Cruising is generally a favorite of gluten-free travelers, thanks to the wide variety of options and general allergy awareness on cruise ships. It’s a treat to relax on vacation, rather than constantly chase down gluten-free food.
Royal Caribbean is no exception. Let’s dig into everything you need to know to eat safely gluten-free on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
Royal Caribbean Gluten-Free Cruising Basics
Royal Caribbean has allergy training and separate prep areas within the galley (kitchen) for allergy meals.
Before Your Cruise
Notify Royal Caribbean of your gluten-free diet before your cruise.
Ask your travel agent to add a remark to your reservation details, click “update personal information” online, or simply email Royal Caribbean at: [email protected].
Once on board, head to the main dining room to confirm the head waiter is aware of your gluten-free request.
Plan for Shore Excursions
You’re in good hands on the ship, but you’ll need to do your usual planning for port excursions.
Mix and match these food options for your shore excursions, as needed:
- Take excursions between meals.
- Eat a hearty breakfast or lunch before heading out on your excursion.
- Vet/contact the tour company or location in advance regarding options. Have a backup plan in case the food does not seem safe once you arrive.
- Depending on the port and excursion, be prepared to get by on basic on-site snacks, like fruit, vegetables, or maybe gluten-free chips.
- Bring sealed, prepackaged food. (More on that below)
Pack gluten-free snacks… for travel to and from the ship, perhaps while waiting in line on embarkation day (especially if you have a gluten-free child or you tend to get hangry), and definitely for port excursions.
Stick to pre-packaged, sealed snacks, which is a requirement when boarding and at most ports.
We bring simple items, like meat sticks (when permitted), protein bars, treats, nuts, crackers, and tuna packets for outdoor excursions. Note tuna must be in checked baggage on the plane due to liquid.
Fruit is off-limits. It can carry invasive species. No worries! Fruit is one of the safest and easiest items to pick up in-port to supplement your prepackaged snack.
Facebook Group: Cruising with Celiac Disease
Gluten-free service can vary by ship. Join the Facebook group Cruising with Celiac Disease to get feedback from other celiacs about specific Royal Caribbean ships.
Royal Caribbean Has Special Celiac Cruise Sailings
Celiac Cruise partners with Royal Caribbean to deliver several gluten-free cruises every year. The ingredients are inspected, the crew is trained, and gluten-free food is prepared in a dedicated gluten-free kitchen. We’re talking fried chicken, churros, and countless gluten-free desserts.
Learn everything you need to know about a Celiac Cruise in my detailed review:
These special sailings must be booked directly through Celiac Cruise, not Royal Caribbean.
Venues Offering Gluten-Free Dining
Most places on the ship can accommodate those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Main Dining Room (MDR)
The MDR will have gluten-free options at every meal.
Tip! Choose a fixed dining time rather than My Time Dining, so you have the same waiter and head waiter every night. While less spontaneous, for the most variety, order your next day’s meals with your waiter the night prior.
You can often make special requests if you see a non-gluten-free item or want a special dessert. Chefs are usually incredibly accommodating of special orders and aim to please, especially when given advance notice.
Windjammer Café (Buffet)
The gluten-free diet is accommodated at the Windjammer buffet. Just don’t get your food straight off the buffet line if you have celiac disease or are otherwise sensitive to cross-contamination.
Go through the buffet area with a manager or chef pointing out which items are or can be made safely gluten-free. Then the chef will safely prepare the items in the back.
Tip! Have someone head to the buffet 30 minutes before the rest of your party to place the gluten-free order. It takes a while to get a chef and have your meal prepared. I do this for me and my daughter. When everyone else comes, the guys grab their gluten-y food as the chef delivers the gluten-free meals and we can all dine together.
Fast food restaurants vary by ship.
Sorrento’s Pizza offers gluten-free pizza prepared in a gluten-free oven. The Dog House serves hot dogs on separately heated gluten-free hot dog buns. I have not tried Johnny Rockets, but other celiac cruisers have reported excellent accommodations. You’ll need to do the usual vetting and talking to the kitchen staff regarding allergy protocols.
Gluten-free soft serve is on the pool deck, but there are no gluten-free ice cream cones (unless you happen to be on a Celiac Cruise). Enjoy your ice cream in a cup, or bring your own cones. You can also pack fun toppings, like gummy worms, to make ice cream in a cup a bit more fun.
Specialty Dining Restaurants
Specialty Dining Restaurants like Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen are available for an extra charge, offer higher quality dining experiences, and are excellent at accommodating special dietary requirements.
Communicate your dietary needs with the wait staff at these specialty restaurants.
The Coastal Kitchen
Royal Caribbean offers a private dining room just for guests staying in Suites. With beautiful views, white tablecloths, and excellent service, the Coastal Kitchen is an exclusive experience.
The staff here is exceptionally friendly and eager to please, and most menu items can be made gluten-free.
Gluten-Free Menu Items
Here is just a little taste of some of the many gluten-free options you will find on your Royal Caribbean cruise:
- Hot Dogs & Hamburgers( with Gluten-Free Buns)
- French Fries
- Ice Cream, Including Soft Serve
- Pancakes, Waffles & French Toast
- Soups, Including French Onion Soup
- Ribs, Steak, Veal, and Chicken Entrees
- Lobster & Fish
- Creme Brulee
- Flourless Chocolate Cake
- Baked Alaska
Quality & Selection of Gluten-Free Food (Post Covid)
Since Covid, there have been recent cost-cutting changes to the Royal Caribbean menu and supply challenges, leading to some complaints among Royal Caribbean cruisers across the board (not just gluten-free cruisers).
For those of us with special dietary needs, any reduction in quality or selection tends to be more impactful.
Celiac cruisers have mixed reviews. Depending on the ship, the particular sailing, and the cruiser’s additional dietary restrictions, some have been disappointed by more limited options lately.
Still, most gluten-free cruisers are very positive about the food on their Royal Caribbean cruise. Finding someone dedicated to delighting cruisers (often the maître d’ or chef) and self-advocating are key to a great experience.
To give yourself a good selection of food, the best thing you can do is communicate:
- Notify Royal Caribbean of your dietary needs before your cruise.
- When you embark, stop by the dining room to make sure gluten-free is noted on your reservation.
- In the main dining room, communicate with your waiter and the head waiter regarding your needs and wishes. Look at the next day’s menu. If a dish looks good to you, ask if it can made gluten-free. Tired of sorbet and creme brulee? (How is it possible to tire of creme brulee?!) Request cake.
- Talk to a chef at the buffet (Windjammer Cafe), to have safe food prepared in the back.
- Ask for a restaurant manager at the fast food restaurants and the head waiter at specialty dining venues.