Gluten Free Travel: New Innovations Aboard Holland America, Norwegian, Seabourn Cruises

Possibly more than any other segment of the travel industry, the cruise sector adheres to the well-worn maxim that sharks live by: keep moving or die. That forward progress – in cruise ship design, operation, culinary prowess (including gluten-free options), and service delivery – implies innovation on a scale and at a pace unrivaled by land-based resorts. I’ve picked three cruise lines – one each in the contemporary, premium and luxury sectors of the industry – that epitomize the often revolutionary, cutting-edge experiences now being offered to guests at sea.

For tips on cruising gluten-free, click here. 

gluten-free cruise seabourn cruise

Seabourn Cruises

Luxury cruising and expedition travel have, until recently, been mutually exclusive. That wasn’t necessarily by design; it’s just that the synergy between the demographics seeking both types of travel didn’t necessarily exist before. That’s all changed now, as luxury cruise operators like Seabourn Cruises have pushed into the adventure/expedition space with new offerings – once thought to be incompatible – that satisfy upscale clientele looking to relish new experiences in high style and comfort.

My recent “Norway and Northern Isles” sailing on Seabourn Quest, featuring the line’s “Ventures by Seabourn” excursions and a culinary program highlighted by noted chef Thomas Keller’s cuisine, provided the perfect example of this relatively nascent synergy.

gluten free cruise Thomas Keller
Gluten-free fried chicken from 3-star Michelin Chef Thomas Keller (photo: David Yeskel)

This Isn’t Roughing It

In the past, expedition cruising – to places like Antarctica, the Galapagos or the Canadian Arctic – typically meant a trip on an old, converted Russian icebreaker or other “adventure” ship that didn’t necessarily offer creature comforts. In essence, passengers were “fed and watered” a few times per day, then retired to their tiny, spartan accommodations to sleep. Forget about entertainment, fine dining, or a high service standard. The experience was basic – and rather rough, at best. Now, luxury cruise operators like Seabourn are offering something completely new and, evidently, in demand: an upscale experience – akin to that found in the world’s finest hotels – in which their clients enjoy pampering on an elevated scale while they go exploring. 

The “Ventures by Seabourn” excursions offered on the line’s intimate ships (carrying between 450 – 600 passengers) typically revolve around kayaking, zodiac rides and hikes, all led by an accomplished, dedicated Explorations Team. The “Ventures” experience; however, doesn’t begin or end with the activities themselves.  Team members conduct complimentary lectures, known as “Conversations,” in the ship’s public areas, spotlighting their respective focus areas. On my sailing, an ornithologist, a geologist, a naturalist, a biologist, and a historian provided fascinating context for the areas we were traveling through, along with tips for getting more out of each destination.  More intimate encounters with the Explorations Team took place at scheduled afternoon sessions, at mealtimes and during social events, where guests could mingle with and query team members on their specific interests.

Outside, the active excursions were led with an extremely high standard of professionalism, technical expertise and safety, featuring top-of-the-line equipment and gear – all kept onboard. We were fitted with watertight dry suits for a kayaking adventure through Norway’s gorgeous Kristiansand archipelago while receiving expert instruction that required no prior kayaking experience. A support kayak and support Zodiac; however, hovered nearby, but just far enough away so as not to be intrusive. Meanwhile, a full Zodiac suit kept us warm and dry during an exhilarating Zodiac ride in the equally stunning Eidfjord, where our boat’s 10 guests were captivated by towering waterfalls cascading down the sheer fjord walls amidst a blissful serenity unmatched in our everyday lives.

Back aboard Seabourn Quest, we indulged in our sumptuous suite with a twin-vanity, marble bath, sitting area, walk-in closet, large verandah with chairs and a table, and soft, luxurious linens. And after a long day of touring, the delight of returning to a warm bath prepared by our stateroom stewardess was a guilty – and oft-repeated – pleasure. That service standard:  extremely personalized, attentive and efficient, was typical of the entire Seabourn cruise experience, as you might expect from an operation with a near 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio.

Refreshed and ready for dinner, we had our pick of four dining venues, each offering a unique nightly menu that focused on intricately and creatively prepared dishes using the finest ingredients. Seabourn’s affiliation with Thomas Keller, the only American chef to garner 3 Michelin stars on multiple occasions, is a boon to the line’s guests – especially those into celebrity-chef worship, like me. In fact, Chef Keller’s dishes were available almost every night of the sailing, in addition to the other gourmet items featured on the menus.  And we enjoyed copious amounts of lobster, lamb, caviar, prime steaks – even sautéed foie gras – pretty much whenever we wanted them. Dietary accommodations are often made on the fly – or with a day’s notice – allowing almost any dish to be prepared gluten free. Seabourn’s gluten-free French toast, almond cake and fresh-baked loaves of bread were far and away the best versions of those items I’ve ever consumed – at sea or ashore. This was largely due to Chef Keller’s proprietary gluten-free flour provider, Cup4Cup. A particular dining highlight was Keller’s pressure-cooked fried chicken: moist, flavorful, and double-coated with that rich Cup4Cup breading.

And when not satisfying our stomachs, we fed our minds and nourished our souls with daily, complimentary meditation, yoga and stretching sessions provided by the Spa and Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil Program. Meanwhile, evenings aboard brought top-flight entertainment, featuring a troupe of talented singers and a stunningly expert Russian dance couple, combining to perform a medley of music and dance styles across five unique production shows. And Seabourn’s guest entertainers shone on the alternate evenings, as we were enthralled by a British opera singer and an Australian virtuoso violinist, among others.

Fares for Seabourn’s voyages, which range from 7-21 days, typically begin at about $3,199 per person, and include all cuisine, premium spirits and wines, and gratuities. Visit

What’s Hot in Gluten-Free Las Vegas Right Now

If the ever-shifting sands just outside this desert resort were a metaphor for Las Vegas’ constantly-evolving hospitality landscape, the dizzying changes that have taken place this past year in the city’s casino-resorts would approximate a blinding sandstorm. But alas, this is Las Vegas, and amidst the near-constant flux of hotel revamps, restaurant turnover and show debuts, the city’s tourism industry still manages to operate with incredible efficiency while offering visitors outstanding experiences. 

Read Gluten-Free Las Vegas: The Top 10 Picks.

CATCH Las Vegas

CATCH Las Vegas

Here are my hot picks for Vegas on a gluten-free diet.

Remember the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino? Don’t be ashamed to admit that you don’t.  The mid-Strip property never had much of an identity – until now, that is, in its reincarnation as Park MGM.  And this wasn’t just a rebrand.  A thorough, 2-year transformation took place that included a redesign of all hotel rooms, the replacement of all restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and a new, uber-trendy NoMad Las Vegas hotel-within-a-hotel on the top 4 floors. 

In short, the property turned from seldom-discussed on the Strip to incredibly hip, and, in another example of Vegas magic, it never closed while doing so. 

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Notable venues include Eataly, a 40,000 square-foot, tour-de-force of Italian cuisine, and the relatively-intimate Park Theater, the perfect venue to see stars like Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson and Bruno Mars perform in their mini-residencies.  And since Park MGM isn’t yet well-known, room rates right now tend to be lower than the competition for midweek stays. 

Although Cirque du Soleil’s 6 large, spectacular productions take up most of the air in the room when discussing Las Vegas entertainment, some smaller shows – often flying under the radar – also deserve notice. 

Xavier Mortimer’s Magical Dream

Ex-Cirque du Soleil performer Xavier Mortimer flexes his magic chops and shows off his all-around talent in this early evening show at Bally’s Las Vegas. 

Mortimer’s charming, sweet personality fuels this feel-good, beautiful production, featuring unique illusions that are especially impressive when viewed up-close in the intimate theater.  His use of video mapping and shadows is mesmerizing, and their effect, accompanied by Mortimer’s own music, creates the real magic here. 

Purple Reign

Missed seeing the late artist, Prince, in concert over the years?  Now you can catch the next best thing in Las Vegas by experiencing Jason Tenner and his “Purple Reign” show at The Tropicana.  Tenner has spent over 20 years honing his tribute to Prince, and his look, voice, guitar work and dance moves are spot-on perfect.  As an added bonus, the show also includes impressive tributes to frequent Prince-collaborators Morris Day and the Time and Vanity 6.

Read Gluten-Free Las Vegas: Sin City of Fabulous Food

Las Vegas’ hospitality sector boasts some of the best hotel values in the world, but you have to know where to look – and when to book – to snag them.  The new Burgundy Rooms at Paris Las Vegas and the Resort Tower rooms next door at Bally’s Las Vegas were just completely refurbished and enhanced, representing what I consider to be the best accommodations value (midway between budget and luxury), center-Strip.  Savvy Vegas visitors know to book midweek stays for the best rates, which can start from as low as $100/night (including resort fees) at both properties.

New restaurants always draw attention in Sin City, but few are as buzz-worthy as Catch at Aria Las Vegas.  An L.A. import, Catch draws notice as much for its fresh and unique seafood presentations as it does from the drop-dead gorgeous floral pergola entrance and its beautiful, see-and-be-seen patrons.  The oven-roasted whole branzino is perfect for two, and for dessert, the eatery’s Hit Me Cake is chocolate poetry in motion; just ask for it without the bourbon ganache (making it gluten free), then swing away to reveal the gooey liquid center.

TV chef Giada de Laurentiis recently kicked off a weekend brunch at her fast-casual Pronto by Giada outlet inside Caesars Palace.  And while tiny compared with the city’s other massive, over-the-top brunch extravaganzas, this spread typifies quality over quantity, with the chef’s gluten-free small bites, carving and omelette stations, prepared salads and sweets all making appearances.  Little known so far, this all-you-can-eat affair is priced at a reasonable $39.

Meanwhile, no discussion of Sin City’s gustatory delights would be complete without mentioning the city’s – and likely the country’s – ultimate culinary festival, Vegas Uncork’d.  This 4-day extravaganza (typically held in May) is filled with chef-driven events that have true foodies salivating in anticipation.  The weekend’s signature event, The Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace, is close to a modern-day Roman bacchanal – just without the orgy.  The outdoor extravaganza brings together 50 top chefs serving tastes of their greatest hits, along with over 100 wines and spirits.  And for those into celebrity-chef worship, the ability to mingle with stars like Guy Savoy, Iron Chef Morimoto, Nobu, Giada de Laurentiis, Susan Feniger, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Fieri and other notables is nirvana. 

Before you set off, review these Gluten-Free Packing Tips for the 21st Century.

And, contrary to popular belief, great bargains and quality cuisine aren’t mutually exclusive in Vegas.  A perfect example of this intersection is the new Block 16 Urban Food Hall at the Cosmopolitan.  An upscale food court bringing together 6 innovative culinary concepts from across the country, Block 16 is casual, affordable and appetizing.  My go-to dish, featured at Portland’s Pok Pok Wing, is the Sweet Pork over Coconut Rice with Papaya Salad.  It’s delicious, completely gluten free, and only $12.  Enjoy!

Follow David Yeskel, aka The Vegas Guru® , on Twitter. 

Gluten-Free Las Vegas: The Top 10 Picks

In old Las Vegas — and up until about a generation ago — casino gambling was the bedrock of the economy and the essence of the city’s identity. Other sectors within the casino-resort sphere, including dining and entertainment, merely existed to serve the gaming market — and they weren’t even expected to turn a profit. In fact, they were money-losers, which was OK as long as the house kept winning in the casino. In recent years, however, that calculus has changed. As gaming profits slowly declined, income from dining, entertainment, spa services, nightclubs and shopping began filling out the revenue pie. And as Las Vegas became a culinary mecca, with the world’s top chefs setting up shop, foodies flocked to feast on extravagant cuisine unequaled in any other resort destination, fulfilling the “if you build it, they will come” mantra. Luckily for us, special diet accommodation has become de rigueur, making the experience that much more delicious. Thus, here are my current picks for the 10 best gluten-free bites in Las Vegas (in no particular order).

Plantain Empanadas, Border Grill at Mandalay Bay1. Plantain Empanadas, Border Grill at Mandalay Bay

When discussing the rental car industry, road warriors often say that “there’s everybody else, then there’s Hertz.” A similar analogy could be applied to the realm of Mexican cuisine in Vegas, where one name stands above all the rest: Border Grill. The outlet’s “Too Hot Tamales,” TV celebrity chefs and culinary superstars Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, have spent years honing their modern Mexican cuisine to near perfection, and it shows. Most menu items are naturally gluten free at Border Grill, and while I’ve eaten my way through many of the menu’s best dishes, the chefs’ Plantain Empanadas are my favorite. Featuring organic black beans, poblano chiles and Mexican cheeses all wrapped inside a sweet, roasted plantain pastry, then finished with crema and chipotle salsa, these luscious empanadas will spoil you.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Celery Root, Braised Bacon Lardons & Apples, Gordon Ramsay HELL’S KITCHEN at Caesars Palace2. Pan-Seared Scallops with Celery Root, Braised Bacon Lardons & Apples, Gordon Ramsay HELL’S KITCHEN at Caesars Palace

When the “shouty chef” opened his fifth Las Vegas restaurant (yes, five), even his outsized ego couldn’t have imagined the runaway success that Gordon Ramsay HELL’S KITCHEN at Caesars Palace would become. Since opening about a year ago, the eatery has arguably been the hottest table (pun intended) in town, with reservations difficult to book even during off-times. Guests walk into a room resembling the set of the eponymous TV show, with a somewhat eerie, holographic version of Ramsay just inside the door. Once seated, they’re treated to some of the chef’s greatest hits, including his signature Beef Wellington and Sticky Toffee Pudding. But a lesser-known specialty, created expressly for this restaurant, is a winner, too. The Pan-Seared Scallops with Celery Root, Braised Bacon Lardons & Apples is not only the perfect starter but also a relatively complex, gluten-free dish that impresses even jaded foodies.

3. Two-Course Beijing Roasted Duck, China Tang at MGM Grand

When Hong Kong’s Lai Sun Group picked Las Vegas for its Western Hemisphere debut in 2018, local foodies salivated in anticipation of the renowned cooking that has earned coveted Michelin stars. Thankfully, the dining experience lives up to those lofty expectations, while the elegant dining room matches the impressive culinary presentations. Among many specialties, including an excellent dim sum selection, the Two-Course Beijing Roasted Duck dinner is the standout (not pictured). First, a Hong Kong-trained chef presents the duck tableside, carefully carving off the authentically crispy skin, which gluten-free diners enjoy with plum sauce, scallions and cucumber. The bird is then brought back to the kitchen, where the moist duck meat is removed and turned into a second delicious dish before being returned to the table. Although several options are available for this second course, I prefer the sautéed, diced duck meat with yam and corn, served in lettuce cups. This epicurean experience will also confer bragging rights, as you’ll be talking about this two-course gourmet delicacy long after you return from Sin City.

4. Caviar Fried Egg, Libertine Social at Mandalay Bay

Modern-day gastropubs are known as much for their food as their drink, but talented executive chef Jamaal Taherzadeh has elevated the cuisine of his Libertine Social at Mandalay Bay far above other competitors in this category. In fact, the innovative dishes served here rival those of nearby fine dining establishments, and the chef’s Caviar Fried Egg starter, a perfect example of form, function and flavor, wowed me. To begin the complex preparation, the egg yolks are cooked sous vide then whipped with sea salt, while the whites are fried then pureed with cream and turned into a foam. After the corn is cooked to a pudding-like consistency, it’s deftly layered into an eggshell, along with the yolk, then covered with the egg white foam. Topped off with a generous helping of caviar, the dish makes a gorgeous presentation. Just ask the server to leave off the brioche toast garnish, then dig deep with a spoon to capture all the complex flavors in every delicious bite.

5. Black Cod Miso, Nobu Restaurant Las Vegas at Caesars Palace5. Black Cod Miso, Nobu Restaurant Las Vegas at Caesars Palace

Very few celebrities have the distinction of being known by one name (think Cher,
Beyoncé, Celine), but Nobu Matsuhisa, the Japanese master chef behind this restaurant empire, is simply referred to as Nobu. And although the chef’s modern Japanese cuisine, sashimi and sushi are innovative and upscale, the most popular dish in the public’s mindset is likely his iconic Black Cod Miso. The signature dish is often imitated but never duplicated, since its silky, smooth texture and taste are world-class. In fact, the expression “melts in your mouth” applies perfectly here, as the delicate fish, marinated in Den Miso sauce, is a gourmet indulgence. As an added treat — and if your wallet can support it — be sure to try another Nobu delicacy: a few slices of Japanese A5 Wagyu beef that will bring your taste buds to another level.

6. Grilled Octopus, Estiatorio Milos at The Cosmopolitan6. Grilled Octopus, Estiatorio Milos at The Cosmopolitan

As the only fine-dining Greek restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip, Estiatorio Milos has long been the standard-bearer for Hellenic cuisine in Sin City. And while the options on the menu are all very good, the Grilled Octopus appetizer ultimately steals the thunder. Exemplifying what may be the trendiest dish of 2018, grilled octopus is now found up and down the Strip at top dining venues, but its preparation and presentation at Milos beats all. Here, the sashimi-quality Mediterranean octopus is char-grilled, then broiled and served over Santorini fava puree. Order it with a glass of Greek white wine, then close your eyes and be transported to Mykonos.

Radicchio and Pear Risotto, Mercato della Pescheria at The Venetian7. Radicchio and Pear Risotto, Mercato della Pescheria at The Venetian

It’s only natural that the Italian-themed Venetian Las Vegas would host a wealth of quality Italian restaurants. But it’s relative newcomer Mercato della Pescheria that impressed me most with an innovative and mouthwatering gluten-free dish. The Radicchio and Pear Risotto, a flavorful combination that blends sweet pears and braised radicchio with the aged Acquerello rice that gives the dish its consistency, achieves pure harmony. Enjoy it while dining “al fresco” in the atmospheric St. Mark’s Square of the Grand Canal Shoppes, where it’s always 72 degrees at perpetual sunset. Adding a bit of “street-mosphere” to the experience are musical acts, living statues and copious mounds of gelato.

Chickpea Bowl, Jardin at Wynn Las Vegas8. Chickpea Bowl, Jardin at Wynn Las Vegas

Best described as a warm, flavorful bowl of goodness, the vegan Chickpea Bowl at Jardin, inside Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, is also comfort food for the soul. Every restaurant inside the luxe Wynn and Encore properties features at least one vegan dish on their menu, and this relatively new offering is tops in my book. The bowl is actually a warm, thick stew consisting of lentils, edamame, toasted almonds, quinoa, pickled beets and citrus yogurt, bathed in a coconut curry sauce and topped with papadum (lentil and chickpea flour) chips. Enjoying this dish in the serene and gorgeous garden-like setting of Jardin, with a knowledgeable and doting service staff, is a rich experience unique to this resort.

Lemon Spaghetti, Giada at The Cromwell9. Lemon Spaghetti, Giada at The Cromwell

When celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis opened her namesake fine-dining restaurant in The Cromwell in 2016, she promised a California-Italian menu that emphasized fresh and light cuisine. Her motto — “Eat a little bit of everything, but not a lot of anything” — perfectly sums up the restaurant’s ethos with a mixture of small plates meant for sharing. But it’s one of her main dishes that stands out inside what is arguably the Strip’s most beautiful dining room. Giada’s Lemon Spaghetti, modified easily by substituting a gluten-free version of the namesake pasta, is a tour de force of luscious flavor and breathtaking presentation. Twirled tightly in a light lemon and mascarpone cheese sauce, the pasta is served over a pair of large, flavorful prawns, making this a don’t-miss dish to savor while gazing out at the Strip’s action through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Paella Mixta, Julian Serrano at Aria10. Paella Mixta, Julian Serrano at Aria

Considered by gourmands the quintessential Spanish dish, paella has become a virtual litmus test for Iberian restaurants’ authenticity. Its preparation is tricky, demanding the use of a short-grain rice that absorbs liquid, and thus doesn’t dry out in the shallow pan, so quality can vary widely and rarely achieves the level of perfection at Julian Serrano at Aria. The kitchen at the chef’s restaurant not only achieves flawless consistency and flavor, the mixture of lobster, mussels, shrimp, chicken and chorizo in the Paella Mixta also makes for a rich Spanish experience unequaled at competing venues.

Want to learn more about making a gluten-free visit to Las Vegas? Read “Gluten-Free Las Vegas: Sin City of Fabulous Food.”


Travel journalist David Yeskel, aka The Cruise Guru and The Vegas Guru®, has written extensively about the cruise industry and Las Vegas.


5 Foodie Lines for Gluten-Free Cruising

You can cruise safely and reliably on these five top cruise lines that feature deliciously robust gluten-free dining programs as part of their quest to expertly accommodate guests with special diets. If you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, it’s time to look into these impressive options for gluten-free cruising.

1. MSC Cruises

With its Mediterranean focus and concordant heavy emphasis on pasta, pizza and other Italian specialties, MSC Cruises faces what is possibly the most challenging task of any cruise line in this grouping—and knows it. This family-owned, European-based cruise line with a limited but fast-growing presence in North America aims to deliver a superior culinary experience to its international clientele. Faced with this tricky task, MSC partnered with the Italian Celiac Association (AIC) to jointly develop gluten-free menus for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The AIC supervises and regulates the program by making unannounced, periodic inspections of MSC’s ships.

Diligent and careful preparation are the watchwords in the separate gluten-free galley aboard the MSC Divina, MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside. The Mediterranean theme aboard MSC’s modern ships—aside from stunning Italian design in the public rooms—manifests itself heavily in Italian cuisine, so it’s no surprise that the ships are provisioned with up to 23 different types of pasta (many made fresh on board), including several gluten-free varieties. Guests in the main dining room are presented with up to 17 completely different gluten-free menus throughout their cruise—and the choices therein are myriad and delicious. Even the packaged, gluten-free baked goods offered in all dining venues—produced in Italy, by the way—are far superior in taste and consistency to those tried elsewhere. And the effort carries over to lunchboxes provided for shore excursions and onboard beer and cocktails. Typifying the quality of the cuisine was one night’s special dessert in the excellent, alternative Eataly restaurant: a gluten-free torta della nonna, which ranked among the best desserts I’ve ever had at sea.

MSC Cruises is a market leader in European cruising, has a commanding presence in South America and will have two ships in Miami this winter—including the brand-new and groundbreaking MS Seaside—sailing in the warm Caribbean waters.

2. Holland America Line

Steeped in history and rich with tradition, Holland America Line (HAL) has been satisfying guests for more than 140 years aboard its classic ships, and providing quality cuisine has always been an integral part of that legacy. In recent years, HAL Master Chef Rudi Sodamin has elevated the line’s culinary program, introducing innovative and modern dishes that complement the already-impressive classic fare. And the accommodations for gluten-free guests aren’t an afterthought. In a carefully thought-out and planned exercise that reveals itself in scrumptious offerings in all dining venues aboard, HAL’s gluten-free program excels.

What makes the line’s culinary program exceptional, however, goes beyond the legendary warm hospitality exuded by its staff and crew; it’s the fact that food-and-beverage staff and crew are cognizant of—and, more importantly, informed about—special diets and their relation to the dishes offered onboard. According to Bitta Kuruvilla, ms Zuiderdam’s executive chef, 90 percent of the dishes on the main dining room menus are either already gluten free or can be made so with 24 hours’ notice.

And the accommodation extends to the Lido Market casual dining area, where the Italian station features several made-to-order gluten-free pasta choices; the pancake and waffle station provides safe options; and the Distant Lands pan-Asian station chefs will carefully customize dishes using tamari soy sauce.

Guests traveling on HAL’s ships also now enjoy the cruise industry’s best nighttime lounge entertainment in the line’s Music Walk trio of venues, including B.B. King’s Blues Club, where talented Memphis pros deliver stunning renditions of blues, soul and R&B hits. Onboard enrichment opportunities also abound on HAL through the line’s new partnership with PBS’ America’s Test Kitchen, Exploration Central’s destination hub and programming inspired by O, the Oprah Magazine.

Holland America’s ships span the globe, with a commanding presence in Alaska and Europe during the summer and the Caribbean in winter. The line’s ships also sail to Mexico, Asia, Cuba, the Panama Canal, South America and Antarctica. ⇒

3. Oceania Cruises

Known by avid cruisers as the “foodie cruise line,” Oceania has an ethos firmly rooted in culinary supremacy. Led by legendary chef Jacques Pepin, the line touts its gourmet bona fides heavily—and ultimately delivers—so it’s no surprise that gluten-free guests are in for a treat.

Seeing a different dinner menu each night, guests in Oceania’s grand dining room are spoiled with a choice of 10 appetizers, soups and salads, and 12 entrees. And it’s a gourmand’s daydream, as caviar, lobster, duck and prime rib make frequent menu appearances. Special diets are accommodated easily, since every dish is prepared a la minute. Dining staff are also well versed in gluten-free options for passengers.

Even at Waves Grill, the casual poolside eatery, guests are tempted with gourmet items like lobster tails and lamb chops—all prepared to order, of course.

Dining in the specialty restaurants onboard is certainly no less extraordinary. At Red Ginger, the Asian bistro featured on Marina, Riviera and Sirena, the Spicy Duck and Watermelon Salad gets the salivary glands working, as does the succulent Miso-Glazed Seabass.

Oceania’s ships occupy a unique niche in the cruise industry, a category referred to as “upper-premium.” The line’s six intimate ships only carry between 700 and 1,200 passengers—a capacity that virtually ensures personalized attention and service—which enables visits to smaller ports. In the Mediterranean, guests may visit Monte Carlo, Monaco; Split, Croatia; Menorca, Spain and Portofino, Italy. When sailing through the Caribbean, port calls may include Belize City, Belize; Cienfuegos, Cuba; Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe and St. John’s, Antigua. And, in a nod to the line’s destination focus, there are more overnight visits to ports than ever before, giving guests more time to experience the true flavor of a city, including its nightlife.

4. Crystal Cruises  

As a perennial leader in the luxury cruise niche, Crystal Cruises is constantly looking for ways to raise the bar even higher to cater to discerning clientele on its two mid-sized, ocean-going ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. And Crystal’s guests expect culinary excellence at each meal, regardless of their dietary needs. On a recent voyage, I was impressed by Crystal’s culinary program and the company’s caring accommodation of guests with specialty diets.

Dinner menus in Crystal’s main dining room are comprised of two sections: Crystal Classics and Modern Cuisine. The latter is typified by dishes like Mediterranean Sea Bass with Beet Risotto and Poached King Crab, and Snapper Sashimi with Caramelized Banana, while the former offers comfort classics like Lobster Cobb Salad and Whole Roasted Duck with Orange Sauce. Diners are free to mix and match from both sides of the menu. Working my way through dinner each night was a two-hour gustatory labor of love.  And with included top-shelf cocktails and wines, it was also a guilty pleasure.

Specialty dining is also taken up a notch on Crystal, notwithstanding the dining room’s already-high standard. Silk Road and the Sushi Bar feature authentic tastes of famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s iconic dishes, and the onboard Nobu-trained chefs are skilled at creating menu items that capably satisfy special diets. Meanwhile, diners at Prego feast on Italian specialties honed at Piero Selvaggio’s Valentino Restaurant in Santa Monica, California, such as Carpaccio of Black Angus Beef and succulent Veal Scaloppine al Limone with gluten-free capellini pasta.

And my favorite luxury touch onboard Crystal? The nightly chocolate fountain in The Bistro café, featuring a myriad of fruit, marshmallows and other delights that guests are free to dip and enjoy to their hearts’ content.

5. Celebrity Cruises 

Celebrity Cruises’ “modern luxury” tagline applies to the eight-ship line’s spacious and stylish public rooms as well as to the progressive culinary program. The dining room fare hews toward classics like rack of lamb and tournedos of beef, while specialty eatery Qsine features shared Mediterranean plates and playful appetizers like sushi lollipops—all ordered via an iPad.

Guests with special diets are well-accommodated, especially due to the line’s recent participation in the Dine Aware program. All food and beverage staff and crew are now required to complete Dine Aware training, which educates them on topics related to food allergies and intolerance. In addition, gluten-free dishes in the dining room are clearly indicated on the menu. Guests with a gluten allergy or intolerance may also have their choices prepared in the Special Order Line area of the galley, where great care is taken to avoid cross-contamination. Even the Oceanview Café, Celebrity’s casual dining area, features a dedicated station for gluten-free items and pastries.

But the Celebrity experience is more than just contemporary cuisine; the onboard ambience projects a modern, stylish European hotel where current-day sensibilities mesh with classic service. On the line’s Solstice-class ships, arriving passengers step into a spacious, light-filled atrium while entertainers perform gentle, Cirque-like acrobatics accompanied by ethereal music. It’s a fitting welcome to an upscale cruising experience meant to appeal to a sophisticated demographic.

The line’s four Millennium-class ships have all been recently renovated to include features and functionality such as restaurants, spas, lounges and coffee bars found on its newer-generation Solstice-class ships in order to provide guests with a uniform experience across the fleet.

Celebrity’s ships sail the Caribbean in winter and the Mediterranean in summer, enabling guests to enjoy warm-weather cruising year-round.

Want more information, tips and destinations for gluten-free travel? Check out our Travel section!


Norwegian’s Freestyle Cruising Lets Gluten-Free Guests Rest Easy

With its “Freestyle Cruising” mantra, Norwegian Cruise Line tempts vacationers with the promise of a carefree voyage unhindered by schedules, fixed dining times or assigned seating arrangements. An impressive lineup of 10 or more onboard restaurants serve varied ethnic and American favorites, allowing guests to eat where they want, when they want and with whom they want. But the main dining room regimentation offered by most other cruise lines—typified by fixed seating times and a static table assignment with familiar wait staff—provides a sense of security for gluten-free passengers. After all, being served at the same table nightly by the same staff, who remember and attend to guests’ specific needs, has obvious appeal for those on special diets.

Realizing that a similarly secure experience must be achieved across its entire 14-ship fleet while catering to gluten-free guests safely and responsibly, Norwegian has put in place an impressive methodology for satisfying this need while delivering a quality dining experience across a wide range of restaurants. Since guests may never repeat a dinner restaurant experience aboard a typical seven-night Norwegian cruise, the line faces—and thankfully meets—the challenging task of tracking and catering to gluten-free diners. On a recent nine-night Western Caribbean cruise aboard the 2,340-passenger Norwegian Dawn, I put Norwegian’s Freestyle Cruising dining program to the ultimate culinary test by switching restaurants nightly.

Dinner details

As with other cruise lines, Norwegian prefers to be made aware of a guest’s dietary needs at least 30 days before sailing in order to stock the ship properly and provide adequate notice to ship’s staff. Once aboard, special-diet guests are identified in the ship’s passenger database by their name and stateroom number, which is captured in every restaurant reservation or when dining as a walk-up guest. Thus, restaurant supervisors and wait staff are immediately made aware of this status and proceed to confirm the details with the passenger. Before the end of the meal, the supervisor approaches the guest with the next night’s menu—regardless of venue—and takes the requested order. And while guests may be able to identify obviously safe menu choices, chefs are often able to customize dishes on request when given 24-hour notice. For example, rack of lamb, crab cakes and chicken parmesan—all typically off-limits for gluten-free diners due to the crust, breadcrumbs and breading—were customized with alternative grain preparations.

Ethnic restaurants that typically pose issues also satisfied diners’ needs satisfactorily. The line’s pan-Asian eatery, Bamboo, uses tamari soy sauce, while La Cucina’s modern Italian fare was enhanced with multiple gluten-free pasta choices. Moderno, the Brazilian Churrascaria, and Los Lobos Mexican Cantina both offered menus featuring largely gluten-free dishes. As in most land-based restaurants, however, desserts were fairly limited, with options typically revolving around crème brulee, ice cream and soufflé. But a chocolate fondue and hazelnut Napoleon in the upscale French eatery Le Bistro were pleasantly delicious surprises.

Breakfast, lunch, snacks…and beer

Although the focus of the dining experience is typically on dinner—after all, that’s where most culinary innovation takes place—Norwegian has instituted a similar regimen for breakfast and lunch. Most guests enjoy breakfast and lunch in the ship’s Garden Cafe buffet restaurant, but the likelihood of cross-contamination from serving tongs being moved by passengers from one serving tray to another leads to increased risk. Due to these conditions, passengers following special diets are encouraged to eat those meals in the main dining rooms.

In most dining venues, packaged gluten-free products are available, including sliced bread, rolls, bagels, pizza crusts, muffins, cookies, pancakes, French toast and waffles. And while these products certainly satisfy the need, their varying quality doesn’t always slake the desire.  That’s where the gluten-free beer comes in, handily stocked in the ship’s bars.

The key to GF success

While the products themselves are easily supplied, it’s the careful, attentive and precise service delivered by Norwegian’s understanding staff and crew that ultimately makes the cruise experience a safe and secure success. Combining this standard with meticulously followed preparation and cooking procedures in galleys that reduce the risk of cross-contamination earns Norwegian Cruise Line kudos and allows guests to relax and enjoy “freestyle” cruising.

-By David Yeskel

Gluten-free cruising can be safe and fun

As travelers who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivity add to the increasing number of guests who follow a gluten-free diet, cruise lines have stepped up to accommodate this now-ubiquitous dining requirement. In addition to the low-salt, kosher, vegetarian and low-sugar meal options, most ships’ special diets galleys now prepare gluten-free fare.

Cruise lines across all sectors—mass-market, premium and luxury—now readily accommodate gluten-free guests with a large selection of nutritious, tasty and even sinful dishes. Mass-market leader Carnival Cruise Line has long touted its popular Chocolate Melting Cake, a rich, warm circular cake with a molten center, paired with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, as a signature dessert available nightly in its ships’ dining rooms. And while some would doubt that Carnival could pull off a delicious gluten-free version of this sinful sweet, those doubts were laid to rest when I recently enjoyed one onboard Carnival Miracle—and marveled at how close it tasted to the original. It was a milestone effort that demonstrated how far gluten-free dining has come aboard ships.

CruiseMost cruise lines encourage gluten-free guests to take their meals in the ship’s formal dining room, where control over the ingredients, preparation and potential cross-contamination is better regimented than in the ship’s lido, or buffet, area. At dinner each night, passengers receive the next day’s menus, from which they choose items to their liking—even some that appear to be forbidden. Chefs then make the determination on whether a typically gluten-containing dish can be customized or not. Regardless, multiple safe options exist on all menus. Upon arriving at the dining room the next evening, the guest simply gives their cabin number to the waiter, who then tracks the meal order in the galley through to delivery. It’s a relatively seamless process that has been honed to near-perfection.

Even though the dining room continues to be the safest choice for guests who have celiac disease, other dining venues aboard ships have more recently been offering gluten-free choices. Most pizzerias now feature gluten-free crusts, many buffets offer appropriate pasta choices, and some dessert stations even feature clearly signed safe items.

As dining staff and crew aboard modern cruise ships have become adept at understanding and catering to gluten-free guests’ needs, cruise travel is once again a worry-free option—as it should be. And due to the sheer volume of guests accommodated each week in the industry, gluten-free cruising has become just another way for passengers to relax and enjoy their trip, without the worry or the severe menu restrictions typically associated with this dietary requirement.

—David Yeskel