a dessert display with rows of strawberry parfaits in a long stemmed cup, two different types of custards in shorter cups, and plates of red velvet cake

Celiac Cruise: The BEST Way to Cruise Gluten-Free!

Relaxed. Carefree. Normal. Flexible. Delicious. Amazing. All words that describe being on a Celiac Cruise!

What is a Celiac Cruise?

A Celiac Cruise is a dedicated gluten-free experience at sea with fellow celiacs and those who love and support us.

On large Royal Caribbean Cruises, this means your safe, gluten-free food is cooked in a dedicated kitchen.

For smaller river cruises in Europe, there is ZERO gluten on the ship. Yes, you read that correctly. Celiac Cruise charters an entire AmaWaterways ship for its 100% gluten-free sailings on the rivers of Europe.

My family just took our first Celiac Cruise on Royal Caribbean International to Alaska. We loved it so much that we booked another Celiac Cruise while on the ship.

birds eye view of a Royal Caribbean ship's pool deck and splash pad

Beginnings of Celiac Cruise

This blog, Go Gluten Freely, was born out of my desire to travel, celebrate, and live fully after my daughter’s and my celiac diagnoses… and to inspire and encourage you on your own adventures.

Similarly, Celiac Cruise started with the dream of a mom, Maureen Basye, whose son, Peter, was diagnosed with celiac disease, followed by her husband’s diagnosis. 

Woman smiling, sitting in a chair, wearing a navy shirt and a baseball cap
Maureen Basye

Like many of us, unwillingly thrust into navigating this journey she didn’t ask for nor want, Maureen found the challenges of traveling with celiac disease overwhelming and far from ideal.

Out of that struggle, she had this fabulous (and crazy) idea that those with celiac disease could have a safe gluten-free experience without the worry and burden that typically accompanies gluten-free travel.

She took that dream to her friend Connie Saunders, the CEO of Total Travel and Events, and the Celiac Cruise was born. 

Imagine, a dedicated gluten-free kitchen, a travel posse of about 200 travelers who “get it” and make you feel normal, no asking questions, no vetting ingredients, no over-planning, and no worry. That is a Celiac Cruise.

22 Reasons You’ll Love a Celiac Cruise

Miss E smiling/beaming and about to eat a bite of gluten-free cake
My daughter and I both have celiac disease. I LOVE how thrilled she was with our first Celiac Cruise!
  • Dedicated gluten-free kitchen and dining room on Royal Caribbean Celiac Cruises. For river cruises, the entire ship is gluten-free.
  • Everything is vetted by an expert. Celiac Cruise has a representative from Boston Children’s Hospital Celiac Center on the ship training the food and beverage staff and checking every ingredient the week before your cruise. She’s behind the bar and in the belly of the ship reading labels, so you don’t have to!
  • Rare gluten-free finds: churros, fried chicken, freshly-made corn dogs, cheesecake, donuts, danishes, calamari, fried fish, schnitzel, French onion soup…. and a wide selection of desserts that aren’t just sorbet. There were plenty of healthy options, but these treats stand out as foods we can’t normally have or don’t make at home.
gluten-free churros with sugar and caramel sauce
Light & airy (like a real donut) fried churros!
  • Your food is ready to eat, right away. No waiting around for a specially prepared meal. No watching your family eat from the buffet and dig into dessert by the time your safe food is served. Your entire party shows up at the gluten-free dining room together, and your food is ready to go at the buffet. For dinner service, all of the entrees are served at the same time. 
  • Welcome Aboard Cake. Celiacs finally get to participate in this cruising tradition. So grab a slice of cake or one of the seven other desserts (that’s how many I counted at our Welcome Aboard Lunch) and enjoy a sweet start to your cruise!
  • Extended hours in the gluten-free dining room. You’ll never go hungry! From the Welcome Aboard Lunch to Debarkment Day Breakfast, the dedicated dining room is open for every meal plus a late-night snack. Hours vary by cruise, but we had generously long dining hours. Extra early and late hours were added for long port days.
  • Variety at every meal. This is expected by your average cruiser, but not necessarily by those of us with celiac disease. It’s such a treat (and a bit overwhelming, in a good way) to have so many choices.
  • Flexibility and Spontaneity. No pre-ordering the night before. Who knows what you’ll want to eat tomorrow for dinner?! On a Celiac Cruise, you get to be normal. Decide what you are craving in the moment.
Celiac Cruise Menu, text on the top: Enjoy Tonight's Specially Curated Gluten-Free offerings at the Solarium Bistro. Categories include: starters, main courses, deserts and for little cruisers
Choose your dinner on-the-spot from the fully gluten-free menu!
  • Social opportunities to connect with other celiacs: coffee & conversation, pub crawl, meet & greet for tweens/teens, kids’ craft, family bumper cars, and a family scavenger hunt.
  • Carefree vacation. You don’t need to plan, think about food, worry about getting sick, or ask questions while eating in the dedicated dining room.  This is an indescribably worry-free, gluten-free cruise vacation experience.
  • Details are covered. Play-doh is removed from the kids’ area. Gluten-free ice cream cones are by the pool, and the staff is trained to change gloves when you request the gluten-free cone. Even the straws on our cruise were confirmed safe at the time of sailing.
  • Additional vetted food and beverage options throughout the ship. While the dedicated dining room is the safest, the Celiac Cruise team trains all food and beverage crew members. There were other offerings throughout the ship from Sorrento’s Pizza to every bar on board.
  • Pre-trip planning guidance. The Celiac Cruise team provides a packing list and a pre-trip webinar to answer all of your questions. 
  • Group rate for pre-cruise and post-cruise hotel stays. I was not aware of the hotel group rate until the pre-trip webinar, by which time all of the room blocks were booked. Oops! But, now you know, so you can take advantage of this benefit. In Seattle, Celiac Cruise had blocks of rooms at hotels in various price ranges and locations, from downtown to the airport. 
  • A Facebook group for each cruise, so you can get to know fellow gluten-free travelers in advance.
  • Embarkation port tips and tricks. For Seattle, we were given a one-pager with recommendations for popular gluten-free restaurants. For some European pre-cruise nights, such as in Paris, the Celiac Cruise is able to coordinate a dedicated kitchen at the hotel for breakfast. 
  • An educational session. On the Alaskan Celiac Cruise, we heard an informative presentation from Schar Dietician, Meghan Donnelly. Takeaways: eat more plants, veggies should take up half your plate, eat the rainbow, and eat a fruit or veggie with every meal and snack. While most of us weren’t perfectly implementing Meghan’s advice on the cruise, it was excellent information to take home.
woman smiling behind Schar table full of Schar products, room has red glow
Meghan Donnelly & all her Schar goodies
  • Swag. We received a welcome backpack with Celiac Cruise shirts and lanyards to hold our sea passes and identify us as Celiac Cruisers to all crew members.
  • Prepackaged snacks. In our swag bags were a couple of Kind bars and prepackaged Schar goodies (which were also available throughout the cruise). Pack extra prepackaged snacks for any day-long excursions and for your flights. Once you are off the ship, you are back in the real world.
  • Sushi-making class! Cruise ships often offer cooking classes that aren’t especially suitable for those of us with celiac disease, from sushi making to cupcake decorating. On the Celiac Cruise, guests had the option to sign up for a completely gluten-free sushi-making experience (extra cost).
  • Gluten-free beer from Holidaily, made from gluten-free grains, was available all over the ship and Stephanie Bernier, a Holidaily representative sailed with us.
man and woman smiling behind Holiday gluten-free beer display table
  • Cruising for a Cause. The Celiac Cruise includes an opportunity to give back. During Meghan’s Schar presentation, she shared that according to Boston Children’s Hospital, up to 24% of celiac patients experienced food insecurity since 2020. On our cruise, Holidaily donated all of the beer for a ticketed beer-tasting event. The proceeds went to Boston Children’s Hospital to help those facing celiac disease and food insecurity. There is a Cruising for a Cause component to every Celiac Cruise. Learn more.

Gluten-Free Dining on a Royal Caribbean Celiac Cruise

Many years ago, I went on my first cruise and received some sage cruising advice from an experienced cruiser, “Eat what you want, but always take the stairs.”

I have followed that advice on every cruise since, and it is especially good advice on a Celiac Cruise!

As we walk through the gluten-free options on our Celiac Cruise, keep in mind that the logistics can vary by cruise ship.

Some sailings allow for more formal dinners. Others are more casual. On some cruises, there is a dedicated space in the Windjammer. While on other ships (including Ovation of the Seas) there is a dedicated dining room. In all cases, the focus is on safe gluten-free food.

Dedicated Gluten-Free Dining Room: Solarium Bistro

On the Ovation of the Seas, Celiac Cruise offers gluten-free meals in the Solarium Bistro, a private dining room reserved just for Celiac Cruise guests. Here’s what you’ll find in the gluten-free private dining room:

Welcome Aboard Lunch

Welcome Aboard Cake, chocolate frosting with text: Welcome Aboard Ovation of the Seas

At our Welcome Aboard Lunch, which was a buffet, Miss E (my daughter) asked me how a buffet works. All of her previous buffet experiences had consisted of asking for a chef and waiting a long time for our food to be prepared safely in the back. 

Walking right in, grabbing a plate, and immediately having food to eat was unreal!

A “Welcome Aboard Cake”, Caesar salad with croutons, and a huge selection of entrees, sides, and desserts were all waiting for excited celiac cruisers to dig in.

Breakfast Buffet

Service consisted of a wide selection of gluten-free items that were similar every morning: bread, lox bagels, eggs, omelets, bacon, sausage, yogurt, fruit, pancakes, waffles, Chex cereal, and pastries, including muffins, donuts, and danishes.

There were slight variations in the daily offerings. Caramel donuts, raspberry danishes, and blueberry muffins transitioned to sprinkled donuts, blueberry danishes, chocolate muffins, and so on.

Lunch Buffet

The salad bar and a few daily sandwich options were staples at lunch. There was a fresh selection of entrees for everyone, from vegetarians to meat lovers, and always a great selection of side dishes.

Hybrid Dinner

Dinner was a bit of a hybrid between buffet and table service.

We were seated by a host(ess), placed our drink and entree orders with the server, and then helped ourselves to salads, sides, and desserts from the buffet.

We consistently saw fish, steak, chicken, pasta, and vegetarian options at each meal. Some sides were fairly constant, like salads, certain vegetables, and mashed potatoes, while others would pop up once or twice, such as French onion soup or calamari.

Late Night Snacks

Late Night Snacks were a highlight, if you could still manage to eat at 10 pm.

Each night was a different theme. Mexican Night brought churros, nachos, and quesadillas.

American Night had mac & cheese, chicken wings, blueberry crumble and according to Miss E “the best corn dog (she’s) ever had”. They were battered and fried on-site with a sweet crust that was crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside, the perfect complement to the salty hot dog.

Other nights were British, Asian, Subs, International, and Pizza.

Somehow delicious nachos and churros appeared several times, and the vegan nachos that showed up one night were amazing!


gluten-free dessert display: chocolate miss, vanilla cake with strawberries, berry parfait, chocolate brownie with caramel sauce

So. Many. Desserts. There was a new selection of dessert choices at every lunch, dinner, and late-night snack.

Some families would take a few to share and everyone would get a bite. Other guests, in full cruise style, would each try a couple (or more) every meal. Whichever style suits you, your sweet tooth will be completely satisfied on a Celiac Cruise.

Here’s just a sampling of the many desserts we saw in the Solarium Bistro over the course of a week: churros, cheesecake, Boston cream pie, matcha passion fruit cake, tiramisu, warm apple crumble, cappuccino chocolate cake, and banh flan.

Chef Jay, a Corporate Pastry Chef who always travels with the Celiac Cruise on the Royal Caribbean bookings has risen to the challenge of delighting gluten-free cruisers!

Other Dietary Restrictions

Additional allergies and dietary restrictions were accommodated on the cruise.

There were signs throughout the buffet noting: contains dairy, dairy free, contains nuts, vegan, no sugar added, and contains egg. There were no oat products.

The servers started each evening’s dinner order by asking if we had any additional food allergies.

Prior to sailing, Celiac Cruise provides advance notice to Royal Caribbean of any additional special diets for your party.

Kid-Friendly Options

buffet with hot dogs, burgers, fries, grilled cheese and pasta
Spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches, fries, burgers, hot dogs & buns!

Kid-fare was ubiquitous. Burgers, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, spaghetti, mac & cheese, and grilled cheese frequently appeared on the menu and at the buffet.


In addition to Holidaily’s 100% gluten-free beer (not gluten-removed beer), the Celiac Cruise brought Chopin gluten-free Vodka on board.

All mixers and straws were vetted and gluten-free.

We skipped the popular Royal Caribbean drink package, as our drinks of choice are primarily Arnold Palmers and sparkling water. We mostly stuck to included drinks or purchased beverages one-off. 

Debarkation Breakfast

On the last morning of your cruise, Celiac Cruise will take good care of you with a filling Debarkation Breakfast, and then the magic is over… until the next cruise!

Shared Venues with Gluten-Free Dining Options

Cafe Promenade

gluten-free sandwich wrapped in plastic in display case, sign: "Vegan Sandwich (Gluten-Free)"

Gluten-free sandwiches were prepared in the gluten-free kitchen, wrapped in plastic, and stored separately in the Cafe Promenade.

Sorrentos Pizza

Sorrento's sign (looks like pizza)

Sorrentos Pizza had gluten-free pizza made in a gluten-free oven, with crusts prepared offsite and separate dedicated toppings.

The Dog House

a hot dog stand with an airstream red/white food truck appearance, sign says "Seaplex Dog House"

In the Seaplex (large sport/activity area) you could buy hot dogs with gluten-free buns stored and heated separately.

Poolside Soft Serve Ice Cream with Gluten-Free Cones

hand holding a chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve ice cream in a gluten-free cone
Gluten-Free Soft Serve with Gluten-Free Cones!

This popular treat always seemed to generate a line next to the pool. It was wonderful for celiac cruisers to have access to gluten-free cones, rather than the usual ice-cream-in-a-cup option.

Non-Dedicated Dining Rooms

view of Windjammer Cafe buffet hall, people sitting at tables, others getting food off the buffet
Windjammer Cafe (Buffet)
  • Main Dining Room
  • Specialty Restaurants (for a fee)
  • Windjammer Buffet: Ask a chef to make safe food in the back, due to cross-contact with gluten on the buffet line.

To be clear, you can eat in these non-dedicated dining rooms, but there is certainly no need to. Nothing trumps a dedicated gluten-free dining room, so we personally opted to skip these non-dedicated dining rooms on the Celaic Cruise, in favor of the ease and safety of the Solarium Bistro.

Keep in mind, that once you are outside the dedicated gluten-free space, you will need to self-advocate. However, you’ll receive the usual Royal Caribbean allergy protocols. Plus, all Royal Caribbean kitchen staff has been trained by the Celiac Cruise team prior to sailing, so celiac awareness is heightened.

Coastal Kitchen

Coastal Kitchen dining room with cloth tablecloths, waiter taking order from CJ & Dave
Coastal Kitchen (not dedicated gluten-free)

Suite guests have access to dine in the Coastal Kitchen. It is a quiet, full-service, dining room, with a wall of windows.

The server said they could make almost anything gluten-free.

Once again, Miss E and I could not find anything compelling enough to leave the fabulous, dedicated gluten-free dining room. The gluten-eaters in my family dined there one night, and my husband said the food in our Celiac Cruise dining room was better.

Are There Downsides to Booking a Celiac Cruise?

Not, really. But there are a few things you should know in advance.

Limited Sailing Dates & Locations (and Most Sell Out)

This is the primary complaint I hear about Celiac Cruise, “the sailings don’t match my schedule”.

Celiac Cruise is still in its infancy, but growing fast. Currently, there are about six sailings a year, and Connie said she would love to get that number up to 10. 

All signs point to hitting her goal quickly. Every sailing for 2023 was completely booked. Two Greek Isles Cruises for 2024 sold out in 21 days, and have a waitlist of 200 people. 

Tip! If you see a cruise you want, book right away.

This demand and growth means Celiac Cruise can add more sailings to the lineup. The more cruises offered, the more likely you’ll find one to fit your schedule and dream destination. Keep an eye on the Celiac Cruise website as new sailings are added.

The Total Travel Team Is Busy

This is a good problem!

When Celiac Cruise announces new cruises, Total Travel agents are slammed, so pack your patience. Fill out your online request form and give them a few days to get through all of the registrations from so many excited celiacs. A Total Travel agent will get back to you!

Email is the best way to communicate with Total Travel. The team travels on each Celiac Cruise journey, in addition to scouting trips and training the crew the week prior to each journey. Plus, they love cruising personally. All of that means they are often relying on ship wifi.

Once on board, it is all hands on deck and the service is face-to-face and personal. 


For the river cruises, there’s no way around it. A European river cruise is simply a luxury purchase. However, Celiac Cruise pricing is transparent and in line with the industry. There are a range of available cabins in different price ranges.

Sea/ocean cruises are a different story. Celiac Cruise sailings on Royal Caribbean give you significantly more budget flexibility. From Royal Suite Class on a Greek Isles cruise (splurge) to an inside cabin on a 5-day Bahamas cruise (affordable), you’ll see options for every budget.

Note that there may be a slight premium for booking on Royal Caribbean through Celiac Cruise.

Connie, from Celiac Cruise and Total Travel, let me know that our next cruise could cost about $50-100 more per person when it was transferred to the Celiac Cruise block. 

As it turned out, we saved money when the “Next Cruise” offer we booked on board was transferred to Celiac Cruise and Total Travel. The cost went down by almost $150 total when Connie found us a better cabin configuration for less money.

Tips to Save Money on a Celiac Cruise with Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean ship on the water

Book Your Cruise Early

You’ll have the best choice of rooms, and most likely the best prices, which can go up dramatically as you get closer to the pay-in-full date. Prices can change, but you can adjust the price downward if it drops.

Book Excursions Early

Same as with room choices. Popular excursions fill up. You’ll have a spot reserved, but can get a lower price if you notice a Royal Caribbean sale.

Consider Outside Excursion Companies

Depending on the port, your comfort level, and the price difference, you may want to book privately. One of our port excursions would have been double the cost if booked through Royal Caribbean.

However, booking directly with Royal Caribbean can provide extra peace of mind, as the ship will wait for you or connect you to the next port if your excursion is delayed.

If booking outside companies, choose tour providers with a large number of excellent reviews and a guarantee to get you to the ship or transfer you to the next port. Many are the same vendors that Royal Caribbean uses and are adept at getting guests back to the ship on time.

Watch for Black Friday Deals

Royal Caribbean offers deals on cruises, beverage packages, excursions, internet, and the Key (Royal Caribbean’s VIP program with onboard benefits). Snag these items on sale!

Sign up for Crown & Anchor

Crown & Anchor is Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program. After one cruise, you’ll automatically be a gold member, giving you a slight discount on things like drinks, ice cream, internet, and laundry.

Eat Your Meals on the Ship

gluten-free chicken wings on a buffet line

Not only will you save money by sticking to the food already included in the price of your cruise, but you’ll also avoid worrying about finding safe, gluten-free meals in port.

Many excursions are only a few hours long, so you can easily eat a hearty breakfast, head out on your morning excursion, enjoy a wonderful lunch back on board, go off the ship for your afternoon excursion, and be on the ship for dinner or a late-night snack.

Of course, if your dream excursion is 9 hours long with no safe food in sight, just go! Bring along a few gluten-free snacks. Cruise ships and ports generally allow sealed, prepackaged products on and off the ship. Note, your bag will be screened getting back on the ship at each port, and ports in Mexico will likely have food-sniffing dogs.

Book a “Next Cruise”

Take advantage of Royal Caribbean’s Next Cruise program to book your next Celiac Cruise while you’re on a current sailing. You’ll receive special benefits including a reduced deposit and onboard credit.

Bottom Line: Highly Recommend!

My family has traveled a lot over nearly a decade with celiac disease. We have gotten very good at it. Still, there is a certain amount of unavoidable work and mental burden.

On a Celiac Cruise, the entire burden is lifted while on the ship. It’s next-level gluten-free cruising.

If a Celiac Cruise matches your budget and schedule, book one!

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    1. This is a good question, David. I did not ask about lactose specifically, but it is fairly common for individuals who need gluten-free to also need dairy-free. So, it was definitely on the radar of Royal Caribbean and the Celiac Cruise team. There were signs on the buffet stating “dairy-free” or “contains dairy”. When the waitstaff took our dinner order, they always asked if we had any other dietary needs in addition to gluten-free. Also, when you register for the Celiac Cruise, they ask about other special diets for each person in your party.

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