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Reviews Written by OttawaCeliac:  



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Royal Caribbean - Vision and Navigator

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4.0 Palms
4.0 Palms
Some great gluten-free cruising in Europe! Aug 05, 2012
reviewer: OttawaCeliac from Ottawa, Ontario

Following my latest cruise vacation, I'm pleased to have another gluten-free travel success story to share. Last month, my wife and I embarked on a multinational journey across much of Europe, utilizing once again our preferred method of travel -- a cruise ship. Following fabulous experiences in the past with both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, we decided once again to avail ourselves of the luxury and convenience that is cruising the high seas. We managed to cram a lot into two weeks, taking two seven day cruises, back to back, with Royal Caribbean. The first saw us in Northern Europe, with the cruise leaving from Sweden and visiting Finland, Russia, Latvia, Poland and then back to Visby, Sweden before finishing in Stockholm. We then flew down to Rome for the second leg, visiting Sicily (Italy), Athens and Crete in Greece, and Kusadasi, Turkey. I was eager to see whether I would experience the same fine dining I had come to expect from Royal Caribbean. Upon boarding the first ship, Vision of the Seas, I headed for the casual dining Windjammer Cafe. Unfortunately, I found that the gluten-free labelling of foods that I had counted upon during my previous voyage with Rhapsody of the Seas was no more. The initiative had obviously been discontinued by Royal Caribbean. I asked two different times about whether the salad dressings were gluten-free -- the first chef said that all of them were, and the second warned that none of them were, by virtue of a "may contain" statement. Nice. Being on vacation, I may have been prone to be less careful that I would otherwise be. I did use the salad dressings on several occasions, despite the "may contain" statements. Eating in the Windjammer, which served food cafeteria-style, always involved a certain degree of cross-contamination risk as well. For breakfast, I largely stuck to scrambled eggs, fruit and lots of smoked salmon. Lunch would largely be limited to a salad. However, it was probably for the best as the dinners are the major culinary experience of the day. I found that the drawbacks in the Windjammer were matched by improvements in the more formal dining area. The menus that we received at the sit-down restaurant, to my complete surprise, contained "wheat-esque" logos after those items that could be made to be gluten-free. With Royal Caribbean, you can go to dinner whenever you wish, or you can pre-book a time and table for the same time each evening. I believe in booking a table because you have the benefit of the same waiter every day, meaning they will become familiar with your needs. In the past, I had been given the next day's menu and pre-ordered each day so that my food would be gluten-free. However, the gluten-free icon meant that this was no longer crucial. I passed my positive commentary on to the waiter, and indicated that I'd still prefer to see the next day's menu in advance, since having my foods pre-prepared would minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Should there be one item in particular that I wanted, but officially was not able to be gluten-free, I could request it and they'd see what they could do. The gluten-free icon was especially handy whenever I frequented the dining room, rather than the Windjammer Cafe, for breakfast or lunch, as it indicated to me which choices I could make. I found the waiters in general to be much more aware of the gluten-free issue than during past cruises. When I double-checked that my gluten-free pasta would be cooked in separate water, the reply was: "Of course! We know how serious this is. We don't mess with gluten-free." Aboard Vision of the Seas, the head waiter came to me each dinner to make sure that there were no gluten issues, and to provide the next day's menu. When I found one evening a piece of fusili in my gluten-free macaroni dish, he along with my main waiter and assistant waiter stampeded back to the kitchen for an explanation. Apparently the box of gluten-free pasta simply had a foreign piece of pasta sneak into the box, but it was still gluten-free as it came from a dedicated facility. No fusili had been prepared in the kitchen that day. Whew! I enjoyed such appetizers and scallop risotto, caeser salad, and a number of soups including duck consommé and strawberry bisque. Some of the entrees I enjoyed were duck breast, roasted turkey, jumbo shrimp, sirloin steak, Atlantic salmon and grilled chicken. They even prepared some desserts special for me including flan, pancetta, and mousse. A question that you're no doubt thinking of is whether I got sick, whether there was any cross-contamination. I suspect there may have been one or two "poisonings," likely due to eating at the casual dining restaurant, but I cannot say for sure as I'm also very lactose intolerant and yet indulged in their soft ice cream pretty much every day. As they induce similar symptoms to gluten for me, it will remain a mystery. Only once did I take the risk of dining off the ship, during a six-hour excursion in Turkey. I came armed with my Turkish-language celiac travel card. The restaurant was cafeteria-style, with about twelve vats of foods simmering away and a cook ready to serve. I handed him the card, he read through a couple of times, and happily told me that all of the options were safe for me. I looked at the one pasta dish, pointed to it, and asked whether he was certain there was no wheat or gluten in that dish. He didn't understand, but pointed at the card and said, "It's okay!" Needless to say, I stuck to the other options, but enjoyed a couple of excellent chicken and bean dishes. We were also taken to a Turkish bath session, which was also quite relaxing! As for the flights, there were some ups and downs. I took Icelandair on the way over, and hadn't realized there would be no meals during the travel. I stuck to the gluten-free granola I had brought along with me. However, I was extremely pleased with Air Canada on the way home. In contrast to the dry and tasteless chicken curry I was expecting, my gluten-free meal featured a big juicy steak as well as a large bun made by Dr. Schar. There was also a second meal -- a turkey and tomato sandwich using the same type of bun. Kudos to Air Canada! All told, I was once again a very happy and well-fed cruiser this summer. While the menus in the sit-down restaurant were largely the same between the first cruise and the second (Navigator of the Seas), the fact that there were around ten entree choices each evening meant that I could still enjoy a variety of delectable dishes. Some people prefer backpacking, and others prefer a cheap Caribbean all-inclusive, but for a celiac looking to eat well, I would highly recommend taking a cruise. Celebrity and Royal Caribbean have both performed with distinction, and they have some very interesting itineraries. It's a great way to visit multiple cities and countries in a single trip without having to worry about having to explain gluten-free in umpteen different languages. The larger cruise ships, such as the Navigator, include such activities as mini-putt, inline skating, rock climbing, basketball, volleyball, and extensive programs for the kids. The evening entertainment was top-notch, with such spectacles as adagio, acrobatics, comedians, magicians, ballets, Broadway-inspired shows and even "ice dancing" on the skating rink. They keep you busy! We also picked up some bargains at the art auctions they hold on board. If you have any questions about cruise vacations or about the dining on board, I'd be happy to assist. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

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Royal Caribbean

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5.0 Palms
5.0 Palms
Second round on Celebrity Summit cruise ship does not disappoint this gluten-free traveler with Celiac Jan 28, 2012
reviewer: OttawaCeliac from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Not to torture anyone, but I’m writing this review while tanning on the deck of the beautiful Celebrity Summit cruise ship. We are currently docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I will soon depart for the return trip home, but I just couldn’t wait to tell you of my experience. The first couple of days of this weeklong cruise were rife with rain and thunderstorms, but that was followed by five days of sun so the good times rolled for sure! This was my second cruise with my wife; our first was on the same ship in May 2008, which also served as our honeymoon. The first cruise was in Europe, and we had such a fantastic time on board that we decided to sail on the same vessel, but this time island-hopping in the Caribbean. St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados were on the menu. I am a huge fan of the Caribbean all-inclusives, and have no problem vegetating on the beach in Cuba for seven days straight, cigar and Cuba Libre in hand. However, in terms of gluten-free dining, cruising is far, far superior. I was taken aback by the staff’s genuine concern for my needs and remarkable ability to cater to the GF diet. Shortly after boarding, I met with the maitre d’, who took down our dietary needs (GF for me, vegetarian for my wife) and said it wouldn’t be a problem. At dinner that evening, the waiter was patient as I explained exactly what I cannot eat, and he assured me that the chefs have much experience in gluten-free dining. While he spoke to the chef to figure out what they could do for me, the assistant waiter brought me gluten-free bread. I hadn’t even requested it! They keep it on board for such occasions, he explained. It was previously frozen bread, but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless, and partook in a slice before each dinner. The way things worked was that my wife and I would be shown the next day’s menu at the end of each evening dinner, and we would select what we wanted the next day in terms of appetizer, soup, salad, main course and dessert. Yes, every dinner was five courses, and six if you counted the all-you-can-eat sushi buffet that occurred simultaneously several decks above. Needless to say, I ate like a king on this trip. Celebrity greatly emphasizes meal presentation and service, and they did not disappoint. Some of the options I enjoyed were veal, smoked salmon, quail, risotto, rib beef tenderloin, New York steaks, tuna steak, shrimp cocktail and a variety of salads. Among the soups I was able to taste were corn chowder, seafood, cream of chicken and beef and Asian consommé. Using corn starch and other alternatives, they were able to prepare my meals separately and in gluten-free fashion. They were completely honest – the one dish I ordered that could not be made gluten-free was chicken spring rolls, and they opened said it couldn’t be done. Hey, it was worth a try! For breakfast, bread was of course very common, but they were careful about cross-contamination. I typically had scrambled eggs, sautéed mushrooms, cheese, fruit and tea. Oh, and did I mention a bowl of smoked salmon? Mmm. However, I still had to be on alert – the U.S.-manufactured yogurt had unidentified modified food starch in the label. Always double-check, especially when you’re travelling outside of Canada. Lunch was mostly pasta and saucy salads at the main buffet, but this ship also features the “AquaSpa Café,” which offers light and healthy dining choices. This meant a lot of nutritious meals, not heavily prepared. Choices included salmon, tuna, calamari, delicious lettuce salads, sushi, chicken breast, fruit plates, gelatin pannacotta-type desserts, poached fruits and much more. I can definitely recommend cruising as a safe option for gluten-free travellers. The cost is admittedly higher than all-inclusive resorts – I’d estimate about 30 – 50% – and alcoholic drinks are not included, but you get to visit a variety of different destinations and the dining experience is off the scale. I also picked up some $4 per litre rum in St. Maarten – huge savings, eh? Cruise ships also feature fabulous entertainment, from dancers to musicians to acrobats to comedians, as well as an a cappella choir that I was quite fond of. See you at the pier!

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Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas

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Australia

5.0 Palms
5.0 Palms
Another fantastic cruise experience for a gluten-free traveler Jan 28, 2012
reviewer: OttawaCeliac from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

One of the greatest feelings for a celiac is to have a relaxing holiday where you weren’t preoccupied with where your next meal is coming from. Having experienced several such success stories, I just had to share my tale. During the gruelling lead-up to the Canadian Celiac Association’s 2011 National Conference, held in my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, I embarked on my third cruise, which meandered from Sydney, Australia up to Honolulu, Hawaii over the course of seventeen days. My wife and I previously cruised France, Spain and Portugal for our honeymoon in mid-2008, and we so enjoyed the Celebrity Summit that we boarded again last November to tour the Eastern Caribbean. This April, we went with Royal Caribbean, on a trans-Pacific repositioning cruise that took us to Fiji, Tahiti and several other islands of French Polynesia, and finished in Hawaii. The sights were amazing, the weather gorgeous and the food exceeded my already high expectations. At home or away, buffets tend to be a major concern for GF safety, but the Rhapsody of the Seas went above and beyond. They had various salads, rice dishes, meats and vegetables clearly labelled gluten-free. Further, at the lunchtime dessert buffet, they had GF pound cake – lemon, blueberry and/or raspberry – every single day. Breakfasts were also no problem. They offered eggs cooked to order, a wide array of fruits, smoked salmon and numerous interesting cheeses. At the beginning of the cruise, I met with the maitre d’ and he made certain my headwaiter was informed for dinner. You wouldn’t believe the ritziness of each evening’s meal. A culinary experience that surpasses even the fanciest of catered banquets. At the end of each dinner, the headwaiter gave me the next evening’s menu and allowed me to select what I wished, so they could prepare it separately and ensure its safety. Celebrity also had a separate menu for vegetarians, such as my wife, and they even had gluten-free pasta. Both cruise lines made me a multitude of delicious GF appetizers, entrees and desserts. We were treated like royalty. Knowing we were on our honeymoon, Celebrity even made us a surprise GF cheesecake the final evening. They even brought me toasted GF bread at the beginning of each meal. No complaints at all. I was never sick from gluten exposure. If you were looking for a quick evening meal, there were plenty of options at the sushi bar that both ships featured every night. Apart from the food, the cruises have a wide array of interesting activities, enrichment lectures, water sports, crafts, cooking demonstrations and fabulous entertainment each and every evening, ranging from comedians to acrobatics to Broadway-calibre shows. You can also just veg out in the sun all day, which I never tire of doing. I can’t emphasize enough how great an option for celiacs cruising is. I can’t speak for all cruise lines, but Celebrity and Royal Caribbean (rated 5 and 4-star respectively) have performed with distinction. I do love the Cuban all-inclusives, but in terms of your right to safe food, these cruise lines don’t screw around. Cruises have it all: you can visit multiple countries on one trip, your accommodations are always taken care of, and you need not worry about your meals. See you at the pier! Mark Johnson Vice-President Canadian Celiac Association - Ottawa Chapter

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