Gluten Free on Royal Caribbean (Empress)

I have some of the best friends in the world. For my bachelorette trip, my maid of honor organized a cruise to Havana, Cuba (my dream!) and Nassau, Bahamas. Because my friends are scattered across the country, everyone opted for a vacation that was all inclusive. Royal Caribbean fit the bill and we excitedly booked it!  It was my first cruise so of course I reached out to Briana Wolin (@breezygfreezy) & Erin Smith (@gfreefun) to hear about their experiences cruising with celiac. Both had wonderful experiences so I was even more excited.

My Maid of Honor went all out with the nautical theme!! She decorated the entire cabin, made us adorable matching tanks (“Bridesmate”, “Mate of Honor,” “Bride’s Crew”), wine glasses, and “Oh Ship!” kits including all the essentials! She is the best!!

To prepare for the trip, I immediately called Royal Caribbean upon booking to alert them of my need for gluten free. The agent put the note on my file.  I called back a few times closer to the cruise and confirmed that the note was there. I also pre-booked my dinner time each night–this ensured that my group would be seated at the same table, at the same time, with the same exact staff!  I highly recommend doing this because then you get to know your staff and they know exactly what you need. Of course, I packed snacks (but to be honest I never needed them but always always good to have!).

Gluten free Corner in Windjammer

Upon boarding the Empress in Miami, we were served a buffet lunch in the Windjammer. I was so happy to see an entirely gluten free corner but was dismayed by it being part of the main buffet. I saw people bringing their plates with gluten and scooping up the gluten free, creating major cross contact problems. I asked to speak to the chef who offered to let me point out each of the items that I wanted from the gluten free section that he would pull from the back to prevent cross contact! Win! I did this for every lunch. It took about 15 minutes longer for me to get my meal but my friends were really enjoying the unlimited food so I didn’t hold them back at all.  I was able to find multiple protein options, veggies options, and carb options. They also carry gluten free bread. 

One of my lunches! Beef, mushrooms, rice, mashed potatoes, and veggies

Although you have the option of eating at the buffet in Windjammer every night, we opted to always eat in the main dining room where it is a sit down (it was included in our inclusive package so why not). I recommend this as there are many more options and better food. Because we had a set time and set staff, the process for eating gluten free was nearly seamless. Every night the head chef would come out to talk to me and personally walk me through the menu. The menu was labeled for gluten free–but it was not always accurate ! I’m not sure why they don’t fix this, but the chef was incredibly knowledgable and I always had tons of options. Each dinner included an appetizer, entree, and dessert. I found that I could order double portions of each if I wanted.

Appetizers: cocktail shrimp & caprese salad

For the appetizer, I rotated between cocktail shrimp and a caprese salad. Both were delicious.

My meat entrees!

For the main course, I almost always picked a meat dish. I had beef ribs and a steak. The ribs were incredible!! So tender and flavorful. The steak was honestly awful. It tasted like rubber so I did send it back. The table next to us sent theirs back too because it was inedible. Lesson learned: skip the steak. I replaced it with the lamb and OMG THE VERY BEST. The sauce, the doneness, the flavor = perfection! I loved how each entree came with veggies and a carb. I didn’t feel like I was missing out at all.

The entrees I ordered double in because they were that good

There were two entrees that I just couldn’t get enough of! One being a beef dish and one being a vegetarian risotto. I ordered two portions of these and still wish I had more. I always associated cruise food with airline food quality but clearly I was wrong.

Creme brûlée

For dessert I had less options….so I always got the creme brulee which was delicious!

The names of my food heroes!

I had the most wonderful wait staff and I cannot commend them enough! They continually checked in on me and made sure I was happy and safe. Every night after I finished eating my meal, the chef would come out and give me the menu for the NEXT night and walk me through my options. Then I would place my order for the next night!! This prevented any delay in receiving my food because they would be working on preparing it safely and separately before I even arrived. I LOVED this! Plus I always knew what I would be eating the next night!

For breakfast, I never had my phone so I forgot to take photos! But I had tons of options. If you eat in the main dining room, you can eat at the buffet (big no for me) or order from a menu (yes for me). I ordered gluten free french toast, 3 egg veggie omelet, fruit, and yogurt every single morning. I LOVED THE FRENCH TOAST! As a note, breakfast is much slower so plan accordingly if you have activities planned. Portions were huge and I never went hungry during the day. I did peak at the Windjammer breakfast buffet to see what the staff was scarce and I couldn’t find someone to tell me what I could have from the back. So I recommend the main dining room for sure.

The most difficult aspect of gluten free was late night snack time or any snack time. The buffets are not well attended and no real gluten free options–basically food is just set out and you help yourself. I had trouble finding anyone to help me. The main meals were more than adequate though so I wasn’t really hungry between meals. There was some confusion on whether the soft serve ice cream was gluten free (it is at the time I went), but the chef assured me it was. Plus the Royal Caribbean twitter is really really fast at responding.

As for other dietary restrictions, my vegetarian maid of honor found loads to eat. My other friend was on a FODMAP diet and still ate easily. The chef was definitely willing to work with any food allergy!

Overall, it was incredible trip with so many delicious food options. I would 100% go again! In fact, I am in the process of trying to convince my husband to go on a cruise (he isn’t a fan). Aside from the gluten free aspect, there was SO much to do on board. The Empress is the smallest ship in service yet we ran out of time to do everything we wanted. We did karaoke every night, we swam in the pool, we lounged on the deck, we did as much as we could and were never bored. Kudos to Royal Caribbean for making my bachelorette trip extra special!! ❤

**Please note that this review solely reflects my own honest opinion. I was neither paid nor compensated for my visit here. Also, kitchen protocols and menus can change at any time. Make sure to speak to the staff at any restaurant before eating to make sure that they can accommodate your dietary restriction.**

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