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!

Travel Insurance: A cautionary tale of Ronaldinho and mis orellas

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As someone in the travel trade, I’ll always ask a client if they have their travel insurance sorted.  I’m happy to deal with it for them, or equally happy if they have their own.  Back in the days when I travelled purely for pleasure, I once found myself in need of the services of my travel insurer.  Fortunately, not for anything major, but at 3am I was mighty glad to have them on call for what became a slightly surreal and amusing (in retrospect) experience.

We’d flown into Bilbao to see Atletico take on Barcelona.  We were staying at a nice hotel (must have been a mega-bargain, as it was rather too nice a hotel for our usual sartorial standards), and had spent a happy first day mooching around the city.  On returning to the hotel, I was somewhat taken aback to see an immaculate red carpet and velvet rope ensemble barring us from reception.  I marched up to the barrier in the manner of an Englishwoman on the first day of the sales, and was somewhat disappointed to be immediately allowed access.  Perhaps we weren’t quite as sartorially challenged as I’d thought.  Someone held the lift for us.  I looked up, and suddenly realised I’d been assisted by Ronaldinho.  We’d inadvertently booked in at the Barca team hotel.

It was a noisy if pleasant day, a great match, and a decent dinner, although I was a bit disconcerted to find out that my ears were leaking something deeply unpleasant.  Come 4am, I was still chasing elusive sleep.   The next day passed in a painful blur with much ear mopping, and paracetamol was doing nada.  At 3am the following night, I decided I was wussing out, and called the number to seek assistance.  The surreal part began.  I, in Bilbao, was having a conversation with an Aussie (actually in Sydney, not just expat) to find a doctor.  Eventually the hotel obliged.  My OH, who had been gently supportive throughout, finally found that lack of sleep had caught up with him, and was heard (as if via a fish tank) to comment that no one had ever died of earache.  I did point out that one or two people might have died after an overly-smart comment.

The doc arrived, and he, the hotel receptionist and I had a protracted 3 way converstation in Spanglish.  Mis orellas were not well, so I failed to understand why he was looking down my throat rather than in my ears.  The doc had a further conversation with the receptionist, and announced that he was missing some equipment, but the hotel could help.  Nightmarish visions of sharp implements flashed by me, and moments later a further knock came at our door.  Brandishing a silver cloche from the rather flash restaurant, a waiter doffed it with a flourish and presented the doc with…

…a dessert spoon, which he used as a tongue depressor.  Tonsilitis was pronounced, prescriptions issued, and OH dispatched (no doubt with a shrewish flea in his orellas) to go and find a pharmacy.  My perforated eardrum and I had a successful flight home, and I was fully restored by the power of antibiotics and plenty of fish soup.

And without travel insurance, I would undoubtedly have missed all the theatre.  Consider this a cautionary tale.

I loved this so much, I had to share. What happens when the Kiwi sense of humour grabs your attention for a serious reason. Why can’t we Brits get our act together for our own version? David Walliams, perhaps?

Travel Snippets: On Early Performance Clothing

Recommendations for cycling tours…

“Wear as few petticoats as possible; dark woollen stockings in winter, and cotton in summer; shoes, never boots; and have your gown made neatly and plainly of flannel without loose ends or drapery to catch in your [bicycle]… Grey is the best colour, or heather mixture tweed, which does not show dust or mud stains, and yet cannot lose its colour under a hot sun.”

Hints for Lady Travellers: L C Davidson 1889

Travel Snippets: The Victorian Vice Of Tea

‘There cannot be a doubt that the intemperate use of this most delightful and refreshing beverage is becoming a grave evil amongst Englishwomen…It is a thousand pities to abuse by excess one of the most rational, pleasant and innocent indulgences which are open to the use of womankind.’

Hints to Lady Travellers: Lillias Campbell Davison, published 1889

The P Word: Packing for your travels

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The packing world seems to separate itself into two tribes: here’s my kitchen sink, or hey, I can improvise a bivouac overnight with my miniascule pack.  At times I have wibbled between the two, moving from sink to bivouac and back again.

There are also two tribes of readiness.  There are the list makers, such as myself, who carefully tick everything off.  Then there are the slingits, such as my OH, who wake on the morning and blithely sling things into a bag.  Both have their perils, from packing performance anxiety in my case, to having to purchase a whole new set of undies in Blankenberg, Rostock and Tallin (name withheld – temporarily – to protect the guilty).

Of course, packing for a cruise is fraught with overpacking temptations.  If you don’t need to fly, which is now the chastity belt of the overpacking indulger, then you can bring “as much as can be fitted in your cabin”.  Athough cabins aren’t enormous, they are bigger than the average car, so you can certainly manage to include anything you can wedge into your boot.

Let’s take an example of the varied approaches to packing.  I’m recently back from 3 days on P&O’s Azura to Amsterdam.  I was there on a conference, so had work stuff with me.  I met a colleague at check in, who carried a cabin size case.  I had the next size up in a trolley bag.  Cabin next door to me?  One case each of the size I take for 14 days, plus a trolley bag apiece.  Whatever floats your boat, eh?  But I was a tad fascinated as to what they’d brought with them.  Giant Jenga?  A ball gown or two?  Or perhaps they had a stealthy second holiday to accommodate afterwards.

So what advice can I give you?

  1. Do your research online.  You can get the temperature forecast for your destination several days ahead, which gives you the chance to pack accordingly.  (Yay to smug me in Belgium last year, having remembered my hat, meaning I could wander around happily in the rain without battling with an umbrella!)  And this also helps if you want to find out the sartorial standards wherever you are headed.  Some cruise lines are more casual, others will need some thought over evening wear.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff; you can usually find it somewhere.  OH has an “interesting” new set of undies, especially from Tallin;  I think they were a stag party special.  I found out that the Spanish word for Paracetamol is Paracetamol and had a beautiful ornately wrapped box from a sweet pharmacist in Cadiz.
  3. Conversely, pack to your weaknesses.  I am both a worrier and a coeliac, and I feel much safer going away with an emergency stash of gluten free snacks.  It’s amazing how much happier a bag of peanuts and some fruit bars makes me feel, so that’s what I pack.
  4. To wash or not to wash?  (Your clothes, of course… )  If it’s warm and you’re inclined to more casual attire, then why not bring less, and hit the laundry part way through if the facilities are there (again, back to that research).  Some cruise lines have laundrettes, and you can always do a little handwashing in the sink if that suits you.  If you have just paled at the thought of doing manual labour on holiday, then I think we’ve just established you’ll be packing a bit more.
  5. Check what’s already there.  Nearly all ship cabins have a hairdryer, and it’s probably adequate unless you have Rapunzel-like tresses.  And you’ll probably find a selection of basic toiletries available if you don’t need to cater for sensitive skin.
  6. Share!  Are there things that you can share with your travel companions, such as some basic first aid stuff?
  7. Swap! And another good sharing tip, swap some items between your bag and that of your travel companion ; if one is lost or gets delayed you have a change of clothes and essentials to hand.

Happy journeys!


Cruising with Children

Deck facilities on Norwegian Epic

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to take your children away to sea, wonder no more!  It’s a brilliant opportunity to give the whole family plenty to do, in a safe environment, and with the ability for both parents and kids to do their own thing.

Firstly, you need to pick your cruise line, and focus in on the kind of facilities that will suit your family.  Do you love nothing more than being constantly in motion from one activity to another, or are you wanting to chill?  Do you want to see lots of places in a short time, or make the most of the ship’s facilities?  Or even both?

If you’ve never cruised before, don’t forget that your holiday includes:

  • Your accommodation in an ensuite cabin, possibly with a balcony
  • All your meals and some drinks with meals
  • Full use of the ship’s facilities including pools, whirlpools, the gym, the library, deck and indoor games and sports courts
  • An entertainment programme by day and night including special parties, live music, nightly shows, quizzes, competitions and demonstrations


If you are looking for a great family cruise, look for some of the following features onboard:

  • free kids’ clubs, according to age, with plenty of activities to suit your children
  • family friendly entertainment
  • ports and shore excursions that suit your family.  How about cycle rides, visiting dolphins, or a kayak trip?
  • Extra special ship facilities that will make great memories.  How about a climbing wall, a zipwire, or your favourite Dreamworks characters onboard?
  • Early children’s teas, so you can settle your kids for the night
  • A night nursery, enabling you to have some time as a couple.  P&O’s Azura has the wonderfully named “Sea Bed” as its night nursey and soft play area.



So don’t be afraid to check out a cruise holiday with your children. And if you have children, and are getting married, it’s a great opportunity to take your children with you but still have some time together.