Cruising with Food Allergies
Cruises give you the best of both worlds, allowing you to see a variety of cities while eating most, if not all, your meals in a safe, controlled environment. Not all cruise lines are created equal, and the key is knowing the right questions to ask. Use our 12 tips for cruising with food allergies and our cruise line resource that details booking information and dining accommodations from the major lines. And to make the whole experience a breeze, consider Pixie Lizzie, a travel agent and food allergy mom.
1. Consider using a travel agent. A travel agent that specializes in cruises and has experience with food allergies, either firsthand or for their clients, can be extremely beneficial. Agents don’t generally charge a fee, and the ticket prices are the same as if you buy directly from the cruise line. Look for someone who has personally traveled on the ships they recommend. See our featured travel agent, Pixie Lizzie.
2. Find a line that will plan ahead with you. Look for a cruise line that will let you start planning for safe meals before you board — some lines will have you wait until you board. The benefit is you’ll have the opportunity to communicate your needs ahead of time and understand how they can accommodate them. Note: Some lines require up to 90 days advance notice about your allergens. Find which line meets your needs!
3. Ask about the dining protocols. Find out if they’ve had experience with food allergic customers. Choose a line that can articulate the allergy policy, including detail on how the staff is trained and how to best navigate meals (i.e. if allergies are noted on the menus). Determine whether you can or should special order allergy-friendly meals ahead of time. See if you can bring outside food to supplement dining options and/or for excursions.
4. Determine if the ship has adequate medical staff and supplies. A safe ship should have a doctor and nurses on call 24/7. They should also stock epinephrine, steroids and a breathing apparatus onboard. If you plan to use a kids club, ask if employees are trained to use auto-injectors and have undergone background checks.
5. Purchase travelers insurance. This type of insurance provides coverage if your travel plans change and covers the costs for transportation to a secondary medical facility in the event of a reaction. Food allergies are considered a pre-existing condition, so make sure your policy covers that.
6. Eat in the main dining room whenever possible. The main dining room is the safest place to eat if you have allergies, as opposed to buffets, because your meals will be made fresh. On some lines, you will have the same waiter every night, which is ideal. Another strategy is to ask to see the menu ahead of time so you can order in advance.
7. Choose the earliest seating. Often cruise lines have first and second seating in the dining room. The first seating ensures you are not eating right before bedtime.
8. Plan your meals. You may not be able to bring food off the boat due to customs regulations, so it may be best to eat before you get off the ship. If the line has allowed you to bring snacks on the boat to take them on an excursion, they must be pre-packaged and there will be restrictions such as no fruits, vegetables or meats.
9. Keep it short. Consider a short excursion if you want to avoid having to navigate meals in the port city.
10. Find allergy-friendly options. Use the Spokin app to find reviews in 43 countries to help you find the safest restaurants wherever you are!
11. Bring allergy cards. Consider printing allergen cards written in the languages of all your port cities.
12. Say thanks after a good experience. Share a review of your cruise line and any other restaurants you visited in the Spokin app!
Auto-injectors Bring a minimum of two auto-injectors and any other medications you may need.
An Auto-injector Prescription In the event you’ve had to use an auto-injector on the boat and you need to refill at a port, this will allow you to avoid having to call your allergist.
Personal Care Items If needed, bring your own travel-sized bottles of allergy safe toiletries (e.g. shampoo, body wash and suntan lotion).
Snacks If allowed, bring snacks for excursions and to supplement the ships offerings, especially desserts.
Featured Travel Agent: Pixie Lizzie
Lizzie Reynolds is a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations through her company Pixie Lizzie. She is also a food-allergy mom with a daughter managing severe dairy, peanut and tree nut allergies. She’s an experienced cruiser and has been known to bring gifts onboard for chefs that take care of her clients. Her blog, AllergyFreeMouse.com is the go-to resource for Disney vacations.
Her process is extensive, and she helps her clients navigate every step of the way. While Disney is her favorite cruise line, she’s also a fan of SeaDream, a yachting company whose executive chefs make all meals from scratch and catered to your allergens. Note: This line is only for children ten years or older. She’s an undeniably unique resource for food allergy families.
Cruise Line Resource
Before You Book: Notify the line’s Special Services team about your allergies and dietary restrictions by calling 407-566-3602 at least 45 days in advance of your cruise!
Dining Accommodations: Disney can accommodate the top 8 food allergies at their table-service restaurants. They can also accommodate outside the top 8 allergens and encourage you to call in advance so they can prepare for your visit. They don’t have separate kitchens to prepare allergen-free items or separate dining areas for guests with allergies or intolerances.
Before You Book: If you made your reservation on their website, you can add your allergy information to the “Update personal information” section. You can also email an allergen request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dining Accommodations: Allergies are best accommodated in the main dining room. Confirm your dietary request with the restaurant manager at dinner the first night of the cruise, and remind your server at each meal!
Before You Book: Contact the Access Desk to discuss policies and procedures concerning special diets prior to your cruise. Special dietary requests should be submitted with this form at least 45 days prior to sailing.
Dining Accommodations: Upon embarkation, guests meet with the Restaurant Manager or the Executive Chef for arrangements and to go over their dietary needs. Guests may bring non-perishable, pre-packaged snacks onto the ship to be stored in their cabin.
Before You Book: Contact the Ship Services Department at (800) 541-1576. Complete a Special Requirements Information (SRI) form to provide detailed allergen information.
Dining Accommodations: Guests with a variety of severe food allergies sail with Holland America Line regularly. Contact the Dining Room Manager upon boarding to review the details of these special dietary needs. The galley itself has many different areas of food preparation, which can help reduce the possibility of cross-contamination. However, meals are prepared in mass quantities on board, so there is always the possibility of some cross-contamination.
Before You Book: You or your travel consultant must advise Princess in writing of any special diet, allergies or medical needs. Submit allergen requests in writing no later than 35 days prior to departure for cruises to Alaska, Canada/New England, Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama Canal and Coastal Getaways. For all other cruises, requests must be received no later than 65 days prior to departure.
Dining Accommodations: Once onboard, please check with the Maître D' to confirm your allergen requests.
Before You Book: Email the Special Needs Department 40 days prior to sailing and inform them of your allergy at email@example.com.
Dining Accommodations: On the first evening, speak with the Maître D' to let them know you have allergies, and remind your server at the beginning of every meal. In the buffet, talk with the manager so they can answer any questions about ingredients in a particular dish. All items prepared for guests with food allergies are handled separately from the main food production. Also, annual retraining is provided to ensure that staff members know the latest information regarding the 14 major food allergens and intolerances.
Before You Book: Dietary requests are handled onboard the ship. However, to notify the staff in advance, email the Special Requests Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dining Accommodations: Discuss your food allergies with the head waiter at dinner on the first night of the cruise. Allergies can best be accommodated in the main dining room. When dining at the buffet, speak with the senior dining staff.