In October 2016, my husband Howard and I took a 14-day Canada/New England cruise on the Celebrity Summit, so I thought I’d write about my experience, with an emphasis on food, although love had a lot to do with it, too. After 39 years of marriage, Howard and I are still kids at heart. Here we are, holding hands on Celebrity’s Sky Deck and enjoying every minute:
If you’re new to the Knitting Is Gluten Free Blog, know that I must eat gluten-free. I do it because I have to and not because I want to eat that way. If I don’t follow a super-strict gluten-free diet, I get VERY sick. So, when I travel, being able to eat gluten-free, without worry, is the most important part of my trip.
When I’ve asked people to describe their gluten-free experience on Celebrity, I’ve mostly received short, simple answers, but what I craved was a lot of detail. So, for those of you who are like me, here comes detail!
Let’s get the basic cruise review stuff out of the way:
Embarkation and debarkation in Cape Liberty, New Jersey was fast and easy.
The Summit: It shows a little age in spots, but had it not been for other reviewers pointing this out in travel forums, I doubt I would have noticed it. The Summit is beautiful and clean.
Crew: The best. Everyone was friendly, caring, helpful, and fun. This was my husband’s and my 4th cruise (the last one on Crystal), and the service was the best we’ve experienced. Everyone was outstanding.
I want to give special thanks to Maître D’ Ken who always went above and beyond to help make my dining experience safe and delicious. He’s a gem. If you have to eat gluten-free or have allergies or other food restrictions, absolutely ask for him. Introduce yourself and tell him about your needs. I guarantee he’ll do everything in his power to make you happy.
Entertainment: The shows were good. The afternoon and early evening lounge acts (pianist/singer or singing duo) were okay and nothing we sought.
Enrichment Activities: Meh, although I didn’t attend many. I went to a “snowflake” class where everyone cut snowflakes out of paper that had the design already drawn on it. It felt like an elementary school activity. Had it not been so challenging to use the kiddie scissors provided (and people had to wait to use them since there weren’t enough) I would have likened it to a nursing home activity.
Fellow passengers: Engaging and fun. It seemed as though most everyone was friendly and in a good mood, which is something we haven’t always experienced on other cruise lines. Howard and I made some new friends, too. Socializing more than minimally is unusual for us because we usually keep to ourselves. But, this time we traveled with cousins (LOVE you, Barb and Bob), and bar visits with them gave us the opportunity to meet some great folks. From now on, I’m going to be more sociable when I cruise. The people we met made our trip the best.
Dining: This is where it gets good. While some constructive comments follow, my overall rating for Celebrity’s gluten-free experience is excellent, and I look forward to cruising on Celebrity again.
Before I begin, I’d like to give some news. Celebrity Cruise Line has said they would launch a Dine Aware Program in November 2016. Dine Aware helps the food service industry better serve customers who have food allergies or intolerances. I first read about it on Cruise Critic, here: http://www.cruisecritic.com/news/news.cfm?ID=7190
I also started a thread about it on Cruise Critic, here: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2427411
I haven’t seen much about the launch since the August press release, and when I was on my October Celebrity cruise, it was before implementation. So, much of what I have to say here may turn even more positive in the future.
Buffet: Foods that were gluten free had labels to identify them, which was great. However, because I am hypersensitive to gluten (a fraction of a crumb can make me sick for a week), buffets are not safe for me since the risk of cross-contamination is great.
I want to give Celebrity credit, because upon receiving notification of my super-hyper-gluten-sensitivity from my travel agent, they sent me an email to recommend I not eat at the buffet, and they specifically cited the risk of cross-contamination as the reason. Impressive. I travel a lot, and banquet and buffet venues have a nasty habit of promising to be safe when they’re not. Bravo, Celebrity.
Let me give you an example: At the meat carving station, there was a roast labeled as being gluten free. However, sitting next to the roast was a sausage which was NOT gluten free. The server was using the same knife to cut the sausage as used to cut the roast. If I had had a slice of the roast, I would have been cross-contaminated (yes, it does happen that easily).
Another example: At the dessert station, there were pseudo “cakes” and “pies” labeled gluten-free. They were not individually plated. A lot of people served themselves instead of waiting for a server. The utensils they used had gluten all over them, or they would plop the cake down on their plate, right next to something with gluten in it, and then put the serving utensil back with the gluten-free item. Also, the servers served regular cake next to the gluten-free stuff, and on more than one occasion, I saw crumbs of gluten fall where they did not belong.
So, thank you, Celebrity, for warning me about the buffet.
That said, if I found Ken, he would go in the back, and he would custom serve buffet items to me. I never had a problem with anything he served me. And, he makes the best gluten-free sandwiches in the world.
Which reminds me, the gluten-free bread on The Summit is good—nothing fancy, just your basic, gluten-free bread, but it was soft and delicious. I enjoyed it toasted, too, but it was nice to know it didn’t have to be toasted to be good.
On the buffet, there were some desserts that were self-contained in individual serving cups, and I felt safe with those, especially if they weren’t sitting next to something that might cause cross contamination. Most of them were good.
There is gluten-free pizza offered in the buffet, made separately upon special request. The crust is weird and needs to be crisp instead of soggy, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I told myself it wasn’t pizza but an odd appetizer instead.
I tried the pizza three times. The first time, I had no issues, but the next two times I had a slight reaction. It can come from something as simple as someone touching my pizza without putting on fresh gloves. So, I stayed away from the pizza station after that.
My dream is to see a Celebrity have a DEDICATED gluten-free station in the buffet. That would be heavenly. I’d be able to eat at a buffet and feel like a normal person. As more and more people discover they have gluten intolerance, perhaps the day will come.
Main Dining Room: I enjoyed the food in the main dining room, and I appreciated that the gluten-free items had labels on the menu. On most cruise ships, I always have to order what I want the day before, but as long as I stuck to the gluten-free choices on Celebrity, I didn’t have to do so, which came in handy, especially at lunch. Plus, I don’t always know what I’m going to feel like eating the next day.
However, at dinner, the server still brought me the next day’s menu, just in case I wanted something prepared gluten-free that wasn’t already gluten-free. I appreciated that.
A word of advice: If you are unsure if a menu item is gluten-free, ask, ask, and ask again, and make sure the server speaks directly with the chef.
One day at lunch, the large menu at the entrance of the main dining room had a dish (if memory serves, it was Pad Thai) marked as being gluten-free. Pad Thai uses rice noodles and is often safe. It excited me to see it on the menu.
However, on my individual menu, the dish was not labeled as being gluten-free. I asked the waiter to check, but in retrospect, I don’t think he understood that it was labeled gluten-free on one menu and not the other.
When he checked, he said, “If it is labeled gluten-free, it is gluten-free.”
So, I ordered it.
While they might have been using rice noodles, after the first bite, I detected soy sauce. I called for the waiter, and I asked him to please make sure that the soy sauce being used was gluten free (most soy sauce is not).
Alas, it was not. While I only had one small bite, after returning to my room, I started to feel sick, and oh boy, was I ever!
Did I get so sick that I clogged the plumbing system in my room?
Indeed, I did. And, even if I must say so myself, I did a fine job of it.
Now here’s the thing: Those of us who must keep vigil on food know that sometimes mistakes happen. We must be steadfast in guarding every bite. Diligence is the curse of having to deal with food allergies and intolerances—difficult and sad, but true.
Whose fault was it that I received contaminated food?
Celebrity’s? Yes, but also my own. I should have made sure the server spoke with the chef directly, and I should have known that “If it is labeled gluten-free, it is gluten-free,” is a questionable answer, especially since it was not labeled gluten free on both menus.
Truth told, on a 14-day holiday, I expected to have at least one setback. Mistakes have happened to me everywhere, including Walt Disney World, which I adore and which has the reputation of offering the most responsible gluten-free options in the world.
If I have food issues, vigilance is the key, and when it comes to questionable offerings, I hold the key.
The food in the main dining room was good and sometimes great. The service was outstanding. The escargot was five-star, and steaks cooked as I requested. The leg of lamb was a favorite.
Some of the gluten-free desserts were good, but I would have liked more variety. I get tired of crème brûlée (it’s the go-to gluten-free dessert EVERYWHERE), but I must say, their crème brûlée was excellent, and the flavored crème brûlée was wonderful, with pistachio my favorite. I didn’t enjoy the ice cream. It tasted cheap. I’m picky when it comes to ice cream.
Howard and I booked “Aqua Class” on Celebrity, which offers Blu—a separate dining room for dinner, just for Aqua Class travelers.
We enjoyed Blu. I had breakfast there almost every day. Mostly, I had eggs and bacon along with gluten-free bread. Everything came to me hot and cooked to perfection.
Blu has a gluten-free pastry available if you ask for it. As the days went by, the pastry started to taste harder, and yes, I know this sounds crazy, but I still enjoyed it. As it hardened, it was wonderful with coffee, rather like biscotti. (I’m a glass-half-full person. Can you tell?)
We did not eat dinner in Blu as much as I might have liked. The couple we traveled with preferred the main dining room. However, I would ask to see the dinner menu from Blu every evening prior, and if there was something I wanted, the staff was happy to accommodate me.
Note: I’m not sure if shared menus are available on all Celebrity ships. On The Summit, all dining venues use a shared kitchen. I am told this makes it easier to fill requests.
The menu in Blu did not have gluten-free items marked as in the main dining room, but they were happy to point me in the right direction or take special requests. The eggs Benedict, which is not on Blu’s breakfast menu, is particularly good and the chef’s recipe is naturally gluten-free. They substitute gluten free bread for the English muffin. Ask for it!
Café al Bacio & Gelateria is a lovely, designer coffee and tea café. Howard and I visited there at least once a day. The coffee and teas are gluten free, but, when ordering anything from Café al Bacio, I had to be careful. Despite my telling them I needed only gluten-free selections, they would sometimes still put a biscotti on my plate, and they didn’t always understand when I told them that it wasn’t enough to merely remove the biscotti, as it left cross-contamination behind. As such, I needed to watch them throughout the preparation instead of taking a seat and waiting to be served.
Café al Bacio & Gelateria also has delicious, gluten-free macaroons. Here again, I had to watch closely to make sure the tongs they used were not the ones used in the regular cookies. Not everyone at the café understood me when I requested gluten free, and I had an impossible time at the gelato station trying to get them to understand scoop cross-contamination.
Aqua Spa: This is a small buffet area near the solarium. Here also, gluten-free choices had labels. The selections here are light and healthy, and I enjoyed them. On embarkation day, I didn’t realize Aqua Spa was open. How I wish I did! The only place open for me, for lunch, was the buffet.
Almost everyone is expected to dine in the buffet for lunch on embarkation day. Only Concierge Class travelers (a class under Aqua) can eat lunch in the main dining room on that day. Suite Class travelers have a private restaurant which is open for lunch every day, but Aqua Class Blu never opens for lunch, and no exceptions are made to allow those with food issues to eat in the main dining room. I would be lovely if Blu would open for lunch, if only on embarkation day.
I ended up eating gluten-free pizza in the buffet, but I would have preferred eating from Aqua Spa, where the foods come individually plated which makes the chance of cross contamination slight. Some non-gluten free foods were next to gluten-free, which isn’t perfect, but it was much safer than eating in the buffet. I had no issues from any of the gluten free food from Aqua Spa, and I ate there frequently throughout the trip. There weren’t many choices (a couple simple, ultra-healthy dishes), but I appreciated the offerings.
Next time, I’m heading for Aqua Spa for lunch on the first day!
As of this writing, Celebrity recommends that those with strong food allergies or intolerances limit their dining to the Main Dining Room or the Aqua Class and Suite Class private dining rooms. However, I dined at the specialty restaurants without issue. I was sure to speak to the Maître D’ to request the menus and to ask that he made sure I’d be safe.
Tuscan Grille: This is Celebrity’s Italian steakhouse. The food was so good that we ate there twice and then a third time because I won a free dinner.
It is Tuscan Grille’s custom to serve Limoncello at the end of the meal, but store-bought Limoncello can be problematic for those with gluten-intolerance. The staff was so knowledgeable that at dessert, instead of bringing me Limoncello, they crafted a custom Lemoncello just for me, and I didn’t even know enough to ask for it. Volcan, our server, was outstanding in every way.
Qsine: Oh, how we loved this place! The food was outstanding. It is an experience difficult to describe and best experienced personally. The menu features small bites, but they are not small. From what I hear, most everyone who eats there has a tendency to over-order. Thankfully, our server knew enough to cut us off before we went overboard. Be sure to try the sushi lollipops. Because of notice, they also prepared French fries for me in a dedicated fryer. They were the best French fries I’ve ever had. Everything we ordered was excellent.
I never ordered room service. Next time, I must give it a go.
We enjoyed our experience so much that we’ve booked another Celebrity 14-day cruise, to take place in 2018. I look forward to seeing what Celebrity does with Dine Aware, and I hope to report that it is possible to go for 14 days with no issues whatsoever.
Also, Celebrity, please: Along with making the dining experience even safer, how about offering a dedicated gluten-free station in the buffet, as mentioned above?
Now, that would be true “Modern Luxury.”
Love to all,
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