Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Gluten Free Cruising in the Norwegian Fjords on the Sapphire Princess

Have you ever considered cruising, but been put off for fear of being stuck in the middle of the ocean unable to find anything to eat because you are gluten free? Think again! For those of you who follow my Instagram account, you will know that in August, I was lucky enough to take a family holiday cruising in the Norwegian Fjords on the Sapphire Princess with Princess Cruises..... and it turned out that gluten free cruising was gob-smackingly good.

I want to be absolutely clear... This was a self-funded family holiday with no commercial blog interest, but I was genuinely so bowled over by the experience, that I wanted to share our foodie journey with you.

Cruising is a new experience for us. We have historically been a family who travel into the heart of a city or country and who get down and dirty with the locals.... absorbing every aspect of culture available to us, spending time understanding local life first hand and of course, enjoying the local food and fare.

I honestly had no idea what to expect from cruising, but as we wanted to visit the Norwegian Fjords, it seemed a great opportunity to experience a new form of travel to somewhere which has an ideal viewpoint from the water. Departing from Southampton, it also had the added benefit of not having to worry about baggage limits and not having to hang around in an airport for hours.

As a family with two people who must not eat gluten due to Coeliac Disease however, we were definitely in the anxious camp about the probability of finding good, safe and varied gluten free food on board... Let's face it, the idea of being 'captive' on a ship for two weeks eating baked potatoes or salad would seriously dampen the experience, not least because one of the pleasures that cruisers relish is the eating. The prospect of sitting watching dish after dish of drool-worthy cuisine being served to other gluten-eating guests would be unbearable.

When we travel, we always go well prepared with gluten free rolls, biscuits and snacks so that we don't starve on holiday and as always, we went on board with plenty of sustenance. We needn't have bothered... for the first time ever, most of it stayed in our cases and got brought home again. The food and catering crew on the Sapphire Princess were 'on it' from the moment we boarded the ship, with a call to our stateroom almost as soon as we were in, acknowledging that we had dietary needs and asking us to make ourselves known when we came down to dinner. From that point on and throughout the cruise, both myself and Miss GF were frequently left speechless by the lengths they went to, not only to make eating on board as safe as possible, but also as decadent and varied as for all the other guests.

Nothing was too much trouble.... whatever we wanted, whether from standard restaurant menus or around the ship in the open all day cafes was made for us in gluten free form... and with no fuss. Seriously... when Miss GF saw coated frogs legs being eaten and decided that she wanted to try them too, the kitchen staff rustled up her very own gluten free batch as if it was the most usual request in the world. The guys on the Sapphire Princess knew exactly what they were doing.

Delicious Desserts (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

While on board (and to make the most of our sea days), I managed to arrange a meet up firstly with Steve Reynolds, the Director of Food and Beverages and then later in the cruise, with Generoso Mazzone (Maitre D'Hotel) and Octavio Bellesi (Executive Chef), who were more than happy share their wisdom on free from cruising and food preparation on board.

Once inside the kitchens, you get a sense of the massive scale and logistical complications that they seek to overcome. Bear in mind that with more than 2,500 guests and the likelihood that a good couple of hundred of them will have food allergies and intolerances ranging from Coeliac through to multiple life-threatening allergies, they have a truly complex task keeping us all food-safe. The last thing they want or need is a passenger who gets sick because of an oversight.

Galley Tour - Sapphire Princess

The staff in charge of food on the ship are rightly proud of what they offer and when Executive Chef Octavio, offered for us to have a private tour around one of his galleys, we had no hesitation in taking him up. He runs a tight ship (pun intended) and I was reassured to see that not only were the areas for special food preparation separate from the rest, but that bowls and ingredients were covered prior to cooking and baking, to avoid accidental cross-contamination and that special ingredients were kept in their own storage areas. Even where dishes on the menu were naturally 'safe', they were prepared for us in a separate area to avoid cross-contamination.

One of the things that particularly interested me was how, with two and a half thousand guests and an additional one thousand one hundred crew members, the officers knew what food to bring on board. Surely food waste must be an issue?

Delicious Bread & Starters (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

It turns out that the only food waste really comes down to what people leave on their plates and amazingly, the amount and type of ingredients brought onto the ship gets calculated well ahead of departure, based on the nationality and demographics of the travellers and what they are known to order as a general rule. So for example, a high number of cruisers from America will result in ordering higher quantities of meat, whereas Europeans will eat more fish.

The quantities of daily ingredients are simply astounding... 2,700 pounds of potatoes cooked daily, about 1,700 fish, 5,000 pounds of meat, 550 gallons of soup, 500 pounds of pasta, 2,500 pounds of vegetables, 1,600 pounds of salad, 13 gallons of mayonnaise, 400 pounds of butter, 6,000 pounds of fresh fruit, 100 gallons ice cream, 6,000 assorted pastries and 300 full sized cakes and pies. And that's just for starters.... the galleys use an average of 1,500 pounds of flour every day and a staggering 9,000 eggs. Yes really... I cannot in any way, shape or form get my head around what 126,000 eggs look like when they arrive at the start of a 14 night cruise.

But I digress...

Ahead of the cruise, guests are invited to complete an on-line dietary needs form which enables the crew to plan ahead and for the chefs and food staff to know exactly who needs additional care and attention. Whilst it is hoped that guests use this facility, it is clear from talking to the guys on board that there is always an 'inevitable' proportion of free-fromers who don't let them know up front, but still require the same level of food care.

More Delicious Desserts (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

Being first time cruisers, we hadn't really considered the various dining options and happily accepted a fixed evening dining time in a named dining room. That suited our family fine, but I was also reassured when eating at other locations around the ship during the day, that staff in all kitchens would have been well-able to meet our dietary needs had we opted for 'anytime dining'.

Each evening, our head waiter would bring the next day's menu to myself and Miss GF to choose dinner (and lunch for sea days) for the following day. Whilst this seemed less spontaneous, the additional 'notice' meant that there was literally nothing on the starter-mains sections that was off limits. The philosophy of Princess Cruises was very clear.... As free-fromers, our experience should be as similar as possible to other guests. If the dish had pastry, they made it gluten free. If we wanted pasta, we got it. Sauces were specially adapted to make them safe and only where there was no other way round it were ingredients substituted for something completely different (such as rice instead of cous cous).

Main Courses (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

Every evening we were treated to freshly baked gluten free bread which was served cloth-wrapped in separate baskets, opened and faced away from any glutenous offerings for safety and with a separate butter dish. I was left in no doubt that it was not just the chefs and kitchen staff that understood the risks of cross-contamination, but that waiting staff were equally well trained.

Stateroom Treat (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

And desserts? Whilst I fully expected to suffer severe sugar withdrawals and to be 'required' to eat fruit salad and ice cream every day, I was left wide-eyed and spoiled. This cruise was like living on board a floating gluten free patisserie. Ok... the choice may not have been as free-flowing as for gluten-eating guests, but every night we were presented with a gluten free surprise dessert... everything from rhubarb pie and fruit crumble, to panna cotta, bananas foster, espresso creme brulee or chocolate brownie... floating islands and a whole array of light cakes, pastries and mousses. There were always gluten free patisserie options around the ship if you fancied a little treat outside of meal times and for breakfast we could order gluten free pancakes, muffins or french toast. There was even gluten free afternoon tea available. Decadent was an understatement, but most importantly we felt like we were equal to other guests and that we were no problem at all. No raised eye brows... no rolling eyes... no tutting or questioning whether a little bit of gluten was really going to matter. These guys 'got it' and that was just fine!

Afternoon Patisserie (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

And it gets better... Imagine how excited we were when, after a particularly crappy wet weather day (soaked through four layers to the skin, puddles in our shoes after a long, rain-filled hike, phone completely trashed by water damage and the distress at losing all the photos stored on it building...) we came back to our stateroom to find a tray with four plates of gluten free goodies... biscuits, cakes and desserts. In our gluten free world, that kind of thoughtfulness just doesn't happen... and when it does, everything feels better. It was a lovely touch and it made us feel very special.

Stateroom Treat (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

But it doesn't end there... Towards the end of our cruise, there was an unexpected knock at our door. We opened it to be greeted with a large and very decadent-looking cake. I'd seen similar cakes around the ship, evidently created for occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. We had neither, so I (hopefully) asked 'what's this?' and then tentatively 'Perhaps you have the wrong room?'... 'Compliments of the Maitre D' came the reply.

Stateroom Treat (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

Seriously? I can honestly say Miss GF and myself were jumping around the room, so unexpected and exciting was our gift. The cake (a light chocolate sponge layered with whipped cream and decorated to impress) was absolutely delicious... but most of all, we felt like we mattered and importantly, like we weren't just another 'dietary need'.

Stateroom Treat (gluten free) - Sapphire Princess

Aside from the food, the cruise itself was amazing and the Norwegian Fjords stunning (I hope to share a separate travel post on our experience soon). Miss GF was absolutely smitten with the whole experience and has been frequently suggesting new cruise destinations since our return. She has even managed to find a TV channel entirely dedicated to cruise pestering...

Of course, I suspect the fact that GF eating was so easy and Coeliac was completely and refreshingly accepted without hinderance, was a massive part of her enjoyment. Our thanks go to the crew of the Sapphire Princess for that. You made our daughter's year!

Will we cruise again? For sure! Miss GF has her sights set on warmer climes next time... But whenever and wherever we venture onto the open sea again, we will certainly be expecting great things.

I am sharing my gluten free cruise experience with the following travel linkies:

Two Traveling Texans
Fifi and Hop

Otis and Us

Gluten Free Alchemist © 2013-18 unless otherwise indicated


  1. Omg I wish I was on the Cruise, it sounds absolutely amazing, GF wasn't a prob and I wish it was like that everywhere. No laziness by the staff there..

    1. Absolutely! It was so refreshing not to be seen as a problem. It really isn't that difficult, but was amazing to be treated so well x

  2. Wow what a fabulous experience. The food all looks incredible. You've had better treats there than Ive ever been offered GF. I've often wondered about going on a cruise but been put off for fear of being trapped on board without proper GF food, or people who don;t understand. Your whole experience sounds brilliant and they seemed to really understand. Might just have to book myself now!

    1. Thanks Katie. We were really impressed and had such a wonderful time not having to worry about food at all.... No traipsing around or trying to explain to people who struggle to understand. Definitely removed any worries I may have had about cruising! x

  3. I am impressed they took such good care of you! More places need to learn from them. Also so neat you got a tour of the kitchen. It is really amazing how they are able to serve so many people so efficiently. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. You're welcome Anisa. I totally agree that more people need to learn from their example. It really isn't rocket science to make safe food. For us it was totally refreshing to not have to worry.x

  4. Sounds like a great cruise (except for the soggy phone). I assume they would also cater for vegetarians and vegans well. It has not occurred to me that it must be in their interests to look after people with allergies so they don't end up with some emergency on the cruise. I am never keen on the idea of being stuck on a boat but I would love to see the norwegian fjords. I really like that you got to choose the day before and eat like everyone else - if only these sort of practices could be more widespread.

    1. It was amazing Johanna. And yes, there seemed to be no problem catering for vegetarians and vegans. I guess they need to be flexible or they would lose so much custom and stuck out at sea, safety is definitely a priority.
      The idea of being at sea with nothing to see for more than a day or so doesn't really appeal to me either, so the Fjords seemed like a perfect destination x

  5. Ah, wow, all that food looks divine! we have no dietary restrictions but you certainly reignated my interest in cruising - we still need to take the kiddies! What did your daughter make of the fjords? #farawayfiles

    1. Absolutely..... the kids would love it. My daughter was totally smitten by the whole experience. She would get back on a ship tomorrow if she could!

  6. Look at all those GF desserts! Glad to hear you cruised without worry

    1. I know! So good not to have fruit or ice cream every meal xx


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