Cruising with a nut allergy: Our Royal Carribean cruise experience

Cruising with a nut allergy - tips for safe travels
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!

chicken-marsala

Dining rooms

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.

lamb_royal_caribbean

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.

lobster-dinner-cruise

Buffets

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?

taco-buffet-cruise-royal-caribbean

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

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!

berry-crumble

Other guests

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!

Peanut allergy in France: Safely finding peanut-free options abroad

Mike has a severe peanut allergy, which can honestly be a huge pain in the butt when it comes to eating out. Before we left on our trip to France, we did a bit of googling and found out that although peanuts aren’t used too commonly in French cooking and baking, they do use peanut oil in everything from pizza dough to salad dressings. Eeeek! I knew that peanut butter wasn’t really eaten there, so I’d mistakenly assumed that it would be easier to find peanut-free options there, rather than harder! Boy, was I wrong. Peanuts and peanut oil are everywhere!

While evidence shows that the refining process removes the allergens from peanut oil, we weren’t taking any chances while we were on vacation and didn’t want to eat anywhere that wasn’t absolutely certain that their products were peanut-free. And it was really tough! Compared to North America, it seemed like peanuts were everywhere. I know Mike ended up eating way more burgers and pizza than he’d ever hoped to on a French vacation due to his peanut allergy.

Fortunately, despite the peanut allergy, we did manage to make it safely through our vacation and we were able to track down all the French specialties that Mike had his heart set on trying. So much of French culture centers around food, so I’m so glad we were able to find peanut-free options (croissants, French onion soup, socca and all).

peanut allergy france

I compiled the following tips to help anyone else who might be facing the same challenges.

What to know about peanut allergy in France?

Peanuts everywhere. Nearly every bar will have bowls of peanuts. You’ll see bowls of peanuts at cafés, too. Even if you’re just going for a drink, inform the staff of the peanut allergy to ensure there’s no cross-contamination. If you or your child are very sensitive then you’ll need to be extra careful. We ate at a restaurant where the chef assured us that the kitchen was entirely peanut-free, but sure enough, when I walked past the bar I saw heaping bowls of peanuts. Even if you don’t think a dish would contain peanuts, ask! Sauces are thickened with peanut butter and dressings might be made with peanut oil.

Less awareness. In France, there is so much less awareness regarding peanut allergies. When we go to restaurants here in Toronto, servers are almost always able to immediately tell us whether or not their restaurants use peanuts, even though they’ll rarely make a 100% peanut-free guarantee. In France, when we informed them of Mike’s peanut allergy, only a couple front of house staff had the answer, and sometimes even the cooks didn’t know! A couple explained that they receive their oil is huge vats and they can’t be sure what’s in it. A whole bunch of times we encountered hosts and servers that preferred to just tell us that we probably shouldn’t eat there without even checking with the kitchen. That was pretty frustrating when we’d already struck out at a few restaurants already, but we felt it was much better to be safe than sorry.

Parisian waitstaff are grumpy. Restaurant servers are notoriously grumpy in Paris, but don’t let it phase you. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let it discourage you from emphasizing the seriousness of the peanut allergy.

In case of emergency. Make sure you know the local emergency numbers. For emergency numbers in France, click HERE.

chocolate-croissant

What to say?

Make sure you emphasize the severity of the peanut allergy and make sure you clearly communicate that it’s a matter of life and death, not just a food preference. Clarify that it’s important that not just the particular meal be peanut-free, but that no peanuts are used in the kitchen at all. We were told at least once that there were no peanuts before being told, “Ah, yes, actually we use peanut oil for the fries!”

Je suis très allergique aux arachides/cacahuètes – I am very allergic to peanuts

J’ai une allergie analphylactique aux arachides/cacahuètes – I have an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts

Je suis gravement allergique aux cacahuètes et à l’huile d’arachide – I am seriously allergic to peanuts and peanut oil

Important note: Do not just ask if the food contains noix. This word for nut is used to refer specifically to walnuts, and misleadingly doesn’t encompass all nuts.

What to do?

Even in the most touristy, English-speaking places we visited, hardly anyone understood the word ‘peanut’, so make sure you know all the different terms used to refer to peanuts and peanut oils. Don’t assume that what is safe at home is safe abroad.

Be prepared. If you have a severe peanut allergy, always have an Epipen and make sure it’s labelled and carry a prescription for airline screeners. Make sure your travel companions know how to use it.

Write it out. Unfortunately the French don’t make it easy, and there are a few different words that are used to refer to peanuts. We made sure to use them all. Mike doesn’t speak very much French, but he memorized a few key phrases and carried them around written on a paper card to be sure. If you’re unsure of your pronunciation or if the restaurant staff seem even the least bit unsure, show them your card.

Check labels. Allergens are pretty well labeled on packaged goods, so we bought a lot of our food at grocery stores. We stayed in apartments with kitchens, so we were able to prepare our own food, which saved us money and grief. We always tried to have some peanut-free snacks on hand, so that when it took us ages to find a peanut-free restaurant, Mike wasn’t left completely ravenous.

On labels, look for:

Cacahuètes – peanuts (most commonly used in France)

Arachides – peanuts (most commonly used in Quebec, but also used in France)

Huile d’arachides – peanut oil

Beurre de cacahuètes/arachides – peanut butter

Fruit à coque – translated as “fruits in shells”, this term is used as a catch-all for nuts, and is used on lots of labels

Watch out. if peanuts are an ingredient in a product, they won’t necessarily be included in the list of “may contain” ingredients, so read everything carefully!

Clarify. Even if the host told us we were ok, we also made sure to ask the server, and also asked them to double-check with the kitchen. We emphasized the severity of the peanut allergy, and told them he would DIE. Honestly, it was a hassle and Mike hated the fuss, but I reminded him that it was way less fuss than a trip to the ER.

Where to go?

In both Nice and Paris, I tried searching online for peanut-free restaurants and bakeries, and didn’t find anything at all. So here’s a list of a few of the spots we found that were able to assure us that they didn’t use any peanuts or peanut oils. If you’re looking for peanut-free food while in France, check these places out as a starting point, but please, please make sure to always ask because things might have changed. I need to track down the names of some other restaurants we ate at, so I’ll update this list.

Nice: La Claire Fontaine (lunch/dinner), Boulangerie de L’Olivier (bakery)

Eze: Le Pinocchio (lunch/dinner)

Vence: Brasselie la Victoire (no peanuts in the kitchen, but served at the bar) (lunch/dinner)

Paris: Arena Cafe (breakfast/lunch/dinner), Hippopotamus (lunch/dinner), Poilâne (bakery), Cafe Pinson (breakfast/lunch/dinner – organic/veg/raw)

french cheese