Living gluten-free present challenges wherever you go.
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I'm sure I'm not the only one with a hoard of gluten-free snacks scattered through handbags, my car glovebox and of course filling kitchen cupboards!
One of the biggest challenges is of course travelling. Having been a lifelong foodie and travel addict, going gluten-free in 2016 gave me a lot to think about and carefully plan when travelling - one of the reasons I started reading blogs on other people's experiences, and the reason I've created my own travel blog!
Now, despite being a travel addict, and already having ticked off a fair few countries (41 and counting!) I've never been too sure of the whole interrailing or backpacking thing - the reason for that being that in 2010 I went on my first cruise ship.
There really is nothing quite like cruising, and I'll no doubt put together a full blog post on why I think it's so amazing some time, but for now I want to talk about the cruise line I've travelled with the most, and why they're so incredible at meeting my needs as a gluten-free traveller.
The buffet is usually where we prefer to eat, certainly at breakfast time, as it's very casual. Some ships like Adonia and Azura have gorgeous terraces out the back of the ship where you can sit and eat your food watching the world go by - always a great way to start the day.P&O buffets usually offer continental options and cooked options at breakfast time - in terms of continental this is the safest option for gluten-free travellers - there a lot of fruit to choose from, and a ‘special diets' counter, where you can get gluten-free toast, muffins, croissants, cereal and various non-dairy milks. For the cooked food, ask the chef which options are safe - I've been safe having bacon, sausage, eggs and beans of a morning when I feel like it! At lunch and dinner time, as well as a cooked option you'll have a salad bar and a bar of cold meats and cheeses.
Often the buffet will have themed nights such as a Spanish night or Caribbean night, an evening not to be missed and always popular is the Indian night! Cruise ship staff come from all over the world, and the curries on board are some of the nicest I've tasted - there are usually multiple options as well, always delicious!
The only downsides to the buffet are that at present (at least from my most recent experiences) the gluten-free cooked options are not marked, and you can't guarantee someone won't lean over and use tongs for two food items - I've seen it happen before. Thus far however, I've never experienced any ill symptoms of cross contamination - it's a case of making the decision for yourself and being careful.
The buffet is a consistent throughout the fleet, as is what regular cruisers call the MDR (main dining room) - the name differs on each ship I believe but these are the more formal restaurants where waiters serve you from an a la carte menu. This is the restaurant option that I find the most confidence in knowing you get a delicious meal free from contamination.
One of the brilliant change P&O have made in recent years is that they now mark the menu dishes that are gluten free - they have two gluten-free main course options which are always available, chicken or salmon with vegetables, which are both perfectly lovely. There are also usually a few other options, including options for starters, salads, soups and desserts.
If there's not anything there that takes your fancy, those with dietary requirements can preorder their meals the night before, which gives the chefs time to adapt the dishes to be gluten-free. I'd particularly recommend preordering before gala nights or Christmas meals as these are the times I've missed out before - I didn't realise how important having a turkey dinner was to me until I couldn't have one because I didn't preorder to get it made gluten-free!
Often it's a case of removing an element or switching the gravy for a gluten-free jus, however gluten-free meals are also prepared in a separate galley which looks after dietary requirements to avoid cross-contamination.
When you eat in the MDR and buffet, your meals are included in the price of your cruise, however P&O ships do have specialty restaurants that you can pay a small surcharge for. So far I have had experience in 3 specialty restaurants whilst gluten-free:
Sindhu - I visited this whilst on Arcadia in 2016, when I was still fairly new to the whole gluten-free thing we all know, Indian food is great for gluten-free, and I was glad to see there was a fair choice of options - I went for the rice with 3 different curries.
Ocean Grill - I've been to this on my current cruise in it's usual form and when it was acting as a pop up Indian (there's no Sindhu on Adonia). Whilst we were there I ate prawn cocktail (so basic but I love it) and an absolutely heavenly surf and turf steak.
Glass House - I visited the Glass House on Azura and fell in love with it back in 2016 prior to going gluten-free, so I had free reign of their amazing menu. I'm due to visit Glass House on Adonia this evening for a cabaret dinner with the ship's fabulous singer Kelly Young - I'm hoping the food will be just as good, I've preordered my food to keep it safe.
There are a few things that I think P&O could improve on - signage in the buffets for cooked foods would be fantastic, though I totally appreciate why this might be difficult.
Another amazing addition would be gluten-free burgers and buns at the lido burger stations - Holland America did something similar and their burgers were to die for. There seem to be a few crossed lines on my current cruise - I was under the impression the burger patties were safe and was served one in some gluten-free bread, however another coeliac cruiser had been told they weren't safe. Communication is key! (moral of the story, don't rely on other people to relay information)
On the whole though, P&O look after you perfectly well - you'll never go hungry and they are always happy to answer any questions you may have about the food being served.
Also on a positive closing note, just in case the Adonia chef is reading - I could quite happily live on your gluten-free Opera Cake!
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I've loved travelling for as long as I can remember, though during my first years in the sunshine I probably had much less appreciation for cultures, architecture and scenery and more for the amount of ice cream I could eat and the quality of my sandcastle building.Gluten Free Horizons