GOOD TO KNOW: http://bit.ly/1Tv3GT1
Specialties: buffet, dining room, specialty dining (additional charge), fast food (additional charge)
Gluten-free: excellent menu in the dining room, no labeling at the buffet
Other: room service is available at no extra charge
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Cruise ship cuisine - gluten-free dining on the high seas
Three women, one cruise ship, and five days of dancing equals one crazy girls trip on the first ever Zumba Cruise. In January, Mindy, Teri and I boarded Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas amped for tropical temperatures, exotic ports of call (Haiti and Jamaica), and the promise of food, fun, and sun.
Food is a big deal on cruises. There's a lot of it, it's readily available, and with a few exceptions, it's included in the cost of the cruise. Prior to our trip, I was uneasy about dining on the ship. Would they have anything gluten-free? Could I trust the kitchen staff to take appropriate care in preparing my food? I had visions of being stuck on a floating resort, wasting away and hangry while surrounded by the most enticing gluten-filled food known to humankind. Food allergies and intolerances are becoming more prevalent and many companies -- including cruise lines -- are doing their best to accommodate high maintenance eaters. Royal Caribbean is no exception. Here's what I found onboard:
Gluten-free at Windjammers Cafe
The Independence of the Seas relies on Windjammers Cafe, an enormous buffet with spectacular ocean views, to feed the masses throughout the day. Buffets are not my favorite for several reasons but they are especially challenging for a gluten-free eater. Labeling is rare and the absence of dedicated fryers and the possibility of cross contamination make buffets the wild west of dining. Risk aside, I loved that I could pop in anytime and grab a quick bite without wasting time on full service dining and there was always a large selection of fresh fruit and salad bar items. With all the exercise we were doing (Zumba from sun up to sun down), light fresh meals were perfect for lunch. Breakfast was easy, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and bacon. I don't trust chaffing dish eggs with unknown ingredients and prefer to order from the omelet bar where they are cracking actual eggs in a pan. Gluten-free bread and buns were available at every meal for sandwiches, burgers and toast. With the exception of a sign for GF bread, nothing was labeled so I had to take my chances with the bacon, deli meat, and hamburger patties. All were fine for me.
Independence of the Seas - buffet, dining room, fast food and more
There are several options for dinner on the Independence of the Seas, the main dining room (restaurant-style), Windjammers Cafe (American and international buffet), specialty dining by reservation (additional charge), Johnny Rockets (additional charge), and Sorrento's pizza on the Promenade. We ate all but one evening meal in the main dining room which is full service and diners are seated at tables with other guests. Cocktails and wine can be ordered for an additional charge. Each evening the menu would include chef's recommendations for a three course meal along with several other choices for each course. The menu clearly denoted gluten- and dairy-free items and also did a commendable job of ensuring that there was at least one allergy-friendly item listed for each course of the meal. Also to note, the wait staff will serve gluten-free rolls upon request. The gluten-free options were interesting. For example, mango coconut soup, shrimp scampi, grilled pork chops, and spinach salad. Dessert was problematic for me since the gluten-free dessert option almost always contained dairy. Teri and Mindy assured me I wasn't missing out as they were not overly impressed with the desserts. The mark of true friendship is when your travel partners claim the pie is gelatinous and the cake is dry and flavorless. The way I see it, no dessert means more calories to use for happy hour. I enjoyed our meals in the dining room and did not experience a noticeable reaction. Be aware that cross contamination could be an issue and I didn't get a sense that the servers were all that invested in my food allergy safety.
After five days at sea, I am happy to report, I ate great food, did hours of Zumba and got a good start on my tan.
A note to readers:
I am gluten sensitive/intolerant so I am not overly concerned with possible cross contamination. If you have severe reactions, I recommend taking additional precautions.