Fred Olsen Cruise Line Feeds A Coeliac – Plus Advice To Those On Special Diets

I like to highlight travel experiences that have gone the extra mile.  We should all expect to be well looked after when we travel, with good standards of service being the norm.  This post is about something extra, and all the better for being unexpected.

So I’ll set the scene.  We’re on a short cruise with Fred Olsen, as we’ve never travelled with them before,  As a cruise agent, I want to understand how they tick.  As a traveller, I’ve recently been diagnosed as coeliac, meaning I can’t eat anything containing gluten.  For the uninitiated, this means anything that contains a wide number of grains, which can be included in such unexpected places as gravy, Worcester sauce, malt flavourings and soy sauce.  The gluten can sneak up and make you pretty ill.  So I was understandably anxious.  And I’d packed a sneaky stash of peanuts, gluten free crackers and cookies and other snacks just in case.

We got to the cabin, and my OH began to peruse the newsletter.  He found a “Special Diets” meeting, hosted in one of the restaurants on that first day.  We went along to be hosted by the Executive Chef.  Not just anyone, but the main culinary man.  He spent time carefully checking the needs of people with special diets and allergies.  And he was very clear about what we should do.

If you are coeliac, your life often means going without in restaurants.  “I can do you this, but without that” is generally the way it goes.  I’m always slightly amused by the people who offer dips like hummus, but without the pita bread.  Do you intend I should lick it from the plate?  Can you not give me a carrot or two?  But it was a whole different scenario with Fred’s.

We were told, nay implored, by the Executive Chef, to ask for more.  Where a sauce didn’t fit our needs, we were asked to describe what we would like, and it would be made for us.  We were told what would be safe for us, and what needed to be investigated.  In short, we were told not to settle for less.  They had gluten free bread, and it was brought immediately without asking at dinner each night.  I had some really delicious food, some naturally gluten-free and some made especially for coeliacs such as a magnificent Christmas pudding.  And importantly, I was confident that they were taking me seriously, and that proper care was being taken in what I was served.

And when I happened to stumble across afternoon tea later in the voyage, I was majorly impressed to discover not just gluten free cakes on offer, but that they were both already there (not in a galley 3 decks away and awaiting a request) and immediately available, AND they were properly wrapped and segregated to avoid cross-contamination.  And they were mighty good too.

Black Watch – you had a very grateful coeliac passenger.  Thank you for making my first gluten free cruise safe and delicious.

Special Diets

Advice for Cruisers on Special Diets

Cruise lines cater for all kinds of special diets from low sugar and low salt to particular allergies such as onion or tomato.  My advice to travellers on a special diet is as follows:

  • Let your cruise line (and travel agent) know up front when you book
  • On embarkation day, the main restaurant may not be open and you may need to use the buffet.  Ask for assistance from one of the supervisors (who should be visible within the buffet) to help you find something suitable for lunch.
  • On your first night, your dinner will not be pre-ordered.  It may be worth going to the restaurant that afternoon to ask to see the menu for the evening, which will give you time to order something suitable if there is nothing on that menu you can eat, or can only eat with modifications.
  • For subsequent evenings, you will be offered the next night’s menu so that you can choose your dinner in advance and have it prepared to your requirements.  By this time your regular waiting staff will no doubt remember your needs, and will be ready to ensure they are met.
  • It is possible on some ships to order your next day’s lunch at dinner the previous evening.  This is for restaurant dining on board, and therefore may not be possible should a main restaurant be closed that day.
  • You can elect to take your breakfast via room service, the buffet or the main restaurant.  I have had no problems in getting gluten free toast delivered to my cabin as part of room service, so a special diet doesn’t stop you having your brekkie in bed.
  • As always in a buffet situation, be aware of cross-contamination, and don’t be scared to ask for new serving utensils or a freshly cooked item if you have any concerns that cross-contamination may have occurred.
  • Don’t be frightened to ask where they stash the goodies!  Celebrity keeps gluten free cookies at the Cafe al Bacio while P&O keep their gluten free and sugar free cakes at Costa.  Always ask…after all, you’re meant to be having a good time too!
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Travel Snippets: The Grand Tour

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As a gentleman in the eighteenth century, it was considered obligatory to further your education and gather exposure to aristocratic European society by means of the Grand Tour of Europe.  The length of your trip was directly related to your purse, with anything from a few months to up to eight years being considered acceptable.  (Quite some gap year!)  In particular, a gentleman was expected to include Venice, Naples, Sicily and Rome on the tour, and to return with a fine collection of art and antiquities.  Some also returned with rather more exotic diseases.

Over time, the use of rail and steamship travel made the tour accessible to the middle classes, and the Cook’s Tour emerged via the one and only Thomas Cook, who began taking parties on the “grand circular tour” of Europe in 1851.