Vacation Planning for Celiacs: Cruises


It turned cold very early this fall in New York, as it has in much of North America. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking of taking a vacation somewhere warm. One thing that I’ve never tried is a cruise. I’ve taken day-long boat trips in places like Newfoundland and Chile, but that’s just not the same thing.

My daydreaming may have been inspired by a reader, Barbara Collins, who wrote to me in July to share her fantastic experience onboard a Holland America cruise ship. You can read her letter in this post. It was extremely encouraging to hear that a cruise line would go above and beyond the basics to take care of a wheat-allergic and gluten-intolerant traveler.

What I’ve discovered so far is that many cruise lines seem willing to accommodate people on gluten-free diets and other special diets. Each cruise line seems to have a different policy on the subject. Most seem to have a special requests form that you must fill out, often weeks in advance of your cruise. While I haven’t tried any of the following cruise lines — yet — all of them sound pretty great.

Carnival: “Guests with special diets can be accommodated on Carnival Cruise Line,” boasts the company’s website. In addition to gluten-free, Carnival offers meals for a range of special diets, including vegetarian, low sugar, and low fat.

Disney Cruise Line: While advance notice is required to accommodate special diets — at the time of booking the cruise is strongly recommended — Disney is able to prepare meals for an incredible range of special diets. Vegetarian options are widely available on its ships, as a matter of course.

MSC Cruises: Given that Italy is a world leader in celiac awareness, it’s no surprise that this Italian cruise line takes special care of its gluten-free guests. However, there are different offerings on its different vessels. According to MSC’s website, “MSC Cruises works closely with the AIC-Associazione Italiana Celiachia (Italian Celiac Association) to provide gluten-free menus in the restaurants of MSC Fantasia, MSC Musica, MSC Orchestra and MSC Poesia cruising in the Mediterranean and in Northern Europe. On MSC Splendida, MSC Lirica, MSC Opera, MSC Sinfonia, MSC Armonia, [and] MSC Melody, guests can find pre-packaged gluten-free products like snacks, biscuits, croissants, plumcakes and muffins.”

Princess: This cruise line emphasizes “personal choice dining” so there are plenty of options. Gluten-free, dairy-free, salt-free, MSG-free, and vegan meals are all available — when arranged for in advance of sailing.

Royal Caribbean: Special diets this line accommodates include gluten-free, low-sodium, and low-fat. They are also happy to accommodate those with food allergies. These meals should all be arranged in advance. Note that vegetarian meals are also available without any advance notification. As Royal Caribbean says, “We make every effort to accommodate our guests’ dietary requirements whenever possible.”

I’d love to hear about your cruise experiences. Please let me know how well you were able to eat while at sea.

11 thoughts on “Vacation Planning for Celiacs: Cruises

  1. I have found from years of experience that Holland America also does gluten free very well. Holland America has tours from Alaska, the Carabbean, Europe, to New Zealand/Australia, and more. Also, Vantage and Viking tours in Europe are excellent. We have traveled on the rivers from Amsterdam to the Black Sea on various legs of river boat trips with Vantage ( The sightseeing (all included) is excellent and they do gluten free very well. It helps to have translated restaurant cards (laminate several to have with you) in English and the country’s language in which you are traveling for both the ship chef and off-shore restaurants.

    Janet Y. Rinehart
    Chairman, Houston Celiac Support Group

  2. As with all other areas of the service industry, I firmly believe you get what you pay for.

    Carnival would equate Applebee’s, where Crystal equates Four Seasons.
    That is however a biased and personal opinion. Mine.
    For each dollar spent on food costs at Carnival, Crystal will spend six.
    That is a fact.

    With a little pre planning and firm requests you can be safe on most ships.

  3. Greetings from São Paulo, Brazil!

    I have discovered your website by accident and I think it´s wonderful! Very practical and filled with useful information!


  4. I am also trying to plan a European cruise with my son (19) who has celiac disease, and my safe choice would be Disney but that’s all we have done since he was diagnosed. I would like to do something different but am afraid for him. Have you found any further information? Which cruise line would you definately stay away from? Which would you highly recommend?
    Thank You!

  5. I have cruised with Carnival twice. The first time was fantastic. They took special care in the formal dining room to make sure my every need was met. They made me superb desserts ( I am also dairy free) and I was blown away.
    The second cruise they seemed confused about what I needed. The hostess actually told me that “sometimes the chef’s aren’t very creative”. I basically had to fend for myself on the dinner and they were unable to make any dessert I could eat except for sorbet.
    When I wrote them explaining the issue I had, they didn’t even care! They just said they were sorry I had a bad experience and hoped to welcome me back again.
    I am looking forward to cruising again, but will NEVER go Carnival again.

  6. My wife and I are thinking of going on a Carnival Cruise trip into Progresso, Mexico, and Cozumel. It is a five Day cruise coming out of out of Mobile. Anyone have experience with this particular voyage? I aren’t able to find out much information with reference to Progresso

  7. My wife and I are thinking about heading for a Carnival Cruise ship to Progresso, Mexico, as well as Cozumel. It is a 5 Day get-away going out of Mobile. Anyone have any experience with this type of cruise? We cannot obtain much information regarding Progresso

  8. We recently cruised with Carnival. IT was a total disapointment. The first evening, I received a cold rock hard piece of tough as nails chicken.
    I had to order a day in advance for every meal without any assistance from any crew member. Each plate was placed in front of me at least 6 minutes before any other guest at the table. And took at least 45 minutes to arrive while I watched them eat good tasting breads in variety. The GF bread was not even cooked all the way the first two nights.

    Lunch was served in a different dining room. The service was terrible. Since I have no idea if the Iced Tea mix is GF, I brought a tea bag with me and asked for hot water. After 30 minutes of waiting and asking for it 4 times, I walked to the poolside buffet to get a cup of hot water myself. The server in that dining room stood around chatting with guests who she served at dinner every evening instead of get hot water for my tea.

    I requested fried onions on my burger and cheese. The burger was a hocky puck and burnt thru. I was so hungry that I ate what I could force down and left without the rest of the party.

    The dinners the rest of the cruse, I just ate my food and left early.

    You are supposed to GAIN weight on a cruise. I lost 6 pounds on mine.

    Before we left we called the Carnival agent to check on my options. We were assured that I would have a wonderful dining experience. Frankly, even choclate melting cake gets tiredsome by the 8th time you have eaten it. And if you plan on serving the exact same bread 3 times a day for 7 days, it had should taste out of this world. THe bread that I was served was grainy and tasted strange.

    We will not be crusing Carnival again.

  9. I’m getting ready to go on a Disney Dream cruise in November. It should be an interesting experience since I can’t eat Gluten, Meat or Dairy. I let the cruise line know when I called but he didn’t seem to understand the extent of my allergy. I asked if they had salad bars and he said “no, but you can eat all the vegetarian pizza you want”. I didn’t say anything, but I doubt they have gluten free /vegan cheese pizza’s on board! I’m going to bring a box of my favorite raw/vegan protein bars just in case! I’m so excited about going..I’m not going to let the food or lack there-of affect my cruise experience! I run into problems everywhere, so I’m used to it!

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