Travelling with Food Allergies/Intolerance: Cruising; Part One

Our adventure took us on a cruise with Royal Caribbean International. The trip was a five-night cruise through the Mediterranean, with stops in France and Italy.

When we boarded the ship on May 3rd, we had been awake for more than 36 hours, and I was really starting to wish for a hot meal. Unfortunately, something yummy to eat was harder to come by than I anticipated. Coupled with my exhaustion, we had a recipe for tears, and they sure did come!

Those familiar with Royal Caribbean ships will have heard of the Windjammer Cafe. Those familiar with cruising in general will know that there is usually some sort of self-service {read: buffet} dining option on board that is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout your stay. The Windjammer Cafe is the place to be once you've boarded the ship. It is the only place that is open and ready to serve 'real' food.

Having located our room and put our things down, we headed to the Windjammer where my hubby quickly grabbed a plate and began to fill it with tempting foods. Plate in hand, I scanned the different buffet lines, but felt overwhelmed and confused by what might be safe. I only spotted a salad bar that I knew I could choose from freely.

Everywhere you look, chefs and wait staff can be seen. Flagging one down to speak with proved to be a bit more difficult, but I was eventually successful. I informed the chef of my food sensitivities {I've learned to call them all 'allergies,' so that I am taken more seriously.}, and then asked him to help me make some selections that would be safe. We talked about what varieties of oil they use for cooking {I never did get a clear answer on this one, and still don't know if soybean oil is used on board}, which items had been basted in soy sauce, etc., etc.. The end result was that I could eat from the salad bar, and that I could have some steamed rice. The chef tried, repeatedly, to convince me that I could eat the 'chicken broth' on the soup bar, but it had tofu in it. That was my first indication that perhaps my needs wouldn't be understood while I was on board.

Finally, the chef agreed to steam some vegetables and bring them to my table, which I paired up with a green salad and some steamed rice.

Honestly? My exhaustion and hunger didn't bode well for my emotional state. The meal did fill my belly, though.

Again, if you're familiar with cruising at all, you'll know that dinners tend to be quite elaborate and showy. We're not strangers to cruising, and have always really enjoyed seated dinners. It's a fun chance to sit down with friends or family, to feel special and... well... waited on! It's luxurious!

I was really hopeful that dinner would be a huge success. Royal Caribbean International {RCI} asks that you inform them 90 days in advance of special dietary considerations, which I dutifully did. I spoke with RCI staff on several occasions to confirm the details.

When we sat down, I was first offered my choice from a big, steaming basket of gluten-filled bread. The smell of sourdough was intoxicating! But of course I had to turn it down. After a visit with our waiter, a plate of gluten-free bread was whisked out to the table. I still couldn't dig in. I had to re-explain that I have several different restrictions, and the waiter returned to the kitchen to find out what additional ingredients were in the gluten free bread. He returned, happily encouraging me to eat the bread because it was 'lactose free,' and only contained potato flour and skim milk powder! This sparked a situation reminiscent of the tofu-laced chicken broth at lunch, and ended with me politely accepting the bread and then not eating it.

I wasn't able to choose from the menu that night, and instead had a plain, grilled chicken breast and more steamed vegetables. It was just ok, but my hunger was satisfied and so I remained hopeful for a better tomorrow, and just didn't watch while the others enjoyed their desserts.

Day one on board wasn't a huge success, in my book, but I also didn't go to bed hungry. Look for another post soon about the rest of my time on board.


  1. I recently had the same experience on RC. They were not very nice in the dining room either even though they had plenty of notice. Thankfully the boat had a johnny rockets and I ate there everynight. I was too embarrassed to go back to the dining room after how the waitress treated me in front of everyone. Next time I'll just pay more and go Disney.

  2. Oh man... seriously?! ick! I'm bummed that you had a bad experience as well. I'm curious. What are your allergens? How did you do at Johnny Rocket's? I was too intimidated by my multiple allergens/things I avoid to try JR's.


Thanks for your opinion, and for keeping things friendly! I aim to answer every question that is asked here on my blog, so feel free to leave your inquiries.

Please note that comments on posts older than five days require moderation. I do this so that I don't miss out on what you have to say! Nothing personal :)