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Going on a Disney Cruise – Gluten Free Style, Part 1

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!

We spent seven days in the Eastern Caribbean, stopping by the beautiful islands of St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Disney’s very own private oasis in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay (pronounced key).

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.

Disclaimer:

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! :-D

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:

Planning Advice, Tips and Tricks

Pre/Post Cruise Hotels and Ground Transportation

On-board Tips and Tricks

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! ;-)

Happy sigh…

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Comments

  1. Kim Murray says:

    Nobody does it like Disney.  We became Disney Vacation Club members a few years back after our first Disney cruise because we were blown away by their customer service and attention to detail.  We were also treated like VIPs and it doesn’t matter whether you’re on a cruise, in the parks or anywhere with a Disney name on it…you can expect nothing less than star treatment.  Might be a little more expensive than an average vacation…but soooooo worth it!  I’m glad you were able to relax and enjoy.  Something we mothers don’t often get a chance to do :)

  2. Angela. says:

    Thank you SOOOOOO much for this! You have no idea how helpful it is! I’ve been thinking about Disney Cruises for a few now, and there’s one thing I’m worried about: the amount of people. Did you find you felt crowded and/or that it was overly noisy all the time? Was your room quiet, or could you hear people there?

  3. Amy Fothergill says:

    Thank you for this informative, honest review. I am quite interested in a Disney Cruise and your post might have sealed the deal for me! Since we all eat GF, it’s good to know they are ahead of the curve. Thanks again.

  4. glutenfreeeasily says:

    This initial report makes me so happy for you all! Having an enjoyable worry-free vacation is such a treat! I look froward to hearing more, Heidi. :-)

    xoxo,Shirley

    • Heidi Kelly says:

      Thanks Shirley!  As you know, I’ve been quite the glutenphobe for the past few years (when gluten doesn’t make you “feel” noticably sick, you can naturally (and sometimes erroneously) assume you haven’t been contaminated …only to have your blood tests show otherwise!  That’s when I began asking you (and other friends who are highly sensitive) about the foods you react to and just quit eating them myself.

      I went literally into lockdown mode and simply began preparing ALL of our food, declining food-related events with my glutenator friends and family, and all but stopped traveling and dining out for a couple of years…until I eventually ran completely out of steam.

      I feel like I turned a major mental health corner by letting go and trusting someone else to keep me safe for 21+ meals straight. Without a doubt, if anyone can (and will) do that, it’s Disney.  I trusted them as much as I would trust you, Kim, Melissa, Diane or any of my other gluten sensitive/celiac friends to cook for me.

      Mike and I decided that all future vacations for our posse will definitely involve Disney. :-)

      xoxo,
      Heidi

  5. Sara says:

    Wow!  Thank you so much!  We booked a Disney Cruise for Christmas before I realized gluten was a problem for me.  I’ve been worried about this but have been avoiding it too.  So glad to hear it went well!

  6. Jch1259 says:

    We went on the Disney Dream in Feb and my oldest daughter(24yo) has a gluten intolerance. To make a long story short. she was just amazed with the food that she was able to have on board. She is so ready to go again. Even when we ate on Castaway Caye, she had no problems. She didn’t have one gluten reaction while on vacation and i know everyone else with a child or not with any allergy that is a worry.  We had the most amazing time on the Dream.

  7. Heidi Kelly says:

     Hi Kim!

    Iodized salt typically contains dextose which is usually derived from corn, although I’m not sure if it actually contains any corn protein (there isn’t an “official” corn allergy organization that does testing on ingredients such as these). 

    Since my allergy was discovered a couple years ago, I’ve been following the advice of those who have severe corn allergies and react to the most minute exposure to corn.  Being a celiac who doesn’t experience any immediate (or noticeable for that matter) symptoms when glutened, I’m very well aware that simply because something doesn’t make you “feel” sick, doesn’t mean the same as “no immune reaction.”  Therefore, I’ve been playing it very safe for the past couple of years in order to reduce the level of inflammation in my body.

    Only recently have I begun to take chances (when dining outside of my home) with corn derived ingredients (although I will not eat straight-up corn) and I’ve not had any problems.

    Best,
    Heidi

  8. Heidi Kelly says:

     Samantha,

    I completely understand your fears…and that’s exactly what I thought, “it’s not like I can just run out to Whole Foods and then cook my own food….I’m just NOT that great of a swimmer and the sharks would get me for sure!”

    Have no fear about taking a Disney cruise, I endorse them 110% for the gluten-free community.

    Hugs!
    Heidi

  9. Heidi Kelly says:

     I can always rely on you to write a silly comment dad, LOL!  But yes, most of the crew members we encountered were from different countries around the globe and we did not have one single problem with language barriers or the understanding of the gluten free diet.  They truly did rock my gluten free world!

  10. Kkent4950 says:

    I’m going to Disney World for 10 days in October. We are staying in a townhouse 10 mins from Disney, but I’m looking forward to eating there since people say they are so good about it. The last time I was there (awhile ago) I was normal. Now I have celiac’s, casein intolerance, a severe soy allergy, and minor allergies to coconut and buckwheat. I’m excited to go there and see how good they really are…oh, and to eat out without severe anxiety :)

  11. Michelle O says:

    I am so happy for you Heidi you deserve it! I dream of a vacation like that.  Given our new food restrictions beyond gluten and dairy I cannot even imagine it.  I don’t know if there is anyone, even Disney that can handle gluten, dairy, soy, peanut, tree nuts, and Fructose Malabsorption :(  

    I absolutely love the pictures of the boys and Luke’s buzz cute :)  As always they are absolutely gorgeous boys.  Better get ready for the girls, they will be coming soon :)

  12. Jodie says:

    Thank you for posting about this! I can’t wait for part 2. We are going on a cruise next year with family and this relieves so much of my anxiety. What a dream to spend a vacation out of the kitchen.

  13. Heidi, your trip sounds phenomenal! Disney can do no wrong in my mind, but I always get nervous when ordering food— and I’m SO glad to hear your positive experience and THRILLED you didn’t get sick! Penny saving starts now! :-)

    • Heidi Kelly says:

      It was utterly awesome Steph and I cannot recommend a Disney cruise enough for gluten free kiddos (even those of us over the age of 18!). In the 7 years since my celiac diagnosis, I have not felt as “normal” (and safe) as I did during our cruise…In my opinion, Disney has definitely set the bar when it comes to special dietary needs. :-)

  14. Po Reffitt says:

    We just recently returned from a 4 night cruise with P&O Cruises and my husband has Celiacs and my middle child has a dairy/soy protein intolerance an both the smaller ones have other intolerances too. Our meals were wonderful, it was a wonderful break for me because I didn’t have to come up with stuff everyone could eat every day!! I wish we were there again. Sadly the same can not be said for Delta Airlines, they managed to lose our meal choices on the way home and my husband and on ended up with little to nothing safe to eat. Cruising with food intolerances and allergies? I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

  15. disqus_V7aUmLcYrk says:

    Hello!

    Thank you so much for your wonderful post! My daughter and I both have celiac disease. We are going to disney for 2 weeks in May, camping at their camp ground so I can do all the cooking. We decided to shorten our camping time and book a 4 night cruise as well :) I just have a few questions for you, were you able to eat at the casual places (ie. cabanas) or use room service? Did you find you we’re ever left hungry with no options?

    Thanks, Natalie

Trackbacks

  1. [...] cruise ship!  Breakfast was actually the meal I was most concerned about prior to embarking on our recent vacation, given its propensity towards all things gluten, but I needn’t have worried.  Not one [...]

  2. [...] Welcome to part 3 of Cruising with Disney, Gluten Free Style!  In the event you missed the first two installments, you can check those out here: Going on a Disney Cruise, Gluten Free Style: Part 1 [...]

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