Gluten-free Cruise on Royal Caribbean with Jeff
Jeff is a community member from Rice Lake, Wisconsin. He and his family recently went on a cruise with Royal Caribbean and he graciously shared his experience with us. Thanks for sharing your story Jeff! You can find him on Instagram, @i_tri_and_pass_gas (“I am an anesthesiologist and my primary hobby is training for and competing in triathlons. Hence the Tri and the Passing Gas.”)
What’s your food identity, and how do you maintain it?
I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease just over 5 years ago. I generally try to eat only food made at home. I generally avoid eating out as there aren’t many options present in my small hometown. I will go as far as to bring food with me to family gatherings and parties. I always have my Nima with me to verify the food that some folks insist on trying to make for me. I was pretty apprehensive to go on this trip. I wanted to be able to eat well, and I didn’t want the rest of my family to feel limited.
Tell us a little about your gluten-free journey.
As most folks with Celiac Disease, I have certainly had my ups and downs. When I started following a gluten free diet, the first 6 months was all about learning. I was lucky enough to have a very supportive family and we effectively made the entire house gluten free. Six months to two years following my diagnosis we discovered the best of the available products and kept our eyes open for new things. From 2 years until today, we have continued to evolve. I was lucky enough to find the Nima Sensor which has allowed me to venture outside the house at mealtime. This has been both a good experience and frustrating at the same time. My best advice is to remain patient, often restaurants and even family members are trying their best. Following a Gluten free diet, is difficult. Choices have broadened since my diagnosis (Thanks to all the folks following a gluten free fad diet).
How long have you had Nima?
I have had my Nima since they first came out (It has been a part of my life for so long that I don’t remember exactly when I got it). I initially used it to test some of my favorite products that weren’t labeled specifically as gluten free (but didn’t contain gluten ingredients). I then ventured out to restaurants with some piece of mind. I now have two Nima sensors, which lets me test separate parts of a meal at the same time, rather than testing in succession.
What was the name of the cruise you went on and for how long?
We were on The Royal Caribbean Ship Vision of the Seas for 12 nights in the Mediterranean.
What are some of the things you did to prepare for a gluten-free cruise?
Our travel agent had reached out to Royal Caribbean and let them know that I had to follow a strictly gluten free diet. I had read a blog regarding gluten free cruising and knew that I would be meeting with the head waiter and chef on the first night of the cruise. That first dining experience may be lackluster, but I would be planning what to eat for the next day in advance, which would improve the subsequent days. I knew that the menu each day was constructed with special diets in mind. There was always gluten free and vegetarian options. I also stocked up on Nima capsules and obtained a second Nima sensor so that I could test things concurrently and in rapid succession. I planned to order things with the sauce on the side (historically this has been a source of hidden gluten).
Can you share a story of an experience you had with Nima while on board?
The cruise menu was very conducive to avoiding gluten. Each night, there was at least one (and often several) gluten free appetizers, main dishes, and desserts. After several nights at the main dining area ordering mainly these items, I was pretty confident in the staff ability to get me gluten free food of any kind as everything ordered thus far had tested safe, (aside from bottled cocktail sauce, a difficult find even for an advanced Celiac). The waitstaff encouraged me to order anything that I wanted – well except for a puff pastry appetizer as they felt unable to replicate that product. For the next night, I ordered general menu items that I was told could be made gluten free. I wanted to see what they could do. I ordered French Onion Au gratin soup and Chicken Cordon Bleu. I was told that they would make my selections in a separate area and use cornmeal for breading on the chicken.
Well, when both items arrived, they tested positive for gluten (they were very mildly positive, based on observing a very faint third line on the capsule, but positive nonetheless). The chef came out to speak to me and explained that one of his chefs was in charge of preparing my meal from start to finish in a separate area of the galley and that it was impossible that the meal had gluten in it. I showed him my Nima and explained how it worked, I was not upset and had known this time would eventually come. I tried to educate him on possible sources gluten given my own experiences with ingredients over the years. He was very apologetic and they promptly made me an alternative dish. From that point forward, nothing tested positive the remainder of the cruise. The dessert staff began to bring me special desserts that they had constructed. I overall had a wonderful and safe experience.
Was there any dish that surprised you wasn’t safe (according to Nima)?
I was surprised that the French onion soup wasn’t gluten free. The chef stated that they hand make their stock and he could not identify any ingredients that he felt could contain gluten.
Best restaurant experience from the trip?
Classico, a local Restaurant in Thira, Santorini. The menu said to let your serve know about food allergies. The waiter recommended the Souvlaki without the pita. He even threw in some extra cucumber sauce. My wife ordered the same dish even though she could have had the pita. I was sure that the hand washing and glove changing would get lost in translation, but to my surprise the food all tested safe and was absolutely mouthwatering.
Country you visited with the best food?
Italy. They are very forward thinking with regards to gluten free food preparation. It was easy to find completely Gluten free restaurants. In Rome my favorite was named Mama Eat Street Food – a little hole in the wall pizza and sandwich shop near St Peters Basilica.
Best dish from the trip?
Simple Neapolitan pizza with fried dough balls for dessert. The wood fired pizza was how I remembered pizza before being diagnosed. I wanted to move in permanently, or to bring the dough back with me. Sadly, I was unable to make either thing happen.