The same vigilance that is required at home when you eat out is also required on the ship.
Traveling by cruise ship can be one of the most relaxing vacations possible. Food allergies don't go on vacation so the same vigilance that is required at home when you eat out is also required on the ship.
Following are suggestions for before and during your cruise to make your experience as pleasant and stress free as possible.
* Always book your cruise with a trusted travel agent. Your agent should be experienced and show a genuine interest in you and your medical concerns. If you do not have an agent, look for a Master Cruise Counselor at: www.cruising.org.
* Always purchase travel insurance. Purchase a comprehensive policy that covers pre existing conditions as well as cancellation and emergency air evacuation.
* Choose a set dining time rather than freestyle dining. Assigned tables allow the waiter and the Maitre D to better assist you at every meal.
* When you book your cruise advise the agent at time of deposit that you have one or more passengers with life threatening food allergies.
* Specify if you always have an Epi-pen with you.
* List all known food allergies. If your list of foods that cause allergic reactions is extensive then it would be helpful to also include a list of foods that do not cause any reaction. This will allow the chef to carefully consider his menu for you.
* Ask the agent to send an email to the cruise line with this information at the time they make the deposit. I would provide all of this information to the agent by email and in the email request that a copy also be sent to the Head Chef. The email should include your various contact information including all phone numbers. Ask for a copy of this email and take copies with you to the ship.
* Wear a MedicAlert bracelet:
* Take with you the names and phone numbers of all of your physicians along with any other pertinent medical information including all medications and allergies.
* Pack all of your medication and medical information in your carry on bag.
* If your cruise requires an air flight, don't forget to call the airline and inquire if meals will be served. If so request a special diet or take a meal or snacks with you.
Getting to the Ship
When you get to the ship do the following:
* Check in with the Maitre' D. He will have a station set up before the ship sails. Give him a copy of the email that your agent sent to the cruise line. Ask for a waiter with excellent English speaking skills.
* With a child who will be in the Children's program, attend the meeting on the first day for you to meet the youth counselors. Advise them of the food allergies and give them a copy of the email as well. If you do not want them to give your child food if you are not present please discuss this with them.
* If you have a life-threatening allergy take a copy of your medical information sheet to the medical facility on board and write your cabin number on the top.
* Take all of your meals in the main dining room so that the wait staff can be of more assistance with your allergies. It is not advisable to eat in the buffet area, as the ingredients are not readily available. Buffet lines also pose the risk of having utensils moved from a dish that would be dangerous to a dish that looks safe. Avoid snacking at cocktail parties and at the bars, as the wait staff may not be as familiar with the ingredients. Remember that many of the staff outside of the main dining room have limited English-speaking abilities and may not fully understand your questions or concerns.
* At dinner the first night notify your waiter that you have discussed the food allergies with the Maitre' D and request his assistance in meal selection. Ask if he would like a copy of the allergies to give to the Chef.
* Each night request the menu for the next day so that you can go over it with the Maitre D or Chef if necessary.
* When you go ashore take your Epi-pen and oral Benadryl with you as well as your travel insurance card and your medical information sheet. If you are on a full day tour ask for a box lunch to take with you so that you know you have appropriate food.
Cruise ships have vast kitchens and feed thousands of meals a day; however, they do an excellent job of meeting all types of special dietary needs. Keep in mind that just telling one person does not insure that everyone in the chain at the restaurant knows of your special needs. Don't hesitate to repeat your special needs or conditions as often as necessary.
The ultimate weapon against food allergies is an informed consumer with a take-charge attitude. Never assume that anyone on land or sea knows of your special medical concerns. With so much at stake repetition of the facts is your best defense.