2019 Update – I took the cruise discussed below to Alaska with Holland America on the Nieuw Amsterdam in 2017. Since then, I have heard from multiple readers that the fries at the Dive In are no longer gluten free! Please check with the staff on your ship before ordering them! Thanks and safe travels!

Every time I start to research our next vacation, I always start with “what am I going to be able to eat?” When we first started cruising, I was concerned about how available gluten free food items would be – especially if I’m going to be stuck out at sea with nothing to eat. 🙂

The first cruise we went on, I took a lot of snacks. A lot. The main reason I took snacks is because everyone told me – “The staff in the main dining room will be happy to get you a gluten free meal.” The main dining room? Ugh.

I’m sure the food is delicious. Most times we’ve been to the main dining room, it’s been good. It…. just…. takes…. forever. I want to enjoy more activities at night other than sitting in the main dining room. That’s just how I like to spend my time. Others really enjoy the main dining room – to each his own. I would rather get a quick bite in the buffet and go on about my evening.

Now that we’ve been on multiple cruises with multiple cruise lines, I have a general idea about how they operate when it comes to food allergies. It’s been my experience of the lines that we’ve been on that Holland America does it best. Holland America has fewer buffet stations than other lines we’ve been on that allow you to get your own food. Not good if you are in a hurry, but better if you are trying to avoid cross contamination.

I wanted to show you with this post that it is possible to eat gluten free without going to the main dining room. There are chefs at the buffet (some chefs are more willing to help than others) that will help show you what you can eat. Also, I’ve found that, even at the other complimentary dining options, the staff are very well trained in how to deal with a gluten free diet (and other allergies for that matter). Kudos, Holland America!

It’s time to cruise!

For this trip, we were sailing aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam on a 7-night cruise to Alaska leaving from Vancouver, British Columbia.

We arrived a day early and had a quick dinner near our downtown hotel.  We went to Boston Pizza in the Stadium District. I ordered a bacon double cheeseburger pizza on a gluten free crust. It was OK. It wasn’t the worst gluten free pizza crust I’ve ever had, and it wasn’t the best. It’s was a good late night option for a quick bite to eat.

The next day we boarded the ship and went straight to the Lido Buffet. The buffet had a basket of gluten free goodies that could be prepared upon request. Warning: If you see something you want, you better get it early in the week. The items went quickly and a lot of things are only stocked once for the week (the Barilla pasta went fast!).

My first meal was a grilled chicken salad from the salad bar station. The Lido staff prepares your salad per your choices and then asks “Do you have any food allergies?”  Behind them, they had a wall of various tongs that are labeled with each food allergy. My server then used the tongs marked “gluten free” to toss my salad. You could also not have them toss the salad for you.

The next day, I had a major bout of seasickness and didn’t eat much. After spending some of the morning in medical, my husband brought me this burger on a gluten free bun from the Dive-In restaurant for lunch. I had already spoken with the staff at the Dive-In the day before (shout out to Alan from Bali! He was great!) and knew what I could and couldn’t eat there. I only have one complaint about the gluten free bun aboard Holland America. They are so crazy dry to the point where they become hard to swallow. Taste is fine. Texture? Not so much.

The next day, we went to try New York Pizza located in the very back of the ship. I was expecting them to turn me away (like Carnival did – same company and all) and say they had no gluten free options. Surprisingly, they did offer a gluten free crust. Eureka!

I got the Central Park pizza (veggie) on a gluten free crust and my husband ordered a Tribeca pizza (BBQ chicken) on a gluten free crust so I could try it. They were both delicious and much better than the pizza I had just a few day prior!

Over the next few days, we stuck mostly to the lido buffet. I did snag some of that gluten free pasta. I tried to order it with meat sauce, but the server informed me that it was not gluten free. So, I stuck to the marinara sauce.

We also hit up the taco bar one night. I had the chicken tacos with rice and beans. The seasoning on the chicken looked suspect, but the staff assured me that it was gluten free. I didn’t get sick, so I guess it was. I also had a plate of corn tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa. Very delicious!

One day, we were on an excursion that offered an included lunch. We were docked in Skagway, and went on the excursion titled “White Pass Rail and Yukon Expedition.” I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be much for me to eat, but I was pleasantly surprised when we got to Caribou Crossing. They were serving barbecue chicken, coleslaw, and baked potato. I passed on the roll and couldn’t eat dessert — all-you-can-eat donuts 🙁 — but the meal as a whole was pretty good. I did end up having a cup of ice cream from the ice cream shop there (for an extra charge).

If you’re wondering, yes, we did have breakfast in the lido a couple of mornings. Again, I snagged something from the basket — gluten free bagels. The chef on duty took it to the back and toasted it in a toaster specifically used for the gluten free items.

One night, we decided to have a nice dinner at one of the specialty dining restaurants available onboard. We made reservations at Tamarind. Tamarind is described on the Holland America website as offering “exotic menus evoking the culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, China and Japan. In the spirit of traditional Asian cuisine and concepts, the menu is inspired by nature’s elements: water, wood, fire, earth and ice, and laden with delectable dishes.” Spoiler alert: It was amazing!

After being seated, our team (yes, team!) of servers introduced themselves. They served our drinks and hot tea, and then immediately asked if anyone had any food allergies. I identified myself as having a gluten allergy and our server came over and went through the entire menu with me. She showed me the dishes I could have, what I couldn’t, and what the chef could probably modify to make gluten free. They were extremely helpful!

First off, the table was served shrimp crackers (which I couldn’t eat). I thought I was just going to do without, but our servers then brought out a special basket of rice crackers and gluten free soy sauce just for me! Side note: everyone at the table liked my crackers much better than the shrimp crackers. So, I ended up having to share. 🙂

They brought an assortment of three sauces for the table. There were two of them that were gluten free. The other had soy sauce in it, hence why they brought me my own gluten free version of soy sauce.

The first course was soup. I ordered the Thai Chicken and Rice Soup.

For the appetizer course, I ordered the Trail of Spices Satay Sampler. The chicken and shrimp skewers were the only two that weren’t pre-marinated in something that wasn’t gluten free, so the chef could modify them. That’s ok — those are the only two I wanted anyway. 😉

There were actually quite a few entrees that were gluten free. I chose the Thai Basil Szechuan Shrimp and my husband chose the Penang Red Curry Coconut Chicken which was also gluten free. So, I took a picture of both dishes.

The sides that I had were the Steamed Brown Rice and the Seasonal Vegetables.

For dessert, I ordered the Tamarind Chocolate. It tasted a lot like a flourless chocolate cake. My husband had the Java Mint and Coconut Rice Pudding. We forgot to take a picture of his before he ate some of it, so it’s not the best representative of the dish. But, you get the point. 😉

What’s your favorite gluten free find from a restaurant on a cruise ship? I’d love to hear — especially for Norwegian and MSC!  We’re trying those lines next and I can’t wait to try some more gluten free goodies!