Enjoy the High Seas — Gluten-Free — on the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship
Disney Wonder Cruise Ship
|Location:||Cruises throughout the World|
|Vacation Type:||Family vacation|
|Date Visited:||October 2007 (Various)|
|Review Posted:||April 2008|
Our experience began last Spring when we booked our reservation on the Disney Wonder cruise ship (disneycruise.com or call 1-800-370-0097). The agent assured us that they receive requests for gluten-free foods on almost every cruise, so they are well equipped to provide an enjoyable dining experience. A note was made on our reservation, and we were told we'd "meet with a chef after we board." So when we boarded the ship on a Sunday afternoon in Port Canaveral, Florida, I was expecting a formal meeting, with an Executive Chef walking us through the food choices for the trip. That's not what happened, but our experience was quite good, nonetheless.
After boarding, I was able to have an assistant chef walk me through the initial lunch buffet available at Parrot Cay to show me what our 4-year-old son could safely eat. He seemed knowledgeable and confident in his assessment of the foods, again stating that they receive gluten-free requests regularly. He even offered to bring me some tomatoes direct from the kitchen, because he was a bit concerned about cross-contamination from utensils at the salad bar. Then, I had the good fortune to meet with Brenton, the English pastry chef, to assess the dessert choices. After assuring me my son could eat the white chocolate mousse parfait, he also asked if we'd like him to make a special gluten-free chocolate cake for the next evening. Since our group consisted of 15 extended family members, I said we'd gladly take him up on his offer and ALL enjoy the cake!
I was again reassured at dinner that evening at Animator’s Palette when I learned that our server was already aware of our special dietary requests. Lisa Picket, an 8-year veteran of the ship and currently the Restaurant Manager/Head Server, also came over to our table to introduce herself and assure us she would be happy to help us tailor the dinner menu to our needs. And, even though passengers are rotated to a different restaurant each evening, we did not need to explain the situation again and again, since your servers accompany you at dinner throughout the cruise.
The food was excellent quality, with a range of meat, fish, and vegetarian options at each dinner. They even brought out gluten-free rolls for our son each night. (They were especially good the first night, served warm, but we got the feeling that they weren't as fresh as the week wore on. Some variety in the gluten-free bread selection would have been nice, as well, but to be honest, he probably could have done without the bread entirely given the quantity of other foods at dinnertime!)
Breakfasts and lunches were a bit more challenging than dinner, since we typically had to ask for a manager or chef upon arriving to each meal. Sometimes finding the right person could take a while. For us, those meals were also often buffet-style, although table service was always an option in at least one of the ship's dining rooms. We were able to choose cheese, fruit, eggs and bacon for our son from the breakfast buffets, and two mornings we requested gluten-free pancakes (although they left much to be desired — I wish more chefs would try the range of great gluten-free mixes like Pamela's available now. I always get the feeling like they're trying to do things from scratch, when there already are some simple, DELICIOUS mixes that would be better just to keep on hand.)
Other gluten-free items typically stocked onboard include gluten-free pasta (which the chef used to make a top-notch mac-and-cheese for my son one day for lunch) and gluten-free pizza (again, not as good as some we've had, but my son ate it nonetheless). If an item on the menu is not gluten-free, the chef will make it gluten-free if at all possible. It seemed that neither a 4-year old nor 40-year-old following a gluten-free diet would have any problems finding delicious options at every meal on the Disney Wonder or Disney Magic cruise ships.
The only downside to the experience — and the one thing I'd recommend the Disney cruise ships do is to compile a list of some basic foods on the ship that are — and aren't -- gluten-free, and make it available to passengers BEFORE the trip — or at the very least, when they board. By this, I mean a list of things like hamburgers and hotdogs from the grill, deli meats at the buffets, soft-serve ice cream that is available almost all day long on deck, ingredients in the smoothies at the bar, and ice cream bars and puddings on the kids dessert menus. Disney World has lists for each of their parks, and it makes things so much easier when you are planning meals and snacks — and don't want to chase down a chef just to find out if you can have something like ice cream. Too much valuable vacation time was spent getting answers to questions that could have been easily documented to also save staff from having to answer the same questions week after week.
All told, however, we had high expectations for our Disney cruise, based on a wonderful experience at Disney World 18 months before, and those high expectations were met. Disney really does seem to set the standard for families with special dietary needs.
You can order a free Disney Cruise planning kit (along with a free DVD) or view their e-Brochure on disneycruise.com
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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.