Traveling with a family member with severe food allergies or dietary restrictions can be challenging. Cruising with food allergies requires a lot of research and preparation. Speaking from personal experience (my son has a life-threatening nut allergy and my husband is allergic to milk), before booking a vacation, I spend the majority of my time researching food allergy policies, contacting restaurants and reading reviews.
If you’ve ever been on a cruise before, you’ll know that there is no shortage of delicious foods and dishes to try. There’s sit-down restaurants like the main dining room, midnight buffets, free room service, specialty restaurants, and fast food counters. As a family with several different food allergies, a cruise vacation is one of the easier trips to plan. Major cruise lines – including those that we consider the best family-friendly lines – make dining and food safety a top priority.
In fact, the Cruise Lines International Association (an industry trade group), recently issued a statement about how cruise lines accommodate passengers with food allergies and dietary restrictions.
We’ve cruised with Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Princess and have found that they all take food allergies seriously. Norwegian is the only line we have not sailed with yet but we have other family members with food allergies give them the thumbs up when it comes to staying safe on a cruise vacation.
We’ve found that more often than not, cruise staff will go out of their way to accommodate all passenger dietary needs – whether it be a food allergy or special dietary request. However, food allergy and special dietary policies vary among cruise lines. Below is a chart we’ve put together about managing food allergies on five family-friendly cruise lines.
|Cruise Line||When You Book||Once You're Onboard|
|Carnival Cruise Lines||No advance notice required||Discuss your allergy once you get on board and make sure it is noted on your account. Remind all servers that you have an allergy and discuss options prior to eating.
Youth staff can use epipens. Special snacks available for kids with food allergies.
|Disney Cruise Line||Inform DCL about allergies and dietary requests at least 30 days before sailing.||Confirm your food allergy has been noted on your stateroom account and remind servers before every meal.
Youth staff are trained and can use epipens. Parents or guardians must sign and authorization form to allow staff to give the medication. Parents must provide their child’s prescribed, unexpired auto-injector.
|Norwegian Cruise Line||Inquire about food allergy and diet accommodations prior to booking.||Confirm food allergy and diet accommodations with head server on first night of your cruise. Remind servers before each meal.
Youth staff are trained to contact the medical staff immediately if a child has a reaction. They also keep epipens in the kids’ areas.
|Princess Cruises||Written notice required. Cruises to Alaska, Canada/New England, Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama Canal, and Coastal Getaways require at minimum 35 days notice prior to sailing. All other cruises require 65 days or more advance notice.||Confirm food allergies with head server on first night of the cruise and remind them before every meal.
Inquire about food allergy policies in kids' areas before registering for youth activities.
|Royal Caribbean International||Add all relevant food allergy info to your "Personal Info" section in your online RCCL account.||Confirm that your allergy has been noted with the head server in the main dining room and remind them before every meal.
Inquire about food allergy policies in kids' areas before registering for youth activities.
Here are some additional tips to help you plan a stress-free and allergy-friendly cruise vacation for your family:
Before You Book Your Cruise
The table above gives a good overall all look at five major family-friendly cruise lines but for more detailed info, we recommend contacting the cruise line directly or working with a travel agent who is knowledgeable when it comes to cruising with food allergies.
Research food and special diet policies vary for each cruise line. Ask about youth program food policies, the medical staff onboard and clinic hours and any experience they have with responding to food allergy reactions or emergencies.
We recommend choosing a cruise line that offers traditional dining with set times for dinner. This way you can get to know the main dining room staff and waiters, chefs and other staff know what foods are safe and which ones have to be avoided.
Some cruise lines allow guests to bring their own snacks and drinks onboard. If you have a baby or young child who can only drink a certain brand of milk or formula, double check that you’re allowed to bring onboard.
After You Book Your Cruise
Once you’ve decided on the cruise line, ask your travel agent or contact the cruise line directly to inform them about your food allergies or special dietary requests. They’ll note it on your account and make sure the ship’s staff knows about your allergies prior to boarding. They can also guide you on the necessary paperwork or the steps you need to take once onboard.
Cruise lines have limited supplies when it comes to special foods and drinks. By giving them advance notice, they have time to stock up on special drinks and foods before you board.
Fill out any medical forms with relevant info regarding your food allergy.
What To Pack for a Cruise When You Have Food Allergies
Make sure you pack all your prescription medicines such as antihistamines, epinephrine injectors (EpiPens) and asthma inhalers. Check expiry dates and make sure everything is clearly labeled with the passenger’s information.
Take a list of all your doctors’ names as well as contact phone numbers in case of an emergency. A letter from your family doctor describing your particular food allergy and emergency procedures is also good to have on hand when traveling.
Most cruise lines have hand sanitizer stations outside each restaurant and food area but just to be safe make sure you pack your own hand wipes and sanitizer as well. On a ship with thousands of other passengers, there’s a chance that food crumbs will be left on the table or chairs. Whenever you’re eating in common areas like the pool deck or buffet, make sure you wipe down the table before digging in.
If you’re allowed to bring allergy-safe snacks and drinks onboard, make sure you know where to get them prior to embarking the cruise ship. You can either bring them from home or make a pit stop at a grocery store prior to heading to the embarkation port.
Shampoos and soaps often contain ingredients that will cause allergic reactions. Make sure to pack some skin-safe alternatives as a precautionary measure. We usually decant some shampoo and body wash into leak-proof travel size toiletry bottles when we cruise.
Consider purchasing travel medical insurance especially if your cruise is outside of your home country.
Things to Do After You Board the Ship
On embarkation day, cruise passengers are often told to head the buffet for lunch. Most first-time cruisers, however, aren’t aware that there is usually one sit-down restaurant open for dining. This is where we go because they’re better equipped to handle allergies – especially when thousands of families are boarding the ship at the same time. Inform the dining staff that you have food allergies and would like to know about safe lunch options.
Although food allergies should already be listed in the ship’s dining system, you should introduce yourself to the head waiter and dining staff in the main dining room on your first night of the cruise. Explain any food allergies and special dietary requirements. The dining staff will either bring out the chef to address your concerns or ask them how they’ll handle your allergy at dinner time.
You can request a copy of the following day’s dinner menu so you can clarify any menu options or ingredients used in dishes you’re interested in trying. If you love a particular dish, don’t be afraid to request it even if you don’t see it on the menu. Most of the time, chefs will be able to prepare a made-to-order dinner for passengers with food allergies or dietary restrictions.
If you have a child with allergies, ensure you speak to the kids’ clubs directors and staff so they’re aware of your child’s allergies. Ask them about epipen policies and whether or not your child should have one on them while participating in club activities.
Also, beware of any treats that are left in your room or handed out at special events – like chocolates on your pillow or cookies or candy during Disney’s Halloween on the High Seas or Holiday cruises.
Familiarize yourself with buffet options and don’t be afraid to ask questions about ingredients or food preparation procedures. When we’re eating at the buffet, we’ll request either the dining staff or chef to walk us through the entire place to let us know what’s safe and what we should avoid.
If you’re having food cooked in front of you, you can request the chef to use new gloves and utensils when they prepare your meal. Be friendly and polite and the staff will go out of their way to accommodate you.
When ordering room service, speak to the room service manager to alert him or her to your dietary needs.
Managing Food Allergies During Shore Excursions
There are several different ways to manage food allergies when exploring a port of call.
For shore excursions you book directly with the cruise line, make sure the staff at the shore excursions desk is aware of any food allergies. If the excursion has a food component (either lunch is included or you’re visiting a local restaurant), they will be able to notify restaurant or dining staff prior to your arrival. It’s also good to double-check once you get there that your allergies or dietary requests have been noted.
If you’re DIYing your day in port – something my family tends to do often – we normally pack food-safe snacks and drinks in our day bag and backpack in case we happen to get hungry or thirsty. If our day in port includes a restaurant or food stop, I usually contact them in advance to make sure there are safe lunch options for the entire travel group. I also have cards printed out that describe the food allergy in the local language as another precautionary measure.
Another good tip for those with food allergies is to plan shorter excursions. Planning a 2 or 3-hour excursion makes it easier to head back to the ship for lunch where you won’t have to worry as much about cross contamination or unsafe foods.
It’s easy to manage severe food allergies while on a cruise vacation. Cruise lines take food allergies seriously. Their success depends on making cruisers feel safe while still having fun.
As long as the cruise line is given advance notice, you do the proper research by asking questions and sometimes giving some reminders, you’ll be able to relax, eat and enjoy your cruise.
Just like managing food allergies on a daily basis at home, the most important thing when cruising with food allergies is to have all emergency medication and epipens with you at all times.
Have you had any personal experience cruising with food allergies? What are your tips on how to stay safe while cruising around the world?