Our family just returned from a week long cruise on-board the Disney Fantasy cruise ship and do I have quite a bit of information to share with you over the coming week!
And it was all done gloriously (and safely) gluten free.
We had a magical time and could not believe how meticulous and amazing the Disney crew was. I’m still pinching myself. With my former career having been in the hospitality industry, I was well aware of Disney’s legendary customer service, but I had yet to experience it first hand through the lens of special dietary needs. I’m proud to say that we were able to successfully navigate our gluten free diet without incident, but the real kicker was that after the first day…it took hardly any effort at all from me. That is, if you actually consider placing your meal orders for the following day (each night after dinner) as an “effort.”
There was no need to explain what gluten is and where it’s found, to different chefs/servers, 3 plus times a day.
There was no need to explain gluten cross-contamination and safe methods of food preparation at each and every meal.
The Disney crew was a downright gluten free machine and all I can say is W.O.W.!!! I’m now totally convinced Disney has a real-life Tinkerbell on the payroll because they literally bent over backwards to provide my family with a first class experience, with multiple “wow factors” surprising us around every corner. And no, I did not tell anyone that I was a blogger and would be doing a review on my website. So there was no extra special treatment done for a favorable review…they treated us the same as they would for anyone on-board the ship.
A special thank-you to the Disney crew members who took care of us along the way:
Sutas (from Thailand) and Daniel (from Chile) – these two funny guys took care of us every night during dinner. Not only did they oversee our gluten free meals, but they put on quite a show every night for all the kiddos at our table, including falling over “dead” on the floor after being “shot” by my little pirates, all the way to balancing 6 forks on the tip of a toothpick that was lodged into the cork of a wine bottle! My boys miss them and talk about them every day. Thanks for setting a new bar Sutas and Daniel, LOL!
Dierdre (from Jamaica) and Ady (from Romania) – these two lovely ladies absolutely blew my mind. They both worked on Deck 11, which is home to the main pools as well as the food court. By the second day, they actually sought us out on deck to show us what the gluten free offerings of the day were. I kid you not, on the second day when Dierdre brought out some pre-sealed GIANT gluten free, dairy free chocolate chip cookies by OMG…It’s Gluten Free, she literally jumped up and down and squealed with me, LOL! Dierdre and Ady also made sure to have a fresh pot of oil ready to go for when my boys went looking for their daily french fry fix. She even scored a gluten free, non dairy pizza for the boys!
Selo (from Turkey) – Selo is one of the head waiters who wasn’t actually assigned to us, but each and every morning, he brought my boys a full plate of GF/CF chocolate chip muffins and cinnamon donuts…just so they had several extra to take back to the room for snacks throughout the day.
Chef Thomas (from Germany) – Chef was the first food service crew member I met on-board. He kindly came out to talk to me and discussed all of our dietary concerns…and launched right into the precautions they take in order to prevent any cross contamination. He totally rocked my world and I new from that moment, I need not worry and could just sit back and enjoy having someone take care of me for once. I nearly kissed him when he began bringing me a big bowl of fresh fruit alongside a huge plate of peel and eat shrimp/crab legs to my poolside table everyday for lunch (even when I hadn’t asked)!
I was a gluten free Cinderella for an entire week, the star of my very own Disney fairy tale. Priceless.
Before I launch into all the details of our gluten free experience with Disney Cruise Line over the next week, I want to clarify a few things. As my regular readers are well aware, gluten is not the only food we typically avoid in our family. But just in case you are new to Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom, let me give you a quick recap:
- Two of us have celiac disease and two have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten is absolutely, positively, non-negotiable – 100% of the time for our family. NO cheating. Not even a crumb. Period. End of story.
- Both of my sons have an IgG intolerance to casein, a protein found in dairy (but they do not have an IgE dairy allergy). The results of my gluten associated cross-reactive foods test gave dairy a big “thumbs down” for me as well, but I do not have an IgE dairy allergy either.
- My youngest son has a class 2 IgE egg white protein allergy (confirmed via RAST testing). After being 100% egg-free for over a year, his allergist began trialing him on eggs in baked goods about 6 months ago and he tolerates them very well (eggs in their obvious form are still off limits as they trigger Luke’s eczema within hours).
- I have a class 2 IgE corn allergy (confirmed via RAST testing). Although I do not experience an acute reaction when I consume(d) moderate amounts of corn products (although, if I were to eat a hefty amount of straight-up corn kernels, it will trigger symptoms of allergic rhinitis). I still avoid eating corn (as well as all cereal grains), but I do occasionally ingest products like iodized salt, citric acid, etc., when I’m eating outside of my home and have never had a reaction.
We have spent the past 18 months eating a very clean, rotational diet while taking supplements and reducing stress in order to help heal our guts and stabilize our immune systems (under the expert care of Drs. Rick and Vikki Petersen of HealthNOW Medical Center as well as our local medical doctors). Before booking our cruise with Disney, I discussed our dietary concerns with Dr. Rick and he said that since we’ve improved the state of our health immensely, our immune systems could probably take a moderate hit from our non-gluten “no-no” food list (with the exception of Luke and eggs in their recognizable form), as long as we resumed our normal, healthy diet once we returned home.
So that’s the approach I decided to take when I booked our cruise with Disney over a year ago. No gluten or dairy for either of my boys, as well as no eggs (with the exception of baked goods) for Luke. I listed Mike and I as “just” gluten free because it was a risk we were both willing to take, as fully informed adults. I think somewhere in my mind, I feared Disney would deny me this much needed vacation if they were aware of my mild corn allergy, that stuff is everywhere afterall. And I NEEDED this vacation after cooking allergy-friendly meals 3 times a day (plus snacks) for 4 years straight. I was on the verge of a glutadoodle breakdown from feeling like a prisoner to my stove top (it was the corn allergy that really did me in – I have to make my own Worcestershire sauce for Pete’s sake!).
Wanna know the funny thing? There were so many gluten free options to choose from, that I ended up staying *mostly* grain and dairy free for the entire cruise anyway, LOL!
So the lesson to take away from my experience is this: if you decide to take a Disney cruise, DO NOT be timid when it comes to indicating all of your dietary concerns with the Disney professionals, it wouldn’t be worth spending the money on a higher priced Disney cruise (compared with other cruise lines), only to find yourself sick at sea. I’m lucky in the sense that I experience little to no immediate physical symptoms when it comes to my food allergies/sensitivities, so one week of minor exposure to corn derivatives and dairy products didn’t affect the quality of my vacation. In the end, use your best judgement and discuss the matter with your healthcare provider first.
Since I’ve already written up a storm for today’s post, I will finish up by sharing some of the fun, as well as a few general tips. Over the next couple weeks, I will get into more detail regarding the gluten free food options, with each post broken up by breakfast, lunch and dinner; as well as snacks and food options during port excursions (which is not much).
Disney Cruise Line Tips and Tricks
My best friend Kristen and her family joined us on vacation and she found a great website called Mousesavers.com, where there are several posts chock full of general information when cruising with Disney. Be sure to check out the following posts:
Gluten Free Travel Pre-Cruise
We booked everything directly through Disney Cruise Line, including airfare, hotel and ground transportation from Albuquerque to Orlando then on to Port Canaveral. I don’t have anything to compare our experience to, as this was the first time we’ve ever been on a cruise but it was a very smooth operation and I highly recommend it.
We flew American Airlines from Albuquerque to Orlando with a layover in Dallas/Ft. Worth. There were no complimentary snacks served on the flight (which we wouldn’t have partook in anyway), but I packed plenty of snacks so we were prepared in the event we couldn’t find anything safe to eat during our layover.
Gluten Free Airplane Food
I packed 4 light meals consisting of: The BEST Mayo-Free Chicken Salad, Heidi’s Favorite Trail Mix and fresh cut fruit in Ziploc Divided Containers (easy to toss away so you don’t have to carry them around for a week), then tossed them in our Picnic Time Turismo Cooler Backpack (which I absolutely love).
I was overjoyed in Dallas when I discovered a Pappadeaux Seafood restaurant in the A terminal near Gate 25. While they do not have a specific gluten free menu, the management at our local restaurant has always been extremely helpful in assisting us with the safest gluten free options (I always ask for a manager before placing my order when dining out). The Dallas/Ft. Worth airport location was no different when we dined there on the return trip home (during our 5 hour layover), and we had a great experience. When dining at a restaurant like Pappadeaux, where much of the menu is fried seafood, go with the simplest preparation method, as it minimizes the risk of cross contamination. Pretty much all of the fried seafood options can be chargrilled/sauteed, so that is how we roll and they have always been more than happy to prepare our food on a clean surface, using clean pans and utensils.
Hemisphere Steakhouse & Seafood Restaurant
As part of our cruise package, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport (it’s literally inside the airport, so no need for a shuttle) the night before boarding the ship, and they have a great restaurant called Hemisphere Steak & Seafood. The restaurant has several gluten free options available on the menu and the chef was more than happy to make recommendations for both dinner and breakfast. I definitely recommend getting breakfast because it’s a whirlwind from mid-morning on, first checking-in at the Disney Magical Express (also at the airport) then boarding a motorcoach to Port Canaveral (about an hour’s drive) to board the ship (which takes about an hour if you are registering your kids for activities). There is no food anywhere along the way, so eat breakfast!
Just don’t get one of the gluten-free muffins from the buffet – which were butt up next to glutonium muffins (I did speak with the manager about this, but I’m not sure if they actually made the change).
Once you are on the ship, there is only food service on Deck 11 until the ship leaves the port. The restaurants, room service and shops do not open until early evening.
Sam and Luke hanging out on Deck 11, where they enjoyed swimming and batch one of gluten free french fries (out of roughly 40) before the ship left Port Canaveral at 4:30 pm
This is Luke as he realizes that a water slide can be traversed in any number of ways!
This is Luke realizing that as long as Mom or Dad can see him, he is free to roam! God help us all (don’t ask why he suddenly has a buzz hair cut).
This is Sam trying to be cool. He IS cool, but I think in this instance he is trying a bit too hard…apparently, there was an 11 year old girl involved, which I didn’t see but heard Mike cheering him on the whole way! (Apparently, he doesn’t realize he’s about to enter the era of dealing with gun-toting daddys!).
And Mr. Cool emerges from the drink in perfect form. Chest puffed, goggles atop, and no worse for wear! Eat your hearts out 11 year old cute girl with the long brown hair. Yeah, I’m soooo not ready for this!
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