I just got back from a gluten-free cruise - a 100% relaxing vacation on the Celiac Cruise! This was my first cruise EVER and I'm so excited to share the details with you here.
In this post, I'm diving into all the details about the Celiac Cruise and why I think this is a great vacation option for solo travelers, couples, and families.
I've talked a lot about traveling with celiac disease here on the blog. From gluten-free travel here in New England in places like Boston and Vermont, to backpacking abroad for six months to Madrid, Bali, and Croatia, and even celiac safe experiences like Zaney Travel in Costa Rica or the Inn Berlin in Maryland - I'm an avid traveler with a strong wanderlust spirit!
But one type of travel I have never done was a cruise.
No reason why really (besides my fear of motion sickness, but that wasn't an issue - more on that later!)
And I thought there was no better way to introduce myself to this type of traveling than with cruising in a 100% gluten-free way. That's what Celiac Cruise offers its guests, and I'm going to share all about my experience aboard a 5-day Caribbean cruise with them. Let's dive in!
Gluten-Free Cruises: 100% Gluten-Free with Celiac Cruise Vacations
- Gluten-Free Cruises: 100% Gluten-Free with Celiac Cruise Vacations
- Gluten-Free Cruises? About Celiac Cruise
- Gluten-Free Cruise Sailings With Celiac Cruise
- COVID Protocols on Celiac Cruise
- Our Cruise Ship & Gluten-Free Cruise Schedule
- Gluten-Free Cruise Rooms
- What to Pack For a Gluten-Free Cruise
- Day 1 Recap: Boarding the Ship, Check-In & Arrival
- Day 2 Recap: Perfect Day at Coco Cay, Bahamas
- Day 3: Sailing Day: Celiac Presentations & Chops Dinner
- Day 4: Cozumel Mexico: Mayan Ruins & Chocolate Tasting
- Day 5: Sailing Day: Celiac Project Documentary & Holidaily 80's Party
- 100% Gluten-Free Food
- Gluten-Free Community on Ship
- Gluten-Free Cruise: Celiac Cruise Total Cost Breakdown
- Feeling "Normal" On Vacation With Celiac Disease
- Would I Recommend Celiac Cruise For Gluten-Free Travelers?
- Do I Have To Book With Celiac Cruise?
- Celiac Cruise: Final Thoughts
- Looking for more gluten-free travel posts?
Gluten-Free Cruises? About Celiac Cruise
Celiac Cruise is a unique travel company partnering with cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Amawaterways offer a dedicated gluten-free experience. Maureen Basye, former Speech Language Pathologist turned Celiac Travel Agent started Celiac Cruise as an idea to offer her family the chance to enjoy traveling together without the constant stress of eating gluten-free. Maureen's son, Peter, and husband, Geoff, have celiac disease.
Maureen's idea to offer celiacs and their families the chance to feel "normal" just like everyone else began in 2018. Her desire as both a mom and as a caregiver for those with celiac disease rings true in her commitment to both her family and the celiac disease community. To quote Maureen from the Celiac Cruise website, her mission is "to connect exciting and safe travel opportunities with families and people who have the desire to travel—but aren’t sure of the possibilities available to them."
Maureen, together with Connie Saunders of Total Travel and Events, work closely with the cruise to make sure the staff are trained in celiac disease and provide a safe gluten-free experience for all guests. Celiac Cruise also brings gluten-free partners on board, including the Celiac Disease Foundation, Schar, and Boston Children's Hospital.
Gluten-Free Cruise Sailings With Celiac Cruise
Celiac Cruise had its first inaugural sailing to the Caribbean in January of 2020 on the Mariner of the Seas with Royal Caribbean. It was a big success! Unfortunately, COVID had other plans and put a hold on all sailings until 2022. But now the cruises are back and ready to sail!
Celiac Cruise now offers cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as cruises to Alaska and even Europe! I know many people who are going on the Europe Cruise this fall for a gluten-free Oktoberfest experience, which is so exciting! To see all of their current sailings, please visit the Celiac Cruise website.
COVID Protocols on Celiac Cruise
For specific COVID protocols regarding Celiac Cruise sailings, please contact them directly as requirements may change. For our sailing, vaccinations were required for adults and we had to bring our vaccine cards. Additionally, Mom and I had to have a negative rapid or PCR test result to board. Since we are both vaccinated and did not test positive, this was not an issue.
The only challenge was securing a rapid test before sailing, as that was right when CVS was changing their COVID test policies to their "Minute Clinics". Right when I was trying to find an appointment, there were suddenly none available! So we opted for the Royal Caribbean at home option, where they mail the test kits to you and you complete the test via a virtual appointment. It was quick, easy, and simple to follow, and much less complicated than trying to find an appointment (though it did cost us over $50 for both tests).
On board the cruise, the ship was below capacity. Masks were not required for guests, but were required of all staff. Every housekeeper, server, bartender, and cruise staff member wore a mask. I felt safe the entire sailing.
Our Cruise Ship & Gluten-Free Cruise Schedule
My Mom and I went on the Mariner of the Seas Celiac Cruise sailing from March 31st - April 5th, 2022. We had 5 days total on the cruise - one half day, two full days at sea, and two days for shore excursions at Coco Cay, Bahamas, and Cozumel, Mexico. The ship was new, very clean, and was well organized. The staff was extremely helpful as well and we had no issues on board.
Each day at sea there were special events to attend for the Celiac Cruise in addition to cruise activities, music, shows, entertainment, movies, contests, and meals. Above is a list of the Celiac Cruise events every day. This was also given to us in our welcome bags as well as in our lanyards to have on us at all times for convenience.
I downloaded the Royal Caribbean app on my phone before our sailing and it was definitely necessary. This free app has maps of all decks (you get lost a lot in the beginning), a daily calendar of activities, tips and reminders, emergency information, online check-in, and allows you to also message others in the app for a small upcharge. While Mom and I went old school and just kept our phones in airplane mode during the cruise, you can also pay for internet or utilize this messaging tool within the App to keep in touch with your fellow cruisers.
Gluten-Free Cruise Rooms
My Mom and I decided to treat ourselves to a balcony style room on the cruise. Plus, we just weren't sure what my motion sickness was going to be like. Having the option to breathe in fresh air and find the horizon easily could come in handy. After speaking to Catheleen at Total Travel, who was very helpful, she suggested a mid-ship location.
Our room was located on Deck 7. It had a small closet, vanity area, safe, tiny bathroom, two twin beds, nightstand, couch, mini fridge, and balcony with a table and chairs. Housekeeping services came in twice a day (morning and evening), and our Housekeeping Manager Dilip was very kind. Every night we had a new towel animal which was so cute!
One thing I didn't expect: Such peaceful sleep! The rooms were completely pitch black at night with the lights out - something I LOVE. Everything was quiet (plus I had headphones for my nightly meditation). The beds were comfortable, linens soft, and the ship lightly swaying back and forth made sleeping super easy. It was lovely!
What to Pack For a Gluten-Free Cruise
Packing for this vacation was a lot different than my usual travels with celiac disease. Normally I say pack lots of snacks, but there was so much food available (and all SAFE!) that wasn't an issue! Additionally, at the welcome expo, the Celiac Cruise provided every party with a tote bag with some gluten-free snacks, a lanyard, some coupons, stickers, a magnet for your room door, schedule of events, t-shirts, and other goodies. It was such a nice welcome!
Since I'm sure you are wondering what you should bring for cruising, here are some things I'd recommend (and a few things I forgot, but wish I did bring!)
Motion Sickness Pills or Patch: I suffer from motion sickness, especially in cars and on boats. Having never gone on a cruise before, I was prepared with a motion sickness patch called Scopolamine. I was able to get this through my doctor with a prescription. The patch was a small circle that goes on behind your ear. It lasts for 3 days. I used 2 patches during my cruise and found it worked for me. While I could feel the ship moving sometimes (and especially the first night, when it was a bit choppy), I did not get sick or have any motion sickness issues. The patch has a tendency to make people sleepy, but I did not have that happen either.
Sunscreen & Cover-Ups: You are out and about in the sun a LOT! And the sun is hot, especially on the pool decks. Pack extra sunscreen, sunglasses, and make sure you also have clothing to cover up your skin if you get burnt. Sunshirts and long, light pants are great, or even just a light sweater or denim shirt.
Small Tote or Drawstring Bag: I wore my purse everywhere, but I think a small backpack would have been better. Mom and I brought tote bags which were great for our shore excursion to Coco Cay, and doubled as a beach bag for our stuff.
Bathing Suits & Comfortable Shoes: There's a lot of walking on the ship, so be sure to bring comfy shoes. And of course, a bathing suit. Between the multiple pools, slides, hot tubs, and shore excursions to beautiful beaches and swimming, you're going to want more than 1 bathing suit. That way, one will dry in time for you to wear the next day and you can cycle through them!
Bottled Waters/Drinks: Mom and I opted to buy a set of bottled water to keep in our room/mini fridge rather than purchasing them every day. But you can also bring this from home!
Portable Phone Charger: I have one, but didn't bring it. But I wish I did! Since I was doing a lot of documentation, it would have been helpful to have handy instead of having to go back to my room.
Travel Journal: Mom and I had so much fun making travel journals for our cruise! She brought lots of fun supplies and we had fun taking pictures with my new Instax mini camera, which prints out polaroid pictures right after you take a snapshot.
Scrapbooking and journaling are great ways to recount your travel memories. I share my favorite ways to do this right here in this blog post!
Day 1 Recap: Boarding the Ship, Check-In & Arrival
Getting to Port Canaveral was easy as my parents are located in Central Florida. I flew from Boston to Orlando and stayed with them the night before the cruise. The morning of, Mom and I drove a little over an hour to Port Canaveral to check in around 2:00 PM.
Once we boarded the cruise, we made our way to the Celiac Welcome Expo to get our free swag bag and meet some of the vendors on the cruise, including the Celiac Disease Foundation, Schar, Holidaily, Chopin Vodka, The Celiac Project, and Boston Children's Hospital. It was awesome seeing so many celiacs in one room!
Later in the afternoon, Mom and I explored the ship's upper decks, tried my first Holidaily beer, got settled into our room, then got ready for dinner at 5:30 PM. We met our table partners, Andy and Beth (hi friends!) and had a lovely time chatting with them during our meals every night. After dinner Mom and I went to 90's Music Trivia, where we partnered up with Phil (@philhatesgluten) and his lovely girlfriend Sirena and almost won. Mom went to bed and then Phil, Sirena, and I went to the Silent Disco for some funny dancing and then late night buffet for french fries and pizza.
Day 2 Recap: Perfect Day at Coco Cay, Bahamas
Today was our Perfect Day at Coco Cay! Mom and I got breakfast at the buffet before making our way off the ship to find a perfect beach spot. We snagged two chairs with an umbrella and were pretty much here the rest of the day. We journeyed over to the dedicated gluten-free kitchen area at Skipper's Grill for lunch before coming back to the beach for swimming, resting, drinking (Miami Vice is my new favorite cocktail - a mix of a strawberry daquiri and pina colada) and napping.
Back on the boat, we both showered and then went down for another tasty dinner with our friends Beth and Andy. That night, we tried going to one of the Cruise entertainment options - a musical performance, but it was cringeworthy. So we left and went in the hot tub instead! While Mom was planning to go to bed and I was going back out (it wasn't yet late night buffet time), I saw there was a 70's Disco Party in the Promenade, so I went back and convinced her to come back out to dance. She did and loved it! Later that night I hung out with Beth and we got our own gluten-free pizza!
Day 3: Sailing Day: Celiac Presentations & Chops Dinner
Today was jam packed with activities and fun! After breakfast, Mom and I attended the Celiac presentations in the theatre. There were presentations from Boston Children's Hospital, Celiac Cruise, and even Phil did a rap about gluten-free life. It was very informative, interesting, and entertaining!
In the afternoon, Mom and I enjoyed the pool, walked around the ship, spotted a pod of dolphins, and even relaxed on hammocks on the top deck. Then we got ready for our dinner at Chops Grille to benefit the Celiac Kids Connection at Boston Children's Hospital. And it was scrumptious! Be sure to scroll down to the "Food" section to see more about this fantastic dinner. After dinner Mom and I went to the ice skating show on the ship which was so impressive. Mom went to bed and I went...to late night for more buffet french fries, pizza, and hanging out with Phil and Sirena.
Day 4: Cozumel Mexico: Mayan Ruins & Chocolate Tasting
Today was our excursion day in Cozumel! Mom and I had breakfast in the morning before setting out for Cozumel to check in for our excursion. We had a tour of Mayan Ruins with our guide Jorge and also attended a Chocolate Tasting and Demonstration. The ruins were interesting, but the chocolate tasting was underwhelming. (I think I'm a little bit spoiled from an incredible chocolate tasting at La Mona Golosa in Costa Rica with Zaney Travel!) Still, we had a fun time!
After lunch on the ship, Mom and I walked back over twice - once to go swimming, because the water was too perfect, and then a second time, after showering, to get these photos. The Cozumel sign was such a good photo op, we couldn't resist. We had a lovely time on the balcony relaxing with some wine and travel journal work before going to dinner. It was Beth's birthday! We celebrated her big time (and I asked them to bring her a piece of GF birthday cake too.) Beth, if you're reading this, sorry for embarrassing you, but you deserve all the recognition for being so wonderful!
After dinner I attended the Celiac Disease Teen Trivia before going to yet another late night buffet for some gluten-free fries!
Day 5: Sailing Day: Celiac Project Documentary & Holidaily 80's Party
Today was our last day on the ship, and it was a big one!
After breakfast, we all headed to the Royal Theatre for a screening of the Celiac Project documentary. I'm a huge fan of Mike and Cam of the Celiac Project - and I was even a guest on their podcast. Twice! The documentary was excellent - and so perfectly captured the emotions, challenges, and trials with getting a celiac diagnosis. Be sure to follow the Celiac Project on Instagram here!
Mom and I took a walk around the ship in the afternoon before the big event - the Holidaily 80's Beer Tasting! This was a fun introduction to all of Holidaily's beers. If you don't know, Holidaily is a 100% gluten-free brewery based in Golden, Colorado. It's also a women-owned business (that's Karen, their owner, in the photo!) that recently won Brewery of the Year in Colorado. And their beers are seriously good. I'm just recently getting into gluten-free beer, but these are some of the best beers I've had. Now, if we could just get them on the east coast! Go follow Holidaily here!
After the beer tasting, it was time for one more gluten-free dinner with Beth and Andy, and a chance to see a gorgeous sunset from the outside deck. In the evening, I packed with my Mom, before going out one last night for the Silent Disco one more time and a final night at the gluten-free buffet with Phil and Sirena!
100% Gluten-Free Food
And now...what you're all wondering about! The food!
I can attest that everything I ate during the cruise from the dedicated dining areas was gluten-free and celiac safe. I had no issues at all, and was quite impressed with the options. Plus, being able to have TOAST with my breakfast and ROLLS with dinner was a luxury I had completely forgotten about after 13 years without them!
I'm sure you are curious about the safety and training of the staff to ensure your food is safe, so a few things to note:
On this cruise, there were 2 specific dedicated gluten-free dining areas on the ship. One was the Main Dining Room (Deck 5), and the second was the left-hand side of the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11. These areas offered 100% gluten-free food that was made in a dedicated gluten-free kitchen. Each of these areas had a large sign out front indicating this was a "Gluten-Free Zone". We were all also given wristbands to wear for meals that said "Celiac Cruise VIP" and someone would check you in as you arrived. These two areas are where I ate my meals every day or got late night snacks. Besides these areas, and the designated area on the private island of Coco Cay, the other dining environments were shared spaces. While they could accommodate your gluten-free needs, the assumption here is that it's not a dedicated space, so the risk of cross-contact is there.
In the main dining room, the were two decks where you could be seated for your meals. The entirety of Deck 5 was for Celiac Cruise guests ONLY. That meant all of the food going out was gluten-free, all of the menus were gluten-free, and the staff was trained in celiac disease. Your table had an assigned waiter and assistant waiter. This was extremely comforting knowing that you were surrounded by other gluten-free folks and that everyone was just like you!
Here is further information about the Celiac Cruise's commitment to serving 100% gluten-free food on their sailings with Royal Caribbean and AmaWaterways.
- "Royal Caribbean and AmaWaterways take celiac disease very seriously. Crew members responsible for your food and beverage experience will be undergoing specific training preceding our sailing to ensure they understand the needs of those with celiac disease as well as understand the precautions necessary to eliminate risks of cross-contact/contamination."
- "Royal Caribbean and AmaWaterways will designate a dedicated food and beverage team for the main dining room who will be preparing and serving your food and beverage all cruise long."
- "Royal Caribbean and AmaWaterways are prepared to accommodate additional dietary restrictions in addition to celiac/gluten-free items. Vegan, nut-free, low FODMAP, and dairy-free diets can be accommodated."
- "All gluten-free food is prepared in a safe environment, including a completely gluten-free kitchen galley in our main dining room. Additionally, all fried foods are prepared in dedicated gluten-free fryers."
Gluten-Free Cruise Breakfasts
Breakfasts were delicious in the Main Dining Area! We ate here every morning except on Day 2, for Coco Cay, when we ate at the Breakfast Buffet in the Windjammer. To be honest, I really didn't care for the scrambled eggs on the buffet line or that first breakfast at all. Neither did my Mom. But after that, we stuck to the Main Dining Room for a seated breakfast, and loved it! We always got a plate of fresh fruit to share, had plenty of tea and coffee, fresh rolls, and even donuts from Freedom Gluten-Free!
My Favorite: French Toast!
Gluten-Free Cruise Lunches
Lunch was very similar to dinner in the Main Dining Room, where we were given an entire gluten-free menu with choices. We each picked an appetizer, main course, and dessert, and they served gluten-free rolls. Mom and I also had burgers on Coco Cay from the designated gluten-free area, and tried the lunch buffet in the Windjammer the day of our Cozumel excursion. The lunches didn't wow me, but they tasted fine!
My Favorite: Steak with fries & veggies. As you will see on this cruise, I ate a lot of french fries.
Gluten-Free Cruise Dinners
Just like lunch, seated dinners in the Main Dining Hall included a menu of all gluten-free options and you would pick an appetizer, main course, and dessert. I loved the appetizer options like the Wedge Salad and Veggie Tempura, and the main courses were very good. I usually picked a protein with a carb and veggie. One night I even ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese off the kids menu which was also very good. They always served rolls with dinner too, which was a lovely treat!
My Favorite: Beef Tenderloin with Mashed Potatoes & Veggies
Gluten-Free Cruise Desserts
If there's one thing Celiac Cruise can improve...it's the dessert options. I'm sharing the only dessert I really enjoyed in the Main Dining Room - chocolate cake. This was very good with layers of chocolate frosting in between. But the other desserts were...not great. Often I would order them and not finish, due to not caring for the taste or texture. Many dessert items were made vegan, and I don't know if that had a large effect on things, but I felt the desserts were really lacking. It sometimes seemed they were over-complicating dessert. I would've been super happy with a GF boxed brownie mix with a scoop of vanilla ice cream...just saying!
My Favorite: Chocolate Cake
Gluten-Free Cruise Special Celiac Events
Now, if there's one meal that knocked my socks off, it's the one we paid for through Chops Grille, to benefit the Boston Children's Hospital Celiac Kids Connection & families with food insecurities. It was $100/person and oh my gosh, it was fantastic. We had champagne, wine, filet mignon with bernaise sauce, grilled asparagus, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, caesar salads, fresh rolls, and cheesecake for dessert. Mom and I loved every minute of this special meal!
Gluten-Free Cruise Late Night Snacks & Buffets
And now friends, for the main event and my go-to meal on the Celiac Cruise...
I'm talking about the LATE NIGHT BUFFET.
I went every single night between 10:30 PM - 11:30 PM for late night snacks, and I honestly think this was where the best food was.
My pals Phil (@philhatesgluten) and Sirena joined me for late night buffet most nights, and we loaded up on pizza, fries, pork schintzel, brownies, cookies, and other ridiculous gluten-free late night snacks. Somehow, despite eating three giant meals a day, we were always hungry by 10:30 PM and ended up here. Loved it!
The buffet line was packed with options - salad bar, hot dogs, hamburgers, pasta with sauces, pizza, french fries, desserts - but the PIZZA was so dang good!
Favorites: Pizza and french fries
Gluten-Free Community on Ship
One of the best aspects of the Celiac Cruise was the connection with other celiacs and gluten-free folks. It was great to meet so many people in person that I've only spoken to online, via podcasts, DM's, or on Instagram. To be in one place, enjoying safe gluten-free food together, and getting to have fun in the process, was such a treat!
I've said it once and I'll say it again - one of the best ways to feel less alone in this diagnosis is to connect with others that also eat gluten-free or have celiac disease. It's why I created a Gluten-Free Support Group - to help provide a place where other celiacs can feel seen, vent their frustrations to those that get it, and get advice for common challenges. You can learn more about the Support Group right here.
Gluten-Free Cruise: Celiac Cruise Total Cost Breakdown
Here's a quick breakdown of the total cost of the cruise. Mom and I opted to pre-pay our gratuities and we did not purchase any beverage packages. Instead, we paid for any alcoholic beverages on board.
Balcony Room: $999/person
Government Charges & Fees: $168.44/person
Pre-Paid Gratuities: $72.50/person
Mayan Ruins + Chocolate Tasting Excursion: $69/person
Special Events: Chops Dinner & Holidaily 80's Beer Tasting: $100 + $40 per person
Total Cost Per Person: $1448.94
Additional Costs: While on the cruise, I spent $26 USD. I got lucky, because I had a pre-paid $50 cruise credit when I boarded (not sure how that happened!). This covered most of my drinks (Holidaily beers, fruity beach cocktails) as well as a few other small expenses. My Mom spent about $50 and also bought us a large case of bottled water to share during the cruise. We didn't realize we could have brought that with us - but we now know for next time!
Feeling "Normal" On Vacation With Celiac Disease
If you're reading this, you know exactly how stressful traveling can be with celiac disease. While I've been traveling gluten-free for over a decade now and am very used to it, this cruise offered an entirely new way of traveling to me - one that I haven't been able to experience before.
And I have to say - it's honestly, so refreshing!
I'm so used to speaking up, drawing attention to myself, saying "no thank you", and expecting to NOT have options available, that to have the opposite experience, for five entire days, was such a luxury.
That's what Celiac Cruise is giving their guests - the chance to be just like everybody else for a change. To not have to make a big deal out of ordering food, and to be normal for a chance.
Would I Recommend Celiac Cruise For Gluten-Free Travelers?
100%. This is an excellent, stress-free vacation option for anyone that finds traveling with celiac disease to be a hassle, or is looking to truly relax for a change.
The Celiac Cruise is a safe and fun travel option for solo travelers, because there are so many other celiacs to connect with on a daily basis through meals, activities, and events.
I also feel Celiac Cruise is a wonderful travel choice for couples, friends, or honeymooners to have a worry-free experience and enjoy themselves, without having to stress over their food.
But overall, I think families get the most benefit from a cruise. There were so many children, kids, and teens on the ship - and many of them were Celiac Cruise guests. It's so easy to see why families choose this option for traveling - especially to give their children a chance to be just like everyone else - eating ice cream cones, playing in the pool, and ordering whatever they want off the kids menu.
So YES - I absolutely recommend Celiac Cruise. Please note, this post and my trip was not sponsored - but I genuinely feel this is a wonderful vacation choice for celiacs and anyone who follows a gluten-free diet.
For more information about Celiac Cruise and their upcoming sailings in 2022 and 2023, please visit their website. You can also follow along on their Instagram page here. While you're there, be sure to watch my recap reel of the Cruise!
Do I Have To Book With Celiac Cruise?
Yes. Just a heads up - if you want to have the full 100% gluten-free experience, you have to book your cruise with Celiac Cruise, and not Royal Caribberan or Amawaterways. Celiac Cruise specifically works with Total Travel & Events to coordinate this and make sure every guest is accounted for as well as their dietary needs.
You can still have a great cruise experience on other cruise lines as well - or just through Royal Caribbean. I've heard good reviews from others in the celiac community about Disney cruises and other cruise lines too.
But the difference here is that you get a 100% stress-free, worry-free experience, with no extra steps taken for any meal. No speaking up, no clarifying, no asking questions. Just a chance to relax and be like everyone else.
Celiac Cruise: Final Thoughts
I owe a big thank you to my MOM for coming with me on this celiac travel experience! My mom doesn't have celiac disease or eat gluten-free but she did for this trip and enjoyed herself. Thanks Mom for joining me - I had so much fun with you! xo
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Let me know your thoughts in the comments!