Thursday, August 9, 2007
A gluten-free cruise
with Alina, my new BBGFFF (best gluten-free friend forever)
Two weeks ago today, our extended family got back from a five-night Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Inspiration.
And everyone knows what you do on cruises, right? EAT EAT EAT!
I was worried about this, frankly. Our July 21 departure was only two months into my elimination diet, and I didn't want to regress. I also didn't want to find myself in dire straits on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean! But Randy reminded me of the woman at our table two years ago with a gluten allergy, and they had fresh bread for her, special recommendations for entrees, and yummy deserts every night.
And thanks to a lovely young woman named Alina, I had six days of outstanding gluten-free cruise! I highly recommend it to everyone, even though it takes a little work.
Here's what it required of me: First, about three weeks in advance, I called Carnival and told them I had a food allergy. I reported I was on a gluten-free diet. I even mentioned the C word --- Celiac -- to make sure they got the point.
The reservation agent took this down, and sent me a form to fill out asking if I'd be bringing my own wheelchair and oxygen.
I called once more t to be sure. Yes, they knew I was on a sugar and wheat-free diet and would be ready for me.
At dinner, I told our head waiter, Pronoy, and with great efficiency, he brought me some gluten-free bread. It was the first I'd ever tasted AND was the first I'd had all summer. Warm and toasted, it was delicious with butter. Yummm. He told me to tell my server at breakfast and he or she would also bring me bread. But the only dessert available was ice cream or fruit -- while my tablemates ate molten chocolate cake, I sulked.
I was a little disgruntled after breakfast. I was hungry, and I wanted that bread with my poached eggs and yogurt. The bread arrived long after I ate the eggs, but I happily ate the bread. I decided to discuss it with the purser's desk to be sure.
That was whenI learned lesson, and I share this with anyone on a cruise with a food allergy: When you arrive in the main dining room, find the maitre d or hostess, and check in. They're the "keepers of the list" -- the list of passengers on board with a food allergy. In fact, don't wait -- speak to them immediately upon arriving at dinner the first night. The purser assured me they wanted to serve me correctly, and told me it would be corrected. It was -- immediately. Within a half hour after this conversation, the dining room maitre d, Babu (Babuuuuuuuuu....you're a very very bad man, Jerry. He said that all the time) had called and left a message. Sadly, my Dad didn't catch who called, so at lunch, I checked in with the maitre d on duty.
That's when I met Alina. From that second on, she took such good care of me. For the next 15 meals, I had an assortment of bread and lucious desserts. She made sure I didn't order anything with the wrong sauce on it (once I forgot about soy sauce in teriyaki sauce...oops). And for dessert, I had sugar free chocolate mousse in a candy cup, warm coconut creme brulee, creme anglaise with fresh berries, and a lovely black and white mousse. For breakfast, I had a gracious plenty of homemade French toast; for lunch, a special hamburger on the GF bread. I ate so much, I had to start adding Joy Peterson's favorite fruit (not) to my diet.
By the second day, Alina and I were buddies. She asked lots of questions about my diet, saying it helped her help other customers. She was kind to my son Jeffrey, always remember his name (and mine). I gave her an enormous tip and our phone number in Tampa when she's in port.
I was sad to leave her on Thursday. She came by our table and said she wished she could send me home with some extra bread, but customs considered it a forbidden agriculture product (since it's not wrapped and made in a plant, I guess).
But I was really impressed. This kitchen served 2,700 people every day, and I felt special, not singled out. In fact, some days I felt a little guilty -- at breakfast, Alina would arrive at the table with a plate piled high with GF French toast, warm sugar free syrup, and a pile of turkey bacon. At dinner, I always had beautiful steamed vegetables on my plate.
I gave you one tip, which was check in early. The second tip is to bring a small supply of snacks. While the dining room really caters to someone with a food allergy, it's really hard to partake in the buffets and other dining venues. There are lots of casseroles, enhanced with cream sauce and pasta, so one has to be careful. They don't have much on the room service menu, either. These snacks are especially important when you're in smaller ports. Just to be safe. I had nuts, Larabars, and some dried fruit. Of course, if I'd told Alina, I'm sure I'd have whatever i wanted at my disposal.
A third tip is to make sure you register you food allergy in advance. That "food allergy" list I mentioned -- it's long. There are kids with peanut allergies, vegetarians, vegans, even, and LOTS of diabetcs.
Finally, realize that their food may cause something of a reaction because it's simply not your food. You might have some discomfort. To be safe, I brought along my usually remedies.
Consider it, and don't worry -- have fun. With proper precautions, you can have a safe and very delicious gluten-free cruise!
Much love and bon voyage!