Tag-Archive for » Food allergies «

Cruise Food's Ever-Changing World

Food has always been challenging for cruise lines, which have developed an amazing ability to handle just about everything. In the early days of cruising, the challenge was to make sure the customers didn’t refer to “cruise ship food” the way patients refer to “hospital food.”

From those pre-historic culinary times, you can now dine in restaurants that are often the equal of the finest of fine dining in big cities, and that’s become pretty much industry-wide.

But there are always glitches.

Today’s world includes more food allergies than ever before, and cruise lines have to cope. It doesn’t matter what makes the customer unhappy with their food so, while the onus is always on the person who is allergic, cruise lines want happy, satisfied clients. A big one these days is gluten…or more specifically, no gluten.

A couple of decades ago, it sounded like a word lifted from a German dictionary. Today, grocery stores have sections of gluten-free food. Restaurants in growing numbers serve gluten-free food — and that means food that has not so much as touched anything containing gluten. The reaction can be devastating for the sufferer.

We’ve started to notice more and more gluten-free items on cruise-ship menus, in part because we have a granddaughter with Celiac disease. It’s the old story, isn’t it? You don’t pay attention to things like this until it touches you.

The same goes for cruise lines. Years ago, they probably would have thought gluten might be from a German dictionary, too.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Celebrity Reflection
7 nights
December 13, 2014
Miami (return): San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Scaling Back on the Food Issue

So you're worried about packing five extra pounds, are you, after a just-completed holiday season of over-eating?


"So you're going on a one-week cruise?" said the dentist, his fingers and instruments making it impossible to answer. "I went on a cruise once and I wasn't worried about putting on weight. You know what the experts say?"

Again, no answer.

"They say — and 'they' are the experts in gaining weight — that's it's physiologically impossible to add more than two pounds in one week. It's also physiologically impossible to lose more than two pounds in one week. Physiologically impossible!"

There's another reason to relax, one that didn't come from the dentist.

Cruise lines understand passenger concerns about obesity. Their menus are increasingly health-conscious. Check any dining room menu on a ship and you'll find what's low-cal, low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian, gluten-free…items marked to cater to just above everybody's dietary concerns. When we were on the Celebrity Reflection last month, on one evening's menu 16 of the 21 items were gluten-free.

Besides that, portions are smaller. You can still eat as much as you can fit down your throat, but not usually in one serving. Two main courses? Go for it. But the cruise lines have really thrown the guilt complex back at the passenger, where it should be, of course. 

Dessert? You don't have to chow-down on all the chocolate you can find because desserts are smaller, too. Sometimes, three or four bite-sized desserts is better…and better for you.

If all else fails, naturally, you can hit the gym and work it off.

Or…just take the dentist's word for it.

Norwegian Breakaway
7 nights
April 30, 2013
Southampton, New York
 Inside: $749
Cost per day: $107

Dining Getting Royal Treatment


We spent last weekend in Las Vegas, because that's what people who like Jimmy Buffett do when he's playing his tunes for you and 15,000 of your closest friends. And speaking of friends, a woman of our vintage said "Did you eat lots of food?" after we returned, because that's what Vegas used to be known for, and obviously still is…to people who haven't been there for a while.

Well, Vegas has changed, if you hadn't noticed. No more $1.99 buffets — matter of fact, Jimmy's no cheap Buffett either — unless you're a high roller, in which case you don't frequent $1.99 buffets.

Cruise ships were known for the same thing, cheap food, and if you want to make the connection between slots and table games in both places, go ahead. Then cruise lines invented specialty restaurants, to "sell" copious amounts of upscale food for an extra $5 at first…now up to $30 or $35.

That's per person, of course.

Just like airlines are enjoying the fruits of all those extra charges, it seemed cruise lines were profiting, too.

And now?

Now, Royal Caribbean has changed the game. It's upgrading the free food. The icing is off the cake, so to speak. Now the customers want more than copious amounts…they want quality.

Here's what Royal Caribbean is doing:

1. Changing complimentary dining menus to include "dishes infused with regional flavors reflective of the destinations of the world the line’s ships sail to)…translation: dining room patrons want variety.

2. Improving choices for guests with dietary restrictions. For example, daily gluten-free bread offerings will be available upon request, for those with conditions like celiac disease. A new widely-recognized vegetarian symbol will appear in the appropriate place on menus.

3. Ramping up the quality. It's rare that you find dishes like these in the main dining room with any regularity — rack of lamb, surf & turf, premium beef sliders, escargot bourguignonne and “hot from the oven” blueberry peach crumble. You will now.

Royal Caribbean calls it the "next evolution" of dining concepts, which is fine. We call it trying to deliver what used to make cruise ships famous: cheap, good food.

Is Vegas next?

Carnival Miracle
8 nights
January 17, 2013
New York (return): Port Canaveral, Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $49

Cruising and Food Can Be a Challenge

The first four-letter word that comes with going on a cruise is food. There is always so much of it, day and night, that the suspicion is everybody who goes on a cruise comes back a different size, and the tailoring of clothes requires extra material.

There is another side to the story of food and cruising.

In this era, more and more people have discovered problems with certain foods. Allergies. Intestinal issues. We have a granddaughter who has celiac disease, so eating anything with wheat in it is an enormous problem. Our daughter was vegetarian for a number of years. All of these "issues" make it more challenging in the kitchen for cruise lines…and they can make cruising an unpleasant experience for the customers.

We have friends with dietary issues — serious ones — going on a Norwegian cruise in September. On their behalf, we made a few inquiries and discovered that Norwegian tries to be proactive. There's an email address where passengers can make their dietary preferences (aka, concerns) known in advance: accessdesk@ncl.com. Our friends promise to take notes and report back.

Norwegian, like all cruise lines, encourages passengers to request specific items from waiters in restaurants. There are no guarantees, of course, but our experience has been that most waiters will do everything in their power to accommodate you. If they don't, it's usually because they can't.

One of our best "waiter experiences" was on the Norwegian Sun. His name was Dollarege Soares, he was from Mumbai and by the end of the cruise we'd become such good friends that when we had the camera out on our last night, he gathered us all together for what he called "family picture." That had nothing to do with food, of course, but it had everything to do with customer service.

And that usually means that four-letter word.

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
September 23, 2012
Barcelona (return): Naples, Rome, Florence, Cannes, Marseille
Inside: $629
Cost per day: $89

Food allergies and cruise ships

There was an unconfirmed report on the weekend that a 21-year-old Norwegian Epic passenger died at sea from a heart attack that was alleged to have been brought on by a food allergy. When the Epic returned to port in Miami, the investigation began, and already there is innuendo and rumor that the authorities will eventually validate or not.

The death, which was confirmed by Norwegian, brings attention to the whole issue of food allergies, whether they were a contributing factor or not. Most of us for years were ignorant of, and generally indifferent to, people with serious food allergies. Our family was never knowingly affected, but is now.

Today, we have a grandchild with celiac disease, which means she has intolerance for gluten, essentially wheat that is used in more of the food we eat than we imagined before her diagnosis. We have a son-in-law who is allergic to walnuts, and nuts of any kind are a big one for people with food allergies. A friend of ours, but for the quick insertion of an epipen would have been in worse trouble than he already was. He had asked about nuts in the food on the menu, but there was some obscure “nutty” ingredient that became a problem.

Forty years ago, it wasn’t so serious, or if it was we didn’t know it. Today, it is serious stuff and the people in the cruise business didn’t need this weekend’s misfortune to get its attention. In the end, however, it’s still buyer-beware, and the onus is on those of us with serious food allergies to make sure we ask all the right questions.

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