For someone with a severe food allergy, there are few scenarios scarier than experiencing an allergic reaction in the middle of the ocean, many miles and hours away from shore. Since an anaphylactic reaction can lead to death in only minutes, we were obviously concerned about taking our first cruise with Royal Caribbean.
Since this was our first and only cruise experience, I can’t speak to any other ships or cruise-lines, so here I’m going to share some details of how we safely navigated a peanut allergy at sea on our Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise.
I previously wrote about our challenges with travelling France with a peanut allergy, and overall, I’d say that cruising with a nut allergy was actually much easier.
When we were booking our cruise, we were informed that Royal Caribbean ships aren’t nut-free, but they take allergies very seriously. Mike’s nut allergy was noted on our reservation and included on our booking confirmation. That was a good sign!
The first evening when we showed up for dinner, we were very pleased that the host was immediately aware of the allergy when our reservation came up on the system upon check in. Once we were seated, a chef and supervisor came to speak to us and confirmed the nature of the allergy and we asked some questions that assured us that they had a good understanding of the allergy and cross-contamination.
Apparently Oasis of the Seas serves up 30-40,000 meals per day in its dining rooms, so you can imagine that there’s a huge risk of cross-contamination. In order to ensure that our meals were prepared safely, using clean utensils and with safe ingredients, we placed our dinner orders a day in advance. This ticket would then go in with a big *Peanut Allergy* note, which ensured that the meal was prepared safely. Because of changes in plans, we did sometimes order day-of, but that tended to cause some delays. By ordering in advance, we were advised of the safest meals and accommodations were made such as leaving nuts off a salad or sauce off a meal.
Fortunately, it was clear that the dining room staff had received great training and were aware of cross-contamination risks. However, some were more experienced or better informed than others. While the person serving our meal would usually already know about the allergy, a different server coming around with bread might not.
Stay Safe Tip: Go with the traditional dining option and select a regular time. You’ll have the same server and the same supervisor who will become familiar with your allergy (as opposed to ‘My Time’ flex-time dining where you may end up with different tables and staff). Even so, remind the waitstaff of the allergy both when placing the order, and when your food is served.
For the first half of the cruise, I was feeling really great about the fact that I hadn’t seen any dishes that actually contained peanuts at the buffet. There were a few dishes with other nuts, but I was starting to think that they didn’t use peanuts at all. But then the Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce appeared. And then the bowl of peanuts at the salad bar. Big reminder: Never assume!
When we hit the buffet, we always informed the host at the entrance of the allergy and they would inform the supervisor, who would then go get a chef. Yes, it was sometimes annoying to wait for this all to happen, but better safe than dead, right?
The chef would then take us on a tour of the buffet and would let us know which dishes were definitely safe and which to avoid.
When I saw the aforementioned peanut sauce, I grilled the chef on whether precautions were taken and he assured me that it was prepared very separately from the other dishes.
Stay Safe Tip: Ask for a chef to give you a tour. Every time. On a boat in the middle of the ocean is not the time to take risks.
Desserts are usually the riskiest food when it comes to nut allergies since they’re commonly used and often hidden. In the dining room, instead of ordering off the menu, the waiter usually brought out an assortment of safe desserts, so that was no problem. Mike really enjoyed getting to eat a variety desserts, since it’s something he usually has to skip when we go out to restaurants.
Mike generally avoided desserts from the buffets though. We noticed that some desserts at the buffets would be labeled with a “contains nuts” warning, but I bit into a bar that didn’t have that warning only to find that it was filled with peanut butter. No big deal for me, but Mike can’t afford to take those sorts of gambles. While the chef did identify some nut-free options, the risk for cross-contamination seemed high.
Stay Safe Tip: Ask for the peanut-free snacks and desserts. There’s a secret stash of pre-packaged safe treats!
On a ship with 6,000 other people, you’re bound to find yourself next to someone who is snacking on a bag of peanuts or chomping on a Snickers bar. Tables can end up smeared with peanut butter, and you never know where oily hands have been.
Stay Safe Tip: Wash you hands, and do it well and do it often. The hand sanitizer pumps all over the ship are great for preventing transmission of viruses, but hand sanitizer can’t kill peanut proteins.
Finally, we always made sure to have a 2 Epi-Pens on hand at all times, and we knew where the medical center was. Apparently they’re equipped to handle pretty much anything except surgery, which is comforting, but fortunately we didn’t need to test that out!
Please comment and let me know your experiences with cruising with food allergies!