On top-tier cruise lines such as Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises, the food and beverage teams go to great lengths to find out each passenger's dining requirements and will make arrangements days in advance to allow for the best gluten-free dishes available.
With that all being said, the onus is still on the traveler to take control of the vacation and to make sure he or she can actually enjoy the adventure in the moment instead of worrying about each meal as it comes.
✓ Do your homework. Before boarding, make sure all dining preference documentation indicates that you are gluten free.
✓ Have a face to face. Once on board, ask to meet with the food and beverage director or restaurant manager. It never hurts to put a face to the name. Explain that you are gluten free and looking for the best options available.
✓ Up your culinary game. Scout out the specialty dining experiences and tasting menus. The more high-end your experience, the higher the likelihood that the cruise line will bend over backward to please you. Putting an order in for a gluten-free tasting menu with wine pairings will go a long way.
✓ Plan your activities. Prebook excursions to determine which meals you will be eating on land. Sit down with your excursion concierge while on board to make sure any land meals are gluten free. In the case of cruising with Azamara, staff can make a gluten-free meal to go.
✓ Buffet beware. When in doubt as to what’s in something on the buffet, ask! If you’re at the morning buffet and are unsure of a dish’s ingredients because it’s not properly labeled, ask for the manager on duty. He or she will have a list of each food item on the buffet, including ingredients. Better safe than sorry.
While many cruise lines have upped their gluten-free game, Azamara Club Cruises, with its small ships and high-quality approach, has emerged as a leader in championing the gluten-free onboard experience. This boutique upmarket cruise line, which traditionally had two ships, has expanded its fleet with its newest vessel, the Azamara Pursuit. The company has added three new land-and-sea experiences in South America, coupled with its exclusive partnership with Celebrity Cruises in the Galapagos.
Azamara’s signature Destination Immersion program offers travelers the option to stay longer and experience more—that means everything from the sites to the food in unique global destinations, including 200 ports in 70 countries. The cruise line takes pride in its onboard and off-ship culinary and gluten-free experiences.
For those dining on board, the ships have two specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, along with a range of culinary experiences, such as chef’s table meals and five-course menus with wine pairings. Each of those menus, alongside specialty ones, can accommodate gluten-free orders and clearly indicate gluten-free items on all of their menus as well as buffet items.
Given customer service is at the forefront of their offering, Azamara takes food intolerances and allergies seriously. “At the beginning of every voyage, we invite those guests who during their booking mentioned they have any intolerance for a meet and greet with the restaurant manager and discuss their needs,” said Robert van Rijsbergen, corporate executive chef. “We also give those guests our dietary menu, which gives them an indication of what we can offer or prepare.”
Keeping track of guests who need to be gluten free at all times is no easy feat, which is why Azamara utilized a restaurant tracking system. “In order to keep track of those guests, we work with a restaurant system called SilverWare POS,” said van Rijsbergen. “In the system, all those special requests or dietary needs are mentioned there by guest name, so when a guest makes a reservation, we’re aware.”
Oceania Cruises, too, strives to make its gluten-free experience seamless. Bernhard Klotz, senior culinary director, believes that hospitality at its core means that everyone should have the best experience they possibly can. “The core tenant of any hospitality organization is to make people feel welcome and cared for,” he explained. “So you could say, we do gluten-free experiences because we want to; we want to ensure everyone that travels with us can focus on their destination experience and creating new memories.”
Within reason, Klotz believes pretty much any dish served on board can be made gluten free. When speaking with guests, the food and beverage team gathers as much information as possible about intolerances, allergies and preferences before the dining begins. Oceania also trains its staff to be cognizant of those who are gluten free so that everyone from the waiter to the kitchen staff is ready and able to execute a gluten-free order. “We brief all the galley and dining rooms staff in all the restaurants so that [they] are aware, no matter where on the ship the guests are dining,” he added.
The kitchen staff also prides itself on the array of gluten-free desserts available for guests. Specialties include gluten-free cakes, pies, tortes and cookies plus a wide assortment of items like ice creams, sorbets and puddings. ■