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Featured Review

August 2014

Wonderful Gluten Free Experience on the Celebrity Cruise Line


5.0 Palms
Celebrity Summit
Review Type: Cruise Ship
Location: Sailed from Port Liberty, New Jersey to Bermuda
Phone: 800-647-2251
Website: http://www.celebritycruises.com
Contact: Special Needs Dept at 866-592-7225 or email special_needs@celebrity.com
Date Visited: Late June/early July 2014
Review Posted: July 7, 2014
Summary Celebrity Summit Cruise Ship Proves to be a Celiac-Friendly, Kid-Friendly Experience
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We booked a cruise on Celebrity Cruise Lines with extended family to celebrate my parents' 50th Anniversary. Before we could take the cruise, my son (6 yrs old), was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I was nervous when the special needs form from Celebrity Cruise Lines seemed more concerned with mobility than food issues (he also has nut and other allergies)...so I also called the special needs line for Celebrity and they were reassuring.

Well, we were not disappointed!!

First - be sure to check carefully when you are at the buffet. There are nice large icons for all food issues (dairy, vegetarian, gluten...) but those aren't indicators for the dish - the real ones to look for are on top of the card above each item, and they're small and not colorful. We made a few missteps before we figured that out...there's a buffet lunch as you board. Everything on the buffet and in the dining room is labelled with icons.

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That's one of the very few negatives, really. As a child, my son is a typically picky eater and the gluten free pancakes and waffles were not to his liking, but they are available. He loved the bread (sandwich bread only from what we found) - we did have to order and wait for it at the buffet but in the dining room each night for dinner they would bring it to the table automatically. He used a butter all for himself, since it could be cross contaminated there.

We did meet with the maitre d' when we arrived on the ship and were further reassured. We had to order from the menu that night, but they accommodated some special requests on other nights (gluten free pizza, sandwich, chicken nuggets, pasta with broccoli and sausage). The main dining room has assigned seating and times - it paid off. Every night, the manager would hand us the next night's menu (my extended family LOVED the preview!) and we'd select something on there for the next night if possible or order something different if the gluten free options weren't safe or to his liking. No problem!

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The buffet restaurant was fantastic! You don't always want to sit with young children for over an hour each meal, so the speedy service was well-suited to our family. There were always several gluten free options (and again, they would bring us toast for breakfast within 5-10 minutes of finding a manager - look for someone in a tie). BEST PART about the buffet?? No cross contamination! Everything is served in small portions, already individually plated or in cute wire baskets for you to take. No tongs, spoons, etc. that leave you to wonder how much of the other foods touched the "safe" ones! Cold cuts were served buffet style, so we avoided those - they were near the breads. Things like chunks of cheese and carving stations of meat were handled only by servers, so they, too, were safe if labeled as gluten free. Fruit was served in small mixed bowls or individually with spoons, like a typical buffet - but there wasn't much likelihood of CC as the food around it wasn't spooned out. If you really want a sandwich, I'll bet you could ask for one and get it delivered to your table after it was made "in the back" (the bread is frozen, so it would be toasted - they have a dedicated toaster behind the buffet).

Late lunches were a problem, when only the pool grill was open - a plain beef patty was all he could eat, but I noticed the cook changed his gloves before I could even ask. We avoided the ice cream bar, for CC concerns. But, my son ate ice cream most nights for dessert (with Lactaid, as he's still healing).

I would eat gluten free for some meals so my hands were "clean" to help cut his food, etc. And, I had no problem doing so, as the food choices were many. One of the nicest things about cruising, I found, was that we really only had to lay out the whole GF-thing once and it was noted. We didn't use any of the specialty dining so I can't speak to those options.

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In Bermuda, we didn't find any options, I'm sorry to say. Since it's similar to England, there are safe options in certain restaurants, as they're more aware of CD than many places in the U.S. - but you won't find any gluten free menus. You have to speak with someone first and be sure they can accommodate you - but at least they will know if they can or can't. We were recommended to Nonna's in Hamilton, but we didn't go there. In the port itself, we were told several times of a bakery with gluten free items, but they're made on site so not safe for our son. We did all of our eating on the cruise and had packed some snacks that would travel well.

Celebrity Cruises seem to be known for excellent service and food. Of course, we found both to live up to the reputation for our own dining, but I was so impressed with how well it extended to gluten free. Servers, managers and other staff went out of their way for us with a smile! We never had to ask for that preview menu, Ajay would just show up with it between our dinner and dessert. Manoj automatically brought the right bread before serving the bread baskets. Martinez would show us his meal before he served it. The buffet staff was equally accommodating. We toured the galley for fun one morning while the boys were in the children's club and we passed the area where special meals were prepared - they're separate and specially trained to avoid all manner of CC. They really take needs like ours to heart. Oh, and sauces are mostly thickened with rice flour, so most entrees are safe from what we saw.

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I think there were more than enough options to warrant five palms, plus the service and the ever-present labels where we ate (not the pool bar, but they knew when asked). There were no snacks in the "Fun Factory" (children's club room), so that was never a worry for us. We did bring our own snacks which helped when we walked past the cookies on display in the coffee/ice cream bistros on deck 5. (There's a gluten free cookie, but it's coconut - not what he'll eat...still I credit the ship for even having the option!)

As for what I would recommend, it would be the items already (naturally) gluten free. I tasted the pizza, breading on chicken, etc. and it's nothing special - my nephew even excused himself to remove the pizza from his mouth, although my son liked it. When we gave him the every-night grilled chicken with potatoes and vegetables, he ate it nicely - and the same for other entrees or buffet items. As I said, he didn't like the batter for pancakes or waffles, but he always enjoyed the toast. He never eats salad or soup, but there were some safe ones to add to the options - and I received my soup without the crouton one night when I ordered it that way.

We came back with Hurricane Arthur, so I would have liked safe crackers or bread sticks when my son was nauseated one morning. He wasn't up for breakfast but was himself again by lunch (rough seas). I have to search my memories for any caveats or issues, though - and for a whole week's worth of food, that's an excellent sign!

Happy, safe travels to you all!

We received another noteworthy CRUISE REVIEW recently...of a Royal Caribbean European cruise, submitted by Wendy Krakower, founder of The Food Allergy Kitchenware Company. As you may know, both Celebrity Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines are under the same ownership. We have received many favorable reviews of both cruise lines on our website, many within our Caribbean section. You can also view a video about Royal Caribbean's gluten free program on their website.

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Karen Broussard, Founder and President of GlutenFreeTravelSite

Karen Broussard is the Founder and President of GlutenFreeTravelSite. Karen launched GlutenFreeTravelSite in 2008 after her son was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at a very young age. She and her family found that dining out and traveling could be a real challenge for people following gluten free diets, and she wanted to provide a place where the gluten free community could go to share their experiences first-hand with others.

In addition to heading up GlutenFreeTravelSite, the DINE GLUTEN FREE Mobile App, and the Gluten Free Travel Blog Karen is an Associate Editor of Simply Gluten Free Magazine and volunteers each summer at Camp Celiac in Rhode Island. A graduate of Georgetown University with a degree and career in Marketing, Karen resides with her husband and two sons in the Washington, DC area.

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