holidays me and the other half are running out of ideas. I thought the best holidays were all inclusive beach holidays where I could choose what I ate but the other half can't stand the sun so I end up playing Johhny No-Mates cum pervy old loner on the beach.

Tried a villa but ended up stocking up with food and drink and hanging around the villa for a week. Would have been better of staying at home because I managed to get glutened by a packet of processed meat containing wheat gluten!

So, we were thinking that these big cruise ships have sun and shade and breeze and lots of food choices and it might be worth trying. They might even stop in places we've not seen before.

Have any other coeliacs had good or bad experiences on cruise holidays? Are there good ships and not so good ships? Are there any 'outstanding' cruise lines out there who bend over backwards to cater for coeliacs?

The recent news of the treatment of passengers who went down with the nasty chuckup virus that is going around is tending to dampen my hopes.

12 Replies

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  • So true Phil the whole stomach bug on board a Cruise liner has also always put me off. But other team members have had amazing Caribbean Cruises with the American Princess Cruises. Likewise at the Scandinavian Show last year Fred Olsen's cruises confirmed they catered for Coeliacs. I suspect you'd have to avoid much of the buffet due to cross contamination risks. But as most of these huge ships have well trained Chefs on board I am sure they can simply plate up Coeliac's first to avoid issues from buffet food and advise on what other dishes are good.

    I have always avoided Villa holidays as I enjoy eating out and seeing the local culture. Your story goes to show it's not always the safe option people assume it to be. Ultimately if we all do a lot of research before holidays we can find some great places recommended by local coeliacs, bloggers & coeliac societies. And if all else fails with the Coeliac Travel cards I normally resort to hand gestures and drawings (I managed to get across contaminated oil v well doing that). Tony Hart take that!

    Have others on the forum had great Cruise experiences?

  • I've been cruising for years. You can get some real bargains. I've only been with Costa and MSC where it's Italian cruising and the average age is about 33 or something. I have been unable to eat Gluten or dairy since June, Due to a rare syndrome where my bowel doesn't work properly. It's transformed my symptoms. And the healthiest I've felt was after a week cruise in November with Costa cruises. They are accredited to the coeliac society, in Italy, they have seperate areas of the kitchen and chefs that only cook for us 'special' people so no chance of cross contamination. They understood that that's the real problem. I was advised to only eat in the restaurant as the buffets could have cross contamination by the guests. For me at every meal I was given my own freshly baked bread, lots of soya goods at breakfast, the extensive gluten free menu and it high lighted which of those were dairy free. Lots of desserts too, I could only eat the fresh fruit because of the dairy which I'm sure will change soon. But after lots of tasty courses it was best for my waistline! I've cruised with Costa since I was 22, 12 years now. Even before this the food was great and they'd cook anything for you. I hadn't prewarned them about my dietary requirements as my sister didn't understand how it helps me and the risk of cross contamination is beyond her! Even so as soon as we entered the restaurant the first night they staff all excelled themselves. I shouldn't have been so worried. It'll be the only holiday I have from now on. Talking to a friend that's worked on American cruise lines for years this is standard practice for cruise lines. They're brilliant for my diabetic parents too as lots of sugar free desserts too. Before I couldn't recommend cruising highly enough, for anyone who's classed as a pain eating out in the Uk you won't be on a cruise!

  • Cruise No 4 is now only a short time away....all with Thomsons.

    Sister is a more frequent flier than I am....and the airport staff know her well....We are two past sell by date sisters...not sound on feet...and herself uses wheelchair....but it doesnt stop us..

    No problems at all with the food..otherwise...I wouldnt have repeated the exercise.....

    On the Spirit..was given a menu for the following day...plenty of choice..and it worked well.

    On the Celebration...assigned staff..and who knew what I needed...and thats now twice.

    Obviously...usual precautions for opening dining situations on buffets...but no problems in being offered specially cooked items for afternoon tea...sister had cream tea...and I was offered half a chicken..(and yes I wanted the cream tea..and the next day..thats what I had....).

    The only problem I do have..is ensuring that I have food on the return flight. It has happened before that meal was on manifest..but not actually on the plane....and I had hypo..I am aslo diabetic...so have to eat.

    No food at 38K feet is no joke...and its an overnight flight this time back into UK. I will have a longlife John West tuna meal with me. Am also wondering about a Bistro Express meal...and asking crew to put it in oven for me.....

    There is a zip line in Dominica...over the tree canopy....and that has my name on it....

    If in a few weeks time...you hear of two blonde Brits causing chaos in the Caribbean on the Thomson Dream....maybe too many Margaritas with Margarita in Margarita Island....you know who it is....will report back..

    Me?? I am off to try on shorts etc....

  • We have always found cruise ships cater really well for special diets, I always let the maitre de know as soon as I board. They then provide a special menu, gluten free bread ad in the buffet areas just ask either a chef or head waiter to advise what is gluten free. On Princess cruises they made gluten free desserts and also provided me with my own cookies for afternoon tea. Similarly when we have stayed in all inclusive hotels they have provided gluten free foods, including bread, and the head waiter advises what is and is not safe to eat and if risk of cross contamination have served me separately.

  • Thanks for all the responses, which all appear to be positive so far. It is beginning to look like cruise holidays might actually be the best kind of holiday for coeliacs. I'm not sure but I have a vague notion that many years ago wealthy people went on cruises to recover from illnesses. If only we could get them on prescription!

    I take on board the idea that getting immersed in local culture makes for some wonderful holidays and having done that over the years, and I loved it so much, I really miss it. Little restaurants on Greek islands and all that. My own diet problem is compounded by my wife's who has very limited taste in food and is absolutely inwilling to try anything different or new. There are always places serving things in batter or breadcrumbs with chips wherever you go in the world. The problem is the people who run eateries that serve this kind of food are generally only interested in making quick cheap food for the masses. They don't need to know anything about gluten or Coeliac; there are enough chip eating punters out there to make a living from.

    At the opposite end of the scale there are those little waterside fish restaurants that cook fish to order, according to the catch of the day, and sell it by weight to wealthy clientelle. (they don't display prices because they don't need to) Since the other half only eats cod in batter and fish fingers these are out of bounds, but on the too easily found grounds that they are too expensive.

    I have to consider both limitations now when thinking about holidays. My own stupid condition and the wife's limited taste that ceased to develop in the first ten years.

    All inclusives in warm places are out of the question.

    We tried this in Jamaica and Cuba. Massive hotels and noisy dining areas, not ideal but bearable, and I felt safe with the people preparing the food, but too hot for the wife, hence playing Johnny No Mates on the beaches.

    I have grown to hate holidays in Britain because our own cafes and restaurants shun coeliacs in favour of the easy money made from cheap batter, breadcrumbs, bread and chips for the masses. Expensive hotels are okay because they can afford the extra time and effort required to avoid poisoning coeliacs. Only because the customers can afford to pay more.

    Back to cruises. Not my preferred cup of tea at all really but maybe becoming necessary just to get away from work for a few days ( limited by the wife having to look after our grandson whilst our daughter is out at work) of sunshine and relaxation with a few activities thrown in maybe and by the sound of it only a very limited chance of getting glutened.

    Maybe its time to draw the line and think about seperate holidays, which would be a great shame as we've been married for 40 years this year and have always travelled everywhere together.

    Perhaps we should just count ourselves lucky that we've been able to afford holidays over the years . My own mum and dad never left the UK, except in my dad's case to fight the German Navy in the cold North Atlantic, in converted trawlers, to help get the food supplies through to Britain. I don't believe that either of them ever had to worry about what they ate though. They were just grateful for any food.

    Yes, we have been lucky.

    Happy New Year!

  • Hi Phil, in response to your request I would advise speaking with the cruise line direct before booking to check that they cater for gf. I was assured a few years ago by the booking agent that the MSC cruise we were booking on was absolutely fine for me. Needless to say that this 3 week cruise turned out to be a nightmare. They only did brake brothers type food on the ship which came in packages and was reheated by them. Everytime I saw the menu and thought 'I could eat that if they left off the sauce', I was told that they could not do that. Over 3 weeks on the cruise I lost 3/4 of a stone and it was only during the last week when we cornered the captain that something was done to cater for me. I understand that now they have their food prepared on their ships, but I would still always ring direct to the cruise company. I do this before I book any holiday just to make sure. Having been hospitalised on many occasions on holiday, I would rather be safe than sorry.

    Good Luck and hope you have a good holiday whatever you do.

  • Thanks for the advice. I thought I would check the CUC site for info on cruises. Surprisingly, MSC and Coeliac UK seem to have been working together.

    "As one of the market leaders in terms of ships and passengers, MSC Cruises have taken the stress out of travellers who are following a gluten-free diet, with most of their ships offering extensive gluten-free menus and choices. MSC have been certified by the Association Italiana Celiachia (AIC), Italian Coeliac Society, to serve gluten- free products. On board MSC Cruises, you will be able to enjoy a fantastic selection of gluten-free choices in all the restaurants, with up to 17 special menus available, from breakfast through to lunch and dinner."

    I note the phrase "most of their ships", so its still important to check them out first.

  • Last June I went to the Norwegian Fjords with P&O. Admittedly I'm Gluten intolerant not Coeliac, but they catered very well for me. At dinner there was hot gf rolls and they made very sure that I never had anything with gluten in it! If I wanted anything for afternoon tea. The only thing that was when we ate in the Cafe Jardin (supposedly for something a bit special). What a mistake, the staff were really not interested even to appearing not wanting to go to another department to get a peppermint tea! Having said that, this hasn't put me off and I definitely want to go again!

  • Hi Phil in looking for the link for coeliac travel cards this came up and I thought of you:

    glutenfreecruises.com/?gcli...

    It's 'gluten free cruises' which says it all really.

  • Hi Jerry, hope you're keeping healthy, thanks for spotting gluten free cruises.

    The problem is that $3000 to $5000 ( £2000 to £4000) per person per week plus the cost of getting to the Danube is way above the price of the average cruise these days.

    (Of no importance to Health-Unlocked but we've been to Budapest and wiled away a few happy hours drinking wine on the Danube boat trips around Margrets Island anyway)

    These are special cruises for Coeliacs. I was hoping to be able to avoid that kind of thing and maybe get a holiday where Coeliac and Ordinary Joe Public can co-exist happily. I would rather watch a stage show than listen to a lecture on nutrition any day.

    Some of the cruise companies seem to be able to cater for Coeliac, but it seems there is always a risk involved and you have to plan, check, and be on guard constantly. Not so easy if you're feeling relaxed after a couple of drinks.

    The prices charged to ensure Coeliacs don't get glutened on thses special gluten free cruises show how the cost of living being a healthy Coeliac is higher than it is for Joe Public. The wealthier you are the less your lifestyle is likely to be affected if you have CD. Perversely, the wealthier people have more influence on the lifestyle of the general populace than the less wealthy.

    Maybe Coeliacs should consider this; that in the UK our tax codes are raised for Coeliac, or parents with Coeliac children, so that it doesn't prevent them from living the same lifestyle that they would enjoy if they weren't Coeliac or had Coeliac children. Getting gluten free food on prescription is only a part-measure towards helping them. Even when travelling, in transit, they can't eat the ordinary 'food on the go' supplied at airports and train stations.

    It seems wrong to me that non-Coeliac people who work around me can go on cruises because they have no problem with eating the food on any cruise, whereas for me to enjoy the same peace of mind it costs me twice as much. I don't get paid any more to compensate for that extra cost.

    Being given an extra few hundred quid in my pay packet every year would help towards taking a trip on a special gluten free cruise once in a while.

    The problem is it would mean Joe Public paying more tax to make up for the tax we wouldn't be paying, but I know that in reality our Government throws so much money down the pan, and if they stopped doing that Joe Public wouldn't have to pay more.

    So maybe we should be campaigning for higher tax codes (reduced tax)!

  • Hi Phil and I agree with you as I cringed at the thought of a lecture whilst on holiday and I didn't check the prices out until after I'd posted the link. But it wouldn't just be coeliac as many would have their offspring, spouses etc and the thought of everything being gluten free has an appeal.

    Since the banking crisis many have speculated that we spend too much on foreign aid and that some of this should be spent at home and when you hear about how it is used by some corrupt governments there is a point. But I also think that we the wealthier nations should make things like safe drinking water a priority for all so I do support foreign aid.

    I also agree that giving coeliac or families with coeliac off spring a higher tax code is an excellent idea as there's no stigma like giving food vouchers, so I'd support that.

    Now here's an interesting statistic, when the banks first started quantitative easing so that we could buy back our own bank debts, which to me seems well dodgy, some bright spark posted on the internet that instead the govt could have given everyone over 50 a million pounds on the condition that they spend it and that would boost the economy.

    it's good too see you making posts on here again and I hope that you and your other half enjoy your cruise so do let us know how you get on.

  • Hi Jerry funny you should mention foreign aid. I wasn't thinking about cutting that. The 10 billion a year the UK pays for foreign aid is a drop in the ocean and it isn't much to make sure everyone has clean drinking water in the grand scale of things. I would hate to think I was enjoying a luxury holiday because others were being deprived of clean drinking water.

    I like to sleep at night. I can do that in a tent in a field with my own supply of gluten free food and cider, although a few days of warmth, fresh air and sunshine do help to set me up for the other 50 weeks of the year to earn my living and pay my taxes to help those who's basic human needs aren't being met.

    Soon, those days will be over, my income will be no more, and I will only be able to afford camping holidays. No sweat. It was all we could afford when our children were little. I only hope the trailer wont be bent inside out and blasted against the cliff top fence like the last one by the hurricane that appeared from nowhere in Norfolk.

    Thanks for bringing me back down to reality Jerry. Fitting a tow bar on the car for the trailer tent has now gone to the top of my priority list. Who needs cruises when we have canvas?

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