Let’s face it, cruising and culinary excellence intertwine so tightly that many people wonder if it’s possible to do one without the other. However, cruising with food allergies can be scary.
Many brands do it well, but even within that, sometimes things go wrong. The cruise line’s integrity is defined by what happens next.
Our recent cruise on the Azamara Quest is one of epic failures on both counts. It was surprising and disappointing as we have sailed successfully with Azamara prior to my diagnosis.
We chose it again for its focus on destinations, including longer port times, several overnight stays, and small ships that dock closer to the cities. Plus, the regular food was excellent.
How Azamara handles special dietary requirements
As a travel blogger already in love with the brand, I agreed to write an article in exchange for unlimited internet. Once onboard, “how the ship handles food allergies” was the suggested and agreed-upon topic.
After all, the food was delicious in the past, and my food allergies are common: gluten-free and lactose-free, plus no onions, garlic, or pulses. A headwaiter even told me there was another passenger on board with all of the same issues plus one more (no coriander).
I ordered my cruise meals a night in advance, so the chef had plenty of time to prepare. My successful allergy-free meals were outstanding, and the pastry chef deserves a round of applause. Unfortunately, I was served foods I was allergic to on 5 out of 15 days.
For me, it was only 67% allergy-free food days, which, in my opinion, is not good enough.
Gluten-free cruising: Epic failure
If a picture is worth a thousand words, these two are priceless:
- Cake: One evening, the sous-chef brought me this “special cake” from the kitchen. After I had eaten a piece, he returned, “I’m sorry, I was wrong; that cake has gluten. Do you want something else?”
- Truffles: Every night, Azamara leaves sweet treats at turndown service, which I was told are allergy safe. After I questioned our room steward for the third time, he clarified with this note. (I cannot eat either, so having one of each separately is a failure.)
Onion-free cruising: Another failure
Allergy-free meals are custom-made. I often waited up to an hour for my main. To my surprise, I found rather big pieces of onion in my food on more than one occasion.
No allergy and gluten-free cruise resolution offered
There were meetings, discussions, and requests. My request was only a plan of action I could share in this article to reassure readers that this won’t happen to them. Instead, the reply from the parent company, Royal Caribbean, can best be described only as embarrassing.
After spelling my name incorrectly, they opted to send all communications only to the wholesaler used by my travel agent. Rather than offering a resolution, I was given a discount on a future cruise. And to my total shock, the letter stated that we had been “advised the ship couldn’t meet all of [our] needs.”
Of course, this is not how I remember it. After all, if the ship had told me they couldn’t manage my common food allergies, why did they suggest I write an article on how Azamara handles food allergies?
And, more importantly, what good is a discount for a future cruise on a ship that admits they can’t meet my simple food allergies, thus leaving me “chained” to my toilet doing things too disgusting to discuss here, on multiple occasions?
Note: While my last two emails to Azamara have gone unanswered, should a plan of action be forwarded to me, I will add it here.
Update: Five weeks after disembarking, I shared this article with Azamara’s CEO. Within days my primary contact finally replied, “ . . . my sincere apologies at your expectations not being met whilst on board, with the few dietary requirements we spoke of Onion etc. . . .I absolutely understand this was not the experience I personally had promised. . . ”
Clearly, this is not the plan of action I requested. Therefore, I cannot comfortably change my recommendations.
Tips for cruising with food allergies and intolerances
If you have food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities, here are our best tips regardless of which cruise line you choose.
- Do research before you go.
- Notify the cruise line of your allergies before you sail.
- Once onboard, and long before your first meal, sit down with the maître d’ and possibly the head chef and make sure they fully understand your needs.
- Question everything served to you. Trust no one. And if you are still suspicious after the waiter assures you it is fine, send him back to the kitchen to be extra sure. He is neither the one who prepared your meal nor the one who will be sick for hours or even days.
- Bring “safe” backup foods, just in case.
- Carry more medicines and EpiPens than you could imagine needing.
- Know how to contact your own medical team, as once sick, you may not want to trust anyone on the ship.
- Unfortunately, things can and do go wrong when you travel. World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
- If it all fails anyway, use the larger bathroom in the spa, as you will be in there a while, and the tiny one in your cabin will get claustrophobic. Don’t feel guilty about it; remember, it is the ship that sent you to the toilet.
And, don’t miss our general tips for enjoying your cruise.
Note: these tips are not a guarantee of success, as I followed them and still had a failure. Having a working relationship with Royal Caribbean in the past, I went through my contact, who had assured me that even booking late, the food was no problem. I followed her written procedure for notifying the cruise line of my food allergies, yet it still went wrong.
It wasn’t all bad
As stated earlier, the pastry chef was amazing. He created lactose and gluten-free cruise treats for me in the main dining room nightly. Three of my favourites are across the top, the middle made for me on the night of the ship’s chocolate buffet.
And there was plenty of other great cruise food too, like this salmon. Just too many failures.
We earn from qualifying purchases through partnerships or affiliate programs.
If it is a good fit, you can get a great deal on an Azamara cruise here.
However, our bottom line: while I love the Azamara staff, the general first-class treatment, the enrichment programmes, and the long port times, at this time, I cannot in good conscious recommend Azamara to people with food allergies or intolerances. It does beg the question if perhaps they don’t want us either, as there was at least one officer on board who knew the topic of this article from the beginning.
Save for later
If you want to refer back to this article or see if there are any updates, please save it for later on Pinterest.
What do you think is the best cruise line for food allergies?
Disclaimer: I agreed to write an article for Albom Adventures in exchange for unlimited internet during our cruise. The agreed-upon topic of this article is, “How Azamara handles food allergies”. Upgraded to VIP status, we had additional perks. However, I paid my full fare for the cruise. The opinions expressed in this article are my own.
I have more or less exactly same allergies as you (gluten-free, dairy-free and no onions!). My experiences on cruises post diagnosis in 2014 has been limited to Cunard (multiple times) and Silversea (once)…my experiences have been mixed to say the least. That said Silversea had fewer slip-ups….but overall I wasnt satisfied or happy that the cruise lines had handled the issue adequately (not at all – shoddy really!).
I had been thinking about Azamara as a possible future alternative to Silversea (only when it becomes safe again of course!), but now Im not so sure!!
I’d welcome any thoughts you had – feel free to mail me direct.
Thank you so much for posting a “real” experience review, with photos. I’m sure you have encouraged Azamara Quest to significantly improve their kitchen staff communications.
They are very clear about needing 40 days advance notice about special dietary needs and carefully told me today that they will not promise to have/or not have peanut butter on board.
I will e-mail Azama my allergy, this will put them on notice. Even so, it is my responsibility, at each meal, to confirm what is safe.
Good on you for publishing this! So many people shy away from publishing negative experiences. I’m lucky to not have any food allergies, but this will be so useful to those who do.
Super frustrating they couldn’t meet your allergy needs. You’d think if you’e paying that much to go on a cruise, they could get a better handle on food allergies. Thank goodness for the pastry chef!
I have food intolerances and generally cook at home, so I would ha e to be extra careful when going on a cruise like this!
Such a shame that they weren’t able to accommodate you and your food allergies for all of the days that you were on board. Especially since you know that they were able to as they did it for some of the days. Definitely something to keep in mind for the future!
How frustrating for you, after you gave them explicit instructions on what you can’t eat. It’s very strange that they knew the topic of your article and lead you to believe that they could cater for you when that was not the case. I appreciate your honest review of the Azamara Cruise. I like your tip to bring back up food/snacks.
I do wonder if the kitchen were told the agreed-upon article topic, or just that I was a VIP. However, it’s really irrelevant, everyone onboard should expect to eat safe food, and if the kitchen does mess up, passengers should expect to be treated with respect, not the way I was by RCC corporate’s customer service.
This is really upsetting. Thank you for your honest reporting. I hope the company provides new training for the staff so that service and attitudes improve for future travellers.
So sad to read this post… What a fail… The fact that they wanted you to write about this topic, is even more suprising, you should think they are specialized in allergies…
It’s so funny, because I just came back from a Regent Seven Seas cruise where they were super careful, and never made a mistake.
I am sorry to hear what happened to you. Thanks for sharing the tips. I can use them. I am allergic to shellfish. It’s easier to handle than yours. But I can imagine it would be annoying if I have to take the allergy meds every day. Cause I’d be spending the holiday in the room sleeping.
What a shame they couldn’t meet your dietary and allergy needs. Such a disappointment for such a reputable company, and their lack of response and solution is appalling. Sorry about your experience but thanks for being honest about it so we can make an informed purchasing decision.
This article proves they are *not* reputable . . . I won’t use them. Never.
I can’t imagine how difficult that experience was for you! I don’t have any food allergies but it made me realize how much you have to plan for those types of events!
I have multiple food allergies and was unhappy with a Royal Caribbean cruise, but my experience was not as dangerous as yours. I observed cross-contamination at a salad bar and made them start over, but otherwise, my food was safe. My unhappiness lay with how repetitive it was: meat and a plain baked potato plus a plain veggie every night. They did not even have sweet potatoes for variety. No dessert, but I expect that because I have to restrict sugar and most fruit burns my gums. They had plain rice at lunch and I had that every single day with a serving of lettuce and a hamburger patty. Every breakfast was the same too. There was nothing available from room service that met my needs. The coffee was nasty bitter! Fortunately I brought a lot of snacks, but even so I lost four pounds that week.
I will not cruise again unless I can afford a Disney cruise. I have heard good things about how they handle allergies.
Are you on any food allergy groups on FB?
Azamara is owned by Royal Caribbean, so perhaps it is a company-wide process problem. I am sorry you also had a bad time with your food allergies. As for FB groups, I am in several in New Zealand where we currently live. Please share my article in all your groups, as other’s with food allergies really need to know.
We have seen Princess handle food allergies perfectly, and have sailed with them multiple times.
My husband, his daughter and grandson are all celiac. Another family member is also and recently took a cruise where he was “glutened” and had to miss an excursion.
My husband I recently took a tour of France and the tour guide was aware of everyone’s allergies and attempted to ensure that the included meals met the requirements. However we were in one hotel restaurant and when the salad came the waiter said “oh you can’t have this there’s nuts????”
Another time the server thought tomatoes couldn’t be on a gluten free plate!
Which is doubly bad because France is in the EU and subject to the regulation that requires restaurants to identify whether food is gluten free or not: https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/special_groups_food/gluten_en
Sounds like the cruise line blew their image on this one. My food allergies are a long list and I eat a lot of salads out always saying no onion, croutons, cheese. Getting dairy-free, wheat-free, nut-free, etc. is a pain and I always look for simple foods like broiled chicken or steak with NO sauces.
At one point I sat down (again) with the hotel director and Food and Beverage manager and told him I would like plain, simple foods, a piece of protein, rice, and steamed veg. He told me that culinary excellence is part of cruising and assured me they could do it right.
Wow, what am absolute nightmare by all accounts. I’ve got lactose intolerant and ceoliac (sp?) friends and they’ve experienced similar in regualr restaurants. That people think just a small amount, or using the same contaminated spoon or knife to serve things with won’t affect them. I’m a veggie, but that’s a dietry choice and although i don’t want meat anywhr near my food, if i accicently eat it, it wont make me sick, although the thought of it would make me ill. I find it bizarre how some people just dont get it :/
Wow, that is actually a safety hazard. It’s one thing if a company is clear with guests that they cannot accommodation specifications like this, so you can plan accordingly. But if they insist they can and then don’t deliver, that could be a real health issue depending on what your reaction to the food is. Pretty messed up.
That sounds like it should have been a wonderful cruise to be on, but those food mistakes are pretty bad. It’s good to have those quite helpful tips, especially for those who have food allergies as well.
Omg, that is a horrible experience. It is so important for any restaurant, hotel or cruise ship to be able to handle food allergies. Thank you for sharing your experience with us and being real about it!
Wow! That’s crazy – so sorry you had to go through that 🙁 but thanks fir sharing
So glad you wrote this article . My son has celiac and exposure to gluten flattens him for about 18 hours stomach cramps and diarrhea.You cannot spot gluten in a meal like you can an onion. We definitely need more awareness of the health risks of dietary restrictions . We are extremely nervous to eat out at all.
Omg, what a huge failure of Azamara! They agreed with you about writing an article on cruising with food allergies and how Azamara respects the special dietery needs of their passengers and then they completey failed! What a disaster.
They have ruined your vacation and their reputation.
Stay well, Rhonda
It’s a shame you didn’t like the food. On pictures it looks delicious, specially the deserts x
Jeez! Being poisoned is *not* disliking food! W!T!F!?
I definitely appreciate what a tough situation travelling with allergies must be – I travel with friends who dietary restrictions (halal, strict vegetarian etc.) and it can be so hard for people to take their restrictions seriously. It’s unfortunate and hopefully this article puts some pressure on the cruise line to put some measures into place to prevent this from happening to other guests.
Hi Rhonda – that seems just ‘horrid’ – and amazing after they’d agreed you could write an article on food allergies and their cruise-ship … certainly not a good advert. I hope things ease up – and that doctor’s appointment goes well. Take care and cheers Hilary
What a sad tale! Having a holiday ruined through no fault of your own must have felt so frustrating. I’m lucky that my food allergies make it very easy for me to avoid the allergen (eggs). Having things hidden in food that you had been expressly told would not be there would have to make you feel so helpless and angry! Shame on them.
I think you handled this very professionally considering the ramifications of the wrong foods being served to you so often. I have only one food allergy (strawberries) that is easy to avoid, but I can’t imagine doing everything I could to avoid it and still getting it for most of my meals. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call to them to pay more attention to food allergies in the future.
Marion Halliday (Red Nomad OZ)
You’d think that food preparation professionals would know about allergies and be able to respond appropriately when notified whether they’re working on board a ship or anywhere else – allergies aren’t uncommon! Bummer that you got caught in the middle of their incompetence, but hopefully your post will give them a wake up call!
Jenn - The Solivagant Soul
I could not stop laughing about the truffles. One is gluten free and the other one is lactose free? hahaha. Just fantastic. As someone who is extremely lactose free, I always travel with lactase pills around, since even butter gives me a reaction. It is an inconvinient, but I prefer to have one pill with suspicious meals than the consequences that come afterwards. Have you consider this?
I have an appointment with my doctor this week as we only just returned home from travel. That is one of the questions I will be asking. And, he left that note after the third time I asked him to confirm that I could eat those truffles. Epic failure.
That food really looks amazing, but I can realte to the fact that its really hard to find alternative foods sometimes. My husband is allergic to lactos, and that can be truly difficult at times.
I thought cruises would definitely cater to food allergies given so many and such diverse clientele. So disappointing to know that they were pretty careless when it came to accommodating food allergies and yet wanted you to write about it!
To be fair, they wanted me to write about it before they were so careless. I assume they thought it would be a success and a happy story.
Their foods looks amazing, and I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your cruising with these so much food fail. Having allergies is not what everyone wants. I guess they (staffs) need more specific instructions and constant reminders.
The fact that the brand wanted you to write about their allergy-sensitive cuisine and then to fail this way is crazy. Imagine for people who aren’t media who suffer?!! Well written despite your experience – glad you were able to turn it around and share tips for others who might face this!
Oh this is a nightmare that I hope on my cruise with HAL next year that they are more careful. I have been with APT on 3 river cruises and mostly was looked after. Im gluten free peanut free and fish free and legume free. Once I was told I would only be able to have the salad. a bit of lettuce tomato was my main meal. A cruise up the Rhone saw me so sick from something that I was given. They then upped their game. Unfortunately I spent a morning in my room/bathroom toilet. Fast forward to this year and did a cruise with Scenic on the Douro. I was well fed at every meal and more. Couldn’t fault them. Im so sorry that they failed you so many times, however good that you have written about it.
I feel so bad for you Rhonda but what really drove me was the fact that they knew your allergies way ahead of time. That’s uncalled for. I’ve only had one difficulty and dinner and even that one wasn’t really a problem. I hope you that you are treated much better then this last one. Was there an excuse for why they weren’t doing what they were suppose to do? I’d like to know the excuse.
I’m leaving soon in January with my next cruise and I’ve already arranged for a 12 day cruise in 2021 to two places that I never visited before, Grenada and St. Vincent & Grenadine. I’m looking forward to that cruise. See ya my friend.
Wow that’s so disappointing because if you have those things the consequence is getting sick! And then it kind of ruins your vacation (or has the potential too, right?). Thanks for your honest review and feedback. Hopefully Azamara Quest uses this opportunity to improve.
The food look amazing, but it is a bummer that you got food allergies as I cannot fathom how it might feel to be restricted and be super conscious when you try a new or an unknown food especially when you travel abroad. It is still so inspiring that you came out of your shell and trying different food. I haven’t been cruising yet but it sure looks a great exposure.
As we start travelling more and more and further and further some of these things you start thinking should be the basics and catering for travellers with food allergies should not be a problem. But surely reading your post this does make me think . I guess it is helpful these days to do more research through the internet and reviews to get a better understanding if you are allergic and travelling. I hope they learn from their mistakes and try and make it a better experience. Thanks for sharing
Thank you for being so honest with us! I’ve never been on a cruise but if I go, I would expect it to be perfect indeed…
I’m so sorry you had to go through such a hard time at the cruise. For someone who gets sea sick, it would be even worse if the kitchen cannot serve me allergy-free food
The term allergy is is used here. I think you should be using the word intolerance instead. There is a difference. It is horrible to spend time in the bathroom when you have eaten something you are intolerant to, but mostly it won’t be life threatening. An actual allergy can kill you. These days many people avoid food that makes them feel ill, and most meal producers understand this, (usually with a caveat). If you have an intolerance one small piece of onion will not generally affect you too badly. However one peanut for someone with a nut allergy could kill them. There are huge differences between how food premises approach allergies/intolerance and I think the individual with the requirements for specific food needs to understand this and take much more responsibility for checking what they are putting in their mouth.
Please note, I am writing this as a person who suffers from IBS , which is probably what most people with intolerance to food has.
You are somewhat correct, we have both allergies and intolerances. However, suggesting that the ship can decide which we have, and take fewer precautions because they chose intolerance, is exactly how they do kill people. We chose the word allergy on this page to cover our more severe issues, rather than clarifying which are which, as that would be cumbersome, boring, and not necessary for the readers. Once the ship assures a passenger that there will be no onions in their food, and reconfirms when it is served, I don’t see how you can suggest it is the passenger’s responsibility to pick through each individual strand of food to search for the ship’s mistakes.
I am glad you have made this comment. My 4 year old grand daughter is allergic to eggs and dairy. If she has anything with these in she would go into anaphylactic shock so we all carry jex pens. So there is a huge difference between being intolerent and being allergic. When she was recently on a Royal Caribbean cruise she had her own chef which quite frankly is amazing service and my son and daughter in law would not hesitate to recommend this cruise line for anybody who suffers from food allergies.
No, the difference between allergies and intolerances is not that simple. You can have an allergy show up on a skin prick test even when your reaction is not life-threatening. Anaphylaxis is actually much rarer than other allergic reactions, which can include rash, swollen gums, coughing, and yes, digestive symptoms. Consider hay fever and poison ivy: both allergies.
Celiac kills people. One is not better, or less serious than another.
An intolerance is considered to be milder than either of the others (celiac or allergy), but no less uncomfortable.
I wan’t die from my gluten and potato intolerances, but they sure would ruin a vacation.
Please don’t judge other people’s health problems. You don’t know.
Lyn @ aholeinmyshoe
We have been on many cruises and so much about a cruise is the wonderful food. It is terrible to think that someone with allergies cannot have confidence in knowing they can also enjoy their love of cruising for risk of being ill… or worse! And then to get such an apethetic response does not instill confidence. Seems they don’t understand the difference between food allergy and food preference.
Wow! Thanks so much for your honesty while writing this article. Even though I myself to not have allergies, it made for an interesting read nevertheless! Wishing you better luck on whatever cruise company you use next!
Being served foods your were allergic too several times on this cruise was truly an epic failure on part Azamara. Really sorry to hear about your experience and I appreciate the helpful tips you’ve included in the post.
The food all looks yummy to me, sorry it made you so sick. Food allergies can definitely ruin a fun vacation.
Ah, allergies on a cruise – that sucks since those cruises are so much about food. Strange that they are not more guest oriented – it’s an expensive trip, after all….
Interesting article about how cruise ships handle food allergies. I am a vegetarian and often have issues with airline food, even though I advise them in advance, sometimes the meal request does not make it on board and I am left with cheese and crackers, all that is left. A usual response well just take the meat out! I am sorry to hear of the issues and I hope that your article helps others and alerts the cruise industry to be more aware.
That’s terrible! I’m so sorry that happened to you!
Bless your heart, Rhonda, I didn’t you have so many food allergies. I’m only allergic to strawberries and still feel I’m deprived of so many delicious deserts that have strawberries in them. It’s great that the cook tried to accommodate you and created some special dishes. Too bad you didn’t have a 100% allergy free experience. It’s terrible to have food allergies!
That’s terrible. I don’t have any allergies, I’m very lucky. I can’t imagine dealing with that!
Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience. I hope you can manage to go on a nice cruising.
Oh god sounds like you went through a tough time ! I am glad there were no severe reactions !
Well, I am not dead if that’s what you mean, but all night cramping and expelling in the bathroom pretty much sucks.
Farah Al Zadjaly
Wooow this is an amazing cruise, but messing up the food like that is insane.
I am sorry to hear about your experience. Azamara should have taken it into consideration. Given the vast clientele they cater to they should have been careful. Even after informing them about your dietary requirements they goof up. Moreover they even wanted you to post a blog on it.
They suggested the blog topic on the first sea day, they probably thought it was all going to be okay.
I was worried that you’d been served a slug in your pad Thai after seeing the photo so I was almost relieved to discover it was only an onion! It must be so tricky for you to travel with all these allergies and how terribly disappointing to be so organised about telling the cruise line about your dietary requirements only for them to fail you so badly.
Actually, a slug would have made me less sick than an onion.
Sorry this happened to you. Not right at all. I’m not a fan of cruises but you should get what you pay for.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
Linda (LD Holland)
Luckily we have no major food allergies. So we have not had an issue. But I am sure it must be a challenge. We have been on cruise lines that seem to be very focused on this challenge. So sad to hear that on your Azamara cruise you had foods you were allergic to on 5 of 15 days. Not great when they acknowledged your allergies! Always sad when the customer recovery is bad too! Some good tips in this article. Especially about carrying extra EpiPens. And you will need good travel insurance if you have to pay ship prices for them.
The food looks amazing, it is unfortunate that they weren’t attentive to your needs! Food allergies is so serious, they should have been a lot more caring. I am sorry you went through this.
This article shows that the company need to up their game a bit more. I might be able to understand it if you had one day bad experience with food but to have five out of a 15 day trip, that is shocking. The question is, I know you praised the company on other aspects like [onboard] customer service, but would you sail with them again as you have food allergies? I never done a cruise or have food allergies but I might give them a try one day based on your other experiences.
I can’t imagine anyone with food allergies sailing with them until they have a plan of action they can share to keep us safe and some better training for customer service staff, rather than just BS which reads as if it is written purely to avoid being sued.
Sorry to hear about your bad experience… This is a classic way how a beautiful vacation can fail…
You were lucky that they had amazing deserts which you could gorge on
Oh wow! I can’t believe that they were so blasé about the whole thing! That’s appalling