The popularization of the gluten-free diet in Hollywood has prompted food companies and restaurants to offer gluten-free options. However, many companies fail to recognize that being gluten-free is not always a dietary choice but the result of an allergy or an autoimmune disease. This often leads to lazy practices in the restaurant and food service industry and ultimately cross-contamination. Cruise lines, catering to millions of people worldwide, are just one of the many business operations that must accommodate gluten-free patrons. As someone on a strict gluten-free diet, I have had good, bad, and ugly gluten-free cruise experiences. In this article, I will be comparing the gluten-free offerings and “allergy-safe” practices on major cruise lines: MSC, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean.

Note: This post will be updated to include more cruise lines as I continue my travels.

The Gluten-Free Diet: Explained

Let’s first define some of the gluten-free jargon, being that they will be used frequently in this article. Please note that these definitions come from my years of experience, but they are not from a dictionary.

Gluten-free: a general term used currently to display food as safe for persons with Celiac disease (see next definition). It does not guarantee the environment in which it was handled and/or made was gluten-free–friendly.

Celiac Disease: an autoimmune genetic disorder in which the “diseased” is unable to consume products containing wheat, rye, barley, and gluten without having some reaction. To learn more about Celiac disease, click here.

Cross-contamination: To explain this term, I will use the example of cooking pasta. If the chefs are cooking large amounts in a restaurant, they may reuse the water that had just been used for a prior batch. Even though the pasta may be labeled as gluten-free, the chefs should not put the gluten-free pasta in the same water that the regular pasta was just cooked in, as it will become contaminated. Another example is a person in the buffet line using tongs to grab a piece of bread (gluten) and then using that same set of tongs on a gluten-free product. A gluten-sensitive person can then use those tongs and cross-contaminate their food.

My Gluten-Free Cruise Experiences

Now that the above terms have been quickly defined, I can go into what my experience was like on each of the cruise lines (in no preferential order). I will particularly speak about the buffet, quick service areas, and the sit-down restaurants.

Gluten-Free on MSC Cruises

Buffet: Upon request, they prepared me a gluten-free meal. Gluten-free breads were also available upon request. There was no specific gluten-free section.  

Quick Service: I have no experience with the quick service options.

Sit-Down Restaurant: The staff was extremely attentive and took the allergy request seriously. I had my own allergy-friendly menu, waiter, and a plethora of gluten-free food choices. They even served all of the gluten-free products with separate utensils, so I did not have to worry about cross-contamination. 

As a side note, the restaurant also offered gluten-free meals to carry out on excursions. These meals were available upon request by the wait staff.

To-go gluten-free meal bag provided by the MSC restaurant for excursions
To-go gluten-free meal bag provided by the MSC restaurant for excursions

Gluten-Free on Carnival Cruises

Buffet: Signs denoted which items were gluten-free. Some gluten-free options had to be requested. 

Quick Service: I only found one sandwich stand with gluten-free options, and there was major cross-contamination (surfaces and serving tools made contact with both gluten-free and regular bread).

Sit-Down Restaurant: Gluten-free options were available each night. The gluten-free dessert was really good. 

Gluten-Free on Royal Caribbean Cruises

Buffet: There was a specific gluten-free section with new options each day; I particularly liked the dessert area. It was clearly marked and separated from the rest of the food to minimize cross-contamination. To my knowledge, they did not prepare allergy-friendly meals upon request, which, unfortunately, raises the risk for cross-contamination a bit. 

Quick Service: The pizza quick service had gluten-free options. However, I was unable to see the surface used to prepare and cook the food, and it is unknown if the staff changed their gloves. I did not get sick, but cross-contamination is a possibility here.

Sit-Down Restaurant: Gluten-free options were provided upon request. 

Me and my gluten-free meal from the Royal Caribbean buffet
Me and my gluten-free meal from the Royal Caribbean buffet

Conclusion: My Experience Being Gluten-Free at Sea

I was pleasantly surprised by the gluten-free options on each of the ships. I feel MSC Cruises had the best sit-down restaurant experience; the service team was on top of their game, and the chefs were always creative while showing safe practices. Royal Caribbean had the best buffet because the gluten-free section was in a different spot than other foods, thus minimizing the cross-contamination that comes with this type of service. They also had the best quick service options (I loved the pizza). Carnival came out on top with the best dessert offerings; their signature Warm Chocolate Melting Cake was served gluten-free upon request.

Overall, I have had very good gluten-free cruise experiences. However, it may vary from ship to ship and sailing to sailing. The gluten-free world is always changing. I would love to hear about your experiences; contact me or let me know in the comments below!

Like this post? Pin it for later!

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *