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ardentcruiser

What's the best cruise line for dietary restrictions?

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I am lactose intolerant... beyond what a lactaid pill can fix. So I have to be very careful about avoiding dairy while cruising. My experience on cruises so far is that the buffets are difficult to figure out what is safe other than hunting down a manager to ask about a specific food. The dining rooms have "safe" entrees, but they are limited and my only dessert option is jello. Have any of you been on a cruise line or ship that did well with dietary restrictions? 

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Yes.........in my experience seeing people with life threatening allergies, higher class restaurants generally have more control, better-informed staff, and take more care to avoid cross contamination.   While almost any cruise line will be able to help you out 95% of the time, if it's really important to you, I'd choose a luxury line. 

One of my very good cruising friends also has a serious dairy allergy, and I've seen how well her concerns have been treated on our cruises on Crystal.  Unfortunately, jello is often the common dairy-free dessert (she mentioned the very same thing).

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30 minutes ago, ardentcruiser said:

I am lactose intolerant... beyond what a lactaid pill can fix. So I have to be very careful about avoiding dairy while cruising. My experience on cruises so far is that the buffets are difficult to figure out what is safe other than hunting down a manager to ask about a specific food. The dining rooms have "safe" entrees, but they are limited and my only dessert option is jello. Have any of you been on a cruise line or ship that did well with dietary restrictions? 

Fruit, especially berries, are a wonderful dessert IMO.  All grilled meats, fish, poultry.  Vegetables without cream gravies.  What are the dishes that have proved perplexing for you?

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10 minutes ago, clo said:

All grilled meats, fish, poultry.  Vegetables without cream gravies.  What are the dishes that have proved perplexing for you?

But those meats could be grilled with butter, or there could be some Parmesan added to the crusted bread topping.  There might be butter used on baked goods (sometimes just to brown the crust or stick the sesame seeds to the top of the hamburger bun), and some frozen-to-fried foods also contain milk products (like french fries and chicken nuggets). 

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4 minutes ago, calliopecruiser said:

But those meats could be grilled with butter, or there could be some Parmesan added to the crusted bread topping.  There might be butter used on baked goods (sometimes just to brown the crust or stick the sesame seeds to the top of the hamburger bun), and some frozen-to-fried foods also contain milk products (like french fries and chicken nuggets). 

I've never heard of grilling anything with butter and a "crusted bread topping" wouldn't then be grilled.   Here's some do's and don'ts.  I don't give medical advice but if affected I would only trust baked goods that were personally made for me.  As far as French fries or chicken nuggets, how could they contain dairy products?

 

But all in all I'm saying that as commonplace as lactose-intolerant has become that the cruise people will be knowledgeable.

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8 minutes ago, clo said:

I would only trust baked goods that were personally made for me. 

Exactly -- and that's why you'd do better with a luxury line where your food is more likely to get personalized service.

 

You've never heard of grilling in butter?  Not at all uncommon.  The crusted bread topping was actually a comment about veg (eg baked cauliflower, which often has a crusted bread topping), but I didn't make that clear.  Frozen foods (especially frozen breaded foods) often use a milk powder to add a stickiness and texture to the coating. 

As for french fries, this is from the McDonald's website about their French fries: "Ingredients: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat and Milk Derivatives]*), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Maintain Color), Salt. *Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients.

Contains: WHEAT, MILK."
Obviously not all frozen fries contain dairy ingredients, but if you're not doing the shopping, you wouldn't know for sure.  Hey, even the waiters probably don't know. 

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The smaller the ship, the better thy are at handling food intolerance and allergies.  

 

I've cruised four lines.

 

Disney was good in the dining rooms but so-so on the buffet.  

 

Royal Caribbean was scary--they told me to go ahead and eat something that visibly had one of my allergens in it.

 

On Paul Gauguin they really didn't want to deal with it.  They served me something with an allergen in it and while I didn't have Anaphylaxis, I did have a reaction.

 

Windstar was excellent.  One of the servers was "assigned" to me to make sure everything I ate was safe.  They have a specific area of the kitchen where special diets are prepared to cut back on the possibility of cross contamination.  

 

I would imagine Oceania is another good option--they are known for the best food at sea.

 

 

 

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26 minutes ago, calliopecruiser said:

Exactly -- and that's why you'd do better with a luxury line where your food is more likely to get personalized service.

 

You've never heard of grilling in butter?  Not at all uncommon.  The crusted bread topping was actually a comment about veg (eg baked cauliflower, which often has a crusted bread topping), but I didn't make that clear.  Frozen foods (especially frozen breaded foods) often use a milk powder to add a stickiness and texture to the coating. 

As for french fries, this is from the McDonald's website about their French fries: "Ingredients: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat and Milk Derivatives]*), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Maintain Color), Salt. *Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients.

Contains: WHEAT, MILK."
Obviously not all frozen fries contain dairy ingredients, but if you're not doing the shopping, you wouldn't know for sure.  Hey, even the waiters probably don't know. 


I've never heard of grilling in butter.  Sauteing, sure, but grilling?  How is that possible?  You toss the food on the hot grills and cook it.  Butter would just drip off.

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1 hour ago, ducklite said:


I've never heard of grilling in butter.  Sauteing, sure, but grilling?  How is that possible?  You toss the food on the hot grills and cook it.  Butter would just drip off.

Ditto.  I'm as much into cooking as I am into dining (maybe even more) and I've never heard of it.  I still think it would be really, really easy.  Meat/poultry/seafood, vegetables, fruits, salads with practically every topping.  Hopefully OP will return and let us know what the bugaboos are.

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2 hours ago, ducklite said:

Sauteing, sure, but grilling?  How is that possible?

The butter is on top!  It melts in as it cooks.

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Just now, calliopecruiser said:

The butter is on top!  It melts in as it cooks.


It must be a Canadian thing.  I"m sure a person could order a grilled item without butter.

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Just now, ducklite said:

I"m sure a person could order a grilled item without butter.

One can order a lot of things.......the question is whether you'll actually get what you asked for, or whether you'll get what they usually do.   And that's where the difficulty comes in, and where a smaller kitchen and a luxury line would be a benefit.   (I knew a person who is allergic to herbs - but some dill in the mayo that her server didn't know about meant she needed to use her EpiPen halfway through her lunch.)

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28 minutes ago, calliopecruiser said:

The butter is on top!  It melts in as it cooks.

I belong to a food site but hate to argue with you on a cruise site.  But neither butter nor anything else is absorbed into 'meat.'  I've been known on occasion with a special steak to put a little pat of butter on it after it comes off the grill prior to serving.

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Thanks for the comments everyone! Let me further explain my issue. Dairy sneaks into all sorts of restaurant food. As already mentioned, butter is commonly put on top of steaks after they have been cooked. This is the case in many normal restaurants (outback, ruth's chris) as well as on the cruise (RC Chops, japanese steakhouse, and so on). While that can be easily dealt with, it is the unknown that makes it hard, particularly in the buffets. Chili, omelets (milk mixed into the egg sauce), soups, rolls, salad dressings, curry, hamburgers, and many other all have the potential of having dairy. On the Disney cruise someone was able to point out which foods were safe. On RC, it took a lot of effort to find someone, and then they had to go back and talk to someone else. I could easily spend 30 minutes just finding out if food are safe, and that gets to be tiresome. 

 

RC menus now say "lactose free options available" but I found the waiters to not be very knowledgeable about what that menu. And, as I already said, they have very limited dessert options. I can only eat so much jello or fruit for dessert! 

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I would suggest not waiting until you get on the ship, but discuss your food allergies with the line in advance, not trying to just find stuff once you are on board.  One option would be to request your main course meat meals be kosher*. But this is something you need to request several weeks in advance.  

 

Kosher food can contain milk, but milk and meat can not be mixed so if you get kosher beef or chicken — no milk.  These meal are prepared in advance of the cruise and then frozen. Kosher fish meal could contain dairy unless it is Parve.  And this trick will fail miserably if you are attempting a dairy free pork chop. 🙂

 

Likewise you could request some vegan food.  

 

And even on the ship requesting a meal with your requirement for tomorrow will be easier for the chef to prepare you a specific meal than asking at dinner time when all the food is already prepared.

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Posted (edited)
27 minutes ago, ardentcruiser said:

Thanks for the comments everyone! Let me further explain my issue. Dairy sneaks into all sorts of restaurant food. As already mentioned, butter is commonly put on top of steaks after they have been cooked. This is the case in many normal restaurants (outback, ruth's chris) as well as on the cruise (RC Chops, japanese steakhouse, and so on). While that can be easily dealt with, it is the unknown that makes it hard, particularly in the buffets. Chili, omelets (milk mixed into the egg sauce), soups, rolls, salad dressings, curry, hamburgers, and many other all have the potential of having dairy. On the Disney cruise someone was able to point out which foods were safe. On RC, it took a lot of effort to find someone, and then they had to go back and talk to someone else. I could easily spend 30 minutes just finding out if food are safe, and that gets to be tiresome. 

 

RC menus now say "lactose free options available" but I found the waiters to not be very knowledgeable about what that menu. And, as I already said, they have very limited dessert options. I can only eat so much jello or fruit for dessert! 

Thanks for following up here.

 

Egg - get 'em fried.  Soups - clear broth-based.  Salad dressing - if clear I can't think of one that would have a dairy product but perhaps DIY oil and vinegar.  I've never known of a hamburger that had dairy in it that it wasn't listed - as a plus 🙂 - on the menu.  Like some have cheese in the patty.

 

I just googled lactose free on cruise ships and found a ton of info.  And here's one from CC.  https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=548530

 

And if desserts that important to you, well, you may be SOL 🙂  Or carry some special things.

Edited by clo
add info

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My wife is lactose intolerant and allergic to shellfish. The lactose intolerance does not include butter, but is bad enough that if she is accidentally given some lactose, we pack up for the coming trip to the hospital.

 

On Princess, the Headwaiters are great. The first night we ask to see the one for our table. He goes over the menu with my wife and helps with her selections. Then each evening   during dinner, he brings over the menu for the next night. Sometimes, he offers specials not on the menu.

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You may want to consider a line that has fixed dining as an option.  You would have the same team of servers who would get to know your needs and you won't have to explain things over and over at each meal.  Whenever that is suggested however, some balk at being tied down to the same dining room and time.   You have to weigh one inconvenience versus the other. 

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We travelled on P&O and became friendly with a couple that we always joined up for the evening meal. It was freedom dining and having informed the maitre d' on the first night that she had various allergies they would bring her the following night's menu which she would go through and ask for alterations/substitutions, etc.  Never failed once and this was despite not sitting at the same table every night.

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3 hours ago, BlueRiband said:

You have to weigh one inconvenience versus the other. 

Good point.  And not just for food.  Any deviation from the standard will cause compromise.

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1 hour ago, babs135 said:

We travelled on P&O and became friendly with a couple that we always joined up for the evening meal. It was freedom dining and having informed the maitre d' on the first night that she had various allergies they would bring her the following night's menu which she would go through and ask for alterations/substitutions, etc.  Never failed once and this was despite not sitting at the same table every night.


This is what happened with me on Disney.  On Windstar they brought me that evenings menu in the morning as I was finishing breakfast.  

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5 hours ago, BlueRiband said:

.   You have to weigh one inconvenience versus the other. 

 

I would think the "inconvenience" of having a meal that was specially prepared for you delivered to your table would be significantly less than the "inconvenience" of needing to hunt down someone who knows the ingredients of each item on the buffet then hoping the permitted items didn't suffer cross contamination by someone using the wrong service spoon.    

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I recently was on HAL Zuiderdam for fixed dinner. My sister is allergic to milk and I was trying to minimize my calories.  We both ordered the night before looking at the following day menu. My sister enjoyed her food and didn't get sick.  Steak, pork chops etc. I was happy asking for no dairy and no fat since I didn't want any hidden butter. It worked out great.

We brought our own dessert but my sister had some sorbet. She was never sure if the sorbet was actually dairy free but she didn't get sick.

Good luck!

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Not lactose intolerant but vegan here.  We have had the best luck doing the following:

1.  Calling or emailing the cruise line's special needs department before we leave.

2.  Visiting the Maitre'd during his "open" hours in the dining room on embarkation day to make sure our needs have been communicated and see if they have any questions.  This is also the best way to have dinner the first night go smoothly.

3.  Have "fixed" time dining vs what ever incarnation of "my time" the cruise line has.  You keep your same waitstaff every night so you don't have to keep re-explaining things.

4.  Ordering the next nights meal at dinner.  The only time we have not done this was on Carnival last December and they asked if they could just surprise us each night.  This went fine, everything was good but it ended up being too much food for me as I don't generally eat an appetizer, entree and dessert.

5.  Speaking with one of the higher chef level people at the buffet vs one of the line cooks/servers.

 

I believe if you have an actual allergy they prepare your food in a separate kitchen so that would limit the cross contamination issues more but I think that is why they want you to order ahead of time also.

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2 minutes ago, HangryGrl said:

 

 

I believe if you have an actual allergy they prepare your food in a separate kitchen so that would limit the cross contamination issues more but I think that is why they want you to order ahead of time also.

Even if it isn't a different kitchen it is more convenient to isolate the three or four desserts with non dairy whip topping, before adding whipped cream to the rest and contaminating the equipment.  At least that is how we do it with guests at home with various food allergies.       

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