I was slightly apprehensive about eating gluten free on our first cruise, but had wanted to go on a cruise for a long time.
I learned that cruising gluten free is not only possible, but it's actually easy. You just need to know what to look for and what questions to ask. For more information on how to eat out gluten free, read How to Eat Gluten Free in Restaurants.
Our First Cruise
Charlie and I went on our first cruise ever with Celebrity on their Infinity ship. I'm not being compensated in any way for this post. I'm simply sharing what I learned on our own personal vacation.
We didn't know much about cruising before we headed into this trip. Several friends had told us how much they like to go on cruises. I felt that I really needed to bask in the Caribbean sun during our cold Canadian winter. We also chose the timing of our trip to follow our Christmas visit with family, when we would be in Florida anyway. You may remember last week's post, where I told about our visit to St. Augustine, Florida, on our way to Fort Lauderdale. I booked a room with a balcony, because if this was our one and only cruise, I wanted it to be nice!
As is typical of cruises, there was always an abundance of food! Several people we talked to on the ship who cruise often told us that they like Celebrity's food the best. How wonderful that the trip I happened to book had the best food! I had no idea, but I'm so glad that it did!
There is always food of some sort available at the buffet. A dining room is open at mealtimes. Burgers and fries are available by the pool area for those times when we don't want to get out of our swimsuits to eat. We can also order room service from a smaller menu. All of these options are included with the purchase of any ticket on the ship.
Smaller, more intimate dining rooms are also offered at an additional cost, but we didn't feel the need to explore any of those.
Cruising Gluten Free
Each dish that wasn't obviously a single ingredient was labeled with a name and allergy information. Choosing my food from the buffet became a simple matter of scanning the labels for the little GF.
A dedicated toaster was tucked in beside a loaf of gluten free bread (in its original packaging) for the servers to use for us at the bread station.
In the dining room, our server started each meal by asking if anyone at our table had food allergies or sensitivities. We ordered from a menu with no prices on it and could ask for as many appetizers, entrees, and desserts as we wanted! A label on the menu marked the items that were gluten free without alterations.
While I was content to choose something from the menu that was already gluten free, the kitchen staff would have made adjustments to other dishes for me where possible, if I ordered ahead.
The servers brought me gluten free bread and offered to bring me separate butter. (I just made sure to take my butter first before anyone else dipped into it.)
Burgers by the pool were gluten free, so I could enjoy a burger with all the toppings as long as I didn't have a bun. I don't know it they would have had gluten free buns; I didn't ask.
The french fries at the pool burger bar were also gluten free. It's not often that french fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer. If battered things with gluten in them have been cooked in the same oil as the french fries, the french fries are not safe for us celiac and gluten intolerant people to eat. The french fries were hot and good! I really enjoyed that rare treat!
While we really enjoyed the other people we met in the dining room, I wanted to experience a room service breakfast on our balcony at least once. Floating on the water as we docked at Key West, there was plenty going on to watch as we dined on bacon and eggs.
What does a cruise ship room look like?
Our balcony room was plenty big enough for us. Of course, we're used to traveling with an RV! The bathroom was lovely. I would say that the finishes would compare to an upscale RV.
Our Caribbean Itinerary
Our cruise was a five night Caribbean cruise. We boarded the ship about noon on Day 1 and could immediately start to enjoy the buffet and pool, even though our luggage might not have been in our room until closer to dinner time.
Day 2 was spent "at sea." That means that we didn't get off the ship all day, so there was time to explore the amenities offered. For Day 3, we docked at Cozumel, Mexico. We could get off the ship, explore the city, and reboard whenever we wished, as long as we were back before 5 p.m. when we set sail again. (I think they use the term sail even though it's not actually a sail boat.)
I didn't eat in Cozumel because I was concerned about not getting safe, gluten free food with the language barrier. Had we been spending longer there, I would have needed to do some research ahead of time and figure out where I could eat.
We spent the morning exploring the shops in town, came back to the ship for lunch, and relaxed in the pools for the afternoon. Experienced cruisers tell us that they sometimes like to stay on the ship during port days, because the ship is less busy then.
Day 4 was at sea; Day 5 we spent in Key West, Florida; and on Day 6 we disembarked first thing in the morning back in Fort Lauderdale where we had begun our voyage.
I'll share pictures of Key West in a future blog post.
Did we get seasick?
People who've never cruised ask about the motion of the ship and what it feels like to be so far away from shore that you can't see it. I have one friend who was put off because of a bad experience with rough weather on her first cruise.
I must say that the sea was perfectly calm for our entire journey. We were hardly even aware of the movement of the ship. Cruise lines avoid traveling to particular areas of the world in the seasons that they typically have bad weather.
Were we bored on the ship?
While this was a short cruise, we found that there was more than enough to do. Of course on port days, there's a new place to discover and explore. On at-sea days, we worked out in the gym, soaked in the pools, relaxed in the sun, ate too much food in the dining rooms, and enjoyed evening entertainment in the beautiful theatre.
Would I Cruise Again?
I booked this cruise with the idea that it was a bucket-list thing to do. We have so many hopes and dreams for RV trips, overseas flights, and general activities with family that we'd like to accomplish yet, that I didn't know if we would necessarily go on more than one cruise.
Now that I've gone on my first cruise, I certainly hope to go again! I think it's the best way to relax, be pampered, and see other parts of the world without worrying about traffic, parking, or shlepping luggage around!
5 Things I Learned on My First Cruise
You Meet Interesting People!
On the Celebrity Infinity, we had the choice of dining at a fixed time (two choices) at the same table every day or flexible dining. With flexible dining, you have the option to make a reservation or not. We didn't make a reservation, because we didn't want to be tied to a particular time.
When we arrived at the dining room, we were given the option of waiting for a table for two, or sitting with others. After choosing to sit with others the first time, we always did that.
We met such interesting people: several couples who've cruised 30 to 50 times; the man from Australia who works in Egypt but whose partner is in Canada, so they meet on cruises rather than in northern Ontario when he gets time off in the winter; the mother taking her son for his 21st birthday; the sisters taking their mother for her 90th! People told us of their favourite trips: Galapagos Islands, Suez Canal, Mediterranean, African safaris, Alaska, and the primitive island reached from Hawaii.
We looked forward to lively, entertaining conversation around the table each evening.
People Cruise a Lot!
Of all the people we talked to, we met only one other couple who were also on their first cruise! Most of the people on board cruise quite regularly - like four time a year!
People don't seem to stick with any particular cruise line, so I assume that they're all generally quite competitive.
Now that I've been on my first cruise, I certainly understand the appeal. There are so many destinations in the world that one can visit, and such a variety of ships on which to do it!
People on Cruise Ships are Happy!
No one's rushing off to work or having a bad day, apparently. Since people are on vacation, everything has already been looked after for them, and they are able to relax and enjoy the moment, everyone seemed to always be in a good mood! The staff fosters this atmosphere with their constantly upbeat, friendly attitudes.
People Get Married on Cruise Ships
There were two or three weddings that took place on our ship. We saw one of the brides with her entourage enter the dining room.
Other than that, we just heard about the weddings. That's the thing. The ship is so big that you don't feel crowded. You only participate in the things that interest you.
You Can Get Good Deals on Cruises
I booked our first cruise through a local travel agent, because I found the whole process with all of the advertised deals and packages to be confusing. However, after being on the cruise and talking to several other experienced cruisers, I would be comfortable with booking my own now.
Tips I Learned to Save Money on Cruises
- You don't need a balcony room. A balcony room is nice, but it costs more than a room with a window or even a room with no window at all. There are lots of public decks on the ship that are easily accessible to everyone on board. (A friend tells me that a balcony is worthwhile if you're on a cruise with interesting scenery. She appreciated the balcony room on her Alaskan cruise where the sun barely sat, and they could watch the passing views from their bed.)
- Pay attention to packages. Most cruises come with some sort of incentives such as free wifi, free drinks, free gratuities, or onboard spending money to be used for the spa, exclusive restaurants, or shopping.
- Follow vacation discount websites and subscribe to their emails to be notified of deals.
- Be flexible. You'll get the best price if you are flexible as to the date, the destinations, and the room type of your cruise. Some of the best deals happen just a few weeks before travel.
I hope we get to cruise again. I think cruising would be a great way to visit Alaska, the Scandinavian countries, or the Mediterranean.