Having just had 3 days of stress trying to find somewhere we could all eat, what I wanted ideally was a stress-free experience. The lesson learnt? If there isn't a dietary meeting, communication is SO important.
On our first night, we ate in one of the four dining rooms. We were taken to our seats by one of the head waiters, who explained the usual cruise ship procedure of ordering the night before. He went through that evening's menu with what I could and couldn't have. There are some always available options such as chicken and salmon like my experience on P&O Cruises, although unlike the sister company gluten free options aren't marked on the menu.
It's a small difference but a big difference - it means if you decide to go to a premium restaurant or the buffet one night, you don't have to worry about pre-ordering quite as much.
Our first day was a sea day as we had a two-day sail to Bali, and we'd split up to do different activities - my parents had played shuffleboard and I'd been off at a ukelele lesson. As it looked like I was eating on my own I didn't want to sit in a restaurant area - I initially went to the buffet which was a little too crowded - I'm a bit claustrophobic in crowds.
I then went to the grill and pizza places on the deck. There was a queue at both, but the pizza place was serving slices of huge pizzas rather than individual pizzas like on Holland America (which I'd got the impression Princess's food was similar to). So it appeared that wasn't going to be an option.
I went to the grill area and asked if anything was safe even if served without the buns, and was told that the burger patties and hot dog sausages all contained gluten and that the fries were cross contaminated. At least they were clear on that front.
I waited another hour or so for the queue in the buffet to go down and finally fought my way through to the counter, where I asked one of the cooks if he could tell me what on the hot food section was safe. The conversation went something like this:
Me:Hi there, could you tell me if any of this is gluten free please?
Cook 1: Uhhh... gluten free?
Me: Yes, without gluten or wheat.
Cook 1: Mmmm *grabs another guy and pushes him towards me*
Me: Hi, I was wondering if any of this is gluten free?
Cook 2: I don't know, one moment...
Me: *waits patiently*
Cook 2: *Returning* Wait, what was it? Gluten?
Me: Yes, gluten free.
Cook 2: Ummm... *disappears*
Then one of the boss chefs appears
Chef: What are you looking for?
Me: I was wondering if any of this is gluten free?
Me: ... well thanks
Chef: We can make gluten free pizza (note that this was said with an air of 'But it's kind of inconvenient')
Me: *not overly confident in what I was going to receive, I slope off to get a plate of sad looking salad leaves*
So that was that. I took my depressing looking salad to the back deck, just as my parents appeared. Shame on me, in a moment of weakness I did what anyone hormonal and already having had 3 days stressing about food in Singapore does... I had a little frustrated cry.
It's so daft in retrospect, I fully admit that, but if you're reading this and have a dietary requirement with the potential to make you ill, you'll know that something like the availability of safe food can really make or break your holiday. It was my first visit to Southeast Asia - I didn't want to be suffering from being glutened! Three days of feeling crap on my Caribbean cruise was enough!
Seeing as I had company, I wiped away my frustration and we went down to Alfredo's, an Italian restaurant in the ship's Piazza, where we'd already established that they could do gluten-free pizza. That was perfectly fine, a bit overcooked and cardboardy, but an improvement on limp lettuce.
I'm not one to say boo to a goose normally, something I need to start getting over where my gluten sensitivity is concerned. My mum is, however, which is how a strongly worded letter ended up getting written to the Maitre D'Hotel, who dutifully came and saw me that evening.
From then on... it couldn't have been better. I was quite persistently chased by several head waiters, we suddenly got a plethora of information that hadn't been made available before, cakes sent to our cabin, the whole shebang! I even had desserts brought up from the MDR for me.
So moaning aside, here's what you need to know.
At breakfast time the hot buffet offers American and British Bacon, along with scrambled eggs and fried eggs. Outside the buffet area is a toast area that had gluten free bread and a separate toaster. There was also an omelette station where you can choose lots of different fillings and have the omelette freshly cooked. Contamination warning though - one of the fillings is sausage which I was told wasn't gluten free - I don't think they clean pans between omelette so those with extreme sensitivity may get ill from this. If you want something more continental there is fruit and cheeses on the buffet and gluten free cereal if you ask a manager for it.
At lunch and dinner time, find a manager, one of the guys wandering round in the suit, to get you the information about what on the hot buffet is gluten free. Don't rely on the waiters or guys behind the counters to give you the correct information. There was usually some form of grilled or roast meat that was safe with salad or vegetables.
There were a few different dining rooms to choose from depending whether you were on anytime dining or set dining - each serves the same food but with different themed decor. We preferred to eat in the Pacific Moon Dining Room. As I mentioned, each has the standard procedure of preordering. The food quality is good, the desserts can be hit and miss.
As well as the option of Alfredo's, which is more of a smart casual setting, it eventually turned out you could have pizza from the Prego Pizzeria station on the lido deck, just give the guy 15 minutes to prepare it. It's made as an individual pizza in a pan so it doesn't touch the oven floor where normal pizza has been - I also observed the guy used clean utensils to cut it. This pizza was actually a lot nicer than the one in Alfredo's.
There was an ice cream bar (I think it was called Sundae's) on the Lido deck, which offers soft serve ice cream which you can get in a cup instead of in a cone. There were also milkshakes available for a nominal fee - just make sure they don't put malt in and ask if there is a clean blender available.
This is found downstairs in the Piazza and offers coffees and snacks - the only gluten free options were salads and the occasional questionable gluten free dessert. They seem obsessed with tapioca pudding.
Overall, the offering for gluten free requirements on Princess Cruises was ok, but the initial communication was poor, perhaps a bit of my bad but also not a huge amount of introductory information from their end. No matter what your experience on other cruise ships, only take advice from the managers when enquiring about whether food is safe for you to eat. Princess Cruises would really benefit from offering dietary meetings on the first day as I know some other lines do, otherwise offer more information about where on the ship will be able to offer gluten free food.
I apologise for the length of the ranting on this blog post, but the initial bad experience really did seem as though it was going to put a downer on the whole trip. Have you travelled on Princess Cruises with a dietary requirement? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below.
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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